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Published time: 4 Jul, 2016 15:11

 
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Palermo’s anti-mafia unit launched an investigation after receiving testimony from Nuredin Weharabi Atta, a people smuggler sentenced to five years in prison by an Italian court this year. According La Repubblica, apart from the flourishing illegal immigration racket operating in the Strait of Sicily, there has been evidence of organ trafficking too. Traffickers reportedly sold the organs of hundreds of migrants that had not survived the journey to Italy. Worse still, some of those unable to pay the fee were killed for their organs, which the smugglers then sold for up to $15,000, including those of children.

Atta said he had decided to cooperate with the justice system because “there had been too many deaths, especially those at Lampedusa in October 2013... and too many others,” Il Tempo reported, referring to a shipwreck in which 359 people perished. 

The criminal network had its financial headquarters in a perfume shop near the Termini station in Rome. Police managed to track the money flow and seize €526,000 and $25,000 in cash last month, along with documents from hundreds of bank accounts containing the names of foreign citizens.

Many migrants make the journey to Italy by sea, according to La Repubblica. Those with more cash avoid putting their lives at risk in shabby boats by buying fake marriage certificates for €10,000 or €15,000 that allow them to come to Europe by land, or even plane, on the grounds of alleged family reunion. Once in Italy, newly arrived migrants receive phone calls from their family members, who send them additional money so that they can continue to their final destinations. The Netherlands and Sweden appear to be the two most popular countries of choice, La Repubblica reported. Money transfers were documented thanks to bugs and cameras that police planted in rooms used by the criminal network in Italy. Money made from trafficking migrants is thought to have been reinvested in illegal trade importing drugs from Ethiopia.

Europe is currently facing its worst refugee crisis since World War II. Last year alone some 1.8 million asylum-seekers entered the European Union fleeing war and poverty across the Middle East and North Africa, according to data from the EU border agency Frontex.

According to a report from Europol and Interpol, criminal networks generated $5-6 billion trafficking asylum seekers and economic migrants to the EU in 2015. The report describes migrant smuggling as a multinational business, with participants from over 100 countries, representing one of the main profit-generating activities of organized crime in Europe. 

At least nine out of ten child refugees arriving in Europe via Italy this year have been unaccompanied, UNICEF says in a new report. UNICEF spokesperson Sarah Crowe told RT last month that minors are often forced to rely on human smugglers and go through “various forms of abuse and exploitation” on their perilous journey to Europe, which sometimes takes them “months and even years.” 

“If you try to run they shoot you and you die. If you stop working, they beat you. It was just like the slave trade,” Aimamo, 16, told UNICEF, describing the farm in Libya where he and his twin brother worked for two months to pay the smugglers. The brothers said that when they arrived in Libya after a risky journey through Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, they were arrested and beaten before one of the smugglers secured their release

Source=https://www.rt.com/news/349451-italy-migrant-smugglers-organs/#.V3tnc0ni5pk.facebook

By Joseph K. Grieboski, contributor

ICC, Palestinian Authority, Hamas
Getty Images

 

As one of the world's most oppressive regimes, the Eritrean government has committed extensive crimes against humanity over the past 25 years, according to a report released June 8 by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. President Isaias Afwerki, in power since Eritrea's independence in 1991 following the 30-year war with Ethiopia, has led an increasingly repressive authoritarian regime. The U.N. commission found that enslavement, enforced disappearance, rape, murder, torture and religious persecution are systematically used to instill fear in Eritreans and maintain the regime's power. These blatant violations of international law clearly constitute crimes against humanity as widespread, systematic attacks against the civilian population.

The Eritrean leadership's brutality is particularly evident in its enslavement of up to 400,000 people, primarily through military conscription. Eritrea's system of open-ended service forces conscripts to serve indefinitely, often for decades at a time. This deprivation of liberty amounts to modern-day slavery and allows for inhumane treatment, which Eritrea currently has no legal mechanisms to redress. In military camps, conscripts are frequently subjected to torture, sexual and gender-based violence, forced labor and domestic servitude. Recent developments could further exacerbate their situation. On June 21, Eritrea accused Ethiopia of contemplating full-scale war, strengthening the Eritrean regime's justification for compulsory military service as a necessary response to perceived Ethiopian aggression.

