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 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see also sections 1.g. and 2.b.). Military court prosecutors, with investigative support from police (Criminal Investigations Department), are responsible for investigating whether security force killings were justifiable and pursuing prosecutions, but impunity remained a significant issue (see section 1.c.). While reliable data was difficult to collect, reporting from the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) indicated that between November 5, 2020, and July 31, there were 441 killings of civilians in the country due to conflict. While al-Shabaab and clan militias were the primary perpetrators, extrajudicial killings of civilians by state security forces, and to a much lesser extent by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and other international forces, occurred.
On April 14, security forces executed a National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) officer after a military court found him guilty of killing a civilian on April 8 in Beledweyne. On May 24, a military court in Gedo region sentenced two former Somali Police Force (SPF) officers to death after they were found guilty of killing a male and a female civilian on January 6. Due to capacity problems in the civilian court system, authorities often transferred criminal cases, sometimes even involving children, to the military court system, even when military courts did not appear to have jurisdiction. Human rights organizations questioned the military courts’ ability to enforce appropriate safeguards regarding due process, the right to seek pardon or commutation of sentence, and the implementation of sentences in a manner that met international standards. Federal and regional authorities sometimes executed those sentenced to death within days of the court’s verdict, particularly in cases where defendants directly confessed their membership in al-Shabaab before the courts or in televised videos. In other cases the courts offered defendants up to 30 days to appeal death penalty judgments.
In the self-declared breakaway Republic of Somaliland, government and media sources reported an increase in killings of government officials and others in Las Anood, a city within an area disputed between Somaliland and the Federal Member State (FMS) of Puntland. In one high-profile case, local lawmaker Abdirisak Ahmed Elmi was shot and killed near his home in the city in September, just three months after being elected to his position in Somaliland’s May 31 local council elections. Shortly after his killing, the Somaliland government appointed a committee to investigate the recurring and increasing killings in the area, but at year’s end the committee had yet to render its conclusions or bring those responsible to account.
Al-Shabaab continued to carry out indiscriminate attacks and, in many cases, deliberately targeted civilians (see sections 1.g. and 6). The group conducted attacks targeting Turkish construction workers near Afgoye, guests at a hotel in Mogadishu, civilian Ministry of Defense staff, and villagers in Lower Shabelle, among many others. According to UNSOM, al-Shabaab was responsible for approximately 60 percent of civilian casualties between November 5, 2020, and July 31. On March 5, the terrorist group used a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (IED) to target a restaurant popular among government officials and security force members in Mogadishu’s Hamarjajab district, with the explosion nearly collapsing the building and killing at least 10 persons and injuring 30 others. On July 2, a person-borne IED detonated at a restaurant in Mogadishu’s Shibis district, reportedly killing 12 persons and injuring at least seven.
On August 21, AMISOM stated that seven persons killed on August 10 by AMISOM troops from the Ugandan People’s Defense Force conducting operations against al-Shabaab in Golweyn, Lower Shabelle region, were civilians. AMISOM convened a board of inquiry led by a senior officer and two other members from the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, a senior Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) official, and senior officers from AMISOM Military, Police, and Mission Headquarters to investigate the incident and take appropriate disciplinary actions as necessary. The board of inquiry found that the soldiers violated AMISOM rules of engagement in the incident, and on October 20, AMISOM took full responsibility for unlawful acts by its troops with respect to the killings. Ugandan authorities convened a court martial of their soldiers in Mogadishu on November 6, charging the soldiers with murder and the desecration of bodies. On November 11, the five accused soldiers were found guilty of seven counts of murder. Two were sentenced to death by hanging. The other three were sentenced to 39 years in prison on each count, to be served concurrently. They were granted 14 days to appeal their sentences.
