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Executive Summary

Djibouti is a republic with a strong elected president and a weak legislature. The country has a multiparty political system in which parties must be registered and recognized by the ruling authorities. President Ismail Omar Guelleh has served as president since 1999. In April he was re-elected for a fifth term. International observers from the African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, and Arab League characterized the election as free and fair, noting the peaceful and calm atmosphere, but suggested improvements to civil society participation and voter education. Opposition parties boycotted the election, claiming that President Guelleh held too much power, and the only other candidate was a political neophyte who claimed that the government’s refusal to provide security hampered his campaign. Limited space for credible political opposition called into question the fairness of the election but the outcome was not disputed. Legislative elections were held in 2018 but were boycotted by most opposition parties, which stated the government failed to honor a 2015 agreement to install an independent electoral commission to manage and oversee elections. International observers from the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League characterized the 2018 legislative elections as “free, just, and fair,” an assessment disputed by opposition leaders. Political power was shared by the two largest ethnic groups, the Somali-Issas and Afars.

The National Police is responsible for security within Djibouti City and has primary control over immigration and customs procedures for all land border-crossing points and reports to the Ministry of the Interior. The National Gendarmerie is responsible for all security outside of Djibouti City, as well as protecting critical infrastructure within the city, such as the international airport, and reports to the minister of defense. The National Service of Documentation and Security operates as a law enforcement and intelligence agency. It reports directly to the Presidency. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.

Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operations or nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; trafficking in persons; and the worst forms of child labor.

Impunity was a problem. The government seldom took steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, or punish corrupt officials or those who committed human right abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future