Djibouti: Repression reigns, human rights under attack

José Cendon / AFP

Paris, Nairobi, Djibouti, 8 June 2022 — The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Ligue djiboutienne des droits humains (LDDH) are concerned about the regime’s failure to respect the principles of the rule of law, democracy and human rights. Countries that have military bases on the territory of this East African country must do more to ensure that Djiboutians’ fundamental rights are respected.

In power for 23 years, and with the question of his succession at stake, President Ismail Omar Guelleh is continuing and stepping up the muzzling of all political opposition.

Opposition parties face constant threats

Opposition parties face constant threats, when they are not forced to disband. The Mouvement pour le Renouveau Démocratique et le Développement (MRD) was dissolved in 2008 by a presidential decree. Despite the 2020 decision of the United Nations Human Rights Committee demanding the reversal of this decree, the government still prevents the reinstatement of the party. It thus prevents its members from freely exercising their political activity.

In December 2021, in Djibouti City, four activists of another opposition party, the Rassemblement pour l’action, la démocratie et le développement écologique (RADDE), were ruthlessly arrested by the police during a non-violent sit-in in front of the National Assembly.
These brutal arrest methods are clearly aimed at intimidating those who wish to demonstrate their discontent. The security services’ use of surveillance techniques – both physical and through phone tapping – effectively silence human rights defenders.

Restriction of the rights and freedoms

The restriction of the rights and freedoms of the political opposition and defenders, and of the civilian population as a whole, is deeply alarming. The elections, whether presidential or communal, are not free in Djibouti. Boycotted by the population, they had a turnout of only 3 %. This did not prevent the ruling party, Union pour une Majorité Présidentielle (UMP), from enjoying a landslide victory, winning 219 of the 220 seats in parliament. As evidence of the president’s autocratic drift, he proceeded to appoint the mayor of the city of Djibouti in total violation of the laws in force, flouting the electoral process.

Violence committed by security forces

This anti-democratic drift has been coupled for nearly a year with an upsurge in violence committed with impunity by security forces — documented by LDDH.
At least three people have died as a result of this violence while demonstrating their discontent and despair over the shortages.
- Ferouze Mahamoud Abdillahi, a 32-year-old widow and mother of four young children, killed by live military fire in Ali-Sabieh-city on 29 March 2022, during World Food Programme (WFP) food distributions in a Djiboutian army camp compound.
- Djama Mohamed Ismail, known as Charmarké Charmarke, was found dead on 26 March 2022 at the police station of Balbala Cheik Moussa, in a popular suburb of the capital. His case is reminiscent of the death, at the hands of the Djibouti City police, of another young man, Gadidche Ladieh Omar, on 11 September 2019.
- Aden Adaweh Abdillahi, a young man in his twenties, died on 9 May 2021 as a result of a live bullet woundby the police on 26 June 2020 in Djibouti City during a peaceful demonstration.

Many people were also injured:
- Dahir Abdi Ofleh, seriously injured by live ammunition to the stomach on 18 March 2022 in Ali-Sabieh, south-east of the country;
- Souleiman Ali Bogoreh, injured by live ammunition to the leg on 18 March 2022 in Ali-Sabieh, south-east of the country ;
- Farhan Abdi Guelleh, shot with live ammunition to the back on 18 March 2022 in Ali-Sabieh, south-east of the country ;
- Ismaïl Houssein Waberi, injured by live ammunition by the police a year earlier, on 18 January 2021, in the same region of Ali-Sabieh. He still bears the scars of these injuries today.

A climate of fear and arbitrary arrests

The authorities have instated a climate of fear, with arbitrary arrests almost a daily occurrence. The police and the gendarmerie continue their campaigns of intimidation against the population. For example, eight mothers were arrested for a week by the police in the underprivileged neighbourhood of Buldhuqo, on the outskirts of the capital, simply because they were demanding water in the street, while other victims continue to suffer similar repression.
The rule of law is constantly flouted and many people continue to be detained in Gabode Central Prison without being brought before a judge. This is notably the case of eight young adults arrested during a peaceful demonstration organised on 6 June 2021 in Ali-Sabieh.

"On several occasions, the Ligue djiboutienne des droits humains (LDDH) has alerted us to the case of pilot lieutenant Fouad Youssouf Ali, who has been in detention in Djibouti for more than a year, and who is a victim of a ’denial of justice’. After an unfair trial that did not respect the rights of the defence, he is now arbitrarily denied the right to visit his family. While his health is deteriorating, we have continued to denounce his conditions of detention in Gabode prison."

Karim Zakaria, LDDH representative

The use of the justice system to settle political scores

The use of the justice system by the regime to settle political scores is a sign of the incessant attacks on the separation of powers.
Indeed, ministers or former ministers, civil servants, or even business owners are targeted by judicial information for embezzlement or for inciting recordings of private conversations, i.e., the sharing on social networks of eavesdropping captured by the intelligence organs.
The sole objective of these "selective trials" is to put aside individuals who have become undesirable and who would not be in the interests of the head of state, Ismail Omar Guelleh. These trials are part of a strategy of score-settling aimed at potential opponents in anticipation of the planned succession to the 74-year-old president.

The persistent disregard for human rights

For these reasons, FIDH and LDDH warn against the worrying situation of the persistent disregard for human rights, and the non-respect by the institutions of the fundamental principles of the rule of law, as defined in Djibouti’s legal instruments.

"Djibouti’s international partners can no longer deny the deterioration of the human rights situation and the political violations in Djibouti. It is time for international and regional bodies, in particular the African Union, to take action to restore the rule of law in the country."

Paul Nsapu, FIDH vice-president

Faced with this situation, our organisations call on the Djibouti authorities to:
- put an end to human rights violations in all their forms throughout the country;
- implement the decision of the United Nations Human Rights Committee concerning the MRD and its president;
- open an independent enquiry into the repeated abuses by the police and military against civilians, and bring to justice all those responsible;
- respect the conditions of detention, under the supervision of a magistrate and with respect for human dignity, for all detainees in the Gabode central prison and other places of deprivation of liberty;
- release all arbitrarily detained persons, including pilot Fouad Youssouf Ali [1];
- respect democratic principles and rules, including the guarantee of the constitutional separation of powers and an end to the instrumentalisation of justice for political purposes.

Djibouti’s partners, particularly those with military bases in the country, as well as intergovernmental institutions, should encourage Djibouti to respect the principles of the rule of law and cease all human rights violations.

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statement