Ciham Ali Abdu pictured just before the time of her arrest on December 8, 2012 when she was 15. (Photo: courtesy of the family)
Ciham Ali Abdu of Eritrea was 15 years old when she was arrested as she tried to cross the border into Sudan. Born in Los Angeles, California, she is the only American citizen imprisoned in Eritrea.
Her family, friends and the representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Asmara have had no news about her whereabouts or her health for the nearly four years she has been in prison.
Ciham is also a unique case. She is the daughter of Ali Abdu, the former minister of information of Eritrea who was one of the closest advisors to the country’s president, Isaias Afwerki. When he fled the country in December of 2012, it sent shockwaves across the nation since he was believed to be unfalteringly loyal to the regime.
Ali’s then 87-year-old father, Abdu Ahmed Younis, his brother Hassen Abdu Ahmed and Ciham were all arrested shortly after his departure and many believe they were punished as retribution for Ali’s decision to flee.
Last week, Ciham’s fate was one of the topics raised at a subcommittee hearing at the U.S. House of Representatives convened by the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee titled “Eritrea: A Neglected Regional Threat.”
Linda Thomas–Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, said the United States raises the issue of Ciham with Eritrean officials during joint meetings, but have received no information.
Eric Whitaker, the former Charge d’Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Asmara, said Eritrean officials do not acknowledge that Ciham is a U.S. citizen. “We’ve asked for consular access repeatedly and not been granted it. We are concerned regarding the case,” he said. “The answers we get are typically vague or note that such individual is an Eritrean citizen.”
Ciham left the United States when she was one or two years old, her uncle said. VOA contacted Eritrea’s Minister of Information Yemane Gebremeskel and he declined to comment. In Twitter comments about the hearings he dismissed the U.S. House proceedings as “perfunctory” and a “rehash” of old information.
Ciham’s uncle, Saleh Younis, said the family is desperate for news about her and their other imprisoned family members. He said this was the first time he had heard details about the U.S. embassy’s efforts to get information about Ciham and he is disappointed that they haven’t put more pressure on the Eritrean government.
He also noted that most people caught at the border trying to flee Eritrea are detained for several months or a maximum of two years, making it clear that Ciham is being held indefinitely as a punishment for her father’s actions. “It’s a country without rules, without a system,” Saleh said. “It’s a country where the president and his small clique do whatever they want to do. When we’re talking about human rights violations it’s not in the abstract that we’re talking about, it is these kinds of agonies people go through.”
Saleh is the editor of awate.com, an Eritrean news website that is opposed to the government and its policies.
Ali Abdu is currently in Australia where he is seeking asylum. In an affidavit submitted to the government in support of his case which has been widelyposted onlineAli said he is suffering from insomnia and heart pains and has suicidal thoughts. He said he fears for his family in Eritrea and fears that a member of the Eritrean diaspora could seek to harm him in Australia.
“The more I talk about my secrets the more I am worried and shivering about my safety because I know what crazy things the president can do to me. Even in Melbourne I am very recognizable and I fear that government supporters are following me,” he said.
Chairman of the House Subcommittee, Chris Smith, Republican Representative from New Jersey, cited figures from a former U.S. ambassador indicating that about 48 Eritrean national employees of the embassy were arrested or detained between 2001 and 2010 and it is unclear how many remain in detention. Smith requested additional information relating to those employees and relating to Ciham.
Thomas-Greenfield said the embassy has asked for access and information relating to these cases. “We have had over the years our foreign service nationals harassed. Some arrested and some who are still currently being held by the government,” she said. “We never miss an opportunity to raise this with the government of Eritrea encouraging them to release the American citizen but also to release our employees who have been arrested and to discontinue the harassment of our employees.”
Today marks a bleak date in the country’s history, when a paranoid elite began a brutal campaign to cement its grip on power
Exactly 15 years ago, Eritrea’shard-won independencewas hijacked by a paranoid political elite who have clung to power ever since.
It was on this day in 2001 that President Isaias Afwerki jailed 11 top government officials and banned seven independent newspapers. So started the insidious takeover that has seen the country become a military state, prompting the exodus of Eritreans to Europe we are witnessing today.
State security agents then rounded up and jailed 12 journalists. To this day, none of the detainees have been tried in a court of law, and theyremain incommunicadoin secret prisons. Their families don’t know if they are alive.
Many civilian posts were taken over by military commanders. The army was stationed in all major towns and cities, and anyone working in the public sector was instructed to report to them.
As army rule crept in, the rule of law deteriorated. Institutionalised corruption and nepotism became the new normal. Arbitrary arrests and forced disappearances turned the country into a penitentiary state with countless underground prisons.
