Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
SOMALIASomalia has been without a central government since its last president, dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, fled the country in 1991. Subsequent fighting among rival faction leaders resulted in the killing, dislocation, and starvation of thousands of Somalis and led the United Nations to intervene militarily in 1992. Serious fighting among rival clans continued in Mogadishu, in the region outside of Baidoa, and in the area around Kismayo. The violence had a minimal effect on the balance of power between the various factions. Mogadishu faction leaders Ali Mahei, Hussein Aideed, and Osman Atto signed peace accords to prevent combat between the rival factions, but disagreements remained about how to govern the capital area. Leading Somalis launched several serious efforts to advance the reconciliation process. The leaders of over two dozen groups formed the National Salvation Council (NSC) in January in an attempt to establish a national government. This group did not include Hussein Aideed. Until December, the group had failed to agree on the future governance of the country. In a conference in Cairo, Egypt in December, all parties except two signed the so-called Cairo Declaration. The Declaration provides for a 13-person Council of Presidents, a prime minister, and a national assembly. A National Reconciliation Conference in early 1998 in Baidoa is scheduled to negotiate further details, including appointments. The NSC's executive committee, a five-member body that included the major faction leaders, organized a national reconciliation conference in Bosasso in November; however, it did not lead to concrete results. Various intermediaries, including the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic conference, the United Nations, the Organization of African Unity, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) sought to promote reconciliation, with little success. In the northwest, the separatist Republic of Somaliland (Somaliland) established a Constitution and a Parliament and conducted democratic elections. The Somaliland authorities refused to participate in the national reconciliation conference. It continued to proclaim its independence but did not receive international recognition. The absence of a central government prompted the continued establishment of rudimentary local administrations, most of which are based on the authority of the predominant clan and faction in the area. Local authority remained contested, however, in the Kismayo area, parts of the northwest, and in Mogadishu. Judicial structures are dependent on the predominant local clans and factions for their authority. Clan and factional militias, in some cases supplemented by local police forces established with U.N. help in the early 1990's, continued to function with varying degrees of effectiveness. Police and militias committed numerous human rights abuses. While the country is desperately poor, the economy continued to improve in 1997. Relative peace in much of the country, leading to the rising level of commercial activity, contributed to this recovery. Livestock and fruit exports continued to revive, although exports remained disrupted by the closure of Mogadishu seaport throughout the year. Somalia remains a chronic food deficit country, however, and some of the most fertile agricultural regions suffered from drought, serious flooding, or both. In November floods caused by torrential rains left as many as 250,000 homeless in the south. Weather-related problems and the lack of employment opportunities led to some malnutrition in Mogadishu and other communities. International relief efforts were hampered by political insecurity. Human rights abuses continued. Many civilian citizens were killed in factional fighting, especially among the Hussein Aideed, Osman Atto, Ali Madhi, and Musa Sude factions in the Mogadishu, Baidoa, and Kismayo areas. Numerous persons were killed in interclan fighting in the Baidoa and Kismayo areas. Key human rights problems remained the lack of political rights in the absence of a central authority, the reliance of some communities on harsh Shari'a punishments, including amputations and stoning, harsh prison conditions, societal discrimination against women, and the mistreatment of women and children, including the nearly universal practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). There is no effective system for the protection of worker rights.