Freedom in the World 2017 - Djibouti

Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 

Djibouti is a republic ruled by a powerful president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, who has been in office since 1999 and is not subject to term limits. While Djibouti technically has a multiparty political system, the ruling Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP) has seized all state power. The opposition’s ability to operate is severely constrained, and journalists and activists critical of Guelleh or the UMP are regularly harassed or arrested. Freedoms of assembly and association are restricted. 

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • President Ismail Omar Guelleh was reelected for a fourth term in April, in a poll that was boycotted by some opposition parties.
  • Journalists and activists working on contentious issues, including the April presidential election and the killing of at least 19 people by police at a December 2015 religious demonstration, were subject to harassment and arbitrary arrest during the year.
Executive Summary: 

President Guelleh was reelected in April 2016 with 87 percent of the vote, in an election boycotted by the majority of the Djiboutian opposition. The run-up to the presidential election was marked by restrictions on free speech and the harassment and detention of opposition figures. Journalists from the independent internet radio station La Voix de Djibouti, run by exiles in Europe, and opposition-affiliated outlets were arrested in the months leading up to the election. Foreign journalists who covered election were also subject to government reprisals: a British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) team was detained and deported from the country in April.

An agreement between the ruling UMP and the opposition Union for National Salvation (USN), reached in December 2014 after months of disputes and noncooperation following the 2013 parliamentary elections, was again neglected in 2016. While the opposition ended its boycott of parliament, it continued to claim that the government was neglecting key democratic reforms promised in the deal.

The government continued to harass and imprison human rights defenders in 2016. In January, Omar Ali Ewado—a leader of the Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits Humains (LDDH) who had been detained in December 2015 after publishing the names of people allegedly killed by police during a religious demonstration earlier that month—was convicted of inciting hatred and spreading false news. He was sentenced to three months in jail, but released in February after his sentence was overturned by the Appeals Court of Djibouti.

Political Rights

Political Rights 7 / 40 (–2)

A. Electoral Process 2 / 12 (–1)

A1. Is the head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
A2. Are the national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair?


B. Political Pluralism and Participation 3 / 16

B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
B2. Is there a significant opposition vote and a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
B4. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?


C. Functioning of Government 2 / 12 (–1)

C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
C2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
C3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?


Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties 19 / 40

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief 6 / 16

D1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
D2. Are religious institutions and communities free to practice their faith and express themselves in public and private?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
D4. Is there open and free private discussion?


E. Associational and Organizational Rights 3 / 12

E1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations?
E3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining? Are there free professional and other private organizations?


F. Rule of Law 4 / 16

F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
F2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
F3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights 6 / 16

G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of travel or choice of residence, employment, or institution of higher education?
G2. Do individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, political parties/organizations, or organized crime?
G3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
G4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation?


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

Explanatory Note: 

This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Djibouti, see Freedom in the World 2016.