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  • 5 July 2017
  • From the section Africa 
People working in EritreaImage caption Some 30% of the new jobs will be reserved for refugees

Many thousands of Eritreans have fled the country for Europe in search for a better life. A multinational initiative is now trying to stem the flow of migrants to Europe by training refugees and giving them jobs in neighbouring Ethiopia.

"I was not sure we would make it across. I am so relieved we are here," says 19-year-old Salama - not his real name.

Together with his friend Abiro, they have been walking for two days from Eritrea, without any food or water. At one point, they claim to have been shot at by government soldiers who are stationed along the heavily militarised border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

"The reason for fleeing from our country is because the Eritrean government keeps on forcing us to join the national service and we are wanted in our homeland.

"We walked through the bushes hiding not to be seen by the Eritrean soldiers and we were able to escape," says Salama, the more talkative of the two.

poster in Ethiopia discouraging people from trying to go to EuropeImage caption The UN has launched a campaign to warn people about the dangers of trying to get to Europe

Recent weeks have seen hundreds of Eritreans arrive at refugee camps and reception centres along Ethiopia's northern border.

Many of those who reach Ethiopia intend to move on to Sudan and then Libya, hoping to eventually get to Europe via the Mediterranean Sea but some end up settling in Ethiopia.

It's a risky journey that involves thousands of dollars and an intricate network of smugglers.

More than 2,000 people have died so far this year trying to make the crossing.

"I am not sure where we will go from here. It's our first time out of Eritrea. Maybe we can settle here and get jobs," says Abiro, speaking in his mother tongue Kunama.

"If not, we will move as far away as possible. Maybe Europe."

Through the translator, I ask them what they know about Europe and they shake their heads, indicating they know nothing.

Eritreans make up the seventh largest group of people who arrive in Europe each year seeking asylum, according to the UN, even though the total population is less than 6 million.

Migrants on a boatImage copyright Getty Images Image caption A high proportion of African migrants trying to reach Europe are from Eritrea

But the government in Eritrea has dismissed such figures and says that people from other countries are posing as Eritrean refugees.

Information Minister Yemane Gebre Meskel told the BBC that the number of Eritrean refugees leaving the country was much lower.

"The numbers of Eritreans leaving the country is much inflated; by most accounts 40 to 60% are from Ethiopia and/or other countries in the Horn."

Donors and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) are trying to dissuade young people like Salama and Abiro from making that journey by creating jobs for refugees in Ethiopia as part of a multinational deal.

The UK, European Union (EU) and the World Bank have already invested $500m (£400m) into the programme.

According to the plan, the industrial parks will be set up in the towns of Mekelle, Jimma and Ziway, creating more than 100,000 jobs.

Map showing Central Mediterranean migrant routes

Some 30,000 of the jobs will be reserved for refugees. Ethiopia hosts nearly 800,000 refugees, mainly from Eritrea, Somalia and South Sudan.

"This becomes even more important in a country like Ethiopia, where most of the refugees are dreaming to continue onward and the reason they give is that they don't see their future here and don't know what to do," says UNHCR regional head Fafa Attidzah.

At the refugee camps, authorities are already preparing for the job opportunities by training refugees in areas such as masonry, carpentry, cookery and sewing. There are also computer classes for some of the younger inhabitants.

Eritrea at a glance:

  • Gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 but relations remain tense
  • Opposition parties and private media banned
  • Conscription can last for decades, human rights groups say
  • One of largest countries of origins for Africa refugees arriving in Europe
  • Government says problems exaggerated and blames problems on Western backers of Ethiopia

Find out more about Eritrea

Has Eritrea's migration problem been exaggerated?

The UN has started a programme to make sure more people are warned about the dangers of making the journey.

Eritrea says its tense relations with neighbouring Ethiopia are behind its system of national conscription, which can last for decades.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a long civil war and the two countries then fought a 1998-2000 border war that left an estimated 80,000 dead.

Eritrea has also dismissed the job creation programme, with the information minister calling it "ludicrous... with a sinister political agenda".

"What we need is peace and for Ethiopia to respect international decisions [meaning the decision to award Eritrea the disputed border town of Badme]."

Refugees at camp in EthiopiaImage caption Eritrea's government says the number of refugees has been inflated and that many are actually Ethiopians

But will jobs in Ethiopia be enough to stop the movement of refugees?

Teklemariam, who has twice attempted to get to Europe and failed, tells me much more needs to be done in refugee host countries to sway those who want to move to Europe.

"I try to tell them that it is not safe trying that journey. Sometimes they listen to me, sometimes they don't, but training like this is good, because if they learn some trade, maybe they will stay."

Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn says such programmes are not just important for refugees but also for millions of young unemployed people in his country.

"We have to address this issue critically because we understand our situation well and that's why we are investing resources in making sure our children are safe, and can make a living."

While many refugees here are happy at the prospects of getting jobs and restarting their lives in a foreign land, many more remain unconvinced, and are determined to risk everything for a chance at a better life in Europe.


Eritrea: Anecdotes of indefinite anarchy

Wednesday, 05 July 2017 14:56 Written by

A pastiche of daily encounters illuminating the disfigured Dadaist reality of present-day Eritrea.

05 Jul 2017 11:45 GMT |


Anecdotes like these have been the new normal in Eritrea for over a decade now, writes Zere [AP]Anecdotes like these have been the new normal in Eritrea for over a decade now, writes Zere [AP]


Abraham T. Zere is the executive director of PEN Eritrea in exile.

If available at all, facts about many crucial issues in Eritrea fail to capture the reality in the country. Reading the news about Eritrea, an outsider would not understand the extent and complexity of its transformation: from a country with a promising future into the personal fiefdom of President Isaias Afwerki and his clique at the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).

A pastiche of daily encounters does a better job of illuminating the disfigured Dadaist reality of present-day Eritrea.

Pasta and oil instead of lectures

The Eritrean government closed the only university in Eritrea, the University of Asmara, in 2006, after the last class finished their studies and no new students were admitted. I had been working in the university as teaching assistant at the Department of Eritrean Languages and Literature since October 2004. After the closure, the staff and faculty continued to report to work for a year. We were still receiving our salaries, but we didn't have any classes to teach. We had no obligation to show up to "work". However, we continued to do so because our food rations were being distributed at the university campus. With the ruling party rationing the most basic food items, such as pasta, cooking oil and grain, and with no students to attend to, faculty found food rations the only worthwhile topic of conversation at the university. As shares were distributed, bits of pasta and leaks of cooking oil became common in faculty offices, along with professors hauling bags full of food items away from the campus.

When the military conquered education

After a year in limbo, the regime reassigned faculty and staff of the University of Asmara to under-equipped semi-military colleges that had been established about three years earlier. Students of these colleges were assigned into military divisions and they were forced to attend military training regularly, alongside their classes. Since then, the quality of education has been astutely deteriorating with the colleges in effect becoming refuges of indefinite limbo. My first responsibility as a faculty member in the new college was to supervise exams. While working as a proctor at the exams, I couldn't help noticing fresh faces wearing uniforms in the college lecture halls. When I asked a colleague about these people, he told me they were "military police, assigned to supervise".

Four pieces of bread

In 2010, when I was taking the public bus home in Asmara, I noticed Sara sitting at a bus stop heading in the other direction, obviously waiting for the bus. A few days later when we met, I asked her what had brought her to our neighbourhood that day. "You know, I lived in your neighbourhood before I moved to my current location, but our bread ration is still there," she explained. "The shopkeeper is kind enough to reserve my ration," she said. "So, I go to her shop and collect my ration every other day". 

OPINION: Remembering the Eritrean dream on Independence Day

Normally bread rations are supposed to be collected daily from officially designated shops in the early hours of the morning. Sara had three children and she was entitled to receive a ration of four pieces of bread - three for her children and one for her - for each day. Knowing the hassles and delays of public transport in Eritrea, not to mention how overcrowded the buses are, I marvelled at her taking two buses to reach her destination.

How much time was she spending every other day to fetch these eight pieces of bread for a two-day ration? I asked her. She responded, "Sometimes, if I get fuel [contrabanded], I use my car, other times a bicycle, but the buses take me about an hour to go and another hour to return". Sara was in her later forties and had been the country representative of a United Nations office at one time.

The making of truth

Sometime around 2010-11, the Ministry of Information came up with an unconventional but creative way of delivering "news". They would write a strongly worded editorial - the usual screeds denouncing the international community or highlighting the achievements of the nation in the face of continued hostilities. Two or three days later, they would publish a news article on the editorial and credit the aforementioned editorial as the source. When they did this for the first time, I had a good laugh about it with my friend Yonatan, who also studied journalism. "You know what?" said Yonatan, "They will continue to do this and soon we will normalise it". As he predicted, the practice of manufacturing news from editorials became an established and accepted tradition over the years, normalised by both journalists and the public.

Updating the list of the dead

Sometime in 2011, I stumbled onto Kibreab in Asmara, an amateur poet who also had written a film script. I knew him through a mutual friend, also a poet. Since 2001, we had met frequently at the offices of Zemen, one of the now-banned private newspapers to which I had contributed. "Are our friends still in prison, or are they released?" he asked me immediately after we greeted each other. Some of our mutual friends, including the poet who introduced us, had been taken into custody in 2009 when Radio Bana, the only educational radio station sponsored by Eritrea's Ministry of Education, was raided and later banned by the military. "Of course, they are still in prison; how would you miss it if they had been released?" I answered. "It is sad," he said, "So Amanuel Asrat and his group are also still in custody, I assume?" He was referring to journalists including Asrat who have been languishing incommunicado in detention since September 2001. I did not know how to respond and walked away thinking about the journalists who have never been heard of apart from sporadic news delivered by former prison guards who had fled the country. The news is scant, usually enough to update the list of the deceased detained journalists and other political prisoners.

