a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law allow for freedom of expression, including for the press, provided the exercise of these freedoms complies with the law and respects “the honor of others.” The government did not respect these rights. The law provides prison sentences for media offenses.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals who criticized the government publicly or privately could face reprisals. Plainclothes security agents in mosques monitored the content of sermons during Friday prayers.
In separate instances in June and July, SDS personnel reportedly arrested Chehem Abdoulkader Chehem (Renard), Omar Mahamoud (Zohra), and Mahmoud Ali for posting their plays criticizing the government on Facebook. Authorities dismissed their cases on August 8.
Press and Media Freedom: There were no privately owned or independent newspapers in the country. Printing facilities for mass media were government owned, which created obstacles for those wishing to publish criticism of the government. The principal newspaper, La Nation, maintained a monopoly on domestic news. In late October the managing director and several journalists of La Nation were fired for republishing an article that included a quotation critical of President Guelleh.
Opposition political groups and civil society activists circulated newsletters and other materials that criticized the government via email and social media sites.
On March 19, SDS personnel reportedly arrested Djiboutian Human Rights League President Omar Ali Ewado, detaining him for one week for republishing an international press release condemning the Turkish president’s mass firing of teachers. Authorities dismissed his case but seized his laptop.
The government owned the only radio and television stations, operated by Radio Television Djibouti. The official media generally did not criticize government leaders or policy, and opposition access to radio and television time remained limited. Foreign media broadcast throughout the country, and cable news and other programming were available via satellite.
Twenty-five years ago the Ministry of Communication created the Communication Commission to distribute licenses to nongovernmental entities wishing to operate media outlets. In 2012 the ministry accepted its first application for licensing, but the application remained pending at year’s end. In 2015 Maydaneh Abdallah Okieh–a journalist with radio station La Voix de Djibouti–submitted a request to the Ministry of Communication for approval to operate a radio station. He subsequently received a letter stating the ministry’s commission had not been fully established and could not grant rights to operate a radio station. On January 11, the minister of communication held a ceremony to formalize the commission. The commission did not report approving any new media outlets.
Violence and Harassment: The government arrested and harassed journalists.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Media law and the government’s harassment and detention of journalists resulted in widespread self-censorship. Some opposition members used pseudonyms to publish articles.
Circulation of a new newspaper requires authorization from the Communication Commission, which requires agreement from the National Security Service. The National Security Service reportedly investigated funding sources and the newspaper staff’s political affiliations.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government used laws against slander to restrict public discussion.
There were few government restrictions on access to the internet, although the government monitored social networks to ensure there were no planned demonstrations or overly critical views of the government.
Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, reportedly continued to block access to websites of the Association for Respect for Human Rights in Djibouti and La Voix de Djibouti, which often criticized the government. According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 13 percent of the population used the internet in 2016.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were government restrictions on academic and cultural events. For example, the government restricted research in the country’s North for security reasons.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
Although the constitution provides for freedom of assembly, the government restricted this right. The Ministry of Interior requires permits for peaceful assemblies. The ministry allowed opposition groups to host events and rallies. Security authorities occasionally restricted this right.
For example, on September 12, security personnel reportedly stopped the MRD’s 25th anniversary celebration, launching tear gas into the crowd after MRD members allegedly threw rocks at them. In ending the celebration, security personnel reportedly injured several MRD members, including National Assembly member Doualeh Egueh Ofleh. In addition security personnel allegedly confiscated more than 60,000 Djiboutian francs (DJF) ($339), three projectors, a telephone, and other equipment.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution and law allow for freedom of association provided community groups register and obtain a permit from the Ministry of Interior. Nevertheless, the ministry ignored the petitions of some groups (see section 5). The government harassed and intimidated opposition parties, human rights groups, and labor unions.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law generally provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
The government collaborated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in expanding protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
On January 5, President Guelleh signed and promulgated a comprehensive refugee law, providing for refugees’ rights to health, education, and work.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The government maintained an increased police presence at the Ali Addeh refugee camp following the 2014 attack on La Chaumiere restaurant. Separately, gendarmes maintained a presence at the Markazi refugee camp. With the passage of a refugee law, authorities expanded legal protections for refugees.
Refugees, however, reported abuse and attacks to the National Office for Assistance to Refugees and Populations Affected by Disaster (ONARS) and UNHCR. With the support of the local National Union of Djiboutian Women (UNFD), mobile courts traveled to the largest camp, Ali Addeh, to hear the backlog of pending cases. During the year the UNFD also placed a full-time staff member in all refugee camps to provide support for domestic violence victims. Cases of domestic violence were reported, although the status of subsequent investigations was unknown. Impunity remained a problem.