Based on the testimony of 833 Eritreans in exile, the U.N. commission also found that mass detainment and enforced disappearance are wielded as tools of control over the population, often in an arbitrary manner that flouts international law. In 2015, thousands of Eritrean prisoners of conscience, including politicians, journalists and practitioners of unauthorized religions, continued to be imprisoned without charge or trial. In a testimony to the commission, a former detainee detailed the horror of incarceration in Eritrea: "There is a saying in prison: If you scream, only the sea will hear you." The report did not specify individuals responsible for ongoing crimes, but indicated that they operate within the military, National Security Office, ruling party and the highest echelons of government.

In light of these appalling human rights abuses, referring Eritrea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) is crucial given the country's virtually nonexistent rule of law. The nation has no functioning judiciary, national assembly or civil society; opposition to the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice Party is prohibited; and the Constitution of 1997, which established democratic institutions, has never been enforced. The vacuum created by this lack of a coherent legal foundation generates a climate of impunity for human rights abuses, one incapable of protecting citizens and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Eritrea's human rights record is not merely a domestic issue. The regime's continued disrespect for human life poses an imminent threat to international peace and security through its role in the ongoing refugee crisis. The horrifying violence countless Eritreans face on a daily basis is a powerful force driving close to 5,000 citizens to flee the nation each month, contributing to a global humanitarian emergency. In 2015, Eritreans comprised the third-largest nationality after Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans undertaking the dangerous journey in search of asylum and safety. The weight of the ICC's authority is urgently needed to ensure the protection of the Eritrean people and to stem this alarming flow of refugees.

As Eritrea is not a state party to the ICC, the tribunal can only exercise jurisdiction over crimes committed in Eritrea if the nation ratifies the Rome Statute, or if the U.N. Security Council refers the situation to the court. The Security Council must treat Eritrea's serious human rights abuses as the atrocities they are by referring the country to the ICC. In doing so, it can ensure those responsible for these crimes are prosecuted to the fullest extent.

International mechanisms set in place by the Security Council and the ICC can play a pivotal role in ensuring the victims of the Eritrean government's heinous abuses have their voices heard. No population should be forced to live in an atmosphere of fear while its oppressors are given broad latitude in their actions without facing consequences. Eritrea's human rights abuses are still occurring today, and they must not slip through the cracks of global attention when they should be instead condemned and prosecuted for what they are: deliberate, systematic violations of fundamental humanity.

Grieboski is the chairman and CEO of Grieboski Global Strategies, founder and chairman of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, and founder and secretary-general of the Interparliamentary Conference on Human Rights and Religious Freedom.

Source=http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/international/285937-we-need-to-send-eritrea-to-the-international-criminal-court

Thousands of diaspora Eritreans march in support of UN report that accuses government of crime against humanity.

23 Jun 2016 21:55 GMT 

 
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Organisers claimed more than 10,000 people from all across Europe marched in front of the UN office [Vanessa Berhe/Al Jazeera]Organisers claimed more than 10,000 people from all across Europe marched in front of the UN office [Vanessa Berhe/Al Jazeera]

Thousands of Eritreans have rallied in Geneva against alleged human rights abuses committed by their government back home, expressing support for a new UN commission report that accuses the regime of crimes against humanity since 1991.

"It is so important that we are here to show support to the Commission of Inquiry’s report when so much energy has been spent by the Eritrean regime and their supporters to discredit the findings of the report," Vanessa Berhe, who participated in the protest, told Al Jazeera.

I can confidently say that today marked a very important milestone in the Eritrean opposition movement in the diaspora

Feruz Kaissey, Activist

"I can confidently say that today marked a very important milestone in the Eritrean opposition movement in the diaspora," Feruz Kaissey, a Stop Slavery in Eritrea campaigner, said.

Organisers claimed more than 10,000 people from all across Europe marched in front of the UN human rights office. Al Jazeera could not independently verify the numbers.

