The labour organisation, the Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU), representing workers in Somalia, recently launched a detailed report highlighting the state of workers’ rights and calls on the country’s newly-sworn in President to address urgently the serious violations of key international standards for human rights by the federal government of Somalia.
The report titled “Somalia Human and Trade Union Rights Report (January - December 2016)” emphasis the notion that “protection from impunity is as important as any bullet-proof vest”. The report is backed and supported by the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC-Africa) with the support of British Trades Union Congress (TUC). The report x-rays and points to a wide range of exploitative and dangerous working practices that put Somali workers regularly at risk. Some of these risks range from cases of union members killed with impunity, to interferences with trade unions’ meetings putting their members in danger, to frequent abuses of the right to associate and peaceful assembly, to de-registration of trade unions to make them illegal, and spurious charges to criminalise them and attempts to impose direct control of legitimate and independent trade unions.
In introducing the report, Kwasi Adu-Amankwah, General Secretary of ITUC-Africa said “Free and independent trade unions, belonging to the Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU), were denied the space and freedom to organise and mobilise workers. In addition, they faced concerted efforts to disorganise and undermine them. The main architects of this campaign were government agents and officials.”
The Federal Government of Somalia has legal obligations under several international and African human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ILO Conventions and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) with respect to the protection of the rights of workers to organise, associate, collectively bargain, as well as assemble and to free expression.
“For many years’ Somali trade unions have been targeted by the Federal Government, in particular by numerous attacks on basic freedoms of expression, association and assembly in blatant contravention of national and international laws. We are now providing compelling evidence of these abuses and we expect the new administration to address them urgently,” said Omar Faruk Osman, FESTU General Secretary
The report highlights how the Federal Government of Somalia has repeatedly breached and violated the human rights of its citizens with complete impunity, particularly workers and their trade unions. It focuses in particular on how the leadership of the trade union movement has been deliberately imperilled in a concerted bid to demonise, discredit and destroy the voice of free trade unions.
“Union meetings were raided and stopped, union members were killed and wounded, and trade unions were de-registered in order to make them illegal. Fake unions were set up, as the government sponsored the seizure of independent unions and union activists were threatened,” stressed Adu-Amankwah.
In standing up against these abuses, trade unions became the first Somali civil society organisations to seek remedy from the UN human rights system and win. FESTU and its affiliated union, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), brought a compelling case at the International Labour Organization (ILO), with the help of the International Trade Unions Confederation (ITUC), against the Somali government for violating the right to freedom of association.
“We ask the new president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed to ensure that his administration abides by and implement the various decisions made by the ILO, in particular to respect and promote freedom of association and the rights of workers to form independent labour unions, bargain collectively and conduct strikes where inevitably necessary, and to foster an environment that protects, not punishes, labour rights activists for defending human and trade union rights in Somalia. The government must also ensure that trade union leaders and worker activists do not face needless witch-hunt and reprisal for their legitimate trade union rights activities,” added Osman.
ITUC-Africa continues to note with total admiration and respect, the uncommon courage, tenacity, consistency and sacrifices of FESTU and its members in their struggles for the defence and protection of human and trade union rights, as well as their contributions to nation-building. Their resolute fight for trade union rights is appreciated continentally and internationally; and serves as inspirations for workers all over the world. Somalia will only achieve democratic rule when it allows trade unions the space and freedom to exist and operate.
Download full Report here: