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Djibouti

Executive Summary

Djibouti is a republic with a strong elected president and a weak legislature. In 2016 President Ismail Omar Guelleh was re-elected for a fourth term. International observers from the African Union (AU), Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and Arab League characterized the election as “peaceful,” “calm,” and “sufficiently free and transparent” but noted irregularities. Most opposition groups did not characterize the elections as free and fair. Three of the seven recognized opposition parties participated in the February 2018 legislative elections. Opposition groups stated the government reneged on a 2015 agreement by not installing an independent electoral commission to manage and oversee elections. International observers from the AU, IGAD, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and the Arab League characterized the 2018 legislative elections as “free, just, and fair,” an assessment disputed by the leaders of unrecognized opposition parties.

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. The National Gendarmerie is responsible for all security outside of Djibouti City and is responsible for protecting critical infrastructure within the city, such as the international airport. The leadership of both entities reports to the minister of interior. The National Service of Documentation and Security (SDS) operates as a law enforcement and intelligence agency. It reports directly to the Presidency. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government agents; arbitrary detention by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists; criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; significant acts of corruption; and violence against women and girls with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability, including female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

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

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution and law allow for freedom of expression, including for the 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 Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals.

According to reports, on June 19, Mohamed Ali Samireh and Chehem posted video on Facebook alleging the Ministry of Education fabricated charges against six teachers in a highly publicized case. Mohamed and Chehem were arrested by the National Security Service and released a week later without charge.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Privately owned or independent newspapers were distributed on an irregular basis. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to criticize the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on authorized print media. 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.

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.

The NCC, under the Ministry of Communication, issues licenses to private citizens and political parties wishing to operate media outlets in the country. To date the Facebook page Djib-Live, which provides news, commentary, and entertainment, is the only nongovernmental entity in the country to receive a license (in late 2017). In October 2018 privately owned journal Le Renard applied for a license but was rejected. Foreign media outlets and journalists, including BBC and Al Jazeera, are not required to obtain a domestic license. They register directly with the Ministry of Communication.

Violence and Harassment: The government harassed journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media law and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship. Some opposition members used pseudonyms to publish articles.

Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against libel and slander to restrict public discussion and retaliate against political opponents.

Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, including for media: In May the government granted opposition political party the Center for Democratic Unity authorization to distribute a newsletter, the first authorization of its kind. Other opposition political groups and civil society activists circulated unauthorized newsletters and other materials via email and social media sites.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. Opposition members alleged security forces routinely cancelled or disrupted meetings and other political events.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law generally provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: Due to the continuing border dispute with Eritrea, certain areas in northern Djibouti remained under military control.

Foreign Travel: Citizens, including opposition members, reported immigration officials refused to renew their passports.

For the second consecutive year, opposition leader Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, secretary general of the MoDeL opposition party, claimed the government withheld his passport.

f. Protection of Refugees

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government collaborated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in expanding protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. Asylum seekers from southern Somalia and Yemen were prima facie considered eligible for asylum or refugee status. The National Office for Assistance to Refugees and Disaster Victims (ONARS) and UNHCR issued identification cards to Yemeni refugees. The National Eligibility Commission (NEC), which falls under the Ministry of Interior and consists of staff from ONARS and several ministries, must review all other asylum claims; UNHCR participates as an observer. Ethiopian and Eritrean asylum seekers reported discrimination in the status determination process.

The government reconfigured the NEC and held monthly meetings in accordance with the law. There was a backlog of more than 10,000 persons awaiting status determination.

Employment: Scarce resources and employment opportunities limited local integration of refugees. Many, especially in the Yemeni refugee community, worked in restaurants, as daily manual laborers, fishers, and street vendors. By law documented refugees can work without a work permit in contrast to previous years, and many (especially women) did so in jobs such as house cleaning, babysitting, or construction. The law provides little recourse to challenge working conditions or seek fair payment for labor.

In conjunction with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR, the government supported vocational training for 97 refugees. A small number of the participants found local employment.

Access to Basic Services: Levels of protection and assistance in the refugee camps routinely fell short of international standards. The Ali Addeh camp was overcrowded, and basic services such as potable water and shelter were inadequate. The government did not issue birth certificates to children born in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps for several months. Health services in the camps were not adequate, despite refugees and asylum seekers having legal access to the public health system. Problems included: lack of prescription drugs, absence of emergency care, and a weak referral system to advanced health care.

Yemeni refugees received basic services such as water, food, shelter, and medical services at Markazi camp. The government issued birth certificates to children born in the camp.

During the 2018-19 academic year, the government expanded a Ministry of Education-accredited English curriculum to second grade refugee youth. 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. 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.