"More than 10,000 justice-seeking Eritreans and their allies calling for an end to impunity and crimes against humanity in Eritrea" flooded Geneva today, said Daniel Rezene Mekonnen, an Eritrean human rights defender. 

Determined Eritreans

Selam Kidane, one of the organisers of Thursday’s protests, came from the UK to demand justice.

"We sincerely hope that the world will see how bad things are in Eritrea and how determined Eritreans are to ensure accountability," he said.


Everyday Eritrea: Resilience in the face of repression


The UN report, which calls for Eritrean leaders to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, has angered pro-regime people.

On Tuesday, thousands of pro-government Eritreans rallied in front of the UN Human Rights office based in the Swiss city, saying the report was "partial and full of lies".

"People are expecting for the Eritrean President [Isaias Afwerki] and his close aides to be prosecuted at the ICC or in any other regional or national tribunal," Mekonnen said.

Hundreds of Eritrean refugees and dissidents also protested in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, against the government in authoritarian East African state.

Protests were held outside the headquarters of the African Union as well refugee camps across Ethiopia, which has no diplomatic relations with neighbouring Eritrea.

The protesters in Addis Ababa carried banners calling for the indictment of Eritrea's president. They staged a mock execution and carried a coffin draped in Eritrea's flag.

"Everyone in Eritrea is very desperate at the moment due to the dire conditions at home," said Bashir Isaac Abdulla, an organiser of the demonstration. "Many of them want to escap from the country by any means, and that is why we are witnessing a massive migration of the youth."

In its report released on June 8, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights said that the Eritrean government was guilty of committing crimes against humanity since independence a quarter-century ago with up to 400,000 people "enslaved".


In Pictures: Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia


The crimes committed include imprisonment, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings, and rape and murder, said the report.

The forced labour of military conscripts is also a major problem in the country, the UN said.

About 5,000 Eritreans risk their lives each month to flee the nation where forcible army conscription can last decades.

Eritrean refugees are one of the largest groups trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. The UN report says 47,025 Eritreans applied for asylum in Europe in 2015.

The country ranks below North Korea as the worst in the world for press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders.

"This year I also saw many new arrivals at the demonstration, refugees who have survived the boat ride over the Mediterranean," Berhe, the activist, said.

"This was all for them. For the victims of the Eritrean regime. Once again, I felt hope," she said.

About 5,000 Eritreans risk their lives each month to flee the nation where forcible army conscription can last decades [Feruz Kaissey/Al Jazeera]

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

June 23, 2016

More than 3,000 Eritrean refugees staged a demonstration in Addis Ababa today (June 23, 2016) in support of the recent report of the UN Commission of Inquiry, which states unequivocally that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea over the past 25 years. “The findings of the commission have established what we, the victims, had already known and felt for years,” Tewodros Aregay, vice president of Eritrean Refugees in Ethiopia, told Anadolu Agency. Demonstrators have urged the African Union to take action in light of the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea.  “We urge the African Union to address, promote and protect human rights, and condemn grave violations of human rights, thus ending impunity in Eritrea,” the Vice President added.

Zeray Wolday, an Eritrean who came to Addis Ababa from the U.S. to take part in the rally also told Anadolu: “We are here to request the AU to save Eritrea. The AU should support the report of the commission and stop the sufferings of Eritreans.” Demonstrators also told FBC reporter, “We staged the demonstration to express our support to the report and urge the United Nation to apply the report so that the Eritrean people could live in peace and with freedom in their country.” Eritrean refugees who sheltered in Shimelba, Maiayni, Etsets, Adiabish, Semera and Asaita camps also staged a demonstration against the Eritrean regime.

The recent report by the UN Commission of Inquiry, released on (June 8), lists “crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, persecution, rape, murder and other inhumane acts” that were, the report says, all “part of a campaign to instill fear in, deter opposition from and ultimately to control the Eritrean civilian population since 1991”. The 94 page report provides detailed evidence of its claims. Mike Smith, chair of the Commission of Inquiry said these crimes were still occurring today.

