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In Djibouti, host to the United States military’s largest drone base outside of Afghanistan, sexual exploitation and abuse of migrant women and girls is an open secret.

We begin our journey in the crowded refugee camp of Ali Addeh, where women see their daughters disappear, or send them away themselves in search of income.

In Part 2 we reflect on these events as described in the Trafficking in Persons (“TIP”) Reports of the American government. Djibouti has been placed on the Watch List since 2011. If no improvement is shown, Djibouti should be downgraded to the lowest category of countries, which consequently could lead to exclusion from trade deals and U.S. aid.

Next, we are back on the road in Part 3. Starting at the refugee camp, we pass by shacks on International Highway 1 where commercial sex work – also performed by underage migrants – is a blooming business. Finally, we land in Djibouti City, where undocumented migrant girls serve as bar maids and sex workers in nightclubs.

In Part 4, we dive more deeply into reports on human trafficking. Why are there indications of human trafficking in Djibouti in other U.S. governmental reports that did not end up in the Trafficking in Persons Reports?

Hereafter, we settle down at Place du 27 Juin in the city center (Part 5), a hotspot for expats. It is also the place where Al-Shabaab committed a suicide attack a year and a half ago. The attack was aimed at the French, who are stationed at a base outside of the city with about two thousand military. The Americans have about double that amount of personnel working at Camp Lemonnier and the Chabelley Airfield drone base. Djibouti is of eminent importance for the U.S., as a hub for drone operations and intelligence, and as a base of counterterrorism operations against Al-Shabaab and Al-Qaeda. It is a place where terror suspects, according to watchdog groups, have allegedly undergone CIA rendition linked to torture and ill treatment.

In Part 6, we notice that there is a blind spot when it comes to human rights abuses in Djibouti. We end this part in the basement of Hotel Menelik, where ‘Peggy’ and ‘Kelly’ exchange their veils for glitter dresses. For decades, ‘spontaneous’ red light districts have sprout in places of U.S. military expansion.

In Part 7, American contractors offer OneWorld’s Sanne Terlingen one vodka after another at Club Scotch. Dozens of bargirls serve foreign guests, and are, according to the club owner, available for “jiggy jiggy”.

In Part 8, we return to the Trafficking in Persons Reports one last time. According to press agency Reuters the team responsible for writing the report was repeatedly overruled by U.S. diplomats who prevented the downgrading of certain countries for political reasons. This could have been the case with Malaysia, Cuba and China. And also for Djibouti?

Shahida Report

Sanne Terlingen & Hannah Kooy, in cooperation with Jennifer Schulte

[aesop_chapter title=”The daughters who disappeared” subtitle=”refugee camp Ali Addeh, Djibouti” bgtype=”img” full=”on” img=”https://longreads.oneworld.nlwp-content/uploads/DSC00137.jpg”]

Every one of the eight women wants to talk at the same time. Kalsouma, 47, shouts: “We must tell them about our children!” while her neighbour, Yoroub, is discussing firewood. Kalsouma has six children. Three of them live with her in the Ali Addeh refugee camp; the other three are out of station, as she calls it, using the camp jargon term. They have left the camp in search of a better life. Her son Mohammed has been missing for three years. “He tried to cross the sea. I don’t have any information on his whereabouts.”

“My niece could not continue at school
and has gone to Djibouti City, to make money”

The women are sitting on plastic garden chairs in the concrete office space of the UNHCR, the UN refugee organization. They have been selected to talk to me. Sanne Terlingen visited Djibouti in October 2015[/hints] about the problems of the refugee women in Ali Addeh.[hints]Office National d’Assistance aux Refugiés et aux Sinistrés is the local organization responsible for the management of the camp.[/hints] “Fetch water. Look for firewood,” Yoroub says. “We don’t get fruit,” Zahra (32) says. “No protein.” [hints]The World Food Programme issues the rations at Ali Addeh. These consist of 12 kg of wheat flour, 1.5 kg soya beans, 1.5 kg beans, 750 ml oil and 300 g sugar. They are due to be issued to each individual, together with a bar of soap, every month, but are sometimes delayed. Source: Oromia Support Group Report 48. A UNHCR field officer in Ali Sabieh adds that the distribution of food and cash is ensured by WFP through ONARS. “The food basket is made with flour, lentils, oil, sugar and salt. UNHCR also provide soap to all refugees (250g per individual) during the same distribution. Sanitary kits are provided to women aged from 13 to 49 years at least once a year.”[/hints] Kalsouma adds: “Children are like flowers. They must grow.” Nothing comes to fruition in Ali Addeh, the women agree. “My daughter was allowed to go to a primary school. She finished but she never got her papers. She was not allowed to continue learning.”

“My sister’s daughter was living with me”, says Folsa (35). Five years ago, she, her three children and her 10-year-old niece fled from southern Somalia to Djibouti. “We hardly received any help. My niece only had one set of clothes. She could not continue at school and has gone to Djibouti City, to make money.”[hints]”Assistance with clothes remains targeted and only the most vulnerable refugees receive it,” says a UNHCR field officer when we asked her specifically. “There is a livelihood program implemented in the camps. It consist on income generating activities and vocational training; both men and women are involved in that program.”[/hints]


‘A commercial city state controlled by one man’

Ali Addeh has 10,640 inhabitants and has been Djibouti’s largest refugee camp for the last 20 years.”As of our records of 31 October, we currently have a total of 20,997 refugees in Djibouti. 10,640 of them are in Ali Addeh,” says a UNHCR field officier in Djibouti. ‘The Government of Djibouti requests that all refugees remain in the camps. Whether they are Somali or from other nationalities. There have been people living in Ali Addeh for over 20 years. Many have had children there and some even grandchildren. There is no specific average time, since throughout the 25 years of the camp, people have come and gone. Some vulnerable cases may stay in the cities.’ The host nation is the smallest country in the Horn of Africa and home to less than one million people. Djibouti is dry and hot.

The country does not have a permanent natural water source. Avarage rainfall is 220 mm a year, compared to 282 mm in Somalia and 848 in Ethiopia. Average temperature is 30 degrees Celsius with spikes of up to 50 degrees between May and September. But it is safe in comparison with the neighbours: Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia. It is also safer than Yemen, across the Red Sea.

U.S. embassy cables published by WikiLeaks confirm that conditions in Djibouti are far from ideal. ‘UNHCR and ONARS [a government agency] do not have the requisite means to screen, house and feed refugees’, writes one diplomat working at the U.S. Embassy in 2008. Source: Wikileaks |Cable DjiboutiAnother cable reads: ‘Djibouti is less a country than a commercial city state controlled by one man, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh.’ Since independence from France in 1977, Djibouti has had a grand total of two presidents. Guelleh has run the country since 1999; before him it was his uncle Hassan Gouled Aptidon. In 2010 the parliament adopted a constitutional amendment, which allowed President Guelleh to seek a third term in office. The opposition called for a boycot of the elections. Guelleh promised to step down in 2016, but is currently preparing his fourth consecutive five year term, according to La Voix de Djibouti. The governance of Djibouti is a family business. Guellehs wife is the unofficial vice president. His half-brother is in charge of the port.

kalsouma's sleeping place
Kalsouma’s sleeping place


Two straw mats

“This one belongs to me”, Kalsouma says, pointing at a small tukul of saplings intertwined with pieces of fabric sewn together for shelter. This is where she cooks. She shows an iron pot, a ladle and a small plastic container. She has had visitors from overseas before and so she does what ‘people from The West’ liked so much at the time: She squats and uses her ladle to stir the pot, smiling for the picture as she does so. The pot is empty, like the plastic bag of this month’s food rations.

They leave little doubt about how often rape happens here

Kalsouma sleeps next to where she cooks: It’s a similar tukul, only slightly larger. Two straw mats lie on the desert sand. “Our beds.” On the highest branch inside the tukul hangs three soccer T-shirts and two diracs, traditional multi-coloured dresses and head-scarves Somali women use to cover themselves. 99 percent of the people in Djibouti are Muslim. Kalsouma is no exception. After 20 years, this is everything she and her husband own.

