Freedom In The World 2007 – Somaliland – This is a detailed report of Somaliland’s status on the yearly Freedom House releases.

Somaliland (2007)

Capital: Hargeisa

Population: 3,500,000

Political Rights Score: 5
Civil Liberties Score: 4
Status: Partly Free


Somaliland, which had enjoyed de facto independence and relative stability since 1991, sought to define the role of Islam in public life in 2006 as Islamist forces took control of anarchic southern and central Somalia. Journalists faced official and unofficial pressure when covering the sensitive topic, and Somaliland’s president in October endorsed the application of Islamic law. Separately, the upper house of parliament voted in May to extend its term by four years rather than hold scheduled elections in September.

The modern state of Somalia was formed in 1960 when the newly independent protectorates of British Somaliland and Italian Somaliland agreed to unite. In 1969, General Siyad Barre took power in Somalia, ushering in a violent era fraught with clan rivalries and political repression. As flood, drought, and famine racked the nation, the struggle to topple Barre resulted in varying degrees of civil war and banditry that lasted until January 1991, when he was finally deposed. Heavily armed militias, divided along traditional clan lines, then fought for power. Current Somaliland, largely conforming with the borders of former British Somaliland in the northwestern corner of the country, seized the opportunity of Somalia’s political collapse to declare independence.


In a series of clan conferences following the 1991 independence declaration, Somaliland’s leaders agreed to form a government system that combined elements of electoral democracy (a directly elected lower house) with traditional political structures (an upper House of Elders). Political parties did not operate freely until 2003. Since then, the three main political parties have roughly represented Somaliland’s three most powerful clans. While the presidential election of 2003 and parliamentary elections of 2005 did not meet international standards, they were conducted without reports of widespread intimidation or misappropriation.

Nevertheless, the government is relatively weak; clan-based conflicts still threaten stability; and women have very little role in the decision-making process. There are also fears that the conflict in southern and central Somalia could spill over into Somaliland. Such concerns grew more acute in 2006, as Islamist forces gained control of much of Somalia, and the Ethiopian military responded with an invasion late in the year.

About half of Somaliland’s people are pastoral livestock herders. Since the region is not recognized as independent, it does not receive the kind of direct aid that many developing states do. However, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) provide some social services.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

According to Somaliland’s current constitution, the president is directly elected for five-year terms and appoints the cabinet. The lower house of the bicameral Parliament, the 82-seat House of Representatives, is directly elected for five-year terms, while the 82-seat House of Elders is indirectly elected by local communities for six-year terms.

In April 2003, nearly half a million voters took part in the presidential election, which Dahir Rayale Kahin won by a margin of less than 100 votes. Some powerful supporters of Kahin’s opponent, Ahmed Mahmoud Sillanyo, urged him to form a rival government, but he chose to respect the electoral process, thus averting bloodshed. The last elections for the lower house of Parliament took place in September 2005, but the upper house has repeatedly postponed elections since its formal six-year term expired in 2003.

In May 2006, the House of Elders voted to extend its term another four years rather than hold elections in September. Three main parties dominate Somaliland politics: the For Justice and Development Party; the United Peoples’ Democratic Party, which is the president’s party loosely affiliated with Somaliland’s second largest clan, the Dir clan; and the Peace, Unity, and Development Party, affiliated with Kahin’s challenger Ahmed M. Mahamoud Sillanyo and loosely affiliated with the country’s largest clan, the Isaaq clan.

Transparency International did not rank Somaliland separately in its 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, local journalists have reported widely on the corruption problem. In May 2006, the president fired the interior minister and the police commissioner over rumors of their corruption and abuse of power.

While Somaliland journalists continue to fare much better than their colleagues in the rest of Somalia, they have faced problems at the hands of the government as well as nongovernmental actors. In June 2006, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, Mohamed Abdi Urad, editor of the daily Jamhuuriya, was detained overnight by police in the capital, Hargeisa, on orders of the high court after the paper published an article that criticized the decision by the upper house of Parliament to extend its term. Other press freedom incidents in 2006 involved the rise to power in southern and central Somalia of an Islamist group known as the Islamic Courts Union (ICU).

A reporter for the independent daily Haatuf, which was critical of the ICU, was detained in September after he wrote that the Islamists were infiltrating Somaliland. In October, demonstrators burned over a thousand copies of the paper. The Somaliland minister of information in November 2006 allegedly ordered two female journalists working for state-owned Radio Hargeisa to be fired for wearing hijab (headscarves).

Somaliland’s population is almost entirely Sunni Muslim, and according to the constitution, Islam is the state religion. Throughout 2006, there was a great deal of public debate about the role of religion in political and judicial life.

Many international NGOs operate in Somaliland with limited government interference. However, there has been a backlash against their work in the local media. Newspaper editorials have accused NGOs of acting without regard for Somaliland’s culture and operating without transparency.

Somaliland has a functioning judiciary, but there are questions about its independence. In 2006, Kahin was pressured to articulate a position on the role of Sharia (Islamic law) in determining law as Somaliland reacted to the rise of the ICU. Authorities do not want Somaliland to be dominated by ICU sympathizers, which could result in a destabilizing military response from Ethiopia. However, local Islamists are also agitating for Islam to play a more prominent role in public life. In October, Kahin said Sharia would be applied in Somaliland, but it is unclear how such a policy would be implemented in the context of existing laws”

The police and other government agencies have been accused of committing some human rights abuses, but the situation is not comparable to that of Somalia generally, where there is little respect for the rule of law. In September 2006, protesters demonstrated against alleged police torture of detained terrorism suspects.

Almost all Somalilanders share the same ethnicity and religion. The discrimination that exists is based on clan exclusion. The larger clans are more powerful and more politically connected, while some of the smaller clans are not prominently represented in public life.

Somaliland public life is dominated by men. Women are present in the workplace and do hold some government positions, but the real power is in the hands of male clan leaders. There is still a great deal of social and legal discrimination against women, and female genital mutilation is widely practiced.

Map of Freedom in the World

2007 Edition

Freedom In The World 2007 - Somaliland Country Report

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