Freedom in the World 2000 - 2001

Ratings Change: 

Somalia’s political rights rating changed from 7 to 6 following the election of a president and national assembly through peace talks held in Djibouti.


A decade without a government in Somalia ended in August 2000, when representatives from civic and religious organizations, women’s groups, and clans came together to elect a president and parliament. The Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, as the grassroots-inspired congress was called, voted for the 245 members of the Transitional National Assembly, or parliament. Members of parliament then elected President Abdiqassim Salad Hassan, 58, a former government minister and member of the Hawiye clan, as the country's first president since the overthrow of General Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991. The congress that elected Somalia’s new government came out of peace talks hosted by Djibouti.

Somalia, a Horn Africa nation, has been wracked for more than a decade by civil war, clan fighting, and natural disasters ranging from drought to flood to famine. Extensive television coverage of famine and civil strife that took approximately 300,000 lives in 1991 and 1992 prompted a U.S.-led international intervention. The armed humanitarian mission in late 1992 quelled clan combat long enough to stop the famine, but ended in urban guerrilla warfare against Somali militias. The last international forces withdrew in March 1995 after the casualty count reached the thousands. Approximately 100 peacekeepers, including 18 U.S. soldiers, were killed. The $4 billion United Nations intervention effort had little lasting impact.

Somalia gained independence in July 1960 with the union of British Somaliland and territories to the south that had been an Italian colony. Other ethnic Somali-inhabited lands are now part of Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya. General Siad Barre seized power in 1969 and increasingly employed divisive clan politics to maintain power. Civil war, starvation, banditry, and brutality have wracked Somalia since the struggle to topple Barre began in the late 1980s. When Barre was deposed in January 1991, power was claimed and contested by heavily armed guerilla movements and militias based on traditional ethnic and clan loyalties.

Although armed factions in Mogadishu still pose a threat, their power has diminished considerably because even their most ardent supporters seemed to realize they had nothing to offer. This was clear when more than 120,000 people in the destroyed capital, Mogadishu, turned out to welcome the new president. A government security force was cobbled together from members of the former administration’s military, the police, and militias to help deal with the threat of militia leaders. In November, a member of parliament was shot dead in front of his wife and children. The security situation, however, has improved considerably. No group controls more than a fraction of the country's territory. All of the country’s warlords reject the government, but they are weaker than they have ever been. Banditry remains endemic.

Somalia’s dollar economy hardly functions on a formal level. The private sector, however, is growing rapidly among those who are prepared to pay the high overhead costs associated with a country that lacks basic infrastructure, including running water and electricity.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The elections in 2000 marked the first time Somalis have had an opportunity to choose their government on a somewhat national basis since 1969. Insecurity prevails in the countryside, preventing a popular vote from taking place. However, 3,000 representatives of civic and religious organizations, women’s groups, and clans came together as the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development to elect a president and parliament in August. More than 20 candidates contested the first round of voting for the presidency. Four candidates began the second round, but one dropped out. In the third round, Abdiqassim Salad Hassan beat his closest rival, Abdullahi Ahmed Addow, by 145 votes to 92, easily getting more than the simple majority of 123 votes required. The Inter-Governmental Authority chose the lawyers who drafted the country’s new charter.

The local administrations in Somaliland and Puntland, which rejected Somalia’s peace process, have conducted some form of elections and installed apparently stable governments with functioning legislative arms and courts. In vast areas of the countryside, however, rival clan warlords still rule by force of arms.

Somalia’s new charter provides for an independent judiciary, although a formal judicial system has ceased to exist. Islamic courts operating in Mogadishu have been effective in bringing a semblance of law and order to the city. Most of the courts are aligned with various subclans. Prison conditions are harsh in some areas, but improvements are underway.

Human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, beatings, and arbitrary detention by Somalia’s various armed factions, remain a problem, but security has improved markedly compared with previous years. Few politically motivated killings, disappearances, or incidents of torture were reported. Most violations are linked to banditry. Several international aid organizations, women’s groups, and local human rights groups operate in the country.

Somalia’s charter provides for press freedom. Independent radio and television stations have proliferated, including Horn Afrik, which provided live coverage of the Djibouti peace talks. Most of the independent newspapers or newsletters that circulate in Mogadishu are linked to one faction or another. Journalists face harassment; however, most receive the protection of the clan behind their publication.

The Republic of Somaliland has exercised de facto independence since May 1991. A clan conference led to a peace accord among its clan factions in 1997, establishing a presidency and bicameral parliament with proportional clan representation. Political parties are banned. Somaliland is far more cohesive than the rest of the country, although reports of some human rights abuses persist. Puntland was established as a regional government in 1998, with a presidency and a single-chamber quasi legislature known as the Council of Elders. Political parties are banned. The governor of the Hiiraan region in south-central Somalia announced in December that an autonomous regional government had been set up in Hiiraan. He said its structure would be similar to those of Somaliland and Puntland.

Although more than 80 percent of Somalis share a common ethnic heritage, religion, and nomadic-influenced culture, discrimination is widespread. Clans exclude one another from participation in social and political life. Minority clans are harassed, intimidated, and abused by armed gunmen. Clan rivalry often escalates into violence and has been responsible for the past decade of lawlessness.

Somalia is an Islamic state, and religious freedom is not guaranteed. The Sunni majority often view non-Sunni Muslims with suspicion. Members of the small Christian community face societal harassment if they proclaim their religion.

Women’s groups were instrumental in galvanizing support for Somalia’s peace process. As a result of their participation, women occupy at least 30 seats in parliament. The country’s new charter prohibits sexual discrimination, but women experience such discrimination intensely under customary practices and variants of Koranic law. Polygyny is permitted, but polyandry is not. Those found guilty in the death of a woman must pay only half as much to the family as they would if the victim were a man. Infibulation, the most severe form of female genital mutilation, is routine. UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations are working to raise awareness about the health dangers of the practice. Various armed factions have recruited children into their militias.

The charter provides workers with the right to form unions, but civil war and factional fighting led to the dissolution of the single labor confederation, the government-controlled General Federation of Somali Trade Unions.  Wages are established largely by ad hoc bartering and the influence of the clan affiliation. 

2001 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Civil Liberties

(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Political Rights

(1 = best, 7 = worst)