Yoroub shows me her place as well. She lives here without her husband. This is not a problem during the day. At night though, and left on her own, she sleeps with one eye open. Anyone who wants to enter her room only has to sweep aside one piece of fabric.

The women do not want to talk about sex. That is a taboo topic. They say, for example, that there are no girls in the camp who have sexual intercourse without being married. Still, they also talk about girls who are “suddenly pregnant, illegally”. Between the lines, they leave little doubt that sexual intimidation and rape do happen in the camp. None of them dares to collect firewood by herself. And the fact that it is so dark at night, is perceived as one of the main problems.

Refugee camp Ali Addeh, Djibouti
Refugee shelters have no doors


Forgotten refugees

These thousands of Somali refugees in Djibouti are virtually invisible and this is not just because their camp has been built in the middle of nowhere, far away from the coast in between two mountain ranges. Outside the camp, no one talks about their situation.

Not a single story about Somali refugees in Djibouti in 15 years

Dutch newspapers, for instance, do not cover the Somali refugees in Djibouti, as there has not been a single story about them for 15 years. Elsewhere, attention is equally scant. Since 2000, The Guardian has published 26 articles about Djibouti on its website, less than two per year. None of the stories mentioned the Somali refugees in the Ali Addeh camp. The New York Times has one story (among 40) about 100,000 migrants who were deported from Djibouti in 2003. That’s it.

Source: The Guardian | Djibouti & The New York Times 

Coverage of the much larger number of Ethiopians and Somalis who travel via Djibouti to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, is similarly non-existent. “Vast numbers go through Djibouti,” confirms the local IOM office when asked. The International Organization for Migration estimates that every year some 100,000 migrants transit through Djibouti to the Arabian Peninsula. “That is one migrant for every eight citizens! They go to the port city of Obock and take a boat to Yemen. If that works, they continue to Saudi Arabia.” This is mixed migration, which means that not everyone crossing the Gulf of Aden to Yemen does so voluntarily. Economic migrant, refugees and trafficked people take the very same route.


Abused by human traffickers

The strait between Obock and Yemen is only 30 kilometers wide but the crossing is dangerous. Boats sink. Women and girls are raped. “Often the perpetrators are the same people smugglers they depend on to make it to the other side,” says an IOM representative.[hints]Since 2007, Djibouti is a member of the IOM, the International Organisation for Migration. It opened a country office in Djibouti in 2009, at the request of the government. “The authorities requested support for migration management given the fact of the relatively high numbers et migrants and refugees in the country. The influx of refugees or migrants is not new,” says the organization. “Somali refugees have been in Djibouti for more than 20 years and migration is centuries-old. Take a look at the Out of Eden Walk, featuring an award-winning journalist who follows the first migration route from Africa.”

“As soon as the migrants arrive in Yemen they are taken from the boats and kidnapped. They are sequestrated and only released when the family pays them a ransom. Thousands of euros.” Want to know more? Read this Human Rights Watch report on torture camps in Yemen Men who have gone to the IOM’s emergency center to tell their story indicate that on arrival in Yemen they and the women and girls are taken off the boats, we learn from another source. Where they are now, and how many have gone missing, is unknown. From reading the reports one can suspect that there may be more than 16,000 women and girls unaccounted for. ‘From a comparison of UNHCR estimated number of female arrivals (as collected from the various sources and the actual number of female migrants that were met by UNHCR and patrolling teams), it appears that over 16,500 female migrants (both Somali and Ethiopian) arriving in the period 2011 to 2013 were unaccounted for.’ Source: Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat, Abused and abducted

The trip to Yemen is relatively expensive and so the Ethiopian and Somali migrants stay in Djibouti City undocumented until they can pay a smuggler. IOM states that it is very difficult to have clear estimates. Other organizations also say that they ‘have no data’. This year, there was a refugee movement in the opposite direction. 22,255 Yemeni refugees and migrants who had made an earlier crossing into Yemen fled into Djibouti as a result of the new civil war in Yemen. On August 15 there were no more than 2,2551 registered refugees, slightly more than 10 per cent of the total number of arrivals. Meanwhile, Ethiopian migrants continued to attempt crossing the strait into Yemen.

Women in Ali Addeh show us around the camp


Missing children

“Some woman got crazy because their children are missing.”
Amine feels she can share this. “Since we are [in a group of] all women.” “Some go to Yemen. Others to Italy, via Sudan and Libya.”

“I’m ready to go too and cross the sea!” Zahra states. “It’s for my children,” Yoroub adds emphatically. “I have survived Somalia and I’m happy that I’m safe here. But I want a future for my children.”

As young as 15, young people disappear from the camp

There are teenagers who leave by themselves. Others are told by their parents to go and look for work. “If a mother sends her daughter away, it is because the situation is desperate,” one of the women says. “We must feed other children too.” [hints] “UNHCR does not keep a record of people who leave the camp and those who leave do so without informing UNHCR. Refugees are requested to remain in the camp, because of the difficult living conditions, some refugees go and work in the city, but they do so covertly and they are not considered urban refugees.” Source: UNHCR (via email to OneWorld)[/hints]

“Take a good look around the camp”, advises Amina.
“The age under fifteen is present in the camp. But from the age of fifteen, they are not present. They have gone.”

Most girls look for work as a maid, which is hard to find, even for local girls.[hints]The unemploymentrate in Djibouti is around 60 procent. Source: CIA World Factbook, 2014[/hints] Yet, none of the girls returns to Ali Addeh.

[aesop_chapter title=”Djibouti is a source, transit, and destination country for sex trafficking” subtitle=”Trafficking in Persons Report 2015″ bgtype=”img” full=”on” img=””]

En route and on arrival, migrants and refugees are especially vulnerable to being trafficked, says an explanatory note in the 2015 Trafficking In Persons Report (TIP), an authoritative annual report by the US State Department. ‘While movement is not a required element of human trafficking – migrants and internally displaced persons fleeing situations of conflict, abuse, and crisis are particularly vulnerable to human trafficking— whether at home, in transit, or upon reaching their destination.’

‘Sexual exploitation is happening in Djibouti City, the port city of Obock and along the trucking route into Ethiopia’

‘All people on the move—-whether refugees and asylees seeking safety, or economic migrants seeking improved livelihood-—have a right to freedom from exploitation and abuse of all kinds, including human trafficking’, according to the Report.[hints]’The Trafficking Victims Protection Act TVPA defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as: sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.’ Source: Trafficking in Persons Reports 2015[/hints]

With 100,000 migrants traversing the country every year, as the IOM says, Djibouti clearly is a high risk area. It is hardly surprising, then, that in the TIP Report Djibouti is highlighted as ‘a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking.’


Forced sex work

The TIP Report indicates the scale of human trafficking in a country and the extent to which the government takes action against it. On the basis of these reports, every country is put in a so-called Tier; Tier 1 is the best category and Tier 3 the worst. A Tier 3 designation by the U.S. may bring consequences for future trade agreements and financial assistance to a country. Since 2011, Djibouti has been on the Tier 2 Watch List. If no measures are taken to prevent or to respond to trafficking, the country risks being downgraded to Tier 3.

The TIP Report says that in 2015 experts reported an increase in younger migrating children in Djibouti. They also talked about exploitation of migrant women and girls while they work as maids and about sexual exploitation in Djibouti City, the port city of Obock and along the heavy vehicle route between Ethiopia and Djibouti. There are also reports that human traffickers are abducting women women and gir and forcing them into sex work to pay for their release. Human traffickers have also been known to pay these ransoms in Yemen and Saudi Arabia but then continuing to trade the girls in the Middle East. [hints]‘During their time in Djibouti, which may last for extended periods, this large migrant population, including foreign street children, is vulnerable to various forms of exploitation, including human trafficking. Some Djiboutian and migrant women and girls fall victim to domestic servitude or sex trafficking in Djibouti City, the Ethiopia-Djibouti trucking corridor, or Obock, the preferred departure point for Yemen. …Some migrant women were subjected to domestic servitude and forced prostitution in Djibouti to pay these ransoms. In addition, ransoms are, at times, paid by traffickers based in Yemen or Saudi Arabia, who reportedly intend to exploit migrants or sell women into prostitution or domestic servitude upon their arrival there.’ Source: Trafficking in Persons Reports 2015[/hints]

The authorities in Djibouti do not have a system in place that can proactively identify victims of human trafficking, for example undocumented migrants or sex workers. Currently, these groups (including children) are deported after so-called round-ups. The authorities check their nationalities in order to remove them from the country, but they do not screen for human trafficking in their controls.

[aesop_chapter title=”The long road” subtitle=”To Djibouti City by way of Ali Sabieh” bgtype=”img” full=”on” img=””]

There isand, dust, rocks, and every hundred meters a small tree. The drive from the Ali Addeh Refugee Camp to the nearest town of Ali Sadieh takes 50 minutes, but we see no more than three people walking and four goats.

The road from Ali Sabieh to the capital Djibouti City looks equally deserted. In a landscape of rocks and red earth, while the road is tarred and smooth. This is for the trucks, as we soon discover. The aid organization’s car in which we travel is soon stuck among the vehicles that try to get back onto the road after a stop at a rest area. “National Highway 1,” the driver explains. “but also the Trans African highway to the only port in this region. All cargo that Ethiopia exports goes to the port of Djibouti, by truck.” [hints]According to the Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority, the amount of cargo handled by the port quintupled in the last ten year – the total amount now being 830.000.[/hints]

From brothel to brothel

“One of the side effects of the transport route,” says one of the women traveling with us. “The drivers stop here to eat or to sleep but mostly because of the sex workers.” She points at the shacks next to the resting place.

There were 2,430 sex workers arrested. 408 were between 10 and 17 years old.

It is an open secret that sex work is widespread along the international trucking corridors and a major factor in the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. [hints] Want to know more? Trucking through the aids belt van The New Yorker, AIDS Fight Targets Southern Africa Truck Drivers & Research recommends how to tackle spread of HIV/AIDS by African truckers[/hints] In 2013, a health center was opened at PK-12, a resting place for long-distance truck drivers, twelve kilometers from Djibouti City. Truckers may stay here for as long as five days, waiting for their load. ‘It is no surprise that many young people with few economic prospects are getting into the sex industry,’ says USAID, which helped set up the health centre, in a press statement when the facility was launched. [hints]Read the USAID press statement on PK-12[/hints]

Sometimes, when quoting other sources, we have kept the word ‘prostitute’, even when the source refers to underage girls. However, this term does not cover realities on the ground, as sex with underage children is illegal and punishable by law. Underage children who have transactional for money are not child prostitutes, according to official definition; they are victims or survivors of statutory rape and trafficking. Moreover, the word ‘prostitute’ can describe an adult who offers sex work by choice and not through coercion or force. In such cases, some experts and activists prefer the term ‘sex worker’.

Commercial sex work is against the law in Djibouti. The police have a habit of organizing random raids, during which brothels are (temporarily) closed and sex workers arrested. A significant number of these ‘prostitutes’ is under age, claims a children’s charity, Humanium.[hints]Humanium was founded in Geneva in 2008 with a single purpose: the wellbeing of children worldwide. The association strives for a concrete improvement in their living conditions and their basic rights. [/hints] ‘In 2009 there were 2,430 arrests made because of sex work. 408 among them were between 10 and 17 years old.’

 On the road from Ali Addeh to Djibouti City

From street kid to 'sex worker'

From PK-12 the Highway continues to the Ambouli International Airport, south of the capital. To the West is Balbala, an impoverished area where many undocumented migrants look for a place to stay. Others end up in Quartiers 1-7, in the African part of Djibouti City. ‘Hardly anyone has water or electricity. But they still pay 30 to 70 dollars per month, for a shack.’ Women who work as cleaners for 20 days or more every month earn between 35 and 70 dollars a month, leaving not enough money to buy food. [hints]Source: Djibouti: destitution and fear for refugees from Ethiopia[/hints]

‘Migrant girls are deported unless they pay the police with sex’

The homes of migrants double as brothels, writes N. Omar in his yet to be published memoirs.[hints]N. Omar shared the draft of his book My Six-year weekend in Djibouti exclusively with OneWorld. He plans to publish it at the beginning of 2016 via[/hints] (N. Omar is the pen name of an American military contractor who worked in Djibouti for six years.) According to him, the girls also work in the nightclubs downtown. ‘They get into prostitution by simply going into nightclubs and posing as if they are there just to have a good time. Normally, they strike up a conversation with a man there and after he buys her a drink or two and maybe shares a dance together, the subject of sex arises and the negotiation follows.’

The girls do the negotiating themselves, says N. Omar. “But they may face pressure from the bar owner, who can say, for instance, that he will not allow a girl into his bar if she does not do certain things (like parting with some of her earnings, have sex with the owner or someone the owner selects). And then there are the police raids,” he says. “Undocumented migrant girls who get arrested are deported unless they pay the police with money or sex.”

“European men give street kids money or food in exchange for sex”

Nobody knows how old these girls are, according to N. Omar. “The girls who are born in the rural areas do not have a birth certificate. They have no idea how old they are.” The same goes for girls who had to flee. There is no one checking their age. “I am certain that teenagers do sex work,” says N. Omar. “During my six years in Djibouti I met street kids who sold stuff like cigarettes and chewing gum. Then I noticed them starting to wear make-up and going to clubs. Yes, they were certainly underage.” Locals told him that on the streets the children are already affected by the sex industry. “European men offered them money or food in exchange for sex. I know that this is common in Asia and it is not far-fetched to see this practice arrive in Djibouti.”

[aesop_chapter title=”Djibouti received a waiver and was not downgraded to Tier 3″ subtitle=”Trafficking in Persons Report 2015″ bgtype=”img” full=”on” img=””]

‘The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking’, writes the US State Department on its website.[hints]Source: U.S. Department of State [/hints] The report’s first version appeared in 2001. The U.S. created the TIP reports to raise its own profile as a leader against human trafficking. ‘The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. Worldwide, the report is used by international organizations, foreign governments, and nongovernmental organizations alike as a tool to examine where resources are most needed.’

‘Djibouti has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human traffickers’

In 2015, Djibouti is listed on the Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth year in a row.[hints]Tier 2 Watch List: ‘Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND: The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.'[/hints] In 2013 a rule was introduced limiting the maximum number of years a country is allowed on that Watch List, to two years. Afther that follows either an upgrade to Tier 2 or automatic downgrade to Tier 3. [hints]’A 2008 amendment to the TVPA provides that any country that has been ranked Tier 2 Watch List for two consecutive years and that would otherwise be ranked Tier 2 Watch List for the next year will instead be ranked Tier 3 in that third year. This automatic downgrade provision came into effect for the first time in the 2013 Report. The Secretary of State is authorized to waive the automatic downgrade based on credible evidence that a waiver is justified because the government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement the plan. The Secretary can only issue this waiver for two consecutive years. After the third year, a country must either go up to Tier 2 or down to Tier 3. Governments subject to the automatic downgrade provision are noted as such in the country narratives.'[/hints]

This has not been the case with Djibouti. In the 2015 TIP Report, we read that Djibouti ‘has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human traffickers’. Still, the country receives a waiver from the downgrade because ‘the government has written a plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.’ [hints]Source: Trafficking in Persons Report 2015[/hints]

Remarkably, in 2014 the country was also granted a waiver for the same reason. [hints]‘The government has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking compared to the previous year; therefore, Djibouti is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a third consecutive year. Djibouti was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and it has committed to devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan. During the year, officials, including the prime minister, acknowledged the existence of trafficking in Djibouti and demonstrated a renewed interest in combating the crime—most evident in the government’s completion of a national action plan in March 2014.’ Source: TIP Report 2014[/hints]

