Djibouti: The Opposition Youth Movement (Mouvement des jeunes de l’opposition, MJO); leaders, including presidents since 2011; documents submitted to members; ties to other opposition parties; treatment of members by the authorities; representation abroad; internal conflict between 2016 and 2017 (2015-August 2017) [DJI105976.FE]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. MJO

Information on the MJO in Djibouti was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. According to the Alkarama Foundation, a human rights NGO established to assist those in the Arab world and whose countries of operation include Djibouti (Alkarama n.d.), the MJO is a [translation] “peaceful group created in January 2011 that calls for democratic reform in Djibouti” (Alkarama 17 Dec. 2014). An article by Houssein Ibrahim Houmed, a French professor of Djiboutian origin opposed to Djibouti’s president, Ismail Omar Guelleh (HCH24 13 Feb. 2015), posted on the website of Afriques en lutte, [translation] “a collective of individuals open to everyone seeking tools to fight and information against capitalism and […] imperialism in Africa” (Afriques en lutte 1 June 2012), states that the MJO is a movement opposed to Djibouti’s president, Ismail Omar Guelleh, and that it is made up of middle school and high school students (Afriques en lutte 27 May 2014). In an analysis published in December 2014 on the political situation in Djibouti, Dimitri Verdonck, the president of the Association for Culture and Progress (Association Cultures et Progrès, ACP) [1] (ACP n.d.), describes the MJO as a [translation] “very active” movement to which “young Djibouti activists” belong (ACP Dec. 2014, 2). Radio France internationale (RFI) describes Dimitri Verdonck as [translation] “a specialist on Djibouti” (RFI 4 Sept. 2013). According to sources, Dimitri Verdonck sometimes collaborates with MJO-Europe (Tournons la page 24 Feb. 2017; MJO-Europe n.d.b).

Sources report that in December 2014, Mouhayadine Yacin Mohamed was the MJO president and Charmake Said Darar [Said Charmake Darar] was the movement’s spokesperson (Freedom House 18 Aug. 2015; Alkarama 17 Dec. 2014). Further information on MJO leaders could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Information on the MJO’s links to other opposition parties was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response. Dimitri Verdonck’s analysis notes, without providing further details, a [translation] “rupture” described as “incomprehensible” between the Union for National Salvation (Union pour le salut national, USN) and “MJO youth” (ACP Dec. 2014, 4). According to the Political Handbook of the World 2015, the USN is a coalition of Djiboutian opposition parties formed in January 2013 (Political Handbook of the World 2015, 407).

Information on documents issued by the MJO to its members could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2. Treatment of MJO Members by the Authorities

According to sources, Mouhayadine Yacin Mohamed and Charmake Said Darar were arrested on 8 December 2014 and placed in detention (ODDH 14 Dec. 2014; Freedom House 18 Aug. 2015). Freedom House reports that they were arrested following post-election protests held by the MJO in Djibouti City in early November 2014 (Freedom House 18 Aug. 2015). Sources report that MJO leaders were charged with illegal protesting, disturbing pubic order, and violence and degradation (Freedom House 18 Aug. 2015; Alkarama 17 Dec. 2014). According to Alkarama, the leaders arrested stated that they had been beaten by police and deprived of care while detained (Alkarama 30 Jan. 2015, 4). A news release by Alkarama reports that they were released on 21 December 2014 (Alkamara 23 Dec. 2014).

On 18 September 2015, according to sources, security forces arrested, in Dikhil, some 50 youth partisans from the USN and MJO participating in a protest against Ismail Omar Guelleh’s plan to run in the elections for a fourth term (Alkarama and LDDH 30 Sept. 2015; FIDH and LDDH 13 Nov. 2015). According to a news release issued jointly by the International Federation for Human Rights (Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme, FIDH) and the Djiboutian League for Human Rights (Ligue djiboutienne des droits de l’homme, LDDH), most of the activists were released on 21 or 22 September, but six of them were detained until 11 October 2015 (FIDH and LDDH 13 Nov. 2015). According to the same source, [translation] “some reported being victims of acts of torture and ill treatment” during their detention (FIDH and LDDH 13 Nov. 2015).

