Somalia Human Rights

Human Rights Concerns

Since the overthrow of Siad Barre's 21-year government in January 1991, civil conflict has torn Somalia apart, leading to the collapse of the state and the economy. Fighting between armed Islamist groups and pro-government forces has subjected southern and central Somalia to violence and instability. Civilians are killed and injured as a result of indiscriminate attacks and generalized violence, and conflict has forced over two million people to leave their homes, seeking refuge as internally displaced persons (IDPs) or as refugees in neighboring countries. Access by aid agencies to civilians and the displaced is restricted by armed groups and insecurity. Humanitarian workers, journalists and human rights activists are at risk of killings and abductions. Armed groups control most of southern and central Somalia and they often carry out unlawful killings, torture and forced recruitment. The Transitional Federal Government (TFG) controls only part of the capital Mogadishu and there is no effective justice system. Serious human rights abuses, including war crimes, are met with impunity. Somalia continues to carry out the death penalty.

Indiscriminate attacks
In the conflict that has engulfed central and south Somalia, no distinction is made between civilians and combatants. All parties to the conflict use mortars and heavy weapons in areas populated or frequented by civilians, killing and injuring thousands of people, many of which are women and children under 14. Education suffers because school buildings are damaged and destroyed during indiscriminate attacks in urban areas. In Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, many schools have closed down as students and teachers fear being injured and killed on their way to school.

Over two million people have been displaced by fighting, insecurity and poverty. One and a half million people have been internally displaced, many seeking refuge in settlements with little or no access to humanitarian aid. Overcrowding in camps undermines refugees' access to essential services, including shelter, medical aid, water, and education. In some areas, people are forcibly evicted from resettlement sites, following acquisition of land by private owners for development purposes. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled to other countries, and despite the risks related to conflict and violence, thousands have been deported back to southern and central Somalia by Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the UK.

Restrictions on humanitarian aid
Southern and Central Somalia is gripped by a humanitarian emergency, in which the very survival of Somalis is threatened because armed groups deny them access to humanitarian aid. Humanitarian aid to Somalia from organizations like the World Food Programme (WFP) is often diverted to armed groups. Al-Shabab has severely restricted humanitarian access in most of southern and central Somalia by banning UN and international agencies working in areas under al-Shabab's control, and arbitrarily closing national organizations, which the group sometimes accuses of "spying" for the international community. These restrictions, coupled with armed conflict and displacement, have serious human rights implications, compounded by severe drought. According to the UN, two million Somalis are in urgent need of aid, and one in six children in central Somalia is malnourished.

Freedom of expression- journalists and civil society
Somali journalists and civil society organizations face regular intimidation by armed groups. Activists are forced into exile due to the threat of killings and abductions. Radio stations are shut down or prevented from covering certain topics by both the government and armed groups.

Child soldiers
In Somalia recruitment of children is widespread, mainly by armed groups opposed to the TFG. Boys as young as nine years old, alongside young men, are forcibly recruited by the Islamist group al-Shabab. Girls are recruited to cook and clean for al-Shabab forces and forced to marry al-Shabab members. Somalia's TFG forces are also responsible for recruiting, using, killing, and maiming children in armed conflict.

Abuses by armed groups
Armed groups unlawfully kill and torture people they accuse of spying or not conforming to their own interpretation of Islamic law. They kill people in public, including by stoning them to death, and carry out amputations and floggings on the orders of quasi-judicial bodies operated by local leaders with links to armed groups. Individuals "tried" under these bodies do not appear to benefit from any due process guarantees, including legal representation or possibility of appeal. Armed Islamist groups also impose restrictive dress codes, flogging women who do not wear the hijab and forcing men to wear trousers no longer than the ankle. Al-Shabab imposes strict restrictions on the right to education, preventing some girls from attending school, banning certain subjects from being taught, or using schools to indoctrinate children into participating in fighting.

Armed piracy off the Somali coast threatens the life and safety of maritime crews and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia by sea. Piracy, the result of years of armed conflict, lawlessness and economic deprivation following the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, is also fuelled by the thriving arms trade to and within Somalia. According to the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia, pirates have easy access to weapons in Somalia and are able to purchase them through the money obtained from kidnappings and ransoms and some leading pirates are probably responsible for arms embargo violations.

According to independent observers, the presidential elections were held in June 2010 in the Republic of Somaliland were generally free, fair, and peaceful, however media freedom organizations reported some instances of restrictions on journalists in the lead-up to the elections. Clashes between armed groups and Somaliland security forces displaced thousands of people, forcing them to live in difficult conditions. Minority groups in the region face regular discrimination. As with the semi-autonomus Puntland, Somaliland is not currently internationally recognized as a separate country from Somalia.

Somalia Newsroom

October 20, 2020 • Press Release

Regional human rights bodies struggle to uphold rights amid political headwinds in Africa

For a second consecutive year, Amnesty International has documented how African governments are grossly undermining regional human rights bodies by failing to comply with their decisions, ignoring their urgent appeals, …

July 28, 2020 • Press Release

AFRICOM Yet to Compensate Somali Families, Despite Casualty Admissions

In response to a quarterly civilian casualty assessment report issued today by U.S. Africa Command, Brian Castner, the Senior Crisis Advisor for arms and military operations at Amnesty International said: …

May 6, 2020 • Press Release

Defense Department undercounts civilian casualties in new reporting

Responding to the Pentagon’s report on U.S. civilian casualties to Congress, Daphne Eviatar, the director of the Security with Human Rights program at Amnesty International USA stated: “The Department of …

April 27, 2020 • Press Release

U.S. military sheds some light on civilian casualties from shadowy war in Somalia

Reacting to the publication today of US Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) first quarterly assessment of civilian casualties resulting from its operations in Africa, which acknowledges that two Somali civilians were killed …

April 7, 2020 • Press Release

Armed conflicts and state repression in Africa fuel cocktail of human rights violations

HUMAN RIGHTS IN AFRICA: Protesters across sub-Saharan Africa have braved bullets and beatings to defend their rights in the face of continuing conflict and state repression, Amnesty International said today …

March 30, 2020 • Press Release

Zero accountability as civilian deaths mount in Somalia from U.S. air strikes

Civilian casualties continue to mount from the U.S. military’s secret air war in Somalia, with no justice or reparation for the victims of possible violations of international humanitarian law, Amnesty …

February 12, 2020 • Press Release

Killings, Corruption and Censorship Besiege Media Freedom in Somalia

A surge in violent attacks, threats, harassment and intimidation of media workers is entrenching Somalia as one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist, Amnesty International said today.

September 30, 2019 • Press Release

U.S. Military Shows Appalling Disregard for Civilians Killed in Somalia Air Strike

An investigation by Amnesty International has revealed that three men killed in a U.S. military air strike in March after being targeted as “Al-Shabaab terrorists” were in fact civilian farmers with no evidence of links to the armed group.

May 22, 2019 • Press Release

Catastrophic failure as civilians ravaged by war violations 70 years after Geneva Conventions

The UN Security Council must mark the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions this year by ending its catastrophic failure to protect millions of civilians around the world whose lives and livelihoods are routinely ravaged by violations of the laws of war, Amnesty International said today.

April 5, 2019 • Press Release

AFRICOM Civilian Casualties Reporting Must Be Amended

Responding to a press release by the U.S. Africa Command acknowledging an April 1, 2018 airstrike killed two civilians, Daphne Eviatar, the director of Security With Human Rights at Amnesty …