Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises LGBT people
  • Criminalises sexual activity between males
  • Criminalises sexual activity between females
  • Imposes the death penalty

Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Penal Code 1962, which criminalises acts of ‘carnal knowledge’ and ‘an act of lust’ with a person of the same sex. This provision carries a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment. Both men and women are criminalised under this law. Additionally, same-sex sexual activity can be penalised through the operation of Sharia law, under which the maximum penalty is death.

The provision under the 1962 Penal Code was inherited from the British during the colonial period, in which the English criminal law was imposed upon the area of Somalia under British control (Somaliland). The unified state of Somalia retained the provision upon independence and continues to criminalise same-sex sexual activity today. Furthermore, Article 2 of the Provisional Constitution of Somalia designates Islam as the state religion, and declares that no law can be adopted that is not compliant with Sharia law. This is the basis for the criminalisation of same-sex sexual activity under Sharia.

There is some evidence of the law being enforced in recent years, with LGBT people being occasionally subject to arrest and execution, particularly in the parts of the country in control of militant groups. However, a lack of reliable reporting from the country makes it difficult to accurately reflect the enforcement of the law. There have been some reports of discrimination and violence being committed against LGBT people in recent years, however the LGBT community is entirely invisible and there is no public discussion of LGBT issues. The extent of discrimination against LGBT people is therefore difficult to determine.



While the maximum penalty for same-sex intercourse under the Penal Code is three years’ imprisonment, there is evidence that the death penalty is imposed by militant groups operating in the country. Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report noted that in territories controlled by the militant group al-Shabaab, people accused of engaging in same-sex sexual activity are subject to execution under their strict interpretation of Sharia law.


In January 2017, al-Shabaab announced that it had executed a teenage boy and a young man for engaging in homosexual activity. This was the first report of such executions taking place.


In January, a news article documented the account of a young Somali activist who had been sentenced to death for being a lesbian. She had previously been beaten after her sexual orientation was revealed by an acquaintance. The woman managed to flee Somalia days before her scheduled execution.


The UK Home Office Country of Origin report highlighted unconfirmed reports that a man was stoned to death for his alleged homosexuality by Islamic rebels whilst “horrified villagers were forced to watch”.

Discrimination and Violence


The US Department of State report noted that there is a pervasive social stigma against same-sex relationships, and there were no known LGBT organisations or events. Due to this severe stigma and lack of visibility, the report noted that there were few reports of violence or discrimination against LGBT people. It did however cite anecdotal information which indicated that some families sent children suspected of being gay to reform schools.


A report by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade found that LGBT people face numerous societal, cultural, and legislative barriers, and are prevented from living openly anywhere in Somalia. The community is invisible, and there is no public discussion of LGBT issues.


Reports have indicated that LGBT Somali refugees face a serious risk of death should they return home to Somalia.


Related Countries


Ethiopia criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. Sentences include a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment.


Kenya criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. Sentences include a maximum penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment.

South Sudan

South Sudan criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. The gender expression of trans people is also criminalised. Sentences include a maximum penalty of fourteen years’ imprisonment.

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