The bus ride to Asmara

After University of Asmara was closed, my college, the College of Arts and Social Sciences was re-located to Adi-Kieh, about 110km south of the capital. As the town has barely any facilities, it became natural for all of the staff members and most students to come to Asmara for a weekend to relax. With extremely dilapidated roads, the handful of public buses operating (private cars are unimaginable), overcrowded with students and faculty, would take about half a day to reach Asmara (Google maps estimated the distance as 1:30 hours). The weekly scenes of chaos at the bus terminals started with long and disorderly queues at 4am. The bus conductors, in their teens, suddenly assumed the roles of the infamous military commanders in the country, insulting, pushing, and ruthlessly belittling the desperate passengers. Senior professors in their 60s were forced to stoop and beg for the compassion of the erratic teenage dictators.

IN PICTURES: The Eritreans fleeing to Ethiopia

Two years after leaving the college and coming to the US, unsoundly expecting some dramatic changes might have had happened after my departure, I asked my colleague Yonatan if anything had improved. "Of course, there is major change," told me Yonatan as if he were waiting all the time to share his achievement, "I mastered how to bribe the bus conductors. I pay them 250-300 Nakfa and secure my seat without a hassle." The normal fare was 60 Nakfa.

Ministry employee by day, civilian guard by night

When my friend Tesfai, who worked at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, travelled out of Eritrea for the first time on a work visit to China in 2014, I had a long phone conversation with him to catch up on what had been happening in the two years since I had left the country. One thing that had happened was that the government introduced a new law, requiring all citizens between the ages of 18 and 70 to carry arms and guard government buildings in the evenings. As it was nearly impossible to talk on the phone at ease with Tesfai while he was in Asmara, now free of the presumed tapping of every phone conversation adopted by the whole Eritrean populace, I asked Tesfai how he is coping with the new requirement. "I have a gun at home, but I am not regularly doing the evening duties of guarding," he said. "What would be the consequences?" I asked him. "They might imprison me for two or three months or even more, but I am ready for that," he replied.

Quitting can get you jailed

During a phone conversation, last week with a friend who works as a teacher in Asmara, he casually remarked that the currency note redemption of early 2016 had severely affected many people. According to the new policy, nationals cannot withdraw more than 5,000 nakfa at any given month from their own savings; the amount barely covers one month's rent for a two-bedroom house in the capital. My friend told me that he and other colleagues had stopped being paid for their second job. He explained that the government introduced a new policy, prohibiting anyone from being on more than one payroll at a time.

"I have not been paid in my second job since early 2016," he tells me. As there is no such private sector, the only employer in the country is also either the government or the ruling party.

READ MORE: Exiled Eritreans campaign for freedom of journalists

"If you have not been paid for more than a year and now six months, why do you continue working there? Why not quit?" I ask bewildered.

"We continue working with the hope that they reconsider and collectively pay us all. But more than that many of us are afraid it will be considered public disobedience and seen as open confrontation to the government," he replied.

The general's new girlfriend

As a certain general became empowered by the president with indisputable authority, his girlfriend (he is married and has a family) also became very influential. "The current girlfriend is humble and is mature in comparison to her age (she is in her early 20s). In fact, she has helped many prisoners of conscience be released," tells me Teclai who had a small business in Asmara and had a rough time with the previous girlfriend of the general. "The other one was notorious. If you have any dispute or even slightly irritated her, she just calls the infamous military prison chiefs and they will come right away to round you up from the streets."

Such anecdotes have been the new normal in Eritrea for over a decade now. That is also one of the reasons why some of the international media outlets - if allowed access to the country after the routine rejections - cannot fully grasp the absurdity and steep descent into the abyss.

Abraham T Zere is a US-based Eritrean writer and journalist who is serving as the executive director of PEN Eritrea in exile. Among others, his articles - that mainly deal with Eritrea's gross human rights abuses and lack of freedom of expression - have appeared in The Guardian, The Independent and the Index on Censorship Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @abraham_zere

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


Eritrea Liberty Magazine Issue 45

Wednesday, 05 July 2017 00:55 Written by

July 2, 2017July 2, 2017, posted in Uncategorized

Kazakhstan as source of military equipments

On June 29, 2017, reported that a senior Eritrean delegation comprising Foreign Minister Osman Saleh, Presidential Advisor Mr. Yemane Gebreab and Ambassador Petros Tsegai are on a working visit to Kazakhstan. It is not a surprise if the only existing mouth of the totalitarian regime reported the news as a diplomatic visit by hiding the secret deal behind it. However, one sentence between the 99 words news report has every clue we can predict on. The sentence reads:

“They also reached to understanding on the priority areas of cooperation in the sectors of trade, investment mining as well as agriculture and transportation.”

one may wonder then what type of trade agreement could have been reached. It is is not that difficult to synthesize and reach a conclusion that the sole purpose of such trade agreement is basically on “military equipment.” Eritrea has a severe sanction on importing military types of equipment.

Since the border crisis of 1998-2000, Eritrea is suffering for getting a reliable source of military equipment that goes with its poor economic status. Russia, Ukraine, Iran and China were the principal sources. However, because of Eritrea’s immature diplomacy and its exposure to world scrutiny, no country is willing to give a sustainable market for its demand.

When Russia and Ukraine went into political crisis, and Crimea decided to separate from Ukraine, a high-level Eritrean delegation headed by Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and including Mr. Yemane Gebreab visited Crimea and gave an official recognition for its separation. Ukraine condemned Eritrea’s visit. All these were done to please Russia. Russia and North Korea were by then the only source of military equipment to Eritrea. Because of Russia’s interference on extended war zones and huge market opportunity for military equipment, and Eritrea’s accusation by the USA on its military deal with North Korea, and China’s shift in its global strategy, Eritrea got itself in a limbo. Exploring new source of military equipment is a must to be looked for.

With the No-war-No-peace situation with Ethiopia, constant alert of conflicts along the Red Sea basin, The Gulf crisis, potential conflicts within Sudan and South Sudan, and now the renewed border crisis with Djibouti, all obliges Eritrea to equip itself with military equipment stocks.

Within scenario and the already existing sanction, open markets are not favored by Eritrea. Instead, least known countries like Kazakhstan is a good opportunity for Eritrea to make trade agreements that can supply its military equipment deficit.

Kazakhstan, a former USSR member, has a modest technology of producing military equipment. It is also a strategic marketplace for the Far East countries juncture of trades. Russia, China, North Korea and all other countries that are actively producing military equipment can land Kazakhstan to trade their materials.

Some facts about Kazakhstan

A. During the Soviet Era (Source: click here)

  1. Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan was the most significant site of military-industrial activity in Central Asia. The Republic was home to roughly 3 percent of Soviet defense facilities, including more than fifty enterprises and 75,000 workers, located mostly in the predominantly Russian northern parts of the country.
  2. A plant in Öskemen fabricated beryllium and nuclear reactor fuel and another at Aqtau produced uranium ore. Plants in Oral manufactured heavy machine guns for tanks and antiship missiles. In Petropavl, one plant produced SS-21 short-range ballistic missiles, and other plants manufactured torpedoes and naval communications equipment, support equipment for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), tactical missile launcher equipment, artillery, and armored vehicles. There was a torpedo-producing facility in Almaty as well. Chemical and biological weapons were produced in Aksu, and chemical weapons were manufactured in Pavlodar.

Though Kazakstan suffers from the inadequate budget on its military expenses, it is continuing its traditional military partnership with Russia. For example, the Second International Exhibition of Weapons System and Military Equipment (KADEX-2012) held in 2012 in Kazakhstan shows its military equipment production potential and its active engagement in the provision of such products to the world market.  In the 4th international exhibition of the year 2016, an agreement reached between Jordan and Kazakhstan is the best example to see how serious is this country in this trade.

Those above trends show that 2017 Eritrea’s delegate visit to Kazakhstan is nothing but an agreement of army equipment.

Eritrea has chosen war over peace with its neighboring countries. The existing border conflict with Djibouti needs a peaceful negotiation to settle the border dispute. The building of military forces will help neither Eritrea not Djibouti. The withdrawal of Qatar should not be a reason to stop peace agreements. Rather another force, preferably African Union(AU) should replace the role of Qatar so that the conflict to end as soon as possible.

Eritrea will continue to create havoc in the horn of Africa; What other countries should learn is that Eritrea loses nothing as it is already a failed state. What those other countries should refrain from is that getting under the trap of Eritrea’s warmongering mindset is not a solution but a disaster for their own peace and security. Therefore, a careful method of containing Eritrea should be followed to avoid further conflict.

Those countries which are supplying Eritrea military equipments should also know that Eritrea is not using it’s for its own security but to disturb the peaceful existence of the horn of Africa. They should, therefore, abstain themselves from making any military equipment trade agreements. Otherwise, they are selling arms to a terrorist regime.

Kazakhstan as non-permanent member of UNSC

Eritrea is under UN sanction since 2011. So far, no hope exists on lifting this sanction. however, Eritrea never stopped from looking countries within the UNSC that can sympathize so that this sanction can be uplifted.

As Kazakhstan is a non-permanent member of UNSC, Eritrea hopes Kazakhstan to cooperate in lifting the sanction. Though it is impossible, if Eritrea continues to engage in trade activities, there could be possibilities of showing some interest in the Eritrean matters.


The renewed Djibouti-Eritrea border dispute is the first ripple effect of the Gulf crisis in Africa.

18 Jun 2017 14:54 GMT |


Maintaining the 500-strong presence of Qatari armed troops in a remote area was a costly and largely thankless endeavour write Barakat and Milton [AP]Maintaining the 500-strong presence of Qatari armed troops in a remote area was a costly and largely thankless endeavour write Barakat and Milton [AP]



Sultan Barakat is the director of Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at the Doha Institute.



Sansom Milton is a senior research fellow at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.

The media has been quick to associate Qatar's decision to withdraw its peacekeeping forces from the disputed Djibouti-Eritrea border with the Gulf crisis. This connection was most likely made because Qatar's decision came only days after both Djibouti and Eritrea announced that they are siding withSaudi Arabia in the diplomatic rift and downgraded their diplomatic relations with Qatar.

The withdrawal of troops, if understood as a knee-jerk reaction, contrasts markedly with how Qatar has been operating since the start of the crisis. Qatar has not reciprocated the harsh, punitive moves of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in a tit-for-tat spiral of vindictiveness. Nor has it reacted to countries which have reduced diplomatic relations, such as Jordan, by taking retaliatory measures against its thousands of nationals working in Qatar.

