As Djibouti gears up for its presidential election on 8 April 2016, the government has significantly tightened its grip over civic and political space, with reports of repeated violations of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Since parliamentary elections were held in February 2013, Djibouti has been battling a worsening political crisis.
The framework for dialogue and civil harmony signed by the government and the opposition on 30 December 2013 has yet to be implemented. Since then, the repression of independent and critical voices within the country has only increased, with a particular tightening of the political space of the opposition and independent unions. (**13)
The presidential campaign for the president’s fourth mandate began in October 2015, and resulted in quasi-daily human rights violations. In the run up to the presidential elections, hundreds of individuals have reportedly been arbitrarily arrested and tortured in connection with their affiliation to the political opposition, and the offices and homes of opposition leaders have been raided.
Many were never presented with charges or brought before a court, but were detained for several days before being released, according to the Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits de l’Homme. (**14)
Freedom of peaceful assembly and association
Since September 2015, rights groups have recorded a significant increase in arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as acts of violence, harassment and intimidation against opposition leaders and activists, independent journalists, human rights defenders, and the civilian population more broadly. (**15)
On 10 December 2015, Saïd Hussein Robleh, the Secretary General of the Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits de l’Homme (**LDDH), the only remaining human rights organisation in the country, and an opposition member of parliament, was insulted and publicly beaten by the Chief of Police while sitting in a café. He was prevented from leaving, and had to be hospitalised to treat the serious injuries he sustained after the beating. (**16)
On 24 November 2015, the Government of Djibouti adopted restrictive measures to limit the right to peaceful assembly after the Paris and Bamako terrorist attacks. A state of emergency was established, effectively giving the authorities the power to dissolve peaceful assemblies without due process. Since its establishment, violence against opposition groups and critics of the government has intensified.
Freedom of expression
On 21 December 2015, during a public gathering for a religious festival in Bouljougo, at least 27 people were killed and over 150 wounded by government forces.(**17) The government responded to the Ligue Diboutienne des Droits de l’Homme’s advocacy on the massacre with further attacks, and later on 21 December 2015, the organisation’s General Secretary, Saïd Hussein Robleh, and the President of opposition party Union pour le Salut National (USN) were shot by police forces. Robleh received bullets in the throat and collarbone. Despite his critical injuries from the shooting, his discharge was ordered from French military hospital Bouffard on 29 December 2015.
The same day, Omar Ali Ewado, one of the leaders of LDDH, was arrested by the National Gendarmerie and held incommunicado for several days. Ewado had published a provisional list of victims of the 21 December massacre.
Additionally, police raided the offices of LDDH on 29 December, and the organisation archives and computer equipment were seized. (**18) After his appearance in court on 3 January 2016, Ewado was transferred to Gabode Central Prison without access to his family.
On 7 January2016 he was charged with public defamation for inciting hatred and spreading false news related to the 21 December 2015 massacre and was handed a prison sentence of 3 months on 17 January 2016. He was released on 14 February 2016 after the Appeal Court found that the constitutive elements used in his trial were not valid, after serving 1,5 months of his sentence. (**19)
Foreign interests in Djibouti
Djibouti’s international airport continues to host the United States Naval Expeditionary Base, Camp Lemonnier, which is a known base for the United States’ drone operations in Yemen and elsewhere. The military headquarters have been used by US Special Forces for covert, anti-terror and other operations in Yemen and in Africa. France and Japan also have bases in the port, which is used by many foreign navies to fight piracy in neighbouring Somalia. On 25 February 2016, China’s Ministry of Defence confirmed the start of the construction of support facilities for the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) in Djibouti. (**20)
(**13) Political deadlock and intensified repression, three months prior the presidential election, FIDH, EHAHRDP and LDDH, 19 January 2016, https://www.fidh.org/en/region/Africa/djibouti/political-deadlock-and-intensified-repressionthree-months-prior-the
(**14) Rapport Annuel 2015, Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits de l’Homme, 11 March 2016, http://www.lddh.net/?p=1391
(**15) Political deadlock and intensified repression, three months prior the presidential election, FIDH, EHAHRDP and LDDH, 19 January 2016, https://www.fidh.org/en/region/Africa/djibouti/political-deadlock-and-intensified-repressionthree-months-prior-the
(**16) Djibouti, Ethiopia, and South Sudan: DefendDefenders Condemns Attacks and Arrests of HRDs and Journalists, EHAHRDP, 15 January 2016, https://www.defenddefenders.org/2016/01/djibouti-ethiopia-and-south-sudandefenddefenders-condemns-attacks-and-arrests-of-hrds-and-journalists/
(**17) L’escalade dans la répression fait au moins 27 morts à Djibouti, Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme, 23 Décembre 2015, https://www.fidh.org/fr/regions/afrique/djibouti/lescalade-dans-la-repression-fait-au-moins-27-morts-a-djibouti
(**18) Djibouti, Ethiopia, and South Sudan: DefendDefenders Condemns Attacks and Arrests of HRDs and Journalists, EHAHRDP, 15 January 2016, https://www.defenddefenders.org/2016/01/djibouti-ethiopia-and-south-sudandefenddefenders-condemns-attacks-and-arrests-of-hrds-and-journalists/
(**19) Djibouti : Libération de M. Omar Ali Ewado, membre fondateur de la Ligue Djiboutienne des Droits Humains, Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme, 16 February 2016, https://www.fidh.org/fr/themes/defenseurs-des-droits-humains/djibouti-liberation-de-momar-ali-ewado-membre-fondateur-de-la-ligue
(**20) Defense Ministry’s regular press conference, Ministry of National Defence of the People’s Republic of China, 25 February 2016, 02/25/content_4644801.htm