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Title: Djibouti Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996


Despite 1992 constitutional changes that permitted the creation of four 
political parties, President Hassan Gouled Aptidon and the People's 
Rally for Progress (RPP), in power since independence in 1977, continued 
to rule the country.  Djibouti's two main ethnic groups are the 
politically predominant Issa (the tribe of the President, which is of 
Somali origin) and the Afar (who are also numerous in Ethiopia and 
Eritrea).  The Afar comprise the largest single tribe in Djibouti but 
are outnumbered by the Issa and other Somali clans (Issak and Gadabursi) 
taken together.

In December 1994, the Government and the Afar-led Front for the 
Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD) signed a peace accord, ending 
3 years of civil war.  As part of the accord, the Government agreed to 
recognize the FRUD as a legitimate political party, but the FRUD did not 
seek formal recognition.  However, in June the Government named two FRUD 
leaders to key cabinet posts.  The other two officially recognized 
opposition parties, The Party for Democratic Renewal (PRD) and the 
National Democratic Party (PND), do not hold parliamentary seats, in 
large part because the PND boycotted the December 1992 legislative 
elections.  As a result, the RPP won all 65 parliamentary seats and, 
with the reelection of President Gouled in May 1993, now holds all 
significant government posts as well.

In January the national security force and the police merged to form the 
8,000-member National Police Force (FNP).  The FNP has primary 
responsibility for internal security and border control and is overseen 
by the Ministry of the Interior.  The Ministry of Defense controls the 
army and the gendarmerie, and a small intelligence bureau reports 
directly to the President.  Civilian authorities generally maintain 
effective control of the security forces, but there were instances in 
which the security forces acted independently of government authority 
(see Sections l.a. and 1.c.), and some members committed a number of 
human rights abuses.

Djibouti has little industry; services and commerce provide most of the 
national income, which is largely generated by the large foreign 
expatriate community of 12,000, including 3,300 French soldiers, and the 
state-controlled maritime and commercial activities of the port of 
Djibouti, the airport, and the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad.  Only a 
few mineral deposits exist in the country, and the arid soil is 
unproductive--only 10 percent is pasture and 1 percent is forested.  
People are free to pursue private business interests and to hold 
personal and real property.  That part of the gross national product 
which benefits only Djiboutians (and thus excludes the expatriates) is 
estimated at about $250 per capita.

The Government's human rights record did not improve despite the 
introduction of a new Constitution in 1992 and a limited multiparty 
political system.  Citizens have not yet been fully allowed to change 
their government.  The judiciary is not independent of the executive.  
The Government permitted increased freedom of the press but cracked down 
heavily on union leaders during a protracted strike triggered by the 
Government's austerity plan.  The Government continued arbitrarily to 
arrest and detain persons beyond the 48 hours permitted by law.  There 
were credible reports that security forces beat criminal detainees.  
Discrimination against women persists, and the practice of female 
genital mutilation continued to be a problem, especially in rural areas.


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
      Freedom from:

  a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were political undertones, possibly involving government forces, 
in the June assassination of Randa's religious leader, Ali Houmed 
Souleh, and an associate, Said Aramis.  The official newspaper indicated 
that the clerics may have been murdered because they had threatened to 
press charges against some soldiers for alleged rape.  While Tadjourah's 
District Commissioner denied such a connection, others including Mohamed 
Houmed Souleh, the President of the Association for the Defense of Human 
Rights and Liberties (ADHRL), and also the brother of the religious 
leader, blamed government forces and speculated that the killers wanted 
to undermine the government-sponsored peace process.  At year's end, the 
Government continued to hold 11 soldiers pending the outcome of an 
official investigation.

Also with possible political implications, there was serious fighting in 
June between former FRUD fighters, resulting in several deaths.  Some 
former FRUD fighters reportedly had become disenchanted with the 
relatively slow process of their integration into the armed forces and 
confronted another faction of former FRUD combatants.

  b.  Disappearance

There were no known reports of politically motivated disappearances.  
However, in August a group of armed men abducted five persons in the 
north.  They released one of the men when he identified himself as a 
FRUD member.  Government officials claimed to know the whereabouts of 
the other men but had not secured their release or provided details by 
year's end.  Also, in November unknown persons kidnaped a traditional 
Afar Chief at Alalli Dada.  At year's end, the Chief's whereabouts 
remained unknown.

  c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
    Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to 
other inhuman, cruel, degrading, or humiliating punishments.  Torture is 
punishable by 15 years in prison.  However, there were credible reports 
that police and prison officials sometimes beat and otherwise physically 
abused prisoners and detainees.  In September the newspaper of the 
opposition National Democratic Party reported that police held PND 
member, Dirieh Darar Farah, for 6 days without charge.  While in 
detention, the police reportedly kicked, punched, and struck him with 
pickaxe handles.  Before fainting, he remembered the authorities warning 
him, "not to contradict the President's will."  During the government 
crackdown on striking teachers in September, the police raided the 
office of the primary school teachers' union and beat union president 
Mohamed Nasser Abbas.

