U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Somalia

SOMALIA[1]*     Somalia has been in a state of nearly unceasing civil war since 1988. Its last president, dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, fled the country in 1991. The fighting between factional clan leaders resulted in massive killing, dislocations, and starvation of thousands of citizens and led the United Nations to intervene militarily in 1992. There continued to be no central authority in Somalia. Despite U.N. Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM) efforts, the Somalis have not been able to reestablish traditional means of social control and administration of justice. The clans and subclans that had dominated all important aspects of life lost influence to a variety of political factions and armed militias. Large numbers of persons remained displaced and continued to live in fear for their lives and property. The Hawiye clan's United Somali Congress (USC), which controlled much of southern and central Somalia, including Mogadishu, continued to be split between General Mohammed Farah Aideed of the Somali National Alliance (SNA) and Ali Mahdi Mohammed of the Somali Salvation Alliance (SSA). Attempts to reach reconciliation failed. In the extreme south, where Darod clans are strong, remnants of Siad Barre's Somalia National Front (SNF) vie for control with other groups, including a divided Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM). The Isaak-dominated Somali National Movement (SNM) continued to control the northwestern "Somaliland" area, and in the northeast, the divided Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) controlled the traditionally Majertain homelands. In both areas, violent intrafactional conflicts developed during the last months of 1994. The fighting in Hargeisa, capital of the Somaliland region, was particularly intense and resulted in numerous civilian casualties and the suspension of almost all humanitarian ssistance programs. In response to worsening conditions, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) passed several resolutions concerning Somalia and UNOSOM. Resolution 897 scaled back the number of peacekeepers and the goals of the U.N. mission. In November, in the absence of political reconciliation and a deteriorating security situation, the UNSC ordered a total withdrawal of UNOSOM from Somalia by March 31, 1995. At year's end close to 10,000 peacekeepers from Pakistan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and Zimbabwe remained on the ground. When UNOSOM was forced to abandon the development of a national police force, local law and order remained highly arbitrary and largely in the hands of factions and clan-based Islamic courts, some of which applied strict Islamic (Shari'a) law. Somalia's economy improved in 1994, compared to 1992 when U.S. and other foreign troops intervened to halt mass starvation. UNOSOM was initially successful in facilitating the flow of food to the starving population, and, despite the deteriorating security situation, agricultural production revived in many parts of the country. Excellent rains during the principal growing season resulted in a bountiful harvest--close to 75 percent of prewar levels. Thousands of displaced people and refugees returned to their homes. Flooding in the fall of 1994 caused extensive damage to crops in the Juba valley, apparently without causing too much harm to reserve food stocks. Commercial exports of livestock and fruit increased in 1994, including an estimated 13,000 metric tons of bananas. The human rights situation deteriorated throughout the year as calls for military restraint went unheeded. Intraclan conflict worsened as rival groups, including those of Aideed and Ali Mahdi, jockeyed for power and control of strategic areas. There were continuing reports that factional militia, bandits, and clan militias committed extrajudicial killings and also intimidated, detained, raped, and kidnaped persons in order to gain or maintain power in areas under their control. It was impossible to investigate these charges in most instances. Violence and social discrimination against women and abuse of children remained widespread. There were few reports of abuses by UNOSOM troops in 1994, in part because of the changes in UNOSOM's mission and the withdrawal of a significant percentage of foreign troops.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political or Other Extrajudicial Killing

Political violence and banditry have been endemic to Somalia since the overthrow of Siad Barre. Tens of thousands of Somalis, mostly noncombatants, have died in interfactional and interclan fighting in the past 6 years since the revolt against Siad Barre (see Section 1.g.). Somali factions also targeted UNOSOM peacekeepers, resulting in the deaths of 37 soldiers by year's end. In one of the most brutal attacks, SNA militia murdered five Nepalese soldiers in May during an ambush outside the UNOSOM compound in Mogadishu. Although civilians were routinely killed during the fighting, politically motivated killings appeared to be less common. However, in one incident in August, three Indian medical officers were killed at their hospital in Baidoa. The attack may have been in retaliation for the deaths of several armed Somalis killed by Indian troops a few days earlier during an ambush of a U.N. convoy. In early December, pro-Aideed gunmen killed two Somalis demonstrating against General Aideed's efforts to form an interim government under his leadership. In August unidentified interfactional crossfire killed a Swiss reporter in the south, where he was visiting an aid project. In June the U.N. Security Council issued a report of the findings of a Special Investigatory Commission established late in 1993 to investigate armed attacks on UNOSOM personnel, including the June 1993 incidents that sparked the unsuccessful effort to apprehend General Aideed. While acknowledging that General Aideed refused to cooperate with its investigation, the Commission harshly criticized UNOSOM in several ways, including UNOSOM's apparent policy of arbitrary detention. The Commission also criticized inadequate command-and-control arrangements for UNOSOM peacekeeping troops. It concluded that the United Nations should refrain from further peace enforcement actions along the lines of its Somalia mission.