According to a July 14 report to the UN Human Rights Council by the independent expert on human rights in Somalia, there was an intensification of fighting among clans and subclans regarding agricultural land ownership, pasture, and water resources, as well as revenge killings and struggles for political power, resulting in 199 casualties. Interclan clashes in Jubaland, Galmudug, and South West State resulted in civilian casualties and massive displacements. Reportedly, revenge clan killings and atrocities were so serious that military interventions and clan elder interventions were required to separate fighting parties and defuse tensions.
There were some cases of reportedly government-directed, politically motivated disappearances. Local media outlets and politicians reported on the disappearance of Ikran Tahlil Farah, NISA’s head of cyber security, on June 26 after being picked up by a car from her home in Mogadishu following a call from an unknown source. A former NISA official alleged that Farah may have been in possession of a list of Somali youth sent to Eritrea for military training under a clandestine program that drew increasing public scrutiny and outcry during the year. Under public pressure over its lack of investigation into Farah’s disappearance, NISA issued a statement on September 2 indicating that al-Shabaab elements killed her, a claim that the terrorist group immediately denied. Some parliamentarians reportedly implicated senior NISA officials in Farah’s disappearance. The agency’s resistance to investigating the case led to Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble’s removal of the agency’s director general, Fahad Yasin, on September 8. On November 21, military investigators announced that no evidence linked NISA to Farah’s disappearance, instead claiming that al-Shabaab abducted and murdered her. Media and other sources cast doubt on the findings, citing CCTV footage showing Farah getting into a NISA vehicle the night that she disappeared. Her mother denounced military investigators’ conclusions as a cover-up.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of Somaliland authorities.
Al-Shabaab continued to abduct persons, including humanitarian workers and AMISOM troops taken hostage during attacks (see section 1.g.).
As of September pirates based in the country held no hostages.
The law prohibits torture and inhuman treatment, but there were credible reports that government authorities engaged in instances of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
NISA agents routinely conducted mass security sweeps against al-Shabaab and terrorist cells, as well as against criminal groups. The organization held detainees for prolonged periods without following due process and mistreated suspects during interrogations. In one example reported by Human Rights Watch, “Abdi,” age 16, related that NISA officials repeatedly beat him during an interrogation and left him bleeding for days.
There were multiple credible reports of rape and sexual abuse by government agents, primarily in the security forces (see section 1.g.). For example, on May 14, five members of a clan militia allegedly wearing SPF uniforms and working with Mogadishu’s Deynile district administration raped three women and attempted to rape two others. The SPF arrested three suspects in the incident, and on May 29, the Attorney General’s Office requested that the Banadir Regional Court examine them for biological evidence and DNA samples. As of December no results had been released.
Al-Shabaab imposed harsh punishment on persons in areas under its control. In August the group reportedly executed an 83-year-old man in Galmudug for blasphemy. In March and June, the group publicly executed persons, including civilians, accused of spying for AMISOM, the United States, and the Somali government. In some cases al-Shabaab forced community members to watch public executions.
AMISOM forces, which were previously implicated in rapes and other unspecified grave abuses of human rights while conducting military operations in the country, tracked and in some cases investigated reports of alleged abuses, including a civilian casualty event in August (see section 1.a.). The AMISOM Civilian Casualty Tracking, Analysis, and Response Cell carried out this mandated task.
Torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment at the hands of clan militias, some of which are government-affiliated, remained frequent. There was a culture of impunity due to clan protection of perpetrators and weak government capacity to hold the guilty to account. Research indicated that such practices remained common along the road from Mogadishu to Afgoye at the hands of Hawiye clan-affiliated militias, some with strong ties to the Somali National Army (SNA).
At midyear, renewed conflict occurred among al-Shabaab, the Galjeel clan, and the Shanta Alemod clan, as well as with the relatively weaker Mirifle subclans, around Wanlaweyn, Lower Shabelle. Galjeel militias particularly targeted trade truck convoys and reportedly engaged in rape, looting, burning of homes and property, illegal checkpoints, and land grabbing.
