Last Updated on Thursday 07 December 2017
Addis Ababa, 6 December 2017: As part of the efforts to address the plight of the African migrants in Libya, the Joint African Union-European Union-United Nations Task Force convened its first meeting at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, on 4 December 2017. The meeting was chaired by the African Union Commissioner for Social Affairs, Amira el-Fadil.
On the 31 October, Eritrea experienced a rare protest as hundreds of people took the streets in opposition against the nationalisation of an Islamic school. Government forces reacted in characteristically brutal fashion and dispersed protesters with gun-shots in the capital Asmara.
A protest in the hugely repressive state of Eritrea is remarkable in of itself. But last month’s demonstration was additionally notable for the make-up of its participants. Many of those who took to the streets were secondary school students. An article on the Ministry of Information’s portal dismissively referred to the protestors as “a group of teenagers”.
For over 16 years, there has been virtually no space to challenge the government of Eritrea. There is no independent press or right to free association and movement. Internet penetration is almost non-existent. And extreme militarisation and surveillance pervade society. All the government’s former critics have all been imprisoned, disappeared or have fled.
However, that does not mean there is no opposition to the regime in the country. They may be disconnected from one another and uncoordinated, but 31 October was not the first time “a group of teenagers” has expressed its frustrations and openly defied the all-powerful Eritrean government.
The plight of Eritrea’s youth is well-documented. Facing indefinite military conscription and a lack of jobs, the youth are fleeing the country in droves only to be stranded in the neighbouring countries or faced with the risky journey across to Mediterranean. Even the sons and daughters of the ruling elite try to escape the country, including the youngest son of President Isaias Afwerki. They would prefer to cut ties with their parents and risk living as destitute refugees than remain in Eritrea.
Of course, not everyone leaves. Some stay happily. But for the many disillusioned young people who remain in the country, there is the feeling of a deepening divide between their generation and the governing system. Recently, this has manifested in a number of under-reported clashes between protesting youth and the government.
The regime attempts to suppress such incidences, which is made easier by its restrictions on international media. This means that these events largely remain confined to those directly affected, but they could have a much broader significance.
Despite continued repression and an education system set up to produce obedient citizens, Eritrea’s youth currently seems to be the only group ready to openly confront the regime. Young people in national service have reportedly booed officials coming to conduct seminars and killed commanders’ goats in protest.
The class of 2013 was reportedly particularly insubordinate. According to students and an internal report that was leaked, many of that year’s intake was punished for their defiance by being told they would be recalled to the military training centre Sawa after their exams. They were told to prepare for a long walk. That night, however, hundreds of students fled. Soldiers were deployed to lock down the camp.
Those who remained – more than 12,000 – were rounded up and forced to travel on foot for over 21 days. The report says two students drowned crossing a river, while another two died from snake bites. On arriving at their destination, the group was put in open prison camps without proper shelter. 34 more died, while there were 17 unwanted pregnancies.
This year, there was news of similar collective resistance. In July, 6,000 students were reportedly deployed to Adi-Halo where President Afwerki is attempting to establish a college of agriculture and machinery. However, there was allegedly no proper lodging to accommodate the students, many of whom were assigned there involuntarily.
They believed they were brought there to work on Afwerki’s projects in the area. In protest, they started leaving rocks on the road the president takes to his office in Adi-Halo and demanded he address their concerns.
When the military intervened, the unarmed students openly challenged the guards. In October, tensions escalated and protesters began throwing stones at them. The Eritrean opposition radio Medrek reports that the military responded by forcibly moving the students to Naro in the far north for military training.
Eritrea’s youth standing up
These isolated but notable incidents suggest that the protest in Asmara last month was unique, but not unprecedented. In that demonstration, hundreds took to the streets of the capital in defiance of the regime’s repressive rule and in anger at its decision to wield greater control over the education system. Once again, many of them were students.
These acts of insubordination suggest that many young people are now saying enough is enough. There does not seem to be coordination around a collective movement. But in the face of clear threats and repression by the regime, and in the absence of an organised opposition, groups of youth may be beginning to take matters into their own hands. Knowing no-one will instigate change for them, frustrated young people may be feeling a greater sense of ownership over their own affairs and future.
If they do continue to mobilise, they may nevertheless find support amongst their as yet quieter compatriots. In Asmara, police sent to disperse the protest reportedly told demonstrators that they share their grievances and refused to fire on them.
That is reportedly how the protesters managed to get so close to the Office of the President. It was there, however, that Special Forces fired on them in a show of violence that leaves those who would question the regime in no uncertain terms about what they ultimately are up against.
28 November 2017 – The United Nations is stepping up its work to stop the grave abuses perpetrated against refugees and migrants along the Central Mediterranean routes, including alleged slave trade in Libya, two UN agency chiefs told the Security Council Tuesday.
