Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law allow for freedom of speech and press, provided the exercise of these freedoms complies with the law and respects “the honor of others.” The government did not respect these rights. The law provides prison sentences for media offenses.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals. Plainclothes security agents in mosques monitored the content of sermons during Friday prayers.
On January 14, authorities arrested Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, university professor and journalist and publisher of biweekly opposition magazine l’Aurore, after he published a picture of a child killed during the December 2015 incident. Ibrahim spent one night in custody and was then released. On January 19, a judge suspended Ibrahim’s magazine for two months and gave him a suspended two‑month jail sentence. In February 2015 Ibrahim was fired by presidential decree from his position at the university for expressing political beliefs in the workplace.
Another opposition member and two persons linked to the December 2015 incident were also fired by presidential decree from their government positions.
Press and Media Freedoms: There were no privately owned or independent newspapers in the country. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to publish criticism of the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on domestic news.
On April 2, the government expelled BBC journalists, including BBC’s Africa security correspondent, from the country. According to government officials, the BBC journalists did not have proper media accreditation to report on the presidential election scheduled for April 8. The BBC asserted they did have official media accreditation and interviewed the foreign minister and an opposition candidate on April 1, after which authorities detained the journalists and deported them the next morning.
Opposition political groups and civil society activists circulated newsletters and other materials that criticized the government via e-mail and social media sites. President of the Djiboutian Human Rights League (LDDH) Omar Ali Ewado published a list of persons who allegedly died in the December 2015 incident; the number of names exceeded the government’s official death toll. Government officials stated Ewado fabricated the names and death toll. Authorities charged Ewado with defamation, and he spent 45 days in pretrial detention. On February 14, authorities granted Ewado probation. On April 30, the Supreme Court dropped all charges against him.
The government owned the only radio and television stations, operated by Radio Television Djibouti. The official media generally did not criticize government leaders or policy, and opposition access to radio and television time remained limited. Foreign media broadcast throughout the country, and cable news and other programming were available via satellite.
In 1992 the Ministry of Communication created a Communication Commission to distribute licenses to nongovernmental entities wishing to operate media outlets. In 2012 the ministry accepted its first application for licensing, but the application remained pending. In 2015 Maydaneh Abdallah Okieh–a journalist with radio station La Voix de Djibouti–submitted a request to the Ministry of Communication for approval to operate a radio station. He subsequently received a letter stating the ministry’s commission had not been fully established and could not grant rights to operate a radio station. After the April cabinet reshuffle, the ministry selected members for the Communication Commission, but had yet to issue an official press release with all the names of members to formalize the commission.
Violence and Harassment: The government arrested and harassed journalists.
For example, on January 11, gendarmes arrested and detained La Voix de Djibouti journalist Mohamed Ibrahim Waiss for allegedly reporting on court cases of opposition members. He was in Gabode Prison on pretrial detention until January 17. Authorities dismissed his case on January 24 for lack of evidence.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media laws and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship.
Circulation of a new newspaper requires authorization from the Communication Commission, which requires agreement from the National Security Service. The National Security Service reportedly investigated funding sources and the newspaper staff’s political affiliations.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against slander to restrict public discussion.
In August, Youssouf Ahmed, editor of independent magazine Le Renard, was arrested and detained on charges of libel for criticizing high-level government officials. He was released after 48 hours. Authorities first sentenced Ahmed to one month in prison and a 9.96 million Djiboutian franc ($56,270) fine, but he settled his case out of court. According to opposition and human right groups, his case was dismissed contingent upon him no longer commenting on high-level government officials.
There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to ensure there were no planned demonstrations or overly critical views of the government (see section 1.c.).
Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, reportedly continued to block access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and La Voix de Djibouti, which often criticized the government. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 10.71 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were government restrictions on academic and cultural events. Following the December 2015 incident, there was a presidential decree issued for security reasons that forbade any cultural, political, or religious gatherings for two months. The Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs postponed a regional folkloric dance and a regional conference of Muslim religious leaders due to the decree until after the presidential election in April.
