Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, a passionate Somali journalist, was sentenced in February 2013 to one year in prison. His crime? Interviewing a woman alleging rape by government security forces. The woman was also convicted of “tarnishing” state institutions. Both were eventually acquitted, but Abdiaziz fled into exile.
This highly politicized case, just months after a new government took office, left many wondering whether President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s commitments to human rights reform would mean anything in practice.
Tomorrow, when the United Nations Human Rights Council examines Somalia’s human rights record in Geneva, one crucial question is whether the situation for journalists, victims of sexual and gender-based violence, and internally displaced people has significantly improved. The answer: not enough.
Somalia’s displaced community, many of whom live on the federal’s government very doorstep in the capital, Mogadishu, suffers daily abuses. The government adopted a good policy on displacement but has failed to adhere to it. In 2015, the displaced continued to face forced evictions often at the hands of the very security forces charged with their protection. In March, Human Rights Watch found that government forces violently uprooted more than 20,000 displaced people from their decrepit Mogadishu camp.
For victims of rape, there is improvement from the blanket denials of President Hassan Sheikh’s predecessors. But while the government has developed positive policies – promoted by impressive Somali women’s rights groups – the UN continues to document alarmingly high rates of sexual and gender-based violence.
And as for Somalia’s journalists, they continue to be threatened and killed without those responsible being held to account.
Journalists I speak to say they have limited options in dealing with the incessant threats from government authorities and the Islamist armed group Al-Shabab – other than self-censorship. A new media law establishing a council with the power to impose stringent fines for vaguely worded and undefined offenses, such as “encouraging tribalism” and “baseless propaganda,” will continue to make life difficult for the media.
In Geneva, the government should commit to halting evictions of displaced people until it has developed a plan that ensures people’s security and access to basic assistance; deploying trained police to displaced camps; ensuring protection access to services of rape survivors; and reviewing the country’s new media law.
Carrying out these commitments could go a long way toward improving the daily lives of the country’s most vulnerable communities.
By Laetitia Bader