Although the provisional federal constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, government security forces, allied militias, and regional authorities arbitrarily arrested and detained persons (see section 1.g.). The law provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but only politicians and some businesspersons could exercise this right effectively.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. The civilian judicial system remained dysfunctional and unevenly developed, particularly outside of urban areas. Some local courts depended on the dominant local clan and associated factions for their authority. The judiciary in most areas relied on a combination of traditional and customary law, sharia, and formal law. The judiciary was subject to influence and corruption and was strongly influenced by clan-based politics. Authorities often did not respect court orders or were not able to enforce the orders. Without clear protocols and procedures in place for the transfer of military case to civilian courts, authorities prosecuted only a handful of serious criminal cases.
The lack of accountability enabled judges to abuse their power. Civilian judges also lacked the necessary security to perform their jobs without fear. Cases involving security personnel or individuals accused of terrorism-related crimes were heard by military courts.
In Somaliland functional courts existed, although there was a serious shortage of trained judges, as well as limited legal documentation upon which to build judicial precedent and prosecute widespread allegations of corruption. Somaliland’s hybrid judicial system incorporates sharia, customary law, and formal law, but they were not well integrated. There was widespread interference in the judicial process, and government officials regularly intervened to influence cases, particularly those involving journalists. International NGOs reported that local officials interfered in legal matters and invoked the public order law to detain and incarcerate persons without trial.
Traditional clan elders mediated conflicts throughout the country. Clans frequently applied traditional justice practices. Traditional judgments sometimes held entire clans or subclans responsible for alleged violations by individuals.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
According to the provisional federal constitution, “every person has the right to own, use, enjoy, sell, and transfer property,” and the private home is inviolable. Nonetheless, authorities searched property without warrants.
Government and regional authorities harassed relatives of al-Shabaab members.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
Killings: Conflict during the year involving the government, militias, AMISOM, and al-Shabaab resulted in death, injury, and displacement of civilians. ISIS-Somalia claimed attacks against Somali authorities and other targets in Puntland, where it is based, but there was little local reporting on its claims. State and federal forces killed civilians and committed gender-based violence. Clan-based political violence involved revenge killings and attacks on civilian settlements. Clashes between clan-based forces and with al-Shabaab in Puntland and Galmudug states, as well as in the Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Lower Juba, Baidoa, and Hiiraan regions, also resulted in deaths.
There were reports of AMISOM forces killing civilians, either deliberately or inadvertently (see section 1.a.).
The execution of young prisoners who were held in GCP raised international concern. UNODC monitored another young prisoner who was given the death penalty and followed up with the national authority as the Puntland government formed a committee to evaluate the case in relation to the age factor.
Al-Shabaab committed religiously and politically motivated killings that targeted civilians affiliated with the government and attacked humanitarian NGO employees, UN staff, and diplomatic missions. The group attacked soft targets, such as popular hotels in Mogadishu, killing noncombatants. Al-Shabaab often used suicide bombers, mortars, and IEDs. It also killed prominent peace activists, community leaders, clan elders, electoral delegates, and their family members for their roles in peace building, in addition to beheading persons accused of spying for and collaborating with Somali national forces and affiliated militias. Al-Shabaab justified its attacks on civilians by casting them as false prophets, enemies of Allah, or aligned with al-Shabaab’s enemies (see also section 1.a.).
On January 31, al-Shabaab attacked the Afrik Hotel near the international airport in Mogadishu, killing five persons, including former SNA general and revered security official Mohamed Nur Galal.
UN reporting continued to track small-scale IED attacks and killings by ISIS-Somalia, primarily in Puntland, where the group maintained pockets of presence. On June 29, an ISIS-Somalia IED attack in Puntland killed one soldier.
Abductions: Al-Shabaab conducted kidnappings and abductions throughout the year.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Government forces and allied militias reportedly used excessive force, including torture. While some security force members accused of such abuses faced arrest, not all those charged were punished (see section 1.c).
Al-Shabaab committed gender-based violence, including through forced marriages.
