Somalia

Last updated: 2 January 2023

Introduction

Civil society continues to operate in Somalia under complex circumstances and with different requirements in three separate regions: Somaliland, Puntland, and South Somalia (Mogadishu). To some extent, it seems civil society is working in different countries altogether.

Civil society plays an active role in public life and has been effective in mobilizing the public through building awareness, advocating for policy reform, and, to some extent, performing service-related functions. During the country’s civil wars, aid agencies relied on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to help deliver relief to people in need in remote areas. The military ruler, Said Barre, abolished civil liberties and freedoms in Somalia in 1969, but civic space re-emerged after the collapse of the government in 1991. At the time, the country was fully destroyed and national institutions ineffective. Groups came together voluntarily to assist in delivering relief to people in need in areas such as education and health. Later, social groups, such as youth, women, and people with disabilities, advocated for their rights to be respected.

Currently, professional associations, social associations, community committees and clan committees, policy dialogue think tanks, relief organizations, and foundations exist and operate throughout Somalia. Interest groups, such as business groups supporting the political agendas of the political parties, have also had an impact, including in the election in 2017. Since 2017, a number of policy institutes and think tanks have joined Somali NGOS and have focused mostly on research, policy analysis, and public discussions. As the political situation in Somalia has become more stable, policy discussion, in particular, has become more widespread. The use of Twitter Spaces, Zoom, and other social media platforms by policy institutions has assisted policy institutes and think tanks to disseminate their findings widely and reach a larger audience.

Regional Differences

While there has been some political progress in Somali state-building initiatives, little governance progress has been made, and security remains fragile. Civil rights activists and human rights defenders operate in a climate of fear. The risk may come from state authorities or non-state actors, such as terrorist groups in South Somalia.

Somaliland and Puntland, however, are mostly at peace, and civil rights and freedoms are generally more respected than in South Somalia. However, political repression is increasing. Specifically, there has been a rise in targeted arrests of writers, poets, activists, and journalists, several of whom have been charged with inciting instability and undermining national security.

The fact that national laws are not yet harmonized and the country is transitioning from a unitary to a federal system places pressure on civil society operations across the country. For instance, an NGO may have to undergo multiple registration processes in different regions.

The laws of the three regions include pro-unitary Somali laws enacted after independence in 1960 and still in force and pro-decentralization laws developed since 2012. South Somalia has a civil law legal system, but there are also uncodified rules that govern the country in its post-conflict state. The transition from a unitary system of governance to a federal structure has created confusion and conflict of law; any dispute on the application of the various laws may adversely affect civil liberties and NGOs.

In Somalia, it is, therefore, difficult to harmonize the legal frameworks of all sectors, including the laws governing NGO operations, across federal member states and the federal government. Since 2017, federal member states have established ministries and agencies responsible for the coordination and management of NGO work. However, the federal Parliament and federal level bodies have failed to effectively coordinate and harmonize procedures and regulations at different levels. Uncoordinated systems have forced all NGOs in Somalia to adhere to distinct internal laws created by federal member states.

At times, disagreements between the federal government and federal member states have a negative impact on NGO operations. For instance, Jubaland and the federal government disagreed over the Jubaland state election in 2019, which had a negative impact on NGO operations. The federal government went as far as restricting flights to Kismayo, which is the capital city of Jubaland.

Constitutions and Legal Frameworks

The fundamental rights and basic freedoms enshrined in the international bills of human rights, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESR) are formally incorporated in the transitional national (federal) constitution of South Somalia and regional constitutions/charters. However, application of these rights is limited either by law or practice.

The national Constitution and national legislation of South Somalia are the supreme laws of the land, while Somaliland and Puntland have their own constitutions/charters, which must be in line with federal laws. Some of the legislation required by the national Constitution has been developed, while other legislation has not yet been formulated or is pending in the lawmaking process.

In general, the current overall legal frameworks provide a supportive environment for the establishment and operation of civil society and for the recognition and protection of civil liberties and fundamental rights. Nevertheless, Somalia’s draft NGO law, which would include provisions supportive of NGO operations, is still not in effect. Moreover, there are challenges with respect to implementing constitutional provisions, which undermine an otherwise legally supportive environment.

Organizational Forms
NGOs (South Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland)
Registration Body
In both Somaliland and Puntland, to register an NGO with the Ministry of Planning, the laws require annual registration, with application and renewal forms submitted each year.

In South Somalia, the Ministry of Interior Affairs licenses NGOs, but the Ministry of National Planning regulates their performance. In addition, in South Somalia and in other states, local governments also license NGOs, creating a multi-layered registration and licensing system.

Approximate Number
Registered domestic NGOs total around 2,000 in Somaliland, 1,000 in Puntland, and 2,000 in Mogadishu.

In October 2018, 52 INGOs were reportedly working in all of Somalia.

Barriers to Entry
In both Somaliland and Puntland, to register an NGO, an applicant must comply with a list of requirements at the registrars in the Ministry of Planning. The laws require annual registration, with application and renewal forms submitted each year.