While Qatar Airways offices have been sealed off in Abu Dhabi and its senior staff harassed, no such measures have been taken by Doha. Furthermore, while food supplies through Saudi Arabia and the UAE were cut, Qatar continues to supply the latter with around 57 million cubic metres of gas daily. This shows that Qatar continues to play the long game by taking the moral high ground - a strategy that looks to have paid off given the number of international diplomatic capitals that have refused to cave into the intense lobbying of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to vilify Qatar. 

READ MORE: Africa and the Gulf crisis: the peril of picking sides

Given what we know about how Qatar has operated during the crisis, the explanation that the troop withdrawal is purely a knee-jerk reaction to the downgrading of diplomatic ties does not add up. Doubtlessly, with downgraded relations, Qatar finds itself in a difficult position as a mediator and peacekeeper between the two nations. No mediator can operate effectively with reduced representation, both on a practical and reputational level. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the decision has been made in a retaliatory manner. Rather, there are three less evident reasons for why the decision to withdraw has been on the cards for some time and why it is now impossible for anyone in Qatar to advocate for maintaining the peacekeeping force.

The potential fallout of the crisis could have ripple waves spiralling out of the border dispute to the much larger Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict and the rest of the Horn of Africa at a time when the sub-region is facing a massive humanitarian crisis.

First of all, a fundamental principle of conflict mediation is that any third party must maintain a credible threat to walk away if the conflicting parties are not committed to reaching a negotiated settlement. Qatari troops have, for the past seven years, been stationed in the dusty uninhabited border region between the two East African countries to monitor the implementation of the terms of a ceasefire agreement brokered by Qatar in June 2010.

Despite consistent attempts to turn the ceasefire into a peace agreement, little progress has been made. A minor breakthrough was achieved in March 2016 when, in a deal mediated by Qatar, Eritrea released four prisoners from Djibouti's armed forces who were captured in June 2008 during border clashes. However, in the past year, the Eritrean negotiating team has disengaged from the mediation process despite the United Nations Security Council mandated-arms embargo on Eritrea being re-approved in November 2016, demanding that Eritrea release all missing prisoners and allow UN monitors to enter the country.

The two states, particularly Eritrea, have not heeded calls for border demarcation and have gone into denial by refusing to refer to the border conflict as a serious issue. The presence of the Qatari peacekeepers had allowed both parties to grow accustomed to the status quo of a mutually beneficial stalemate.

Second, Djibouti and Eritrea consistently engage in a geostrategic game of shifting alliances. When Qatar entered the fray, the Djibouti-Eritrea border dispute was a minor conflict with very few international actors showing an appetite for mediation. Since then Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti has expanded to become the largest US military base in the region, China has also entered Djibouti, while, in April 2015, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea signed a security cooperation agreement and the UAE is currently completing the construction of a military base north of the port city of Assab in Eritrea from where its armed forces have been operating in the military campaign in Yemen. This particular corner of the Horn of Africa is by now far too crowded for a small nation like Qatar to justify its military presence as a buffer.

READ MORE: Qatar-Gulf crisis: All the latest updates

Third, maintaining the 500-strong presence of Qatari troops in a remote area is a costly and largely thankless endeavour. While the withdrawal was doubtlessly hastened by the changes in diplomatic relations with Eritrea and Djibouti, this has more to do with the infiltration of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia into Eritrea. This military presence clearly renders Qatari troops stationed thousands of miles away in an isolated area a soft target for direct or indirect retaliation. Moreover, 500 troops represent a significant investment of military manpower for an armed forces of around 12,000 during the most urgent crisis the country has faced in its history.

With Eritrea moving its forces into the contested Dumeira Mountain and Dumeira Islands, the temperature of the conflict has been increased and the situation is now more explosive than ever before, for all actors involved. The rapid development of the situation demonstrates the important stabilising role that Qatar had played under the radar for many years.

Moreover, the potential fallout of the crisis could have ripple waves spiralling out of the border dispute to the much larger Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict and the rest of the Horn of Africa at a time when the sub-region is facing a massive humanitarian crisis. This should serve as a cautionary note for the potential of escalation in other places where Qatari assistance has been keeping the lid on conflict, in particular, the Gaza Strip, where as a result of the increased isolation of Qatar by its Gulf neighbours we may see the end of the single most important donor to the reconstruction of the besieged territory to date. This should focus the minds of world leaders on the need to resolve the Gulf crisis amicably as soon as possible.

Professor Sultan Barakat is the director of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies and professor in the Department of Politics at the University of York.

Dr Sansom Milton is a senior research fellow at the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.


This cable, made public by Wikileaks, was sent by the then Ambassador to Ethiopia, Don Yamamoto on 24 April 2007. Although dated, it is still of considerable interest.



2. (S/NF) Prime Minister Meles and the hard-core elements of the ruling Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) view Eritrea as a state in collapse whose population, if supported by the outside and encouraged by open internal dissension, would revolt against Isaias. The Prime Minister and his cabinet view going to war with the people of Eritrea as a waste of limited resources that would achieve very little. At this time, Meles opposes any war with Eritrea as a futile effort with little benefits, distracting Ethiopia from more pressing issues: Somalia and Sudan.

3. (S/NF) Dealing with President Isaias and the border impasse are two distinct yet interrelated problems. Further, how Ethiopia and its leadership view Isaias and Eritrea, two separate issues, also influences how they will deal with Isaias specifically and Eritrea generally. Perceptions by Meles and his leadership, whether correct or not, have become more emotional and more firmly negative toward Isaias, and have shaped the approach, whether wise and logical or not, that Ethiopia is taking towards Isaias.


4. (S/NF) President Isaias is viewed by Meles and his government as an extremely dangerous, hostile, and evil individual whose sole goal is to make Eritrea the dominant power in the Horn of Africa and to promote Isaias’ role as paramount leader in the region. Ethiopia stands in the way of Isaias’ desire for dominance in the region. Meles and the TPLF leaders believe Isaias has no “death wish” but that Isaias’ self preservation does not merely mean survival, but forcing others to make sacrifices, from enduring great economic hardship to even the pain of death, to ensure Eritrea’s continued existence and eventual elevation of Isaias as primus inter paris leader in the region. Meles and others firmly believe that Isaias knows that he lacks the military might to confront Ethiopia directly. Isaias’ strategy, Meles believes, is to attack Ethiopia by expanding the battlefield to include destabilizing Somalia and using Sudan to conduct attacks on western Ethiopia (e.g., Gambella); increasing tensions between Djibouti and Ethiopia over use of the port of Djibouti, the main lifeline for landlocked Ethiopia’s access to the Red Sea; training anti-Ethiopian rebels; supporting internal political divisions in Ethiopia; planning terrorist attacks on public areas and assassinations of Ethiopian leaders; and keeping the international community off-balance to minimize criticism and sanctions of Eritrea. In our conversations with Isaias over the years, he has made it clear that any future conflict with Ethiopia would be “war by other means” and not a direct military battle of “interior lines” of both forces.


5. (S/NF) Meles and his leadership believe that dealing with Isaias directly or indirectly is dangerous and detracts from more pressing and immediate challenges. For Meles and his leadership, Ethiopia’s national strategic interests lie in stabilizing Somalia, eliminating extremist threats, and establishing a government in Mogadishu that has wide clan support and is closely aligned with Addis Ababa. The other ADDIS ABAB 00001275 002 OF 007 threat is Sudan. As Meles deeply fears that an unstable Sudan potentially poses a greater threat to Ethiopia’s security and to regional stability, he looks to the international community to stabilize Sudan. Between these two pressing and dangerous situations is Isaias. Isaias hosts 30 different opposition groups, and his more effective management of groups opposed to Ethiopia, in contrast to Ethiopia’s clumsy and ineffective efforts to support groups antagonistic to Isaias, underscores Isaias’ potential to add to regional instability. Historically, Meles’ approach was to carefully keep Isaias in a “box” by strengthening Ethiopian forces along the border, neutralizing Eritrea’s influence in Somalia, and increasing Eritrea’s isolation in the international community.

6. (S/NF) But now, Meles sees that this approach must be modified to include more vocal criticism of Eritrea as a “rogue state” sponsoring terrorism and seeking to destabilize the region. The Foreign Ministry has pressed the international community to openly criticize Eritrea, and wants to introduce UN Security Council resolutions and African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) communiques condemning Eritrea as a state sponsor of terrorism. Further, Meles has elevated Eritrean opposition groups in Ethiopia, designating GOE State Ministers, rather than office directors, to deal with them. Meles is also carefully working the Sanaa Forum and IGAD to increase pressure and isolation of Eritrea: Eritrea’s recent decision to suspend participation in IGAD followed an April 13 IGAD Ministerial communique endorsing Ethiopian actions in Somalia as “fully consistent” with the region’s goals. Meles has commented to us that he is in a “bind”. He does not want, nor can he afford, to go to war with Eritrea, because it will divert resources from the more important goal of stabilizing Somalia for now and perhaps Sudan down the road. For now, Ethiopia will not go to war with Isaias and will not take any extraordinary measures to neutralize him, but expects the international community to pressure Isaias on his destabilizing activities. We have assured Meles that we recognize Eritrea’s unhelpful activities, but that Meles should focus on our mutually shared efforts in Somalia: providing force protection for AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) troops, support for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), and security at the airport and seaport and for the upcoming national reconciliation conference.


