Transcript of End of Mission Press Conference by Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia Isha Dyfan
(Edited for clarity)
Good morning members of the press,
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,
And thank you for coming, though the weather is so bad today – thank you for the efforts.
I would like to begin my conversation with you this morning by thanking the Government of the Federal Republic of Somalia for the invitation and excellent cooperation extended to me during the visit.
I appreciate the continued support of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), particularly the Human Rights and Protection Group (HRPG), for facilitating the visit, providing logistics as well as other support to ensure the smooth running of the visit.
During my visit, I held meetings in Mogadishu, Belet Weyne and Hargeisa with authorities at the federal and state levels, including the State Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Federal Minister of Women and Human Rights Development, the Federal Deputy Minister for Women and Human Rights Development, the Minister of Women and Human Rights of Hirshabelle, the Minister of Justice of “Somaliland,” the Director Generals of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, and the Ministry of Interior of “Somaliland,” the Human Rights Parliamentary Committee of “Somaliland,” Senior Ministerial Advisers, the Commissioners of the Somali Disaster Management Agency (SoDMA), and the representatives of the National Commission for Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the National Disability Agency, among many others.
The exchanges focused on legislative, policy and programmatic developments, progress, challenges, remaining gaps and priorities for the future based on the key benchmarks highlighted in my previous reports submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
I also met with leaders of the political parties in opposition and representatives of the “Somaliland” National Human Rights Commission.
I also held meetings with representatives of ATMIS (African Union Transition Mission to Somalia), UN agencies, funds and programmes and the Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) in Mogadishu. In addition, I held meetings with civil society representatives, including journalists, internally displaced persons, vulnerable and marginalised groups, minorities, migrants and persons with disabilities, to exchange views on human rights issues of concern and to provide ideas on the way forward.
My statement today will focus on my recent visit to Somalia, including field visits to Belet Weyne and Hargeisa. I will now provide some preliminary observations from my visits, which I will elaborate further in my report to be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council and General Assembly in 2024.
Protection of civilians
Somalia’s security situation remains unstable, with civilians facing daily threats and targeted killings and infrastructure damage by Al-Shabaab as well as inter-clan conflicts. I remain concerned about the impact the ongoing joint military offensive by the Somali National Army, local clan militias known as “community defence forces” and the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) has on the civilian population and infrastructure. The US Africa Command (AFRICOM) continues to carry out targeted airstrikes, at the Government’s request and in support of the Somali National Army against Al-Shabaab. I urge all parties to uphold their responsibilities under human rights and international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians.
I note the 90-day “technical pause” in the drawdown of 3,000 ATMIS personnel, as set out in the resolution 2687 of 27 June 2023, requested by the Federal Government in a letter addressed to the President of the Security Council on 19 September 2023. In a 30 September communiqué, the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) supported the Somali Government’s request and took note of the financial shortfalls that could impede the operationalisation of such a pause.
Recently, I had the opportunity to exchange views with the Chair of the Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn (SSC) Committee regarding the current human rights situation in Laascaanood, the capital of the Sool region. The risk of further clashes between “Somaliland” forces and clan militia contributes to insecurity and human rights violations. Since the conflict started in February 2023, at least 81 civilians have been killed and 410 injured, an estimated 200,000 people have been displaced and destruction of infrastructure, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation. I reiterated my call for dialogue and urged all parties to refrain from divisive rhetoric. All grievances and tensions should be resolved peacefully and through dialogue. I am deeply concerned about reports of large numbers of detainees and expect that those involved, abide by human rights and international humanitarian law, in particular the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.
During my meetings, the Federal Government confirmed that eleven bills relating to security were passed. The Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation also adopted policies and frameworks, including mapping conflict areas and the age verification policy. It also has been working through community engagement to foster integrity between the army and local communities, provided training on human rights and international humanitarian law as well as conducting specialised training on women, peace and security. The Ministry of Youth and Sports facilitated reconciliation and consultation sessions on youth, peace and security by organising youth tournaments, forums and panel discussions.
In the area of the rule of law, the Federal Government reported that the Juvenile Justice Bill has been presented to the Federal Parliament, and it has initiated an amendment to the prison law. I also note the Federal Government’s request for technical assistance to improve and accelerate the process of legal drafting.
Corruption and impunity
I am encouraged by recent efforts by the Federal Government to fight corruption, including prosecuting public officials accused of corruption and abuse of power. This is a first step towards ensuring access to justice and accountability.
Reports indicate that individuals are arbitrarily held in detention centres in Hargeisa for failing to pay their civil liabilities and they are often held beyond their sentences. I call on the authorities in “Somaliland” to establish alternatives to detentions in these circumstances.