The Commission’s report describes Eritrea as “an authoritarian State without an independent judiciary or a national assembly or any democratic institutions”, and Mr. Smith said, “There is no genuine prospect of the Eritrean judicial system holding perpetrators to account in a fair and transparent manner. The perpetrators of these crimes must face justice and the victims’ voices must be heard. The international community should now take steps, including using the International Criminal Court, national courts and other available mechanisms to ensure there is accountability for the atrocities being committed in Eritrea.” The report noted there had been no improvement in the human rights situation in Eritrea documented in the first Commission of Inquiry report published just a year ago.

Source=http://www.geeskaafrika.com/20280/african-union-urged-act-recent-un-report-eritrea/

Frankfurt, Germany, and New York, USA

June 22, 2016

In an interview with Radio France International (RFI), on June 20th, 2016, the Foreign Minister of Eritrea, Mr. Osman Saleh, announced that all prisoners, and particularly those high-ranking government officials and veterans of Eritrea’s liberation struggle (aka G15) and journalists of the private press, who were arrested on September 18, 2001 and in its immediate aftermath, “are all alive” and “in good hands”.

We have been gravely concerned about the fate of our fellow veterans, and for almost 15 years, we have not stopped seeking information about them, and based on our sources, we have come to believe that at least half of them are no longer alive. All attempts by family members to visit them have been denied.

Political prisoners in Eritrea are held incommunicado, and their family members don’t have the right of visitation; and it is virtually impossible to confirm their well-being and whereabouts. We are concerned this announcement might give false hope to family members, who have already heard the deaths of their loved ones from various sources. It would be a cruel act further aggravating their suffering.

We call upon the International Community to use this opportunity and encourage the regime in Eritrea to allow the ICRC to visit the prisoners and confirm their well-being and ensure that they are no longer denied their right of due-process of law. The Foreign Minister’s announcement will only have credence if the ICRC can corroborate it. In view of the Eritrean government’s proven record of denial of the facts, not to have the ICRC visit the prisoners to check if the Foreign Minister’s statement is true would amount to an acceptance of a patent lie, and the Asmara regime’s shameless attempts to deceive the international community, at a time when its image is irreparably damaged.

----------------

* Mesfin Hagos served the government of Eritrea as Chief of Staff of the Defense Forces, Defense Minister of the GOE and Governor of the Southern Region, and Adhanom Ghebremariam, as Attorney General of the GOE, Governor of Seraye province and its Ambassador to Sweden and Nigeria. They are both members of the G15, the group of prominent veterans and government officials who advocated change and demanded the implementation of the ratified 1997 Constitution. Both escaped their imprisonment because they were outside the country on September 18, 2001, when their fellow members were arrested.

We were highly impressed by the hard work of the Commission of Inquiry in digging for the truth about the human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, committed by the ruling party and government of Eritrea and the realization of the commission that every word said from the regime’s mouth or written by its propaganda machines and supporters has been a lie, a misrepresentation of the true fact, or simply a manipulation tactic. The contents of the report of the commission on issues of crimes against humanity, including torture, murder, rape, sexual abuse, mysterious disappearances, indefinite detentions, modern slavery, and systematic physical liquation (to name a few), are not shocking for us anymore because, unfortunately, we know that these crimes constituted the norm in the Eritrean regime since its inception. It is both heart-breaking and devastating when lives so full of promise are taken away from us every day in the Mediterranean waters, or Libyan and Sinai deserts, or shot by the army at the borders with Ethiopia and the Sudan, in addition to the lives of countless   others dying in prisons and detention centres, whose number exceeds that of schools, and other terrible events such as torture and rape that sometimes end in deaths.

