Last updated: June 2022
As noted in the chapter on Refugee status, some profiles of applicants from Somalia may be at risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. In such cases, there would often be a nexus to a Convention ground, and those individuals would qualify for refugee status. However, with reference to cases where there is no nexus to a Convention ground, the need for subsidiary protection under Article 15(b) QD should be examined.
Under Article 15(b) QD, serious harm consists of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of an applicant in the country of origin.
Article 15(b) QD corresponds in general to Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), therefore, provides relevant guidance in order to assess whether a treatment may qualify under Article 15(b) QD.
Torture is an aggravated and deliberate form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment to which a special stigma is attached.
⊲ According to relevant international instruments, such as the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), torture is understood as:
✓ an intentional act
✓ that inflicts severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental
✓ for such purposes as obtaining from the person subjected to torture or from a third person information or a confession, punishing the former for an act he or she or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or her or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.
The distinction between torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is more a difference of degree than of nature. These terms cover a wide range of ill-treatment that reach a certain level of severity.
⊲ ‘Inhuman’: refers to treatment or punishment which deliberately causes intense mental or physical suffering (which does not reach the threshold of torture).
⊲ ‘Degrading’: refers to treatment or punishment which arouses in the victims feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating or debasing them.
The assessment whether a treatment or punishment is inhuman or degrading further implies a subjective consideration by the person who suffers such treatment or punishment. No specific purpose on the part of the perpetrator (e.g. obtaining information or a confession, punishing, intimidating) is required in this regard.
When examining the need for protection under Article 15(b) QD, the following considerations should be taken into account:
- Arbitrary arrests, illegal detention and prison conditions: special attention should be paid to the phenomena of arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, as well as to prison conditions. It can be assessed that in cases where the prosecution or punishment is grossly unfair or disproportionate, or where a person is subjected to prison conditions which are not compatible with respect for human dignity, a situation of serious harm under Article 15(b) QD can occur. When assessing the conditions of detention, the following elements can, for example, be taken into consideration (cumulatively): number of detained persons in a limited space, adequacy of sanitation facilities, heating, lighting, sleeping arrangements, food, recreation or contact with the outside world.
Urban prisons in Somalia, especially following large security incidents, are at times overcrowded, with authorities often not separating pre-trial detainees from convicted prisoners, especially in the southern and central regions. In these areas, including areas under the control of Al-Shabaab, prison conditions are believed to be harsh and at times life-threatening due to poor sanitation and hygiene, inadequate food and water, and lack of medical care. Disease outbreaks and long pre-trial detention period have been reported. Reportedly, Garowe Prison in Puntland and Hargeisa Prison in Somaliland met international standards and were well-managed. [Actors, 2.4.5, 4.4].
- Corporal punishment: corporal punishments for the so called hadd crimes in case of theft, banditry, unlawful sexual intercourse, alcohol consumption and drug abuse (punished with lashing), as well as drug dealing (punished with lashing) and espionage (punished with shooting) may be imposed by Sharia or Al-Shabaab courts [Actors, 2.3.3, 4.4].
Where there is no nexus to a reason for persecution, being subjected to such punishments may qualify under Article 15(b) QD.
- Criminal violence: criminality is pervasive in Somalia [Security 2021, 1.2]. Reported crimes include killings, sexual violence, abductions, banditry, thefts, robberies, money extortion, piracy, (child) trafficking, human and/or arms smuggling [Security 2021, 22.214.171.124, 7.6.2, 7.7.2].
- Healthcare unavailability: It is important to note that serious harm must take the form of conduct of an actor (Article 6 QD). In itself, the general unavailability of healthcare, education or other socio-economic elements (e.g. situation of IDPs, difficulties in finding livelihood opportunities, housing) is not considered to fall within the scope of inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 15(b) QD, unless there is intentional conduct of an actor, for example, the intentional deprivation of the applicant of appropriate health care.
- Socio-economic conditions: people in Somalia face continuous socio-economic challenges due to high poverty and highly precarious conditions regarding employment, housing, food and water supplies. Besides violent conflicts, climatic shocks, among which droughts and floods, lead to displacements and contribute to vulnerabilities [Socio-economic 2021, 1.2]. Furthermore, (repeated) evictions from government buildings and by private landlords in Somalia represent a constant risk for vulnerable communities, among which IDPs living in collective settlements and other urban poor individuals in densely populated areas [Security 2021, 1.4.3]. Forced evictions by private actors were mostly executed in order to have clear land that they can develop. At times also political and military elites conducted land grabs and issued forced evictions. [Socio-economic 2021, 126.96.36.199]
Additionally, it has been reported that Al-Shabaab continued to hinder commercial activities in the areas it controlled and disrupted the delivery of humanitarian aid, thus affecting health, nutrition, water, sanitation, and hygiene programming [Security 2021, 188.8.131.52].
As stated above, serious harm must take the form of conduct of an actor (Article 6 QD). In themselves, general poor socio-economic conditions are not considered to fall within the scope of inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 15(b) QD, unless there is intentional conduct of an actor. However, when these socio-economic conditions are the result of an intentional conduct of an actor (e.g. in case of disruptions of humanitarian aid by Al-Shabaab, forced evictions), these conditions may qualify under Article 15(b) QD, following an individual assessment.
Other cases for which a real risk of serious harm under Article 15(b) QD may exist are, inter alia, some situations under the profile 2.7 Individuals involved in blood feuds/clan disputes, where a nexus to a reason for persecution has not been established.
In some cases, those at risk of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (for example, because of prisons conditions) may also have committed or contributed to excludable acts as defined in Article 17 QD. Therefore, although the criteria of Article 15(b) QD would be met, exclusion considerations should be examined (see chapter Exclusion).