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Léa Surugue

Homo erectus footprintsThe footprints were found by the team's local guide in sediment.Courtesy of Pr Coppa

The discovery of the oldest Homo erectus footprints in the world, alongside fragments of fossilised skulls, could advance palaeontologists' knowledge of the stature and anatomy of modern man's closest ancestors. The fossils were unearthed in a region known as Buia in the heart of the Semi-arid Danakil Depression in eastern Eritrea, during an expedition led by researchers from the Italian university of Sapienza and the National Museum of Eritrea.

Their latest research started in late 2015, in an area constituted by many geological layers spanning several hundred thousand years. One day, the team's local guide made a surprising discovery: he came across a 26-square-metre foot-printed sediment surface.

Due to their ephemeral nature in soft sediments, footprints tend to be altered and eroded very quickly, so their preservation is an exceptional phenomenon. Analysing the different sediment layers, researchers found out the prints were approximately 800 000 years old. At this time, the only member of the human family tree to live in the region was Homo erectus.

The researchers thus say the prints are the oldest known to belong to Homo erectus and this is a rare occasion to get a glimpse of the lives of Homo erectus individuals in motion in their ecosystem hundreds of thousand years ago.

footprints Danakil desertThe footprints were found in the Danakil desert, EritreaStephan Gladieu/Getty Images

The sediments and the shape of the prints as well as their location alongside an extinct species of antelopes' footprints suggest the environment in which these early humans lived in was very different that it is today. Instead of a desert, it would probably have been a lakeside buffered by grassland.

Significance of the footprints

The discovery is significant because ancient fossilised footprints are very rare, but also because it has the potential to improve scientists' understanding of Homo erectus.

"The importance of the footprints is due to their extreme rarity. In Africa, archaeological sites with human fossils in Africa are not very numerous, but are still in the hundreds. The footprints of our ancestors however have so far only come from three locations but they can provide us with information that is not deductible by skeletal or dental fossils", lead researcher Alfredo Coppa told IBTimes UK.

Homo erectus footprintsProbable adult footprints of Homo erectusCourtesy of Pr Coppa

Here, the footprints appear very similar to that of modern men. They show details of the toes, and the foot shape includes a prominent arch and big toe in line with the others - features that make human feet distinctive and efficient when walking and running.

A more detailed study of these footprints will now take place and may reveal unique information about foot anatomy, stature, body mass, and locomotor biomechanics - including gait and walking speed of H erectus. Scientists may gain critical clues to better understand how hominins behaved and fared in their environment some 800 000 years ago.

Significance of the skulls fragments

In addition to the footprints, the skull fragments offer useful perspectives on the evolution of Homo erectus over thousands of years.

The Pleistocene (between around 2.588 million to 11,700 years) era represents a period of major transition in human evolution, when some of our primitive H erectus ancestors evolved into species with larger brains and more modern bodies.

footprints Danakil desertDetail of the Homo erectus footprints found at the site.Courtesy of Pr Coppa

The problem is human fossils from that time are fragmentary between 1.3 and 0.5 million years ago, especially when it comes to the postcranial area of the skull. These new fossils in Buia could therefore help to fill the gap.

The Buia fossils have an intriguing blend of primitive and more modern characteristics, combining more primitive H. erectus traits with an increase in brain size and some modern aspects of hip structure.

"In this way, the Buia fossils link H erectus with anatomy seen in later species such as H. heidelbergensis", the authors explain. The fossils and the prints thus add a new piece to the puzzle of human evolution.


UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea

Thursday, 16 June 2016 23:24 Written by

Press Statement

John Kirby
Assistant Secretary and Department Spokesperson, Bureau of Public Affairs
Washington, DC
June 10, 2016

The United States takes note of the recently issued report by the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Eritrea, in particular its conclusion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea. We have repeatedly expressed grave concern about the human rights situation in Eritrea, and that concern has been reinforced by the COI’s findings.

We strongly encourage the Government of Eritrea to engage fully with the international community and UN bodies to address the human rights situation. The Government’s willingness to work on several Universal Periodic Review recommendations is a step in the right direction. We also urge Eritrea to implement its constitution, hold national elections, honor its commitment to limit the duration of national service to 18 months, develop an independent and transparent judiciary, and release persons arbitrarily detained including political prisoners, journalists, and members of religious groups.