In a nutshell, we are by no means exaggerating when we say that going too far to harass anyone who disagrees with the regime, even on marginal issues, and retaliation, constitute the driving motive behind all human rights violations. We could imagine that some people are still struggling to comprehend the situation in Eritrea or really fail to understand our side and acknowledge our fears, as people, confused by the canned speeches, lies and propaganda of the senior officials of the regime and its supporters, though their lies have grown old, and fall short of being witty or creative, but prove to be unfailingly redundant, unoriginal and boring. If the report of the commission does not tell the international community that there is a skunk in the barn and opens their eyes to the dangers hovering over the country, then it is likely that nothing ever will. What a heartless thing to doubt this report we know stands on a solid ground?

By all means, we can say, so far so good. However, it should be clear to the international community that such governments make their own citizens feel helpless and cover up things, and by doing so, are facilitating the rise of extremism. We are not saying that the Eritrean situation is a case of that, right at this stage, but certainly the possibility cannot offhandedly be dismissed or ruled out. If the international community, represented by the Security Council, does not sit down and take some serious consideration of the immediate and long-term damages this regime is causing and take the recommendations of the commission seriously, we are going to pay dearly, as a people and country. The tasks are urgent and should not be delayed. Of course, a punishment for the criminals would not turn the clock back or undo the effects of the crimes committed on the victims or erase the pain they have caused to their loved ones, who have been waiting for years to see the day of the reckoning, but it could bring a measure of closure to the case and be a harsh lesson that would be taught beyond the cases this report had focused on and beyond our borders too.

We hope criminal Isias and his collaborators will meet tough judges like Sylvia Steiner of Hague, who condemned the former Congo Vice president, Jean Pierre Bemba, to 18 years in jail on five charges of rape, murder and pillage this month,   or the judge of the court of the African Union, who condemned Husain Habre of Chad, this month too, to life imprisonment. It is good news and moral boast for justice seekers that rape is for the first time recognized as a weapon used by dictators to demoralize the people and ensure that they do not constitute any challenge or threat to their rule. At the same time, these two most recent African cases of trial that held  criminals accountable for their crimes and ended in serving justice, have confirmed, to both foes and friends alike, that the criminals in the Eritrean regime cannot go unpunished, no matter they think they are smart enough to do so. Nevertheless, as they know their final fate clearly and are up-to-date on current affairs, we see acute frustration and hopelessness leading them to more violence on their people and the neighbouring countries, falsification of facts, unprecedented smear campaigns, scandal, blackmail, inconsistency, and other last ditch measures of suicide and self-destruction. In few words, the Arabic expression, “Ya Rayeh Kater Al Fadayeh”, describes their recent adventurous behaviours the most.

As it is said, the last hour before dawn is the darkest. We take comfort in knowing that we have reached that stage, though the sacrifices are greater than any time before. This means that the report is terribly biting, and the prayers of our God-fearing and believing people seem to have been heard by God/Allah.

JUSTICE SEEKERS’ COORDINATING COMMITTEE

TORONTO, June 21, 2016

June 21, 2016

 

We, Eritrean Peoples Movement for Justice in North America, are deeply grateful and supportive of the exceptional work done by the Commission of Inquiry Eritrea to determine the extent of human rights violations perpetrated against the Eritrean people by the totalitarian regime in Eritrea. We are particularly encouraged by the conclusion and recommendations made by the commission to have the International Criminal Court (ICC) involved in bringing the perpetrators of those heinous crimes to justice.

It must be recalled that the Eritrean people have never had their plight investigated and the perpetrators of those crimes brought to justice in a century of colonial occupation. None of those abusers have been investigated and tried in a court of law. We are now dealing with a quarter of century of brutal dictatorship by a totalitarian regime that is committing even more egregious violations of basic human right of the Eritrean people. It is long overdue to have the plight of the Eritrean people be brought to a court of law that is well equipped to render justice to the people.

We appeal to the UNCHR, the UN General Assembly, and the UN Security Council to heed the call of the COI-Eritrea to allow the ICC determine the extent and magnitude of the crimes against humanity being committed against the Eritrean people. The United Nations owes it to the Eritrean people to have their suffering heard in a court of law for the first time in their history and to put a stop to their ordeal under the most oppressive regime in the world today.

We thank the Commission of Inquiry for the diligent and objective documentation of the crimes that have been committed in the last quarter of century and are being committed today against the Eritrean people.

