Transcript of end of mission press conference by independent expert on the situation of human rights in somalia Isha Dyfan

9 May 2024

Transcript of end of mission press conference by independent expert on the situation of human rights in somalia Isha Dyfan

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning and thank you for coming.

I am happy to be back here, and I wish to thank the government of the Federal Republic of Somalia for accepting my request to visit and the excellent cooperation extended to me during my visit.

I expressed my deep appreciation to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia, particularly the Human Rights Protection Group for facilitating the visit, providing

logistics as well as other support to ensure the smooth running of the visit. I am profoundly grateful to all those who have made this visit possible, and there are many.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is my third official visit, as has been said by Ari, to Somalia since my appointment by the Human Rights Council in May 2020.

During this five-day visit, I had fruitful discussions with a cross section of government officials, including the acting minister and state minister for Women and Human Rights Development; the inter-ministerial technical working group on human rights, the members of the human rights committee of the federal government, the Secretary General of the National Independent Electoral Commission as well as the Senior Legal Advisor for the Office of the Prime Minister; the Senior Legal Advisor for the office of the Attorney General and the Deputy Police Commissioner.

I also met representatives from UNSOM and ATMIS as well as representatives of the Human Rights Working Group, humanitarian organizations, journalists, and media organizations, and civil society.

During my meetings with authorities, I discussed the progress achieved by the government since my last visit in November 2023 and challenges encountered to advance the promotion and protection of human rights in Somalia. The discussions focused on the constitutional review process, legislative and institutional developments, the protection of civilians in the light of the ATMIS drawdown as well as violations of the rights of women and children.  The humanitarian economic and social situations as well as progress on the key benchmarks and indicators outlined in my previous reports, were also discussed.

On the efforts by the government, I commended the successful vote on amendments to the first four chapters of the provisional Constitution of the Federal Government of Somalia, by members of the bicameral federal parliament.

However, I expressed concerns about the lack of consensus among political actors, regarding the changes. I call on all parties to prioritize dialogue to build consensus in order to safeguard these positive development towards enhancing the promotion of democracy, rule of law and human rights in Somalia.

On key provisions in the amended Constitution, I welcome the fact that both the age of majority as 18 years and that the full prohibition of female genital mutilations were

maintained. I wish to call upon the authorities to ensure that any future amendments to the Constitution are in strict compliance with Somalia’s international obligations as well as the human rights principles and standards.

With regard to the participation of women in political and public life, I understood that there is a political agreement on women's quota, which will be included in the primary legislation on the elections.

I urge the federal parliament to ensure that clear provisions and specific mechanisms to protect women’s quota are included in the text.

I noted that the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security has been localized at state levels, and a steering committee has been established to coordinate implementation and secure funding to advance the implementation of the action plan.

I am also encouraged by the establishment of women's committee comprising of representatives from the federal government, federal member states, the Banadir Region,  and the representatives of civil society that is now tasked in representing women's interests in the National Consultative Council, as part of national decision-making process.

Regarding ongoing human rights reforms, I am encouraged by the federal Government's effort to align Somalia’s legislative and institutional framework with international human rights standard.

In this regard, I noted that the Bills on the offences of rape and indecency, juvenile justice, national disability and child rights, are at different stages of consideration, and I expect it to be passed by the end of the year.

The government is focused that the key pending legislation, such as the Penal Code, the Civil Code, and the Anti Trafficking Bill will be addressed to achieve comprehensive legal and institutional reforms.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The continued application of the death penalty and related executions is disturbing. I again raised the issue of a moratorium on death penalty with the government to which they said that it would be considered.

While I welcome the formalization of the inter-ministerial technical working group on human rights whose mandate is to coordinate the Government's effort to mainstream human rights across various sectors and ensure coherence and consistency in human rights policies and initiative, I express concern at the delay in the operationalization of the National Human Rights Commission, which is necessary to ensure judicial independence and accountability.

I urged the federal government to address as a matter of priority, the political challenges affecting the operationalization of the commission to enhance protection of human rights in the country.

Ladies and gentlemen,

With regard to the security situation in the country, Somalia continues to face serious challenges. Civilians, especially women and children continue to bear the brunt of deadly attacks carried out by Al Shabaab. Joint military operations by Somali Security Forces and local clan militias, also had an impact on the civilian population and infrastructure. I strongly condemn the continued deadly attacks, perpetrated by Al Shabaab and urged the government to take all steps to ensure the protection of civilians, and for armed groups to comply strictly with the obligations applicable to them on the international humanitarian and human rights law.