The human rights group ADHRL alleges continued involvement of government 
forces in the rape of Afar women and girls.

Prison conditions are harsh and characterized by severe overcrowding.  A 
prison built for 300 persons has more than twice that many inmates, 
including 30 women.  Reportedly, prisoners must pay authorities to 
obtain food.  Reports also indicate that illegal aliens jailed for 
crimes sometimes have young children with them.  In a prison visit, one 
diplomatic official saw a child under the age of 10.  There were, 
however, no reports of abuses leading to the deaths of prisoners or rape 
of female prisoners.  International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 
staff no longer reside in Djibouti.  When present, they normally had 
access to all prisoners.  An ICRC representative from Nairobi visited 
the main prison in Djibouti in 1995.

  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The 1994 Penal Code stipulates that the State may not detain a person 
beyond 48 hours without an examining magistrate's formal charge.  
Detainees may be held another 48 hours with the prior approval of 
Djibouti's public prosecutor.  Persons charged with political or 
national security offenses may be detained as long as an investigation 
is underway.  Nevertheless, the police often disregarded these 
procedures, normally arresting persons without warrants and sometimes 
detaining persons for lengthy periods.

In September work stoppages and protests related to the Government's new 
austerity measures prompted the police to arrest several labor leaders 
and an estimated two dozen secondary school teachers and parents of 
school children.  Credible reports indicated that the authorities made 
at least 100 arbitrary arrests and detained some parents for at least 5 

Among those arrested were Kamil Diraneh Hared, Secretary General of the 
General Union of Djiboutian Workers (UGTD), Ahmed Djama Egueh, President 
of the Djiboutian Labor Union (UDT).  The official newspaper reported 
that the two labor leaders were arrested for inciting mob violence and 
organizing illegal demonstrations (see Section 2.b.).  Although the 
unions are formally independent, the Government forced the dismissal of 
both men from their positions.  The police also arrested several members 
of a parents' organization, including Houssein Robleh, the group's 
president, and detained them at a police camp near the capital city.

In October the Government arrested opposition PND leader, Aden Robleh 
Awaleh, and party spokesman Farah Ali Waberi, for violating a civil 
order not to stage a demonstration.  Both men subsequently received 
suspended 1-month sentences.

There were no developments in the cases of alleged terrorists Awalle 
Guelle Assone and Mohamed Hassan Farah, who were arrested in 1994 for 
the 1990 bombing of a cafe.  The Government's investigation into their 
role in the attack was ongoing at year's end.

The agreement signed with the FRUD in December 1994 granted amnesty to 
all FRUD militants.

  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and magistrates 
are appointed for life terms.  However, in practice the judiciary is not 
independent although the constitutional provisions for a fair trial are 
generally respected in nonpolitical cases.

In June the Government took steps to strengthen the rule of law by 
disbanding the special State Security Court which in the past handled 
cases of espionage, treason, and acts threatening the public order or 
"the interest of the Republic" outside normal judicial channels.  
Another special court, the Superior Court of Justice, rules on cases of 
embezzlement of public funds and is theoretically empowered to try the 
President and government ministers.  The Supreme Court is the only 
judicial body which can overrule decisions from the lower courts.  A 
Constitutional Council rules on the constitutionality of laws, including 
those related to the protection of human rights and civil liberties.

The legal system is composed of legislation and executive decrees, 
French codified law adopted at independence, Shari'a (Islamic) law, and 
traditions of the native nomadic peoples.  Crimes committed in urban 
centers are dealt with in accordance with French-inspired law and 
judicial practice in the regular courts.  Civil actions may be brought 
in these courts or in the 

traditional courts.  Shari'a law is restricted to civil and family 

The Constitution states that the accused is innocent until proven 
guilty, has the right to legal counsel, and the right to be examined by 
a doctor if imprisoned.  Legal counsel is available to the indigent in 
criminal and civil matters.  Court cases are heard in public before a 
presiding judge and two accompanying judges.  The latter receive 
assistance from two persons--assessors--who are not members of the 
bench, but who possess enough sophistication to comprehend legal 
proceedings.  The Government selects the assessors from the public at 
large, and credible reports indicate that political and ethnic 
affiliations may play a role in the appointment process.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

  f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the family, home, 
correspondence, and communications.  The law also requires that the 
authorities obtain a warrant before conducting searches on private 
property.  However, in practice the Government does not always obtain 
warrants before conducting such searches, and it monitors the 
communications of some regime opponents (see Section 1.d.).

