Somalia has suffered a human rights and protection crisis for the last 20 years. The protection of civilians in the context of the ongoing armed conflict and cyclical humanitarian emergencies, systematic impunity and lack of accountability as well as the need to build national mechanisms and institutions capable of adequately responding to the various human rights challenges remain major concerns. The human rights and protection situation is characterized by violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including attacks against civilians and civilian objects, extra judicial executions, arbitrary arrests and/or prolonged detentions, gender-based violence including conflict-related sexual violence, abductions, ill-treatment and torture, violations of freedom of expression, discrimination in political participation, the recruitment and use of children by Al-Shabaab as well as by security forces. These violations and abuses are largely not investigated. Al-Shabaab continues to control territory in central and southern parts of Somalia, committing serious human rights abuses both against the population under its control and through targeted assassinations, use of IEDs and large-scale and complex attacks. Other actors, including clan militia, security forces, regional, and bilateral forces operating in Somalia have at times been responsible for civilian casualties. The imposition of the death penalty after trials conducted by military courts and believed not to meet due process standards is also a major concern.
Despite the challenges described above, the Federal Government and the Federal Member States have made progress in a number of areas. Highlights include:
- In 2011, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights facilitated Somalia’s engagement in the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council.
- In 2012, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia/the Somali National Army signed two Action Plans with the United Nations: one to end recruitment and use of children and the other to end killing and maiming of children in situations of armed conflict.
- In 2013, Somalia created the Ministry of Women and Human Rights. A Human Rights Roadmap was adopted in 2013 and an Action plan to implement the Roadmap was developed in 2015.
- In 2014, Somalia adopted a National Action Plan on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict.
- Somalia participated in the 2011/12 and 2015/16 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) processes and received many recommendations to improve its human rights situation. It began to implement several UPR commitments, including the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adoption and implementation of action plans on the Human Rights Roadmap, Children Associated with Armed Conflict, ending Sexual Violence in conflict, and the establishment of a national human rights commission. Following the enactment of the Human Rights Commission law in 2016, the selection process for the Commissioners was initiated and a list of proposed Commissioners was presented to the Council of Ministers on 17 January 2018 for consideration. The parliamentary endorsement and the formal appointment by the President after the approval of the Council of Ministers are the remaining steps to complete the appointment process.
- Somalia’s National Development Plan (NDP) includes indicators for the implementation of human rights commitments, such as the Human Rights Roadmap and the UPR, and human rights has been mainstreamed in other chapters of the NDP. A specific working group on Human Rights and Gender has been established to coordinate implementation of human rights and gender commitments in the context of the NDP, which was the first of its kind.
- On 21 August 2017, the Commander of the Somali National Armed Forces signed a Command Order to prohibit all activities of recruitment, association with, and use of children within the ranks of the Somali National Army and the prevention of harm to children during military operations throughout the country.
- The Puntland Parliament approved the Sexual Offences Bill on 31 August 2016, which was signed by the President on 2 September 2016. The Somaliland Sexual Offenses Bill was passed by the Somaliland Lower House of Representatives on 11 Jan 2018. The Upper House approved the bill with several amendments on 7 April 2018. The bill is pending a review by the Lower House. If approved, it will then be submitted to the Somaliland President for signature. On 30 May 2018, the Cabinet of the Federal Government of Somalia adopted a “Sexual Offences Bill” that criminalises a wide range of sexual offences.
Somalia is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. One of the key international human rights instruments that Somalia has yet to join is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
The role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights:
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) began operating in Somalia in 2008 through the United Nations Political Office for Somalia's (UNPOS) human rights component, mandated to carry out human rights monitoring and capacity-building. As UNPOS’s successor mission, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Somalia's (UNSOM) Human Rights and Protection Group (HRPG), was established by Security Council Resolution 2102 (2013) of 2 May 2013 and started operating on 3 June 2013. HRPG became a consolidated office, including the Women Protection and Child Protection Units, in 2016. UNSOM mandate, most recently confirmed by United Nations Security Council’s resolution 2408 (2018), includes:
- To help build the capacity of the Federal Government of Somalia to: (i) promote respect for human rights and women’s empowerment; (ii) promote child protection and to implement the relevant Somali Government action plans on children and armed conflict; (iii) prevent conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence; (iv) strengthen Somalia’s justice institutions and to help ensure accountability in particular with respect to crimes against women and children and;
- To monitor, help investigate and report to the UN Security Council on, and help prevent: (i) any abuses or violations of human rights or violations of international humanitarian law committed in Somalia; (ii) any violations or abuses committed against children in Somalia; (iii) any violations or abuses committed against women, including all forms of sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict.