Child Soldiers: During the year there were reports of the SNA and allied militias, the Ahlu Sunna Wal Jumah (ASWJ), and al-Shabaab unlawfully recruiting and using child soldiers.
The Ministry of Defense Child Protection Unit (CPU) was a focal point within the federal government for addressing child soldiers within the country, including within government armed forces. During the year the CPU carried out screenings of 3,296 SNA soldiers at SNA bases to raise awareness of unlawful child soldier recruitment and verify the number of children in Somali security sector units for corrective action. The CPU continued the use of biometric registration and reported that it was a useful tool for increasing accountability in police and the military and helping to detect and deter unlawful child soldier recruitment.
In the absence of birth registration systems, it was often difficult to determine the age of national security force recruits.
Al-Shabaab continued to recruit and force children to participate directly in hostilities, including suicide attacks. According to UN officials, al-Shabaab accounted for most child recruitment and use.
Al-Shabaab raided schools, madrassas, and mosques and harassed and coerced clan elders to recruit children. Children in al-Shabaab training camps were subjected to grueling physical training, weapons training, inadequate diet, physical punishment, and forced religious training in line with al-Shabaab’s ideology. The training also included forcing children to punish and execute other children. Al-Shabaab used children in direct hostilities, including placing them in front of other fighters to serve as human shields and suicide bombers. The organization sometimes used children to plant roadside bombs and other explosive devices. In addition, al-Shabaab used children in support roles, such as carrying ammunition, water, and food; removing injured and dead militants; gathering intelligence; and serving as guards. The country’s press frequently reported accounts of al-Shabaab indoctrinating children according to the insurgency’s extremist ideology at schools and forcibly recruiting them into its ranks.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Armed groups, particularly al-Shabaab but also government forces and militia, deliberately restricted the passage of relief supplies and other items, as well as access by humanitarian organizations, particularly in the southern and central regions. Humanitarian workers regularly faced checkpoints, roadblocks, extortion, carjacking, and bureaucratic obstacles.
Denial of humanitarian access by armed groups, security forces, or security incidents was common. Al-Shabaab sustained attacks against security forces along main supply routes. Increased insecurity along these routes impaired delivery of humanitarian supplies. Throughout the year al-Shabaab seized main supply routes and limited movement of food and commodities trucks in Oansah, Dheere, Wajid, and Hudur districts. Al-Shabaab’s efforts to curtail the transportation of food and nonfood supplies into South West State resulted in increased food prices in this FMS. Economic blockades by the insurgency impacted several districts in the Bay and Bakool regions. Additionally, al-Shabaab reportedly displaced 3,800 households from Toosweyne in the Berdale district through evictions.
ISIS-Somalia targeted business leaders for extortion in urban areas and used violence when they did not meet extortion demands.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
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.
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.
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.
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 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, providing penalties of five to 15 years in prison for violations. Military court penalties for rape included death sentences. The government did not effectively enforce the law. There are no federal laws against spousal violence, including rape.
According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and international and local NGOs focused on combatting gender-based violence, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, residents, particularly women and girls, faced greater risk of gender-based violence, including sexual violence. According to the Somali Women Development Center, more than 50 percent of gender-based violence perpetrators lived in the same home as survivors or were neighbors. Anecdotal and survey data indicated that the closure of schools and some workplaces, as well as a government curfew and social distancing measures, led women and girls to spend more time in the home. This factor placed them at greater risk due to the increased amount of time spent with potential or serial perpetrators, with fewer options to escape abusers. There were some data to indicate that COVID-19 led to a meaningful increase in sexual and gender-based violence in the country.
Government forces, militia members, and individuals wearing what appeared to be government or other uniforms raped women and girls. While the army arrested some security force members accused of such rapes, impunity was the norm. In Lower Shabelle and Wanlaweyn (see section 1.a.), most rapes of local civilians occurred at checkpoints or in farms and villages near checkpoints, which many residents believed were controlled by local militias.