In October several persons were slightly injured when national police 
and army troops forcibly drove out several hundred squatters from an 
area in Balbala.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

  a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of the press, and the Government 
generally respects this right in practice.

The Government owns the electronic media, the most important medium for 
reaching the public, as well as the principal weekly newspaper, La 
Nation.  The official media generally do not criticize the President or 
the Government.  There are several opposition-run weekly and monthly 
publications which circulate freely and openly criticize the Government.

The Government does not interfere with foreign broadcasts or prevent the 
distribution of foreign publications.

There are no specific laws or other criminal sanctions that threaten 
academic freedom.  In general, teachers may speak and conduct research 
without restriction as long as they do not violate the laws on sedition.

  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The right to free assembly is provided for in the Constitution, and the 
Government generally respected this right.  However, the Ministry of 
Interior requires permits for peaceful assembly and monitors opposition 
activities.  In September the authorities arrested labor leaders and 
others, in part for alleged illegal demonstrations (see Sections 1.d. 
and 6.a.).  Some opposition leaders effectively practiced self-
censorship and, rather than provoke a government crackdown, refrained 
from organizing popular demonstrations.

The Constitution provides for four political parties.  Nonpolitical 
associations must register with the Ministry of the Interior in 
accordance with a preindependence law.

  c.  Freedom of Religion

Islam is the state religion.  Virtually the entire population is Sunni 
Muslim.  The Government imposes no sanctions on those who choose to 
ignore Islamic teachings.

The foreign community supports Roman Catholic, French Protestant, Greek 
Orthodox, and Ethiopian Orthodox churches.  Foreign clergy and 
missionaries may perform charitable works but proselytizing, while not 
illegal, is discouraged.

  d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
    Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution allows freedom of movement.  This right may be only 
limited by law.

Although the insurgency is over, travel north of Tadjourah and west of 
Dikhil is prohibited without government authorization.  In general, 
Djiboutians may travel or emigrate to foreign countries without 
restriction or interference.  However, some Afar leaders have had their 
passports revoked or have been denied passports, and Muslim women 
planning to travel to certain Gulf countries may be prohibited from 
doing so unless accompanied by a spouse or an adult male.

Djibouti hosts almost 75,000 refugees and illegal immigrants, according 
to government sources.  The United Nations High Commissioner for 
Refugees (UNHCR) acknowledges only the presence of some 23,000 refugees, 
largely from Somalia and Ethiopia, resident in three main refugee camps.  
Since late 1994, the Government in cooperation with the UNHCR has been 
moving illegal residents to refugee camps for repatriation to Ethiopia.  
A similar repatriation of Somalis to northwest Somalia has been delayed 
because of sporadic fighting in Somaliland.  An estimated 10,000 to 
18,000 Afars displaced by the civil war continue to live in Ethiopia, 
though not in refugee camps.  The Government states that the Afars are 
welcome to return, but it suspects that FRUD agitators are persuading 
the refugees not to return home.  Afar refugees also perceive the 
northern region as being unsafe.

In March the Government expelled several hundred Ethiopians, some of 
whom had been long-term illegal residents in Djibouti.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens
      to Change Their Government

Although the 1992 Constitution provides for the right of citizens to 
change their government, in practice citizens have not yet been fully 
allowed to exercise this right.  The RPP has carefully controlled the 
implementation of the new four-party system, and, with the opposition 
largely refusing to participate, easily ensured total RPP control of the 
legislature in 1992 and President Gouled's reelection to a fourth term 
in 1993.  Many Afars, particularly supporters of the FRUD, claim that 
the Constitution was crafted to ensure the President's domination of 
virtually all aspects of the Government, including the legislature and 

The Government signed a peace agreement with the FRUD in December 1994 
which set the stage for the inclusion of FRUD members in senior 
government posts.  In June the Government named two FRUD faction leaders 
who signed the peace accord to a newly reshuffled Cabinet.  Although the 
agreement provided for the recognition of the FRUD as a political party, 
by year's end the FRUD had yet to begin the registration process.

