Somalia is a federal parliamentary republic led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo,” whom the bicameral parliament elected in 2017. Farmaajo is the country’s second president since the Federal Government of Somalia was founded in 2012. The federal parliament consists of the 275-member House of the People and the 54-member Upper House. The country last completed parliamentary elections in January 2017. Caucuses selected House of the People members, with seats distributed according to clan affiliation and a power-sharing formula. State assemblies elected Upper House members. The parliamentary electoral process was widely viewed as marred by corruption, but the two houses of parliament elected President Farmaajo in a process viewed as fair and transparent. The government of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland controlled its jurisdiction.
The 2012 provisional federal constitution states federal police, overseen by civilian leadership in the Ministry of Internal Security, have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. Many parts of the country remained outside government control, with the insurgent Islamist group al-Shabaab contesting government control. The African Union Mission in Somalia, under civilian African Union leadership, and the Somali National Army, under civilian leadership in the Ministry of Defense, are the primary internal security providers. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the federal and state security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by government forces; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in a conflict, including reportedly unlawful or widespread civilian harm, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, and unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, forced labor, and commercial sexual exploitation.
Impunity generally remained the norm. Government authorities took some steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, particularly military and police personnel.
Conflict during the year involving the government, militias, and al-Shabaab resulted in death, injury, and displacement of civilians. Clan militias and al-Shabaab continued to commit grave abuses throughout the country. Al-Shabaab committed most of the severe human rights abuses, particularly terrorist attacks on civilians and targeted killings, including extrajudicial, and religiously and politically motivated killings; disappearances; cruel and unusual punishment; rape; and attacks on employees of nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations. Al-Shabaab also blocked humanitarian assistance, conscripted child soldiers, and restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement. Operations by security forces caused civilian casualties.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, but neither federal nor regional authorities respected this right. The law criminalizes the spreading of “false news,” which it does not define, with penalties including imprisonment of up to six months.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, despite promises by the FGS to reform local laws that were widely used to prosecute journalists, authorities made little effort to fully protect freedom of expression, including for media, in areas they controlled.
Somaliland law prohibits publication or circulation of exaggerated or provocative news capable of disturbing public order, and officials used the provision to charge and arrest journalists.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals in government-controlled areas risked reprisal for criticizing government officials, particularly for alleged official corruption or suggestions that officials were unable to manage security matters. Such interference remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland, Jubaland, and Somaliland (see section 1.d.). Somaliland officials arrested persons for symbolic expression, notably for displaying the FGS flag (see also section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest).
On February 19, FGS intelligence officers interrupted two Goobjoog News journalists while they were interviewing persons on the street and tried to coach their interview subjects into making positive comments regarding the FGS. On February 23 and 25, armed security personnel in Mogadishu confronted Goobjoog reporters while they attempted to cover antigovernment protests and forced them to delete their footage.
A Somaliland-based human rights group noted that in April, authorities in Hargeisa detained Sabah Abdi Ibrahim, a female protester who dressed in the FGS flag, releasing her after six days without charge. Authorities in Borama arrested Degan Omar Dahir Miiraash after she publicly wore the FGS flag on April 23, releasing her the same day. According to human rights NGOs, Miiraash had served six months in prison on charges related to an earlier and similar act. The same human rights NGO noted that several activists, singers, and other persons faced similar detention, arrest, and imprisonment for demonstrating against Somaliland’s alleged independence.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although self-censorship was common due to a history of arbitrary arrest of journalists and the search and closure of media outlets that criticized the government. Reports of such interference occurred in Mogadishu and remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland, Jubaland, and Somaliland. Government authorities maintained editorial control over state-funded media and limited the autonomy of private outlets through direct and indirect threats. Threats were often applied through unilateral actions of security and other institutions.
Violence and Harassment: The Committee to Protect Journalists recorded one journalist killing in the country during the year. Domestic media organizations reported regular harassment by the security forces, NISA, clan and other private groups, and al-Shabaab. The government, government-aligned militias, authorities in Somaliland, Puntland, South West State, Galmudug, and Jubaland, ASWJ, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants killed, abused, and harassed journalists with impunity (see sections 1.a., 1.d., and 1.g.).
