Sunday November 19, 2023
Wrapping up her second visit to the Horn of Africa country, the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia today highlighted the interlinkages of human rights and other developments in the country.Ms. Dyfan had been addressing the Somali media at a press conference at the end of a 14-day visit to Somalia – her first time back to Somalia since her first visit in April 2022 – and sharing some preliminary observations before presenting her full report to the United Nations Human Rights Council and General Assembly next year.
“It is important to recall the cross-cutting nature of human rights. The struggles against armed groups, [for] peace, security, development, humanitarian action, climate change and the environment cannot be addressed in isolation from human rights,” said the Independent Expert, Isha Dyfan.
Her latest visit saw her travel to the cities of Belet Weyne and Hargeisa, as well as Mogadishu. Her encounters were wide-ranging, and included meetings with the Federal Government of Somalia and its Federal Member State counterparts.
“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,” Ms. Dyfan said.
“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,” she added, while also noting that she met with representative from the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) and various UN agencies, funds and programmes.
Protection of civilians
In her press remarks, on the topic of the protection of civilians, the Independent Expert noted that Somalia’s security situation remains unstable, with civilians facing daily threats and targeted killings and infrastructure damage by Al-Shabaab as well as from 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 has on the civilian population and infrastructure. The US Africa Command continues to carry out targeted airstrikes, at the Government’s request and in support of the Somali National Army against Al-Shabaab,” Ms. Dyfan said.
“I urge all parties,” she continued, “to uphold their responsibilities under human rights and international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians.”
The Independent Expert noted that she had recently met with the Chair of the Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn Committee regarding the current human rights situation in Laascaanood. Conflict broke out there in February 2023, leaving at least 81 civilians dead and another 410 injured, with an estimated 200,000 people displaced, exacerbating an already dire humanitarian situation.
“The risk of further clashes between Somaliland forces and clan militia contribute to insecurity and human rights violations.” Ms. Dyfan said.
“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,” she added. “I am deeply concerned about reports of large numbers of detainees and expect those involved, to abide by human rights and international humanitarian law, in particular the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure.”
On the topic of Somalia’s legislative developments, the Independent Expert noted that at a meeting with the Federal Government of Somalia, she received confirmation that eleven bills relating to security were passed, and that various ministries were progressing on policies and frameworks.
“The Ministry of Interior, Federal Affairs and Reconciliation… has been working through community engagement to foster integrity between the army and local community, provided training in human rights and international humanitarian law as well as conducting specialised training on women, peace and security,” Ms. Dyfan said. “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 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,” she continued. “I also note the Federal Government’s request for technical assistance to improve and accelerate the process of legal drafting.”
Freedom of expression
On the topic of freedom of expression, the Independent Expert said she remained “concerned” about laws and guidelines which impose restrictions in this area.
“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,” Ms. Dyfan said.
She added that she looked 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.
Created in 2006, the UPR is a unique process which involves a periodic, peer review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States, providing them with an opportunity to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights.
Under the UPR, every four and a half years, the human rights record of all UN Member States is reviewed, on equal footing, by fellow States during an inter-governmental Human Rights Council Working Group session in Geneva, Switzerland.
On the topic of women’s rights, the Independent Expert praised the efforts of various Somali organisations providing support to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls, describing their work as “essential and must be encouraged and supported.”
She called upon Somali authorities to take measures to end the practice of female genital mutilation.
“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 the victim,” Ms. Dyfan said.
On Somali women’s involvement in all facets of their society, Ms. Dyfan said she was 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,” Ms. Dyfan said.
“In addition,” she continued, “the Federal Minister of Women and Human Rights Development reported that she has 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.”
At Somalia’s last federal electoral process in 2022, the target of the 30 per cent quota for women’s parliamentary representation was not achieved. The final percentage of parliamentary seats held by women was just 21 per cent, down from 24 per cent in the previous electoral cycle in 2016.
Referring to her meeting with internally displaced people (IDPs) in the city of Belet Weyne, located in the Federal Member State of Hirshabelle, the Independent Expert said they had told her that armed conflict and climate-related disasters, including drought and floods, had 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 programs for the children and the minimal humanitarian aid received is used to compensate landowners for living on the land… their greatest need is shelter, nutrition, employment, education and health care,” Ms. Dyfan said.
With Somalia having to regularly deal with the climate-related impact of droughts and flooding and their impact on economic, social, and cultural rights, the Independent Expert called for the Federal Government to focus beyond urgent humanitarian aid to also build resilience in Somali communities by putting in place mitigation and adaptation measures in the medium- and 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,” Ms. Dyfan said.
On the issue of children’s rights, the Independent Expert flagged that she continued to follow 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.
“I understand that it has been approved by the Federal Cabinet, 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,” Ms. Dyfan said.
“I reiterate the call made by the Secretary-General 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,” she added. “I stress the need to continue prioritising the protection of children in light of the phased ATMIS drawdown.”
Ms. Dyfan said she will elaborate on her preliminary observations in a comprehensive report to the UN Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly next year, when she also hopes to return to Somalia.
“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 how gaps and challenges are being overcome by the authorities and priorities are being implemented,” Ms. Dyfan said.
“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 its ability to support Somalia’s efforts to implement human rights standards and norms.”
Independent Experts like Ms. Dyfan are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.
Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.