Although legally entitled to participate in the political process, women 
are largely excluded from senior positions in government and in the 
political parties.  There are no women in the Cabinet or in Parliament.  
The highest ranking woman in the country is Mrs. Khadija Abebe, 
President of the Court of Appeals.  At least three other women serve as 
judges, and one is a director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
      Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
      of Human Rights

The Government has been hostile to the formation of local human rights 
groups.  In the case of the Association for the Defense of Human Rights 
and Liberties (ADHRL), in 1993 the Government imprisoned its leader, 
Mohamed Houmed Souleh, after he criticized military abuses in the civil 
conflict, and in 1995 continued to deny the ADHRL recognition.  
Nevertheless, the ADDHL continued to function during the year with 
Souleh as its head.  No other known human rights groups exist, and, 
except for the ICRC, no international human rights group visited the 
country in 1995 (see Section 1.c.).

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of language, 
race, sex, or religion, but discrimination against women and ethnic 
minorities is widespread.  In particular, enforcement of laws to protect 
women and children is weak.


Violence against women exists but does not appear to be a major problem.  
The Government has been concerned about the problem of rape and included 
in the new 1994 Penal Code stiff sentences for rape ranging up to 20 
years in prison.  However, there have been no cases tried under the new 
Code.  When violence against women does occur, it normally is dealt with 
within the family or clan structure rather than in the courts.  The 
police rarely interfere in domestic violence cases, and the media cover 
only the most extreme cases, such as murder.

Women legally possess full civil rights, but in practice, due to 
traditional societal discrimination in education and custom, play a 
secondary role in public life and do not have the same employment 
opportunities as men.  With only a few women in the professions, women 
are largely confined to wage employment in small trade as well as in the 
clerical and secretarial fields.  Customary law discriminates against 
women in such areas as inheritance, divorce, property ownership, and 
travel.  As the French-inspired Legal Code does not sanction such 
discrimination, educated women increasingly seek to defend their 
interests through the regular courts.


The Government devotes virtually no public resources to the advancement 
of children's rights and welfare.  A few charitable organizations work 
with children.

According to an independent expert, as many as 98 percent of Djiboutian 
females 7 years or older have undergone female genital mutilation (FGM).  
FGM is widely condemned by international health experts as damaging to 
both physical and psychological health.  In Djibouti FGM is generally 
performed on girls between the ages of 7 and 10.  In 1988 the Djiboutian 
National Women's Union began an educational campaign against FGM, 
particularly infibulation, the most extensive and dangerous form of 
sexual mutilation.  The campaign has had only marginal impact on this 
custom, which is pervasive  in rural areas.  Judicial reforms enacted in 
1991 stipulate that anyone found guilty of genital mutilation of young 
girls may face a heavy fine and 5 years in prison.  However, the 
Government has not convicted anyone under this statute or under the 
provisions of the new Penal Code which entered into force in April and  
specifically prohibits FGM.

The Government has not specifically addressed other forms of child 
abuse, which are often lightly punished.  For example, when a child is 
raped or otherwise abused, the perpetrator is usually fined an amount 
sufficient to cover medical care given to the injured child.  The 
Government has not as yet used provisions of the new Penal Code to deal 
more stiffly with other domestic violence and child abuse.

  People With Disabilities

The Government does not mandate accessibility to buildings or government 
services for people with disabilities.  Although disabled persons have 
access to education and public health facilities, there is no specific 
legislation that addresses their needs, and there are no laws or 
regulations which prevent job discrimination against disabled people.  
The disabled find it difficult to find employment in an economy where 
approximately 60 percent of the able-bodied male adult population is 
underemployed or jobless.

  National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Government continued to discriminate against citizens on the basis 
of ethnicity in terms of employment and advancement.  The Issa (the 
dominant Somali clan in Djibouti) control the ruling party, the civil 
and security services, and the military.  The President's subclan, the 
Mamassan, is particularly strong and wields disproportionate power in 
the affairs of state.

Section 6  Worker Rights

  a.  The Right of Association

Under the Constitution, workers are free to join unions and to strike 
provided they comply with legally prescribed requirements.  In the small 
wage economy, about 70 percent of workers are union members, 
concentrated in individual private or state-owned enterprises.  
Previously, the Government exerted control over individual unions by 
making membership mandatory in the state-organized labor confederation, 
the General Union of Djiboutian Workers (UGTD).  Since 1992 unions are 
free to join or form other confederations.  While the UGTD is now 
nominally independent of the Government, it still has close ties to the 
RPP.  However, the Democratic Labor Union (UDT) has gained increasing 
union support despite government harassment.

