U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Djibouti

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.


Despite 1992 constitutional changes that permitted the creation of four political parties, President Hassan Gouled Aptidon and the People's Rally for Progress (RPP), in power since independence in 1977, continue to rule the country. Two main ethnic groups hold most political power: Somali Issas (the tribe of the President), and Afars. Citizens from other Somali clans (Issak, Gadabursi, and Darod), and those of Yemeni and other origins, are limited in their access to top positions. In 1994 the Government and a faction of the Afar-led Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD) signed a peace accord, ending 3 years of civil war. In the accord, the Government agreed to recognize the FRUD as a legitimate political party. The Government named two FRUD leaders to cabinet positions in 1995; however, part of the FRUD rejected the peace accord and remains opposed to the Government. Two other legal political parties have existed since 1992, the National Democratic Party (PND) and the Party for Democratic Renewal (PRD); neither holds a parliamentary seat or a cabinet level post. In December the ruling party coalition that includes the FRUD party won all 65 seats in legislative elections. The elections took place without international observers, and the opposition claimed massive fraud. Presidential elections are scheduled for 1999. President Gouled implied that he would not run. The judiciary is not independent of the executive. The 8,000-member National Police Force (FNP) is responsible for internal security and border control, and is overseen by the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Defense controls the army and the gendarmerie, and a small intelligence bureau reports directly to the President. Civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces, but there were instances in which the security forces acted independently of the Government's authority; some members committed human rights abuses. Djibouti has little industry and few natural resources. Services provide most of the national income. Minor mineral deposits remain mostly unexploited. Only a tenth of the land is arable and 1 percent is forested. Outside the capital city, the primary economic activity is nomadic subsistence. People are free to pursue private business interests and to hold personal and real property. The part of the annual gross domestic product not generated by and for the expatriate community, which includes some 10,000 French citizens, is estimated at no more than $250 per capita annually. The Government's human rights record continued to be poor. Citizens have not yet been allowed to exercise the right to change their government. Members of the security forces committed at least one extrajudicial killing. There were credible reports that some members of the security forces beat and otherwise abused detainees and sexually assaulted female inmates. Prison conditions are harsh. The Government continued to harass, intimidate, and imprison political opponents and union leaders. The Government continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily and infringed upon citizens' right to privacy. Police occasionally jailed or intimidated journalists. The Government limited freedom of assembly, and freedom of association is restricted. Discrimination against women persists, and the practice of female genital mutilation continued to be widespread. Discrimination on the basis of ethnic background persists.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Security forces were responsible for one known extrajudicial killing. On January 27, police shot and killed Hassan Aden Farah and injured one of his two passengers, following a car chase. Police reported finding numerous firearms in the car and at the victim's home. The Government, which had had Farah under surveillance for some time, said that he was plotting to kill a high-level official and had tried to help a former national treasurer escape from police detention during a May 1996 demonstration. The Government has not taken any action against the police in connection with this killing. One of the two passengers, who was said to be accompanying the victim to find a car part, was reportedly tortured. Legal proceedings have begun against six soldiers accused in the 1995 killings of Randa's religious leader, Ali Houmed Souleh, and an associate, Said Aramis. The Ministry blamed the failure to bring cases to closure in an expeditious manner on a lack of qualified personnel. In August FRUD rebel holdouts killed 11 soldiers (see Section 2.d.).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. There were no developments in the 1995 abduction of four persons by armed men in the north, or in the 1995 kidnaping of a traditional Afar chief at Alalli Dada.

