Covering events from January - December 2004

The first step towards establishing a new Transitional Federal Government was the swearing-in of a President in October, after 14 years of state collapse and political violence, and two years of peace talks in Kenya. A Charter for the five-year transition period included human rights guarantees. However, prominent "warlords" responsible for faction fighting, which continued in central and southern regions, became members of the new government, with impunity for human rights abuses. Thousands of civilians fled the country or were displaced. Journalists were arrested and human rights defenders threatened in several areas. Violence against women was widespread. There was no rule of law in the south. In Somaliland, there were unfair political trials, including the imprisonment of a 16-year-old girl for espionage, and reports of torture.


Throughout Somalia's central and southern regions and the capital, Mogadishu, there was constant insecurity and frequent faction fighting. There had been no national government or administration, army, police or justice system since 1991. The Transitional National Government (TNG), set up in 2000, controlled only a small part of Mogadishu. Other areas were held by various armed clan-based faction leaders, some belonging to the Somalia Reconciliation and Restoration Council (SRRC), a coalition backed by Ethiopia.

Drought continued to create a humanitarian emergency in the north-west. Aid workers were often at risk. A UN staff member was kidnapped in January in Kismayu and held for several days, and a Kenyan and a Somali aid worker were killed in Somaliland in March.

Following a visit by the UN Independent Expert for Somalia, the UN Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution in April calling on all parties to stop acts of violence and to respect human rights and international humanitarian standards. It extended the mandate of the Independent Expert for Somalia for one year: AI urged the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to appoint a human rights adviser for Somalia.

In August a UN panel of experts monitoring the 1992 international arms embargo on Somalia issued its third report on illegal weapons transfers from governments in the region and private arms dealers.

The self-declared regional state of Puntland, formed in the north-east in 1998, supported the new federal Charter and Puntland's President became President of Somalia. Elections in Puntland were due in early 2005 but political parties had not been formed by the end of 2004.

The Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami disaster in December caused more than 150 deaths and displaced thousands of people on the Puntland coast.


The Somaliland Republic, established in the north-west in 1991, was the only part of the former Somali Republic to have a government, a civil service, a multi-party system and a justice system. A National Human Rights Commission was in preparation, with the support of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Somaliland pursued its demand for international recognition and refused to participate in the peace talks in Kenya or to join a new federal Somalia. There was brief fighting between Somaliland forces and neighbouring Puntland in January and October over rival claims to eastern border regions.

Transitional Federal Government

In October the TNG ended with the swearing-in of a President for the incoming Transitional Federal Government (TFG), after two years of peace talks in neighbouring Kenya. Under a transitional Charter (interim constitution), a 275-member parliament was formed, with seats allocated to the four main clans and to minority communities. The parliament elected a national President, who appointed a Prime Minister to form a government to take office in early 2005 for the five-year transition period. The Charter requires the disbanding of the militias of the "warlords". A planned attack on the port of Kismayu by a warlord, General Mohamed Said Hersi "Morgan", was narrowly averted in September. The TFG was expected to relocate from Kenya to Somalia in early 2005 when security permitted.

The international community promised future assistance for reconstructing the collapsed state as part of an arrangement for international recognition and support for the TFG. Agreements designed to guarantee peace, good governance and protection of human rights were under discussion. An African Union peace-support force was being prepared to assist with security and demobilization of faction militias.

Rule of law

There was no effective or competent system of administration of justice to uphold the rule of law and provide impartial protection of human rights. The TNG and faction leaders failed to protect citizens. Abuses by faction militias, including child soldiers, were committed with impunity. Some Shari'a (Islamic law) courts functioned on a local basis, but did not meet international standards of fair trial.

Clan-based faction militias protected their own clan members, leaving unarmed minorities vulnerable to abuses.

Conditions in the TNG's central prison in Mogadishu were harsh.

In Somaliland there were arbitrary arrests, allegations of torture, and unfair political trials.

  • In January, Osman Mohamoud (known as "Bur-Madow"), a clan leader, was arrested and charged with insulting the president and demoralizing the army. He had attempted to mediate the Somaliland-Puntland conflict in Sool region. He was convicted on the first charge and sentenced to six months' imprisonment.
  • In June, 30 Ethiopian Somalis arrested in December 2003 and accused of being fighters of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (an Ethiopian opposition force) were sentenced to three and five-year prison terms. Their appeal had not been heard by the end of 2004.
  • In December, Zamzam Ahmed Dualeh, aged 16, was convicted of espionage and imprisoned for five years after a grossly unfair trial where her rights as a child were given no recognition. The judge summarily dismissed her allegations of rape and torture by police officers. He sentenced her four defence lawyers to three years' imprisonment for contempt of court, but they were released on appeal after payment of a fine.


At least 17 journalists were arrested during 2004, mostly for short periods, and some of them were beaten, because they had reported human rights abuses or criticized "warlords" or political authorities.

  • In Puntland, Abdishakur Yusuf Ali, editor of War Ogaal newspaper, was arrested for the seventh time in April and sentenced to six months' imprisonment but released on appeal and payment of a fine in June.
  • In Somaliland, Hassan Said Yusuf, editor of Jamhuuriya (The Republican) newspaper, was arrested in August on account of an article about the peace talks. He alleged that police officers threatened to kill him. In October he was acquitted of publishing a false report. This was said to be his 15th arrest on such charges.

Human rights defenders

Despite the risks, human rights defenders in Somalia and Somaliland campaigned for respect for human rights and reported on violence against women and minorities, faction killings, arbitrary arrests, kidnappings and political trials.

  • In the trial of Zamzam Ahmed Dualeh in Somaliland, human rights activists publicly criticized the trial and imprisonment of defence lawyers. Some were arrested outside the court but released uncharged after some hours.

Women's rights

The allocation of seats in the transitional parliament failed to meet the Charter's quota of 12 per cent women. Women had little access to public decision-making and justice in Somaliland and Puntland.

Women's organizations in all areas campaigned against violence against women, including female genital mutilation, which continued to be widespread. Women human rights defenders also campaigned against domestic violence and rape of internally displaced women.

Minority rights

Some progress towards recognition of minority rights was reflected in the allocation of 31 seats in the transitional parliament to minority communities. However, social discrimination and abuses by clan members persisted, particularly against the under-privileged Bantu group (also known as Jarir) and occupational groups such as the Midgan.

Refugees and internally displaced people

Refugees continued to flee from faction fighting, kidnappings, threats to human rights defenders and other abuses.

Over a third of a million internally displaced people survived in extremely poor conditions in camps, where food supplies were often diverted by clan militias, and rape of minority women was common. In Kismayu, minority families were forced to hand over a substantial proportion of relief supplies to clan members and many had to pay clan members to protect them from local factions.

Death penalty

Official courts, including Islamic courts and informal clan "courts", continued to impose the death penalty and executions were carried out in several areas. Compensation (diya) was paid in some murder cases as an alternative to execution.

  • In Somaliland in July, two men were sentenced to death (one in absentia) for involvement in an armed attack on Hargeisa airport in March 2003 in support of Jama Mohamed Ghalib, a government opponent who was briefly detained and then deported. The appeal against the death sentence and prison sentences imposed on 11 others had not been heard by the end of 2004.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.