It is also important that the government takes concrete actions to prosecute state officials involved in human rights violations, ensuring that those responsible were held accountable and the survivors of such violations were adequately compensated.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I noted that the drawdown of the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia is ongoing. As of 30th April, 2024, the first two phases of the drawdown were completed with the withdrawal of 3000 troops, and the handing over of 7 operating bases. The modalities of the third phase that is scheduled to be completed by June 2024 with the withdrawal of 4,000 troops are being discussed.

In this context, I welcome the holding of the Somali Security Conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in December 2023, which delineated the governments strategic priorities and roadmap for the security sector, over the next six years, including the requirement for international support. A proposed meeting the Federal Government of Somalia, the African Union and UN is expected to meet in May in this regard.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I also discussed with the authorities, the endemic problem of sexual and gender- based violence, in particular the deplorable allegations of rape and gang rapes combined with homicides and the lack of accountability for perpetrators. In this context, I reiterated the need to take all necessary measures, to strengthen capacity for investigations and prosecutions of sexual and gender-based violence and to promote a safe environment, where victims and survivors can report crimes without any fear of reprisal, stigma and to ensure that the victims are protected, and have access to justice and effective remedies.

With regard to the rights of children, I noted that the Federal Government of Somalia has launched several critical initiatives to protect the rights of children during armed conflicts.

These include measures to prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, implementing age verification processes, biometric registration within the Somali National Armed Forces to ensure compliance. According to humanitarian and protection stakeholders, four million children are affected by the conflict situation as well as the impact of climate change.

Children represent 60 to 70 percent the IDP and other vulnerable populations. Most important challenges facing vulnerable communities include forced evictions and its impact on children as well as inadequate clearing of mines, and hazardous materials in liberated areas, which put children at risk. It was also reported that there is limited access to hard-to-reach areas to provide services to vulnerable populations.

I noted slow progress in the implementation of the National Action Plan on children, and I wish to call upon the federal governments to take measures, to promote and protect women and children's rights.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I continue to follow developments on protection of minorities and marginalized groups and persons with disabilities.  I understand that the National Disability Bill is being debated in parliament. I also noted the drafting of the National Digital Inclusion policy, which emphasizes the recognition and support of marginalized groups within Somalia, including women, youth, rural communities, the urban poor, the elderly, people with disabilities, internally displaced persons, refugees, and medium, small, and micro enterprises, ensuring that these groups are integrated into the digital economy.

However, I remain concerned about reports of harassment of religious minorities.

Ladies and gentlemen,

During my meeting with civil society organizations, I remain dismayed by the continued restrictions on civic space, including harassment, arbitrary arrests and detention, and imprisonment of journalists and media workers, leading to self-censorship. Whilst I am encouraged by the appointment of the Somali National Media Council members in an effort to enhance the media landscape, I have also received concerns that the process was not in accordance with the media law. A Safe and inclusive civic space is essential to good governance, rule of law and can help to reduce and prevent violence.

Before concluding my remarks, I would like to mention the humanitarian situation. Somalia’s overall humanitarian situation remains precarious. I learned with sadness that the Gu rainy season, which just started, has already threatened thousands of people across the country, exacerbating the country's struggles with climate change. The weather forecast for the coming days are likely to increase vulnerabilities, including protection risks, and an already critical outbreak of cholera and diarrhea, which have already affected over hundreds of individuals this year.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I urgently appeal to the international community for support to strengthen its humanitarian response and reinforce long term resilience against future disasters in Somalia, and for such response to take into consideration the specific protection concerns of women and girls, often disproportionately affected.

On the economic and social rights, I commended the government for the 4.5 Billion debt relief. I raised the critical need for increased investment in health and education sectors while continuing to strengthen human rights and rule of law mechanisms as pathways to peace and security.

I would like to conclude by calling upon the international community to continue its assistance to Somalia towards:

  • strengthening the Federal and State institutions, and the justice and security sector;
  • addressing the negative effects of climate change on the populations, in particular ensuring access to basic social services such as water supply, health delivery and education for all children.

The findings of my visit and other recommendations, will be presented in a comprehensive report to the United Nations Human Rights Council at its fifty- seventh session and to the General Assembly at its seventy-ninth session.

