Democracy in Retreat

Wednesday, 06 February 2019 16:45 Written by

An opposition demonstrator plays the violin during a protest against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas. (Credit: FEDERICO PARRA/AFP/Getty Images.)

Democracy in Retreat
Freedom in the World 2019

In 2018, Freedom in the World recorded the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. The reversal has spanned a variety of countries in every region, from long-standing democracies like the United States to consolidated authoritarian regimes like China and Russia. The overall losses are still shallow compared with the gains of the late 20th century, but the pattern is consistent and ominous. Democracy is in retreat.

In states that were already authoritarian, earning Not Free designations from Freedom House, governments have increasingly shed the thin façade of democratic practice that they established in previous decades, when international incentives and pressure for reform were stronger. More authoritarian powers are now banning opposition groups or jailing their leaders, dispensing with term limits, and tightening the screws on any independent media that remain. Meanwhile, many countries that democratized after the end of the Cold War have regressed in the face of rampant corruption, antiliberal populist movements, and breakdowns in the rule of law. Most troublingly, even long-standing democracies have been shaken by populist political forces that reject basic principles like the separation of powers and target minorities for discriminatory treatment.

Some light shined through these gathering clouds in 2018. Surprising improvements in individual countries—including Malaysia, Armenia, Ethiopia, Angola, and Ecuador—show that democracy has enduring appeal as a means of holding leaders accountable and creating the conditions for a better life. Even in the countries of Europe and North America where democratic institutions are under pressure, dynamic civic movements for justice and inclusion continue to build on the achievements of their predecessors, expanding the scope of what citizens can and should expect from democracy. The promise of democracy remains real and powerful. Not only defending it but broadening its reach is one of the great causes of our time.

Myanmar Rohingya refugee women shout slogans as they protest against the repatriation programme at the Unchiprang Rohingya refugee camp. Photo credit: K M Asad/LightRocket via Getty Images.

The wave of democratization rolls back

The end of the Cold War accelerated a dramatic wave of democratization that began as early as the 1970s. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 cleared the way for the formation or restoration of liberal democratic institutions not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Between 1988 and 2005, the percentage of countries ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World dropped by almost 14 points (from 37 to 23 percent), while the share of Free countries grew (from 36 to 46 percent). This surge of progress has now begun to roll back. Between 2005 and 2018, the share of Not Free countries rose to 26 percent, while the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent.

The reversals may be a result of the euphoric expansion of the 1990s and early 2000s. As that momentum has worn off, many countries have struggled to accommodate the political swings and contentious debates intrinsic to democracy. Rapidly erected democratic institutions have come under sustained attack in nations that remain economically fragile or are still riven by deep-seated class or ethnic conflicts. Of the 23 countries that suffered a negative status change over the past 13 years (moving from Free to Partly Free, or Partly Free to Not Free), almost two-thirds (61 percent) had earned a positive status change after 1988. For example, Hungary, which became Free in 1990, fell back to Partly Free this year after five consecutive years of decline and 13 years without improvement.

An ebb tide in established democracies

With the post–Cold War transition period now over, another shift in the global order is challenging long-standing democracies, from within and without. A crisis of confidence in these societies has intensified, with many citizens expressing doubts that democracy still serves their interests. Of the 41 countries that were consistently ranked Free from 1985 to 2005, 22 have registered net score declines in the last five years.

The crisis is linked to a changing balance of power at the global level. The share of international power held by highly industrialized democracies is dwindling as the clout of China, India, and other newly industrialized economies increases. China’s rise is the most stunning, with GDP per capita increasing by 16 times from 1990 to 2017. The shift has been driven by a new phase of globalization that unlocked enormous wealth around the world. The distribution of benefits has been highly uneven, however, with most accruing to either the wealthiest on a global scale or to workers in industrializing countries. Low- and medium-skilled workers in long-industrialized democracies have gained relatively little from the expansion, as stable, well-paying jobs have been lost to a combination of foreign competition and technological change.

These developments have contributed to increasing anger and anxiety in Europe and the United States over economic inequality and loss of personal status. The center of the political spectrum, which dominated politics in the established democracies as the changes unfolded, failed to adequately address the disruption and dislocation they caused. This created political opportunities for new competitors on the left and right, who were able to cast existing elites as complicit in or benefiting from the erosion of citizens’ living standards and national traditions.

So far it has been antiliberal populist movements of the far right—those that emphasize national sovereignty, are hostile to immigration, and reject constitutional checks on the will of the majority—that have been most effective at seizing the open political space. In countries from Italy to Sweden, antiliberal politicians have shifted the terms of debate and won elections by promoting an exclusionary national identity as a means for frustrated majorities to gird themselves against a changing global and domestic order. By building alliances with or outright capturing mainstream parties on the right, antiliberals have been able to launch attacks on the institutions designed to protect minorities against abuses and prevent monopolization of power. Victories for antiliberal movements in Europe and the United States in recent years have emboldened their counterparts around the world, as seen most recently in the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil.