7. (S/NF) Despite occasional public statements to the contrary, Meles and other GOE principals do not want the UN Mission in Ethiopian and Eritrea (UNMEE) to go away, because it serves as a useful tripwire, and its departure would eliminate the last remnant of international community commitment to avert war. Further, Meles views UNMEE as an important element, if not necessarily an effective mechanism, in tracking Eritrea’s encroachment into the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) and serving as a challenge to Isaias who has imposed numerous restrictions on UNMEE. Both the current UNMEE Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) and his predecessor have consistently hailed Ethiopian cooperation with UNMEE, and the GOE’s relative transparency in declaring Ethiopian troop movements. Meles will maintain a sizable force along the border but primarily in defensive positions ready to repel Eritrean aggression. Meles believes that resolution of the border conflict depends on addressing the fundamental issues that divide both countries. Even acceptance of a demarcated border would not end the dispute; Meles believes that Isaias would only find another issue to antagonize Ethiopia. Meles will continue to seek international support for normalization talks, pointing to the support by the Witnesses to the Algiers Agreement of 12 December 2000 (i.e., Algeria, the AU, EU, the United States, and the UN; see S/2006/126 of February 2006) as a critical condition to ensure the peaceful resolution of the border dispute. B. (S/NF)


8. (S/NF) After the assassination of his security chief, Kinfe, and the 2001 firing of the CHOD, Lieutenant General Gebretsadkhan Gebretensae, there are few who have the intellectual depth to stand up to Meles’ keen insights into problems. Meles seeks advice from a wide variety of people with divergent views, even antagonistic to his own, in order to ensure that he fully understands all sides. He does not want to be isolated or confined to one single approach. Meles does not stand on protocol and readily invites visitors to meet with him even after our Embassy would not normally make such a request.

9. (S/NF) Meles is an avid reader, with books and reading materials throughout his private home. He is deeply inquisitive and constantly asks questions, verifying information with a variety of sources. He has even called the Ambassador in for private discussions on politics in the U.S. Meles is also very interested in knowing people, who they are, their background, and how they came to have certain ideas and views. But of importance is that Meles constantly challenges set views and policy ideas. The most revealing insight into his flexibility and ability to change positions was his November 2006 conversation with General Abizaid. General Abizaid spoke of lessons learned in Iraq and the importance of understanding your advisors and what goals were to be achieved. He dissuaded Meles from targeting only “technicals” as a waste of time and resources with little benefit, and said that a comprehensive approach was necessary. That conversation, and Meles’ own propensity to think differently, influenced Meles’ approach to Somalia during the initial stages of the conflict, and also the approach in trying to stabilize Somalia. An avid scholar of history, he looked at how other leaders faced challenges and how they responded to crises of faith as well as security threats. Interestingly, Isaias shares some of Meles’ traits (the same inquisitiveness), though perhaps not the flexibility of thought that Meles so keenly possesses.

10. (S/NF) While National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) chief Getachew and CHOD Lieutenant General Samora Yonus (General Tsadkhan’s successor) formally head Ethiopia’s security services and military respectively, they are not believed to be among PM Meles’ closest advisors. Currently, Meles’ main advisors include: TPLF founding member Seyoum Mesfin, who has served as Foreign Minister since 1991; Public Relations Advisor (with rank of Minister) Bereket Simon (AKA Mebratu Gebrehiwot), a founder of the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the ethnic Amhara wing of the ruling Ethiopia People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), who also serves as EPRDF spokesman; and a number of other TPLF/EPRDF members. But Meles is changing and moving to new people. TPLF founding member Sebhat Nega’s (AKA Woldeselassie Nega) influence may be waning, while London-based businessman Abdul Aldish’s may be rising. The old TPLF standard-bearers have argued that Meles stopped too soon and should have gone to Asmara. Meles still believes that would have been disastrous in terms of international criticism and also the prospect of being bogged down in a long guerrilla war with Eritrea. The new faces in the EPRDF and TPLF leadership are technocrats with a vision for a new prosperous Ethiopia, e.g., Health Minister Tewodros Adhanom. For these advisors, the border is a distraction, drawing energy and resources away from more important ventures. Ultimately, however, Meles heeds his own counsel. C. (S/NF)


11. (S/NF) It is in the Ethiopian character to never dwell on limited or temporary tactical military successes on the battlefield. Rather, it is the final result which will determine success. Citing Ethiopia’s large ethnic Somali population, shared contiguous border with Somalia, and a delicate balance within Ethiopia between Orthodox Christianity and Muslim ascendancy, Meles and the leadership view stabilizing Somalia as a “critical” national security interest but a work still in progress. The operation is ADDIS ABAB 00001275 004 OF 007 expensive, has cost many lives, and the prospect of failure increases the longer Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia and the longer it takes the TFG to stabilize Mogadishu, the center of gravity in the conflict in Somalia. Meles has always made it clear that Ethiopia, the TFG, and the international community have no more than six months to make a significant impact on Somalia’s future stability. If they do not get the “formula” correct now, the prospect for insurgent battles in Mogadishu, and for Somalia becoming an even greater base for foreign extremists and homegrown terrorists, will make Somalia even more destabilized and that much harder to correct.

12. (S/NF) Tactical military successes in December 2006 and January 2007 in Somalia may have forced some Eritrean “advisors” out of Somalia, it has not stopped Eritrea’s efforts to continue to destabilize Somalia. The presence of former Council of Islamic Court (CIC) members in Asmara, and Isaias’ support and hosting of conferences of groups opposed to Ethiopia and the TFG, is a direct threat to stability in Somalia. Further, while angered by the Eritrean “advisors” who helped prepare CIC extremists for conflict with Ethiopia, the Ethiopians are equally disappointed with the Kenyans, who the Ethiopians believe allowed the fleeing Eritrean military advisors to return to Asmara. Eritrea continues to be a negative factor in Somalia, but Meles’s approach is to neutralize Eritrean influence, not to prepare for direct conflict with Eritrea. He still expects the international community to share the same goals of stability in Somalia, and to believe that Eritrea is a threat to this end state. Severe international criticism and cutting off Eritrea from the outside remains Meles’ current approach to Eritrea. D. (S/NF)


13. (S/NF) Ethnic insurgent conflict has increased, particularly in Ethiopia’s Somali (Ogaden) and Oromiya regions, which host the two main rebel groups, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). The GOE has been reportedly ruthless in rounding up suspected supporters and fighters for these groups, which has increased the tensions in these two areas. Eritrea’s support in providing military training and advice has only fueled growing dissension between these groups and the central government. While not viewed as controlling or directing these groups, Eritrea’s influence is significant. Eritrea’s demonstrated activities supporting the ONLF and OLF is not, however, enough to trigger war plans against Eritrea by Ethiopia. The approach by the GOE has been sharp and at times brutal, in neutralizing anti-GOE elements as the best way to minimize Eritrea’s influence.

14. (S/NF) Our efforts to promote a comprehensive approach of assistance and development have so far fallen on deaf ears. Should tensions and conflict in Oromiya and Ogaden increase, and if the GOE does not heed international approaches for more engagement, there is the possibility of increasing blame on Eritrea for Ethiopia’s failed policy approach to these two areas. But we doubt that this would be sufficient to launch any attack on Eritrea. Ethiopia’s problem remains one of manpower and the inability to commit troops and resources to multiple battlefronts. Somalia and internal dissent in Ethiopia remain the focus for Meles. Another war over the border would be impossible to handle. E. (S/NF)


15. (S/NF) If war were imminent with Eritrea, Ethiopia would not/not look to the U.S. for assistance, primarily because the U.S. is far too slow and has yet to fulfill normal promises made to the GOE in response to simple requests such as C-130 repair (seven years and still counting). Further, the U.S. would not support any preparation by Ethiopia or Eritrea for conflict. The primary source for Ethiopia would be the same countries that helped Ethiopia in the last ADDIS ABAB 00001275 005 OF 007 conflict with Eritrea: the Chinese can provide guns and jeeps, the Israelis maintenance necessary, and Russia and Ukraine would likely provide pilots and spare parts. Due to their competitive pricing, North Korea can also be expected to provide materiel to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) is currently using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of Israeli origin. But Ethiopia and Eritrea have used the past seven years to restock their military supplies and reposition troops, rendering any international arms embargo useless.

16. (S/NF) Ethiopia does, however, want U.S. intelligence on positioning of Eritrean forces along the border, an early warning of imminent Eritrean attack, as well as information on the extent of Eritrean support for the OLF and ONLF, and activities in Somalia. They would also want information on Eritrean operatives or elements supported by Eritrea planning terrorist attacks in Addis or in other areas of Ethiopia. Ethiopia would likely seek USG satellite imagery on Eritrea, as it did on Somalia. F. (S/NF)


17. (S/NF) As underscored by Ethiopia’s current intervention in Somalia, international criticism (e.g., EU allegations of suspected war crimes) will not sway Ethiopia’s plans if Meles assesses there is sufficient support in alternate international fora or among key allies/donors. Ultimately, Meles will do what he wants. It would be extremely important for the U.S. to take the lead in unifying the Witnesses in sending a consistent and very strong message that war is unacceptable. No country can convey any different message. More important, unlike the previous conflict, no country can either provide support to, or undercut any arms embargo on, both countries during a conflict. Those countries whose nationals support either country must stand firmly and vocally in opposing any assistance and should take action, even if it proves to be ineffective, to prosecute their nationals for violating the arms embargo. At the same time, we need to be clear to Ethiopia that it plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability and that the international community supports Ethiopia. Criticism without expression of Ethiopia’s value would only antagonize the Meles government. For Eritrea, as well, the message of hope for a more prosperous future for its people must also be conveyed. Finally, the most compelling action we can take is to cut off the money from the diaspora to both countries. While probably ineffective in the short term and almost impossible to implement, it would send a powerful message to both countries that the consequence of war is financial disaster. Meles and his government, as well as President Isaias, clearly understand this point. During discussions, the cutting off of diaspora funding was raised as one consequence of renewed conflict. Isaias was furious and Yemane Gebreab conveyed to us privately that this action would be tantamount to a declaration of war. Since this hit such a raw nerve, it was never mentioned again by the U.S. G. (S/NF)


18. (S/NF) Eritrea alone could not inflict any economic reasons for Ethiopia renewing conflict with Eritrea. Given Eritrea’s growing economic isolation, Ethiopian officials assess that maintaining the status quo favors Ethiopia in the long term. There must be two parallel and corresponding conditions for Ethiopia to go to war for economic reasons. First, as the eighth-lowest ranked country in the world, according to the UN Human Development Index, Ethiopia remains largely dependent on foreign donor assistance. Should the U.S. and other donors decide to cut off or severely limit assistance to Ethiopia specifically to punish Ethiopia on the border and show that we clearly favor Eritrea, then Ethiopia would reevaluate its relations with the outside world. Second, international action alone, however, is not enough for Ethiopia to go to war. What would be essential in conjunction with any international action against Ethiopia ADDIS ABAB 00001275 006 OF 007 would be Eritrean action to cut off Ethiopia’s lifeline to the Red Sea, the port of Djibouti. Losing port access is one of landlocked Ethiopia’s redlines. In actuality, making Djibouti close operations to Ethiopia would require support from the international community and would signal a clear intent to isolate and sanction Ethiopia, and to hurt Ethiopia economically. However, if Ethiopia assessed that Eritrea were responsible, then this could trigger conflict. H. (S/NF)


19. (S/NF) Like Eritrea, Ethiopia rejects the EEBC’s authority to demarcate the border by coordinates. Should the EEBC decision be finalized but with no further action, this would not precipitate renewed conflict with Eritrea. However, should the international community determine that the border is demarcated, and then impose sanctions and economic restrictions specifically and primarily targeted against Ethiopia without discussion or any effort to bring both parties together, then Ethiopia would reevaluate its position. If Eritrea then proceeds to move troops towards Badme by force, with the consent or non-opposition of the international community, then conflict would commence immediately.