b. Disappearance

There were no known reports of unresolved politically motivated disappearances, although kidnaping remained a major problem, particularly for relief workers (see Section 1.d.).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There continued to be credible but unconfirmed reports of the use of torture by various warring factions against each other and against civilians. Several unofficial Islamic courts were established late in the year, filling the vacuum created by the absence of normal government authority. These courts, following strict Islamic (Shari'a) law, meted out particularly severe punishments on persons detained in connection with robbery and other crimes (see Section 1.e.). For example, in October, following the decision of an Islamic court in Mogadishu, authorities operating in the area controlled by Ali Mahdi amputated one hand each of two teenagers, allegedly for stealing the equivalent of less than $20. UNOSOM and international human rights monitors expressed concern about the decisions of the Islamic courts, but UNOSOM took no action to interfere with their operations. There were no credible allegations of abuse of Somali civilians by foreign peacekeeping forces. In March, a Canadian national peacekeeper was tried in Canada and found guilty of torture and manslaughter for his involvement in the March 1993 death of a Somali detained on suspicion of theft, Shidane Abukar Arone. The peacekeeper is being held without bail pending appeal. There was no reported progress in the investigation by Belgian authorities into alleged abuses committed by their forces, which left Somalia early in 1994. The status of prison conditions was unknown but believed to be harsh and potentially life threatening. There was no independent monitoring of prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

All Somali factions reportedly held prisoners arbitrarily, but there were no known estimates of the number held at any one time. The various Somali factions and armed bandits engaged in large-scale hostage taking of foreign citizens, in particular personnel from the international relief agencies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In most instances, the Somali gunmen held their hostages for short periods, often demanding large ransoms. Those taken hostage included American, British, Italian, Swedish, Nepalese, Sudanese, and other nationalities. For example, on February 9, Somalilanders kidnaped two British Members of Parliament, three British aid workers, and a journalist in Erigavo in northwest Somalia. Subsequently, a local Somali doctor rescued the group and drove them to a safe area on February 11. These attacks, led humanitarian organizations either to withdraw from the country or substantially reduce their activities . On January 17, UNOSOM released the last 8 of 750 Somalis detained in connection with its 1993 attempt to apprehend General Aideed and persons suspected of attacking U.N. peacekeepers. UNOSOM denied the detainees access to relatives but permitted the ICRC to visit all U.N. detainees. Several of those held complained of ill-treatment at a press conference on January 20, but the conditions of their confinement met international standards. UNOSOM held no prisoners at year's end.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

There was minimal progress toward reestablishing a system of justice in Somalia. The three-tier national judicial system based on the 1962 Criminal Code and the 1963 Penal Code that was prepared by UNOSOM in 1993 could not be implemented because of the poor security situation. Although local authorities have attempted to administer some type of justice, few Somalis feel confident of protection from retaliation based on clan loyalties. By the end of the year, no civil courts functioned. The vacuum created by the lack of a functioning government led to the expansion of the role of traditional clan-based Islamic courts. While in the past Islamic courts were used to settle property disputes, these courts increasingly heard criminal cases. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the Islamic courts are applying a very strict interpretation of Shari'a law, as evidenced by the amputation sentence against two teenagers (see Section 1.c.). These informal courts are not standardized and do not provide for procedural safeguards that meet accepted international standards for a fair trial. There is no right to appeal the verdict of the Islamic courts, and defendants reportedly are not provided with legal counsel. Only in Somaliland, under "President" Mohammed Egal, was there a functioning legal system, based on the 1962 Penal Code. The current system replaced Islamic law and includes a supreme court. There was no information available on the ability to receive a fair trial in Somaliland or on the independence of the judiciary. Continued fighting during the latter part of the year in the part of Somaliland claimed by Egal brought a halt to the work of many civil institutions, including the courts, as territory changed hands repeatedly.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

