The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Somalia is a state party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Somalia is also a state party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the state has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Somalia is a state party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Somalia is a signatory but not a state party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 20(1) of the 2012 Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia provides that:
Every person has the right to organize and participate in meetings, and to demonstrate and protest peacefully, without requiring prior authorization.
The primary legislation governing assembly in Somalia is the 1963 Public Order Act, although it has little practical influence.
After the formation of Federal Government in 2013, several public meetings, including some seeking to criticise government actions, were dispersed by the security forces. Holding a public meeting was subjected to a political decision. Any public assembly must get approval from district commissioner where it would be held.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the state and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and prioportionate to that purpose.
There is no recent legislation governing police use of force during assemblies.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
There is no recent legislation governing police use of firearms during assemblies.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
Somalia has not come before the Human Rights Committee in recent years.
In its 2016 Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council, Somalia stated that it had "undertaken efforts to make the public aware of the challenges in its role of ensuring both the security of the nation and citizens’ rights to expression and assembly".
The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights has not addressed the right of peaceful assembly in Somalia. Somalia has not yet submitted a national report on its implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights .
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Somalia:
Although the provisional constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, security officials require approval for demonstrations and have used violence to suppress unauthorized protests. Nevertheless, citizens do assemble in urban centers. In August, mostly young protesters in Mogadishu called on authorities to make arrests for the murder of Mohamed Sheikh Ali, an entrepreneur known for his attempts to promote small business in the city. December saw protests in the capital against the legislative proposal to impeach President Mohamed.
Separately, the same month, a parliamentarian and a bystander were killed when security forces fired on a protest in Baidoa against the arrest by Ethiopian peacekeeping forces of Robow, a former Al-Shabaab leader who was running in South West State’s presidential election.
According to CIVICUS:
The authorities rarely respect the freedom to assemble peacefully even though this right is enshrined in Article 20 of Somalia’s constitution. Protesters have been killed or injured by security forces using live ammunition to disperse them. Further the authorities regularly denies requests to gather, even if those meetings are small scale and held indoors. The state also has been reported to intimidate and threaten leaders of the Federation of Somali Trade Unions and the National Union of Somali Journalists.