It is mentioned in other reports

Equally remarkable is that TIP Reports for neighboring countries clearly indicated that there are many forms of human trafficking in Djibouti. In the chapter on Somalia, for instance, one can read that ‘traffickers transport Somali women, sometimes via Djibouti, to the Middle East, particularly Yemen and Syria, where they frequently endure domestic servitude or forced prostitution.’ The report refers to Somali refugee girls who human traffickers place in brothels. [hints]‘Traffickers transport Somali women, sometimes via Djibouti, to the Middle East, particularly Yemen and Syria, where they frequently endure domestic servitude or forced prostitution. Traffickers reportedly subject Somali children fleeing al-Shabaab and seeking refuge in Kenya to forced labor or sexual exploitation. Trucks transporting goods from Kenya to Somalia return to Kenya with young girls and women; traffickers acquire these young girls and women and place them in brothels in Nairobi or Mombasa or send them to destinations outside Kenya. Somali traffickers known as “makhalis” control the networks, but truck drivers also exploit these girls in prostitution.’ Source: TIP report 2015 | Somalia[/hints]

There are 1,500 Ethiopians leaving their country every day and many of them travel through Djibouti, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan and Kenya, says the TIP Report on Ethiopia. [hints]‘Officials reported up to 1,500 Ethiopians departed daily as part of the legal migration process. Many young Ethiopians transit through Djibouti, Egypt, Somalia, Sudan, or Kenya as they emigrate seeking work in the Middle East; some become stranded and exploited in these transit countries and are subjected to detention, extortion, and severe abuses en route to their final destinations. […]Ethiopian girls are forced into domestic servitude and prostitution in neighboring African countries and in the Middle East. Ethiopian boys are subjected to forced labor in Djibouti as shop assistants, errand boys, domestic workers, thieves, and street beggars.’ Source: TIP report 2015 | Ethiopia[/hints] ‘Some become stranded and are exploited in these transit countries.’ Ethiopian girls are forced into domestic and sex slavery in neighboring countries. Boys are also labor trafficked in Djibouti as shop assistants, errand boys, thieves or beggars, we read.

‘Migrant children who have been arrested for sex work are abandoned at the border’

Other U.S. government reports are more forthright about the severity of the situation in Djibouti. For instance, the Country Report on Human Rights Practices, like the TIP Reports, a product of the U.S. State Department, states there are ‘credible reports of child prostitution on the streets and in brothels’. Children are sexually exploited on arrival in Djibouti Cityor along the transport route from Ethiopia. [hints] Source: 2014 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices – Djibouti, June 2015[/hints]
The Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, a report by the U.S. Department of Labor contains even starker language. Its introduction says: Children in Djibouti are engaged in child labor, including in street work and in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation.’[hints] ‘However, children in Djibouti are engaged in child labor, including in street work and in the worst forms of child labor, including in commercial sexual exploitation. (…) In addition to Djiboutian girls, Ethiopian, Somalian and Eritrean migrant girls fall victim to forced domestic work and possibly to commercial sexual exploitation in Djibouti City; the Ethiopia-Djibouti trucking corridor; and Obock, the preferred departure point for Yemen. Girls from poor Djiboutian families may be sexually exploited as a means of income. Limited evidence suggests younger children are sometimes exploited in commercial sexual exploitation by older children.’ Source: 2014 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor – Djibouti, 20 September 2015 [/hints]

The report says also that it occurs frequently that the Djibouti authorities arrest and incarcerate underage sex workers and other potential victims of human trafficking. Undocumented migrant children are identified and then transported to Ali Sabieh, at the border with Ethiopia, and left ‘abandoned and vulnerable to retrafficking’.

[aesop_chapter title=”Soldiers & surveillance” subtitle=”Place du 27 Juin, Djibouti City” bgtype=”img” full=”on” img=””]

The June 27 Square (Place du 27 Juin) is named after the day that Djibouti declared independence from France. It is the heart of the city’s European neighborhood. On one side of the square are Hotel Résidence de l’Europe and Hotel Menelik, which is also a night club. On the other side: the French restaurant La Chaumiere.

This is where the upper and middle classes of Djibouti go for lunch. On the terrace sits an artist who doubles as a fixer and a government official. She is chain-smoking. “You see that man over there?” she says. “Intel. And that one, two tables away? Also Intel.” ‘Intel’ means intelligence and here it means ‘Djibouti government informer’. The woman insists that almost everyone does it. “Not fulltime, mind you. They just sit for a few hours on a terrace and listen”

Top: Place du 27 Juin by day. Bottom: By Night.

The Djibouti government closely monitors its residents. The 2014 Human Rights Report confirms this. It writes: ‘Government critics claimed the government monitored their communications and kept their homes under surveillance. […] The government monitored digital communications intended to be private and punished their authors. […] There were few government restrictions on access to the Internet, although the government monitored social networks to ensure there were no planned demonstrations or overly critical views of the government. Djibouti Telecom, the state-owned internet provider, reportedly continued to block access to the websites of the Association for Respect of Human Rights in Djibouti and La Voix de Djibouti, which often criticized the government.’ [hints]Source: Human Rights Report 2014[/hints]

Djibouti Telecom is the country’s sole Internet Service Provider and the only mobile phone network provider. Services that the provider cannot monitor, like WhatsApp, are blocked.

Suicide Attack

The terrace at La Chaumiere offers view of the entire square. In the middle of the square, a group of men is chewing qat, a stimulant that is freshly imported every day from neighboring Ethiopia. There is also a police station but nobody is there; The police only arrive when the scorching sun has set and the nearby street has come alive under pulsating red and green lights.

It is hard to imagine, then, that a year and a half ago an attack happened here. Two suicide bombers blew themselves up in the name of Al-Shabaab, while people were having dinner. Three people died [including the terrorists] and twenty were injured. Among the injured were three Spanish air force personnel, three German military personnel, seven French nationals and six Dutchmen of the naval warship “Zeven Provinciën” on shore leave.

The French were the target, Al-Shabaab said in a press statement, because of its presence in the Central African Republic and the training they provide to the Djibouti Army, which it then uses in its fight against Al-Shabaab in Somalia. The French have the second largest army base in Djibouti with two thousand personnel and a Foreign Legion department.

A Front in the War on Terror

Only one military is even more present in Djibouti- that of the United States. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. turned Camp Lemonnier into its “only” permanent base on African soil.[hints]The U.S. present it as if the base in Djibouti is their only base on African soil, which is definately not the case. Dozens of smaller bases, called ‘lilypads’ are spread across the continent. See this map published by the Intercept for the location of the 14 known U.S. drone- and surveillance-hubs in Africa.[/hints] The first 800 troops arrived in April 2002.

In his book Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, investigative journalist Nick Turse explains that Djibouti is far more important to the U.S. than is widely thought. ‘After 9/11 the U.S. Army moved to three main regions: South Asia (mostly Afghanistan), the Middle East (predominantly Iraq) and the Horn of Africa,’ [all in the name of the War on Terror.] ‘Now the Americans are drawing down in Afghanistan and have all but withdrawn from Iraq. Africa, on the other hand, remains a Pentagon growth opportunity.’

The American military presence in Djibouti is now seven times larger than in 2002. A CJTF-HOA spokesperson replies, on behalf of USAFRICOM[hints]The Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa is “a dynamic operational headquarters, effectively countering violent extremist organizations in East Africa” and part of United States Africa Command.[/hints], to our question regarding staff: “The camp [Lemonnier] has 4,000 personnel, including military, civilians of the Department of Defense and contractors [employees of private military companies]. We also have 1,100 local staff and third country staff working in the camp.” Leasing Camp Lemonnier costs the United States $63m per year. [hints]Previously, the U.S. paid half that amount but some changes have been made in the new agreements (for a period of ten years), sealed between presidents Obama and Guelleh in The White House in May 2014. “The agreement allows for a renewal of the lease contract for ten years in May 2024 and another ten years in May 2034,” according to a CJTF-HOA spokesperson. [/hints]

Rendition program

“Everyone in the camp contributes in one way or another to increasing capacity in the partner nation [Djibouti], promoting regional security and stability, conflict prevention or the protection of the U.S. and coalitions,” is the e-mailed reply of the CJTF-HOA spokesperson. ‘I can speak only for CJTF-HOA’s mission. A prime component of our mission is to help build the defense capability and capacity among our East African partners. The command conducts military-to-military engagements (e.g. training, sharing of best practices, military exercises, and advising), key leader engagements, and civil-military operations; and provides enabling support to other organizations to counter violent extremism in the region. Much focus is on supporting the militaries of countries that provide troops to the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), so that they are better trained and equipped to face Al-Shabaab. CJTF-HOA supports African states and regional organizations so that they possess the will, capability and capacity to combat transnational threats, are able to execute effective peace operations, respond to crises, and are able to promote regional stability and prosperity.”