NGOs are required to pay a registration fee and charges, which amount to $110 in Somaliland and $200 in Puntland. In addition, NGOs must pay an annual renewal registration fee of $60 in Somaliland and $100 in Puntland.

Barriers to Operations/Activities
In 2018, Somaliland moved to expel national NGOs registered in South Somalia and the security committee/public order authority may request the court to dissolve an organization within three months on the grounds of national security.

Throughout Somalia, NGOs implement their programs in collaboration with government authorities, and in high-risk areas they usually move escorted by the police, with cost recovery required for the police.

The Public Order Law of Somalia establishes public order authorities at the national, regional and district levels (Art. 2) which, in cases of “urgent necessity” (Art. 10), have the right to enter premises where activities are carried out at any time.

Associations in Somaliland required to submit their constitution, regulations, activities, founders, and office details to regional governors, which is duplicative of the requirements under the NGO laws of Somalia, Somaliland, and Puntland.

Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy
In Somaliland journalists and also several non-journalists have been arrested for expressing their views, including on social media, and media centers have been shut down or suspended. Journalists have also been detained and even murdered for their reporting in South Somalia.

Somaliland outlawed the operation of independent radio stations as well as the BBC.

Barriers to International Contact
No significant barriers.
Barriers to Resources
The NGO laws of Puntland (Art. 8(6)) and Somaliland (Art. 11(7)) restrict the use of NGO resources for “commercial activities”, but do not provide details on the nature and scope of the prohibited commercial activities.
Barriers to Assembly
1963 Public Order Law of Somalia is written in English, and as such, has been largely inaccessible and incomprehensible to many people.

Provisions related to protests, dispersing protestors, suspending ongoing protests, administrative interim remedies, and contingency arrest powers under the Public Order Law of Somaliland (Arts. 8, 9) and the Public Order and Security Law of Somalia (Art. 13) are vaguely drafted, thus inviting law enforcement to exercise discretion in applying the law.

Somalia Public Order and Security Law (Art. 13) and Somaliland Public Order Law (Art. 13) requires an assembly, gathering, or protest to be held in a public place or in a place open to the public shall notify the district commissioner at least three days in advance.

Throughout Somalia, political demonstrations, campaigns, or rallies are not permitted at religious places, social service centers (such as schools and hospitals), and public service offices.

Opposition parties have been denied the right to hold peaceful demonstrations in Somaliland.

Population
12,386,248 (2022 est.)
Capital
Mogadishu
Type of Government
Federal parliamentary republic
Life Expectancy at Birth
Total population: 55.72 years male; 53.39 years female; 58.12 years (2022 est.)
Literacy Rate
N/A
Religious Groups
Sunni Muslim (Islam)
Ethnic Groups
Somali 85%, Bantu and other non-Somalis 15% (including 30,000 Arabs)
GDP per capita
$800 (2020 est.)

Source: CIA World Factbook

Ranking Body
Rank
Ranking Scale
(best – worst)
UN Human Development Index
N/A 1 – 182
World Justice Project Rule of Law Index
N/A 100 – 0
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
2 (2022) 179 – 1
Transparency International
178 (2021) 1 – 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the World
Status: Free
Political Rights: 1
Civil Liberties: 6 (2022)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements
Ratification*
Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
Yes 1990
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)
Yes 1990
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
Yes 1990
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)
Yes 1975
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
Yes 2015
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
Yes 2019
Regional Treaties
Constitutive Act of the African Union
Yes 2001

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

Somalia adopted an interim national Constitution in August 2012, which governs all of South Somalia – that is, all of Somalia except for Somaliland, Puntland, Jubbaland, Galmudug, Hirshaballe, and Southwest. Somaliland, which is technically a regional state and is considered by the international community to be part of Somalia, considers itself independent and has its own constitution, which was adopted in 2001. In addition, each of the other regional states (Puntland, Jubbaland, Galmudug, Hirshaballe, and Southwest) has its own constitution, which must be in line with the federal one.

The finalization of the Somali Constitution, which has remained in draft form since 2012, became one of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud’s top priorities after he assumed the presidency in May 2022. The newly elected houses also appointed constitutional review committees in charge of finalizing the Constitution consultation process, and the Senate and Lower House will play a crucial role in resolving outstanding issues and putting the current interim national Constitution to a public referendum. On August 2, 2022 , the Prime Minister appointed a new Minister of Justice and Constitutional affairs to lead the Constitution consultation process.

Chapter 2 of the current national Constitution grants fundamental rights to citizens: “Every person has the right to organize and participate in meetings, and to demonstrate and protest peacefully, without requiring prior authorization. Every person has the right to present petitions to State Institutions.” (Art. 16) However, the Constitution does not specifically mention NGOs; civil society, therefore, operates based on the provisions of Art. 16. The rights set in the Constitution may be limited by law, provided that the limitations do not target any particular individuals or groups and that they are demonstrable, reasonable, and justified according to the values underlying the constitution. (Art. 38)

In Somaliland, Art. 23(3) of the Constitution provides for the freedom of association: “All citizens shall have the right to form, in accordance with the law, political, educational, cultural, social, and occupational or employee associations.” However, “[a]ssociations with objectives which are contrary to the national interests or are secret or are military in nature or armed or are otherwise against the law, whatever their outward appearance might be, are prohibited.” (Art. 23(4))

Puntland is subject to the national Constitution, but as an autonomous region, has its own Constitution as well, which similarly enshrines the freedom of opinion, freedom of association and freedom of the press. Like South Somalia and Somaliland, Puntland’s Constitution forbids political parties and associations that are contrary to national interests or that fail to abide by the law (Art. 28(2)).