Unlike in the previous year, there were no government restrictions on academic freedom.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government restricted this right. The Ministry of Interior requires permits for peaceful assemblies. In contrast with the previous year, the Ministry of Interior allowed opposition groups to host events and rallies, particularly for the presidential campaign. Security authorities occasionally restricted this right (see section 1.c.).
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution and law allow for freedom of association provided community groups register and obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior. Nevertheless, the ministry ignored the petitions of some groups (see section 5). The government harassed and intimidated opposition parties, human rights groups, and labor unions.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law generally provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The government collaborated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to draft and pass a comprehensive refugee law, ensuring refugees’ right to health, education, and the right to work. The National Assembly adopted the refugee law on December 26.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government maintained an increased police presence at the Ali Addeh refugee camp following the 2014 attack on La Chaumiere restaurant. Separately, gendarmes maintained a presence at the Markazi refugee camp. Refugees had limited legal protections since there were no permanent courts within the camps or in neighboring communities.
Refugees, however, reported abuse and attacks to the National Office for Assistance to Refugees and Populations Affected by Disaster (ONARS) and UNHCR. With the support of the local National Union of Djiboutian Women (UNFD), mobile courts traveled to the largest camp, Ali Addeh, to hear the backlog of pending cases. During the year UNFD also placed a full-time staff member in all refugee camps to provide support for domestic violence victims. Cases of domestic violence were reported, although the status of subsequent investigations was unknown. Impunity remained a problem.
The government detained and deported large numbers of irregular migrants, primarily from Ethiopia. The government sometimes gave individual irregular migrants the opportunity to claim asylum status, after which the National Eligibility Commission was supposed to determine their status. The commission did not sit during the year until July 24. More than 8,042 asylum seekers awaited decisions on their asylum claims.
In-country Movement: Due to the continuing border dispute with Eritrea, certain areas in the north remained under military control.
Foreign Travel: Opposition members reported immigration officials prevented them from boarding international flights.
For example, on August 9, gendarmes stopped Union for National Salvation (USN) Secretary General Abdourahman Mohamed Guelleh at the entrance of the Ambouli airport, preventing him from boarding his international flight. Government officials stated Guelleh could not leave the country until his case concerning alleged involvement in the December 2015 incident was closed. He remained released on probation. On July 12, the Supreme Court dismissed Guelleh’s case, but the state prosecutor overturned the decision. Guelleh’s case remained pending.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Asylum seekers from southern Somalia and Yemen are, prima facie, considered eligible for asylum or refugee status. All other asylum claims must be reviewed by the National Eligibility Commission, which falls under the Ministry of Interior and consists of staff from ONARS and several ministries; UNHCR participates as an observer.
According to UNHCR the country hosted more than 19,000 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from south and central Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea, in two refugee camps in the southern region of Ali Sabieh. An additional estimated 4,800 individuals from Ethiopia, Yemen, Somalia, and other nations lived in urban areas, primarily in Djibouti City. Due to Ethiopia’s instability in August and September, the country permitted more than 5,000 Ethiopians, particularly those from the Oromia, to register as asylum seekers.
In the past most new Somali refugees arrived at the Ali Addeh camp, which reached maximum capacity several years previously. To reduce congestion, in 2012 UNHCR and ONARS reopened a second camp at Holl-Holl. UNHCR and ONARS completed a validation census of refugees in camps and in Djibouti City in January and identified those who arrived after 2009 for voluntary relocation to the new camp.
The country also hosted refugees fleeing violence in Yemen starting in March 2015. ONARS and UNHCR registered approximately 6,000 refugees from Yemen, at least 2,800 of whom lived in a refugee camp in the northern region of Obock.
Organizational difficulties and resource constraints prevented ONARS and UNHCR from providing adequate services to refugees in all camps and in Djibouti City, including the prompt processing of asylum claims.