We continue to support international efforts to improve the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Eritrea and will work to promote these efforts within the context of the upcoming Human Rights Council session.


 JUNE 13, 2016

The outskirts of Asmara, the Eritrean capital, in February. Fresh border clashes between Ethiopia and Eritrea and recent talk of another border war have opened a vein of nationalism in Eritrea. Credit Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

NAIROBI, Kenya — The Eritrean Embassy in Kenya sent a text message alert Monday morning: The Ethiopians had attacked. Fighting on the border. Situation unfolding.

The jagged line separating Eritrea from its former ruler, Ethiopia, has been one of Africa’s most combustible flash points. Tens of thousands of soldiers died from 1998 to 2000 in a war that had been called as pointless as two bald men fighting over a comb.

As the news of renewed clashes in the rocky, barren frontier began to spread on Monday, many Ethiopians and Eritreans feared the worst. Witnesses said both sides were rushing troops to the Tsorona border area, and heavy artillery was apparently fired from both sides. On the Eritrean side, several people were reported to have been killed. The reports of fighting and the lack of solid information raised fears that the two countries could be sliding once again toward all-out war.

But by Monday afternoon, the extent of the fighting was unclear. The Ethiopian government said Eritrea started it. Getting more information out of Eritrea is like trying to see into a pitch-dark room: The government is one of the most secretive, isolated and repressive nations in the world.

According to Meron Estefanos, a journalist and activist from Eritrea living in Sweden who maintains a large network of contacts in Africa, anger at the government is steadily rising within Eritrea, and the shelling across the border may have been started by Eritrea as a distraction.

Eritrean refugees who arrived in Cyprus in May as part of an European Union relocation program for asylum seekers. Each year, thousands of Eritreans try to flee the country, but many young people in Eritrea have said they are virtually imprisoned in a national program that requires them to serve indefinitely in the military or other branches of government. Credit Iakovos Hatzistavrou/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“There is no reason for Ethiopia to start a war right now,” Ms. Estefanos said. “It just doesn’t add up when everything is going their way.”

“But,” she added, “if there is a war, or the rumor of a war, it could be a way for the Eritrean government to get support and divert attention.”

Eritrea is a tiny country, with about one-sixteenth the population of Ethiopia, against which it won a celebrated war of liberation in the early 1990s. Since then, the government’s isolationist policies have created dire economic conditions, with shortages of electricity, water, gas and bread. Many young people in Eritrea have said they are virtually imprisoned in a national program that requires them to serve indefinitely in the military or other branches of government.

Each year, thousands of young Eritreans try to flee to Europe; in recent months, hundreds have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, adding to the anti-government feelings, Ms. Estefanos said.

Recent talk of another border war against Ethiopia has opened a nationalistic vein.

“Here in Asmara, it’s peaceful despite #EthiopianAttacks against #Eritrea on the Tsorona front,” one Eritrean-American, using the handle Red Sea Fisher, wrote on Twitter on Monday, referring to Asmara, the Eritrean capital. “And you wonder why there’s national service?”

A ruling by an international commission, which both Eritrea and Ethiopia agreed to respect, awarded a piece of the disputed territory near the border to Eritrea. But Ethiopian troops still occupy that territory more than 10 years after the ruling was issued, and Eritrea has complained that the international community — especially the United States and Britain — has exerted little pressure to get the Ethiopians to leave.

Eritrea has used the dispute over the border to justify its war footing and the suspension of many civil liberties.

Analysts have said the discontent in Eritrea could erupt at any time.

Mutinous soldiers staged a coup attempt in 2013, which was quickly crushed. In that case, like the border clashes in the past two days, little is known about what really happened.



UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Ethiopia and Eritrea on Wednesday “to exercise maximum restraint” following clashes on their disputed border.

Eritrea accused Ethiopia of “military aggression” by attacking its positions in the Tsorona Central Front, a border area that saw one of the bloodiest battles during their 1998-2000 border war. Ethiopia’s military said its troops were provoked into launching a counter-offensive after Eritrean forces fired into Ethiopian positions on Sunday.

The U.N. chief met Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in Brussels on Wednesday and Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson phoned Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed.