Almost all of the constitutions of the regional states in Somalia, such as Jubaland, Southwest, Galmudug, Hirshabelle as well as Puntland and Somaliland, have similar protections for the right to form political parties and associations and the freedoms of expression and assembly.

The national Constitution and all state constitutions have also recognized and protected the freedoms of expression and of the media. Under Article 18 of the national constitution, for example:

  • Every person has the right to have and express their opinions and to receive and impart their opinion, information and ideas in any way.
  • Freedom of expression includes freedom of speech, and freedom of the media, including all forms of electronic and web-based media.
  • Every person has the right to freely express their artistic creativity, knowledge, and information gathered through research.

Article 32 of the Somaliland constitution states:

  • Every citizen shall have the freedom, in accordance with the law, to express his opinions orally, visually, artistically or in writing or in any other way.

Article 25 of the Puntland constitution states:

  • Every person shall have the right to display free expression of his/her opinion.
  • The person can freely express his/her opinion in oral, press, writing, media, audio-visual, literature and other methods according to the law without any interference.

The constitutional limitations under the federal and all regional state constitutions are similar. As noted above, under Article 38 of the national constitution:

  • The rights set out in this Chapter may be limited by law, provided that the law is not targeted at any particular individuals or groups.
  • A right may be limited by law, or by specific exceptions in this Chapter, only if that limitation is demonstrably reasonable and justified according to the values underlying this Constitution.

Under Article 25(4) of the Somaliland constitution:

  • The freedoms of the person shall not override the laws protecting the public morals, the security of the country or the rights of other individuals.

Under Article 32(3) of the Puntland constitution:

  • All forms of personal liberty shall be in conformity with the Islamic Sharia, Law, moral dignity, national stability or the personal rights of the others.

National Laws

Generally, all national legislation in Somalia before 1991 is still applicable and effective nationwide, with the exception of oppressive laws imposed by the previous military regime, which were repealed. There is also legislation passed since 2012, when the country officially adopted federalism under the Garowe II Principles of February 15-17, 2012, which were approved by the six signatories and are enforceable only in South Somalia; Somaliland adopted separate legislation for its own governance after 2012. The list of legislation and regulations affecting civil society and civic freedom may be classified as below:

South Somalia (Somali Federal Government) Somaliland Puntland
Civil Code Law No: 37 of 1973 Civil Code Law No: 37 of 1973 Civil Code Law No: 37 of 1973
Draft NGO law (as of 2018) NGO Law No. 43/2010 Law No. 3/2016
By Laws For The Completion and Clarification of the NGO Law No. 43/2010
Code of conduct for the NGOs
Federal tax legislation Inland Revenue Law No. 72/2016 Income Tax Legislation (Lr. No. 5) (Direct Tax law)
Public Order Law No. 21/1963 Public Order and Security Law No. 51/2012 Public Order Law No. 21/1963
Somali Police Law No. 2/1972 Somaliland Police Law (amended in 2018) Somali Police Law No. 2/1972
Somali Labour Law No. 5/1980 Labour Law No. 31/2004 Puntland Labour Code No. 65
Somalia Media Law 2007 Press Law No. 27/2004 Puntland Media Law (as of 2016)
National Human Rights Commission Law, 2016 National Human Rights Commission Law No. 39/2010 Office of Human Rights Defender Law No. 11/2011
Legal professionals Law No. 30/2004 (amended in 2013)

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

1. South Somalia Draft NGO Bill: The national government has not yet been able to pass parliamentary legislation to regulate civil society. A collaborative drafting process was launched in 2018, with the Somalia NGO Consortium providing input on behalf of civil society. In December 2019, the Cabinet passed the NGO Bill. NGOs have since formed an advocacy group to urge the federal Parliament to actively engage NGOs and pass the Bill. Although it still remains a draft, there is optimism among NGOs that the new Parliament and its sub-committees will prioritize its passage. For example, on August 20, 2022, Parliament appointed sub-committees. One of the sub-committees’ responsibilities is to assess outstanding bills and unfinished business of the previous Parliament and present those bills for discussion and approval. It is anticipated that newly constituted sub-committees will review the NGO bill.

The Bill intends to regulate the operations and registration of NGOs in Somalia, to create an enabling environment, and to provide for the appointment of the registrar-general and registrars for registering NGOs. It defines NGO as “an autonomous, independent body or association of persons, or any institution established for a public benefit or purpose; and the income and property of which is not distributable to its members or office-bearers except as reasonable compensation for services rendered.” (Art. 2) With respect to classifications, the law provides for only two types of NGOs: international and local NGOs.