Sources report that on 1 November 2015, police arrested dozens of MJO activists preparing for a meeting in Djibouti City as part of African Youth Day (Alwihda Info 1 Nov. 2015; FIDH and LDDH 13 Nov. 2015). According to a [translation] “position paper” issued jointly by the FIDH and the LDDH, some youths from the MJO were arrested while preparing meetings in two USN offices (FIDH and LDDH 25 Jan. 2016). The Chadian news portal Alwihda Info, which focuses on African News (Alwihda Info 15 Feb. 2009), states that the MJO youths were arrested while participating in a meeting organized at the headquarters of the Movement for Democratic Renewal (Mouvement pour le renouveau démocratique, MRD) (Alwihda Info 1 Nov. 2015). According to the Political Handbook of the World, the Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development (Mouvement pour le renouveau démocratique et le développement, MRD[D]) is a Djiboutian Opposition Movement that was legalized in 1992 and is part of the USN coalition (Political Handbook of the World 2015, 408). Sources state that tear gas bombs were used during those arrests, on 1 November 2015, and that police used [translation] “excessive and disproportionate” force (Alwihda Info 1 Nov. 2015; FIDH and LDDH 13 Nov. 2015). According to FIDH and LDDH, the activists were detained for at least a few hours (FIDH and LDDH 25 Jan. 2016). According to Alwihda Info, family members of MJO militants were also intimidated by security forces following these incidents (Alwihda Info 16 Nov. 2015). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3. MJO-Europe

Sources report a movement called MJO-Europe that carries out activities in Belgium (Alwihda Info 16 Nov. 2015; Le Monde 8 Nov. 2016). According to sources, MJO-Europe is [translation] “opposed to Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh’s regime” (Le Monde 8 Nov. 2016; La Capitale 18 Jan. 2017). The Belgian news agency Belga describes MJO-Europe as an [translation] “independent opposition movement formed by young Djiboutians” (Belga News Agency 27 Apr. 2017). The news website RTL Info presents it as [translation] “the European branch of the Youth Opposition Movement of Djibouti” (RTL Info 7 Nov. 2016). According to a November 2015 article by Alwihda Info, the headquarters of MJO-Europe are in Belgium, but the organization has representatives in Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland (Alwihda Info 16 Nov. 2015). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

On the website of MJO-Europe, the movement is presented as [translation] “a movement that will fight to support its rebellion against the inhumane and corrupt dictatorship of [Ismail Omar Guelleh] that does not tolerate contradictory ideas” (MJO-Europe n.d.a). On the same website, MJO-Europe presents its activities, including its participation in a protest on 19 July 2017 before the Embassy of Djibouti in Brussels to support a Djiboutian family affected by a fire in Balbala and to denounce the conviction of a political opponent, as well as the confiscating of official documents of opposition activists and civil society (MJO-Europe n.d.b). The same source also reports its participation in a work session with Dimitri Verdonck of the ACP and Laurent Duarte, coordinator of Tournons la page, an [translation] “international coalition,” and in the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Djibouti’s independence (MJO-Europe n.d.b).

Sources report that Liban Moustapha Hassan was the coordinator of MJO-Europe in November 2016 (RTL Info 7 Nov. 2016; La Capitale 18 Jan. 2017; Belga News Agency 3 May 2017). In a January 2017 article, the Belgian newspaper La Capitale designated Hassan Abdillahi Robleh as Secretary General of MJO-Europe (La Capitale 18 Jan. 2017). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

3.1 Internal Conflict between 2016 and 2017

According to sources, Liban Moustapha Hassan, a young Belgian man of Djiboutian origin, was attacked in Ixelles, Belgium, in November 2016; during this attack, his eyes were gouged out by a suspect who was then arrested (Le Monde 8 Nov. 2016; RTL Info 7 Nov. 2016). According to sources, the arrested suspect is a Dutchman of Djiboutian origin (Le Monde 8 Nov. 2016) or a Dutchman living in Belgium (RTL Info 7 Nov. 2016).