According to media rights organizations, FGS security forces regularly attacked and harassed journalists attempting to cover demonstrations and other antigovernment events. The SJS reported that on April 25, NISA officers stopped Universal TV reporters Mohamed Ibrahim Bulbul and Khalid Maki at gunpoint as they were leaving the scene of violent antigovernment protests in Mogadishu’s Karan district, attempted to confiscate their equipment, and forced them to delete their footage or risk being shot.
On May 3, Radio Mustaqbal filed a lawsuit with the Attorney General’s Office against then NISA director general Fahad Yasin and Office of the President Deputy Chief of Staff Abdinur Mohamed Ahmed for allegedly directing an April 27 raid on Radio Mustaqbal’s offices using Turkish-trained “Cheetah” special police forces. According to the complaint, armed Cheetah officers forcibly entered Radio Mustaqbal’s offices and ordered the staff on duty to come down at gunpoint, after which they beat and harassed radio editor Bashir Mohamud Yusuf before confiscating computers, external hard drives, laptops, cell phones, and cameras. The radio station’s programming was reportedly suspended until the next morning. According to the media outlet’s director, a Benadir police official personally apologized for the raid, but authorities did not return seized equipment. As of September the attorney general had not taken action on the complaint.
On September 5, police officers assaulted Goobjoog News producer Bashir Mohamud Weheliye and Universal TV reporter Guled Abdi Salad as they attempted to cover a public protest. According to the National Union of Somali Journalists, heavily armed police were recorded dragging Weheliye on the ground and throwing him into a police van during the arrest, while others forcibly confiscated Salad’s equipment. Weheliye was released without charge after being held briefly at a local police station.
Al-Shabaab also engaged in violence and harassment of journalists. For example, on March 1, two unidentified men shot and killed journalist Jamal Farah Adan in Galkayo. Adan had received threats from al-Shabaab in response to reporting and commentary that he posted on his Facebook page, and the terrorist group later took credit for the killing.
Somaliland authorities continued to fine and arbitrarily arrest journalists for defamation and other alleged crimes, including meeting with colleagues. Penalties included prison terms ranging from a few days to several months, as well as fines. Journalists were intimidated and imprisoned for conducting investigations into corruption or topics deemed sensitive, such as investment agreements regarding the Berbera Port or the conflict between Somaliland and Puntland concerning the disputed Sool and Sanaag regions. In April the NGO Human Rights Center Somaliland reported that authorities had arrested or detained seven journalists in connection with their work. On April 23, Somaliland police arrested MMTV reporter Abdiqadir Mohamed Abdilahi in Borama after he interviewed Hassan Dehehe, a religious leader who allegedly supported President Farmaajo. On August 19, police arrested Burao-based journalist and social activist Abdi Malik Coldoon after he accused the president of Barwaqo University of Abaarso on Facebook of promoting infidelity in Somaliland.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists engaged in rigorous self-censorship to avoid reprisals. Radio Barawe in Lower Shabelle region, an outlet shut down by government authorities due to its broadcasts in a local dialect in April 2020, continued to face forcible censorship and harassment. In January authorities again forced the station to close for several days and arrested one of its journalists, Osman Aweys Bahar, after the outlet broadcast a report regarding alleged marginalization of some local residents in government services and development projects.
The Committee to Protect Journalists and other international media rights organizations documented widespread state capture of media by the country’s FMS governments, with reports of direct censorship of media products by state officials. The Puntland and Jubaland FMS drew criticism, with state leaders’ communications and press offices often using coercive tools and bribery to interfere with outlets’ editorial setup, as well as taking action designed to control which media houses could operate within their jurisdictions. For example, on February 22, Puntland security personnel in Bosaso arrested Ahmed Botan Arab, a journalist who posted a video report on his Facebook page with interviews with members of the public regarding their reactions to a speech made by Puntland President Said Deni. Authorities drove Arab to the city’s presidential palace, where a police officer asked him to remove the video, which the reporter refused to do. He was transferred to a police station and held without charge until February 24, when he was released unconditionally.
Al-Shabaab banned journalists from reporting news that undermined Islamic law as interpreted by al-Shabaab and forbade persons in areas under its control from listening to international media outlets.