The Federal Ministry of Planning would be mandated to register, regulate the operations of, and oversee NGOs through registrars-general or registrars in South Somalia and the regional states. The procedure for recognition and certification of NGOs under South Somalia’s draft bill is similar to the procedures in the existing NGO laws in Somaliland and Puntland.

Under Article 10 of the South Somalia draft bill, NGOs may apply for registration by submitting to the Registrar-General or their appointees the completed registration form, along with the following documents:

  • Three copies of the constitution of the organization;
  • Names and contacts of the founders of the organization;
  • Names of the office bearers of the organization;
  • Suggested names for registration in name search form; and
  • Proof of payment of prescribed fees for name search and registration paid into a specified bank account.

The Bill would exempt from taxation funds raised to finance an NGO’s operations. The individuals employed by NGOs would be, however, subject to income tax. The draft Income Tax Bill, which is pending before the South Somalia’s parliament, would create exemptions from taxing charitable or not-for-profit organizations.

2. South Somalia Media Law: The current South Somalia Press Law is widely believed to restrict media freedom. It was passed in 2007 when the country was under transitional institutions and there was a war between the Ethiopian forces and transitional institutions on the one hand and militants of nationalist liberation forces and al-Shabab on the other. While the Law was amended in 2016, media organizations have advocated for a further review to ensure the fundamental rights of the media to operate freely are protected. In response, the South Somali cabinet approved a package of amendments in July 2017 and forwarded them to the parliament for approval and adoption. The amendments remain pending but are not readily available to the public.

3. Somaliland Press Law No. 27/2004: Journalists have been struggling to advocate for amendments to Somaliland’s Press Law, but there has been no progress. The government applies criminal legislation for offences such as defamation. Journalists are advocating for a Press Law that decriminalizes defamation and establishes civil liability for violations.

4. Puntland Media Draft Law: This draft law was amended by the Puntland Parliament in June 2016 with the objective of increasing media protection. The law is pending and has moved between parliament and the executive several times.

5. Somaliland and its international partners have developed a number of frameworks to coordinate working relationships. Accordingly, Somaliland has primarily requested that the UN and INGOs work with Somaliland as independent nations rather than through Mogadishu, which has affected working relationships and INGOs’ operations. To resolve this issue, the Somaliland Government, the UN, and international partners organized a committee tasked with drafting a new working framework; this framework has been accepted and is ready for implementation.

Organizational Forms

The Somaliland and Puntland authorities have adopted legislation governing NGOs, while South Somalia’s draft law on NGOs has yet to be passed.

Somaliland recognizes three types of NGOs: local NGOs, international NGOs, and foreign NGOs. According to the Somaliland NGO Law No. 43/2010, a local NGO is any organization registered in and thus operating only in Somaliland. (Art. 1) A wide variety of organizational types, including community associations, foundations, think-tanks, pressure or interest groups, community-based committees, and ad hoc fora, among others, are all able to register as “local NGOs”. (Art. 1) Legal and professional organizations are an exception, regulated under a separate law by the Ministry of Justice.

Although the law distinguishes between international and foreign NGOs, it does not provide for substantially different treatment. The only difference is that foreign NGOs are those registered in only one country, while international NGOs are those registered in more than one country. The law also recognizes NGO consortia and provides for an advisory committee to facilitate the activities of NGOs.

Puntland’s NGO Law is similar to Somaliland’s law in its scope of administration, classification, registration procedure, duties, and restrictions. However, it does not include an advisory committee to facilitate the activities of NGOs.

The exact number of domestic NGOs and INGOs operating in Somalia is difficult to determine because the data is scattered across the regions. In October 2018, Oxfam reported 52 INGOs were working in all of Somalia. Registered domestic NGOs total around 2,000 in Somaliland, 1,000 in Puntland, and 2,000 in Mogadishu.

Public Benefit Status

In Somaliland, Puntland, and South Somalia, NGO transactions are taxed on the same basis as private sector businesses and are subject to the value added tax (VAT), income tax charged against staff income working with NGOs, vehicle road tax, and property tax.

According to the Somaliland Inland Revenue Act, “[t]he charitable or not-for-profit private organizations that are approved by and registered with the Somaliland Revenue Authority are referred to as ‘exempt persons’ and are exempt from tax to the extent provided by this Act.” (Art. 5) Under Article 217, the donations given to these organizations are similarly tax-exempt. The procedure for obtaining tax exempt status is based on Somaliland’s Guidelines for Working in Somaliland for International Organizations. (Page 19) The applicant for tax exempt status is required to work with the Ministry of Planning and the Ministry of Finance. The applicant submits a memo to the Ministry of Planning, as described in the chart in the Guidelines. The Ministry of Planning then reviews and approves the request and submits it to the Ministry of Finance’s revenue department. The Ministry of Finance then facilitates the effectuation of the request. There is no timeframe to process a request even though NGOs invest considerable time and effort to navigate these various hurdles.