“Foreign militaries in Djibouti protect the global commons, especially the busy shipping lane off the coast of Somalia through the Bab el Mandeb against pirates, and the U.S. military supports African militaries that are leading the fight against the terrorist group Al-Shabaab through AMISOM. The U.S. government’s presence in Djibouti, including the U.S. military, is about partnership. This partnership includes combatting trafficking in persons and providing critical assistance to refugees and migrants in Djibouti. Djibouti has kept its borders open to people fleeing the violence in Yemen, thereby saving many lives.”

Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy – Djibouti

A photo caption that USAFRICOM put on its own website tells us that there are 300 personnel stationed in Djibouti who work on intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights in the region. [hints] [/hints] The Intercept showed last October how the drone base at Chabelley Airfield in Djibouti, is expanding. [hints]American drones used to take off from the Ambouli airport, close to Camp Lemonnier. Until 2013, when one of them crashed near a residential area. The Djibouti drone base is the world’s second largest, after Afghanistan. From there, drones attack targets in Yemen and Somalia. According to the Washington Post sixteen U.S. drones and four jet fighters made daily use of the runway in 2012. Last October, The Intercept published The Drone Papers, showing that a significant number of people killed in drone attacks had nothing to do with the original targets.[/hints]

Reports by the Open Society Foundations and the United Nations add that Djibouti is part of the so-called Rendition Program, started by president George W. Bush. The program enables the transport, incarceration and interrogation in a foreign [cooperating] country of captured terrorism suspects, who have no recourse to their rights in the process.

According to the Open Society Foundations, Djibouti allowed the use of some of its territory for ‘secret incarcerations of individuals’. Djibouti would also have allowed the use, at least in 2003 and 2004, of its airspace and airport facilities by aircraft associated with CIA rendition operations.[hints]Source: Globalizing torture CIA secret detention and extraordinary rendition, 2013, Open Society Foundations[/hints]

There is, for instance, the story of Mohammed al-Asad, a Yemeni national. He was abducted, taken from his home in Tanzania where he had been living since 1985 and forcibly taken to a secret prison in Djibouti. He was put in solitary confinement and was not allowed any contact with the outside world, not even his family, the Red Cross or a lawyer. The only time he was outside his cell was when he was interrogated ‘by a white English-speaking woman and an Arab-speaking interpreter,’ as al-Asad later said in an official statement.

‘The first time I had a sense of where I was being held was when one of the guards told me I was in Djibouti. The guards all looked like they were from the Horn of Africa and they all dressed in civilian clothing. Also, while I was in the interrogation room I read the name Ismail, written in English letters, under a large official-looking picture of a man who looked like he was from the Horn of Africa. I believe it was a picture of the President of Djibouti. The name of the President of Djibouti (now and at the time of my detention) is Ismail Omar Guelleh.’ [hints]Source: Statement Mohammed al-Asad[/hints]

A United Nations report says that some two weeks after his initial detention al-Asad was taken from his cell by two guards, blindfolded and transported to an airport, where he was handed over to individuals who stripped him naked, inserted something into his rectum, took pictures and then put diapers on him before he was made to board an aircraft that took him to another place for further detention. [hints]Source: OHCHR Report 2010[/hints]

Intelligence services cooperate

The Americans obtain information from the Djibouti secret service. This becomes clear when going through the secret embassy cables that WikiLeaks published. Local police do not receive a favorable review from the Americans.

‘What the Djiboutian intelligence serves lack in experience, they make up for in cooperation’

‘It is very common for law enforcement officers to request fees for services that should be provided without charge, particularly with the immigrant population. It is also known that law enforcement will sell fuel from their own official vehicles for profit. Such improper actions appear to be standard operating procedure for Djibouti’s poorly paid law enforcement officers.’

On the other hand, there is lavish American praise for the Djibouti intelligence service.[hints]Source: Wikileaks | Embassy cable 2009[/hints] ‘They have demonstrated the capability to deter terrorism and have been successful in intercepting and turning over suspected terrorists to U.S. authorities. […] Yes, the National Security Service has been extremely cooperative with Embassy requests; what they lack in experience they make up for in cooperation. The Embassy enjoys a strong relationship.’

[aesop_chapter title=”‘American presence creates pressure to self-censor'” subtitle=”Freedom House | Djibouti 2014″ bgtype=”img” full=”on” img=””]

Intelligence services may share a lot of information mutually, but hardly tell anyone else anyting. Further, as already noted, mainstream media coverage about Djibouti is next to non-existent in the West.

‘Journalists are discouraged from reporting on soldiers’ activities.’

The Djibouti media are censored, according to Freedom House in its annual Press Freedom Report. The ‘watchdog organisation’ has declared the press in Djibouti to be “not free.” The opening sentence of its 2014 report reads: ‘The media environment in Djibouti is among the most restricted in Africa.’ Further: ‘[t]he official media, which account for almost all of the country’s outlets, practice self-censorship and do not criticize the government,’ the Report states. ‘Journalists generally avoid covering sensitive issues, including human rights. The economically important U.S. military presence in Djibouti creates additional pressure to self-censor, as journalists are discouraged from reporting on soldiers’ activities.’[hints] Source: Freedom House | Djibouti 2014 [/hints]

“We make every effort to protect our troops, accomplish our mission and be welcomed guests in our African partner nations,” a CJTF-HOA spokesperson responds. “Maintaining good order and discipline is key to maintaining good relationships with our hosts.”

‘In their quest to secure base access around the globe, government officials have repeatedly collaborated with murderous, antidemocratic regimes and ignored widespread evidence of human rights abuses.’ This statement comes from a book, written by Professor David Vine of the American University in Washington DC and published in August, 2015. Its title is Base Nation. How U.S. military bases abroad harm America and the world. ‘Research by the John Hopkins political scientist Kent Calder confirms the ‘dictatorship hypothesis’: Consistently, “the United States tends to support dictators (and undemocratic regimes) in nations where it enjoys basing facilities.”’

Djibouti is no exception. Human Rights Watch made this known in 2011, as the United States geared up for the next presidential election. ‘The (Djibouti) government has banned all public demonstrations. Peaceful demonstrators and leaders of the opposition are arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted. The French and US governments maintain military bases in Djibouti and provide substantial assistance to the government of Djibouti. Neither has issued public condemnations of the recent events and the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.’

Saturday morning 11 am: French soldiers enjoy their weekend at a pool of the Kempinski hotel. The persons in the photo are not part of the story.

Burgeoning sex trade

In his book Base Nation, Professor Vine dedicates one chapter to the commercial sex zones that appear wherever American military set up shop. ‘Even during the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been multiple reports of brothels and sex trafficking involving U.S. troops and contractors.’

According to Vine, it is the Vietnam War that contributed to the transformation of the Thai resort of Pattaya into ‘one of the world’s largest red light districts.’ Pattaya was a favorite for R&R [rest and recreation]. ‘Or, as some called it, I&I – intoxication and intercourse. When the military withdrew from South Vietnam it left behind an estimated seven hundred thousand sex workers.’ Similar in The Phillippines, where the Subic Bay Naval Base was abandoned by the U.S. Navy, leaving behind some 20,000 sex workers. ‘When the military withdrew from South Vietnam, it left behind an estimated seven hundred thousand sex workers.’
By the time the Filipino government evicted the U.S. military, in 1992, the country’s sex industry had become one of the world’s largests, with as many as twenty thousand sex workers around Subic Bay Naval Base alone.’