The work of approximately a dozen women’s groups, civil society organizations, and health-care workers in Lower Shabelle helped reduce the effects of rape cases across Lower Shabelle, and to a lesser extent Wanlaweyn, despite the lack of an effective judicial system. The organizations provided treatment, counseling, community coordination, and training on gender-based violence throughout the region and at times joined the Lower Shabelle administration in community engagement once a town was cleared of al-Shabaab. In Wanlaweyn, NGOs provided limited counseling services to rape survivors.
IDPs and members of marginalized clans and groups suffered disproportionately from gender-based violence. Local NGOs documented patterns of rape perpetrated with impunity, particularly of female IDPs and members of minority clans.
Gender-based violence, including rape, continued to affect women and girls when going to collect water, going to the market, and cultivating fields. Dominant patterns included the abduction of women and girls for forced marriage and rape, perpetrated primarily by nonstate armed groups, and incidents of rape and gang rape committed by state agents, militias associated with clans, and unidentified armed men. As of July 31, UNSOM recorded at least 168 incidents of gender-based violence against 15 women, 151 girls, and five boys, including cases of rape or attempted rape, a figure believed to underestimate greatly the true total. Police were reluctant to investigate and sometimes asked survivors to do the investigative work for their own cases. Some survivors of rape were forced to marry perpetrators.
The United Nations recorded hundreds of instances of gender-based violence, including sexual violence against women and girls by unidentified armed men, clan militiamen, al-Shabaab elements, and members of the Somali police and armed forces. The 2020 Somali Health and Demographic Survey (SHDS) noted that cases of gender-based violence were underreported due to a “culture of silence.” According to the United Nations, in most instances families and victims preferred to refer survivors to traditional courts. In some cases these bodies awarded damages to victims’ male family members or directed the perpetrator and victim to marry, in accordance with local customary law. The United Nations customary law and sharia often resulted in further victimization of women and girls, with no justice for survivors and impunity for perpetrators. While the United Nations noted that the FGS approved a national action plan on ending sexual violence in conflict and the Somaliland parliament approved a sexual offenses act (suspended due to opposition from religious authorities), impunity remained the norm.
Authorities rarely used formal structures to address rape. Survivors suffered from subsequent discrimination based on the attribution of “impurity.” For example, on March 31, a Puntland police officer allegedly raped a woman in Bosaso. The Puntland police opened an investigation against the perpetrator but made no arrest.
Those seeking to investigate assault cases and hold perpetrators accountable sometimes faced violence and possible sexual assault themselves. For example, on March 23, four police officers, including the commander of Garowe Central Police Station, physically assaulted and beat the head of the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Child Protection Unit in Garowe. The female officer was reviewing the sexual violence cases registered at the police station, and the commander reportedly accused her of interference. A male police officer was also assaulted for trying to assist her. Authorities arrested the alleged perpetrators but released them the same day, and authorities later suspended the investigation into the incident. The Nugaal region police commissioner also reportedly prevented the female officer from further investigating rape cases and prohibited her from visiting police stations in Garowe.
Local civil society organizations in Somaliland reported that gang rape continued to be a problem in urban areas, primarily perpetrated by youth gangs and male students. It often occurred in poorer neighborhoods and among immigrants, returned refugees, and displaced rural populations living in urban areas.
Domestic and sexual violence against women remained serious problems despite laws prohibiting any form of violence against women. Intimate partner violence and coercion remained a problem, since 59 percent of respondents to the SHDS said husbands committed the largest number of violent acts against women in the community, and 12 percent of married women reported spousal abuse within the prior year. While both sharia and customary law address the resolution of family disputes, women were not included in the decision-making process. Exposure to domestic violence was also significantly heightened in the context of displacement and socioeconomic destitution. Survivors faced considerable obstacles accessing necessary services, including health care, psychosocial support, and justice and legal assistance; they also faced reputational damage and exclusion from their communities. In several cases survivors and providers of services for gender-based violence survivors were directly threatened by authorities when such abuses were perpetrated by men in uniform.