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

The Constitution states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to other inhumane, cruel, degrading, or humiliating punishments, and torture is punishable by 15 years' imprisonment. However, one person apprehended while traveling in Hassan Farah's car was reportedly tortured by police (see Section 1.a.). There were credible reports that police sometimes beat and otherwise physically abused prisoners and detainees. There were no reports that any police officers were punished for such abuses. The police also beat demonstrators (see Section 2.b.). The National Police provide all prison guards. Prison conditions are harsh and severely overcrowded. Gabode Prison, built for 350 persons, at times houses nearly twice that number. The Government sometimes shortens prison terms to reduce overcrowding. The Justice Ministry estimates that 60 percent of prisoners are illegal Ethiopian immigrants who have committed crimes in Djibouti. Children of female inmates under the age of 5 are sometimes allowed to stay with their mothers; authorities say that milk is provided for them. Reportedly, prisoners must pay authorities to obtain food. Health care sources reported that prison guards rape female and adolescent inmates. At least one rape victim became pregnant and required health care. There are no educational facilities within the prison. Ministry of Justice officials said that lack of funding hampers their ability to provide even minimal services. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continues to maintain an office in Djibouti and an ICRC delegate from Nairobi, Kenya made quarterly visits to the main prison.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Despite legal protections, arbitrary arrest and detention are problems. The 1995 Penal Code stipulates that the State may not detain a person beyond 48 hours without an examining magistrate's formal charge. Detainees may be held another 24 hours with the prior approval of the public prosecutor. All persons, including those accused of political or national security offenses, must be tried within 8 months of arraignment. Nevertheless, the police often disregarded these procedures, typically arresting persons without warrants and sometimes detaining them for lengthy periods without charge. The Penal Code provides for bail and expeditious trial. Incommunicado detention is used. In February in the midst of a teachers' strike, security forces detained four teachers who were active in their unions. Osman Miguil Wais was accused of inciting others to riot and held for 6 days, Souleiman Ahmed Mohamed and Mohamed Ali Djama were accused of inciting others to riot and held for 4 days, and Abdulazia Mohamed was accused of inciting a popular uprising and held for 4 days. Several hundred other teachers and sympathizers were detained briefly at the Nagad detention center. Awaleh Guelleh Assone, who was being held along with four other alleged terrorists for the 1990 bombing of a Djibouti cafe escaped from Gabode prison in September. The Government's investigation of the attack was ongoing at year's end. In April 1996, the French Government issued an international arrest warrant for National Democratic Party president Aden Robleh Awaleh and his wife, Aicha Omar Dabar, for their alleged part in the bombing. The two remain free in Djibouti. Aicha Dabaleh and her husband Mohamed Kadami were among four FRUD rebels extradited from Ethiopia in late September (see Section 2.d.). Dabaleh, who was then pregnant, remained in prison until November. Her supporters claimed that she was not involved with the others. The Government does not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and magistrates are appointed for life terms. In practice, however, the judiciary is not independent of the executive. Constitutional provisions for a fair trial are not universally respected, even in nonpolitical cases, because of interference from the executive branch. Since ministerial changes in December, the Justice Minister is responsible for human rights. The judiciary, based on the French Napoleonic Code, comprises a lower court, an appeals courts, and a Supreme Court. There are no longer "special courts" to try cases outside normal judiciary channels. The Supreme Court can overrule decisions of the lower courts. A Constitutional Council rules on the constitutionality of laws, including those related to the protection of human rights and civil liberties. Its rulings are not always respected, however. In August 1996, for example, the Constitutional Council ruled that the Parliament's Disciplinary Committee had wrongly denied the parliamentary immunity of three legislators. No action was taken on the ruling. In May the Council's president, Djama Amareh Meidal and two other members, Supreme Court president Hussein Aganeh, and bank executive Mohamed Aden, were removed from their positions on the Council. In contrast, three Appellate Court judges removed in May 1996, reportedly for political reasons, were later reinstated in new jobs in the Justice Ministry. Opposition leaders criticized a Lawyers' Council decision in February to disbar Meidal and another attorney, Aref Mohamed Aref. Aref, currently Secretary General of the faction of the Democratic Renewal Party (PRD), not recognized by the Government, was a defense attorney for five politicians jailed for criticizing President Gouled (see Section 1.a.). Other members of the legal profession said that despite their laudable human rights work, the two lawyers had acted unethically in other cases. A civil suit against Aref is pending. In early October, an outspoken French parliamentarian was refused entry into Djibouti to attend Aref's hearing. The legal system is composed of legislation and executive decrees, French codified law adopted at independence, Shari'a law, and nomadic traditions. Urban crime is dealt with in accordance with French-inspired law and judicial practice in the regular courts. Civil actions may be brought in regular or traditional courts. Shari'a law is restricted to civil and family matters. The Justice Ministry is combining the three types of law in a new text designed to promote women's rights and provide greater protection of children. Traditional Law (Xeer) is often used in conflict resolution and victim compensation. This traditional law stipulates that, for example, a blood price be paid to the victim's clan for crimes such as murder and rape. The Constitution states that the accused is innocent until proven guilty, and has the right to legal counsel and to be examined by a doctor if imprisoned. Although trials are officially public, Daher Ahmed Farah was tried and convicted privately. Legal counsel is supposed to be available to the indigent in criminal and civil matters. Court cases are heard in public before a presiding judge and two accompanying judges. The latter receives assistance from two persons--assessors--who are not members of the bench, but who are thought to possess sufficient legal sophistication to comprehend court proceedings. The Government chooses assessors from the public at large, but credible reports indicate that political and ethnic affiliations play a role in the selection. The five, Moumin Bahdon Farah, the former Justice Minister and Foreign Minister; Ahmed Boulaleh Barreh, the former Defense Minister; Ali Mahamade Houmed, the former Industry Minister; Ismael Guedi Hared, the former Presidential Cabinet Director; and Abdillahi Guirreh, a former ruling party annex president, had been convicted of inciting to violence, using tribalism for political ends, and disseminating false information In early January, five political prisoners arrested in August 1996 were released. The five had claimed in a published statement that President Gouled rules by terror and force and without regard to the Constitution; they were sentenced to 6 months in jail, fined $1,200 each, and prohibited from seeking elected office for a period of 5 years. Although the prisoners were released after serving their terms, the election ban remains in place. On December 17, police prevented Moumin Bahdon Farah from leaving his home to attend an opposition political rally. Also on December 17, police detained a ruling party member of the National Assembly active in the opposition, Mahdi Ibrahim Guellah, for 8 hours. There are no other political prisoners remaining.