The girls enter the bathroom completely veiled, they come out wearing a glitter dress

According to General Order Number 1, the code of conduct for USAFRICOM and CJTF-HOA personnel, American soldiers [and also contractors and other staff present on U.S. bases] are allowed a maximum of two alcoholic units a day, and are banned from possessing pornographic material or paying for sex.

There is no extensive party scene in Djibouti, stresses the CJTF-HOA spokesperson, while adding that staff must comply with the highest standards for behavior. “Everyone understands violating General Order [Number] #1 has repercussions. If incidents occur, it is our policy to address the issue immediately and hold violators accountable for their actions. […] Your intent to paint a picture of U.S. personnel frequently engaging in inappropriate behaviors would be irresponsible journalism, as the words you have chosen– ‘significant and extensive party scene,’ ‘openly patronizing prostitutes,’ and ‘common practice’– are unsubstantiated. If these events are occurring, they are not being conducted by U.S. members assigned to Camp Lemonnier.’

No 'Las Vegas'

‘No matter one’s opinions about the legality and morality of sex work, patronizing the sex industry means violating both military law and the law of most countries in which U.S. bases and troops are located,’ professor David Vine writes in his book Base Nation. ‘Given the prevalence of sex trafficking in the industry, troops also violate national and international prohibitions on supporting human trafficking. […] Unlike the Las Vegas fantasy, what goes on in the camptowns doesn’t stay in the camptowns.’

The red and green lights illuminate the Rue d’Éthiopie, nearby Place du 27 Juin. The owners of Club Hermes, Club Oasis, Club Shams and many other nightclubs, sit themselves down on plastic chairs near the entrances. There are metal detectors and security gates, in order to prevent a repeat of the attack at La Chaumiere.

Two girls in multi-colored veils enter Hotel Menelik, which has a nightclub in the basement. The contents of their handbags do not need to go through the scanner. Once inside, they head straight for the bathroom to left of the entrance. Fifteen minutes later, they emerge in short glitter dresses. A piece of red cloth sticks out of one of their handbags- a veil. ‘Peggy’ and ‘Kelly’ from Ethiopia (“we’ve been here seven months”) seat themselves in a corner near the bar. Let the night begin.

[aesop_chapter title=”Bargirls & Vodka-bull ” subtitle=”Club Scotch, Djibouti City” bgtype=”img” full=”on” img=””]

“Empty your cup!” It’s midnight and I have downed two shots of tequila and two vodka-redbull. The three American contractors with whom I [Sanne Terlingen] am here have poured me many drinks already, but I try to inconspicuously lose them. Or I ‘accidentally’ spill them.

“Everyone is flat-out drunk. One contractor just left with an Ethiopian girl”

The men know I am a journalist producing a story about migrants and refugees, and also about sex work. “But tonight we have only one mission!,” yells the youngest member of the bunch. “Getting drunk!” They take me downtown Djibouti, on the condition that I do not reveal their identities, and also do not publish any pictures of them. We start in Club Shams on the Rue d’Ethiopie. Once we get there several more military men and contractors from varying nationalities join us. Three bottles of vodka are– interrupted by two rounds of tequilashots- consumed. Then one of the contractors suddenly wants to leave for another club. “We’re leaving here goddammit,” he brawls. His regular girl – one of the ‘bargirls’ – has left with a Spanish military guy. He’s furious.

In the next nightclub, Scotch, four new bottles of vodka are promptly ordered, together with a huge bucket of ice and cans of Red Bull. One of the contractors continuously refills the glasses of his friends. “Cheers,” says a man in a red shirt. “How much for her?,” he asks, pointing at me. “She is off limits,” a contractor retorts. “That’s an [Arabic] ambassador. Crazy guy,” he explaines to me. He pays a Djiboutian fixer 30 U.S. Dollars to make sure I’m not bothered. The fixer even walks with me when I go to the bathroom at 1 a.m. to turn on my hidden voice recorder.

“It’s now one o’clock at night. I turn my voice-recorder back on. Everyone is flat-out drunk. By now I have flushed eight drinks down the toilet. Vodka-Red Bull. Four, I gave away to prostitutes. They [the contractors] get new drinks every time. I smoke like crazy to hide that I’m not drinking [much]. They just bought four new bottles of vodka. They are behind the bar. One just left with an Ethiopian prostitute. Four, five, prostitutes in the bathroom. I think there are more than thirty in this bar. [Knocking on the bathroom door] I am coming! Sorry, I am a bit slow!”

Top: Club Shams. Bottom: Sanne Terlingen in Club Scotch. The other persons in the picture have no role in the article.

Taking a bargirl home

Two o’clock at night. One of the guys leaves us. He just went away with an Ethiopian girl and now he is either too tired or too drunk to keep his eyes open. A Somali girl hits his hand when he tries to stroke her ear for the third time. He’s going to call it a night, he says. Stumbling off to his car.

“Sanne! Are you having a good time?”– one of the contractors checks with me for the sixth time in an hour. “Where is your cup? Where is your cigarette?” He has smoked two whole packs of Marlboros by now. Lighting one cigarette after the next. “Don’t worry! Drink! I take care of you. Where is your fucking cup? Get a new cup!”

These contractors are the kings of the Djibouti City nightlife

At fifteen minutes past three, after sharing eight bottles of vodka with six people, the men offer to bring me back to my hotel by car. “We just have to wait for our friend,” the driver says. “Is that alright?” He wants to take that bargirl, but she first has to clean up.”

At four a.m. we, two American contractors, a foreign base employee and a bargirl, get into the car. “Fuck, we are late. We have to be at the base at five [5 a.m.]. We have work to do in the morning.”

These are not inexperienced boys, who are on their first mission with the other ‘boys’ and who smell the power of money and esteem for the first time. No, these men have been working for years on American bases worldwide, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They are also not ‘assholes’ that look down upon the locals and only care about their own pleasure. They know all the sex workers in the club by name and buy them vodka, even when they aren’t looking for a girl-for-one-night. A handicapped man who ‘watches the car,’ is given money, a big kiss on his head and a hug, every night.

These men are the kings of the Djibouti City nightlife. They have fun, in a country where there isn’t much to do. They do not see what could be wrong with that.

Against U.S. military rules

“All military personnel, DoD civilians, and contingency contractor personnel under the Combatant Commander’s (AFRICOM) authority abide by ‘General Order Number 1’, signed by the AFRICOM commander.” Is written by a spokesperson of USAFRICOM/CJTF-HOA in an email response to OneWorld. The CJTF-HOA commander also signed the document.

“If any misconduct such as you claim were true, these offices would know about the incidents”

According to General Order Number 1 (published in full below) it is illegal to:
* Drink more than two alcoholic beverages within 24 hours
* Operate a motorized vehicle within 8 hours after consuming alcohol
* Consume alcohol less than 8 hours before work hours
* Convince a person to have sexual intercourse in exchange for money or other payments (‘Patronizing a prostitute’)

[aesop_document type=”pdf” src=”https://longreads.oneworld.nlwp-content/uploads/USAFRICOM_GENERAL_ORDER_NUMBER_1.pdf” caption=”General Order Number #1″]

“These orders restrict certain activities to ensure readiness, safety, force protection, good order and discipline, foster positive relations with our African partners, strengthen the bonds with our coalition partners, and maintain a consistently high operational tempo,” according tot the CJTF-HOA spokesperson.

"No such reports"

The spokesperson of CJTF-HOA denies that any persons participating in the American mission are misbehaving, whether they might be military personnel, civilian employees or contractors.
“With that said, we contacted every legal office, law enforcement agency and criminal investigation service on Camp Lemonnier to determine if any of these claims you make are accurate. If any misconduct such as you claim were true, these offices would know about the incidents. Every expert we asked all said there have been no such reports of misconduct for at least the past 18 months regarding U.S. personnel patronizing prostitutes.”
The spokesperson admits that there was an incident where American contractors were under the influence while off the base, several months ago. “That behavior is unacceptable and contrary to good order and discipline, but it is rare and would be misleading your readers to imply U.S. personnel regularly participate in such behavior.” According to the spokesperson, a criminal investigation service asked their Djiboutian contacts off camp. They “related that they rarely see Americans off camp at all.”