“They urged both Governments to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from any act or statement that could exacerbate the situation,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“They also called on both governments to resolve their differences through peaceful means, including by ensuring the full implementation of the peace agreement they signed in 2000,” he said.

 Dujarric said the U.N. is available to assist in any peace efforts.

Eritrea and Ethiopia have been feuding over their border since Eritrea gained independence from the Addis Ababa government in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war.

A 1,700-strong U.N. force monitored a 15-mile (24-kilometer) wide, 620-mile (1,000-kilometer) long buffer zone between the Horn of Africa neighbors under the December 2000 peace agreement.


But tensions between the two countries remain high because of Ethiopia’s refusal to accept a boundary commission’s 2002 ruling on the border demarcation which awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea. The Eritrean government progressively limited peacekeepers’ movements in response and it July 2008 the Security Council ended the peacekeeping mission.

Secretary-General Ban warned that that a new war could break out if U.N. peacekeepers withdraw.

Dujarric said the U.N. now has no way to monitor “what is actually going on along the border.”


Ethiopian, Eritrean Troops Clash on Border, Horn Affairs Says

June 12, 2016 — 5:47 PM CEST
Ethiopian and Eritrean troops clashed at several border locations on Sunday, local website Horn Affairs said, citing sources it didn’t identify. Ethiopia’s government said it had no reports of incidents.

Fighting involving heavy artillery began around 5 a.m. and continued until at least early afternoon, the Addis Ababa-based website said.

The incident could be an effort by the Eritrean government to distract attention from a June 8 United Nations report that said its leaders committed crimes against humanity, Getachew Reda, Ethiopia’s communications minister, said by phone from Frankfurt.

 Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment made on Twitter Inc.

Eritrea, a former province of its neighbor, fought a two-year war with Ethiopia that formally ended in 2000, although its government has maintained war-time controls such as requiring national service and suspended enactment of a constitution.


Eritrea’s culture of fear

Saturday, 11 June 2016 23:24 Written by

Eritrea’s culture of fear


WHEN PEOPLE risk their lives to evade armed border guards or pack rickety boats at sea, you can be sure the conditions they are fleeing are frightful. This is as true for the persecuted Rohingya Muslims of Burma who set sail on packed vessels in the Andaman Sea as for the escapees who manage to flee the horrors of North Korea’s prison camps. And it is true for people fleeing Eritrea, a country that won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 and has become a human rights disaster.

Listen, for example, to a woman who fled last year. Her husband had been arrested in 2009 outside their home, she told the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea . She went to the prison to find out why. “For years, I was going once a week. I took food and some clothes. They never told me how he was doing.” After a few years, the prison refused to take the food and clothes. She lost hope. “I haven’t seen my husband in seven years and don’t know if he is alive or not. I searched for him, but the authorities finally told me just don’t bother coming back, there’s no point.”

She joined the flood tide of people leaving Eritrea and attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea on flimsy rafts and boats. According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees , the global number of asylum seekers and refugees from Eritrea as of a year ago stood at 444,091, about 12 percent of the country’s official population count of 3.6 million. (Unofficial totals are 6 million to 7 million.) Eritreans accounted for 24.7 percent of all Mediterranean arrivals by sea to Italy last year, the largest number from a single country of origin.

An explanation is contained in the latest report of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry , published Wednesday, which found reasonable grounds to believe that “crimes against humanity” have been committed against the population. The report urged a referral to the International Criminal Court. The crimes include indefinite national service, arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearance, persecution on ethnic and religious grounds, rape and murder. They are a powerful indictment of the rule of President Isaias Afwerki, who has been in power since 1991.

The U.N. Commission, which Eritrea did not permit to visit, conducted 833 interviews from outside and documented a “general climate of fear.” Many of the abuses are centered around the military in a heavily militarized society. Soldiers are conscripted, made to serve indefinitely in abusive conditions — sometimes as forced labor in state-owned companies. Torture is extensive and methodical in civilian and military detention facilities. Rape in military training centers, in the army and in detention is committed with impunity, and soldiers are not punished for rape in society.


10 June 2016 | by Fredrick Nzwili

Orthodox patriarch among number of religious leaders jailed by Horn of Africa state

While citing systematic and widespread human rights abuses in Eritrea, UN's Human Rights Commission has called for the respect of religion and belief in the horn of Africa country.