As part of public finance management system (PFM), Somaliland’s inland revenue is adopting a tax identification number (TIN) that requires all INGOs and local NGOs to register and pay their taxes, such as staff payroll income tax, project tax, and contract tax, via a digital system. INGOs and local NGOs are unable to renew their registration certificates with the Ministry of planning unless they have obtained a TIN number and tax clearance certificate from the Ministry of finance.

Public Participation

Somalia’s Ministry of Interior and Somaliland’s Ministry of Planning have put links to their websites and forms that INGOs and NGOs need to fill out when they want to register a new organization or renew their certificates. Obtaining information is, therefore easier now than it was in the past.

Barriers to Entry

Registration

In both Somaliland and Puntland, to register an NGO, an applicant must comply with a list of requirements at the registrars in the Ministry of Planning. The laws require annual registration, with application and renewal forms submitted each year. In Somaliland, the application and annual renewal forms for local and international NGOs are uploaded on the Ministry’s webpage. According to the January 15, 2019 Ministerial decree, the application and renewal form templates have been revised and translated into Somali.

According to Article 13(1) of the Somaliland NGO law:

Any non-governmental organization to be registered should submit to the registrar the following documents:

  • The prescribed registration form completed and attached to:
  • Organizational constitution;
  • Photographs of the founding members;
  • Criminal record clearance of the founding member;
  • Resumes of the founding members;
  • Organizational asset; and
  • Annual workplan.
  • Functional office, address, unique suggested name, and logo for registration
  • Copies of the constitution authenticated by attorney and equally signed off by all founding members;
  • Organizational structure with job descriptions;
  • List of qualified staff to operationalize;
  • Organizational objectives, goals and activities has to be in line with the national legislations; and
  • Proof of payment of prescribed fee for registration paid to the inland revenue office

According to Article 13(2) of the Puntland NGO law:

Any non-governmental organization to be registered should submit to the registrar the following documents:

  • Application for the registration of the NGO detailing suggested name, headquarters, and branches and the founding members and address
  • Organizational objectives and the geographical coverage of the organization
  • Proof of payment of prescribed tax for registration paid to the revenue office ( 10(1)).

Community-based committees and ad hoc groups are the only unregistered groups that are allowed to form or operate under all three laws, and these groups do exist. Under the Puntland and Somaliland NGO laws, unregistered national NGOs are not mentioned, but international NGOs not registered with the Ministry of Planning are prohibited from any operations in both locations (Art. 24 of Puntland NGO Law and Art. 29 of Somaliland NGO Law). However, these laws do not provide any specific penalties for unregistered organizations carrying out activities.

As there is no legislation on NGOs in South Somalia, it has different registration practices in place. The Ministry of Interior Affairs licenses NGOs, but the Ministry of National Planning regulates their performance. In addition, in South Somalia and in other states, local governments also license NGOs, creating a multi-layered registration and licensing system.

The registration of international NGOs in Somaliland and Puntland is subject to specific requirements, including submitting their registration license from their country of origin and detailing resources raised from outside Somalia. (Art. 31 of Somaliland NGO law and Art. 26 of Puntland NGO law) In Somaliland, registration and renewal for an international NGOs are limited to the duration of the project they are implementing, while in Puntland international NGOs are required to seek annual registration. In practice, international NGOs frequently operate from Nairobi, Kenya and are represented in Somalia by field offices. The federal government has been pressuring NGOs to minimize the operational costs and reduce bureaucracy by basing their operations in Somalia instead of in Kenya.

Founding Members

The South Somalia draft NGO bill and Puntland NGO Law do not discriminate by nationality, age, or number of founding members for registration of an NGO. However, under the Somaliland NGO law, at least five citizens or resident foreigners are required to establish a national NGO. (Art. 12) In addition, the Somaliland and Puntland laws designate the number of NGOs required to form a consortium: 15 NGOs in Somaliland (Art. 11) and 5 NGOs in Puntland (Art. 16). In Somaliland, according to a Ministry of National Planning update on new registration/renewal of NGOs (Ref: WQHQ/D5/32/2019 of January 15, 2019), the application forms also include a requirement to submit the organization’s assets, list of staff, and budget, although there is no minimum required amount of assets.

Review of Registration Applications

Both the South Somalia draft NGO bill and Somaliland NGO law mandate that their respective Ministries of Planning, advisory committees/boards, and registrars all play a role in the registration of NGOs. (Art. 6 of the South Somalia draft NGO bill and Art. 6 of Somaliland NGO law) By contrast, the Puntland NGO law does not provide for an oversight committee or board.

Under the Somaliland and Puntland laws, the Ministry of Planning has discretionary authority to refuse registration on the grounds of false or misleading information. The South Somalia draft NGO bill, by contrast, would require registration to be processed within 90 days of submission of all required documents. The three laws provide different remedies after refusal. The South Somalia draft NGO bill would provide the opportunity to lodge an appeal to the relevant court within 30 days of receipt of the decision, while the Somaliland NGO Law provides no opportunity to appeal and requires the organization to wait for one year before it renews its request for registration. The Puntland NGO Law does not mention any next steps if the initial request is refused. The South Somalia draft bill states that a certificate of registration is valid for five years from the date of issuance and renewable after expiration. (Art. 10) In Somaliland and Puntland, registration must be renewed annually.