The NCC, under the Ministry of Communication, issues licenses to private citizens and political parties wishing to operate media outlets in the country. To date the Facebook page Djib-Live, which provides news, commentary, and entertainment, is the only nongovernmental entity in the country to receive a license (in late 2017). In October 2018 privately owned journal Le Renard applied for a license but was rejected. Foreign media outlets and journalists, including BBC and Al Jazeera, are not required to obtain a domestic license. They register directly with the Ministry of Communication.

In April the Ministry of Agriculture assumed control over water provision and sanitation within the refugee communities.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a limited number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities often temporarily jailed economic migrants, primarily from Ethiopia, attempting to transit the country to enter Yemen, before deporting them. The government worked with the IOM to provide health services to those migrants deemed “vulnerable” while they awaited deportation or voluntary return. The minister of health stationed two doctors in the country (one in the north and one in the south) to support migrants and citizens. The Coast Guard operated a migrant transit center in Khor Angar that functioned as a first response center for migrants stranded at sea.

The National Police decreased its presence at the Ali Addeh refugee camp, implemented after the 2014 terrorist attack. The gendarmerie, however, maintained its presence at the Markazi refugee camp.

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. In 2017 the UNFD also placed a full-time staff member in all refugee camps to provide support for domestic violence victims. International media reported cases of domestic violence in refugee camps, although the status of subsequent investigations was unknown. Impunity remained a problem.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The government, however, deprived many citizens of this ability by suppressing the opposition and refusing to allow several opposition groups to form legally recognized political parties. The formal structures of representative government and electoral processes had little relevance to the real distribution and exercise of power.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. According to the World Bank’s most recent Worldwide Governance Indicators, government corruption was a serious problem.

Corruption: No known high-level civil servants were disciplined for corruption. During the year the government resumed an initiative begun in 2012 to rotate accountants among government offices as a check on corruption. The law requires the Court of Accounts and Inspectorate General to report annually on corruption findings, but both entities lacked resources, and reporting seldom occurred.

During the year the Court of Budget and Disciplinary Action issued its annual report on corruption available online. The court also called a conference with local journalists to distribute reports. The authority to prosecute corruption, however, lies with the Criminal Court.

Financial Disclosure: Public officials are subject to financial disclosure laws, but they usually did not abide by the law.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

The government generally allowed a few domestic human rights groups that dealt with matters authorities did not consider politically sensitive to operate without restriction, conducting limited investigations and sometimes publishing findings on human rights cases. Government officials occasionally were responsive to their views. Government-sanctioned human rights groups regularly cooperated with local associations offering training and education to citizens on human rights issues such as migrant rights and human trafficking. Many of these associations had leaders who were also key officials of the government. Local human rights groups that covered politically sensitive matters could not, however, operate freely and were often targets of government harassment and intimidation.

Eight years after a group of civil servants from various ministries created the Djiboutian Observatory for the Promotion of Democracy and Human Rights (ODDH), the Ministry of Interior had not granted the group formal status by year’s end. Due to government pressure, the president of ODDH was fired in 2018. Additionally, the leader of the Djibouti Human Rights League reported harassment targeting him and his family.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The government’s National Human Rights Commission includes technical experts, representatives of civil society and labor unions, religious groups, the legal community, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the National Assembly. By law the commission is a permanent institution with staff and regional offices. The commission last produced an annual report in 2016 and occasionally commented on cases of concern.

A government ombudsman holds responsibilities that include mediation between the government and citizens on issues such as land titles, issuance of national identity cards, and claims for unpaid wages. Written records of the ombudsman’s activities were sparse, and it was unclear what actions he took during the year to promote human rights.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Section 7. Worker Rights

a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining

The constitution and law provide for the right to form and join independent unions with prior authorization from the Ministry of Labor. The law provides the right to strike after giving advance notification, allows collective bargaining, and fixes the basic conditions for adherence to collective agreements. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires employers to reinstate workers fired for union activities. The economic free zones (EFZs) operate under different rules, and labor law provides workers fewer rights in the EFZs.

The procedure for trade union registration, according to the International Labor Organization, is lengthy and complicated, allowing the Ministry of Labor virtually unchecked discretionary authority over registration. The government also requires unions to repeat this approval process following any changes to union leadership or union statutes, meaning each time there is a union election the union must reregister with the government.

The law provides for the suspension of the employment contract when a worker holds trade union office. The law also prohibits membership in a trade union if an individual has prior convictions (whether or not the conviction is prejudicial to the integrity required to exercise union office). The law provides the president with broad discretionary power to prohibit or restrict severely the right of civil servants to strike, based on an extensive list of “essential services” that may exceed the limits of international standards.

The government neither enforced nor complied with applicable law, including the law on antiunion discrimination. Available remedies and penalties for violations were insufficient to deter violations, particularly in view of the lack of enforcement.