These movements damage democracies internally through their dismissive attitude toward core civil and political rights, and they weaken the cause of democracy around the world with their unilateralist reflexes. For example, antiliberal leaders’ attacks on the media have contributed to increasing polarization of the press, including political control over state broadcasters, and to growing physical threats against journalists in their countries. At the same time, such attacks have provided cover for authoritarian leaders abroad, who now commonly cry “fake news” when squelching critical coverage.

Similarly, punitive approaches to immigration are resulting in human rights abuses by democracies—such as Australia’s indefinite confinement of seaborne migrants in squalid camps on the remote island of Nauru, the separation of migrant children from their detained parents by the United States, or the detention of migrants by Libyan militias at the behest of Italy—that in turn offer excuses for more aggressive policies towards migrants and refugees elsewhere in the world. Populist politicians’ appeals to “unique” or “traditional” national values in democracies threaten the protection of individual rights as a universal value, which allows authoritarian states to justify much more egregious human rights violations. And by unilaterally assailing international institutions like the United Nations or the International Criminal Court without putting forward serious alternatives, antiliberal governments weaken the capacity of the international system to constrain the behavior of China and other authoritarian powers.

The gravity of the threat to global freedom requires the United States to shore up and expand its alliances with fellow democracies and deepen its own commitment to the values they share. Only a united front among the world’s democratic nations—and a defense of democracy as a universal right rather than the historical inheritance of a few Western societies—can roll back the world’s current authoritarian and antiliberal trends. By contrast, a withdrawal of the United States from global engagement on behalf of democracy, and a shift to transactional or mercenary relations with allies and rivals alike, will only accelerate the decline of democratic norms.

The costs of faltering leadership

There should be no illusions about what the deterioration of established democracies could mean for the cause of freedom globally. Neither America nor its most powerful allies have ever been perfect models—the United States ranks behind 51 of the 87 Free countries in Freedom in the World—and their commitment to democratic governance overseas has always competed with other priorities. But the post-Soviet wave of democratization did produce lasting gains and came in no small part because of support and encouragement from the United States and other leading democratic nations. Despite the regression in many newly democratized countries described above, two-thirds of the countries whose freedom status improved between 1988 and 2005 have maintained their new status to date.

That major democracies are now flagging in their efforts, or even working in the opposite direction, is cause for real alarm. The truth is that democracy needs defending, and as traditional champions like the United States stumble, core democratic norms meant to ensure peace, prosperity, and freedom for all people are under serious threat around the world.

For example, elections are being hollowed out as autocracies find ways to control their results while sustaining a veneer of competitive balloting. Polls in which the outcome is shaped by coercion, fraud, gerrymandering, or other manipulation are increasingly common. Freedom House’s indicators for elections have declined at twice the rate of overall score totals globally during the last three years.

In a related phenomenon, the principle of term limits for executives, which have a long provenance in democracies but spread around the world after the end of the Cold War, is weakening. According to Freedom House’s data, leaders in 34 countries have tried to revise term limits—and have been successful 31 times—since the 13-year global decline began. Attacks on term limits have been especially prominent in Africa, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union.

Freedom of expression has come under sustained attack, through both assaults on the press and encroachments on the speech rights of ordinary citizens. Freedom in the World data show freedom of expression declining each year over the last 13 years, with sharper drops since 2012. This year, press freedom scores fell in four out of six regions in the world. Flagrant violations, like the imprisonment of journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo for their investigative reporting in Myanmar, have become more widespread. Even more stark have been the declines in personal expression, as governments have cracked down on critical discussion among citizens, especially online. The explosion of criminal cases for “insulting the president” in Turkey—more than 20,000 investigations and 6,000 prosecutions in 2017 alone—is one of the most glaring examples of this global trend.

The offensive against freedom of expression is being supercharged by a new and more effective form of digital authoritarianism. As documented in Freedom House’s most recent Freedom on the Net. report, China is now exporting its model of comprehensive internet censorship and surveillance around the world, offering trainings, seminars, and study trips as well as advanced equipment that takes advantage of artificial intelligence and facial recognition technologies. As the internet takes on the role of a virtual public sphere, and as the cost of sophisticated surveillance declines, Beijing’s desire and capacity to spread totalitarian models of digitally enabled social control pose a major risk to democracy worldwide.