Al-Shabaab also committed gender-based violence, primarily through forced marriages. Al-Shabaab sentenced persons to death for rape. The organization forced marriages on girls and women between the ages of 14 and 20 in villages under its control. The families of the girls and young women generally had little choice but to acquiesce or face violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Although the provisional federal constitution describes female “circumcision” as cruel and degrading, equates it with torture, and prohibits the circumcision of girls, FGM/C was almost universally practiced throughout the country. According to the SHDS, FGM/C remained widespread in the country, with 99 percent of women and girls between 15 and 49 having received the procedure.
A 2018 fatwa issued by the Somaliland Ministry of Religious Affairs condemned the most severe forms of the practice of FGM/C and allowed FGM/C victims to receive compensation but did not specify punishments for the practice. Health workers from the Somaliland Family Health Association traveled from village to village to explain that FGM/C had no health benefits and could lead to health complications. Type III (infibulation), which is considered the most extreme form of FGM, was the predominant type.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Adultery in al-Shabaab-controlled areas was punishable by death. Child, early, and forced marriages frequently occurred (see section 6 on Children).
Sexual Harassment: The law provides that workers, particularly women, shall have a special right of protection from sexual abuse and discrimination. Nevertheless, sexual harassment was believed to be widespread.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The country had not established a legal and policy framework on family planning. According to the SHDS, 38 percent of women expressed a desire for greater birth spacing than was preferred in their families, and only 3 percent reported that desire met. Most women surveyed said six or more children was the ideal family size, and the majority of births were wanted. Immediate and long-term reproductive health consequences were associated with the dominant form of FGM/C practiced, Type III infibulation, ranging from menstrual and urination disorders to prolonged and obstructed labor, sometimes resulting in fetal death and obstetric fistula. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.).
The country’s legal and policy framework on family planning was not in place, but contraceptives were available. Fewer than 1 percent of women of reproductive age had their needs for family planning satisfied with modern methods; discussions concerning sexual and family planning matters remained limited to close family and friends. Government officials reporting to the international Family Planning 2020 Initiative (FP2020) stated “multidimensional barriers” frustrated the expansion of family planning services. The officials also noted that traditional beliefs and a lack of support from community and religious leaders negatively impacted the acceptance of family planning services. Academic research indicated that religious leaders, an important source of influence in society, remained open to the use of contraceptives for birth spacing but not for limiting births.
According to the 2020 SHDS, by the age of 49, 68 percent of married women were aware of one method of contraception. Only 50 percent of married girls ages 15-19 had heard of at least one. Despite this awareness, the SHDS found that contraceptive use was 10 percent for girls ages 15-19 and 7 percent for women ages 30-34. According to FP2020, the Somali government remained committed to expanding quality reproductive health services and sought to put in place legal policy and strategic frameworks for family planning, but progress was slow.
According to the SHDS, 68 percent of mothers received no antenatal care, and only 32 percent of births were delivered with the assistance of a skilled health-care provider, with access strongly associated with education levels and wealth. The United Nations attributed these shortcomings to the high cost of health care and distance to health facilities. Additionally, the practice of seeking consent from a spouse or male relative presented a cultural barrier to seeking care. In 2020 the Danish Immigration Service reported that medical facilities in some areas dominated by one clan may bar female patients from another clan or group, specifically from minority and marginalized groups, from accessing health care in those locations.
According to the SHDS, 17 percent of female survivors of gender-based violence ages 15-49 sought care after an assault. The government provided limited and largely donor-funded access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, according to NGOs.
The high maternal death rate of 1,168 per 100,00 live births was attributed to numerous factors. Health facilities were unevenly distributed countrywide. Delivery care and involvement of skilled birth attendants were limited. Women’s cultural and geographic isolation compounded these factors.
The SHDS reported 99 percent of women underwent FGM/C. Citizens were generally not aware of its implications for maternal morbidity, but 72 percent of respondents believed that FGM/C was a religious requirement.