The government also limited labor organizations’ ability to register members, thus compromising the ability of labor groups to operate. The government did not allow the country’s two independent labor unions to register as official labor unions. Two government-backed labor unions with the same names as the independent labor unions, sometimes known as “clones,” served as the primary collective bargaining mechanisms for many workers. Members of the government have close ties to the legal labor unions. Only members of government-approved labor unions attended international and regional labor meetings with the imprimatur of the government. Independent union leaders stated the government suppressed independent representative unions by tacitly discouraging labor meetings.

Collective bargaining sometimes occurred and usually resulted in quick agreements. The tripartite National Council on Work, Employment, and Professional Training examined all collective bargaining agreements and played an advisory role in their negotiation and application. The council included representatives from labor, employers, and government.

b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The 2016 TIP law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor and strengthens tools available to prosecutors to convict and imprison traffickers (see section 6, Children). The law was not effectively enforced, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations, particularly in the regions where human smuggling occurred.

Citizens and migrants were vulnerable to forced labor, including as domestic servants in Djibouti City and along the Ethiopia-Djibouti trucking corridor. Parents or other adult relatives forced street children, including citizen children, to beg. Children also were vulnerable to forced labor as domestic servants and coerced to commit petty crimes, such as theft (see section 7.c.).

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

The law prohibits all labor by, and employment of, children younger than age 16, but it does not specifically prohibit the worst forms of child labor. The law places limitations on working more than 40 hours a week and working at night. Government enforcement of the law was ineffective, and penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Labor is responsible for monitoring workplaces and preventing child labor; however, a shortage of labor inspectors, vehicles, and other resources impeded investigations of child labor. Inspections were carried out in the formal economy, although most child labor took place in the informal sector.

Child labor, including the worst forms of child labor, occurred throughout the country. Children were engaged in the sale of the narcotic khat, which is legal. Family-owned businesses such as restaurants and small shops employed children during all hours. Children were involved in a range of activities such as shining shoes, washing and guarding cars, selling items, working as domestic servants, working in subsistence farming and with livestock, begging, and other activities in the informal sector. Children of both sexes worked as domestic servants. Children experienced physical, chemical, and psychological hazards while working.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

There is no law prohibiting discriminatory hiring practices based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV or other communicable disease status. The constitution provides for equal treatment of citizens regardless of gender or other distinctions, but custom and traditional societal discrimination resulted in a secondary role for women in public life and fewer employment opportunities in the formal sector. The government promoted women-led small businesses, including through expanded access to microcredit.

A presidential decree requires women to hold at least 20 percent of all high-level public service positions, although the government has never implemented the decree.

The Labor Inspectorate lacked adequate resources to carry out inspections for discrimination. According to disability advocates, there were not enough employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, and legal protections and access for such individuals were inadequate. The law does not require equal pay for equal work (see section 6).

By law foreign migrant workers who obtain residency and work permits enjoy the same legal protections and working conditions as citizens. This law was not enforced, however, and migrant workers experienced discrimination.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The national minimum wage for the public sector was above the World Bank poverty income level. The law does not mandate a minimum wage for the private sector, but it provides that minimum wages be established by common agreement between employers and employees. According to the government statistics office, in 2017, 79 percent of the population lived in relative poverty.

The legal workweek is 40 hours over five days, a limit that applies to workers regardless of gender or nationality. The law mandates a weekly rest period of 48 consecutive hours and the provision of overtime pay at an increased rate fixed by agreement or collective bargaining. The law states that combined regular and overtime hours may not exceed 60 hours per week and 12 hours per day. The law provides for paid holidays. The government sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards that cover the country’s main industries. Minimum wage, hours of work, and OSH standards were not effectively enforced, including in the informal economy.

No law or regulation permits workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardizing continued employment.

There was a large informal sector but no credible data on the number of workers employed there.

The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing OSH standards, wages, and work hours; however, resources allotted to enforcement were insufficient, and enforcement was ineffective. The ministry did not employ a sufficient number of inspectors to deter violations. During the year the Labor Inspectorate conducted 30 inspections, including within EFZs, based on complaints of illegal labor conditions; the inspectorate found violations in every case. Because of lack of enforcement, penalties were insufficient to deter violations.

The most common remedy for violations was for the labor inspector to visit the offending business and explain how to correct the violation. If the business corrected the violation, there was no penalty.

Migrants were particularly vulnerable to labor violations. Workers in several industries and sectors sometimes faced hazardous working conditions, particularly in the construction sector and at ports. Hazards included, for example, improper safety equipment and inadequate safety training. According to the Labor Inspectorate, workers typically reported improper termination, not abuses of safety standards.

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