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Coordinating Committee

Eritrean Peoples Movement for Justice in North America

June 20, 2016

 

We, Eritrean Americans, are deeply grateful and supportive of the exceptional work done by the Commission of Inquiry Eritrea to determine the extent of human rights violations perpetrated against the Eritrean people by the totalitarian regime in Eritrea. We are particularly encouraged by the conclusion and recommendations made by the commission to have the International Criminal Court (ICC) involved in bringing the perpetrators of those heinous crimes to justice.

It must be recalled that the Eritrean people have never had their plight investigated and the perpetrators of those crimes brought to justice in a century of colonial occupation. None of those abusers have been investigated and tried in a court of law. We are now dealing with a quarter of century of brutal dictatorship by a totalitarian regime that is committing even more egregious violations of basic human right of the Eritrean people. It is long overdue to have the plight of the Eritrean people be brought to a court of law that is well equipped to render justice to the people.

We appeal to the UNCHR, the UN General Assembly, and the UN Security Council to heed the call of the COI-Eritrea to allow the ICC determine the extent and magnitude of the crimes against humanity being committed against the Eritrean people. The United Nations owes it to the Eritrean people to have their suffering heard in a court of law for the first time in their history and to put a stop to their ordeal under the most oppressive regime in the world today.

We thank the Commission of Inquiry for the diligent and objective documentation of the crimes that have been committed in the last quarter of century and are being committed today against the Eritrean people.

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  2. San Diego (California)
  3. Seattle (Washington)
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BAEDC SupportOfCOIE

 

Open Letter to the Commission of Enquiry on Eritrea,

 

In the spirit expressed by EFND and EGS (1), NEW (2), ENSF (3) and many others we, Bay Area Eritreans for Democratic Change, would also like to express our deepest gratitude for conclusions reached by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. Obviously, the criminal regime is on full offensive to discredit the Commission and its findings. It is, therefore, time for all justice seeking Eritreans to wake up and do all we can to make sure the regime does not cover up its crimes yet again. Predictably, the regime is trying to make this as if it is a judgment against the Eritrean people. Nothing can be further from the truth. The judgment is against the regime committing the crimes and only that. The Eritrean people are only victims and there is absolutely nothing in the Commission's findings that implicates the Eritrean people at all.

 

The regime has habitually and falsely positioned itself as a protector of the Eritrean people for many decades. It has even integrated Ginbot 7, the Ethiopian opposition group it has been financing for many years, into its campaign of vilification against the Commission. The regime is referring to the truth uncovered by the Commission as "disgusting". Through our active participation, we must expose and neutralize all the instruments of falsehood the regime has launched. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea has done its job. As justice seekers, it is now time to do ours. 

 

We encourage our US sister cities and all justice loving civic, political, religious organizations to support the Commission's findings. Remember the Commission's verdict, contrary to the regime's well-financed and aggressive campaign, is in defense of the Eritrean people - the real victims.

 

Please make your voice heard. Encourage your family and friends to do the same. Write open letters in support of the Commission's findings to your social media circles as well as print and TV outlets. And send copies of your open and/or published letters to the Commission. Remember, eventually, the Commission's findings will probably identify less than 100 criminals. By holding these few criminals accountable, we stand to liberate the entire population of Eritrea from tyranny. Let's not be silent this time. 

 

Board of Directors

Bay Area Eritreans for Democratic Change

Northern California, United States of America

June 20, 2016

  1. (1)EFND & EGS Support the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea – Assenna.com June 16, 2016   http://assenna.com/eritreans-for-facilitating-national-dialogue-efnd-eritrean-global-solidarity-egs-our-unequivocal-support-for-the-united-natio/
  2. (2)Press Release by the Network of Eritrean Women (NEW) June 10, 2016 http://www.togoruba.org/togoruba1964/mainTogorubamap/mainMap/headingMap/2016/1006NEW6-06AE.pdf
  3. (3)ERITREAN NATIONAL SALVATION FRONT issued Commendation of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations in Eritrea June 13, 2016   http://www.togoruba.org/togoruba1964/mainTogorubamap/mainMap/headingMap/2016/1506SF6-05SE.pdf

Photo: Bullet-riddled buildings and broken railway tracks testify to the heavy fighting seen by Massawa during Eritrea's struggle from independence from Ethiopia in 1990. Credit: UN Photo/Milton Grant.