Due to the unresolved conflict begun in 2008 between Djibouti and Eritrea and the mandatory military conscription policy of the Eritrean government, the government considered Eritrean detainees as deserters from the Eritrean military rather than refugees. Beginning in 2011, however, the government allowed UNHCR to screen and resettle more than 200 Eritrean detainees imprisoned at Nagad in the United States, Canada, and Europe. In 2014 authorities released the 266 remaining Eritreans from Nagad and placed them in the Ali Addeh refugee camp. During the year the government continued to facilitate resettlement of this group. The government agreed to release 18 Eritrean detainees if the ICRC could resettle them to a third country. By year’s end the ICRC had not found a third country for resettlement of the 18 detainees.
Refoulement: The government did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status to groups other than southern Somalis and–beginning in March 2015–Yemenis. A backlog in asylum status determinations put individuals waiting for their screening at risk of expulsion to countries where they might be threatened. In 2014 two suicide bombers from Somalia attacked La Chaumiere restaurant in Djibouti’s city center, killing one victim and severely injuring others. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for this attack. After the attack, authorities closed the border with Somalia to refugees and stopped new registration and refugee status determination processes. Although the border remained officially closed during 2015, UNHCR reported the government allowed new arrivals into the country. The government also resumed the refugee status determination process in June 2015, hosting several sessions of the National Eligibility Commission each month thereafter.
Because of the presidential election and subsequent cabinet reshuffle, the National Eligibility Commission did not conduct interviews during the year until July 24. The Ministry of Interior-led commission met monthly from July to year’s end to reduce the backlog.
Because of resource constraints and limited capacity, the government did not proactively screen irregular migrants to determine if they were trafficking victims before returning them to their home countries.
Most of these cases involved Ethiopian nationals, whom government officials often identified as economic migrants. The government, working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), continued its efforts to differentiate refugees from irregular migrants. A lack of staff and other resources, however, impeded accurate vetting, particularly in light of the large number of irregular migrants transiting the country to Yemen and migrants deported from Yemen to Djibouti.
Employment: Scarce resources and employment opportunities limited local integration of refugees. Documented refugees were allowed to work with a work permit, and many (especially women) did so in jobs such as house cleaning, babysitting, or construction. There was little recourse to challenge working conditions or ensure fair payment for labor.
Access to Basic Services: The Ali Addeh camp was overcrowded, and basic services such as potable water were inadequate. The Holl-Holl camp was not overcrowded and had better access to potable water than the Ali Addeh camp. The government continued to issue birth certificates to children born in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps. ONARS and UNHCR completed a refugee verification exercise in January 2015, which allowed ONARS and UNHCR officials to issue identification cards to all refugees older than 15 years in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps and in Djibouti City. UNHCR and ONARS resumed resettlement activities in 2015, which had been on hold since 2012.
ONARS and UNHCR established the Markazi refugee camp in May 2015 after Yemenis began arriving in Djibouti following the eruption of violence in Yemen. The Markazi camp provided Yemeni refugees with basic services such as water, food, shelter, and medical services. The government issued birth certificates to children born in the Markazi refugee camp. ONARS and UNHCR also began issuing identification cards to Yemeni refugees.
For the first time, the government agreed to create a new Ministry of Education-recognized English curriculum for the 2017-18 academic year for more than 12,000 refugee children in the refugee camps. Previously UNHCR provided refugees in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps with a Kenya-adapted curriculum taught in English and French that was not recognized by Kenyan and Djiboutian authorities.
Refugees in the Markazi camp had access to instruction based on a Yemeni and Saudi curriculum taught in Arabic.
Durable Solutions: In conjunction with IOM, the government continued to support vocational training for young refugees. These training programs have resulted in a small number of refugees finding local employment.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a limited number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities often jailed irregular migrants identified as economic migrants attempting to transit the country to enter Yemen and returned them to their countries of origin. The government worked with IOM to provide adequate health services to these migrants while they awaited deportation. IOM and the Ministry of Health have a Memorandum of Understanding permitting IOM to provide health supplies to hospitals in the “migration corridor” in Northern Djibouti, as well as enabling the ministry to have a health unit in IOM’s Migration Resource Center in Obock.