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

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the family, home, correspondence, and communications. The law also requires that the authorities obtain a warrant before conducting searches on private property. However, in practice the Government does not always obtain warrants before conducting such searches, and it reportedly monitors and sometimes disrupts the communications of some regime opponents.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of the press; however, at times the Government restricted this right in practice. The law prohibits the dissemination of false information and regulates the publication of newspapers. The Constitution prohibits condemnation of the President (see Section 1.a.). In October government security forces seized equipment form the office of the Unified Front of the Djiboutian Opposition (FUOD) in order to prevent it from publishing newsletters and communiques, and detained the FUOD's vice-president for 12 hours. By year's end, the FUOD's equipment had not been returned. In October police also seized printing equipment from the office of the PRD faction not recognized by the Government. The Government owns the radio and television stations. It also owns the principal weekly newspaper, La Nation. The official media generally are uncritical of government leaders and government policy. There are several opposition-run weekly and monthly publications that circulate freely and openly criticize the Government. However, journalists, and even vendors of opposition papers, are occasionally jailed or intimidated by police. There are no specific laws or criminal sanctions that threaten academic freedom. In general, teachers may speak and conduct research without restriction, provided that they not violate sedition laws.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The right to free assembly is provided for in the Constitution, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. However, the Ministry of Interior requires permits for peaceful assembly and monitors opposition activities. While permits generally are approved, the Government commonly uses a show of police force and threatening tactics to intimidate and discourage would-be demonstrators. Some opposition leaders effectively practiced self-censorship and, rather than provoke a government crackdown, refrained from organizing popular demonstrations. In several cases during the 1996-97 school year, police beat and detained demonstrating teachers. Police briefly detained hundreds of teachers' union members who participated in a strike in February (see Section 6.a.). The Constitution provides for freedom of association provided that certain legal requirements are met. The Constitution provides for four political parties. The Government took advantage of an absence of leadership in the main opposition party, the PRD, following the late 1996 death of its leader, and conferred legal recognition on the weaker half of the party. Police detained pro-activist Daher Ahmed Farah on October 12, and charged Farah in a closed hearing with illegally operating a political party, illegally publishing a newspaper, disseminating false information, forgery (for the use of party seals), usurping a title, and organizing an illegal demonstration. Daher was given "provisional liberty" on November 1 (see Section 1.e.). Nonpolitical associations must register and be approved by the Ministry of Interior.

c. Freedom of Religion

Islam is the state religion. Virtually the entire population is Sunni Muslim. There are also a small number of Catholics. The Government imposes no sanctions on those who choose to ignore Islamic teachings. The foreign community supports Roman Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches. Foreign clergy and missionaries may perform charitable works, but proselytizing, while not illegal, is unofficially discouraged.