20. (S/NF) The EEBC decision potentially holds the greatest threat to pushing the parties to renewed conflict. It goes against their original guidance on physical demarcation, and on discussion and agreement with the parties to bring both sides to discuss and mutually agree on the placement of the pillars. It also ignores the informal private discussions with the EEBC by the Witnesses on measures to avoid conflict and promote the parties dealing directly with each other on areas of contention. In the rush by the EEBC to finalize the demarcation by any means and conclude the EEBC’s work, they may be inadvertently sowing the seeds of dissension and potential renewed conflict.

21. (S/NF) The international community, specifically the Witnesses, must carefully coordinate a consistent and unequivocal position with the U.N. Security Council and the EEBC, that is conveyed clearly and unambiguously to the parties themselves. Non-action by the international community or the sending of a vague message could potentially increase tensions and have the unintended consequence of pushing one or both parties towards conflict. The Witnesses should be meeting on the EEBC decision immediately, if we are serious about eliminating any potential for war. Our message should also be consistent with the last Witnesses meeting chaired by Assistant Secretary Frazer in February 2006, and with the U.S. negotiated approach on normalization talks to eliminate tensions. I. (S/NF)


22. (S/NF) Prime Minister Meles would have an extremely difficult time gaining popular support and preparing the Ethiopia public for war. Few want renewed conflict, and most view the past war as a conflict by Tigray and the Meles government, not of the Ethiopian people. While the conflict in Somalia is a strategic issue, renewed conflict with Eritrea is seen as a personal issue between two leaders trying to settle private scores. Despite the dominance of state-run media, mere rhetoric on the threat from Eritrea would have little effect in swaying the vast majority of the Ethiopian population. There would need to be a multiple series of actions by Eritrea to incite general support for renewed conflict: e.g., assassination of leaders in Addis Ababa, terrorist attacks against the general Ethiopian population, and a limited and specific military attack by Eritrea against Ethiopia along the border. No one action is sufficient to renew total conflict by Ethiopia against Eritrea, except to respond to “total” war by Eritrea.

23. (S/NF) Preparations for conflict would likely include large-scale mobilization of reserves, and deployment of key ADDIS ABAB 00001275 007 OF 007 military units, such as the Agazi (special forces) commandos. On the economic front, measures could include introduction of rationing on consumer products and/or fuel, the imposition of special surtaxes, and raising the price of state-controlled commodities. 24. (S/NF) Should Ethiopia determine that Eritrea poses a clear and imminent threat, Meles and his government would want international support prior to any conflict (and especially domestic support). As it did prior to intervening in December 2006 in Somalia, Ethiopia would likely seek support in international fora, such as IGAD and the African Union, where it holds a prominent seat as one of 15 members of the AU Peace and Security Council, and is able to galvanize support from throughout the continent. Further, Ethiopia would begin to signal not only hostile anti-Eritrean rhetoric but also, more important, messages that conflict is likely. (The current rhetoric by Ethiopia against Eritrea is troubling, but thus far we have been consistent in our approach that such rhetoric is unhelpful.) In such a scenario, it would be extremely important for the international community to be unified and to express to both sides a consistent and strong message that conflict would not be tolerated. In 2001 in our resumption of discussions with both parties over the border, we delivered strong messages of the consequences of renewed conflict, intentional or unintentional. Both parties understood clearly what our message was, and that the witnesses stood firmly behind the U.S. The problem now, is that we hold very little leverage over Eritrea, they do not listen to us, and even the benefits of not going to war (debt relief and reconstruction funds) may not be important to Isaias. For Ethiopia, our message in 2001 still holds sway over this government. YAMAMOTO


June 27, 2017

Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) is delighted to announce the appointment

of Anneke Van Woudenberg as its new executive director, and said it plans to expand its work.

Anneke Van Woudenberg, Director RAID


Date: 27/06/2017Author: Martin Plaut


June 27, 2017

Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) is delighted to announce the appointment of Anneke Van Woudenberg as its new executive director, and said it plans to expand its work.

Patricia Feeney, RAID’s outgoing director, is retiring after 18 years during which she earned RAID the reputation as a small and highly effective organization spearheading efforts in the field of business and human rights. She will be replaced by Van Woudenberg, who was previously deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch.“

Anneke has 20 years of experience on the frontlines of human rights in Africa and I’m thrilled to be handing over to her,” said Feeney. “She is just the person to lead RAID as it takes on corporations that believe they can tread on the rights of people in Africa without consequence.”

Feeney’s work will be celebrated at an event at Matrix Chambers on 28 June.

Van Woudenberg’s work at Human Rights Watch included in-depth fact-finding and reporting on human rights violations across sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a major focus of RAID’s existing portfolio. She has briefed the UN Security Council, the US Congress and the British and European parliaments, and is a frequent commentator in the international press on human rights and justice issues. Prior to joining Human Rights Watch, Van Woudenberg was the country director for Oxfam in the DRC.

“Anneke brings the perfect experience, skills, and passion to build on Patricia’s remarkable legacy,” said Dr. Bronwen Manby, chair of RAID’s board. “Her work in Congo has shamed governments, changed international policy, and led to international trials against notorious warlords. We need the same tenacity to bring greater accountability for corporate complicity in human rights violations across the continent.”

Since it was founded in 1998, RAID has led the way in the use of detailed research to achieve justice for victims of corporate human rights abuse and environmental damage. RAID’s pioneering cases cover the DRC, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, amongst others, and range from legal actions against mining companies complicit in war crimes to pressing stock markets to more effectively regulate companies involved in corruption and rights abuses.

In 2008, RAID’s meticulous case work led to the first ever determination that a British company had breached the human rights provisions of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, paving the way for other such cases. The precedent set helped lead to the adoption of explicit business and human rights standards by the United Nations in 2011.

“I have long admired RAID’s powerful combination of in-depth research with seeking justice for the victims, no matter how long it takes and how impossible the struggle appears,” Anneke said.  “It’s a great honour to lead this small organization and to take RAID into its next chapter.”


Born in the Netherlands and raised in Canada, Anneke graduated from the London School of Economics with a Masters in International Relations in 1992. She went on to work in the parliamentary office of the former British Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath before entering the corporate world with Andersen Consulting and NatWest Bank, working in London, Moscow, New York and Johannesburg. Her work in the private sector was followed by work with Marie Stopes in Malawi on reproductive health, Oxfam as Country Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo and with Human Rights Watch from 2002 to 2016. Anneke is also finishing a book on her personal journey seeking justice for mass atrocities in Congo.


by Leonard Vincent and Martin Plaut


You might think that a regime that incarcerates and tortures its citizens – regularly; that holds its people in complete subjection – would be cold-shouldered.[1]

You might think that a government that is held by a United Nations Commission to have been guilty crimes against humanity would not really be attractive to foreign supporters.

You might think that a State without a constitution, independent judiciary or free press, and in which the only applicable law is the caprice of an unelected President, would be ostracised by people of good conscience around the world.

You might think that an administration that holds most of its citizens in perpetual servitude, under the guise of ‘National Service’, would be an international pariah.

And in the case of Eritrea you would, on the whole, be right. Of course some European governments, fed up with the flood of Eritrean refugees crossing the Mediterranean, are now seeking to achieve a ‘new engagement’ with President Isaias’s government to halt the exodus, even though there continues to be some resistance to this project in Brussels and certain European capitals.

The same cannot be said of a group of foreign individuals and institutions who have become what might be termed ‘friends of the Eritrean government.’ For a variety of reasons they have become its ‘cheerleaders’ abroad. They are, of course, not to be confused with friends of the Eritrean people (among whom are both authors of this article). These are supporters the government of President Isaias Afwerki, no matter how compelling the evidence of human rights violations in the nation over which he presides. This article will look briefly at these foreign ‘friends’.

Ruby Sandhu

Ruby Sandhu is a British lawyer, and a partner with the law firm, The Brooke Consultancy LLP.[2] Her website says she has: “…worked on corporate commercial law, high profile cases, involving abuse of due process, political prisoners and politically exposed persons requiring a multi-jurisdictional approach to complex issues. She combines this experience to focus on Business and Human Rights law from a systems and organisational perspective.”

Ms Sandhu highlights her ethical interests and concerns: “Ruby is a passionate animal rights advocate and practising ethical vegan. She enjoys solo outdoor trail running with her springer spaniel (Bono), cycling and yoga.”

No hint here that she would ever countenance advocacy work supportive of one of the world’s most repressive regimes. Yet her tweets tell a rather different story. Ms Sandhu has publicised Eritrean government press statements criticising the work of the Commission of Inquiry of the UN Human Rights Council.

Ruby Sandhu tweet 2

Other tweets have praised the achievements of the country, with no reference to the appalling repression which its population suffers.