Libel/Slander Laws: Laws providing criminal penalties for publication of “false news” existed throughout the country, including Somaliland. The law criminalizes blasphemy and defamation of Islam, with punishments including monetary fines, up to two years in prison, or both.
National Security: Federal and regional authorities frequently cited national security concerns to suppress media and other criticism and to prevent press coverage of opposition political figures.
On February 8, NISA forces raided the offices of Somali Cable TV in Mogadishu, damaging equipment, holding staff at gunpoint, and assaulting them physically. Security agents accused journalists of recording activities at a secret NISA detention center adjacent to the Somali Cable TV building.
Nongovernmental Impact: Clan militias, criminal organizations, and terrorist groups, foremost among them al-Shabaab, actively sought to inhibit freedom of expression, including for members of the press, when it suited their interests.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The law provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, but the government limited these freedoms. A general lack of security effectively limited this right as well. The federal Ministry of Internal Security continued to require that it approve all public gatherings, citing security concerns such as the risk of attack by al-Shabaab suicide bombers.
Political groups faced obstacles holding rallies or peaceful protests, often facing harassment, violence, and arbitrary arrest or detention by security forces. On February 19, security forces responded to opposition protests in the capital, which included former prime minister Hassan Ali Khayre, with gunfire. According to media reports, at least 20 persons were killed in clashes, partly in skirmishes between government security forces and allegedly opposition-affiliated militia groups the previous night. According to media, in January, March, and June, hundreds of parents of young men who were allegedly recruited under false pretenses into security units and held incommunicado while in training in Eritrea for up to two years, engaged in protests in Mogadishu, Galkayo, and other cities. As the trigger for their demonstrations, the protesters cited reports by a former NISA official that their sons had been deployed to fight alongside Ethiopian and Eritrean troops in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. According to press accounts, the protesters were not always peaceful, with some burning tires and blocking roads. Police reportedly used force, including live ammunition and tear gas, to disperse the demonstrators.
In Somaliland security forces harassed and detained some opposition candidates and their supporters in the lead-up to the May 31 lower house and local council elections. Authorities imposed restrictions on security-related grounds on candidates and supporters who wanted to celebrate their election victories.
Al-Shabaab did not allow any gatherings without its prior consent.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for freedom of association, but government officials harassed NGO workers. There were also reports that regional authorities restricted freedom of association. Al-Shabaab did not allow most international NGOs to operate in areas it controlled.
Persons in the southern and central regions outside of al-Shabaab-controlled areas could freely join civil society organizations focusing on a wide range of problems.
In addition to security and safety concerns, humanitarian organizations faced significant interference from federal and state authorities who attempted to impose taxation and registration requirements and control contracting, procurement, and staffing.
Somaliland authorities continued to politicize operating requirements for NGOs and international humanitarian and development assistance providers in the service of their government’s claim to independence. On August 25, Somaliland’s Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs, and Family published a decree on Facebook reserving the right to determine the areas and persons in Somaliland eligible to receive cash transfers and told private banks that originators of cash transfers must mark the transactions with explicit mention of the “Government of Somaliland.”
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
The law provides that all persons lawfully residing in the country have the right to freedom of movement, to choose their residence, and to leave the country. Freedom of movement, however, was restricted in some areas, particularly in Somaliland.
In-country Movement: Checkpoints operated by government forces, allied groups, armed militias, clan factions, and al-Shabaab inhibited movement and exposed citizens to looting, extortion, harassment, and violence. Roadblocks manned by armed actors and attacks on humanitarian personnel severely restricted movement and the delivery of aid in southern and central sectors of the country.
In the period preceding the country’s federal parliamentary and presidential elections, numerous candidates reported that the FGS and regional authorities impeded their ability to travel within the country for campaigning. The FGS used Turkish-trained “Eagle” military and “Cheetah” special police units to lock down the capital on February 18-20 amid opposition protests, barring many opposition presidential candidates from demonstrating or moving around the city by setting up roadblocks around the homes, neighborhoods, or hotels where they were staying.
In July, Abdi Ali Rage, a close advisor to President Farmaajo and political opponent of Jubaland President Ahmed Islam “Madobe,” had his flight into the Kismayo airport turned away by senior FMS officials to block him from campaigning for a parliamentary seat, according to media reports.