These rights were regularly violated by the warring factions. During fighting in Mogadishu, heavily armed bandits systematically looted the property of rival groups. Similar incidents occurred after the fighting in Kismayo in February. During military operations, the major factions have conducted home searches and evictions, and homes and property belonging to the former government and international bodies have been looted and destroyed. Although there has been some discussion about property claims, the continued fighting has rendered the issue moot.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

The warring factions continued to commit numerous violations of humanitarian law throughout the year, including the killing of many civilians, particularly in Mogadishu and Kismayo. In February heavy interfactional fighting between the forces of Colonel Omar Jess and General Mohammed Hersi Morgan in Kismayo killed at least 60 civilians. In April fighting between General Aideed's SNA militia and the Hawadle, a rival Hawiye subclan, in Merca and southern Mogadishu, killed another 32 civilians. At year's end, with the approaching departure of UNOSOM, heavy factional fighting in Mogadishu over access to the port area reportedly killed 20 persons and wounded hundreds more. Armed Somali factions continued to target UNOSOM peacekeeping troops, beginning in January with the wounding of two Indian soldiers in an ambush near Kismayo. Subsequent attacks resulted in deaths of peacekeepers from India, Egypt, Nepal, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe. Armed bandits and militia often targeted peacekeepers in order to seize supplies or to retaliate against actions by UNOSOM forces. International humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) and others, including journalists (see Section 1.a.), increasingly became targets for attacks by Somali factions and bandits. These attacks were widespread and often without clear motivation, although in some cases warlords sought to extort money from NGO's in exchange for providing security. After 50 armed Somalis looted 340 tons of food from a World Food for Peace (WFP) warehouse in January, more than 15 relief organizations decided to reduce or cease operations for a time in various parts of the country because of the lack of security. The few NGO's that remained in operation at year's end had experienced continuous harassment and disruption of their operations at the hands of the warring factions. There were several instances in which UNOSOM forces killed Somalis, but these incidents decreased sharply compared to 1993. In January Pakistani peacekeepers killed five Somalis in Mogadishu, and on January 9, U.S. Marine snipers firing at a man with a machine gun inadvertently killed a pregnant woman. Although the Pakistanis claimed that they had been fired on, General Aideed's faction said the Pakistanis fired without cause. On January 31, U.S. Marines responding to an attack on a relief convoy killed 3 Somalis and wounded 13 others. A subsequent UNOSOM investigation fully exonerated the Marines involved. UNOSOM forces fired on Somali crowds on several occasions during the year, notably after troops began to withdraw from the country. In October a crowd rampaged through the UNOSOM compound over the loss of jobs. UNOSOM quelled the riot by firing tear gas into the mob. The last U.S. forces departed in March, and at year's end approximately 10,000 foreign peacekeepers remained in Somalia.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Most Somalis obtain news from foreign news broadcasts, notably the British Broadcasting Corporation, which transmits a daily Somali-language program. The major political factions also operate radio stations. UNOSOM has its own broadcasts and newspaper (Maanta), publicizing its activities, but its radio signal is not strong enough to reach all over Somalia. The print media are small and consist largely of brief news broadsheets published by the various factions. Several of these are nominally independent publications published anonymously and are critical of the faction leaders.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

General Aideed's and Ali Mahdi's factions held regular rallies in Mogadishu until fighting resumed in April. Although Somalis are free to assemble, the lack of security effectively limits this right. Despite the insecure environment, several political factions held conferences and congresses in various parts of the country. A few professional groups operate in Mogadishu as the security situation permits.

c. Freedom of Religion

Somalis are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, but the violence and chaos, principally in Mogadishu, made it difficult for them to practice their religion in some locations in a mosque or other formal setting. Local tradition and past law make it a crime to proselytize for any religion except Islam. Non-Sunni Muslims or orthodox Muslim sects are often looked on with suspicion by more mainstream Somalis. There is a small Christian community, but its members often find it necessary to conceal their beliefs. Foreign Christians generally practice their religion without persecution as long as it is private and does not include attempts to ridicule or undermine Islam.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Most Somalis do not have access to documents or resources needed for international travel. Domestic travel continued to be dangerous, but this did not deter movements of displaced persons and refugees back into the country. By November (the last month for which there were figures), over 57,000 refugees had returned to various regions from camps outside Somalia's borders, and the relocation of displaced persons continued at year's end. There were about 200,000 officially registered Somali refugees in Kenya (and around 40,000 nonregistered). In Ethiopia, there were 185,000 registered and 25,000 nonregistered Somali refugees.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Governments

