Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1986

Djibouti, a small, resource-poor nation located at the
southern end of the Red Sea, is a constitutional republic with
a one-party system. It has been led by President Hassan
Gouled Aptidon since it gained independence from France in
1977. By an unwritten arrangement, the President is a member
of the politically dominant ethnic Somalis (Issa) while, as
part of the political balancing act, the Prime Minister,
chosen by the President, is from the substantial minority
Afar. There is also a sizable Arab community, mainly Yemenis,
who have a prominent role in commerce. Cabinet positions are
divided among the two dominant groups, but in reality the
Issas control the civil service and the armed forces.
Presidential elections are held every 6 years, and are next
scheduled for June 1987. Djibouti has a 65-member elected
National Assembly. Since 1981, there has been a single
political party, the Rassemblement Populaire pour le Progres
(RPP) . The last legitimately constituted alternative party,
the Afar-inspired Mouvement Populaire Djiboutien (MPD), was
outlawed in 1981 following public violence.
Djibouti's armed forces consist of a small army supplemented
by an even smaller navy and air wing. Located between two
relatively giant neighbors on the Horn of Africa — both of
which have tribal affinities with an irredentist claim — the
country has a vital, additional layer of security in the form
of a 1977 mutual defense agreement with France which ensures
the continued presence of close to 3,800 French troops.
Djibouti's economy rests on the activities of a large foreign
expatriate community (over 10,000), the maritime and
commercial activities of the Port of Djibouti, the airport,
and the operation of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad.
Recent economic stagnation has been compounded by the
continuous influx, since the Ogaden War (1977-79), of
refugees, economic migrants, and victims of drought and famine
from Ethiopia and Somalia. Notwithstanding the assistance of
the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and
other relief agencies, these large movements of peoples
clearly have placed a heavy burden on the Djiboutian economy.
There was little real change in the human rights situation in
Djibouti in 1986. Despite tightening one-party rule, the
openness of the society creates an atmosphere in which most
citizens feel free to pursue their livelihood without fear of
government interference. Free enterprise is encouraged in
Djibouti's service-oriented economy, and the right of private
property and freedom of movement are generally respected. The
legal system is still in its formative stages. On any topic
not yet covered by Djiboutian legislation, the Napoleonic
Code, initiated during the French colonial period, and, to an
extent, Shari'a generally applies. Women play a secondary
role in public life.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
• a. Political Killing
There is no conclusive evidence to substantiate the occasional
allegation or rumor of government-inspired political killing.
b. Disappearance
There were no allegations of disappearance of persons for
political causes.
c- Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment
or Punishment
In the ethnically polarized environment of Djibouti, there are
occasional allegations of cruel, inhuman, or degrading
treatment or punishment. For example. Amnesty International's
1985 Report (covering 1984) mentioned one charge from 1983 and
expressed concern over the alleged torture of nine persons
suspected of belonging to the outlawed MPD. In 1985 and 1986,
there were no substantiated cases of such injustice. However,
in September 1986, a former political leader in exile, with
self-avowed political aspirations, circulated such charges.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The current system of justice is a mixture of French and
Islamic law. This mixture results in a hybrid legal system,
based mainly on the French penal code and partly derived from
Issa tribal common law. On March 19, 1985, the Government
issued a new decree limiting detention of all persons without
charge to 48 hours. Within this period, the individual must
be charged by the examining magistrate. Moreover, the
prisoner is entitled to legal counsel and must be so
informed. Although bail and personal recognizance are
provided for, a judge may choose to hold without bail any
prisoner against whom charges have been filed. Prosecutors
are required to, and generally do file charges expeditiously.
Prison conditions are barely adequate. Family members and
counsel are permitted access to prisoners, and public health
and medical services supervise health conditions in a
generally competent manner.
There is no forced labor in Djibouti.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Both the State Security Court, established to deal with crimes
against the security of the state, and ordinary civil and
criminal courts permit family members and counsel, though not
the general public, to attend trials. The judiciary has
remained largely independent of military and executive
pressures .
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Decree Law No. 8 of June 1980 states that government
authorities "may not enter or remain in the domicile of a
private individual without his consent and without a legal
order," except, among other circumstances, when it is
necessary to facilitate the prosecution of persons accused of
crimes and when the public order is seriously disturbed.
There are occasional reports of noncompliance with this
statute .
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
All Djiboutian media are government owned and support the
Government and its policies. Radio/Television Djibouti (RTD)
claims to receive only limited guidance from senior political
levels on handling the news it presents to the public. There
is occasional criticism of the shortcomings of local
institutions, including some involving key political and
religious figures, and of corrupt and inefficient practices in
the bureaucracy, but not of the Government itself. There are
occasional confiscations of foreign publications which contain
commentary critical of the Government. The media usually do
not carry stories which feature violence, crime, or ethnic
disturbances .
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Public meetings require a permit which may be denied for
security reasons. The Government permits free association
outside the political realm, and there are several independent
social, religious, cultural, and commercial organizations.
The right of labor to organize and strike exists, but only a
small portion of the work force is unionized. Moreover, the
Government has organized the single national labor federation,
the Union Generale de Travailleurs Djiboutiens (UGTD) , and
keeps it under its control and, through it, also controls the
individual unions. Employees are not obliged to join any
union. The unions freely maintain relations with recognized
international bodies in their fields. Temporary stoppages,
usually protesting working conditions or dismissals, sometimes
occur. Most large enterprises have affiliates of the UGTD.
c. Freedom of Religion
Over 96 percent of the population is Muslim, but freedom of
religious practice, publication, and association with
coreligionists outside the country is unfettered for all
religions .
