Human Rights and Democracy: The 2011 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report - Quarterly Updates: Somalia

Quarterly Updates: Somalia

Latest Update: 31 December 2012

There have been significant political changes in Somalia marked by the end of the political transition and the appointment of a new Somali cabinet.  The newly elected government and the international community want to to build a stronger foundation for a functioning democracy and tackle the many systematic human rights abuses that occur throughout the country.

The Somali Human Development Report 2012 describes Somalia as ‘one of the worst countries on the world to be a woman’. The continued conflict and insecurity in Somalia is a major factor affecting women’s safety, well-being and economic opportunities. Gender inequality continues to be a significant concern and women in Somali society remain incredibly vulnerable to various forms of gender based violence. The most prevalent forms of gender based violence include: female genital mutilation, domestic violence and conflict related violence.

The last few months have seen some positive signs. President Hassan Sheikh has committed to ensuring greater participation of Somali women in political life.  The new Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid recently appointed Foreign Minister Fowziya Yusuf Sheikh Adan who is one of two women chosen to join a cabinet of ten Ministers tasked with leading Somalia out of decades of conflict.  This appointment marks a major milestone and will hopefully assist in empowering the women of Somalia.

This year the Foreign Secretary launched an initiative with the aim of strengthening international efforts to prevent sexual violence and ending the culture of impunity.  This will be a major theme in the UK’s presidency of the G8 in 2013.  The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women took place on the 25 November, this event was designed to raise awareness and challenge male dominance in society, affording women and girls equal rights. To mark the event we held round-table discussions with female activists from Somali civil-society to discuss what could be done to combat violence against women in Somalia and how the UK could support this work.

The security landscape continues to change and on 28 September, the African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) liberated Kismayo from the brutal rule of Al-Shabaab.  Kismayo is a key strategic town and has one of Somalia’s largest ports which had provided a significant source of revenue to Al-Shabaab.  The UK will work with the Federal Government of Somalia to ensure stabilisation assistance is provided in newly-recovered areas.  Ultimately, this should create the space for improved governance standards and greater protection of human rights.

There have also been positive steps towards ending the culture of impunity.  In November, a number of Somali journalists met with President Hassan Sheikh.  Following this meeting, the President requested that the Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid set up a Task Force which would be responsible for investigating all cases involving the killing of Somali journalists with the intention of bringing those responsible to justice, aiming to promote accountability and working towards abolishing impunity. However, there have been no concrete developments since the announcements and details of the composition, mandate and Terms of Reference of the Task Force have yet to be confirmed.

Despite the many developments over the last three months the human rights situation in Somalia remains fragile.  The newly elected Federal Government of Somalia need to push their political progress forward and demonstrate to Somali citizens and the international community that they are committed to improving and making credible difference to human rights.

Latest update: 30 September 2012

The last three months have seen historic change in Somalia with the election of President Hassan Sheik Mohamud on 10 September, marking the end of eight years of political transition. For the first time in years, the process was run in consultation with the people of Somalia through their elders.

To support the new President, on 26 September the Foreign Secretary announced an additional £10 million to help the new government of Somalia with its immediate needs such as promoting governance and accountability, increasing the capacity of government institutions, helping resolve constitutional issues, security and justice, and developing a free media.

While there has been political progress, the UK remains gravely concerned about the human rights situation in Somalia.  It will be important for the new government to commit to human rights and to end impunity.

On 6 August the United Nations and Somalia’s previous government – the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) – signed an action plan that commits the Somali National Armed Forces, allied militia and military groups under its control to end the killing and maiming of children and uphold the international law and safeguard the rights of citizens in Somalia.  This followed the signing by the TFG and the United Nations in July of the first action plan, which was to end the recruitment and use of children by the Somali National Armed Forces.

On 22 August the report of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, Shamsul Bari, was published in which he called upon the government of Somalia and the international community “to create a new Somalia where there is rule of law and respect of human rights for all.” A resolution was adopted by consensus at the 21st Session of the Human Rights Council on 28 September.  The resolution welcomed the election of the new President and the Independent Expert’s report, condemned ongoing attacks against journalists, and called upon the new government to takes steps to improve the human rights situation and to develop a Human Rights Post-Transition Roadmap with benchmarks and timelines to promote and protect all human rights, working alongside the Independent Expert.

Following the election of the new President, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2067 on the 18 September, welcoming the end of the transition process and  setting out the Somali government’s responsibility to do more on areas such as human rights, rule of law and tackling corruption.

On 21 September, at the twenty first session of the Human Rights Council, the UN Secretary General also submitted a report assessing current United Nations support for efforts in Somalia to end all human rights abuses and combat impunity. The UK welcomed this report.

The security landscape continues to shift. The African Union Peacekeeping Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), supported by Somalis security forces, are making strong advances and many towns have been recovered from Al Shabaab, including Mogadishu, Afgooye, Balcad, Elma’an, Merka, Baidoa, Beletweyne, Afmadow, Miido and Bibi.

The rise in insurgency attacks conducted by Al-Shabaab has continued, including a bomb attack targeting the new President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, on 12 September in which at least 8 people died and a restaurant bombing in Mogadishu on the 21 Sept in which at least 14 people were killed. Foreign Office Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds strongly condemned both attacks and noted that such attacks strengthened UK resolve to continue supporting the progress the Somali people were making towards peace and security after 21 years of suffering.