Recent research byEritrean human rights groupssuggests more than 360 facilities are still holding more than 10,000 prisoners of conscience.
After the ban on the private newspapers, information became centralised. State journalists continue to work under intense fear, and foreign correspondents and NGOs have in effect been banned from entering. The few who do gain access are providedwith government minders–not unlike in North Korea.
Even a state-sanctioned radio station, Radio Bana, sponsored by the education ministry, was banned.The station was raided in February 2009and the security services arrested the entire staff, many of whom were only released afterfour to six years in jailwithout charge.
In 2012, the country introduced compulsory military service for all young men and women, including former freedom fighters. In the years since then,the UN has found the governmenthas “committed crimes against humanity in a widespread and systematic manner”, and has called for perpetrators to be tried by the international criminal court.
It is combination of all these factors that is causing an estimated 5,000 Eritreans to leave the country each month. It’s not surprising: when a generation of young people have had all hope and freedom taken away from them, the gamble of the journey across the Mediterranean offers an attractive alternative – no matter the risk.
I am one of those who escaped. I now work with a group of Eritrean journalists in exile to report on our inaccessible homeland and campaign on behalf of our peers stuck in prison. If we don’t speak for them, nobody will.
Schoolchildren flee tear gas in Nairobi after police break up a protest. Oxfam says lost tax revenues from offshore holdings cost Africa an estimated $14bn a year. Photograph: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images
Corruption is the most neglected human rights violation of our time. It fuels injustice, inequality and depravation, and is a major catalyst for migration and terrorism.
In Africa, the social and political consequences of corruption rob nations of resources and potential, and drive inequality, resentment and radicalisation. Corruption cheats the continent’s governments of some $50bn (£38bn) annually, and stymies successful cities, sustainable economies and safe societies.
This corruption discourages donors and destroys investor confidence, strangling development, progress and prosperity.
Added to that, across the continent, sociopolitical dissatisfaction at corruption provides fertile ground for radicalisation, and some extremist organisations are adept at portraying Islamism as the solution to such injustice.
For example, corruption stimulates recruitment of young Nigerians into the ranks of Boko Haram. In a recent study, 70% of those interviewed in the state of Sokoto cited corruption as a factor driving radicalisation.
By understanding corruption’s full impact and seeing it through the eyes of its victims, we can create new weapons to combat it. This is worth considering as we approach the first-year review of the sustainable development goals. Among them is SDG 16, which aims to reduce bribery and corruption, develop accountable institutions, cut the flow of illicit money and weapons, and strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets.
There are some encouraging signs on the continent. When leaders from countries such as Kenya, Rwanda, Nigeria and Tanzania highlight corruption as a major threat to their countries, then we might just be seeing the final days of impunity. The test now is whether they deliver on these fresh anti-corruption promises in credible ways that take account of human rights.
Human rights are enforced by international treaties, backed by judicial bodies with teeth such as the international criminal court, the international court of justice and regional bodies such as the African court on human and people’s rights. The UN security council and the African Union’s peace and security council can impose sanctions in response to violations of political, economic, social or cultural rights, or to deal with torture, genocide and war crimes. On top of that, countries and international bodies have an obligation to act when human rights are breached.
That’s why so little progress has been made by the UN convention against corruption (Uncac). This global agreement elevated anti-corruption action to the world stage. But Uncac relies on states for implementation, and – unlike global protocols governing human rights – there is no effective sanction for those in breach. An absence of enforcement creates space for corrupt officials and businesspeople to hide without fear of pursuit or prosecution. And there is little political will to change things.
We need to give Uncac muscle by joining the moral and legal dots between corruption, human rights abuses and international crimes. Acknowledging the negative human rights impact of corruption makes it imperative for African states to provide better protection to their citizens. Africans have the most at stake in getting anti-corruption efforts to work, because corruption disproportionately affects poor people.
A more rights-based approach to corruption is a good strategy for both African and European governments. It would mean greater political stability, and provide an environment for sustained social and economic development. This, in turn, would have a positive effect on the drivers of conflict, terrorism and migration.
The human rights community built an arsenal to protect people. Now anti-corruption activists need to do the same.
- Anton du Plessis is executive director of the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa
Published: 17 Sep 2016 10:41 GMT+02:00
- Eritrea claims jailed Swedish journalist is still alive(21 Jun 16)
- 'Time to free Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak'(05 May 15)
- Swedes accuse Eritrean president of torture(01 Jul 14)
By Abraham T. Zere / 16 September 2016
Eritrea: 15 years later still no information on jailed senior politicians and independent journalistsFriday, 16 September 2016 22:58 Written by ohchr.org
GENEVA (16 September 2016) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, today called on the Eritrean Government to urgently provide information on the whereabouts and state of health of senior government officials and independent journalists arrested on 18 September 2001 and in the following days.