'How old do you want me to be?'

To be clear: The wild night with the American contractors was no incident. No less than three times a week the men go out.[hints]The size and composition of the group varies. Aside from this specific group of friends and acquaintances there are many more.[/hints] The clubs in Djibouti open their doors every night. In every club, there are dozens of bargirls and sex workers to be found. The girls alk openheartedly about their lives before Djibouti. Some girls say their parents are from Somalia. However, by far, the most recently arrived in Djibouti City were from Ethiopia. A young woman who calls herself “Kelly” shows a picture of her daughter, whom she had to leave behind. “She lives with my mum. I send money home.”

“French girls like Ethiopian pussy,” explaines one of the bargirls

The girls speak less openly about how they earn money in Djibouti. They are fine with coming home with me and seem to think that is weird at all. “French girls like Ethiopian pussy,” one girl explains. But none of them shares her any real name. “Peggy”, “Kelly”, “Maria”, “Anna”, “Tanya”, are all 18 or 21, so they say. “How old do you think I am?”

“I have about 25 bargirls,” says the club owner. It’s “no problem” to take one of these girls for “jiggy jiggy.”

The club owner confides he can also arrange a 16 year-old.

“If these events are occurring, they are not being conducted by U.S. members assigned to Camp Lemonnier”

“Military men from all the bases partake in this business,” says N. Omar, the contractor who was stationed in Djibouti for six years and is writing his memoires now. “Not all of them, but a substantial amount. The girls cannot be taken on the military bases. But they either take the girls to a hotel room they have already rented or the girls take the men to apartments.”
[hints]”Most of the Ethiopian ones already have a room they share with one or two other girls. If the girl is from Djibouti, she most likely lives with her parents or other family members and would have to be taken to a hotel or the house of a friend.” Source: N. Omar in a email to OneWorld[/hints]

“If these events [i.e., drinking large quantities of alcohol, driving under influence and having sex with ‘bargirls’ or other girls in exchange for a payment] are occurring, they are not being conducted by U.S. members assigned to Camp Lemonnier,” the spokesperson of CJTF-HOA persists.[hints]”I want to be very clear about something. We are not making any “generalized statements referring to unspecified inaccuracies,” as you state. Your intent to paint a picture of US personnel frequently engaging in inappropriate behaviors would be irresponsible journalism, as the words you have chosen – “significant and extensive party scene,” “openly patronizing prostitutes,” and “common practice” – are unsubstantiated. If these events are occurring, they are not being conducted by U.S. members assigned to Camp Lemonnier.” Source: Spokesperson CJTF-HOA in an email to OneWorld[/hints]No response is given by Camp Lemonnier to follow-up questions by OneWorld.

The French ministry of Defense just thanks us for our questions. “We will keep our comments if necessary after your publication. We wish you a nice day.”

[aesop_chapter title=”‘U.S. State Department waters down human trafficking report'” subtitle=”Reuters, August 2015″ bgtype=”img” full=”on” img=””]

American diplomats within the State Department overruled human trafficking experts, who are responsible for the yearly Trafficking in Persons Report, several times during the drafing of the 2015 report. This is what Reuters revealed last summer on the basis of interviews with ‘more than a dozen sources within Washington and foreign capitals.’[hints] Source: State department watered down human trafficking report[/hints]

Experts allegedly disagreed on the Tier ranking of 17 countries; in 14 cases the diplomats’ opinion was decisive. Among the disputed countries were China, Cuba, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Thailand and Uzbekistan. [hints]Only with the ranking of Thailand, and two other unknown countries, the advice of the TIP experts was decisive. Of the 17 disputed countries, of only 7 we know the name.[/hints]

A political game

Malaysia was upgraded from Tier 3 to Tier 2 Watch List. [hints]Already before the publication of the Tip Report an official letter was send to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, in which he is called out not to upgrade Malaysia.This letter was signed by 160 members of congress[/hints] If Malaysia were assigned to Tier 3 again this year, then the country would have been barred from being part of Obama’s prestigious Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. [hints]Earlier this year the U.S. approved an amendment which it is stated that countries assigned to the lowest tier in the TIP Report, thus the ‘Tier 3-countries, cannot be part of expedited trade deals such as which would be made possible by the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)’.[/hints] The Tier upgrade of Cuba to the Watch List coincides with the rekindled relationship between Washington and Havana. The past year the U.S. even reopened its American embassy in the country.

Several members of congress suspect ‘political games’ are being played concerning the TIP Rankings. An important senator wanted all documents concerning the TIP Rankings to be made public. [hints]Source: Reuters[/hints]’The only reason to upgrade Malaysia to a Tier 2 country is to bypass the ban that is currently in U.S. law. President Obama and Secretary Kerry must do the right thing and not arbitrarily upgrade Malaysia as a means to secure the TPP’, congresswoman Rosa DeLauro wrote in a statement on her website. ‘This is an irresponsible, unacceptable political game.’ DeLauro asked Obama and Kerry for an explanation. She shared the letter she received as a response with OneWorld.

‘The Department has produced an accurate report this year,’ the letter states. The TIP Report shines a light on the efforts that should be undertaken around the world to combat human trafficking. ‘None of the tier ranking decisions, including for Malaysia, were made with regard to other considerations.’ DeLauro is thanked for her leadership on fighting trafficking in persons.

'Key partner'

Maintaining a good relationship with Djibouti is essential for the U.S. This is clear from the text on the federal government’s website. ‘Djibouti is located at a strategic point in the Horn of Africa and is a key U.S. partner on security, regional stability, and humanitarian efforts in the greater Horn. The Djiboutian government has been supportive of U.S. interests and takes a proactive position against terrorism. [hints]Source: US Department of State | U.S. Relations with Djibouti[/hints]

Could the U.S. political interests have influenced the Tier ranking of Djibouti?

The Djiboutian government equally values their relationship with the U.S., as is stated in a cable published by WikiLeaks dating from 2004. ‘[T]he only problem Djibouti appeared to have with the U.S. is the negative yearly Human Rights report.’ [hints] ‘Moussa commented that the only problem Djibouti appeared to have with the U.S. is the negative yearly Human Rights report, which he said “does not reflect reality.” Ambassador responded that Djibouti does have a poor record in this area and that there is room for improvement.’ Source: Wikileaks | Cable 04DJIBOUTI298_a[/hints]

Could it be that U.S. political interests have influenced the Tier ranking of Djibouti? It wouldn’t surprise Base Nation author David Vine. “As far as I know the U.S. never reported on the role the American troops play in the growing prostitution business and human trafficking in Korea,” he tells OneWorld.

The TIP Office neither denies nor confirms the statement that its report is politicized. “The annual TIP Report reflects the State Department’s assessment of foreign government efforts during the reporting period to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons established under U.S. law,” a spokesperson writes in response to questions by OneWorld. “The Department strives to make the report as accurate as possible, documenting the successes and shortcomings of government anti-trafficking efforts. Over the past 15 years, the Report has raised the profile of this issue significantly and consistently drawn public attention to the realities on the ground. The attention that the Report generates demonstrates both the impact and importance of the issue and the U.S. government’s efforts to address it.”

