Djibouti: at least 6 killed as regime takes 80% of parliamentary seats in election

Press release
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The Djiboutian human rights situation remains alarming and extremely serious with at least 6 deaths during demonstrations following the 22 February 2013 elections, and the continuous mass arbitrary arrest of opposition leaders and supporters. FIDH and the LDDH call on the international community to engage in finding a political solution to the crisis in Djibouti.

On Wednesday, 14 March 2013, the Djiboutian Constitutional Court confirmed the temporary results of legislative elections of 22 February 2013, which had been announced earlier as culminating in an overwhelming victory for the “Union pour la majorité présidentielle” (UMP – coalition of parties in power). The UMP was reported to have won over 80% parliamentary seats, with 55 seats and only 10 for the opposition.

The Djiboutian opposition, united under the “Union pour le Salut National” (USN), has rejected the published results and announced its intent to lodge a complaint. Information gathered by our organisations indicates that, contrary to declarations made in the aftermath of the elections, February’s elections were tarnished by numerous irregularities and acts of negligence, in particular during voting in Obock, Dikill, Tadjourah and Ali-Sabieh.

“It is unfortunate that the legislative elections of 22 February did not meet necessary requirements for transparency and credibility whilst, for the first time in almost ten years, political opposition parties had agreed to take part in the elections, offering the hope of true democratic pluralism” , said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

A tense political climate has prevailed in Djibouti since the February’s elections, which were held against a backdrop of significant public protests against the regime of Ismail Omar Guelleh. Opposition demonstrations and meetings have multiplied as security forces repression has been characterised by the disproportionate use of force.

Our organisations have collected reliable information on at least 6 persons shot dead by security forces on 25 and 26 February 2013: 5 opposition followers and a high school student. Many other deaths during the demonstrations of 25 and 26 February 2013 have been reported, but could not, at the time of writing, be corroborated due to harassment suffered by the families of dead or injured opposition followers. The Djiboutian civilian population prefers to keep these violations quiet for fear of risking greater repression. Human rights defenders are also victims of harassment and threats.

Since the demonstration of 25 February 2013, many political opposition followers and sympathisers have been detained at Gabode central prison. Information gathered suggests that 90 people are currently held in this prison. The trials of some detained persons accused of “participation in an illegal demonstration, incitement to violence, public disorder”, have started and sentences are very heavy, with up to 18 months imprisonment accompanied by loss of civil rights for several years.

Mr. Daher Ahmed Farah, President of the “Mouvement pour le Renouveau Démocratique et le Développement” (MRD) and spokesperson of USN has also been taken into custody for “public disorder and participation in an insurrectionist movement”. On Wednesday 13 March, the public prosecutor called for him to be sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. On 17 March 2013, Mr. Daher Ahmed Farah was sentenced to 2 months in prison. His lawyers have said that they intend to appeal against this decision.

Moreover, the conditions in which these persons are detained also remain concerning. Cases of abuse and torture are reported and accused persons have only restricted or no access to lawyers, whilst their families are not allowed to visit. On 8 March 2013, the parents of certain detainees’ tried to enter Gabode prison to see their relatives despite the ban on visits. The police arrived, preventing them from entering the building and driving them to Nagad administrative detention centre where they were detained for 72 hours before being freed. Among these persons were many families, including women and children.

“This repression of the civilian population and political opposition must stop immediately”, declared the LDDH. “Our organisations have constantly condemned the violent and disproportionate reaction of security forces and again ask for light to be shed through an impartial and independent inquiry into serious human rights violations that have been committed”, the organisation added.

FIDH and the LDDH call upon the Djiboutian authorities to ensure respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, in compliance with their regional and international commitments. Our organisations also call upon the political authorities to take all necessary measures to ensure an independent, impartial and equitable exercise of justice. Our organisations reiterate the demand for the immediate opening of a judicial inquiry to shed light on acts committed by security forces and condemn the authors of human rights violations.

Finally, FIDH and the LDDH call upon the international community, in particular the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, the League of Arab States, and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, to condemn the human rights violations committed by the Djiboutian authorities and contribute to a political solution to the current crisis.

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