The meeting was held at UN Headquarters in New York in response to growing international concerns about risks facing migrants and refugees, which were illustrated by recent news reports and videos showing African migrants in Libya allegedly being sold as slaves.
“This is an enormous human tragedy and we can stop it,” said William Lacy Swing, Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), via video link from Geneva, underscoring the need to break the smugglers’ business model.
In such efforts, IOM has helped 13,000 people get out of detention centres in Libya and 8,000 in Niger, he said, noting that there are about 15,000 still in such facilities.
IOM is working with partners, including the Government of Libya, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the African Union, the European Union, and countries of origin, to forge an agreement to implement a programme to empty those detention centres, Mr. Swing said.
Also briefing was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, who told the Council: “The grave abuses perpetrated against migrants and refugees along the Central Mediterranean routes can no longer be ignored.”
“Compelled to flee, but without legal pathways to safety, refugees are exposed to appalling harm, together with migrants, including torture, rape, sexual exploitation, slavery and other forms of forced labour,” Mr. Grandi said, also via video link from Geneva, adding that these abuses proliferate where governance is weak and transnational criminal networks take root.
“This requires a comprehensive approach encompassing countries of origin, transit, and destination,” he stressed, highlighting the need to strengthen refugee protection and offer solutions along the routes.
UNHCR is stepping up its work – but faces “dramatic” funding gaps, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, he added.
UNHCR is helping the authorities address the needs of displaced Libyans and others affected by conflict. Reception and protection mechanisms are being incrementally strengthened. Plans for a transit centre in Tripoli are progressing positively.
“Too often, measures pursued in relation to the Mediterranean routes have centred on how to control, deter and exclude. This can have a dehumanizing effect – and more importantly, alone, it does not help refugees and migrants avoid exploitative, deeply harmful situations,” Mr. Grandi said, calling for a comprehensive set of political, security, humanitarian, human rights and development investments.
“Your attention is welcome, because your leadership is critical to ensuring that this happens,” he told the Council members.
News Tracker: past stories on this issue
Behind the East African nation of Djibouti's strained relations with Eritrea - and Qatar - is the country's counter-terrorism strategy
November 24, 2017
One of the only things the small East African nations of Eritrea and Djibouti agree on is Qatar’s destabilizing role in the region. When Djibouti downgraded its diplomatic relationship with Doha on June 5th, the government knew there would be consequences. But it was unaware they would fall so close to home.
In a surprise move, Qatar announced the withdrawal of its troops from the Eritrea-Djibouti border on June 14. Qatar’s forces had been keeping the peace between Eritrea and Djibouti since 2010, as part of a Doha-led mediation process. The two African nations had a brief border conflict in 2008 – a dispute which dates back to a 1900 colonial agreement between Italy and France which left the precise location of the border ill-defined.
Following Qatar’s withdrawal Eritrean forces quickly took full control of Dumeira Mountain and Dumeira Island. “Djibouti will have to react to this seizure in some way though in what manner Djibouti will respond to this is unclear,” said Joseph Siegle, Director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in a June interview.
As painful as the loss of that territory is, Djibouti may still think its decision was worth it. The country’s stance against Qatar is part of a tougher fight against terrorism both within its region and beyond. Djibouti was a founding member of the Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism and also participated in the Arab Islamic US Summit held in Riyadh in May. This has continued despite the potential loss of Djiboutian territory caused by Qatar – this summer Djibouti also formally joined the US-led Coalition to Defeat ISIS.
Djibouti believes that its struggle against Eritrea is tied to terrorism concerns. It asked the UN’s Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group to investigate alleged Eritrean funding for the Somali terrorist group group Al-Shabaab last year. Djibouti has also accused Asmara of funding a group of 200 Djiboutian rebels. “I personally doubt that Qatar is directly funding Al-Shabab in Somalia. There is more evidence to suggest the possibility of Eritrean support for Al-Shabab but, of course, Qatar could be using Eritrea as a proxy,” said a senior Somali intelligence official who agreed to speak off the record during the recent intelligence conference in Khartoum.
Despite the crisis along the border with Eritrea, Djibouti has maintained a force of roughly a thousand soldiers in Somalia as part of the African Union force fighting Al-Shabaab. But Qatar’s sudden withdrawal may have cost Djibouti more than a strip of its territory. Djibouti also worries about the fate of its prisoners of war held by Eritrea – an issue that Qatar had attempted to negotiate.
At the end of the 2008 conflict, Eritrea held nineteen Djiboutian prisoners of war – though some escaped and four were later were released. “[Eritrea] continues to spread blatant lies about the prisoner’s condition and has refused to account for them despite repeated calls by the UN Security Council,” Ambassador Dualeh said.