Fifteen years ago, the Eritrean authorities arrested and detained a group of senior cabinet ministers, members of parliament and independent journalists without charge or trial. To date, the Government has refused to share any information on their whereabouts and state of health.
“The Eritrean Government has denied those arrested their fundamental right to liberty and security of the person, right not to be subjected to torture, right to a fair trial as well as right to freedom of expression and opinion,” Ms. Keetharuth said ahead of the anniversary on Sunday. “Those arrested have been detained incommunicado and in solitary confinement. Even family members have never been allowed to have any contact whatsoever with them.”
“The 2001 clampdown set in motion a chain of egregious, widespread and systematic human rights violations that continues to this very day, including arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention, denial of the right to a fair trial within a reasonable time, right not to be subjected to torture, and disappearances, among others,” the Special Rapporteur said. “In addition, the right to freedom of opinion and expression as well the right to freedom of the press has since then, also been negatively impacted.”
Earlier this year, the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea* –of which Ms. Keetharuth was also a member- concluded that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that Eritrean officials have committed among others the crime of enforced disappearance, a crime against humanity.”
The Government of Eritrea said that the arrests and detentions of September 2001 were in response to national security threats posed by the prominent politicians and independent journalists. However, the expert stressed that “invoking national security as the main reason to violate basic fundamental human rights of Eritreans cannot be perpetual.”
“All those arrested in September 2001, as well as of all other detainees, including those arrested in the aftermath of the 2013 ‘Forto’ incident should either be brought to court or released unconditionally and immediately if not charged,” she said. “Furthermore, the Eritrean authorities should allow independent monitors to have unhindered access to all detainees in the country as a matter of priority.”
The Special Rapporteur recalled that Eritrea is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since 2002, to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights since 1999 and to the Convention against Torture since 2014.
“However, it has consistently failed to give effect to their provisions guaranteeing universal fundamental human rights to its people,” Ms. Keetharuth noted. “It is time to reverse this trend and ensure accountability for past and ongoing crimes.”
(*) Check the Commission of Enquiry’s report: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIEritrea/Pages/2016ReportCoIEritrea.aspx
Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea during the 21st Session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2012. She took her functions on 1 November 2012 and was member of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea (COIE) from June 2014 to June 2016. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. A lawyer from Mauritius, she has extensive experience in monitoring and documenting human rights violations, advocacy, training and litigation in human rights in Africa. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/ER/Pages/SREritrea.aspx
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, country page – Eritrea: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/ERIndex.aspx
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Nu får de kritik för sitt samarbete.
– Vi är väldigt tydliga med att vi är starkt kritiska till diktaturen i Eritrea, svarar Arne Öberg (S), oppositionsråd i Solna stad.
* Från 1889 var Eritrea en italiensk koloni, men efter andra världskriget blev det enligt ett FN-beslut en del av Etiopien. När etiopierna 1962 upphävde det självstyre som utlovats bröt ett befrielsekrig ut som varade i tre årtionden.
* År 1991 intog rebellgruppen EPLF huvudstaden Asmara. Eritreanerna kunde 1993 utropa sin egen stat, med stöd av en ny regering i Etiopien. 1998-2000 rasade ett gränskrig mellan de båda länderna. Konflikten har förblivit olöst.
* Makten är koncentrerad till president Isaias Afwerki och hans parti PFDJ.
* När organisationen Reportrar utan gränser listar pressfriheten i världen hamnar Eritrea på 180:e plats, efter Nordkorea.
* Amnesty pekar på att tusentals politiska fångar sitter fängslade, ofta utan vare sig åtal eller dom. Den svensk-eritreanske journalisten Dawit Isaak sitter fängslad i Eritrea sedan 2001.
* Befolkningen är ungefär jämnt fördelad mellan muslimer och kristna.
Källa: Nationalencyklopedin, Utrikespolitiska institutet
När Socialdemokraterna i Solna stad skulle ha partimöte den 5 september lånade partiet Eritreanska föreningens lokal. Maten som serverades hade föreningen lagat. Arrangemanget får stark kritik av riksdagsledamoten Hanif Bali (M).
– Föreningen är trogen regimen i Eritrea och fungerar som diktaturens förlängda arm, säger han.
Även Arhe Hamednaca, svensk-eritreansk regimkritisk riksdagsman (S), beskriver föreningen som regimvänlig.