The adolescent birth rate was 140 per 100,000 women.
While data on access to menstruation hygiene was difficult to obtain, UNFPA reporting in May indicated that most young girls in Mogadishu had missed classes during their menstruation period, affecting their performance in school. The UN agency highlighted circumstances in which this problem drove women and girls to drop out of school. This particularly affected female IDPs. Based on cultural norms, most adolescent girls who became pregnant either were not in school or dropped out due to motherhood duties.
Discrimination: Women did not have the same status as men and experienced systematic subordination to men, despite provisions in the law prohibiting such discrimination. Women experienced discrimination in credit, education, politics, and housing.
Only men administered sharia, which often was applied in the interests of men. According to sharia and the local tradition of blood compensation, anyone found guilty of the death of a woman paid to the victim’s family only one-half the amount required to compensate for a man’s death.
The exclusion of women was more pronounced in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, where women’s participation in economic activities was perceived as anti-Islamic.
While formal law and sharia provide women the right to own and dispose of property independently, various legal, cultural, and societal barriers often prevented women from exercising such rights. By law girls and women could inherit only one-half the amount of property to which their brothers were entitled. There were legal barriers to women working the same hours as men and restrictions on women’s employment in some industries.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
More than 85 percent of the population shared a common ethnic heritage, religion, and nomad-influenced culture. In most areas the dominant clan excluded members of other groups from effective participation in governing institutions and subjected them to discrimination in employment, judicial proceedings, and access to public services.
Minority groups, often lacking armed militias, continued to be disproportionately subjected to killings, torture, rape, kidnapping for ransom, and looting of land and property with impunity by faction militias and majority clan members, often with the acquiescence of federal and local authorities. Many minority communities continued to live in deep poverty and to suffer from numerous forms of discrimination and exclusion. Some observers believed minority clans’ resentment concerning abuses made them more vulnerable to recruitment by al-Shabaab. Bantu advocacy groups stated the community’s isolation from the government’s security sector integration efforts pushed some Bantu youth into joining al-Shabaab.
Bantu communities, primarily living between the Juba and Shabelle Rivers in the southern part of the country, continued to face discrimination, including verbal abuse and being forced to adopt Arabic names. The discrimination also occurred in IDP camps, where Bantu women were not protected by traditional clan structure.
Fighting between clans resulted in deaths and injuries (see section 1.g.).
Birth Registration: Nationality is derived at birth from a Somali national father but not from the mother, nor from birth in the country’s territory. Children of Somali mothers may acquire Somali nationality after two years. The provisional federal constitution provides that there is only one Somali citizenship and calls for a special law defining how to obtain, suspend, or lose it, but as of year’s end, parliament had not passed such a law.
Authorities reportedly registered only a small percentage of births in the country. Failure to register births did not result in denial of public services such as education.
Although birth registration occurred in Somaliland, numerous births in the region were unregistered.
Education: The law provides the right to a free education up to the secondary level, but education was not free, compulsory, or universal. In many areas children did not have access to schools. Nearly two-thirds of the school-age population remained out of school due to barriers such as poverty in rural areas, lack of security, lack of schools or long distances to schools, and competing household and labor demands. NGOs and nonstate private actors attempted to fill this gap, but they used different curricula, standards, and languages of instruction. Preprimary Islamic education continued to be prevalent and often led to late primary student enrollment. Girls faced additional obstacles such as early marriage and low prioritization of girls’ education, leading to even lower attendance (see subsection Women, Reproductive Rights.) IDP children had much lower rates of attendance than nondisplaced children. There was an insufficient supply of qualified teachers, particularly female teachers.
The government failed to provide effective education countrywide, a gap partially filled by NGOs and nonstate private actors; education opportunities were often limited to more secure urban areas.
Child Abuse: Child abuse and rape of children were serious problems, and there were no known efforts by the federal government or regional governments to combat child abuse. Children remained among the chief victims of societal violence.
