Expected Council Action
In February, the Security Council will hold a briefing, followed by consultations, to discuss the situation in Somalia. Members are expected to receive the Secretary-General’s 120-day report on the situation in Somalia and implementation of the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) by 1 February.
Key Recent Developments
On 12 December 2023, Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahamoud convened the Somalia security conference in New York, which brought together key stakeholders to facilitate discussion on Somali security sector reform. The conference was co-organised by the AU, the EU, the UN, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Türkiye, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US.
In a communiqué issued following the conference, the participating member states welcomed the Somalia Security Sector Development Plan presented by Mahamoud during the conference. Among other things, the plan proposed a new multilateral mission under the auspices of the AU following the withdrawal of the AU Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) personnel, which is expected to be completed in December. The plan purportedly proposes that this mission’s key tasks include a mandate to protect key infrastructure and strategic population centres at the national and federal member states’ level, positing that this mandate would allow Somali security forces to fully address the challenges posed by Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group affiliated with Al-Qaeda, and enable them to provide humanitarian and stabilisation support to federal member states.
Al-Shabaab retains the ability to carry out asymmetrical attacks against civilians, civilian infrastructure, and state institutions. On 11 January, Al-Shabaab fired several mortars targeting the Aden Adde International Airport area in Mogadishu, which houses the UN compound. The attack resulted in the death of a Ugandan military personnel member deployed with the UN’s Guard Unit.
In another development, Council members have been following closely the rising tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia since a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between Ethiopia and Somaliland, a self-proclaimed republic in the northern region of Somalia on 1 January. While the exact details of the MoU have not been made public by either side, Somaliland announced that, “[i]n exchange for 20-kilometer sea access for the Ethiopian naval forces, leased for a period of 50 years, Ethiopia will formally recognise the Republic of Somaliland”. On the other hand, Ethiopia said in a 3 January statement that the MoU allows it to “obtain a permanent and reliable naval base and commercial maritime service in the Gulf of Aden through a lease agreement”. Regarding recognition for Somaliland, the statement notes that the MoU only includes “provisions for the Ethiopian government to make an in-depth assessment towards taking a position regarding the efforts of Somaliland to gain recognition”.
In a 4 January letter to the Council, Somalia’s Acting Foreign Minister Ali Omar stated that the MoU was “entered into without the consent or endorsement of the Federal Government of Somalia and effectively violates the country’s constitution, while blatantly violating established international laws and norms”. Omar further said that this development significantly endangered regional and international peace and security and urged the Council to “swiftly condemn Ethiopia’s flagrant violations and ensure their immediate compliance with international law, thereby respecting the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Somalia”.
On 17 January, the AU Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) met to consider the situation between Ethiopia and Somalia. In a press statement released following the meeting, the members expressed deep concern about the situation while referring to Somaliland as “the northern region of Somalia”. The members reaffirmed their strong commitment and support for preserving the unity, territorial integrity, independence, and sovereignty of all member states, including Ethiopia and Somalia. They further called on the parties to exercise restraint, de-escalate the situation, and engage in meaningful dialogue to find a peaceful resolution. Furthermore, they requested the Chairperson of the AU Commission (the organisation’s secretariat) to deploy the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, to foster dialogue between the parties and provide regular updates to the AUPSC.
On 17 January, the League of Arab States (LAS) also convened a ministerial-level emergency session at the request of Somalia. The decision adopted at the end of the meeting, among other things:
- reaffirmed that Somaliland is an integral part of Somalia and rejected the 1 January MoU, declaring it void, unacceptable, and a violation of international law;
- said that this development threatened the national security of Arab states and navigation in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden; and
- requested Algeria, in its position as the only Arab member of the Security Council, “to mobilise necessary support to issue necessary resolutions affirming the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia”.
On 18 January, the 42nd extraordinary summit of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Heads of State and Government was held in Entebbe, Uganda. The communiqué adopted following the meeting expressed deep concern about recent developments regarding relations between Ethiopia and Somalia. The communiqué reaffirmed respect for the sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of Somalia while noting that any agreement entered into should be with the consent of Somalia. It called on both parties to de-escalate tensions and engage in constructive dialogue.
On 29 January, Council members convened for closed consultations to consider the situation between Ethiopia and Somalia under the “Peace and security in Africa” agenda item. Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa Hanna Serwaa Tetteh briefed. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 28 January.)
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 19 November 2023, the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, Isha Dyfan, issued a statement at the end of her second official visit to the country. The expert expressed her encouragement at the Somali government’s efforts to establish a National Human Rights Commission and to address corruption, including prosecution of various public officials accused of corruption and abuse of power.
Dyfan emphasised that the security situation in Somalia remains precarious, with civilians facing daily threats, targeted killings, and infrastructure damage from Al-Shabaab and various inter-clan conflicts. She expressed concern about the impact on civilians and infrastructure of the ongoing joint military operations by the Somali National Army, local clan militias, and ATMIS personnel. She urged all parties involved to uphold their responsibilities under human rights and international humanitarian law and ensure the protection of civilians.