The continued use of the death penalty in the past few months is disturbing. On 1 November 2023, members of the “Somaliland” security forces executed five persons near Mandheera prison, Woqooyi Galbeed region, after they were sentenced to death by the “Somaliland” Supreme Court between 2019 and 2021 for the murder of five civilians. I urge all authorities to impose an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty in the country.
Human Rights Commission
I was briefed by the Chairperson and Executive Director of the “Somaliland” National Human Rights Commission and received their annual report for 2022 setting out the work of the Commission, including human rights monitoring, complaints mechanism and the advisory role to the authorities. I also note the existence of a Human Rights Commission in Puntland. Against this backdrop, I am encouraged by the ongoing efforts of the Federal Government to establish a National Human Rights Commission.
Freedom of expression
However, I remain concerned about the laws and guidelines that restrict freedom of expression. The use of the Somali Penal Code against journalists and media workers and the constant threat of being arrested, held in detention, and subjected to trials, fines and imprisonment leads to self-censorship. I look forward to the declaration of a moratorium on the use of the penal code against journalists as well as the updating of the Somali penal code in line with the commitment of Somalia during previous Universal Periodic Review (UPR) cycles.
Freedom of association and peaceful assembly
Ladies and gentlemen, in the context of freedom of association and peaceful assembly, I am disappointed by reports of arbitrary arrest and detention of persons belonging to opposition parties and violence during demonstrations in “Somaliland.” On 11 August 2023 in Burao, Togdheer region, at least 10 civilians, nine male and one female, were injured when the “Somaliland” Police Force dispersed a protest organised by the youth wing of Waddani opposition party. I reiterate my call for all parties involved to engage in dialogue to find a peaceful resolution to disagreements among them.
With regard to women’s rights, I would like to salute the various organisations providing support to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls. Their work is essential and must be encouraged and supported.
Female genital mutilation is a harmful traditional practice, which continues in Somalia and violates the right to health and the right to life, often resulting in the death of victims. Members of the minority organisations in Hargeisa reported that female genital mutilation is on the rise because it remains an alternative source of income for those who perform this harmful practice. I wish to call upon the Federal Government and the authorities in “Somaliland” to take measures to end this practice of female genital mutilation.
On gender-based violence, I received information that the Gender-Based Violence Information Management System is in place in Somalia and through it, a referral pathway system is in place managed at the Federal Member State level as well as in Banadir. However, the challenge is that information on what services and where to access those services is sometimes lacking. The Government envisions a comprehensive response to sexual and gender-based violence through a one-stop survivor-friendly centre which provides medical and psychosocial services such as one-stop centres operational in Baidoa, Kismayo, Mogadishu, Hargeisa and Dhusamareb.
I note that the Sexual Offences Bill of 2018 is still being reviewed by the Federal Government.
I am encouraged by the continued advocacy by all stakeholders on gender equality and women’s representation and participation in political and public life. In particular, the work on the 30 per cent minimum quota has been ongoing by the female members of parliament, through their two caucuses. In addition, the Federal Minister of Women and Human Rights Development reported that she had initiated the women’s leadership technical committee to advocate with the National Consultative Council on women's issues, including the 30 per cent representation of women in public life and the constitutional review process.
According to the Federal Government, there is a National Action Plan on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which is being localised and women are at the forefront of supporting community mediation and alternative dispute resolution.
I reiterate my call for the Federal Government to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), as one of the first steps towards efforts to prevent the violation of women’s rights.
On children’s rights, I continue to follow the developments relating to the legal framework for the protection of children, especially the Juvenile Justice Bill and the Child Rights Bill, which in its current form maintains the age of majority at 18 years. I understand that it has been approved by the Federal Cabinet and is awaiting assent by Parliament. I also commend the age verification guidelines signed by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, which will assist age assessment and should be applied consistently by the Federal Government. However, I note that the National Action Plan on Children has not yet been adopted.
I reiterate the call made by the Secretary-General’s Report on Children and Armed Conflict of June 2023 for all parties to immediately cease and prevent violations and to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law. I stress the need to continue prioritising the protection of children in light of the phased ATMIS drawdown.
Since the conflict began in Laascaanood on 6 February, there has been displacement of the local population, including in Garowe and other parts of Puntland. The Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation, together with UNICEF and other partners, conducted an assessment and reorganised their programmes to respond to the needs of the displaced people. Currently, UNICEF is implementing its programmes to the displaced communities comprising of children and youth and living in schools and government buildings, via Garowe.