Citizens did not have this right. Somali factions met periodically during the year, but all efforts to reestablish a national government foundered on the ambitions of the two major leaders, General Aideed and Ali Mahdi, both from opposing subclans of the Hawiye clan. Under heavy pressure from UNOSOM, the two leaders signed a joint communique on March 24 that pledged the major factions to the maintenance of peace prior to two reconciliation conferences to be held in Mogadishu by mid-May; neither reconciliation conference took place in 1994. The Imam of the Herab attempted unsuccessfully to convene a conference of the Hawiye clans in September. At year's end, General Aideed continued to work to establish an interim government under his leadership, but Ali Mahdi still refused to participate, and, with the approaching departure of UNOSOM troops, factional maneuvering for strategic positions began to accelerate. Although several women are important behind-the-scenes figures in the various factions, women as a group remain outside the political process. No women hold prominent, public positions; and few participated in the reconciliation process.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There were no local human rights organizations in operation. International humanitarian NGO's continued to operate, but the poor security situation limited their activities. UNOSOM's own human rights office was not operational.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Societal discrimination against women and widespread abuse of children continued to be serious problems.


Women are harshly subordinated in Somalia, which has an overwhelmingly patriarchal culture. Women suffered disproportionately in the Somali civil war and in the strife that followed. However, during the past year, there were no reports of systematic attacks on women in connection with the continuing civil strife. The imposition of new security measures in Kenyan refugee camps led to a sharp decline in the instances of rape, where the crime was considered to be an insult to the victim's clan. The Islamic courts acted in at least one instance to execute a man convicted of raping a woman outside Mogadishu.


Children remain among the chief victims of the continuing violence in Somalia. Although many youths are members of the marauding gangs known as "Morian," the factions also are directly responsible for involving young people in the interclan and interfactional violence. Boys as young as 14 or 15 years of age have participated in militia attacks. Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by international experts as damaging to physical and mental health, is accepted in Somali culture and society and is widely practiced. FGM is carried out at an early age, and an independent expert in the field estimates that 98 percent of Somali females have undergone this operation.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

More than 80 percent of Somalia's people share a common ethnic heritage, religion, and nomadic-influenced culture. The largest minority group consists of "Bantu" Somalis. These people are descendants of slaves brought to Somalia about 300 years ago. Many originated in an identifiable area in the interior of Tanzania, and speak a dialect which mixes Somali with a native version of KiSwahili. These minorities suffer discrimination in many forms, even in refugee camps. Many "Bantu" refugees in Kenya are afraid to return to Somalia, feeling that they would become still more vulnerable as a result of the political instability. Similar views are expressed by the Barawanese, another minority in Somalia.

People with Disabilities

There were no laws mandating accessibility to public buildings, transportation, or government services for the disabled before the collapse of the State. No functioning government is yet in place that could address these issues.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1990 Constitution provided workers with the right to form unions, but the civil war and factional fighting negated this provision and shattered the single labor confederation, the then government-controlled General Federation of Somali Trade Unions. Given the extent of Somalia's political and economic breakdown and the lack of legal enforcement mechanisms, trade unions could not function freely in the country at this time.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Wages and work requirements in traditional Somali culture are largely established by ad hoc bartering, based on supply, demand, and the influence of the clan from which the worker originates. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

There was no information available on this topic.

d. Minimum age for Employment of Children

Formal employment of children was rare; but armed adolescents participated in various militias (see Section 5), and youth are commonly fully employed in herding, agriculture, and household labor across Somalia from an early age.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no organized effort by any of the factions to monitor acceptable conditions of work in Somalia during 1994. Corrected 1/31/95  

[1]* The absence of progress toward reconciliation and a continued decline in security led to the relocation of the U.S. Liaison Office from Mogadishu to Nairobi on September 15. U.S. diplomats based in Kenya made periodic visits to Somalia after that date.

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