Another norm under siege is protection of the rights of migrants and refugees, including the rights to due process, to freedom from discrimination, and to seek asylum. All countries have the legitimate authority to regulate migration, but they must do so in line with international human rights standards and without violating the fundamental principles of justice provided by their own laws and constitutions. Antiliberal populist leaders have increasingly demonized immigrants and asylum seekers and targeted them for discriminatory treatment, often using them as scapegoats to marginalize any political opponents who come to their defense. In Freedom in the World, eight democracies have suffered score declines in the past four years alone due to their treatment of migrants. With some 257 million people estimated to be in migration around the world, the persistent assault on the rights of migrants is a significant threat to human rights and a potential catalyst for other attacks on democratic safeguards.

In addition to mistreating those who arrive in their territory in search of work or protection, a growing number of governments are reaching beyond their borders to target expatriates, exiles, and diasporas. Freedom House found 24 countries around the world—including heavyweights like Russia, China, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—that have recently targeted political dissidents abroad with practices such as harassment, extradition requests, kidnapping, and even assassination. Saudi Arabia’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey put a spotlight on authoritarian regimes’ aggressive pursuit of prominent critics. Turkey itself, which has sought to keep Khashoggi’s murder on the front pages, has by its own account captured 104 of its citizens from 21 countries over the last two years in a global crackdown on perceived enemies of the state. Beijing’s growing apparatus for policing opinions and enforcing its views among Chinese citizens and communities overseas has led to outcomes including the forced repatriation of Uighurs from countries where they sought safety and the surveillance of Chinese students at foreign universities. Interpol’s notification system has become a tool for authoritarian governments to detain and harass citizens in exile. The normalization of such transnational violence and harassment would not just shut down the last refuges for organized opposition to many repressive regimes. It would also contribute to a broader breakdown in international law and order, a world of borderless persecution in which any country could be a hunting ground for spies and assassins dispatched by tyrants looking to crush dissent.

Most disturbingly, Freedom House’s global survey shows that ethnic cleansing is a growing trend. In 2005, Freedom in the World reduced the scores of just three countries for ethnic cleansing or other egregious efforts to alter the ethnic composition of their territory; this number has since grown to 11, and in some cases the scale or intensity of such activities has increased over time as well. In Syria and Myanmar, hundreds of thousands of civilians from certain ethnic and religious groups have been killed or displaced as world powers either fail to respond adequately or facilitate the violence. Russia’s occupation of Crimea has included targeted repression of Crimean Tatars and those who insist on maintaining their Ukrainian identity. China’s mass internment of Uighurs and other Muslims—with some 800,000 to 2 million people held arbitrarily in “reeducation” camps—can only be interpreted as a superpower’s attempt to annihilate the distinct identities of minority groups.

Breakthroughs and movements for justice

Despite this grim global environment, positive breakthroughs in countries scattered all over the world during 2018 showed that the universal promise of democracy still holds power.

  • In Angola, new president João Lourenço took notable actions against corruption and impunity, reducing the outsized influence of his long-ruling predecessor’s family and granting the courts greater independence.
  • In Armenia, massive nonviolent demonstrations forced the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan, the country’s leader since 2008, who had tried to evade term limits by moving from the presidency to the prime minister’s office. After snap elections in December, a new reformist majority in the parliament has pledged to promote transparency and accountability for corruption and abuse of office.
  • In Ecuador, President Lenín Moreno has defied expectations by breaking with the antidemocratic practices of former president Rafael Correa, including by adopting a more relaxed stance toward media criticism, barring those convicted of corruption from holding office, and passing a constitutional referendum that restored presidential term limits.
  • In Ethiopia, the monopolistic ruling party began to loosen its grip in response to three years of protests, installing a reform-minded prime minister who oversaw the lifting of a state of emergency, the release of political prisoners, and the creation of space for more public discussion of political issues.
  • In Malaysia, voters threw out disgraced prime minister Najib Razak and a political coalition that had governed since independence, clearing the way for a new government that quickly took steps to hold Najib and his family to account for a massive corruption scandal.

In all of these cases, politicians responded or were forced to respond to public demands for democratic change, unexpectedly disrupting long patterns of repression. Such openings serve as a reminder that people continue to strive for freedom, accountability, and dignity, including in countries where the odds seem insurmountable.

While some progress has come in the form of sudden breakthroughs at the leadership level, more incremental societal change offers another reason for hope.

Even in a time of new threats to democracy, social movements around the world are expanding the scope of democratic inclusion. They are part of a multigenerational transformation in how the rights of women, of ethnic, sexual, and religious minorities, of migrants, and of people with disabilities are recognized and upheld in practice—not least in places where they were already constitutionally enshrined. Authoritarian and antiliberal actors fear these movements for justice and participation because they challenge unfair concentrations of status and power. The transformation may still be fragile and incomplete, but its underlying drive—to make good on the 20th century’s promise of universal human rights and democratic institutions—is profound.