Ruby Sandhu tweet 1

In public forums, Ruby Sandhu has gone out of her way to argue that Eritrea is misunderstood, and that critics of the regime are misguided. In a discussion at the Overseas Development Institute – Britain’s top development think-tank – she argued that it was necessary to adopt a new approach and to “engage in a manner that is constructive.”[3] What is required, she argued, is a “more holistic, engaged and innovative approach”. It was only fifty minutes into the discussion, after being challenged by Martin Plaut, that she revealed a key fact that had been omitted when she was introduced as a member of the panel: Ruby Sandhu is a consultant, paid by Nevsun Resources, which is mining in Eritrea. “I must disclose I am a consultant for Nevsun Resources Limited,” she told the meeting.

Ms Sandhu’s relationship with Nevsun can be found on the company’s website.

Ruby Sandhu

Here Ms Sandhu is described as playing “…a key advisory role in advising the company on best practices in the rapidly-evolving field of international business conduct.” She also liaises with “…diverse stakeholder groups in the U.K. and European Union.”

Nevsun is named in the UN Commission of Inquiry Report as having been implicated in the use of forced labour at its Bisha mine. “The Commission collected evidence that forced labour occurred in the context of the development and exploitation of the Bisha mine, 150 km west of Asmara, which to date is the only mine in operation in Eritrea.”[4] On 20 November 2014, three Eritreans filed a lawsuit against Nevsun in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Canada, complaining that Nevsun had relied upon forced labour to develop the project. The case continues.

Ms Sandhu has intervened in a range of public forums, often explaining that the situation in Eritrea is more “complex” than its critics would suggest, and calling for an understanding of the problems it faces as a developing country. It is a position that is similar to that adopted by Eritrean government spokesmen when speaking to international audiences.

Bronwyn Bruton

Bronwyn Bruton, is deputy director of the Africa Center, which is run by the US think tank, the Atlantic Council, which is another beneficiary of Nevsun’s largess. After some prevarication, she confirmed to a US Congressional hearing that Nevsun Resources provided the Atlantic Council with $105,000 in the financial year 2015.[5]

Atlantic Council's Bronwyn Bruton and Nevsun VP Todd Romaine at YPFDJ annual conference August 2015

Ms Bruton has appeared on panels organised by the youth wing of Eritrea’s ruling party, the YPFDJ, with Todd Romaine, Vice-President of Nevsun. Despite this, she told the Congressional hearing she had “no direct relationship with Nevsun.”

According to testimony before the Congressional hearing Ms Bruton has regularly appeared on such platforms.

At the same time Ms Bruton does not deny the human rights abuses practiced by the Eritrean government. When asked by Congressman Christopher Smith about this she was unequivocal.

“Mr. SMITH. Let me just ask you with regards to the human rights situation, the State  Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices is an indictment on a myriad of human rights abuses being committed. I mentioned the CPC designation based on religious persecution and Father Ghebre-Ab elaborated on just a number of people who are actually incarcerated for their faith and the Tier 3 designation by the U.S. Department of State’s TIP office, which painstakingly looks at child and sex trafficking, they’re among the worst in the world. Do you agree with that or disagree with that?

Ms. BRUTON. I do not disagree with that.”

That would appear to be clear enough. But Ms Bruton practices what was perhaps best be described by the philosopher Roland Barthes as ‘Operation Margarine’.[6] This requires first accepting that something is bad and clearly unacceptable, but then gradually qualifying this judgement, before finally suggesting that one’s initial belief was just prejudice (as in the comparison between margarine and butter, in the Barthes example.)

In Ms Bruton’s case this is clearly revealed in her article for the New York Times entitled: ‘It’s bad in Eritrea, but not that bad.’[7] Here she first accepts a number of shortcomings of the regime (no constitution, many dissidents detained and never heard of again, no opposition parties, etc.) She then goes on to attack the findings of the UN Commission of Inquiry, arguing that: “The Eritrean government deserves to be called out for these practices. But the criticism, to be credible and effective, must be scrupulously fair, and the commission’s report is not. It extrapolates from anecdotal examples — like instances of rape by military forces — to allege systemic abuses and blame them on state policy.”

In her opinion the 500 interviews conducted by the UN Commission,[8] can be dismissed as merely ‘anecdotal examples,’ despite the fact that they included first-hand accounts of the most egregious crimes, including rape, torture and enslavement. Ms Bruton admits that Eritrea has a poor record, only to then undermined the case against the regime. As a result, the situation in Eritrea is obfuscated.

Another example of this technique is the Eritrean government’s policy of ordering its border guards to shoot to kill anyone attempting to flee across its border illegally. The UN Commission of Inquiry detailed the policy and spoke to witnesses who had evidence that it was practiced.[9] Yet Ms Bruton dismissed this, saying: “The COIE’s claim that Eritrea maintains a “shoot to kill” policy on the border is an especially egregious example—I’ve never heard of any meaningful evidence that would support that claim, except perhaps in a few, highly militarized spaces along the border, where Eritrea is actively in conflict with its neighbors. But even there, the evidence seems thin.”[10]

It is extraordinary for a senior research analyst working for a major think-tank to claim that she had never heard of ‘any meaningful evidence’ to this effect. There is considerable evidence for Eritrea’s shoot to kill policy which is readily available, not least from reputable organisation like Human Rights Watch. As HRW stated in its 2015 report: “Since 2004, over 200,000 Eritreans have fled to remote border camps in eastern Sudan and Ethiopia, evading Eritrean border guards with shoot to kill orders against people leaving without permission.”[11]

YPFDJ Las Vegas

The cumulative effect of these denials is to whitewash one of the worst human rights abusers in Africa. Francoise Christophe, a former political attaché at the French embassy in Eritrea, concluded after reviewing Ms Bruton’s work that, “…the Atlantic Council’s artful spin amounts to nothing less than revisionism.”[12]

Toni Locher

Toni Locher is a Swiss citizen, who founded SUKE – the Swiss Support Committee for Eritrea.[13] The organisation’s annual reports date back to 2008.[14] Dr Locher works with two other Swiss citizens, Hans-Ulrich Stauffer, a lawyer, who recently published a book called “Eritrea – the second glance”[15] and Pablo Loosli, who is married to an Eritrean citizen and is the chairwoman of the Eritrean cultural association of Bern.

Dr Locher is the honorary consul for Eritrea in Switzerland.[16] In this capacity he regularly supports the Eritrean government, although he denies that he is a lobbyist. Dr Locher says he is not paid for his work, but has rather won the trust of the Eritrean regime after years of dedicated commitment to the country.[17]

Toni Locher

Photo: Die Weltwoche

Dr Locher, who is an obstetrician, says he began his involvement in Eritrean politics after being involved in far-left politics as a student in Switzerland.[18] He made links with the Eritrean liberation movement, the EPLF, and its aid wing the Eritrea Relief Association. When Eritrea became independent he founded the Swiss Support Committee for Eritrea to help develop the country. And – in his view – Eritrea has made great strides in its development. “I am not a politician, but a doctor and I see the development of the country and I say ‘yes,’ this country has a chance.’”

At the same time, he takes controversial stances on key questions. The system of indefinite National Service in Eritrea, is regarded as a form of slavery[19] by the UN Commission of Inquiry since it can continue for decades. Yet it is portrayed by Dr Locher in a rather different light. In a newspaper interview he appeared to regard it as a legitimate form of nation-building.[20] ‘“A large part of the civilian service is provided, for example, as teachers in the villages. This is, of course, hard, and it is not particularly appealing to young city dwellers,’ says Dr. Locher. The pay has been relatively modest, but he says it has recently been greatly increased. Other operations are being carried out in the ‘Land of a thousand dams,’ as Eritrea is also called. Or help the farmers at the harvest. While not denying that Eritrea is an autocratic state, Dr Locher’s position is that African states need time to develop democratic structures.”

Dr Locher organised a mission to take six Swiss Parliamentarians to Eritrea in February 2016.[21] The politicians returned, explaining to the media that most Eritreans arriving in Switzerland were economic migrants, rather than refugees.[22] They also called for a diplomatic dialogue with the Eritrean government, as a way of resolving the refugee issue.[23] Only one parliamentarian, Ms. Yvonne Fehri, who was part of this mission, refused to sign the motion, saying she had been unable to obtain sufficient insight into Eritrea’s detention policies or the role of its military.

Thomas Mountain

Thomas C. Mountain was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. He told a conference of Eritrea’s sole legal party in Stockholm in July 2006, that he was someone who always believed in the “armed struggle,” rather than democracy.[24] He says he has supported the Eritrean liberation movement since 1983 and in 2006 decided to move to Eritrea with his Eritrean wife, where he has remained ever since. Mr Mountain lives in Massawa, enjoying the fishing, and moving to Asmara when it becomes too hot. “It’s a good life for us,” he says, even though there are problems with water and electricity.

Thomas Mountain Stockholm

Mr Mountain describes himself as an independent journalist. He writes for Counterpunch –  which he says is “the largest, most reliable left-wing website in the United States.” He says it publishes most of his articles, and certainly the website have carried a number by Mr Mountain.[25] Other left wing websites also take what he says, but he has had little success with more mainstream media.

It is not hard to see why this is the case. Some of his claims are simply incorrect. In October 2016, he claimed that Cuba and Eritrea have many similarities, and went on to make this claim. “Cuba is the only country in Latin America to come to power through armed struggle, just as Eritrea is the only country in Africa to come to power out of the barrel of a gun.”[26] Zimbabweans would find this difficult to credit; so would Angolans, Mozambiquans and Rwandans – to name but a few.

Mr Mountain suggested that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were paid by the US State Department to undermine the Eritrean government.[27] He also believes that the opposition by members of the Eritrean diaspora to a conference being held by the Eritrean ruling party in the Netherlands was evidence of the rise of fascism and racism.[28] “Their ‘crime’? Being Eritrean, that is supporting their country publicly in the midst of a racist and fascist fullisade [sic.] of attacks by right and left wing Europeans against any and all things Eritrean.”

Such views are unlikely to gain Mr Mountain much of a following outside of the far-left media, although he says he is sometimes approached by Russian Radio for contributions. His influence beyond Eritrea is limited.