The government detained and deported large numbers of irregular migrants, primarily from Ethiopia. The government sometimes gave individual irregular migrants the opportunity to claim asylum status, after which the National Eligibility Commission (NEC) was supposed to determine their status. The commission did not meet during the year. More than 8,500 asylum seekers awaited decisions on their asylum claims.
In-country Movement: Due to the continuing border dispute with Eritrea, certain areas in the North remained under military control.
Foreign Travel: Citizens and opposition members reported immigration officials prevented them from boarding international flights.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The government did not routinely grant refugee or asylum status to groups other than southern Somalis and–beginning in 2015–Yemenis. A backlog in asylum status determinations put individuals waiting for their screening at risk of expulsion to countries where they might be threatened. After the 2014 attack on La Chaumiere Restaurant by suicide bombers from Somalia, authorities closed the border with Somalia to refugees and stopped new registration and refugee status determination processes. Although the border remained officially closed during 2015, UNHCR reported the government allowed new arrivals into the country. The government also resumed the refugee status determination process in 2015, hosting several sessions of the NEC each month thereafter.
With the government focusing on communal and regional elections and working on implementing decrees for the new refugee law, the NEC did not meet during the year.
The government also began a partnership with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) during the year to vet migrants for indicators of trafficking.
In late October the minister of health signed a convention with the IOM to incorporate migrants into the national health system.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status. Asylum seekers from southern Somalia and Yemen were, prima facie, considered eligible for asylum or refugee status. All other asylum claims must be reviewed by the NEC, which falls under the Ministry of Interior and consists of staff from ONARS and several ministries; UNHCR participates as an observer.
According to UNHCR the country hosted more than 27,750 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from south and central Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. In two refugee camps in the southern region of Ali Sabieh, the country hosted more than 20,500 refugees and asylum seekers. An additional estimated 4,800 refugees from Ethiopia, Yemen, Somalia, and other countries lived in urban areas, primarily in Djibouti City. Due to Ethiopia’s instability in late 2016, Djibouti permitted more than 7,000 Ethiopians, particularly those from the Oromia, to register as asylum seekers.
In the past most new Somali refugees arrived at the Ali Addeh camp, which reached maximum capacity several years ago. In 2012 UNHCR and ONARS reopened a second camp at Holl-Holl to reduce congestion. In January, UNHCR and ONARS completed a validation census of refugees in camps and in Djibouti City and identified those who arrived after 2009 for voluntary relocation to the new camp.
The country also continued to host refugees fleeing violence in Yemen. ONARS and UNHCR registered approximately 6,000 refugees from Yemen, at least 2,800 of whom lived in a refugee camp in the northern region of Obock.
Due to the unresolved conflict begun in 2008 between Djibouti and Eritrea and Eritrea’s mandatory national service program, which includes military service, the government considered Eritrean detainees as deserters from the Eritrean military rather than refugees.
During the year the government continued to facilitate resettlement of 266 Eritreans from who had been placed in the Ali Addeh refugee camp.
Employment: Scarce resources and employment opportunities limited local integration of refugees. Under the new refugee law, documented refugees are allowed to work without a work permit in contrast to previous years, and many (especially women) did so in jobs such as house cleaning, babysitting, or construction. The law provides little recourse to challenge working conditions or seek fair payment for labor.
Access to Basic Services: The Ali Addeh camp was overcrowded, and basic services such as potable water were inadequate. The Holl-Holl camp was not overcrowded and had better access to potable water than the Ali Addeh camp. The government continued to issue birth certificates to children born in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps.
The Markazi camp provided Yemeni refugees with basic services such as water, food, shelter, and medical services. The government issued birth certificates to children born in the Markazi refugee camp. ONARS and UNHCR also began issuing identification cards to Yemeni refugees.
For the first time, for the 2017-18 academic year, the government provided a new Ministry of Education-accredited English curriculum for first grade refugee youth. Previously UNHCR provided refugees in the Ali Addeh and Holl-Holl refugee camps with a Kenya-adapted curriculum taught in English and French that was not recognized by Kenyan and Djiboutian authorities. On August 28, the minister of education and a UNHCR representative signed a memorandum of understanding on refugee education.
Refugees in the Markazi camp had access to instruction based on a Yemeni and Saudi curriculum taught in Arabic.
Durable Solutions: In conjunction with the IOM, the government continued to support vocational training for young refugees. These training programs resulted in a small number of refugees finding local employment.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to a limited number of individuals who may not qualify as refugees. Authorities often jailed irregular migrants identified as economic migrants attempting to transit the country to enter Yemen and returned them to their countries of origin. The government worked with the IOM to provide adequate health services to these migrants while they awaited deportation. The IOM and the minister of health signed a convention in late October to have three doctors and three nurses stationed across the country to support migrants and citizens. The Coast Guard also agreed to host a migrant shelter in Khor Angar in the North.