Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991. The territory of the Somali state is fragmented into regions led in whole or in part by three distinct entities: the Transitional Federal Institutions, including the Transitional Federal Parliament (TFP) and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG); the self-declared Republic of Somaliland in the northwest; and the semi-autonomous region of Puntland in the northeast. The Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) continued to occupy south central Somalia, in support of the TFG and to oust the Islamic Courts and their associated armed militants. Fighting between TFG/ENDF forces and their militias against antigovernment forces and extremist elements increased and resulted in widespread human rights abuses, including the killing of more than 1,000 civilians and the displacement of at least 700,000 persons. Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control of the security forces in any area of the country. The country's poor human rights situation deteriorated further during the year, exacerbated by the absence of effective governance institutions or the rule of law, the widespread availability of small arms and light weapons, and ongoing conflicts.
The U.S. government's human rights and democracy strategy in the country centered on promoting inclusive political dialogue focused on the transitional process as outlined by the Transitional Federal Charter, and leading to elections in 2009. To support this priority, U.S. programs strengthened civil society and democratic institutions, enabling the rule of law and local governance, and mitigating conflict. Promoting and strengthening good governance and political competition and consensus-building remains critical for the country to become a more inclusive democratic state. U.S. assistance seeks to help build the capacity of the TFG to govern better, deliver services, and take the lead on tasks to ensure the political transition. In order to preserve democratic gains, continued engagement with Somaliland remains important. In this region, the U.S. priority is to support stability, democracy and a transparent local and presidential electoral process in 2008.
The United States works in close partnership with the United Nations and the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Somalia to advance reconciliation efforts. U.S. diplomatic engagement is coordinated with other missions in neighboring countries with critical national interests in Somalia. The United States remains committed to promoting human rights through diplomatic efforts and support of NGOs working to advance these issues. Direct action on strengthening democratic practices, institutions, and values and promoting human rights is hampered and some programs limited because U.S. officials are not able to travel on a regular basis in the country. Nevertheless, U.S. officials maintain contacts with stakeholders throughout the country and continue to support democracy programs through implementing partners.
The United States has carried out several recent programs to strengthen democracy and local governance. In 2007 intense diplomatic engagement helped to ensure that key actors took part in the National Reconciliation Conference (NRC) in Mogadishu. U.S. contributions to the NRC provided necessary support for the dialogue and created a more secure environment for the reconciliation to take place. The United States supported an initiative to provide quick-impact support for the TFG, including targeted training focused on transparency and responsiveness, and strengthening the constitution drafting process. A program to build the capacity of the TFP resulted in lawmakers becoming more directly engaged in executive oversight and developing independent legislative priorities. U.S. officials continued to encourage Somaliland's political leaders to develop democratic institutions and to participate in reconciliation efforts. U.S. programs in Somaliland empowered candidates to conduct voter-oriented democratic campaigns for the upcoming legislative elections and to assist political parties in activities critical to their successful participation in the political process following elections.
Public diplomacy efforts focused on engaging with Somalis living both in the country and overseas. The mission sponsored various press events to engage with the media about U.S. policy on democratic principles and human rights issues. The mission's newly established public diplomacy unit has aggressively utilized contacts with Somali radio stations to facilitate interviews with the ambassador and the special envoy. The mission also has conducted multiple press conferences highlighting democratic principles and human rights issues, gaining coverage from both Somali and international media outlets. The mission directly engaged with Somalis in Eastleigh, Nairobi's Somali enclave, as well as with Somalis in northeast Kenya. Taking advantage of Internet and other technologies, senior U.S. officials engaged directly with Somali audiences. A Web chat hosted by the special envoy received immensely positive feedback from participants all over the world. The public diplomacy unit is offering small grants to local partners to conduct programs focused on themes of peace and reconciliation and renunciation of violence.
To promote media freedom, the U.S. government supported radio programs that addressed political topics and societal concerns. The United States also sponsored media associations and conducted activities to increase respect for media laws. Among the highlights was a U.S.-sponsored media workshop in Baidoa, building the capacity of journalists and media institutions. To develop a more professional journalistic environment, U.S. assistance supported 30 Somalia-based journalists for three months of intensive training at the Kenya Institute for Mass Communications.
To strengthen civil society, the United States engaged a broad cross section of citizens by supporting more than 30 civil society organizations and media groups that actively promoted peace, social and economic development, and democratic governance. Civil society groups became key partners through community-level programs to improve maternal health, broaden access to education, increase security, and manage conflict. Six local partner organizations formed coalitions and networks to advocate for peace, particularly around issues related to national reconciliation. The U.S. government supported a program to strengthen non-elite Muslim women's advocacy and civic participation skills to enable them to better meet basic needs in their communities. The U.S. government also continued to support the Dialogue for Peace Project, an innovative field research project, which resulted in 33 meetings of more than 800 citizens to map regional and national conflicts and to establish the causes and key players involved. In addition, the United States also funded the establishment of five research centers in Kismayo, Baidoa, Beledweyne, Burao, and Galkayo to promote peace and reconciliation.
A young Somali human rights activist was the Africa regional winner of the 2008 U.S. secretary of state's International Women of Courage Award. The winner, who was recognized for her tireless efforts in the area of women's rights, was the keynote speaker at the mission's celebration of Women's History Month. In partnership with advocates for women's rights, the mission developed a series of programs to highlight human rights and women's political empowerment.