The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) yesterday teamed up with the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) to testify at the European Parliament about the riskier and more difficult environment in which journalists and trade unions are operating in Somalia.
Hosted by Ms Alex Mayer MEP, the event is the first of its kind to focus on human rights situation in Somalia to shed light on onslaught of harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns, ill-treatment, and unlawful actions to curtail freedom of expression and freedom of association.
Alex Mayer MEP said: “Somalia is the most dangerous place in Africa for trade union activity. At today’s hearing we heard first-hand about the attacks on trade unions and trade unionists in Somalia, systematic intimidation and attempts on the lives of their leaders. We send them our solidarity. As parliamentarians we also must ensure pressure continues to be put on the Somali government to comply with its ILO obligations and that due diligence is maintained with regards to EU funding for civil society and that independent trade unionists are supported as opposed to ‘fake’ trade unionists.”
“While lethal attacks on media existed before the Federal Government, a new offensive has emerged in which government authorities want to take on the very institution that represents, defends and speaks for journalists, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ). It is doing that by undermining its independence, mounting a de-legitimisation campaign, obstructing the union’s right to operate freely and targeting it for standing up for the rights of the member journalists” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.
Mr Osman noted that the oppression of journalists and media outlets has been sophisticated even to the extent of deploying various techniques to decimate private media, independent reporting, and critical analysis, with drastic results. In Somaliland, journalists are frequently taken to court and charged with spurious charges under criminal laws. Their trials are fraught with due process violations and the Somaliland courts have demonstrated little independence in the adjudication of their cases.
“While extremists may want to kill journalists, the government authorities will strive to destroy and take over the sole union voice that would speak out to defend the victim journalists, and NUSOJ undoubtedly emerged as a shield and spear of struggling journalists and workers in general. This is a stark difference between the two forces” said Osman who added that the abuses are committed from Ministerial level and below without the knowledge or approval of top leaders.
He said it is time for the top leaders to intervene and reign in the dominant impunity and abuses committed in the name of their administration.
Jeremy Dear, IFJ Deputy General Secretary, expressed concern over the involvement of the government in the arrests, intimidation and restrictions of movement which NUSOJ leaders have faced.
“Somalia is the most dangerous country for journalists in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 70 journalists have been killed in 7 years. Most of these are targeted killings. Impunity is at epidemic levels. “And yet, instead of targeting the killers, the government targets those who speak up for journalists and human rights. The intimidations and reprisals against NUSOJ and its leadership must stop”.
The ITUC representative at the meeting – Paapa Danquah - emphasized the need for the EU and its mission in Somalia to help the Somali Government to comply with its International Labour Organisation (ILO) obligations and commitments, including adherence to the comments of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR) and the conclusions of the Committee on Freedom of Association of the ILO on case 3113.
He noted that it was an important way to ensure coherence, transparency and accountability in the EU’s development efforts around the world. In the ensuing discussion, speakers noted with concern that the nature of the human rights repression against journalists and trade unions is insidious.
The whole environment of freedom of expression is being corroded. By taking away their right to freely associate and run their unions independent from Ministers, by going after the union movement, keeping union leaderships under a perpetual state of stigmatization, and either directly targeting them or failing to protect them from past and present harassment, threats and physical attack, the Federal Government of Somalia is cutting the oxygen supply to those defending human and trade union rights in its territory.
ITUC, IFJ and NUSOJ welcomed the progressive undertaking to the European Parliament made on 4 December 2017 by the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini in a commitment that the EU will follow up the implementations of the decisions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Somalia case 3113.
The three organisations called on the EU to take strong and urgent action to try to prevent an irreversible and worsening human and trade union rights situation in Somalia, and in particular the EU is urged to institute effective human rights due diligence in its aid to Somalia to prevent, manage and mitigate more rights violations or not seen to be validating the actions of those already incriminated for committing grave human rights abuse against the labour unions and their members.