During her visit, Dyfan held discussions with the Chair of the Sool, Sanaag, and Cayn (SSC) Committee regarding the human rights situation in Las Anod, the capital of Sool region. She observed that the human rights situation in the region has deteriorated since the start of the conflict in February 2023 between Somaliland security forces and the local Dhulbahante clan. She added that this conflict has resulted in the killing of 81 civilians and left at least 410 people injured, while approximately 200,000 have been displaced. She reiterated her call for dialogue and urged all parties to avoid divisive rhetoric. (For more, see our What’s in Blue story of 6 September 2023.)
Women, Peace and Security
In her August 2023 report to the Human Rights Council, Dyfan identified the deteriorating security situation and the “clan-based political system” among the main factors hindering the participation of women and minorities in political and public life in Somalia. She also noted that women in political positions continue to face intimidation, harassment, and violence. Dyfan recommended that, by 2024, the Somali government take urgent measures towards ratifying key international and regional women’s rights treaties and undertake a comprehensive review of the domestic legislation, “with a view to repealing discriminatory laws against women and girls”. She also provided several recommendations towards increasing women’s representation and participation in public life, including in electoral processes.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for Council members is how to support the Somali government in achieving its national priorities, including the constitutional review process and security sector reform.
The other important issue for members is the escalating tension in the region following the 1 January MoU between Ethiopia and the region of Somaliland, which may undermine regional peace and security, including Somalia’s ongoing offensive operations against Al-Shabaab. Council members may encourage the parties to exercise restraint and support regional and sub-regional organisations in their efforts to address this issue.
The persisting insecurity in the country and the ongoing offensive against Al-Shabaab are also important issues for Council members. Following the 26 August 2023 attack by Al-Shabaab in the Galguduud region, Somali forces suffered significant setbacks and retreated from several towns that they had recently taken. Although Somali security forces have continued their operations in Galmudug and Hirshabelle states, stabilising the liberated areas and providing basic services to the people remain ongoing challenges.
The ATMIS drawdown throughout 2024 is another issue for Council members. Members remain concerned about whether Somali security forces will be able to assume security responsibilities from ATMIS personnel by the end of 2024, particularly in light of the extensions requested by the Somali government during earlier phases of the ATMIS withdrawal. Resolution 2710, which extended ATMIS’ authorisation until 30 June, encouraged the Somali government to present a proposal for post-ATMIS security arrangements by 31 March. On 18 January, officials from ATMIS, UNSOM, and the UN Support Mission to Somalia (UNSOS) met in Mogadishu to initiate planning for post-ATMIS arrangements in 2025. They discussed the implementation of the Somalia Security Sector Development Plan and the ongoing security transition, according to a post on X (formerly Twitter).
Council and Wider Dynamics
Council members support the government’s priorities and recognise the many challenges facing the country, including the persistent insecurity caused by the terrorist activities of Al-Shabaab. They also support ongoing efforts to fight the group. Some members, however, believe that a security approach will not be sufficient and underscore the need to make progress in governance, justice, and economic reforms. Other Council members emphasise the need for progress in implementing the Somali Transition Plan, including national force generation.
Several member states (including the US, the UK, and China) and the EU have expressed concern about the rising tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia, while stressing the importance of respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Somalia. The signing of the MoU comes at a critical juncture when Somalia is confronting the challenges from its security transition and ongoing offensive operations against Al-Shabaab. In his remarks at the 18 January IGAD Summit, US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer said that “the MOU threatens to disrupt the fight that Somalis, along with Africans and regional and international partners–including the US–are waging against Al-Shabaab”, while noting reports about Al-Shabaab using the MoU to generate recruits. He urged both sides to “avoid precipitous actions, including related to existing Ethiopian force deployments in Somalia, that could create opportunities for Al-Shabaab to expand its reach within Somalia and into Ethiopia”. On 9 January, Mauritania, as the Chair of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, sent a letter to the Council, which stressed the need to respect Somalia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to safeguard security, peace, and stability in the region. On 12 January, Bahrain, Chair of the Group of Arab States at the UN, also sent a letter to the Council (S/2024/57) conveying the position of the LAS on the matter. The LAS rejected the MoU and stated that such actions “violate international law and jeopardise the overall territorial integrity of the Somali state”.
In an explanatory note to the 17 January LAS decision, Algeria rejected any foreign interference in the affairs of Somalia while emphasising the need to respect the sovereignty and independence of all member states. Algeria also stressed the importance of refraining from any act that undermined the integration and strategic cooperation between the Arab and the African members. It highlighted the significance of resorting to dialogue and negotiation to resolve any dispute while taking note of the measures undertaken by the AU and the IGAD in this regard.
UN DOCUMENTS ON SOMALIA
|Security Council Resolutions
|15 November 2023S/RES/2710
|This resolution extends the authorisation of the AU Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) until 30 June 2024.
|Security Council Letters
|9 January 2024S/2024/35
|Letter dated 9 January 2024 from the Permanent Representative of Mauritania to the United Nations addressed to the President of the Security Council.