– Föreningen har tidigare år fått bidrag från Solna stad som vilken förening som helst. Men det hade varit bra om man gjort research innan man bokat lokal. Det var en miss av mina kolleger som tar avstånd från regimen, säger han.
Eritrea is often in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. Scores of young Eritreans have fled human rights abuses in their country. A recent high-level panel tried to charter new ways for an Eritrean-German dialogue.
"To compare Eritrea with North Korea is the most inaccurate thing I have heard in my life. It is totally wrong," Uschi Eid, a seasoned politician and president of the German-African Foundation said.
Eid, a long-time observer of Eritrean politics, made the remark at the opening of a panel discussion on the current political and economic situation in Eritrea and the future of German–Eritrean relations. The discussion, co-hosted by DW, brought together Eritrean delegates, including Yemane Gebreab, head of the ruling (and only party) People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and a number of high ranking German officials, media professionals and representatives of NGOs working in Eritrea.
For some of the experts gathered in Berlin, the often-cited comparison between Eritrea and North Korea was not too far-fetched. Eritrea's clandestine foreign policy agenda, a forced military service, alleged human rights violations and ongoing cross-border skirmishes with arch-enemy Ethiopia, but mostly the exodus of young Eritreans applying for asylum in Germany, have set alarm bells ringing.
When it gained independence in 1993 Eritrea was paraded as a beacon of hope for Africa. But critics point to the fact that the Eritrean government has still not implemented the constitution drafted in 1997, thus setting the newly-independent country on a path towards the authoritarian, one-party state that it is today.
In response, Yemane Gebreab, Eritrea's head of political affairs and a close advisor to President Isaias Afewerkitold DWthat many African countries have dysfunctional multi-party systems and constitutions that only exist on paper. He argued that Eritrea is simply pursuing its own, unique governance approach.
National Service: 'a very important project'
On of the main reasons for young people to leave Eritrea is said to be its forced conscription to the military or "national" service, which can take 10 years or more. The country is listed among the world's top 10 source countries of migration. In late 2015, the Eritrean government pledged to shorten its national service to its original 18 months. One year later, very little has changed on the ground and youngsters continue to flee in droves.
Undeterred by the criticism, Gebreab told the Berlin panel that for the sake of nation-building and in the light of persistent threats from its neighbor Ethiopia, his country "should be commended" for its national service. He also said that it secured much-needed job opportunities for young people. It's a "very important project" and has "proved its value," he told DW later.
In an emotional challenge to Gebreab's argument, Almaz Zerai, a representative of the diaspora Network of Eritrean Women, said the reality on the ground totally contradicted the statements made by the Eritrean government. She said it was high time for them to "go out of the state of denial." The announcement of the government to increase the payment to conscripts holds little value for the activist: "They tell us that now that the salaries are increasing, the problem is going to be solved," she told DW. "No. It [should be] about letting the youth live their lives - to let them live free as they want to," she argued.
Eritrea today receives very little foreign assistance. Official development aid stood at $83.3 million (74 million euros) a year in 2014, according to the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (DCD-DAC).
Although agriculture takes the first position as a driver of the GDP, the country is said to have huge natural resources, including gold, copper, zinc and potash. It currently has one new mine and three more are expected to be working by 2018. However, for Gebreab the current cash flow from mining "cannot even cover the bill."
To keep the economy afloat, cash-strapped Eritrea greatly depends on remittances sent home from exiled citizens around the world. It has been alleged that the government, desperate for money, turns a blind eye to the mass exodus in expectation of euros and dollars.
Where to go from here?
So where does that leave future relations between Germany and Eritrea?
The reported human rights violations have so far made German officials reluctant to engage publicly with Eritrea. "We cannot give development assistance to any country, be it Eritrea or any other, without any guarantees that political and civil rights will be respected," Christoph Straesser, a German MP and former Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for a parliamentary group of the Social Democtrats (SPD) party, tells DW on the sidelines of the conference.
The recent EU decision to award an additional 200 million aid package to Eritrea to stem the wave of refugees has been questioned by many. Critics argue that the allocation of funds could result in strengthening the Eritrean government's muscle in silencing dissent, thus increasing the magnitude of the migration crisis.
Straesser, who led a group of German MPs on a recent fact-finding mission to Eritrea, asserted that the fund should be channeled to fight the cause of migration rather than supporting the regime.
Echoing his sentiments, the exiled campaigner Zerai told the panelists that pouring millions of dollars would not change anything unless the regime "diagnosed itself and was ready for treatment."
Georg Schmidt, the Foreign Affairs Office's Sub-Sahara representative, summed up the state of affairs: The Eritrean people have a "hunger for bread and a hunger for justice," he said. What this means for Germany's re-engagement with Eritrea is something that needs careful consideration.