At the inter-ministerial meeting, the Federal Government reported that it is implementing the 2019 Road Map on Children and Armed Conflict by conducting trainings to prevent recruitment of children by security forces, initiating screening processes and raising awareness within the security forces and launching campaigns and establishing a robust system for monitoring the violations of children’s rights.
The Federal Government further reported the development of the National Youth Policy and the initiative of a National Youth Council and the establishment of youth centres in Banadir and some Federal Member States. They also reported that they have conducted trainings and sport activities for approximately 1,525 young individuals.
During the inter-ministerial meeting, the Federal Government informed that in 2015 Somalia endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, which outlines a set of commitments to strengthen the protection of education from attack and restrict use of schools and universities for military purposes. It seeks to ensure the continuity of safe education during armed conflict. A national policy to implement the Declaration was endorsed in August 2022.
Internally displaced persons in Belet Weyne reported that armed conflict and climate-related disasters, including drought and floods, have left them destitute. Some have been in internally displaced persons camps for 20 years and are unable to return to their areas of origin, while others have lost farms and animals because of the conflict, drought and floods. Their children do not go to school, there are no nutrition programmes for them and the minimal humanitarian aid received is used to compensate landowners for living on the land.
The internally displaced persons claimed that since the flooding, UN agencies have conducted assessments and provided non-food items, but have received no support from the Federal Government, private individuals and non-governmental organisations. They added that they survive through casual labour in the community. Their greatest need is shelter, nutrition, employment, education and health care.
While the Federal Government increased the health budget, provision remains poor, and access is severely inadequate, especially in internally displaced persons cams, marginalised communities and rural areas. Women are reported to have died of childbirth on their way to seek medical attention in Belet Weyne town and where services are provided, they would have to pay and that is sometimes extremely difficult. As minorities and persons with disabilities are unable to meet these charges, the sick end up dying. I therefore recommend the provision of regular mobile clinics to internally displaced persons and other remote communities to meet these needs.
Given the recurring crises of drought and flooding and their impact on economic, social, and cultural rights, the Federal Government must focus not only on providing urgent humanitarian aid but also on building resilience in communities by putting in place mitigation and adaptation measures in the medium, to long-term. To this end, I welcome the adoption by the Federal Government, with support from its partners, of the enactment of the Regulatory Control Act for Materials Depleting the Ozone Layer and the Environment Management Bill of 2023, which brings the nexus between humanitarian aid and development.
During my visit to Belet Weyne and Hargeisa, I interacted with internally displaced persons, persons with disabilities, and representatives of minority and marginalised groups, who raised several concerns about their situation, including that state systems are still clan-based and that there are three parallel laws namely customary law, sharia law and statutory law, which subjects them to disparate legal systems. While this system applies generally to the whole of Somalia, there is inconsistency in the application of the law and the resolution of conflicts. And internally displaced persons claimed that they suffer additional vulnerabilities, based on these laws.
In Hargeisa, the internally displaced persons also reported that they do not receive any services through the state system. They called for an establishment of a minority fund to specifically address their needs. They also stated that they do not report cases of human rights violations to the police as they lack trust in them, for they contribute to human rights violations against them as well.
Minorities mostly live in slum areas and are often subjected to abuse, hate speech and humiliation, especially towards their children. They easily lose their homes because they are thrown out by landowners and their children are often bullied at school. They further highlighted that internally displaced persons are not registered by the local authorities and have no role in the electoral processes.
While I welcome the establishment of the National Disability Agency, I note that matters of disability remain a challenge in society. Disability is engendered by polio, birth disabilities and war explosions. Persons with disabilities are dependent on their families to provide for them, resulting in stigmatisation that they are not independent and cannot contribute to society at large. The priority of the National Disability Agency is to raise awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities, improve their skills and employment opportunities, advocate for their participation in political and public life and improve access to health and care services.
Let me conclude by reiterating my gratitude to the Federal Government of Somalia for the invitation extended to me to conduct the visit and the opportunity to meet with all relevant interlocutors, who showed preparedness to engage in the human rights issues that I raised with them.
It is important to recall the cross-cutting nature of human rights. The struggle against armed groups, peace, security, development, humanitarian action, climate change and the environment cannot be addressed in isolation from human rights.
Based on the commitments made and priorities identified by the Federal Government, I have requested to visit the country again in April or May next year to assess progress on the human rights situation and follow up on how gaps and challenges are being overcome by the authorities and priorities are being implemented. This will help inform the development of options on possible adjustments to the scope of the mandate to better respond to the technical assistance needs of the Federal Government, with a view to revising the focus and scope of the mandate and improving their ability to support Somalia’s efforts to implement human rights standards and norms.
