Somalia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2002

2002 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Somalia feared becoming the next target of the United States in its war on terrorism in 2001. U.S. military reconnaissance flights and other surveillance activities were stepped up in Somalia as the United States sought to prevent the country from becoming a new base for the Al Qaeda terrorist network. U.S. authorities also froze the assets of the Al Barakaat telecommunications and money-transfer company on suspicion that its owners were aiding and abetting terrorism, a charge they deny. Somalia's Transitional National Government (TNG) and various factions said they would cooperate in the war on terrorism. Meanwhile, the TNG and a number of factions signed a peace deal in December 2001, but some key factions were not part of the agreement. However, the process indicated a greater commitment to reconciliation, which was largely attributed to the appointment of a new prime minister, Hasan Abshir Farah. The former prime minister was forced out in a vote of no-confidence on charges of mismanagement and failure to bring peace to Mogadishu.

Somalia, a Horn of Africa nation, has been wracked for more than a decade by civil war, clan fighting, and natural disasters ranging from drought to flood to famine. Extensive television coverage of famine and civil strife that took approximately 300,000 lives in 1991 and 1992 prompted a U.S.-led international intervention. The armed humanitarian mission in late 1992 quelled clan combat long enough to stop the famine, but ended in urban guerrilla warfare against Somali militias. The last international forces withdrew in March 1995 after the casualty count reached the thousands. Approximately 100 peacekeepers, including 18 U.S. soldiers, were killed. The $4 billion United Nations intervention effort had little lasting impact.

Somalia gained independence in July 1960 with the union of British Somaliland and territories to the south that had been an Italian colony. Other ethnic Somali-inhabited lands are now part of Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya. General Siad Barre seized power in 1969 and increasingly employed divisive clan politics to maintain power. Civil war, starvation, banditry, and brutality have wracked Somalia since the struggle to topple Barre began in the late 1980s. When Barre was deposed in January 1991, power was claimed and contested by heavily armed guerrilla movements and militias based on traditional ethnic and clan loyalties.

The Conference for National Peace and Reconciliation in Somalia adopted a charter in 2000 for a three-year transition and selected a 245-member transitional assembly, which functions as an interim parliament. Minority groups are included, and 25 of the members are women. The breakaway regions of Somaliland and Puntland do not recognize the results, nor do several faction leaders. A government security force in Mogadishu has been cobbled together from members of the former administration's military, the police, and militias.

The closure of Al Barakaat left Somalia's economy in tatters and hurt many Somali families who depended on overseas remittances they received through the company. A ban, prompted by fears that Somali livestock carried Rift Valley fever, imposed by Gulf states in 2000 on the export of Somali livestock exacerbated economic difficulties. Yemen lifted the ban in December 2001.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

The elections in 2000 marked the first time Somalis have had an opportunity to choose their government on a somewhat national basis since 1969. Some 3,000 representatives of civic and religious organizations, women's groups, and clans came together as the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, following Djibouti-hosted peace talks, to elect a parliament in August 2000. The 245 members of the Transitional National Assembly elected the president. More than 20 candidates contested the first round of voting for the presidency. The Inter-Governmental Authority chose the lawyers who drafted the country's new charter.

Somalia's new charter provides for an independent judiciary, although a formal judicial system has ceased to exist. Islamic courts operating in Mogadishu have been effective in bringing a semblance of law and order to the city. Efforts at judicial reform are proceeding slowly. The Islamic courts were supposed to come under the control of the transitional government in 2001, but some continued to function on their own. Most of the courts are aligned with various subclans. Prison conditions are harsh in some areas, but improvements are underway.

Human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, beatings, and arbitrary detention by Somalia's various armed factions, remain a problem, but security has improved markedly compared with previous years. Few politically motivated killings, disappearances, or incidents of torture were reported. Most violations are linked to banditry. Several international aid organizations, women's groups, and local human rights groups operate in the country.

Somalia's charter provides for press freedom. Independent radio and television stations have proliferated. Most of the independent newspapers or newsletters that circulate in Mogadishu are linked to one faction or another. Journalists face harassment; however, most receive the protection of the clan behind their publication. The Transitional National Government launched its first radio station, Radio Mogadishu, in August 2001. There are three private radio stations and two run by factions.

Somaliland has exercised de facto independence from Somalia since May 1991. A clan conference led to a peace accord among its clan factions in 1997, establishing a presidency and bicameral parliament with proportional clan representation. Somaliland is far more cohesive than the rest of the country, although reports of some human rights abuses persist. Somaliland has sought international recognition as the Republic of Somaliland since 1991. A referendum on independence and a new constitution was approved in May 2001, opening the way for a multiparty system. Elections are scheduled for 2002.

Puntland established a regional government for itself in 1998, with a presidency and a single-chamber quasi legislature known as the Council of Elders. Political parties are banned. The traditional elders chose Abdullahi Yusuf as the region's first president for a three-year term. A crisis erupted in 2001 after Abdullahi Yusuf refused to relinquish power, claiming he was fighting terrorism, after Jama Ali Jama was elected to replace him. Puntland at the end of 2001 was effectively divided between regions controlled by Ali Jama and Abdullahi Yusuf.

Although more than 80 percent of Somalis share a common ethnic heritage, religion, and nomadic-influenced culture, discrimination is widespread. Clans exclude one another from participation in social and political life. Minority clans are harassed, intimidated, and abused by armed gunmen.

Somalia is an Islamic state, and religious freedom is not guaranteed. The Sunni majority often view non-Sunni Muslims with suspicion. Members of the small Christian community face societal harassment if they proclaim their religion.

Women's groups were instrumental in galvanizing support for Somalia's peace process. As a result of their participation, women occupy at least 30 seats in parliament. The country's new charter prohibits sexual discrimination, but women experience such discrimination intensely under customary practices and variants of Koranic law. Infibulation, the most severe form of female genital mutilation, is routine. UN agencies and nongovernmental organizations are working to raise awareness about the health dangers of the practice. Various armed factions have recruited children into their militias.

The charter provides workers with the right to form unions, but civil war and factional fighting led to the dissolution of the single labor confederation, the government-controlled General Federation of Somali Trade Unions. Wages are established largely by ad hoc bartering and the influence of the clan affiliation.