Freedom In The World 2010 – This is a detailed report of Somaliland’s status on the yearly Freedom House releases.
Political Rights Score: 5
Civil Liberties Score: 5
Status: Partly Free
Somaliland’s civil liberties rating declined from 4 to 5 due to further restrictions on press freedom and the suppression of demonstrations following the postponement of the presidential election.
Somaliland plunged deep into crisis in 2009, as presidential elections were delayed yet again and a constitutional deadlock forced the suspension of parliament. The government responded by clamping down on press freedoms and curtailing public demonstrations.
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 of clan rivalries and political repression.
A prolonged struggle to topple Barre lasted until January 1991, when he was finally deposed. Heavily armed militias, divided along traditional clan lines, fought for control in the ensuing power vacuum. Current Somaliland, largely conforming with the borders of former British Somaliland in the northwestern corner of the country, took advantage of Somalia’s political chaos and declared independence in May 1991.
In a series of clan conferences, Somaliland’s leaders formed a government system combining democratic elements, including a parliament, with traditional political structures, such as an upper house consisting of clan elders. Somaliland’s first two presidents were appointed by clan elders.
In 2003, Dahir Rayale Kahin became Somaliland’s first elected president; although he won by less than 100 votes, the runner-up accepted the outcome. Clan elders also appointed members of Somaliland’s lower house of parliament until direct elections were held for the first time in 2005.
In that poll, the president’s United People’s Democratic Party (UDUB) won 33 seats, with the Peace, Unity, and Development Party (Kulmiye) and the Justice and Development Party (UCID) following close behind. While the 2003 presidential and 2005 legislative elections did not meet international standards, there were no reports of widespread intimidation or fraud.
In May 2006, President Rayale violated the constitution by postponing elections for the upper house and extending its term by four years; under the constitution, only the lower house was empowered to extend the term. In October 2007, the government and opposition members agreed to postpone local and presidential elections, originally scheduled for December 2007 and April 2008, respectively, until later in 2008.
In April 2008, the upper house voted to extend President Rayale’s term for an extra year. Negotiations between the government and opposition yielded a new electoral timetable; the presidential election would be held in March 2009, and the municipal elections were postponed indefinitely.
Voter registration failed to produce an electoral roll that was acceptable to all sides. The process was mishandled by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) and plagued by fraud. Half of those who registered did not provide a verifiable fingerprint to prove their identity. Registration was almost derailed by several coordinated suicide bombings in Somaliland’s main city, Hargeisa, which killed at least 23 people. Somaliland officials accused the Al-Shabaab, the Somali jihadist group, of carrying out the attacks.
Somaliland’s political crisis intensified in 2009. Presidential elections were postponed twice more, in March and September, because of the ongoing dispute over voter registration. President Rayale’s plan to hold the election without a list was opposed by the UCID and Kulmiye, which contended that a flawed list was better than none at all and pledged to boycott the polls. Tensions increased in late August when an opposition motion to impeach the president led to a brawl in parliament.
President Rayale responded to the impeachment debate by ordering troops to occupy parliament. Although he soon reversed that decision, street protests erupted; during a parliamentary debate a few days later, another fight broke out and a gun was reportedly drawn. When opposition supporters staged a demonstration on September 12, the police responded with live ammunition, killing four people.
A transitional agreement was eventually reached between the parties which prohibited the government from extending its term without consultation, called for the replacement of the NEC, and asked the international community for help in introducing a computerized voting system. However, the agreement did not allow enough time to hold elections before Rayale’s extended term expired on October 29. A revised date of January 2010 was set.
Somaliland’s relations with neighboring Puntland, which claims autonomy but not independence from Somalia, have been strained due to border disputes over the Sool and Sanaag regions. Periodic clashes continued in 2009. Tensions intensified in November when a senior military official from Somaliland was killed by a roadside bomb in Sool.
Poverty is rife in Somaliland and the government struggles to provide basic goods and services to much of the population. Because Somaliland is not internationally recognized, it receives little assistance from foreign governments and international lending institutions. International donors suspended funding for the elections during the constitutional deadlock but restored it following the signing of the transitional agreement by Somaliland’s three parties.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
According to Somaliland’s constitution, the president is directly elected for a maximum of two five-year terms and appoints the cabinet. Members of the 82-seat lower house of the bicameral parliament are directly elected for five-year terms, while members of the 82-seat upper house (Guurti) are indirectly elected by local communities for six-year terms. The legislature is weak and provides very little oversight of the executive.
Somaliland’s constitution allows for a maximum of three political parties, and parties defined by region or clan are technically prohibited. Nevertheless, party and clan affiliations tend to coincide: the UDUB is identified with a subclan of the Dir clan; the UCID is largely supported by members of other Dir subclans; and the Darood clan tends to support Kulmiye.
Transparency International did not rank Somaliland separately in its 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, corruption is a serious problem, fueled by the low salaries paid to public officials and the common practice whereby politicians offer tax relief in return for support.
While freedoms of expression and the press are guaranteed by Somaliland’s constitution, journalists face interference and harassment. The protracted political crisis in 2009 led to increased government sensitivity over media reports. At least 10 journalists were arrested during the year, generally on charges of spreading false information or inciting violence. Two reporters with Horyaal Radio, an independent station, were sentenced to six months in prison in August, although they were released 15 days later.
That same month, one of their colleagues was detained for 22 days without charge. Also in August, a freelance journalist, Ali Adan Dahir, was badly beaten. Four men arrested a day later in connection with the attack were released without charge. Reporters with the online news services Baadiyenews and Berberanews were also detained. Two independent television stations began broadcasting in recent years. However, the stations face harassment from the government, which claims that liberalizing the airwaves would result in incendiary content and lead to clan violence.
One of the channels, Horn Cable TV, was shut down in July on the orders of a judge for “threatening the peace.” The main radio station is the government-run Radio Hargeisa, although the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is available in the capital. There are seven private daily newspapers in Somaliland in addition to the state-owned Mandeeq, although they have limited circulations and are subsidized by journalists’ relatives and Somalilanders living abroad.
Nearly all Somaliland residents are Sunni Muslims, and Islam is the state religion. Proselytizing by members of other faiths is prohibited.
Freedom of association is constitutionally guaranteed and international and local nongovernmental organizations operate in Somaliland without serious government interference. However, the government is increasingly intolerant of opposition and used the country’s fragile political balance and precarious security situation as a justification to ban public demonstrations in March 2009.
Opposition supporters were prevented by security forces from staging a march to celebrate Somalia National Movement Day in April, and police used excessive force to disperse a demonstration outside Parliament in September, killing four protestors. The ban on public demonstrations remained in place at year’s end.
According to the constitution, the judiciary is independent, and the laws cannot violate the principles of Sharia (Islamic law). In practice, the government bypasses the courts and use secret security committees to try many defendants without due process. Suspects are routinely held for long periods without charge. The judiciary is seriously underfunded, and the Supreme Court is ineffective. Somaliland has approximately 100 judges, most of whom do not have formal legal training. Somaliland police and security forces, while well organized, have at times used excessive force.
Societal fault lines are largely clan-based; most Somalilanders belong to the Dir or Darood clans, which are made up of multiple subclans. Larger, wealthier clans have more political clout than the less prominent groups, and clan elders often intervene to settle conflicts.
Society in Somaliland is patriarchal. While women are present in the workplace and hold some public positions, men make political decisions. As in the rest of Somalia, female genital mutilation is practiced on the vast majority of women.
*Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.
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