The issue of human rights in Djibouti, a small country situated within the Horn of Africa, is a matter of concern for several human rights organizations.
The US State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2019 points out that Djibouti's significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killings by government agents; arbitrary detention by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists; criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; significant acts of corruption; and violence against women and girls with inadequate government action for prosecution and accountability, including female genital mutilation/cutting. It states also that impunity was a problem, with the government seldom taking steps to identify and punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government.
Claims of political detentions and torture began almost immediately after independence. On 15 December 1977, seventeen supporters of the opposition Mouvement populaire de libération were arrested and tortured. In 1978, fifteen students, visiting from their studies abroad in Paris, were sentenced to months in jail and reportedly tortured for articles written by their student union in France. After an armed attack in 1979 in Randa, sixty Afars were detained and at least one died as a result of torture. It was claimed that many were arrested solely for their membership of the Mouvement populaire de libération. After a supposed assassination attempt on the Director of Security in June 1979 (the reality of which Amnesty International reported to be in doubt), nine political opponents, including two parliamentary deputies, were detained and tortured. One of these – Mohamed Houmed Mohamed – had previously delivered a parliamentary speech denouncing the government's use of torture.
In August 1981 the Parti populaire Djiboutien sought legal recognition as a political party. In early September they released their first bulletin, and on 7 September all thirteen members of the Executive Committee were arrested, including six members of parliament. Included in the detainees was Mohamed Houmed Mohamed. Some of these members fled the country after release, but were again detained and tortured upon their return from exile.
Reported torture methods under Aptidon include (but are not limited to): severe beatings; waterboarding; burnings; tearing out of fingernails; electric shocks; prolonged exposure to smoke resulting in near-asphyxiation; "The Swing", in which the naked victim was suspended from a bar by his ankles; and insertions of bottles into the anus.
Aptidon announced his retirement in February 1999 and the People's Rally for Progress chose Ismaïl Omar Guelleh as their presidential candidate. He handily won the April elections, with almost three quarters of the vote, defeating his only presidential rival, the independent Moussa Ahmed Idriss. Idriss was arrested the following September for "threatening the morale of the armed forces" and detained at an undisclosed location.
The People's Rally for Progress has continued to dominate politics under Guellah, taking advantage of a unique first-past-the-post system in which the majority winner in each of the country's five electoral districts carries all the seats. Thus, in the 2003 National Assembly elections, the coalition took all 65 seats with only 62% of the vote. Opposition parties boycotted both the 2005 and 2008 elections.
In April 2010, the constitution was amended, lifting the two-term limit and allowing Guelleh to continue his tenure as president. In June 2010, Djibouti's richest citizen and former friend of the president, Abdourahman Boreh, was convicted in absentia for terrorism. He lacked a defence lawyer and had been intending a presidential run for 2011.
In February 2011 the government arrested dozens of political opponents, including six people who provide reporting to the European radio station, La Voix de Djibouti. These included Farah Abadid Heldid and Houssein Robleh Dabar, who were released four months later but again arrested in November.
Torture is banned by the constitution. However, reports of its use continue to flow to the outside world. Prostitutes are arrested by vice squads, and rape is reportedly a precondition of release. There are occasional reports of police beating prisoners.Reporters Without Borders claims that Dirir Ibrahim Bouraleh died from injuries sustained under torture by Sergeant Major Abdourahman Omar Said from 23 – 27 April 2011.
Djibouti has one central prison – Gabode in Djibouti City – and a number of small jails. Conditions in the system are reported to be "harsh". While often overcrowded, prisoners in Gabode are fed three meals a day and have access to medical care. Conditions in the jails are considered worse, with no formal system of care. Human rights training is provided to guards by the government.
1.^ Note that the "Year" signifies the "Year covered". Therefore the information for the year marked 2008 is from the report published in 2009, and so on.
2.^ As of 27 June (Independence Day) in 1977; 1 January thereafter.
3.^ The 1982 report covers the year 1981 and the first half of 1982, and the following 1984 report covers the second half of 1982 and the whole of 1983. In the interest of simplicity, these two aberrant "year and a half" reports have been split into three year-long reports through interpolation.