Sihem Souid

In France, Sihem Souid also presents herself as a ‘friend of Eritrea’. Ms Souid, a former French policewomen, now describes herself as a ‘communication operative’, whose clients include Saudi Arabia.[29] In 2015 and 2016, she obtained Eritrean visas and interviews with Eritrean politicians for the French press, and has personally accompanied French journalists during their carefully monitored ‘tours’ of the country. After one such visit Ms Souid described Eritrea as “a land run by women” on her personal blog, hosted by the website of the renowned right-wing weekly Le Point.[30] She even served as a press attaché for the Eritrean embassy in Paris: her mobile phone was the contact number provided on the embassy’s letterhead when it organised a press conference to try to smear the author of a TV report critical of the Eritrean regime after it had been broadcast by the public channel France 2.


These ‘friends’ are not without influence. In their professional capacities, Ruby Sandhu (in the UK) and Bronwyn Bruton (in the USA) have received funding from Nevsun Resources, a company which clearly believes they need to, and can, polish their international image. Ms Bruton has given evidence to Congress, while Ms Sandhu has spoken in the British Parliament. Ms Bruton has been used by the media as a serious commentators. Toni Locher (although honorary consul for Eritrea), Sihem Souid and Thomas Mountain are more peripheral figures, and there is no evidence they were paid for their work.

There is growing interest by mining houses in Eritrea’s minerals and they may well wish to fund consultants and spokespeople to intervene to improve Eritrea’s image in the international community. In the era of mass communication, good business means, first of all, a good business climate. After years of isolation, international corporations are starting to return. The French oil giant Total has in fact inaugurated a brand-new refinery in the port of Massawa.

The European Union has become ‘re-engaged’ with the country once more and member states are encouraging some non-governmental organisations to follow their lead. Finnish Church Aid is already operational in Eritrea; others may follow. Finnish Church Aid held a meeting at the United Nations with the Eritrean government and UNDP in October 2016.[31] For the Eritrean government, isolated and shunned by large sections of the international community, this was manna from heaven.

Together these groups and individuals, who are supportive of the Eritrean regime, despite its notorious reputation, could gain influence. They form a subtle system designed to ‘bring back Eritrea from the cold’. It is therefore all the most surprising that corporate lobbyists can be presented as well-informed commentators of a distant country.

It is worth noting, however, that so far these lobbyists and activists have not gained sufficient weight to prevent the UN Human Rights Council from continuing to hold the Eritrean government to account. In June 2017, the Council condemned “…in the strongest terms the reported systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea in a climate of generalized impunity.” The Council also renewed the mandate of Sheila Keetharuth, the Special Rapporteur for Eritrea.[32]

The balance of forces within the international community still upholds the reports of the UN and the work of groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. But if Eritrea’s links with the Saudis grows; its ties with various mining companies develop, and the EU works with the regime to halt refugees from crossing the Mediterranean, these human rights concerns could carry less weight. Ethical considerations might finally be waved aside. Anyone dismissing this possibility need look no further than the case of Sudan and President Omar al-Bashir.


by Martin Plaut

Yesterday I published a report by Human Rights Watch on this subject. Today there is another horrifying report - this time by Associated Press.

Ali Awad Habib, a businessman who was detained in the city of Aden, described how he was given electrical shocks on his neck, back, chin and “sensitive parts” of his body, after being imprisoned by the Security Belt, another Yemeni force created by the UAE. His father, arrested with him in April 2016, was sent to the Emirati base in the Eritrean port of Assab.

Multiple former detainees said their biggest terror was the Emirati interrogators — like the one known only as “the Doctor.”


Inside Yemen’s secret prisons: ‘We could hear the screams’

MUKALLA, Yemen (AP) — They call it the “grill”: The victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun furiously within a circle of fire. It is just one of the terrors inflicted by interrogators on detainees in Yemen who are routinely beaten with wires, kept in filthy shipping containers, and blindfolded for months — all by one of America’s closest counterterrorism allies.

Abuse and torture are routine in a network of secret prisons across southern Yemen where hundreds are detained in the hunt for al-Qaida militants, an Associated Press investigation has found. The network is run by the United Arab Emirates and by Yemeni forces it created, with at least 18 lock-ups hidden away in military bases, air and seaports, the basements of private villas and even a nightclub, according to accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials.

The United Arab Emirates and Yemeni forces run a secret network of prisons

American defense officials confirmed Wednesday that U.S. forces have interrogated some detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. The American officials confirmed that the U.S. provides questions to the Emiratis and receives transcripts of their interrogations. A Yemeni witness of American interrogations also told the AP that no torture took place during those sessions where he was present.

Still, the American role raises potential concerns about violations of international law. Obtaining intelligence that may have been extracted by torture inflicted by another party would violate the International Convention Against Torture, which prohibits complicity, said Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University who served as special counsel to the Defense Department until last year.

Some prisoners have also been transported out of Yemen to a remote Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemeni Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others.

Washington has long relied on allies to help it gain intelligence in the fight against al-Qaida, and Yemen is a main theater for that fight, even while the country is mired in a 2-year-old civil war. The UAE has been so critical that Defense Secretary James Mattis praised it as “Little Sparta” for its outsized role against the militants. The UAE government in a statement to the AP denied that any secret prisons exist or that torture takes place.

Yet at one main detention complex at Riyan airport in the southern Yemeni city of Mukalla, former inmates described being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, rotated on a spit and sexually assaulted, among other abuse. A member of the Hadramawt Elite, a Yemeni security force set up by the UAE, spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the workings at the base. He said American forces were at times only yards away.

“We could hear the screams,” said a former detainee held for six months at Riyan. “The entire place is gripped by fear. Almost everyone is sick, the rest are near death. Anyone who complains heads directly to the torture chamber.” He was flogged with wires regularly and said he was inside a metal shipping container when the guards lit a fire underneath to fill it with smoke.

One fellow inmate tried to slit his own throat; another tried to hang himself, he said. He was interviewed in person by the AP after his release from detention.

He and the other former detainees spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested again. They said that when they were released, Emirati officers forced them to sign a document not to talk publicly about what they had endured.

“When I left the container, it was like escaping death,” he said.

The Associated Press interviewed 10 former prisoners, as well as a dozen officials in the Yemeni government, military and security services and nearly 20 relatives of detainees.

Ali Awad Habib, a businessman who was detained in the city of Aden, described how he was given electrical shocks on his neck, back, chin and “sensitive parts” of his body, after being imprisoned by the Security Belt, another Yemeni force created by the UAE. His father, arrested with him in April 2016, was sent to the Emirati base in the Eritrean port of Assab.

Multiple former detainees said their biggest terror was the Emirati interrogators — like the one known only as “the Doctor.”


The guards would bang on the metal doors of the shipping containers, shouting that “the Doctor” had arrived. The prisoners inside, blindfolded and bound, didn’t know his real name: They knew only his Emirati accent as he asked questions and inflicted pain.

One of his torments was to hang weights on an inmate’s genitals and pull. Another former detainee described being put on “the grill”: Blindfolded, he was tied to a horizontal pole inside a circle of flame. He said he was spun so fast that he vomited blood.

All six former inmates from Riyan, each interviewed separately by the AP, said they were beaten with wires, often by the Doctor himself. One detainee told of undergoing a fake execution where he was dressed in what he was told was an explosive suicide belt, then a sound grenade was set off near him.

This Yemeni man says his son was detained and has since disappeared.

Riyan was once Mukalla’s commercial airport but has been turned into a coalition base.

There, detainees were initially crammed by the dozens into a hangar and into 3-by-10 meter shipping containers, according to the six former inmates. The detainees were kept blindfolded, their legs and hands bound for months on end.

“Imagine having your eyes covered for 100 days, you feel like you’re the walking dead,” said the ex-inmate who was there for six months. He was allowed to care for his fellow detainees and came to know many.

Food was scarce, diarrhea was rife; access to toilets was limited and the containers reeked, he said. Emirati officers would hold their noses from the stench, he and other detainees said. Emirati officers interrogated the detainees at Riyan, while members of the Hadramawt Elite served as guards.

Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province, is a major focus in the fight against al-Qaida by the UAE and the Hadramawt Elite.

Overlooking the Arabian Sea, the city was overrun by al-Qaida in 2015. Militants dominated the city for around a year until they fled before a planned assault by the Hadramawt Elite. During the militant’s rule, many residents worked in service jobs for al-Qaida or otherwise had to deal with the group to get by — and that appears to have made some of them targets for arrest now.

For the past year, the Hadramawt Elite has arrested suspected al-Qaida members in Mukalla and surrounding areas. So far, more than 400 men have been rounded up, according to Sheikh Saleh al-Sharafi, a chief mediator between the Emiratis and the families of the detainees.

A Yemeni who served at Riyan said that men dressed in civilian clothes who his Emirati superiors said were Americans started showing up for the interrogations more than a year ago.

During those sessions, the detainees were not abused, he said. A team of three Americans in civilian clothes came to the base, sometimes multiple times a week, staying for up to three or four hours each time, he said. He asked to remain unnamed because he was not authorized to discuss his work.

The Yemeni said he used to bring detainees to the room where Americans were present. He watched interrogations and saw Emirati officials asking the questions and translating the answers to the Americans.

18 secret prisons in Yemen controlled by the United Arab Emirates

Several inmates said guards frequently threatened prisoners by saying they would “take them to the ships.”

Senior U.S. defense officials flatly denied the U.S. military conducts any interrogations of Yemenis on any ships.

“We have no comment on these specific claims,” added Jonathan Liu, a CIA spokesman.

But a Yemeni officer told AP he had worked on a vessel off the coast where he saw at least two detainees brought for questioning.

He said the detainees were taken below deck, where he was told American “polygraph experts” and “psychological experts” conducted interrogations. He did not have access to the lower decks and thus had no first-hand information about what happened there. But he said he saw other Americans in uniforms on the ship. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation for discussing the operations.