The prescribed legal requirement for initiating a strike calls for the 
representatives of employees who plan to do so to contact the Interior 
Ministry 48 hours in advance.  All strikes in 1995 were legal.  In 
February secondary school teachers struck unsuccessfully over nonpayment 
of salaries and for better benefits.  In September civil servants and 
school teachers struck to protest the Government's austerity measures, 
including the elimination of free housing for government employees.  
Although the Labor Law prohibits employer retribution against strikers, 
the unions claimed that the Government arbitrarily arrested several 
hundred striking workers, including labor leaders, then suspended or 
fired them from their jobs.  The Government said that the unions, for 
political ends, exaggerated the number of arrests but insisted that 
tough measures were necessary to discourage further work stoppages (see 
Section 1.d.).

The Government has not replied to the International Labor Organization 
(ILO) concerning a complaint lodged by the International Confederation 
of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) in 1994.  The ICFTU alleges that on October 
4, 1994, the police searched UDT headquarters without a warrant, 
arrested and detained two union leaders, and assaulted a trade unionist.  
UDT headquarters have remained sealed since the government action.  In 
June the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association deplored the arrests of 
union leaders and urged the Government to investigate the assault on the 
trade unionist, punish those responsible, and allow UDT members free 
access to their headquarters.

Unions are free to maintain relations and exchanges with labor 
organizations abroad.  The UDT has been a member of the ICFTU since 

  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Although labor has the right to organize and bargain collectively, 
collective bargaining rarely occurs.  Relations between employers and 
workers are informal and paternalistic.  Wages are generally established 
unilaterally by employers on the basis of Ministry of Labor guidelines.  
When disputes about wages or health and safety issues arise, the 
Ministry of Labor encourages direct, ad hoc resolution by labor 
representatives and employers.  Workers or employers may request formal 
administrative hearings before the Ministry of Labor's inspection 
service.  The law prohibits antiunion discrimination against employees, 
and employers guilty of such discrimination are legally required to 
reinstate workers fired for union activities.  The Ministry generally 
enforces the law. 

An export processing zone (EPZ) was established in December 1994.  Firms 
in the EPZ are exempt from the Government's social security and medical 
insurance programs.  Instead, they must provide either government or 
private accident insurance.  The minimum wage in the EPZ, which is 
stated on a weekly basis, comes to 0.43 cents per hour.  Elsewhere, it 
is calculated on a monthly basis and comes to 0.44 cents per hour.  The 
regular workweek is 40 hours, while in the EPZ it is 45 hours.  An 
employee having worked for the same firm in the EPZ for at least 1 year 
has the right to 15 days annual leave compared to 30 days in the rest of 
the country (see also Section 6.e.).

  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and while this is 
generally observed, security forces sometimes compel illegal immigrants 
to work for them in lieu of deportation.

  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for the employment of children is 14 years, and the law 
is generally respected.  However, the shortage of labor inspectors 
reduces the likelihood of investigations ever being carried out, 
according to union sources.  Children are generally not employed under 
hazardous conditions.  Children may and do work in family owned 
businesses, such as restaurants and small shops, at all hours.  Many 
street beggars are young children whose parents have forced them to beg 
to help support the family.

  e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

Only a small minority of the population is engaged in wage employment.  
The Government administratively sets minimum wage rates according to 
occupational categories, and the Ministry of Labor is charged with 
enforcement.  Last raised in 1982, the minimum monthly wage rate is 
approximately $200 (35,900 Djiboutian francs) for a 12-hour day of 
unskilled labor.  Many workers also receive housing and transportation 
allowances.  Even with these fringe benefits, however, the minimum wage 
does not provide adequate compensation for a worker and family to 
maintain a decent standard of living.

By law, the workweek is 40 hours, often spread over 6 days.  Workers are 
guaranteed daily and weekly rest periods and paid annual leave.  The 
Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing occupational health and 
safety standards, wages, and work hours.  Because enforcement is 
ineffective, workers sometimes face hazardous working conditions, 
particularly at the port.  Workers rarely protest as they fear 
replacement by others willing to accept the risks.  There are no laws or 
regulations permitting workers to refuse to carry out dangerous work 
assignments without jeopardy to continued employment.


[end of document]


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