- To support system-wide implementation of the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (HRDDP) across all United Nations support to AMISOM and the Somali security sector and to continue to assist the Federal Government of Somalia in coordinating international donor support to Somalia’s security sector in compliance with HRDDP, including through coordination and advice to the comprehensive approach to security structure.
The HRPG is present in Mogadishu, Jubbaland, Puntland, South West State, HirShabelle, and in Somaliland. Recent initiatives undertaken and/or supported by the HRPG include:
- In 2016, the OHCHR and UNSOM facilitated Somalia’s engagement in the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council, resulting in various recommendations and commitments. In the last UPR process (2016), recommendations were made to strengthen accountability mechanisms for security forces, including by ensuring these mechanisms protect the rights of victims, and to strengthen efforts to prevent child recruitment and sexual violence in conflict. A national Human Rights Roadmap Action Plan to implement the UPR and other commitments have helped framed the human rights agenda in various sectors and institutions. HRPG provided technical support to the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development to ensure that the National Development Plan (NDP) prioritized UPR recommendations.
- HRPG has provided extensive technical advice and support to the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission. Efforts have been made to ensure that the Commission is inclusive of women, minorities, and people with disabilities. The approval of the list of members of the Commission is still pending with the Cabinet and then will have to be approved by the Parliament.
- The 2016 public report entitled “The Right Freedom of Expression: Striving to Widen Democratic Space in Somalia’s Political Transition”, published by UNSOM and OHCHR, highlighted challenges of media freedoms and the rights of journalists. The report made recommendations to be implemented by the Federal Government of Somalia and actors within the justice and security sectors.
- In 2017/2018, HRPG continued to contribute to the system-wide implementation of the Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (HRDDP) across all UN support to AMISOM and the Somali security sector, particularly in the framework of the comprehensive approach to security. Through its role as secretariat of the UN Task Force on HRDDP, HRPG provided technical advice to UN entities on their requirements under the policy and supported the development and adoption of risk assessments accompanied with relevant mitigation measures in compliance of the SOPs for the implementation of HRDDP in Somalia. HRPG also supported the implementation of these compliance measures by UN entities, AMISOM, and Somali security institutions as relevant, including through training and capacity-building on IHRL/IHL, support for screening troops for children, monitoring and reporting on the behaviour of non-UN security forces, including on CRSV, and cooperation to strengthen accountability mechanisms among non-UN security forces receiving UN support.
- The United Nations in Somalia undertook a Human Rights Up Front stock taking exercise in February 2017, and measures were recommended to address early warning and response to violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The recommendations include ensuring that United Nations staff, including those engaged in humanitarian action, appreciate their roles in human rights early warning, prevention, and response, as well as their obligations under the HRDDP and that the UN reinforces its capacity for hotspot analysis, identifies areas of tension and conflict drivers, and develops possible responses.
- The 2017 Somalia Strategic Assessment Report identified the critical tasks needed for UNSOM to discharge its protection mandate: extensive monitoring and reporting on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and violations/abuses against children and women, including conflict-related sexual violence.
- On 10 December 2017, UNSOM/OHCHR published the report entitled “Protection of Civilians: Building the Foundation for Peace, Security and Human Rights in Somalia”. This report, which covered the period from 1 January 2014 to 14 October 2017, focused on violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in Somalia and represented a first attempt by UNSOM to quantify civilian casualties.
The Office of the High Commissioner has identified the following thematic priorities for its Somalia programme in 2018-2021:
- Early warning, prevention and protection of human rights in situations of conflict and insecurity;
- Strengthening rule of law and accountability for human rights violations;
- Enhancing and protecting civic space and people’s participation;
- Enhancing equality and countering discrimination;
- Increasing implementation of the international human rights mechanisms outcomes.