Under the Somaliland and Puntland NGO laws and the South Somalia draft NGO bill, an organization’s registration may be cancelled for failure to comply with provisions of the laws, provided that the organization receives a warning (Art. 41 of Somaliland NGO Law, Art. 37 of Puntland NGO law, and Art. 17 of the South Somali draft NGO bill).

Fees and Penalties

NGOs are required to pay a registration fee and charges, which amount to $110 in Somaliland and $200 in Puntland. In addition, NGOs must pay an annual renewal registration fee of $60 in Somaliland and $100 in Puntland. The South Somalia draft NGO bill does not require registration or renewal fees.

The Somaliland and Puntland NGO laws prohibit NGOs from pursuing the following activities:

  • Political activities and campaigns for specific political parties or associations;
  • Inciting, organizing or assisting violent confrontations, fighting or obtaining of arms;
  • Involvement in the use of arms and explosive materials or dealing in the importation of narcotic substances;
  • Using the organization’s resources for activities against the national interest, religious values, public morality or discrimination (Art. 16 of Somaliland NGO law and Art. 8 of Puntland NGO law).

The South Somalia draft NGO bill includes general provisions related to violations of the law. Suggested penalties include fines determined based on the circumstances.

Comparison of Somaliland and Puntland Entry Requirements

Issue Somaliland Puntland
Application requirements for NGO registration ·      The prescribed registration form completed and attached to:

ü  Organizational constitution;

ü  Photographs of the founding members;

ü  Criminal record clearance of the founding member;

ü  Resumes of the founding members;

ü  Organizational asset; and

ü  Annual workplan.

·      Functional office, address, unique suggested name and logo for registration

·      Copies of the constitution authenticated by attorney and equally signed off by all founding members

·      Organizational structure with job descriptions

·      List of qualified staff to operationalize;

·      Organizational objectives, goals and activities has to be in line with the national legislations

·      Proof of payment of prescribed fee for registration paid to the inland revenue office

·      Application for the registration of the NGO detailing suggested name, HQ and branches and the founding members and address

·      Organizational objectives and the geographical coverage of the organization

·      Proof of payment of prescribed tax for registration paid to the revenue office (Art. 10(1)).

Minimum number of founding members of a consortium 15 NGOs 5 NGOs
Oversight Ministry of Planning, advisory committee/board, and registrars for the registration of NGOs Ministry of Planning
NGO registration fee $110 $200

Barriers to Operational Activity

Jurisdictional conflict

In 2018, Somaliland moved to expel national NGOs registered in South Somalia. As a result, the registrations of six NGOs were cancelled on grounds of unspecified violations of the Somaliland NGO law, according to a Ministerial press release by the deputy Minister of Planning. They were apparently expelled as part of Somaliland’s disengagement from South Somalia. The NGOs were registered in “another country” (i.e., Somalia), so they could not be registered in Somaliland as domestic NGOs.

Termination on grounds of national security

According to the Somaliland Public Order and Security Law (Art. 36) and the Somalia Public Order Law (Art. 61), the security committee/public order authority may request the court to dissolve an organization within three months on the grounds of national security. The court can give the organization a warning, and if nothing changes, can dissolve the organization. However, the organization may appeal the dissolution in court. Because the power to register and cancel NGOs rests only with the Ministry of National Planning, this creates a conflict between government entities.

Duplicative reporting

The Somaliland Public Order and Security Law and Somalia Public Order Law require associations, regardless of their nature, to submit their constitution, regulations, activities, founders, and office details to the regional governors. Not only is this duplicative of the requirements under the NGO laws of Somalia, Somaliland, and Puntland, but it also makes NGOs accountable for reporting to both the Ministry of Planning and the Ministry of Interior, as well as possibly line ministries.

In early 2018, the federal government notified all international NGOs stationed outside Somalia with projects in Somalia that they must relocate their main offices to Somalia, with the stated intention of minimizing NGO operational costs and facilitating closer coordination with government line ministries. In January 2019, Puntland also issued a new directive on the information required from international organizations seeking tax exemption in Puntland state. At the same time, Somaliland revised the registration and renewal application templates and annual reporting templates for both national and international organizations.

Lastly, international and national NGOs must work with the relevant line ministries that have jurisdiction over the area of their work. For instance, organizations focused on women’s empowerment work with the Ministry of Youth, and those addressing gender-based violence work with the Ministry of Social Affairs. These Ministries monitor the NGOs’ performance. As a result, each organization must report to both the line ministry and the Ministry of National Planning, the latter of which oversees all NGOs (Art. 6 of Somaliland NGO law and Art. 5 of Puntland NGO law).

Interference in NGOs’ internal affairs

Throughout Somalia, NGOs implement their programs in collaboration with government authorities, and in high-risk areas they usually move escorted by the police, with cost recovery required for the police. Although allegations of government interference in civil society have been longstanding, they have escalated since the government’s 2014 financing of the construction of offices for the consortium of Somaliland youth NGOs. In exchange, the government was accused of manipulating the consortium’s internal elections by backing its candidate for the chairmanship. In 2017, the main opposition party also accused other NGOs, including the Somaliland Non-State Actors Forum (SONSAF) and Academy for Peace and Development (APD), of affiliating with the government in the electoral period; as a result, the party stopped working with both SONSAF and APD.