Several media sources reporting on the incident state that the enucleation of Liban Moustapha Hassan is related to a political disagreement (RTL Info 7 Nov. 2016; Le Monde 8 Nov. 2016; La Capitale 18 Jan. 2017). Sources indicate that the crime is tied to divisions within the Djibouti opposition (Le Monde 8 Nov. 2016; La Capitale 18 Jan. 2017; Belga News Agency 3 May 2017). Dimitri Verdonck explained on the RTL Info news site in November 2016 [translation] “that the two protagonists are activists of two diverging streams of the opposition in Djibouti that have been in disagreement since the presidential elections last April” (RTL Info 7 Nov. 2016). According to Le Monde, [translation] “[a] conflict between members of the Opposition Youth Movement–Europe (Mouvement des jeunes de l’Opposition-Europe, MJO) got out of hand” in a context in which activists from the Djiboutian opposition in exile did not agree on whether to unite with or fight against the regime in place (Le Monde 8 Nov. 2016). The same source states the following:

[translation]

The opposition in exile is currently debating the possibility of amalgamating, under the direction of the Djiboutian Democrats from Abroad (Démocrates djiboutiens de l’extérieur, DDEX), who support the Democratic Renewal Party (Parti du [r]enouveau [d]émocratique, PRD), in opposition to the president and to the single party system in effect in the Republic of Djibouti. According to those close to him, Mr. Hassan defends the strict neutrality of his movement. (Le Monde 8 Nov. 2016)

According to the Belgian newspaper Dernière Heure (DH), to which Liban Moustapha Hassan granted an interview on 14 November 2016, he links the crime to his criticism on the Facebook social network of Daher Ahmed Farah, president of the PRD, [translation] “which is also based here, in Belgium” (DH 14 Nov. 2016). According to the Belga news agency, on 27 April 2017, Liban Moustapha Hassan reported a [translation] “‘political crime’ perpetrated by another opposition party” (Belga News Agency 27 Apr. 2017). This source explains:

[translation]

On 1 November, [MJO-Europe] was involved in creating the Progressive Force for Change (Force progressiste pour le changement, FPC), a new opposition party. He distanced himself from the MRD [2], another well-established group in Brussels that challenges the power of President Ismail Omar Guelleh.

According to the defence of Mr. Hassan, the MRD tried to take over MJO-Europe. Faced with these failed attempts, it proceeded to carry out acts of intimidation and then threats. (Belga News Agency 27 Apr. 2017)

In a 3 May 2017 article, the Belga news agency reports that the MRD [translation] “reasserts that it had nothing to do with the removal of Djiboutian Liban Moustapha Hassan’s eyes” and accuses him of lending himself to a “‘political’ instrumentalization of his drama” (Belga News Agency 3 May 2017). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] The ACP is a non-profit association based in Brussels, whose [translation] “primary objective is to contribute to improving the living conditions of men and women, in terms of global progress and durable development,” concentrating “on external politics and development cooperation” (ACP n.d.).

[2] On its website, the MDR explains that it was first created and legalized in September 1992 under the name Democratic Renewal Party (Parti du renouveau démocratique, PRD) (MRD-Djibouti n.d.). The Political Handbook of the World also mentions that the MRDD (or MRD) is a branch of the PRD (Political Handbook of the World 2015).

References

Association Cultures et Progrès (ACP). December 2014. “Djibouti : une fin d’année mouvementée.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Association Cultures et Progrès (ACP). N.d. “Carte de visite.” [Accessed 5 Sept. 2017]

Afriques en lutte. 27 May 2014. Houssein Ibrahim Houmed. “Djibouti : Le MJO, cette jeunesse qui fait peur à Guelleh.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Afriques en lutte. 1 June 2012. “Afriques en lutte.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Alkarama. 30 January 2015. Djibouti: Rapport de suivi étatique : commentaires. [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Alkarama. 23 December 2014. “Djibouti : Libérations du président et du porte-parole du Mouvement des jeunes de l’opposition (MJO).” [Accessed 8 Sept. 2017]