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

The Constitution allows freedom of movement. This right may be limited only by law. In general citizens may travel or emigrate without restriction or interference. However, some Afar leaders have had their passports revoked or denied, and Muslim women unaccompanied by a spouse or adult male have been prohibited from traveling to certain Gulf countries. Authorities seized the tickets and passport of a dissident member of the National Assembly in September as he attempted to leave the country to attend a meeting of the Interparliamentary Union in Cairo, Egypt. His documents had not been returned by yearend. Djibouti hosts 70,000 to 100,000 refugees and illegal immigrants from neighboring countries, equal to about one-fifth the population. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) assists 20,000 Somali and 1,000 Ethiopian residents of Djibouti's three refugee camps. Some 1,500 Ethiopian and Somali urban refugees are registered with the UNHCR in Djibouti City. There has been no major repatriation since the UNHCR's 1994-96 repatriation of 35,000 Ethiopian refugees and migrants from the capital. Up to 18,000 Afars sought asylum in Ethiopia during the 1991-94 civil war in Djibouti. At least 10,000 are said to have repatriated spontaneously since the 1994 peace accord. According to Ethiopian authorities, some 8,000 remain in Ethiopia. Because the displaced Afar were not in refugee camps, and because Afars are indigenous to Ethiopia and Eritrea as well, it is difficult to estimate their number. Early in the year, the Government officially welcomed Afars to return, and several prominent former resistance figures did so. However, the killing of 11 Djiboutian soldiers by FRUD rebel holdouts on September 1 led to renewed tensions and a crackdown on suspected "sympathizers" in the north. In connection with the September 1 incident, in late September, the Ethiopian government extradited at least four Afar leaders who were living voluntarily in exile (see Section 1.d.). While the army has been ordered to vacate Afar homes and land occupied during the conflict, some areas still appear controlled by the soldiers. In October there were reports of enhanced cooperation with the Government of Ethiopia in combating armed Afar movements. In October, eight Djiboutian Afars were reportedly deported by Ethiopia with no legal mandate. By mid-November, 15 FRUD leaders were reportedly in detention. In the week before the December legislative elections, there were several minor clashed between the army and the Afars; there were few casualties. In November the Government expelled Sudanese refugee Osman Hassan Babiker to Ethiopia; he had been under the UNHCR protection. The Government stated that Djibouti was not Babiker's country of first asylum, and therefore he was not qualified to be a refugee in Djibouti. The UNHCR objected to the Government's action, which disregarded the procedures that the Government had agreed to with the UNHCR.

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

Although the Constitution provides for the right of citizens to change their government, in practice citizens have not yet been allowed to exercise fully this right. The RPP has carefully controlled the implementation of the new four-party system to suppress any organized opposition. The RPP alliance with the legal FRUD party won all 65 seats in the December legislative elections. The elections took place without international observers amid opposition claims of fraud. Presidential elections are scheduled for 1999. President Gouled, who has held that office since independence in 1977 and was reelected in 1993, has implied that he would not seek that office again. In 1992 a voter referendum approved a measure to limit the number of political parties to four. However, this result was never codified into law. The opposition groups, the FUOD, the Daher Ahmed Farah faction of the PRD, and the Group for Democracy and the Republic (GDR), which were not permitted to contest the elections because they are not recognized parties, joined to form the Coordination Committee of the Djiboutian Opposition (CCOD). The 1994 peace agreement between the Government and the FRUD required that FRUD members be included in senior government positions. Two FRUD members who were named to the Cabinet in June 1995 remain in office. The government-recognized faction of the FRUD was registered as a political party in 1996 and held its first congress in April. The unrecognized FRUD faction includes members who refused to accept the terms of the peace accord, as well as Afars extradited from Ethiopia in September (see Section 2.d). Although legally entitled to participate in the political process, women are largely excluded from senior positions in government and in the political parties. There are no women in the Cabinet or in Parliament. Khadija Abeba, president of the Supreme Court is the highest ranking female official. She and six women serve as judges, and one is a director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While women have the right to vote, there were no female candidates in the December legislative elections.