The Public Order Law of Somalia establishes public order authorities at the national, regional and district levels (Art. 2) which, in cases of “urgent necessity” (Art. 10), have the right to enter premises where activities are carried out at any time. The law does not specify the nature of activities subject to the law, however. These public order authorities may also order someone to appear before them, prohibit or suspend a public meeting, or make activities subject to special conditions as to the time and place. (Art. 13(4)) The authorities can also make further restrictions in a state of emergency.

Barriers to Speech and Advocacy

Throughout Somalia, individuals and organizations may criticize public authorities, advocate for certain policies, and support social groups, but they may not support specific political parties or individual candidates. NGOs may contact and cooperate with regional and international agencies inside and outside of the country, and there are no restrictions on travel to international fora. There are also no laws to prohibit or restrict access to international platforms or online communications, engagements, or information-sharing. However, in its 2018 report, the Human Rights Center in Somaliland claimed that 28 journalists and seven non-journalists were arrested for expressing their views, including on social media, and certain media centers were shut down or suspended. Similarly, 16 journalists were detained for their reporting in South Somalia.

Since 2010, freedom of expression seems to have narrowed. In early 2018, a young female poet from Somaliland who traveled to South Somalia was arrested for expressing her political views and desire for a united Somalia, while others were arrested for commenting on social media about the situation of the country. In December 2018, another young person was dismissed from his government position after he performed a comedy routine about the travels of the president. In January 2019, another poet was arrested for publishing a poem about the prisons and police custody conditions, while six other government employees were put under investigation because of comments and likes and shares on social media.

On August 26, 2020, the Somali president signed and published the Somalia Media Law. However, a number of federal member states and media organizations, such as the Media Association of Puntland (MAP), criticized the law and its adoption process. There is, however, no specific law addressing online communication. However, the national electoral commission in Somaliland temporarily banned accessing several online platforms during the 2017 presidential election period.

Although NGOs advocate for human rights, good governance, democratization, and other issues of concern, there are unwritten red lines that prevent NGOs and individuals from expressing their views on certain topics, such as security authorities and law enforcement agencies.

The government of South Somalia frequently restricts media professionals’ access to information and reporting of significant event. For instance, the government has restricted media access to the election of the president. NGOs also have only a very limited role in observing the election process.

Somaliland journalists have been subjected to beatings, threats, harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and prosecution during since 2020. In April 2022, the government jailed the largest number of journalists in a single day when it apprehended 15 journalists covering a gunfight in Hargeisa central prison. The government had just before that incident shut down two television stations, MM TV and CBA, without any legal procedure. The government later released MMTV, but fined it $10,000 USD for operating without a license.

Somaliland is the third country in Africa to outlaw the operation of independent radio stations. Only state-run stations are permitted. Residents in rural areas now have access to FM radios and the vast majority of mobile phones are equipped with FM radio, but the government has denied them access to radio voices. In Puntland and Somalia, a large number of private radio stations operate and cover all rural areas, but Somaliland’s government-controlled radio station was unable to reach rural areas.

The BBC’s activities in Somaliland have been halted, and the government has shut down the BBC’s FM frequency, according to an announcement made by the country’s minister of information on July 19, 2022. Five days after that announcement, the Somaliland government closed the office of BBC Media Action, an independent NGO partner with BBC World.

In South Somalia, a number of journalists have been murdered in recent years, while others have been injured, detained, or abused. Puntland has also jailed a number of journalists and social media influencers. In addition, On October 2 and 3, 2021, Somaliland authorities forcefully evicted, rounded up, and relocated around 7,000 men, women, and children from Las Anod town and its surroundings in the Sool region to Puntland.

Barriers to International Contact

There are no barriers to international contact in Somaliland, Puntland, or South Somalia. In fact, international development partners cooperate with local NGOs in all regional states.

Barriers to Resources

Domestic NGOs have not reported any impediments to accessing funding. They are generally able to receive funds from international or foreign partners without permission from the government. Similarly, NGOs can mobilize local resources, including revenue-generating activities to support their programs, despite some legal uncertainty about NGOs’ economic activities. The NGO laws of Puntland (Art. 8(6)) and Somaliland (Art. 11(7)) restrict the use of NGO resources for “commercial activities”; the articles do not, however, provide details on the nature and scope of the prohibited commercial activities.

Barriers to Assembly

The national and regional constitutions protect the freedom of assembly either explicitly or implicitly. According to Article 20 of the national constitution, every person has the right to organize and participate in meetings and to demonstrate and protest peacefully without requiring prior authorization. Similar protections are found in Somaliland and Puntland. For instance, under the Somaliland constitution, every citizen has the freedom, in accordance with the law, to organize or participate in any peaceful assembly or demonstration. Although Puntland’s constitution does not expressly mention this, it provides that every citizen has the right to address a written petition to the President of Puntland, the House of Representatives, and the Government. (Art. 27)

Legislation regulates the exercise of this right. According to Art. 13 and 59 of the Public Order Law, 1963 in Somalia and Art. 10 and 36 of the Public Order and Security Law, 2012 in Somaliland, administrative powers are given to the executive branches. The scope of government’s power to maintain order has been a consistent subject of debate.