The Catholic Church is one of four religious denominations authorised to operate by the government in the Red Sea country. The others are the Eritrean Orthodox, Evangelical Lutheran and Sunni Islam, but many protestant, pentecostal and evangelical groups are not allowed to operate.

The commission said in the report released on June 8 that state authorities have cracked down and detained members of unauthorised religious groups, such as the Pentecostal churches and Jehovah Witness.

Since 2007, the former Patriarch of the Eritrean Tewahedo Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, is under house arrest, strict surveillance and held without charge. The 89 years old patriarch was forcefully removed from office by government after he protested the authority’s interference in church matters. He is the most senior religious figure currently serving a detention.

“Sources said the victims has asked for the release of Patriarch Abune Antonios,” said report

Unconfirmed number of priests, deacons and monks of the Eritrean Orthodox Church have been arbitrary arrested and detained, according to report.

The country has scored poorly in global freedom indexes, with its fleeing citizen accounting for a large number of refugees trying to cross to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea. The report indicated that the government of President Isaias Afwerki also kill those trying to flee the country.

It has since rejected the report which details extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual slavery and forced labour, saying the accounts were exaggerated. In the past, the country has also been accused supporting radical Islam in the region, especially in Somalia.

In the report, the UN body calls for immediate and unconditional release all those arbitrary detained, an end to arbitrary arrests and detention of individuals based on religious beliefs.



10 June 2016


For Immediate Release

The release of a damning report on human rights violations in Eritrea by the Commission of Inquiry On Human Rights in Eritrea (COI-E) under the auspices of the UN Human Rights Commission affirms SADC CNGO’s long standing concern about the Eritrean government’s deep rooted and ever-escalating violations of human rights against its citizens. Over the time we have noted reports out of Eritrea of torture, assassinations and enslavement of citizens without recourse to the rule of law. SADC CNGO believes that the totality of these barbaric acts constitute extreme forms of crimes against humanity and thus the continued silence of the African Union and the African leadership in particular on the suffering of the Eritrean people raises profound concerns on the protection of human rights under the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

Established by the Human Rights Council Resolution 26/24 of 27th of June 2014, the COI-E released its first report in June 2015 (A/HRC/29/42) in which it ascertained the existence of “systematic and widespread human rights violations committed by the Eritrean government”. The report was adopted by the UN Human Rights Commission, which resolved to extend the mandate of the COI-E for another twelve months. After twelve months the COI-E released its report in which it unequivocally concluded that:

“[it] has a reasonable ground to believe that crimes against humanity, namely, enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, other inhumane acts, persecutions, rape and murder, have been committed in Eritrea since 1991.”  

On this basis, the COI-E recommended, among other things, that the UN Security Council “determine(s) that the situation of human rights in Eritrea poses a threat to international peace and security” and that the African Union “establishe[s] an accountability mechanism, under the aegis of the African Union and supported by the international community, to investigate, prosecute and try individuals reasonably believed to have committed crimes against humanity”.

Against this background and reiterating the resolutions of the 10th Southern Africa Civil Society Forum in July 2014 in Harare, Zimbabwe, and the 6th Citizens’ Continental Conference held on 21-23 January 2016 in Addis Ababa, SADC CNGO calls upon the African Union to expeditiously put the human rights situation in Eritrea on its agenda and establish accountability mechanisms as recommended by the COI-E.

We are once again calling upon the African Union to act decisively and fearlessly to protect the lives of defenseless men, women and children in Eritrea against their authoritarian government. For our attainment of the aspirations of Agenda 2063 and the principle of “African solutions to African problems”, the African Union must not fail the people of Eritrea yet again and thus must urgently act on the recommendations of the Commission’s report.

For more information please contact:

Boichoko A. Ditlhake

Executive Director

SADC Council of NGOs Plot 18682, Khurutshe Road, Phase 2

Gaborone, Botswana

Tel: +267 3912982 Fax: +267 3912954

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



Suspected people trafficking ringleader arrested

Wednesday, 08 June 2016 21:18 Written by

Suspected people trafficking ringleader arrested

Wednesday 08 June 2016 17.53

A photo of Mered Medhanie distributed by the British National Crime AgencyA photo of Mered Medhanie distributed by the British National Crime Agency

An Eritrean suspected of controlling a people-trafficking network responsible for shipping thousands of people across the Mediterranean to Europe has been extradited from Sudan to Italy.