While Djibouti would be outgunned in any renewed fighting, the country’s changing economic fortunes might strengthen its military and negotiating position in the future. “The tiny new nation has no army, less than one square mile of arable land and no resources except sand, salt and 20,000 camels,” the New York Times wrote in 1977. In the intervening decades Djibouti has become an economic success story – its GDP of Djibouti increased by 6.5% in 2016, in part thanks to the development of its port and transport services.
Djibouti aims to become the “Dubai of Africa” and serve as a regional trading hub. Ethiopia – with a population of one hundred million – is the world’s most populous landlocked country. It depends on Djibouti’s port to reach the sea, and as a result the tiny country handles ninety percent of Ethiopia’s maritime trade. To better meet those needs, Djibouti opened two new harbors this year – and another port is nearing completion.
Djibouti also maintains its diplomatic clout by hosting several foreign military bases. Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion outpost, has been America’s only permanent military base in Africa since 2001. Sitting next to Djibouti’s international airport, the US joint-operating base has been an important part of America’s ongoing wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Djibouti has also welcomed military bases from China and Japan in recent years – and Saudi Arabia is also considering a base. Partly in response, Eritrea is host to a base from the home of the real Dubai: the United Arab Emirates.
War is bad for business, and ultimately Djibouti hopes its dispute with Eritrea will be ameliorated through negotiation. Ambassador Dualeh told Raddington Report that, contrary to media reports, China has not offered to act as a mediator of the dispute now that Qatar has gone.
“We would like to see the UN Security Council urge Eritrea to resolve the border issue peacefully,” Dualeh said, “and to accept to submit the boundary dispute to the International Court of Justice, for a final and binding determination of the boundary based on international law”. No one expects that to happen soon.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern over threats meted out to its special rapporteurs in Eritrea, Burundi and the Philippines.
A statement released on Tuesday (November 21) titled “Attacks / threats by States against UN human rights experts, read in part: ‘We are concerned by continuing efforts by certain States to undermine and denigrate important mechanisms established by the 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council.”
On the specific case of Eritrea, the statement bemoaned verbal attacks on its human rights expert, Ms Sheila Keetharuth – who recently released a report to the effect that the rights situation in Eritrea was not getting any better.
The Ambassador referred to her as a 'naked Empress with no clothes' and accused her of acting like a “Viceroy over Eritrea,” and carrying out a witch-hunt.
“The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Ms Sheila Keetharuth, has also faced considerable hostility in conducting her work, including a personal attack by the Eritrean Ambassador during her interactive dialogue at the Human Rights Council session in June.
“The Ambassador referred to her as a ‘naked Empress with no clothes’ and accused her of acting like a “Viceroy over Eritrea,” and carrying out a witch-hunt.
“Once again, it must be stressed that Ms. Keetharuth has been faithfully carrying out the mandate given to her by the UN Human Rights Council, and she should not be subjected to this type of vitriolic personalized attack by Government officials.”
In the case of Burundi, the U.N. body said it had lodged a complaint with the government of how its ambassdor threatened authors of a recent report presented by a Commission of Inquiry that probed rights issues in the volatile country.
“The High Commissioner has informed the (Burundian) Government that he finds it unacceptable that the members of a Commission mandated by the Human Rights Council are threatened with prosecution for performing the task set for them by the Council.
“This threat by the Government of Burundi constitutes a clear violation of article VI of the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which applies to experts performing missions for the UN.
“He has urged the Government of Burundi to review its policy of refusing to cooperate with the independent International Commission of Inquiry and to cease threatening its members.”
The third country mentioned was the Philippines where President Duterte and his supporters are said to have openly threatened the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary execution, Agnes Callamard.
Appeals court rules against mining company Nevsun Resources, clearing way for workers to have claims of human rights violations heard in Canadian court
Workers and visitors walk within the processing plant at the Bisha Mining Share Company in Eritrea, operated by Canadian company Nevsun Resources. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
Thursday 23 November 2017 13.52 GMT Last modified on Thursday 23 November 2017 13.56 GMT
A Canadian mining company has lost its bid to block a lawsuit accusing it of human rights abuses against miners in Eritrea after a ruling by an appeals court in British Columbia.
The decision, against Nevsun Resources, paves the way for a groundbreaking legal challenge that links the Vancouver company to allegations of modern slavery.
The case, launched in 2014 by three refugees who alleged they were forced to work at Bisha mine and endured harsh conditions and physical punishment, is one of only a handful in which foreign claimants have been granted access to Canadian courts to pursue firms based in the country over alleged human rights abuses abroad.
Filed in Canada, the lawsuit was directed at Canada’s Nevsun, which owns a controlling interest in the gold, copper and zinc mine through a chain of subsidiary corporations.