Somaliland prohibited federal officials, including those of Somaliland origin who purported to represent Hargeisa’s interests in Mogadishu, from entering Somaliland. It also prevented its citizens from traveling to Mogadishu to participate in federal government processes or cultural activities.
Al-Shabaab and other nonstate armed actors continued to hinder commercial activities in the areas they controlled in the Bakool, Bay, Gedo, and Hiiraan regions and impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
As of August continuing conflict and climate shocks led to an increase in internal displacement. The country was home to more than 2.9 million IDPs. More than 537,000 new displacements were recorded during the year, with 389,000 primarily conflict- or security-related, 57,000 caused by flooding, and 81,000 caused by drought. Acute food insecurity and malnutrition levels remained elevated among IDPs, including in comparison with nondisplaced residents.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) advocated for the protection of IDPs and provided some financial assistance. Somalis who returned from refugee camps abroad often moved to IDP camps. Approximately 200 refugees returned to the country during the year, and those who returned previously continued to require humanitarian assistance.
Forced evictions of IDPs remained a significant protection issue, and relief agencies recorded the redisplacement of 74,473 IDPs between January and August. Humanitarian actors’ efforts likely prevented nearly 22,000 evictions between February and July, according to UNHCR. Private persons with claims to land, as well as government authorities, for example, regularly pursued the forceful eviction of IDPs in Mogadishu.
Increased reports of gender-based violence accompanied increased displacement, including reports of sexual exploitation and abuse committed by various armed groups and security personnel. Women and children living in IDP settlements were particularly vulnerable to rape by armed men, including government soldiers and militia members. Gatekeepers in control of some IDP camps reportedly forced girls and women to provide sex in exchange for food and services within the settlements.
f. Protection of Refugees
Federal government and Somaliland authorities cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
The country hosted approximately 12,600 refugees and an additional 14,600 asylum seekers, primarily from Yemen and Ethiopia, with smaller numbers from other countries, including Syria, Tanzania, and Eritrea. Economic migrants also used the country as a transit corridor en route to the Gulf, Yemen, and Europe, which exposed them to exploitation and abuse, primarily by human traffickers.
As of September 30, UNHCR supported the return of 200 Somali refugees from countries of asylum, including nearly 150 from Kenya. There were frequent disruptions in return movements to the country due to continuing violence and conflict, as well as pandemic-related travel restrictions.
Access to Asylum: The law recognizes the right to asylum; however, the federal government had no legal framework or system to provide protection to refugees on a consistent basis. Authorities, however, granted prima facie status to Yemenis, while most other nationalities underwent individual refugee status determination procedures. Bureaucratic delays caused backlogs in the process.
Employment: Employment opportunities were limited for refugees. Refugees often engaged in informal manual labor that sometimes exposed them to abuses from members of the host community. Some refugees operated small businesses, such as restaurants. Access to employment and livelihoods opportunities varied across the country.
Refugee returnees from Kenya reported limited employment opportunities in the southern and central sections of the country, consistent with high rates of unemployment throughout the country.
Access to Basic Services: The government continued to work with the international community to improve access to basic services, employment, and durable solutions for displaced or vulnerable populations, including refugees and refugee returnees, although this remained difficult, primarily due to insecurity, lack of political will, and financial constraints. There were no reports of registered refugees being barred from accessing basic services based on refugee status. Refugees were included in the National Development Plan, and refugee children access public education throughout the country. In areas where the government implements its primary health care initiative, refugees accessed health services in their local communities.
g. Stateless Persons
There was no estimate for the number of stateless individuals in the country during the year, but a UNHCR-led study in 2014 identified weaknesses in local law that present risks of statelessness. For example, the law is discriminatory in the transmission of nationality to children – Somali national fathers can transmit nationality at birth, but mothers cannot – and other weak administrative procedures and identification systems limit how some individuals can claim their legal rights to nationality.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of every worker to form and join a trade union, participate in the activities of a trade union, conduct legal strikes, and engage in collective bargaining. No specific legal restrictions limit these rights. The law does not address antiunion discrimination or the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Legal protections did not exclude any groups of workers.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination, and were seldom applied. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs hired and trained labor inspectors during the year, but as of December, no inspections had been conducted.
