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Somalia, which sits on the Horn of Africa, has the continent's longest coastline. The country was without a formal parliament for two decades between 1991 and 2012, which resulted in continuous fighting between rival warlords. Even after an internationally-backed government was installed in 2012, the country remains politically fractured, with the continuous security threat of the main Islamist insurgent group, Al-Shabab. Within this climate, violations of children’s rights are widespread, including the recruitment of children into armed groups and female genital mutilation.
Somalia is an east African country on the horn of Africa. The country has the longest coastline of any in Africa, which is spread along the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean and shares land borders with Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. The capital city is Mogadishu.
Population and language
An estimated 9.5 million live in Somalia, a figure that has grown erratically, though continuously, over the last 30 years. Since 2005, however, the population has been growing more rapidly, at an annual rate of more than 2 per cent per year. Somali, Arabic, Italian and English are all widely spoken in the country.
History and politics
Somalia was first united in 1941 under the British military administration which took control over former French, Italian and British Somaliland. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the territories of Ogaden and Haud were ceded to Ethiopia, an action that would lead to war decades later. The country gained its independence in 1960, ratified its first Constitution the following year and operated under that Constitution until General Barre seized power in a coup in 1969. Barre's regime operated a one-party state organised around the idea of “scientific socialism”. In 1978, the Barre regime unsuccessfully invaded the former Somali territories of Ethiopia, an action that gave rise to national dissent which gradually built over the next 10 years, until the State descended into civil war. When the Somali National Movement tried to seize control of former British Somaliland, Barre responded with force and the ensuing violence led to the deaths of thousands of Somalis and the flight of an estimated 400,000 refugees to Ethiopia. Barre's control over the country further deteriorated until 1991, when he fled the country and the United Somali Congress gained control of Mogadishu.
In the wake of the collapse of the Barre regime, Somalia again descended into civil war along clan-based divides. The UN became involved in the country in 1992 under the guise of the Cease Fire Observer Force Operation (UNOSOM 1) in response to the famine and inability to deliver humanitarian aid, but failed to make a substantial impact. By the end of that year, a U.S. led task force intervened to create a safe space for relief operations, and handed control over to UNOSOM II in 1993. U.S. forces left the country in 1994, followed by UNOSOM after the deaths of 14 U.S. Rangers, 70 UN peacekeepers and thousands of Somalis.
With the absence of a government, the Islamic Courts Union took control of Mogadishu, and by 1996 were a significant power in many major cities. The ICU was eventually forced out of the cities by Ethiopian military forces at the behest of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) that had formed in exile. In January 2007, the TFG installed itself in Mogadishu, but is far from exercising full governmental powers over the city let alone the country. Somalia remains politically fractured; the Republic of Somaliland, which unilaterally declared its independence in 1991, and the region of Puntland, which established its own government in 1998, both substantially govern their own affairs. Southern Somalia is partially under the control of the Islamic military group, al-Shabaab.
The Somalian economy operates largely in the absence of public sector management and regulation and without formal economic and monetary policies. Nevertheless, an extensive informal economy has developed with a strong private sector. Insufficient information has been available to include Somalia in the most recent Human Development Index, but in 2001, the country was rated 161 out of 163, and the World Bank has reported that on very high levels of poverty. Indications are that 43 per cent of the population live in extreme poverty (less than US$1 per day) and 73 per cent live in general poverty (less than US$2 per day). Remittances provide US$1 billion and have in part served to mitigate poverty. Agriculture is among the country's key economic activities, particularly livestock raising, bananas and hides and skins. Trade is dominated by that with countries on the Arabian peninsula, particularly the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Yemen.
In February 2012, reports emerged that oil had been discovered in the country, a find that could help to develop the national economy. Both the U.K. and U.S.A. Have been in talks with the country with regards to the find.
Media and civil society
Journalist operating in Somalia face very serious danger, both as a result of the general insecurity of the country and because of their occupation. Reporters Without Borders has reported on a number of killings of journalists by pro-government and anti-government militias. In the breakaway territory of Somaliland, 25 journalists were arrested following the closure of the HornCable TV station accused of broadcasting anti-government propaganda.
Reporters Without Borders rated Somalia 164 out of 179 countries in its 2011/12 Press Freedom Index
Human rights and children's rights
The poor level of security makes it difficult to access reliable information on human rights standards in Somalia, as NGOs and UN bodies have difficulty in gaining access to the area. Nevertheless, it is clear that large numbers of very serious human rights violations continue to occur. The conflict between the Transitional Federal Government and armed militias such as al-Shabaab have resulted in high casualties in the cities. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that 8,403 casualties were treated for weapon-related injuries in three hospitals in the capital over eight months in the capital, and that a large number of these were children. Reports have also emerged of the use of schools by al-Shabaab in their conflict with the TFG which has left children open to the retaliation. HRW, Amnesty International and Child Soldiers International have also all reported on the use of children as soldiers in the conflict. A variety of forms of inhuman sentencing are also applicable for children, particularly in the areas of the country under the control of armed-Islamic groups, where the death penalty may be prescribed for persons under the age of 18 as well as corporal punishment, including amputation.
The famine on the Horn of Africa has intensified suffering in the country leading to widespread famine, and the poor security situation has in turn made humanitarian relief difficult to deliver to the region.
- United Nations Operations in Somalia I
- United Nations Operations in Somalia II
- BBC, "Somaliland Profile" 9 December 2011
- BBC, "Puntland Profile" 9 December 2011
- The Guardian, "Somalia promises west oil riches as diplomats vow to defeat al-Shabaab" 25 February 2012
- Reporters Without Borders, "Reporter shot dead in Mogadishu is fourth journalist killed this year in Somalia" 19 December 2011
- Reporter Without Borders, "In past week in Somaliland, 25 journalists arrested, four still held and TV station closed" 16 January 2012
- See Child Soldiers International, "Global Report 2008: Somalia"; Amnesty International, "World Report 2011: Somalia" and Human Rights Watch, "World Report 2012: Somalia"
- CRIN, "Inhuman sentencing of children in Somalia" 4 April 2011
- OHCHR, "Somalia Homepage"
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Somalia Country Profile"
- BBC, "Somalia Profile" and see footnotes
- The World Bank, "Somalia Country Brief"
- Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2011-12" and news items (see footnotes)
- The Guardian (see footnotes)