I thank you for your attention and for listening.



Mohamed Ibrahim Salad, Horn Cable TV: In your report you have stated that 4 million children are affected by the conflict situation as well as the impact of climate change. As the government of Somalia said that there are 4 million children who have reached the age of going to school but has not got the opportunity to go to school, and the government cannot afford free education. Therefore, what is your suggestion and how do you feel about 4 million children aged about 7, 8 and 10 years having no hope of basic education? 

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: As you heard, I am pleased that the government has been able to get debt relief in the form of 4.5 million and has put in process for other fundings to come in and is raising funds. As I speak, to be able to address the concerns that have been raised, not only by myself, but other stakeholders, I have suggested that some of that funding should be put on health and education and other services that can help the population advance, including economic advancements, so I hope that they will hear my voice and there is already in my last report where I said if this funding comes in that, according to the, AU’s  proposals, 15 per cent of it should be spent on education and health care.

Ari Gaitanis, Chief of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs Group / Spokesperson, UNSOM: So just to clarify that was 4.5 billion.

Amina Ibrahim Abdirahman, Arladi Media: In the Southwest State of Somalia, International partners fell short, addressing human rights issues especially gender-based violence and support IDPs. What is your last message?

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: As you have heard, I said that I am also concerned about sexual violence. Many stakeholders have reported that unlike the last time when I came last year in November, the numbers were dropping, this time, that it is ticking upwards. So I am also calling on the government, to try and address some of the situation on prevention, response and remedying the situation and to set mechanisms in place, and for those who are serving in the Southwest State, to strengthen the mechanisms for all of those, including accountability.

Hassan Osman, Hiiraan Online: What are the most pressing human rights challenges currently in Somalia, and since you are in Mogadishu, how do you assess the level of cooperation between the Somali government and human rights organization in protecting and promoting human rights?

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: In terms of my own relationship with the government and all the stakeholders I find that it has improved considerably. The last time I was here in November, they gave me audience, to all the inter-ministerial meetings, which means that all the different members of the of the ministries were represented at that meeting to brief me about their work in their various ministries and the interrelationship between the ministry of Human Rights to work on all the benchmarks that I have provided them. So I have a good relationship in terms of addressing my concerns and I believe that it is the same for UNSOM and other actors from the United Nations system.

Reuben Kyama, Voice of America (VOA) and Deutsche Welle: How serious is the human rights violations situation in Somalia, which are the most affected and vulnerable groups, how serious is it?

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: It's very difficult to say as of this visit because of course, all the information we have received have not been analyzed yet. I can only say that based on my last statement that I made when I was here in November, the numbers seem to have gone up. So, of course, by the time we analyze that we will see if that increase continues, but the violations appear to be going upwards. That's why I mentioned it, so that at least the government will address it by the time… I would analyze it with all the stakeholders to see what the trend is in terms of violation.

The most affected vulnerable groups are women and children, especially girls, as well as marginalized and minority groups. These are the most affected.

Journalist: Many innocent people including children have been affected by the conflict in Lascaanood. Do you have any plans to go there and witness what has happened and meet the people so as to hear their views?

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: That’s a good question. Actually for me to explain what the statement is about. The statement is about the work that I've done in these last five days. I have done lots of other work that would be in my report to present to the council in September.

However, I can say that even being here and looking at freedom of opinion and expression, one of the things that I have observed is that the journalists in Somaliland area are being arrested and detained over the signing of the report between Ethiopia and Somaliland.

So some of that is coming through because I am already following my last reports that I made to --. I know that you will ask me about the human rights situation along the borders. So, yes, I'm looking at that, but not for today because I did not refer to that

Journalist: What about the about the whole situation, not only this situation of Ethiopia and Somaliland signing the Memorandum of Understanding but there was a fight between the local people in Lascaanood district? Many innocent lives has been lost in that war and others injured, including children and women. What is your report?

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: I have a report, but it's not within this statement.

Journalist: Do you expect to release it later?

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: Yes. In my report. It will be there. It will be more comprehensive. That's what I said at the end. (In September.)

Abdulkadir Khalif, Nation Media Group in Kenya and across the EAC (as correspondent in Somalia): How far is your office collaborates with HR organisations and networks in Somalia on improving the rights of professionals, especially the media people and defenders of rights? 

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: I have a lot of connection with the media through meeting you right now, and also online, exchanging views about violations that I've received, and most of you write letters to me through my office to complain about violations and these are ones that I usually try and verify and then use it.