According to the chairman of the Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU), the largest trade union federation in the country, labor relations improved during the year. There were no instances of government interference with union activities, reflecting an improved environment for labor rights and increased cooperation between the labor movement and government. In August and September, workers at Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport went on strike, claiming unfair pay and poor workplace safety practices. In November 2020 FESTU filed a lawsuit on behalf of dismissed workers alleging a worker was dismissed for union activities. FESTU stated this was the first labor lawsuit filed in the country in 20 years. The lawsuit continued during the year.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The provisional federal constitution prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. There were no known efforts by the government to prevent or eliminate forced labor in the country. Forced labor occurred. Al-Shabaab continued forcibly to recruit children as young as eight years old for combat. Children and minority clan members were reportedly used as porters to transport the mild narcotic khat (or miraa), in farming and animal herding, crushing stones, and construction. Al-Shabaab forced persons in their camps to move to the countryside, reportedly to raise cash crops for the organization.
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 does not prohibit and criminalize all of the worst forms of child labor or provide for a minimum age of employment. The provisional federal constitution states, “No child may perform work or provide services that are not suitable for the child’s age or create a risk to the child’s health or development in any way.” The provisional federal constitution defines a child as any person younger than 18 but does not set a minimum age for employment.
A law that provides a legal minimum age of 15 for most employment, prescribes different minimum ages for certain hazardous activities, and prohibits those younger than 18 from night work in the industrial, commercial, and agricultural sectors, except work that engages family members, was not enforced. The federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development, as well as the Somali National Police, are responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The ministries did not enforce the law. Penalties for child labor were not commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The government participated in campaigns to remove children from participation in armed conflict (see section 1.g.).
Child labor, including its worst forms, was widespread, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers remained a problem (see section 1.g.). A majority of children did not attend school, rendering them vulnerable to child labor. Youth commonly worked in herding, agriculture, household labor, and street work from an early age. Children broke rocks into gravel and worked as vendors and transporters of cigarettes and khat on the streets. The country had not conducted a national stand-alone child labor survey.
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
The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, disability, political opinion, color, language, or social status but does not prohibit discrimination based on religion, age, national origin, social origin, stateless status, sexual orientation or gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases. The labor code requires equal pay for equal work. The government did not enforce the law. Penalties for abuses were not commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference, and were not enforced. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace. There were legal barriers to women working the same hours as men and restrictions on women’s employment in some industries.
Employment opportunities were limited for refugees, who often engaged in informal manual labor that sometimes exposed them to abuses from members of the host community. Some operated small businesses, such as restaurants.
Discrimination occurred because of clan connections in numerous industries and sectors of the economy. Severe societal stigma prevented LGBTQI+ individuals from making their sexual orientation or gender identity known publicly; in rare cases that individuals made their LGBTQI+ sexual orientation known, this factor represented a significant barrier to employment.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a standard workweek of 48 hours and at least nine paid national holidays and 15 days of annual leave. The law requires premium pay for overtime and work performed on holidays and limits overtime to a maximum of 12 hours per week. The law does not provide for a national minimum wage. Penalties for abuses were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
Occupational Safety and Health: The law sets occupational safety and health (OSH) standards, although FESTU claimed they were insufficient to protect workers. The law does not specifically guarantee the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remained with OSH experts, and workers may also identify such situations. Violations of working condition regulations were widespread in the public and private sector. Workers in the electrical, transportation, and petroleum sectors were routinely exposed to hazardous conditions. Additionally, telecommunications and media workers faced targeted attacks by al-Shabaab, and some informal sector workers were victims of suicide bombs.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible at the federal level for establishing OSH standards and enforcement. The ministry did not effectively enforce labor laws. During the year the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs created an inspectorate but did not conduct any labor-related inspections. Penalties for abuses of the law were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence and were not applied.
Wages and working conditions were established largely through arrangements based on supply, demand, and the influence of workers’ clans. There was no information on the existence or status of foreign or migrant workers in the country.
Informal Sector: The country had an informal economy largely based on livestock, remittance/money transfer companies, and telecommunications. The law does not provide for OSH standards for workers in the informal economy. Approximately 95 percent of workers worked in the informal sector, where labor regulations were not applied.