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Djiboutians travel freely within and outside their country.
Passports are generally available to all citizens. There are
no currency exchange controls.
Djibouti has had a steady inflow of refugees, economic
migrants, and famine victims in the past decade. In addition
to approximately 16,000-18,000 refugees registered with the
UNHCR, there are unknown numbers (estimates run from 2,000 to
6,000) of illegal immigrants eking out an existence on the
margins of the Djiboutian economy. Most of the refugees have
received assistance from the international community in the
refugee camp of Dikhil. Several thousand more have
spontaneously settled in the capital city. Refugees in the
camps are restricted to them and are not able to move freely.
The Government has taken an increasingly firm stand in
returning Ethiopians who do not qualify for refugee status.
On July 29, 1986, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the UNHCR decided to
resume, as of September 1, 1986, the large-scale repatriation
program halted on December 31, 1984, because of the drought.
According to the UNHCR, by December 1984 a total of 32,859
Ethiopians had been repatriated to Ethiopia, of whom 14,281
had returned to Ethiopia in UNHCR-organized rail moves, and
19,578 had returned on their own. Djiboutian police caught 12
Ethiopians in a January 1986 sweep near the Dikhil refugee
camp and returned them to Ethiopia. Persons wishing to return
voluntarily to Ethiopia may sign up at any one of three
centers. All remaining card-carrying refugees must submit to
a case-by-case reexamination of their situation, in principle
by December 31, 1986.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Djibouti is a one-party state whose leaders and candidates for
Parliament are chosen by the leadership of the party, the
Rassemblement Populaire pour le Progres (RPP) . While citizens
are encouraged to become involved in politics and to vote, the
party leadership, through a 14-member political bureau,
carefully controls and directs all political activity and in
1982 selected the single slate of candidates for the National
Assembly elections. There is thus no democratic means for
citizens of Djibouti to change their government, but there is
active competition within the party lists. The one-party
system was instituted in 1981, and the Government subseguently
detained leaders of the previous opposition party and
dissidents allegedly attempting to encourage ethnic strife.
Traditionally, representatives of most if not all of the
nation's ethnic groups are included in the ruling Cabinet.
However, some Afars complain that the country is run by and
for the Issas, who dominate the Government, the armed forces,
and the single party. Others complain that tribal and ethnic
considerations inhibit appointment of competent administrators.
In 1986 Aden Robleh Awaleh, an historical leader in the
struggle for independence, was expelled from the party for
activities considered prejudicial to the RPP. He fled the
country and has since been tried and sentenced "in absentia"
to life imprisonment for the bombing of RPP party headquarters
in Djibouti in January and for recruiting supporters for
criminal activity. In September he announced plans for the
creation of an opposition party in exile.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
On at least six occasions since independence, there have been
foreign press and other reports alleging human rights
violations by the Government. The Government has generally
responded to such charges either by denying them or by
permitting an investigation, as by the UNHCR and Amnesty
International in 1981. In July 1986, Djibouti became the 16th
African state to ratify the Human Rights Charter of the
Organization of African Unity.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Language, or Social Status
Women in Djibouti enjoy a higher public status than in some
other Islamic countries, but women's rights and family
planning are not high priorities. There are no women in
senior government or party positions. Nomadic traditions
involving female genital mutilation (particularly excision and
inf ibulation) are quite prevalent in Djibouti. The President
has recognized the key role of women in the small-trade
sector, and there is an active, local women's organization.
The level of unemployment has been high since independence.
In 1980 the International Monetary Fund reported that over 50
percent of job seekers could not find work. In 1982
unemployment was estimated at 4 5 percent and underemployment
at 33 percent of the work force. Since 1983 several factors
have exacerbated this trend: the high population growth rate,
now estimated at 3 . 1 percent; the influx of refugees and
displaced persons; and the decline in French assistance and
spending. Some estimates of overall unemployment for 1986 run
in excess of 70 percent.
To combat the high unemployment rate, the Government has
adopted a labor policy that strongly favors the employment of
nationals (expatriate labor accounts for about 20 percent of
the formal sector and better paid jobs). Extensive labor
regulations inherited from France (the 1952 labor code)
continue to govern dismissal of employees, who may — and
frequently do — seek administrative recourse against their
former employers. Given Djibouti's serious unemployment
problems and shortage of skilled workers, those who are
fortunate enough to have jobs are paid surprisingly well. The
country's average per capita income is well above that of its
neighbors. Djibouti's nominal minimum wage is about $100 per
month, but a carpenter or mason will earn six times as much,
and a maid gets at least double. Social security, medical
care, and retirement systems also exist in the formal sector.
Employers normally contribute an amount equal to 18 percent of
each employee's salary to the Government's generous pension
and medical insurance programs. Retirement is normally at 80
percent of salary after 15 years of employment with a minimum
age of 50. The legal minimum age for employment is 18, and
the standard of a 40-hour workweek is observed. However, as
with other African countries, the informal sector (including
many young children who wash cars, sell cigarettes, and shine
shoes) is flourishing.