Accessibility of Law

The 1963 Public Order Law of Somalia is written in English, and as such, has been largely inaccessible and incomprehensible to many people. In 2012, Somaliland looked to the 1963 Public Order Law as a model for its new law, the Public Order and Security Law, which was drafted and enacted in Somali.

Excessive Discretion

The provisions related to protests, dispersing protestors, suspending ongoing protests, administrative interim remedies, and contingency arrest powers under the Public Order Law of Somaliland (Arts. 8, 9) and the Public Order and Security Law of Somalia (Art. 13) are vaguely drafted, thus inviting law enforcement to exercise discretion in applying the law. Moreover, the military may be deployed to accompany police operations when there is a “need or necessity” under of the Somaliland Public Order Law. (Art. 7) The law does not clarify what “need or necessity” means, which compounds the opportunity for abuse.

Advance Notification

According to the Somalia Public Order and Security Law (Art. 13) and Somaliland Public Order Law (Art. 13), the organizers of an assembly, gathering, or protest to be held in a public place or in a place open to the public shall notify the district commissioner at least three days in advance.

Even if a gathering is convened as a private meeting, it is deemed public if it assumes the character of a meeting that is not private because of the location where it is held, the number of persons involved, or its purpose or object. (Art. 13 of Somalia Public Order and Security Law and Art. 10 of Somaliland Public Order Law) There is no requirement to specify the number of participants of the gathering or protest.

In Somaliland the notification of an assembly, gathering, or protest is subject to the approval of the Minister of Interior or governor or district commissioner, who has the authority to deny permission. In practice, no spontaneous demonstrations are allowed. For instance, on January 28, 2019, 22 street children who spontaneously demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Social Affairs were detained by the police. After only two days of court proceedings, they were convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment. According to the Hadhwanaag news website, the children had complained about the dire circumstances they faced in the cold winter. The Human Rights Center lawyers in Hargeisa argued that these children went to the Ministry only to complain about their situation and that they deserved support rather than arrest.

Time, Place, and Manner Restrictions

Political demonstrations, campaigns, or rallies are not permitted at religious places, social service centers (such as schools and hospitals), and public service offices. The Somaliland Public Order Law and Security Law also restricts any religious assembly for the purpose of public incitement, criticism, or propagating religious confrontations (Art. 11).

Carrying arms in public gatherings is also prohibited by the Somalia Public Order Law (Art. 15 and 28) and Somaliland Public Order and Security Law (Art. 12), while the use of uniforms, badges, and emblems are specifically prohibited under the Somalia Public Order Law (Art. 19).

Excessive Force

In February 2022, Somalia denied and stopped opposition demonstrations with force. For its part, Somaliland has often refused to allow opposition parties hold peaceful demonstrations, as required by Somaliland’s constitution. In Somaliland, protests have regularly resulted in the government’s forceful intervention and, in many cases, injuries sustained by protest participants. Crackdowns resulting in casualties occurred at a July 2008 protest in Hargeisa against the failure of government’s plan to drill water; at a December 2012 protest in Hargeisa against reported rigging of local election votes; at a November 2014 protest in Burao against government’s interference in the parliament; and at November 2017 protests in Hargeisa and Burao against alleged vote rigging of the presidential election. In December 2018, the federal government of Somalia forcefully dispersed protests in Baidoa against the federal government’s alleged manipulation of regional leader elections, resulting in casualties. These protests were about demands for civil liberty but were confronted with force by the respective authorities.

More recently, On July 9, 2021, the Waddani party held a protest in Somaliliand. Party leaders, supporters, and journalists were arrested, and a number of MPs and supporters were hurt. One month later, on August 11, 2021, the two main opposition parties in Somaliland held a country-wide protest against postponing elections. In an effort to silence opposition voices, the government shut down the internet. During the protest, the government also arrested more than 80 people, killed five people, and wounded close to 100 others.

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports
Timeline for UPR engagement in the current cycle (Somalia)
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs

UN Special Rapporteur with mandates of Freedom of Association, Freedom of Expression and Human Rights Defenders jointly write to the Somali government

Council on Foundations Country Notes
N/A
U.S. State Department
2021 Human Rights Report: Somalia
Fragile States Index Reports
Foreign Policy Fragile States Index
IMF Country Reports
Somalia
International Commission of Jurists
Declarations recognizing the jurisdiction of the Court as compulsory (1963)
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library
Somalia

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

Somalia’s election raises more questions than answers (May 2022)
Somalis are asking whether President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud – who previously ruled the country between 2012 and 2017 – will in his second stint chart the path to the promised land of reconciliation and development. President Hassan has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set an example by offering a consistent civic voice matched by progressive policies and institutional reform.

The foregoing information was collected by ICNL’s CFM partner in Somalia.