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

Discrimination based on ethnic background limits the role of members of minority clans in government and politics. The lssa, the dominant Somali clan, control the ruling party. The President's subclan, the Mamassan, wields disproportionate power in affairs of state. Afars hold a number of high ministerial posts, but are not so well represented at lower levels. Somali clans other than the Issa, and Djiboutians of Yemeni origin, are at present unofficially limited to one ministerial post each. There are also informal limits on the number of seats for each group in the Parliament. The Government remains hostile to the formation of local human rights groups. The Government has arrested and released Mohamed Houmed Souleh, the leader of the Association for the Defense of Human Rights and Liberties (ADDHL), several times since 1993 for criticizing military abuses in the civil conflict. He stopped speaking publicly in 1996. Credible sources reported that the Government hired Souleh on the condition that he limit the ADDHL's criticism of the Government. The Union of Djiboutian Women (UNFD) and the Djiboutian Association for the Promotion of the Family (ADEFF) promote the rights of women and children. No other local human rights groups exist. The ICRC visited the country during the year as did Education International (see Section 1.c.).

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

While the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of language, race, sex, or religion; however, discrimination against women ethnic minorities persists. In particular, the Government's enforcement of laws to protect women and children is weak.


Violence against women exists but reported cases are few. The Government has been concerned about the problem of rape, and the 1995 revised Penal Code includes sentences of up to 20 years in prison for rapists. More than 100 such cases have been tried. Violence against women is normally dealt with within the family or clan structure rather than in the courts. The police rarely intervene in domestic violence incidents, and the media report only the most extreme examples, such as murder. Women legally possess full civil rights, but in practice, due to custom and traditional societal discrimination in education, they play a secondary role in public life and have fewer employment opportunities then men. Few woman work in managerial and professional positions, and women are largely confined to trade and secretarial fields. Customary law discriminates against women in such areas as inheritance, divorce, property ownership, and travel (see Section 2.d.). Educated women increasingly turn to the regular courts to defend their interests.


The Government devotes almost no public funds to the advancement of children's rights and welfare. A few charitable organizations work with children. Primary education is compulsory. However, the Government does not monitor compliance. Approximately 20 percent of children complete secondary education. According to an recent report, as many as 98 percent of females 7 years or older had undergone female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. FGM is traditionally performed on girls between the ages of 7 and 10. In 1988 the UNFD began an educational campaign against infibulation, the most extensive and dangerous form of FGM. The campaign has had only a limited impact on the prevalence of this custom, which is pervasive in rural areas. After the 1995 U.N. Women's Conference in Cairo, Egypt, the UNFD declared that all forms of mutilation should be forbidden. The revised Penal Code that went into effect in April 1995 states that "violence causing genital mutilation" is punishable by 5 years imprisonment and a fine of over $5,600 (one million Djibouti francs). However, the Government has not yet convicted anyone under this statute. The efforts of the UNFD and other groups appear to be having some effect, at least in the capital city. Some health workers reported a precipitous drop in the number of hospitalizations related to FGM in Djibouti City. Many believe the incidence of infibulation has decreased, although no systematic data are available on the problem. U.N. and other experts believe that lesser forms of FGM are still widely practiced, and that the most extreme procedure, infibulation, is still common in rural areas. The Government has not addressed other forms of child abuse, which are often lightly punished. For example, when a child is raped or abused, the perpetrator is usually fined an amount sufficient to cover the child's medical care. The Government has not used provisions of the Penal Code to deal with child abuse more severely.