TIP visit to Djibouti

In the U.S. embassy cables published by WikiLeaks, readers can see how TIP report employees travel to Djibouti to inform themselves on human trafficking policies there. ‘[T]here [is] no hard evidence on the prevalence of child prostitution in Djibouti,’ it is proclaimed in these conversations. While also : ‘there may be girls as young as 12 or 13 in prostitution.’ [hints]‘While there may be girls as young as 12 or 13 in prostitution, [UNHCR representative Ann] Encontre said that there was no reliable information to confirm this.’ […] President of the Court of Appeals (and recent IVLP alumna) Habiba Hachin said that prosecutions of pimp rings have been extremely rare, and have only occurred when a murder case investigation coincidentally revealed the existence of such a ring. Both Hachin and Abdoulkader noted that there was no hard evidence on the prevalence of child prostitution in Djibouti. Source: WikiLeaks[/hints]

That there is no evidence is due to the lack of official data on forced sex work and other forms of human trafficking. These kinds of data are non-existent. [hints]Ministry of Justice Secretary-General Abdi Ismael Hersi: ‘There is a real lack of data on issues such as prostitution, child begging, and other forms of TIP. […] Hersi said that while prostitution-and especially child prostitution-was illegal in Djibouti, and a police vice squad existed to combat it, it was possible that there were some children who became involved in prostitution. Street children involved in begging, whether accompanied by their parents or not, were especially vulnerable.'[/hints] Several aid agencies confirm that this is a problem. [hints]’In a separate meeting October 18, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director of Legal Affairs Marie Natalis […]She also pointed out that Djibouti lacked good statistics on what cases of trafficking might exist in country, such as data on child prostitution. Several interlocutors, including the Director of CARITAS Djibouti (which runs a small drop-in day center for street children in Djibouti City, the only facility of its kind in country) and UNICEF Protection Project Officer Fathia Omar Hassan, underlined the need for better data on the numbers and situations of street children in Djibouti. Source: Wikileaks [/hints]

Many children are clearly at risk of becoming a victim of human trafficking. ‘UNICEF estimated that there were approximately 33,000 Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) in Djibouti, of whom 5,000 were HIV/AIDS orphans.’ Most children living on the streets are of Ethiopian or Somali backgrounds. [hints]In addition, Hassan (Ministry of Foreign Affairs Director of Bilateral Relations Mohamed Ali Hassan) said that UNICEF estimated that there were approximately 33,000 Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) in Djibouti, of whom 5,000 were HIV/AIDS orphans.[…] Both CARITAS and UNICEF representatives noted that while most street children were of foreign (Ethiopian or Somali) origin, there were also Djiboutian children who ended up living on the streets. Bron: Wikileaks | 09DJIBOUTI1303_a[/hints] A representative of the Djiboutian government pleads for a program that protects vulnerable women and children, ‘such as street children who may become involved in child prostitution’. This same representative was ‘dismayed to occasionally find young children hanging around the vicinity of the French military base.’ [hints] Hassan requested that the USG consider additional assistance on TIP, perhaps in the form of a one-or-two-year program to build on the passage of Djibouti’s anti-TIP law in 2007. Djibouti is small, he added, and even a modest program could have an important impact. One top priority for such a program, Hassan suggested, could be protection for the most vulnerable women and children, such as street children who may become involved in child prostitution. Hassan said that he was personally dismayed to occasionally find young children hanging around the vicinity of the French military base. BRON: Wikileaks | 09DJIBOUTI1303_a[/hints]

Only one conviction

The politicization of the report has to be put to a stop, is the message proclaimed by politician Chris Smith, [hints]Smith is chairman of the House of Representatives International Relations Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Subcommittee[/hints],author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) which forms the basis for the TIP ranking, this November in The House of Representatives. The TIP Report of 2015, ‘has careened off into a new direction where the facts regarding each government’s actions in the fight against human trafficking are given almost no weight when put up against the President’s political agenda.’ [hints]Source: Website Chris Smith[/hints]

‘If you want proof these decisions were politicized just look at the numbers,’ states Smith. ‘China convicted 35 traffickers, Malaysia 3, and Thailand 151–but only Thailand is Tier 3.’ [hints]‘The tier ranking decisions made by the State Department were clearly politicized, raising the bar for some countries and lowering it for others,” said Smith. “If you want proof these decisions were politicized just look at the numbers… China convicted 35 traffickers, Malaysia 3, and Thailand 151–but only Thailand is Tier 3. What message does that send?’ Source: Website Chris Smith[/hints]

The observation that the presence of foreign militaries contributed to the demand for sex workers, was omitted from the Report

In Djibouti, only one person was convicted on human trafficking charges in 2014. ‘The courts convicted a woman of trafficking in persons and aiding illegal migrants under Law 210 for aiding three non-Djiboutian women across the border into Djibouti, where she held the women against their will, forced them into jobs, and withheld their wages. The trafficker received a 24-month suspended sentence and served no time in prison.’ [hints]‘The government reported its conviction of one trafficker in 2014. In this case, the courts convicted a woman of trafficking in persons and aiding illegal migrants under Law 210 for aiding three non-Djiboutian women across the border into Djibouti, where she held the women against their will, forced them into jobs, and withheld their wages. The trafficker received a 24-month suspended sentence and served no time in prison, an ineffective deterrent to trafficking crimes. A judge ordered the trafficker to repay the wages she withheld from each victim. The government did not investigate or initiate prosecutions of other forced labor cases or any sex trafficking offenses during the reporting period.’ Source: Trafficking in Persons Report 2015[/hints]

According to Smith another signal of the politicization is the practice of repeatedly grant a country a waiver because a plan to combat trafficking has been written. He names Burma as an example of this.[hints]’Burma gets an undeserved waiver for the fourth straight year’, Smith said. ‘The State Department keeps saying Burma “has a written plan”, but that plan isn’t implemented.'[/hints] With Djibouti the same thing is occurring: The country has been on the Watch List for four consecutive years, and received a waiver in 2014 and 2015 due to a written plan–-in the exact same words used with Burma.[hints]‘Djibouti was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and it has committed to devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan.’ Bron: Trafficking in Persons Report 2015[/hints]

Also striking is what is omitted from the 2015 edition of the Report: The sentence, ‘[m]embers of foreign militaries stationed in Djibouti contribute to the demand for women and girls in prostitution, including possible trafficking victims.’ This observation was included in all reports from 2008 onwards.

Djibouti: Upgraded next year?

Djibouti has been on the Watch List for four years now–two of which it was granted a waiver. This means the country must be removed from the Watch List in 2016. This is confirmed by the TIP Office to OneWorld. [hints]”As you mention below, Djibouti received a waiver in 2014 and 2015, and next year is when they will run out of waivers, or face an automatic downgrade to Tier 3. Djibouti can move up to Tier 2 if the government complies with the TVPA’s minimum standards, and are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.” Source: Email TIP Office to OneWorld[/hints] There are two possibilities: either Djibouti is degraded automatically to Tier 3, or Djibouti is upgraded to Tier 2.

“The U.S. and Djibouti are working closely in partnership to avoid a downgrade to Tier 3”

A downgrade to the lowest rank could have serious consequences for the relationship between the U.S. and Djibouti. It could effect bilateral, and non-humanitarian aid, the allocation of the assistance of international financial institutions such as the World Bank and-–as would have been the case with Malaysia would it not have been upgraded-–signing trade deals. [hints] ‘Pursuant to the TVPA, governments of countries on Tier 3 may be subject to certain restrictions on bilateral assistance, whereby the U.S. government may withhold or withdraw non-humanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance. In addition, certain countries on Tier 3 may not receive funding for government employees’ participation in educational and cultural exchange programs. Consistent with the TVPA, governments subject to restrictions would also face U.S. opposition to the provision of assistance (except for humanitarian, trade-related, and certain development-related assistance) by international financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.’ Source: Trafficking in Perons Report 2015[/hints]

The Deputy Chief of mission of the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti confirms to OneWorld “that the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti and the Government of Djibouti are working closely in partnership to avoid such a downgrade. The Djiboutian Government is currently redrafting their 2007 law on trafficking to strengthen it and then implement the law by prosecuting offenders, for example. The two governments are working hard to address this issue.” [hints]The U.S. embassy informs OneWorld per email that the U.S. government has just donated 500.000 dollar to a two-year program of the Djiboutian government in cooperation with UNODC. Goal: to strengthen the national judicial sytem as response to human trafficking in Djibouti.[/hints]

This is the first in a series of investigations. Want to share information? Please contact the authors or use our secure GlobaLeaks software to submit evidence.

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