Eritrea-Ethiopia: UN, AU, EU Can Avert War and Trigger Peace

Analysis by Reinhardt Jacobsen *

BRUSSELS (IDN) - While UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged both Ethiopia and Eritrea to exercise “maximum restraint and refrain from any act or statement that could exacerbate the situation”, reports gathered by IDN from several independent sources close to the border between the two countries and in Eritrea, underscore the grave risks the armed conflict between the two East African countries entails.

Diverse sources claim that border skirmishes are ongoing unabated and that “war logic” is gripping both sides – with Eritrean and Ethiopian leaders putting on their “war masks”.

Against this backdrop, President Isaias Afwerki is reported to have sent a letter to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika reminding of his government’s role as an intermediary of the Algiers Agreement of December 12, 2000. According to Tigrinya language newsgroup Medrek, Afwerki is also asking him to help lobby the international community on behalf of the Eritrean government.

Reports gathered by IDN do not rule out the possibility of a full-scale war unless the European Union and its counterpart, the African Union, join the United Nations in taking necessary steps to de-escalate the situation.

The saving grace, according to political observers, might turn out to be Ethiopia’s (uncontested) election on June 28 to the seat reserved for African states as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2017-18.

African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma urged in a statement on June 14 that the Horn of Africa nations should “refrain from any statement and action likely to aggravate the situation”.

The Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union (AU), Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, expressed deep concern over reports of border clashes between Ethiopia and Eritrea in the Tsorona border area. She called upon the two countries to exercise utmost restraint and to refrain from any statement and action likely to aggravate the situation and further endanger regional stability.

The AU Commission Chair underlined that the two countries can resolve their differences and lay the foundation for lasting peace between them only through the recourse to peaceful means. She noted with regret that 16 years after the signing, under the AU auspices, of the Algiers Peace Agreement, the peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea remains stalled.

In this respect, and in line with the relevant pronouncements made by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government over the past years, she reiterated the AU's readiness to assist the parties address the challenges at hand and normalize their relations.

Meanwhile, discussions continue as to who fired the first shot in the ongoing border skirmishes. Several sources told IDN that it was Eritrea. These sources said that on June 11, a group of young refugees tried to cross the border to Ethiopia near the Tsorona area.

Eritrean military intelligence units tried to stop them by opening fire. Some of the young refugees were instantly killed, while most manged to escape and reached Ethiopian territory. The Eritrean military intelligence units in the area decided to chase them and started using heavier rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and mortars. Seeing that the Eritrean units were firing towards Ethiopian territory, Ethiopian military intelligence units in the area responded by firing back.

The skirmishes began at 12:45am and continued up to 3.45am on June 11. Most of the forces were local military intelligence units from both sides. Civilians in the area, who were displaced by the incident, and the militaries of both countries sustained heavy human losses.

Sources said this bout of skirmishes was a surprise to both governments. The only reason these occurred, they said, are the renewed and strict orders to shoot-and-kill all refugees trying to cross into Ethiopia. These shoot-to-kill orders coincided with the European Union’s financial deal with the Eritrean regime.

June 11-13 incidents which could have escalated into a full scale war are a direct result of the deal, sources said. The Eritrean government did not think that the war it had opened on its own youth would grow in to a bigger war, the sources added.

This fairly detailed account of how the clashes erupted between Eritrean Defence Forces and the Ethiopian army near Adi Mesgene, Akhran, Knin and Qnito in the early hours of Saturday, June 11, is confirmed in an article by the Tigrinya channel Medrek released on June 12.

IDN sources said the Eritrean government has for some time been notifying its forces that Ethiopia was planning to “invade” Eritrea. Analysts from inside Eritrea believe that both governments might try to exploit the recent report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE) to re-ignite the conflict.