People With Disabilities

The Government does not mandate accessibility to buildings or government services for people with disabilities. Although disabled persons have access to education and public health facilities, there is no specific legislation that addresses the needs of the disabled, and there are no laws or regulations that prevent job discrimination against disabled persons. The disabled have difficulty finding employment in an economy where at least 60 percent of the able-bodied adult male population is underemployed or jobless.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Government continued to discriminate against citizens on the basis of ethnicity in employment and job advancement. The Issa, the dominant Somali clan, control the ruling party, the civil and security services, and the military forces. While Afars hold a number of high ministerial positions, they do not appear so well represented at lower levels. Clans other than the Issa and citizens of Yemeni origin are unofficially limited to one ministerial position each. There are also semiofficial limits on the number of Xeers for each group in Parliament.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Under the Constitution, workers are free to join unions and to strike provided that they comply with legally prescribed requirements. Since 1992, unions are supposed to be free to join or form other confederations. The state body, the General Union of Djiboutian Workers (UGTD) and the Democratic Labor Union (UDT) formed a confederation in 1995 and have gained increasing support despite government harassment. In the small formal economy, about 70 percent of workers are members of the combined UDT/UGTD confederation. Previously the Government controlled individual unions by making membership mandatory in the state-organized labor confederation. To counter the UDT/UGTD, the Government created the Djiboutian Labor Congress (CODJITRA), composed of Ministry of Labor officials. At its June meeting, the International Labor Organization (ILO) determined that the Government had violated the ILO constitution by not allowing a member of the UDT/UGTD confederation to join the workers' delegation at the meeting. The headquarters of the UDT/UGTD confederation, sealed off by the Government in May 1996, remains closed, and their bank accounts remained frozen at year's end. The law requires representatives of employees who plan to strike to contact the Interior Ministry 48 hours in advance. All strikes during the year were legal. Although the labor law prohibits employer retribution against strikers, the teachers' strike in February resulted in police beating, arbitrarily arresting, and detaining teachers and union leaders and briefly detaining hundreds of union supporters (see Sections 1.d. and 2.b.). The Government also suspended, fired, or transferred scores of teachers active in the union to less desirable assignments in rural areas. In some cases, union leaders were forcibly evicted from government-provided housing. Beginning in January, the Government stopped providing public housing for civil servants and delayed paying housing stipends. Unions are free to maintain relations and exchanges with labor organizations abroad. The UDT has been a member of the ICFTU since 1994.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Although labor has the legal right to organize and bargain collectively, collective bargaining rarely occurs. Relations between employers and workers are informal and paternalistic. Wage rates are generally established unilaterally by employers on the basis of Ministry of Labor guidelines. In disputes over wages or health and safety problems, the Ministry of Labor encourages direct resolution by labor representatives and employers. Workers or employers may request formal administrative hearings before the Ministry's inspection service, but critics claim that the service suffers from poor enforcement, due to its low priority and inadequate funding. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination, and employers found guilty are legally required to reinstate workers fired for union activities. However, the law does not appear to be enforced. An export processing zone (EPZ) was established in 1994. Firms in the EPZ are exempt from the Government's social security and medical insurance programs. Instead, they must provide either government or private accident insurance. The minimum wage in the EPZ is approximately $1 per hour. Although the regular workweek is 40 hours, in the EPZ it is 45 hours. An employee who works for the same firm in the EPZ for at least 1 year has the right to 15 days' annual leave, compared with 30 days in the rest of the country (see Section 6.e.).

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits all forced or compulsory labor including children; while this is generally observed, security forces reportedly sometimes compel illegal immigrants to work for them under the threat of deportation.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all labor by children under the age of 14, but the Government does not always enforce this prohibition effectively, and a shortage of labor inspectors reduces the likelihood of investigation (see Section 6.c.). The minimum age for the employment of children is 14 years, and the law is generally respected. However, a shortage of labor inspectors reduces the likelihood of investigations being carried out. Children are generally not employed for hazardous work. Children may and do work in family-owned businesses, such as restaurants and small shops, at all hours.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Only a small minority of the population is engaged in wage employment. The Government administratively sets minimum wage rates according to occupational categories, and the Ministry of Labor is charged with enforcement. The monthly wage rate for unskilled labor, set in 1976, is approximately $90 (15,000 Djiboutian francs). Most employers pay more than the minimum wage. Some workers also receive housing and transportation allowances. The minimum wage for unskilled labor does not provide adequate compensation for a worker and family to maintain a decent standard of living. By law the work week is 40 hours, often spread over 6 days. Some employers ask employees to work up to 12 hours per day and pay them an additional wage. Workers are provided daily and weekly rest periods and paid annual leave. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing occupational health and safety standards, wages, and work hours. Because enforcement is ineffective, workers sometimes face hazardous working conditions, particularly at the port. Workers rarely protest, mainly out of fear that they may be replaced by others willing to accept the risks. There are no laws or regulations permitting workers to refuse to carry out dangerous work assignments without jeopardy to continued employment.

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