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04DJIBOUTI725 2004-05-21 07:04:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Djibouti
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					C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DJIBOUTI 000725 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/20/2014

Classified By: Pol/Econ Erinn C. Reed for reasons 1.4
(b) and (d).

1. (U) SUMMARY: The Government of Djibouti's Ad-Hoc
Committee on Human Rights held the first ever national
forum on Human Rights 17-18 May, 2004. This forum was
funded by a DHRF grant from Embassy Djibouti and by
United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The main
goal of this forum was to open debate on Human Rights
among the population of Djibouti. Results were to be
incorporated into new laws on Human Rights and guides
for parliamentarians on creating laws with human rights
in mind. However, the forum was boycotted by opposition
leaders, including the President of the Djiboutian
League of Human Rights. The Minister of Justice
commented in his opening remarks that the opposition
was invited but didn't deem it useful to make their
opinions public. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) Under extreme security and by invitation only,
the Government of Djibouti held its first ever National
Forum on the Status of Human Rights 17-18 May, 2004 at
the hall of the Union National des Femmes Djiboutienne
(UNFD - National Union of Djiboutian Women).
Participants were required to show their invitation,
pass through metal detectors and leave all mobile phones
at the door before entering. Those that did not have an
invitation or came late were turned away. Reportedly, a
few reporters from Radio Television Djibouti (RTD) were
turned away by the Republican Guard, even though they had
invitations. While participants waited for the opening
ceremony to begin, a popular musician played songs of
social commentary. The forum began upon the arrival of
President Guelleh, who presided over the opening
ceremonies along with the Minister of Justice, the
President of the Supreme Court, and the Prime Minister.

3. (C) The site of the forum was a point of contention
with opposition groups, who said they preferred "a
neutral site." The initial location was to be the
Palais du Peuple, a civic center built by China, but
the air conditioning has been broken for several months
so the site was nixed. The alternate site acceptable
to the opposition was the Sheraton Hotel. According to
a press release from the Djiboutian League for Human
Rights (LDDH) carried in the May 19th edition of Realite,
an opposition party journal, this option was ruled out
for financial reasons, despite requests for extra funds
from the UNDP, one of the donor organizations funding
the forum. This, however, was not the main reason for
the boycott by the opposition. In a "Lettre Ouverte"
published in the 17 March 2004 edition of Realite, the
four main opposition groups declared they would not
attend the upcoming forum on Human Rights. They said
the Government of Djibouti had not made steps to
fulfill its promises of decentralization written in
the 2001 peace accords and had committed several
violations of human rights. President of the LDDH,
Jean Paul Noel, told Pol/Econ the opposition felt that
it was not worth its participation when nothing had
been done on any of the Government's earlier promises.

4. (U) In his opening statement at the Forum, Minister
of Justice Ismail Ibrahim Houmed claimed that the
opposition had been informed of the dates of the Forum
and had agreed, but three weeks later published an open
letter saying they would not attend and were not in
agreement. Houmed went on to say that two days before
the forum, he sent invitations once again to the
leaders of the opposition, but they did not deem it
useful to express their contradictions in public.
Houmed commented in his opening remarks that this
conference is held with an international context in
mind, contrasting notably with situations in
Palestinian territories, Iraq and Ivory Coast. Houmed
also remarked that the "great powers" of the world had
taken no action in Palestine and Iraq. He went on to
say that "after the toppling of the dictator in Iraq
and the promise of a free and democratic country, human
rights are being abused. The Iraqi people have lost
their basic rights as human beings. In a world on fire,
Djibouti is an island of peace." Houmed highlighted
that "of the 350 prisoners in the one jail in Djibouti,
none are political prisoners and there is no death

5. (U) Media reaction to the Human Rights forum was
strong and broad. The 19 May edition of Realite carried
a press release from the LDDH stating that the forum
should have been postponed until the next judicial
session, in order to give the Ministry of Justice the
necessary time to fulfill necessary conditions for the
best success and transparency of the forum. Among these
conditions were holding the forum at a neutral site and
ensuring participation of international Human Rights
organizations to act as observers and the participation
of all politicians. The statement also demanded
tangible and palpable elements in favor of total
independence of the judiciary and a solemn declaration
of the end of impunity, and abuses of power by the
installation of completely independent judicial

6. (U) Also in Realite, a press release from the
Association for the Defense of Human Rights and
Freedoms (ADDHL) deplored the absence of the
International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), based
in Paris, the Inter-African Union for Human Rights
(UIDH), based in Ouagadougou, as well as the Djiboutian
labor unions. It further said that without the
participation of the opposition parties, the forum had
become an item of non-interest. The ADDHL added that
the status of Human Rights could not be objectively
described without discussion and debate.

7. (U) Le Renouveau Djiboutien, the opposition journal
of Daher Ahmed Farah -- arrested several times in 2003
for his publications -- called President Guelleh "the
Champion of Violations of Human Rights." The article
also called the event only a "family affair" citing the
absence of opposition parties and of defenders of
Human Rights.

8. (U) La Liberte, opposition journal of the Front pour
la Restauration de l'Unite et de la Democratie (FRUD),
said the opposition "could not support this parody of
democracy." It went on to say that by participating,
the opposition's presence would have supported a regime
that denies all free speech and civil liberties.
Liberte also called the invitations "selective,"
indicating that the true spectrum of the Djiboutian
population had not been represented.

9. (C) COMMENT: Post believes that the objectives of
this forum were a step in the right direction on the
issue of Human Rights in Djibouti. However, with the
boycott of opposition political parties, the forum may
not bring the effective change that is desired by many
in the population. The reasons for the stagnation of
change and implementation of the peace accords may lie
with the Government, but the silence of the opposition
on this matter does not help and does not reflect a
true understanding of the importance of participation
in democratic processes, regardless of their
sentiments about the existing government. END COMMENT.