Although sudden clashes are very common on the Eritrean-Ethiopian border, recent skirmishes are the first of their kind that the Eritrean government has acknowledged in more than a decade.

The Eritrean group Arbi Harnet (Freedom Friday) also provided a reconstruction of events on the website Asmarino on June 18.

According to Freedom Friday activists in Asmara, residents of the capital continue to dismiss the recent exchanges of fire between Ethiopia and Eritrea as a mere attempt by the regime to distract attention from the UN report uncovering “crimes against humanity”, whilst reports from Eritreans in the border region highlight a worrying trend of civilian casualties.

Arbi Harnet activists, who have tried to establish the number of Eritrean casualties from June11-12 heavy fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea, report that hospitals across the country have been receiving ‘casualties’ but it is difficult to ascertain the extent of the damage.

Activists said: Those who were wounded in the recent fighting on Tsorona front were taken to Dekemhare hospital, Halibet hospital [in Asmara] and Keren and Glass military hospital. However, efforts to ascertain numbers and identity of the casualties have not been successful due to a strict information embargo.

Meanwhile residents of Hazemo near the Tsorona front have reported that the Eritrean army heavily shelled Eritrean villages during the weekend of fighting. “Given that there is a 25 Km buffer zone, inside Eritrea incorporating many villages within this zone, it is likely that these villages might have been shelled from both sides increasing the likelihood of civilians being caught up in the crossfire.”

One Hazemo resident confirmed that “the Eritrean army frontline is located far from the border and there are many Eritrean villages and civilians between the front and the border, hence many houses were burnt and civilians killed and wounded”.

The Eritrean government has not rejected the details of how the shooting started. In a press release on June 17, the government stated:

”Eritrea is appalled by the statement of UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban-ki Moon, on the TPLF attack against Eritrea on the Tsorona Front. The facts of the matter are fully known to the Secretary General. In the circumstances, we find the statement that apportions equal blame to the victim and the aggressor and calls on ‘both sides to show restraint’ untenable.”

A more elaborate view from the perspective of the Eritrean government was reported by eritreadigest, which quoted President Esayas Afewerki as stating that “Ethiopia intends to use the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE), due to the Human Rights Council this month (June), as a pretext to wage war.”

The report added: “He went on to say that the entire plot is hatched in Washington, DC, which has given Ethiopia the green light to attack. We should defend our sovereignty by any means necessary, he said, and gave instructions to mobilize all able-bodied men.”

Another view is that Eritrea itself staged the clashes in the border region to divert attention from the findings of the UN Commission of Inquiry, and demands that Eritrea be put on trial before the International Criminal Court.

“The question of whether the shoot-to-kill policy of Eritrea against Eritrean citizens is still in place should be investigated. Should such reports turn out to be true,” said Prof. Mirjam van Reisen, a well-known expert on the Horn of Africa and founding director of EEPA – Europe External Policy Advisors, “these would reaffirm the callousness of the Eritrean regime, which has been accused of ‘crimes against humanity’ by the UN Commission.”

Van Reisen finds it unthinkable that the EU would not support the conclusion of COIE that the matter be referred to The Hague. After all, The Netherlands holds the current EU Presidency and is committed to defending the reputation of The Hague International City of Peace and Justice, also in its bid to be elected as non-permanent member in the UN Security Council. “This is the time to show this ambition.”

Van Reisen warned that any attempt to undermine the COIE “will damage the international order of justice and human rights and will undermine the authority of the international community”.

She said in order to protect peace at the border an international Observer Mission is required, backed up by a peace mission of the AU. “Stability in the region can only come if the International Border Demarcation Agreement is implemented – and this requires a round table to which both countries agree under international observation,” added van Reisen.

* Reinhardt Jacobsen is the group name of journalists who contributed to this analysis. [IDN-InDepthNews – 19 June 2016]

Source=http://www.indepthnews.net/index.php/the-world/africa/476-eritrea-ethiopia-un-au-eu-can-avert-war-and-trigger-peace

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