Alkarama. 17 December 2014. “Djibouti : détention arbitraire du président et porte-parole du Mouvement des jeunes de l’opposition (MJO).” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Alkarama. N.d. “Notre travail.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Alkarama and Ligue djiboutienne des droits humains (LDDH ). 30 September 2015. “Djibouti : Refus de remise liberté provisoire pour les opposants de Dikhil arbitrairement détenus depuis le 18 septembre.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Alwihda Info. 16 November 2015. Kadir Salah. “Djibouti : les familles des militants du MJO arrêté et intimidés.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Alwihda Info. 1 November 2015. “Djibouti : Journée africaine de la jeunesse dans la répression.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Alwihda Info. 15 February 2009. “Historique du journal Alwihda.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 12 July 2017. “Djibouti Country Profile.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Belga News Agency. 3 May 2017. “Djiboutien énucléé à Ixelles : le MRD réfute toute implication et déplore une instrumentalisation ‘politicarde’.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Belga News Agency. 27 April 2017. “L’homme énucléé à Ixelles dénonce un crime politique.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

La Capitale. 18 January 2017. “Les yeux arrachés à Ixelles: nouvelle manif de soutien.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Dernière Heure (DH). 14 November 2016. D. Ha. “Le terrible témoignage de Liban Moustapha Hassan: ‘Il a arraché mes yeux avec ses doigts!’” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme (FIDH) and Ligue djiboutienne des droits de l’homme (LDDH). 25 January 2016. “Djibouti : Impasse politique et intensification de la répression à quatre mois de l’élection présidentielle.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme (FIDH) and Ligue djiboutienne des droits de l’homme (LDDH). 13 November 2015. “La répression s’abat sur l’opposition, à six mois de l’élection présidentielle.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Freedom House. 18 August 2015. “Djibouti.” Freedom in the World 2015. [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

HCH24. 13 February 2015. Houssein Ibrahim Houmed. “Djibouti : courrier adressé ce jour au Président de la République François Hollande pour soutenir la transition démocratique à Djibouti.” [Accessed 5 Sept. 2017]

MJO-Europe. N.d.a. “Qui sommes-nous?” [Accessed 8 Sept. 2017]

MJO-Europe. N.d.b. “Nos activités.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Le Monde. 8 November 2016. “À Bruxelles, un opposant djiboutien se fait crever les yeux dans une rixe politique.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

MRD-Djibouti. N.d. “Dissolution arbitraire du MRD - Voici un bref rappel des faits.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Observatoire djiboutien pour la promotion de la démocratie et des droits humains (ODDH). 14 December 2014. Farah Abdillahi Miguil. “Djibouti : arrestations, détentions puis placement en mandat de dépôt de 2 responsables du MJO.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Political Handbook of the World 2015. 2015. “Djibouti.” Edited by Tom Lansford. Washington, DC: CQ Press. [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Radio France internationale (RFI). 4 September 2013. “Dimitri Verdonck, spécialiste des questions djiboutiennes.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

RTL Info. 7 November 2016. “Barbarie en pleine rue à Ixelles: le jeune Moustapha se fait arracher les yeux, un suspect arrêté.” [Accessed 30 Aug. 2017]

Tournons la page. 24 February 2017. “Lettre à M. François Hollande: ‘Ne recevez pas le président djiboutien Ismaïl Omar Guelleh’.” [Accessed 5 Sept. 2017]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Affiliated researcher, specialist of the Horn of Africa; associate professor of sociology; Association pour le respect des droits de l’homme à Djibouti; doctor of geopolitics; Ligue djiboutienne des droits de l’homme; Mouvement des jeunes de l’opposition-Europe; Observatoire djiboutien pour la promotion de la démocratie et des droits humains; professor emeritus of political geography.

Internet sites, including: Africa Confidential; Amnesty International; ecoi.net; Factiva; Human Rights Watch; International Crisis Group; IRIN; United Nations – Refworld; United States – Department of State.