A second Yemeni officer said he was involved in moving detainees to a ship, where he said he saw foreigners though he didn’t know their nationality. “They say these are the important ones. Why are they important? I have no idea,” he said of the detainees.

A top official in Hadi’s Interior Ministry and a senior military official in the 1st Military District, based in Hadramawt, also contended that Americans were conducting interrogations at sea, as did a former senior security official in Hadramawt. The three men spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share military information.

Yemeni Brig. Gen. Farag Salem al-Bahsani, commander of the Mukalla-based 2nd Military District, said reports of torture are “exaggerated.” He denied any detainees were “transferred to the Americans” but said the U.S. sent questions to interrogators and received reports on the results. They also gave coalition authorities a list of most wanted men, including many who were later arrested.

Former prisoners said the abuses in Riyan were constant.

Every night, the guards stormed the containers, forced everyone to lie on their bellies and beat them, all six detainees said. The ex-detainee who gave help to other prisoners recalled seeing one whose trousers were drenched in blood. Several told the ex-detainee that they had been sexually assaulted.

Others “lost their minds,” he said, adding he witnessed two suicide attempts. One tried to strangle himself with his own handcuffs. Another smashed a jelly jar and sliced his own throat. He said a detainee lost his sight because guards intentionally hit him in the face after he told them he’d had eye surgery before his arrest.

Another ex-detainee showed the AP how he was bound hand and foot and blindfolded. He said he was held at Riyan for nearly six months and subjected to constant beatings, though he was questioned only once, about a distant relative.

“I would die and go to hell rather than go back to this prison,” he said. “They wouldn’t treat animals this way. If it was bin Laden, they wouldn’t do this.”


The small but wealthy Gulf state of the Emirates, a longtime intelligence partner of the U.S., has muscled into a powerful role in Yemen.

The UAE is part of a Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition fighting in support of Yemen’s government against Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who overran the north of the country. The 2-year-old civil war has pushed the already impoverished nation into near famine in some areas.

The coalition is also fighting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most dangerous extremist groups in the world, as well as Islamic State militants in Yemen. The Pentagon has said it sent a small contingent of U.S. forces in Mukalla last year, largely in an intelligence sharing role, and that forces move in and out routinely.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has escalated drone strikes to more than 80 this year, up from 21 in 2016, according to U.S. Central Command. At least two raids were ordered against al-Qaida, including one in which a Navy SEAL was killed along with 25 civilians. On Thursday, CENTCOM reported that three al-Qaida militants had been killed in a U.S. airstrike.

Over the course of the civil war, the UAE has effectively carved out its own state-within-a-state in southern Yemen. It has set up an extensive security apparatus, created its own Yemeni militias and runs military bases. The result has undermined the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Ostensibly, UAE-trained forces like the Hadramawt Elite and Security Belt are under Hadi’s government, but Hadi’s officials often complain that those forces answer only to the Emiratis.

The network of Emirati prisons echoes the so-called “black sites,” secret detention facilities set up by the CIA to interrogate terrorism suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In 2009, then-President Barack Obama disbanded the sites. The UAE network in war-torn Yemen was set up during the Obama administration and continues operating to this day.

Lists of people believed missing inside a secret Mukalla.

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said the Defense Department has “found no credible evidence to substantiate that the U.S. is participating in any abuse.”

“We always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct,” she said when presented with AP’s findings. “We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights.”

However, several U.S. defense officials said senior military leaders are aware of the allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen and have looked into them. In the end, they were satisfied that there has not been any abuse when U.S. forces are present, the officials said. They weren’t authorized to speak publicly about sensitive military operations and requested anonymity.

The officials said members of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command or other military intelligence experts participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen. They said JSOC troops are trained to look for signs of abuses and are required to report it.

Legal experts said that in the light of alleged Emirati abuses, U.S. interrogations could constitute “complicity in torture,” which is banned in Article 4 of the U.N. Convention against Torture.

“It would therefore be unlawful for the U.S. to receive and/or rely on intelligence where the U.S. knows or should know that there was a real risk of the intelligence being obtained from torture,” said Amrit Singh, a senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative. “The U.S. has a positive obligation under international law to prevent torture instead of acquiescing in it.”


Families often gathered outside Riyan airport, trying to find news of detained loved ones.

One man in his 60s said his teenage son was seized in August and has not resurfaced since. He was told the teen was in Riyan but whenever he appealed for news from Yemeni officials, they told him, “This is in the hands of the Emiratis and the Americans.” He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals against himself or his son.

In a nearby town, Mohammed al-Saadi’s brother Hani vanished in January, when 20 masked gunmen descended on his butcher shop in the middle of the day. They grabbed Hani, still wearing his bloody apron and holding pieces of meat, and dragged him away in front of bystanders, Mohammed said — “like he’s a gangster or leader of al-Qaida.”

Mohammed thinks the arrest may be because al-Qaida fighters frequented Hani’s shop when they ran the area. He was told that Hani is at Riyan prison by former inmates, but officials won’t confirm it.

“I asked Yemeni officials. All I was told was, ‘We can do nothing to the Emiratis,’” he said. “As if we are not in a state.”

The wave of arrests is also taking place in Aden and other areas.

Looking out over part of Aden Central Prison, known as Mansoura

Sabri al-Shormani, an engineer, said he was arrested a year ago by the UAE-backed Security Belt from his hometown outside Aden. He was held incommunicado for weeks and interrogated by masked men with Emirati accents about his brother, who was suspected of al-Qaida links.

“We came to serve you,” he said the Emirati interrogators told him.

He was put blindfolded in solitary confinement for a week, and he said the stress caused his face to become partially paralyzed. Eventually, they freed him because of his faltering health.

The Security Belt then arrested another of his brothers, Ali. The family had no idea where he was for five months until he was suddenly released on April 3, appearing on the family doorstep. But shortly after he was welcomed home with tears and hugs, a force of gunmen arrived at the house, brought him outside and shot him to death, said their 60-year-old father, Mohammed Jaafar.

“We heard heavy gunfire. We didn’t know what was happening, there were armed men lined up,” Jaafar said. “I saw them, I started to scream.” Sabri said that there were bruises and other marks of torture on his brother’s body.

Huda al-Sarari, a rights lawyer in Aden who tracks detentions and torture, contended that many innocents are caught up in the arrests. But even al-Qaida suspects should be detained and questioned legally, she said.

“His family should know his whereabouts. He should be tried,” she said. “How long should detainees stay in detention centers where there is no electricity, no care, because they fall outside the authorities’ control?”

Ali Awad Habib, the businessman who was tortured with electric shocks, still doesn’t know why he was imprisoned for 6 months.

“Shock, shock, shock,” he said, pointing to the places where he said interrogators used the electrical prod on him. “I was tortured for no reason.”

He was detained on April 21, 2016, when masked gunmen from the Security Belt stormed into his office and one of his family businesses, a sponge factory in Aden, Yemen’s second largest city. They beat up and took away Habib, his brother, father, uncle and cousins along with several workers.

Habib and most of the others were taken to Aden’s official prison, known as Mansoura, where one section is under control of the Security Belt.

There, during interrogations, he said he was often beaten by heavy wires. The accusations against him varied each time. “One says I am an al-Qaida member, a second says I’m a drug dealer, and a third said I am an Iranian agent,” he said.

Habib was freed only to discover that his father was taken to the Emirati base in Assab, Eritrea, where there has been no word of him.

Naquib al-Yahri, the head of Mansoura prison, said Habib’s father was sent to Assab on suspicion of selling weapons to al-Qaida. He said the coalition was taking other prisoners out of Yemen, but did not provide figures.

He denied any torture or illegal detentions at Mansoura, saying that prosecutors are questioning those held or have ordered them kept in custody until courts in the war-torn country are back functioning. He gave the AP a tour of part of the facility, showing newly renovated cells and workshops for prisoners under 18 years old to learn a trade. In front of guards, the AP spoke to five teenaged prisoners who said they were doing well.

Aden’s security chief, Shalal al-Shaya, dismissed reports of illegal detentions, secret prisons or torture. He said all raids by his forces — which he said were trained by the U.S., Jordan and UAE — are carried out legally.

And he’s not worried about where the prisoners wind up.

“They terrorized the world and I don’t care where they take them,” he said.


Associated Press writers Lolita Baldor and Desmond Butler in Washington and Ahmed al-Haj and Maad al-Zikry in Yemen contributed to this report.

Martin Plaut | 25/06/2017 at 8:49 am | Tags: Assab, Eritrea, Torture, UAE, Yemen | Categories: Africa, Eritrea, Horn of Africa, United Arab Emirates, Yemen | URL:

EPDP Information Office

At the conclusion of its 35th Session on 23 June, the UN Human Rights Council extended the mandate of Ms Sheila Keetharuth to continue monitoring the still continuing human rights abuses of the Eritrean regime which the UN body once more "condemns in the strongest terms the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations and abuses that have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea in a climate of generalized impunity".

Sheila Keetharuth

This latest UN HR Council condemnation of the regime noted with grave concern "the continued use by the Government of Eritrea of arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention in extremely harsh and life-threatening conditions" and asked the regime to end this brutalities against its own people by starting to implement at least some of the 92 recommendations the UN Council adopted a year ago.

The 35th Session of the UN Council also noted the identification by UN COI a year ago "of individual suspects and careful maintenance of relevant information that may assist future accountability efforts" and asked Ms Keetharuth "to continue and strengthen" her follow up of the grave human rights situation in Eritrea.

Hinting at the fact that the UN Security Council did not yet act on the Eritrean human rights file, UN HR Council requested  the UN General Assembly to submit the report and the oral updates of the commission of inquiry to all relevant organs of the UN "for consideration and appropriate action".  

Furthermore, the Council reiterated "its strongest encouragement" to the African Union to take action on the Eritrean case "by establishing an investigation" with the view of "examining and bringing to justice those responsible for crimes involving violations and abuses of human rights identified by he commission of Inquiry, including any that may amount to a crime against humanity".

The UN Human Rights Council decisions again this year clearly show that the legendary sword of Damocles is still hanging over the Eritrean president, Isaias Afeworki, and his small clique known as Africa's most repressive regime.