In the context of a worsening human rights situation and repression of journalists and their independent union in Somalia, combined with lack of accountability for serious human rights violations and abuses, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Somalia affiliate, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), held a meeting on Somalia on side lines of the 37th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 6 March in Geneva.
Held under the theme “Human Rights Violations and Abuses in Somalia: the fight against impunity goes on”, the panellists at the side event highlighted the scourge of impunity for violence targeting journalists in Somalia, describing it as the biggest hindrance to freedom of expression and otherfundamental human rights.
“Unforgiving attacks against journalists and their fundamental rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association including trade union rights have become entrenched and systematic where perpetrators are no longer concerned that they are committing egregious human rights abuses,” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.
NUSOJ attested that the climate of impunity, not only enables the perpetrators to evade prosecution for flagrant violations and abuses of freedoms of expression and association and other crimes against journalists, but also fosters a culture of continued and escalating repression. “Even when rights violations were reported there was no action. Instead, our union suffered reprisals and was threatened,” Osman added.
“Until our government tackles the system of impunity anddecides to really deliver justice to victims of human rights abuses, especially those persecuted or wronged for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association, the human rights record of Somalia will continue to be blighted by many ills. We urge President Farmaajo and Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire to eradicate the culture of impunity that they inherited, otherwise their commitment to human rights and justice will remain an empty rhetoric.”
Speaking at the event, Joel Odigie, coordinator of Human and Trade Union Rights of ITUC Africa underscored the contribution of media towards peace and security, especially in crisis situations such as in Somalia. But he denounced the journalists’ working conditions in the country.
“The working and living conditions in Somalia are dire and getting worse and more precarious for Somali journalists who are among the vanguards of democracy and civil liberties. Yet, they are paying a heavy price and are under attack from multiple fronts.”
“The violations of journalists’ and trade union rights are frequently reported in Somalia but our affiliated federation FESTU and its unions, such as NUSOJ have shown total resilience and staying power in defending their freedoms. And as organised labour, we have elected to stand with them andcounter these attacks and resolved to demand accountability so as to free and improve the working environment of journalists and media workers,” Odigie added.
The IFJ said the event was organised during the 37th Session of the UN Human Rights Council to remind the world community that attacks on media professionals are a threat to democracy and the rule of law in Somalia which UN Member States have a collective obligation to support.
“The state’s institutions in Somalia are still fragile and need international support to serve their purpose in the interest of the population,” said Ernest Sagaga, IFJ Head of Human Rights and Safety who moderated the event. “Member States in the Human Rights Council have an obligation to help address the situation in Somalia where journalists and trade unions are ruthlessly targeted.”
Speakers at the event condemned continued restrictions to freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in Somalia, urging the Somali President and Prime Minister to immediately stop ongoing harassments against journalists and trade unions who are abused solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
IFJ, NUSOJ and ITUC-Africa also called upon the Somali government to implement ILO decisions to ensure thorough, independent, judicial and impartial investigations into the unlawful attacks against journalists and trade unions. In the event of the government’s failure to carry out credible investigations into these attacks, the panel said that ILO should take the matter and set up an International Commission of Inquiry – the organisation’s highest investigating authority.