I also receive all the national, reports from Federation of journalists from NUSOJ and SOMA. I receive all that information and analyze it. I try to verify it with other stakeholders and then report on it, and that is why I always express concern about arrest and detention and censorship of journalists because I am always in contact. I know that also there are lots of training going on by UNSOM and by other stakeholders to ensure that the journalists are brought at the highest standard of their profession in order to respond to the fact that there are always concerns that the journalists are not professional, media houses are not professional. So, I note all the trainings that you yourselves give each other as including new journalists who join the profession. And, I have been asked by many to suggest ways of improving the profession and I will make suggestions in my next report.

Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdullahi, CBA (in Somali): Have you done any analysis/ study on the capability of Somali Security Forces to effectively handle security responsibility of the country?

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: The transition of ATMIS is something that the government has raised at the at the meeting they held in December where the president expressed his vision of the security environment and ATMIS is now doing the drawdown in the different phases as agreed by the AU, the government and the United Nations.

A lot of assessment is being made, and lots of concerns have been raised to me about what a post at ATMIS situation will look like, and we are all analyzing how the protection of civilians will be handled.

I am sure that the meeting that is due to be held in Addis Ababa in May will be addressing some of that too, and the government will be expressing its own views to the AU on how it intends to answer that question, so we are all waiting to hear from the three parties- the government, the UN and the AU about how to answer that question and how to transition ATMIS, and then bring in the SNA and the other security forces to provide protection for the population, and that is where I have received a lot of stakeholders being concerned that information on that transition is not being received on the ground, and they are worried that they will not have appropriate protection. At the same time some stakeholders are very confident that the government will be able to sustain some of these areas during the conflict.

Catherine Ageno, Nation Media Group- Uganda: Now that Somalia is a full member of the EAC, how can regional states help ensure accountability for violations of international humanitarian and international human rights law.

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: Good question as well. We have all welcomed the membership to the EAC by Somalia, in an effort to be part of the regional community. In terms of human rights, the regional community does have a human rights policy and a human rights court. So, upon entering the EAC, it becomes part of that process as well, and therefore, it will have to comply with the regional human rights obligations. And if there are concerns that cannot be addressed by the mechanisms in country, it can be open to those mechanisms for redress and for consideration. So, that's the situation in terms of the human rights situation. It is more or less the same thing within Africa as you all know we have the African commission in the Gambia where there's also access on human rights violations and remedies.

Mohamed Daahir Cabdullahi, Goobjoog TV: This is with regard to the military offensive against Al Shabaab. There are reports that ATMIS was ready to join the second phase of operations against the Al Shabaab. How can we ensure that ATMIS joins this second offensive against the Al Shabaab?

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: According to the government and the president of Somalia, AU and the UN,  there has been consensus and agreement that there will be a drawdown of ATMIS presence and work in Somalia. The first two phases are already completed. The third phase is in discussion in which they are expecting 4,000 troops should leave by the end of June. Now that is the agreement that is documented. And the implications of that in terms of protection of civilians is my concern in terms of human rights violations. But it is also the concern of stakeholders and the population. And the proposal is that the SNA and the local defense forces will be taking over these FOBs and protecting civilians in areas that they have liberated, so that to protect the populations there, and to bring services. So, as of now, that is the situation. I have also said in my statement that I am concerned about attacks by Al Shabaab and other groups. So those remain precarious from now. So it is up to how this transition takes place that we will be able to report whether or not it has been effective.

Journalist, Uganda: What are the key human rights issues in Somalia and what are the greatest challenges in implementing human rights in Somalia?

Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: I have already mentioned in my statements the key human rights and issues, and they are based on the seven benchmarks and indicators of my last report. There are 7 of them and I just listed three that, as of now, concern me. But that doesn't mean there aren't others. There is the sexual violence, which seems to have increased, and now you can see sexual violence combined with homicide, which means that sexual violence is committed, and maybe the victims are killed. Then the other one I mentioned is about arrests and detention of vulnerable groups, including journalists and media houses and so on and so forth. That appears to be happening, and the trend appears to be that when voices are raised about arrests and detention, then they are released without charge. Causing intimidation, harassment and all of that. So that concerns me as well. These are things I have already said. I cannot talk about numbers. I can only say that from the analysis and the reports I am receiving, the numbers seem to be going up.