Medhanie Yehdego Mered, 35, who had been on a wanted list since 2015 for international people smuggling, was arrested in Khartoum at the end of May and flown to Italy late Monday, police said in a statement this morning.

"Mered is considered one of the biggest migrant traffickers operating on the Libyan- Sub-Saharan route," it said.

"He directed operations not only in Africa but also kept fellow operators in Italy up to date on the arrival of boats, to enable the migrants to continue to their final destinations [in Europe]."

Mr Mered was tracked down by the Sudanese intelligence services, with support from Italy's organised crime police and Britain's National Crime Agency.

A top Sudanese police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity that Mr Mered was "accused of smuggling youngsters from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan across the Mediterranean through Sudan or Libya or Egypt".


Wiretaps of Mr Mered's conversations revealed he was in contact with traffickers in north European countries, particularly the Netherlands and Scandinavia, and held a "senior position in a criminal network operating in several continents", the Italian police statement said.

He also showed "disregard for the lives of the migrants, appearing cynical and unscrupulous".

It is the first time a suspected top smuggler has been arrested in Africa and brought to face justice in Italy, which has been overwhelmed by the arrival of hundreds of thousands of people since the migrant crisis began in 2008.



Ongoing human rights abuses in east African nation include rape, murder and torture, report alleges


A migrant from Eritrea simulates what she says is a torture technique during a protest outside the European Union delegation in Israel, in June 2015. Eritrea is believed to have a shoot-to-kill policy to stop people from fleeing the country, according to the head of a UN inquiry. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)



UN rights investigators accused Eritrean leaders of crimes against humanity including torture, rape and murder on Wednesday and called on the Security Council to impose sanctions and refer the case to the International Criminal Court.

Atrocities — including an indefinite military national service program that amounted to mass enslavement — had been committed since the country's independence in 1991 and were ongoing, the UN Commission of Inquiry said.

"We probably think there are 300,000 to 400,000 people who have been enslaved," Mike Smith, the head of the inquiry, told a news conference.

He also said he believed Eritrea was still operating a shoot-to-kill policy on its borders to stop people fleeing from the country, many of them heading to Europe as refugees.

The report says "particular individuals, including officials at the highest levels of State, the ruling party — the People's Front for Democracy and Justice — and commanding officers bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations." 

The inquiry said there had been no improvement since a year ago when it published a 484-page dossier describing extrajudicial killings, widespread torture, sexual slavery and enforced labour.

Switzerland Eritrea Human Rights

Inquiry head Mike Smith says atrocities including rape, murder and de facto enslavement have been committed since Eritrea's independence in 1991. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/Associated Press)

'Facade of calm'

Visitors to the country should not be fooled by the "general sense of calm and order" in the capital Asmara, because abuses were carried out in military training camps and detention centres, the report said.

"The facade of calm and normality that is apparent to the occasional visitor to the country, and others confined to sections of the capital, belies the consistent patterns of serious human rights violations," it added.

Eritrea's government did not allow the inquiry team to visit the country, although its diplomats met the investigators at the UN headquarters in New York.

Last year the three-strong inquiry team, led by Smith, an Australian diplomat and counter-terrorism expert, did not have a mandate to look into "international crimes," so the previous report said only that crimes against humanity may have been committed, without apportioning blame.

'Groundless accusations'

In the past year, the inquiry has received almost 45,000 written submissions, almost all group letters and petitions criticizing the first report, the direct result of a government campaign to discredit the inquiry, the report said.

Some signatories contacted by the inquiry said they had been coerced or their signatures had been forged and they were unaware of the letters, the report added.  

Eritrea's government said on Wednesday it rejected what it called the "politically motivated and groundless accusations."

The report is "an unwarranted attack not only against Eritrea, but also Africa and developing nations." said presidential adviser Yemane Ghebreab in a statement. 

The east African nation has routinely dismissed reports by UN bodies and campaign groups of rights violations in the past.




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