The practice of asi walid, whereby parents place their children in dhaqan celis (“returning to (Somali) culture”) boarding schools, other institutions, and sometimes prison for disciplinary purposes and without any legal procedure, continued throughout the country. Physical abuses and sexual assault in these facilities were common.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law requires both marriage partners to have reached the “age of maturity” and defines a child as a person younger than 18 but does not specifically outlaw child marriage. It notes marriage requires the free consent of both the man and woman to be legal. Early marriages frequently occurred. UNICEF estimated in 2006 that 45 percent of women married before age 18 and 9 percent before age 15. According to the SHDS, more than 62 percent of married women and 74 percent of unmarried women ages 15-49 indicated they understood forced marriage as a form of domestic violence. In areas under its control, al-Shabaab arranged compulsory marriages between its soldiers and young girls and used the lure of marriage as a recruitment tool for its soldiers. There were no known efforts by the government or regional authorities to prevent child, early, and forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not expressly prohibit using, procuring, and offering a child for commercial sex, pornography, or pornographic performances. Additionally, children exploited in commercial sex are not protected from criminal charges under the law. There is no statutory rape law or minimum age for consensual sex. The law does not expressly prohibit child pornography. The law on sexual exploitation was rarely enforced, and such exploitation reportedly was frequent.
Displaced Children: There was a large population of IDPs and children who lived and worked on the streets. UNICEF estimated that 1.9 million of the 2.9 million total IDPs were children. Approximately 50 percent of refugees and asylum seekers were younger than 18 years old.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at .
There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
The law provides equal rights before the law for persons with disabilities and prohibits the state from discriminating against them. Authorities did not enforce these provisions, and disability rights organizations reported a widespread lack of equal access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation. The law does not discuss discrimination by nongovernmental actors.
The needs of most persons with disabilities were not addressed. According to Amnesty International, persons with disabilities faced daily human rights abuses, such as unlawful killings; violence including rape and other forms of gender-based violence; forced evictions; and lack of access to health care, education, or an adequate standard of living. Government responses to such reports remained inadequate. Children and adults with all types of disabilities were often not included in programs aimed at supporting persons in the country, including humanitarian assistance. IDPs with disabilities were often victims of multiple forced evictions. Domestic violence and forced marriage were prevalent practices affecting persons with disabilities. Women and girls with disabilities faced an increased risk of rape and other forms of gender-based violence, often with impunity, due to perceptions that their disabilities were a burden to the family or that such persons were of less value and could be abused.
Without a public health infrastructure, few services existed to provide support or education for persons with mental disabilities. It was common for such persons to be chained to a tree or restrained within their homes.
Local organizations advocated for the rights of persons with disabilities with negligible support from local authorities.
Persons with HIV or AIDS continued to face discrimination and abuse in their local communities and by employers in all regions. The United Nations reported that persons with HIV or AIDS experienced physical abuse, rejection by their families, and workplace discrimination and dismissal. Children of HIV-positive parents also suffered discrimination, which hindered access to services. There was no official response to such discrimination.
The law criminalizes “carnal intercourse with a person of the same sex” with a penalty of three months’ to three years’ imprisonment. Under Sharia homosexuality is punishable by death. There were no known executions during the year under this law; however, there were accounts over the past decade of militant Islamist groups such as al-Shabaab executing men for alleged homosexual acts. There remained a pervasive social stigma against same-sex relationships, and the law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There were few, very discreet, and mostly online-based LGBTQI+ organizations that held events.
There were few reports of societal violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity due to severe societal stigma that prevented LGBTQI+ individuals from making their sexual orientation or gender identity known publicly. Anecdotal information indicated that some families sent children they suspected of being homosexual to reform schools in the country or forced them to enter heterosexual marriages but reporting on conversion therapy largely stayed out of the public sphere. There were no known actions to investigate or punish those complicit in abuses. Hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms do not exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTQI+ community.
In Somaliland the situation was largely the same. Same-sex relationships were illegal and socially taboo.