I thank you for your attention.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Mohammed Nur Mohamed Ahmed, Mustaqbal Media: Somalia has been hit by torrential rains that have claimed the lives of many people. The people who have suffered need urgent humanitarian assistance. What's your plan? The meetings you had with everyone, what's the next step after this press conference? Did you discuss about the humanitarian crises in Laascaanood city, and what answers did you get?
Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: In my statement just now, I reiterated my visit to Belet Weyne and “Somaliland”, and I met several stakeholders relating to IDP camps, the impact of the flood on their situations. And I just mentioned that I also met the governments both in Mogadishu when I spoke about the inter-ministerial meeting and meeting all the commissioners. They all addressed the drought situation, they addressed the floods. And the commissioners also talked about their preparedness to respond to the floods and making plans to mitigate the impact of the floods on the communities.
So, I have already said that in my statement because that’s how they were preparing. Of course, they did say that the floods this time were far above what they were expecting. And so, the preparedness, even though they prepared, it was not adequate to meet the level of flooding that took place. So, I understand that because when we were flying over to go to Belet Weyne we saw the level of flooding was exceptionally high, covering some of the houses. The IDPs also mentioned how difficult it was for them to come to the meeting that we had called. So, in terms of preparedness, the government was willing to explain how they prepared, how they pre-positioned with their partners, both food and non-food items. But it was difficult to transport them to these sites because of the flooding.
Mohamed Ahmed, Goobjoog Media Group: What is the situation with journalists in Somalia and what is the role of the UN to support journalists in Somalia?
Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: In my statement, I’ve just mentioned that I met journalists from all over, from Mogadishu, from Belet Weyne and from “Somaliland” who complained about arrest and detention and the fact that they are prosecuted under the penal code. And I've just mentioned in my statement that that's the concern for me. I've always asked for a moratorium on the use of the penal code so that journalists are not arrested and detained and prosecuted under that law because it criminalises their work. It has taken some time to undertake the change in legislation and therefore I've asked for a moratorium.
There's a commitment to do that by the government. I'm waiting to see if by the time I get back in April or May, that moratorium would have been declared. And that would help to alleviate the concerns that journalists have in the use of the penal code.
The media law, of course, also needs amendments. That is the law that should be used technically in terms of the work of the media. But that also needs amendment and it's even worse that the criminal code is being used.
Both the Universal Periodic Review and myself have recommended that these two laws need to be reviewed and amended, and we are putting pressure on governments to now look into it and accelerate.
You can see from some of the recommendations, some of the assistance that they've asked for is our own legal drafting that is delaying the work on looking at all of these amendments to the laws because you need technical knowledge to do the work.
So, this is one of the areas that they've asked for technical assistance to do legal drafting and I hope that they will get it and we'll be able to accelerate the work on these laws.
Mohamed Abdukadir Mohamed, Goobjoog Media Group: Since the country is now going through a devastating situation regarding the flooding, what are you planning to do in response to it?
Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: Well, just to advocate that those who are responsible, whether it's the government itself, they have a disaster management system and the humanitarian aid agencies who provide urgent aid, but also the agencies who deal with medium to long term preparedness that is FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) and WFP (World Food Programme) have to all work together to anticipate the next disaster and to be prepared for it.
So, my role in this is to find out what the details are, what their concerns are, what gaps exist, and what challenges and advocate through my reports that those who are responsible would be able to undertake the work that they need to undertake. And I have met many of these agencies and we've exchanged views on how to address some of these concerns, especially with the floods.
In my last report, I reported about the drought and now I see the floods myself in-person and I realise how serious they can be and how they damage infrastructure and how the schools cannot go on and the loss of livelihood of communities who are themselves struggling after the drought. So, I am very concerned about that, and I've raised my voice to governments, because it has the first responsibility, but also their partners whom they work with the international community, to be able to address the impact of climate change on the communities.
Mohamed Abdukadir Mohamed, Goobjoog Media Group: In a follow-up to your response, any details on Banadir region?
Isha Dyfan, Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia: Well, I think just being here, I can see that the floods, even in our own compound, so everybody's feeling the pinch. And it just raises the whole experience for me, because maybe sitting in New York or Geneva or anywhere else and you read about it is not the same as when you actually see it. I see it moving around and there's no drainage and the soil does not absorb the water and the floods are really high, and it just damages infrastructure. And that's a concern for how prepared do governments need to be in order to address this, because this is recurring, it's not new and we need to think differently about how to address it. And it is up to all these technical agencies to be able to support the governments to do so.
Thank you very much.