The case was catapulted into the spotlight last year when a court in the province of British Columbia ruled that it could be heard in the Canadian legal system.
Nevsun appealed the 2016 ruling, arguing that any lawsuit should be heard in Eritrea. On Tuesday, however, the British Columbia court of appeal dismissed the company’s challenge, noting the risk of corruption and unfairness in the Eritrean legal system.
Joe Fiorante of Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said: “There will now be a reckoning in a Canadian court of law in which Nevsun will have to answer to the allegations that it was complicit in forced labour and grave human rights abuses at the Bisha mine.
”In affidavits filed with the court, the plaintiffs – all of whom have since left Eritrea – alleged that as conscripts in the country’s national service system, they were forced to work for government-owned construction firms subcontracted to build the mine. They claimed the conditions were inhuman and work was carried out under the constant threat of physical punishment, torture and imprisonment.
A truck arrives to ferry excavated gold, copper and zinc ore from the main mining pit at the Bisha Mining Share Company in Eritrea. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
Since Nevsun owns 60% of the Bisha Mining Share Company, which owns and operates the mine (the other 40% is owned by the Eritrean government), the plaintiffs claim the Canadian company must have been aware of the reported abuses, but failed to prevent or stop them.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
In their decision, the British Columbia appeals court judges referenced a 2016 UN inquiry into human rights in Eritrea, which found the government had committed crimes against humanity in a widespread and systematic manner. The report noted that officials in the one-party state had enslaved up to 400,000 people, with many describing how the country’s system of lifelong military service amounts to modern-day slavery.
This system is at the heart of the case against Nevsun, said Fiorante. “Our case alleges that people that were conscripted into that system were forced to work in service of building a Canadian-owned gold mine in Bisha, Eritrea,” he said.
Fiorante added that about 60 people have so far come forward with similar claims of being forced to work at the mine.
Nevsun has denied the allegations contained in the lawsuit. While the company declined to comment on the latest ruling as the matter is before the court, a Nevsun spokesperson referred to a 2015 human rights audit of the Bisha mine, noting that contractual commitments strictly prohibit the use of national service employees by Bisha’s contractors and subcontractors.
Last year the Guardian spoke with several people who alleged they had been forced to work at the mine, earning as little as a dollar a day. The work was carried out amid horrendous conditions and a climate of fear and intimidation, they claimed.
“The mine was like an open prison,” said one former security guard, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect family still in Eritrea. “They can take you and do what they want with you. I was owned by them. We were like objects for the government and for foreign companies to do with us what they wanted.”
They may have fled from Eritrea, but the refugees in Hitsats camp in northern Ethiopia have not forgotten the plight of their friends and families back home.
These videos, sent from the camp, show their determination to support the residents of Asmara, who have been resisting attempts to take over their school, with the arrest of Hajji Musa Mohammednur, the president of the school’s board.
In taking this stand they join thousands of Eritreans who have shown their opposition to the regime’s attack on the independence of the school in protests around the world, including Washington, London and Stockholm.
Hitsats camp was opened in 2013 by the UN refugee agency, and was designed to hold 20,000 refugees.
A plan by Israeli authorities to forcibly deport to third countries or jail African migrants will affect predominantly Eritrea and Sudanese migrants in the country.
Israel is looking to close its Holot detention center for African migrants within four months. The center is home to thousands of refugees.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) in a statement last week said it was seriously concerned about the move under which proposals: “Eritreans and Sudanese asylum-seekers and refugees would be compelled to accept relocation to countries in Africa or face imprisonment in Israel.”
Eritreans and Sudanese asylum-seekers and refugees would be compelled to accept relocation to countries in Africa or face imprisonment in Israel.
“In light of the intention to see the departure of infiltrators on a large scale to third countries, we may reconsider the need for the continued existence of the Holot facility, as the infiltrators’ departure could come directly from city centers to the third countries,” Israeli authorities are quoted to have said.
It is believed that for Africa, Rwanda and Uganda are the third countries that Israel plans to send the refugees to. An Israeli High Court in August okayed the emigration policy but tasked the government to ensure that deported migrants will be safe with the third countries.
If successful, it will be the first time that such a move has been executed given that earlier attempts by Italy (Libya) and Australia (Malaysia)with third-party countries were dismissed by local courts with the reason that such deportations were inconsistent with international law.
It is believed that over 40,000 African migrants are residing in Israel by close of 2016. The government insists they are largely economic migrants even though most have applied for refugee status and that they are fleeing conflict and persecution back home.
Eritrea is one of the African countries that produces the largest number of refugees and asylum seekers from south of the Sahara. Most young people flee harsh economic conditions back home and the political situation as well.