The UK is also concerned about targeted attacks on journalists in Somalia.  At least nine journalists have been killed in the last three months, eight of which were in August and September.

We continue to stress the importance of allowing press freedom with the Somali government.  On 19 July, in a meeting with Somaliland’s President and Foreign Minister, British government officials raised concerns that Somaliland’s media environment was deteriorating, with growing numbers of journalists arrested and no suitable regulatory framework.

Latest Update: 30 June 2012

The security landscape in Somalia is changing rapidly. Over the last year, Somali defence forces, together with African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somalia’s neighbours, have driven the militant group Al Shabaab out of a number of urban centres, including Mogadishu, Baidoa, Beletweyn, El Buur and Gedo. In May/June, Afgoye and Afmadow were been recovered from Al Shabaab. The UK and our international partners are now working to deliver urgent stabilisation assistance in the newly-recovered areas. Ultimately this should create the space for improved governance standards and greater protection of human rights.

The Istanbul Conference on Somalia on 31 May issued a Communiqué which reiterated that respect for human rights is critical for engendering a durable solution to Somalia’s long-running conflict. The Communiqué welcomed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) on 11 May 2012, which called on the Somali authorities to follow through with their commitment to uphold human rights and the rule of law, and put an end to the culture of violence and impunity. Speaking of the MOU, Prime Minister Abdiweli said his government was committed to enhancing the capacity of its institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights. The signing of the MOU between the UNHCHR and TFG is a positive step, butthe critical question is whether there is enough political will to deliver on this commitment. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and to raise human rights issues with the TFG.

The killing on 24 May of Ahmed Addow Anshur, a journalist working for the Shabelle Media Network, has continued the alarming pattern of attacks against the media. Anshur was the sixth Somali journalist to have been killed in as many months. He was also the sixth journalist working for Radio Shabelle to have been killed in the last five years. The Minister for Africa Mr Henry Bellingham issued a statement condemning Addow’s murder and honouring the bravery and professionalism of journalists operating in Somalia. In the statement he also urged the TFG to stand by their commitment to end the cycle of impunity and bring those responsible for the murder to justice. While the Somali authorities have opened investigations into all recent killings, to date no one has been brought to justice. A free and independent media is vital to give the Somali population access to public information and ensure the development of democratic debate. Journalists who are brave enough to expose corruption or portray particular groups negatively face particular dangers, which include intimidation, harassment, assaults, arrests, imprisonment and even killings.

In May the Foreign Secretary launched a new UK initiative to combat sexual violence in conflict areas, which is of particular relevance to women and children in Somalia. The Foreign Secretary stressed that he wanted to look at practical ways to ensure survivors feel confident to speak out. For this to happen we must work harder to erode the culture of impunity and replace it with a new culture of deterrence. We will continue to use the UK’s influence and diplomatic network to rally sustained international action and to push this issue up the global agenda.

Quarter One Update: 31 March 2012

The first quarter of 2012 saw a deterioration in freedom of expression in Somalia, with a number of attacks against high-profile journalists, suggesting the conscious targeting of the media. The death on 28 February of Abukar Hassan Kadaf, the director of Somliweyn radio station, represented the third targeted killing of a journalist in Mogadishu since December 2011. Attacks also took place in Somaliland, including the serious assault of an independent journalist, and there have been a number of media reports that the Somaliland authorities repeatedly arrested and detained journalists covering issues in the disputed border regions. On 4 March, a journalist working for the FM radio station Gaalkacyo was killed in the Puntland, bringing to four the total of journalists killed in Somalia this year. Somali journalists continue to work in dangerous conditions, often facing intimidation, unlawful detention, beatings and threats to their lives.

The UK is gravely concerned about the mistreatment faced by journalists in Somalia. The Foreign Secretary raised the issue of media freedom with the President of the Transitional Federal Government during his visit to Mogadishu in February and condemned the killing of the prominent Director of the Shabelle Media Network, Hassan Osman Abdi ‘Fantastic’. He also urged the President to establish independent inquiries into Hassan ‘Fantastic’s’ killing, and highlighted the importance of media freedoms in building democracy in Somalia.

The increased defensive action by the government against Al-Shabaab has led to the militant group resorting to a campaign of bomb attacks in the capital, for which it has claimed credit. The increase in pressure on Al Shabaab has led to its increased use of child soldiers, in an attempt to replenish its diminishing numbers of fighters. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have made a considerable effort to address human rights concerns and have looked at preventative measures to minimize civilian casualties, such as the identification of no fire zones and the training of personnel in humanitarian law and the protection of civilians.

The London Conference on Somalia held on 23 February aimed to build a more coordinated approach to international efforts on Somalia by addressing both the immediate symptoms of Somalia’s instability and the underlying causes of instability. The measures agreed at the conference should help to improve the human rights environment in the medium term. In the conference communiqué, the international community called for action to address, in particular, the grave human rights violations and abuses that women and children face. The Conference emphasised that journalists should be able to operate freely and without fear of reprisals, and that civilians must be protected. It called on the Somali authorities to take measures to uphold human rights and end the culture of impunity, and agreed to step up international efforts, including through the UN human rights architecture.

The UK worked closely with Somalia on a resolution at the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in March. The resolution was adopted by consensus and co-sponsored by over 127 States. It mandates a review of current UN human rights activity in Somalia. When the report issues in September the international community will discuss how best to strengthen the monitoring of human rights in Somalia.