In this sense, the current moment contains not only danger, but also opportunity for democracy. Those committed to human rights and democratic governance should not limit themselves to a wary defense of the status quo. Instead we should throw ourselves into projects intended to renew national and international orders, to make protections for human dignity even more just and more comprehensive, including for workers whose lives are disrupted by technological and economic change. Democracy requires continuous effort to thrive, and a constant willingness to broaden and deepen the application of its principles. The future of democracy depends on our ability to show that it is more than a set of bare-minimum defenses against the worst abuses of tyrants—it is a guarantee of the freedom to choose and live out one’s own destiny. We must demonstrate that the full promise of democracy can be realized, and recognize that no one else will do it for us.


The Struggle Comes Home: Attacks on Democracy in the United States

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One. Photo credit: Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images.

By Mike Abramowitz
President, Freedom House

Freedom House has advocated for democracy around the world since its founding in 1941, and since the early 1970s it has monitored the global status of political rights and civil liberties in the annual Freedom in the World report. During the report’s first three decades, as the Cold War gave way to a general advance of liberal democratic values, we urged on reformist movements and denounced the remaining dictators for foot-dragging and active resistance. We raised the alarm when progress stagnated in the 2000s, and called on major democracies to maintain their support for free institutions.

Today, after 13 consecutive years of decline in global freedom, backsliding among new democracies has been compounded by the erosion of political rights and civil liberties among the established democracies we have traditionally looked to for leadership and support. Indeed, the pillars of freedom have come under attack here in the United States. And just as we have called out foreign leaders for undermining democratic norms in their countries, we must draw attention to the same sorts of warning signs in our own country. It is in keeping with our mission, and given the irreplaceable role of the United States as a champion of global freedom, it is a priority we cannot afford to ignore.

US freedom in decline

The great challenges facing US democracy did not commence with the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Intensifying political polarization, declining economic mobility, the outsized influence of special interests, and the diminished influence of fact-based reporting in favor of bellicose partisan media were all problems afflicting the health of American democracy well before 2017. Previous presidents have contributed to the pressure on our system by infringing on the rights of American citizens. Surveillance programs such as the bulk collection of communications metadata, initially undertaken by the George W. Bush administration, and the Obama administration’s overzealous crackdown on press leaks are two cases in point.

At the midpoint of his term, however, there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections. Congress, a coequal branch of government, has too frequently failed to push back against these attacks with meaningful oversight and other defenses.

We recognize the right of freely elected presidents and lawmakers to set immigration policy, adopt different levels of regulation and taxation, and pursue other legitimate aims related to national security. But they must do so according to rules designed to protect individual rights and ensure the long-term survival of the democratic system. There are no ends that justify nondemocratic means.

Freedom House is not alone in its concern for US democracy. Republicans, Democrats, and independents expressed deep reservations about its performance in a national poll conducted last year by Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Penn Biden Center. A substantial majority of respondents said it is “absolutely important” to live in a democracy, but 55 percent agreed that American democracy is weak, and 68 percent said it is getting weaker. Big money in politics, racism and discrimination, and the inability of government to get things done—all long-standing problems—were the top concerns of those surveyed.

And yet Republicans and Democrats alike expressed strong attachments to individual liberty. A solid majority, 54 percent, believes it is more important for the rights of the minority to be protected than for the will of the majority to prevail.

So far, America’s institutions have largely honored this deeply democratic sentiment. The resilience of the judiciary, the press corps, an energetic civil society, the political opposition, and other guardrails of the constitutional system—as well as some conscientious lawmakers and officeholders from the president’s own party—have checked the chief executive’s worst impulses and mitigated the effects of his administration’s approach. While the United States suffered an unusual three-point drop on Freedom in the World’s 100-point scale for 2017, there was no additional net decline for 2018, and the total score of 86 still places the country firmly in the report’s Free category.

But the fact that the system has proven durable so far is no guarantee that it will continue to do so. Elsewhere in the world, in places like Hungary, Venezuela, or Turkey, Freedom House has watched as democratic institutions gradually succumbed to sustained pressure from an antidemocratic leadership, often after a halting start. Irresponsible rhetoric can be a first step toward real restrictions on freedom. The United States has already been weakened by declines in the rule of law, the conduct of elections, and safeguards against corruption, among other important indicators measured by Freedom in the World. The current overall US score puts American democracy closer to struggling counterparts like Croatia than to traditional peers such as Germany or the United Kingdom.

The stakes in this struggle are high. For all the claims that the United States has lost global influence over the past decade, the reality is that other countries pay close attention to the conduct of the world’s oldest functioning democracy. The continuing deterioration of US democracy will hasten the ongoing decline in global democracy. Indeed, it has already done so.

Ronald Reagan declared in his first inaugural address, “As we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.” Nearly four decades later, the idea that the United States is such an exemplar is being steadily discredited.

Assailing the rule of law

In any democracy, it is the role of independent judges and prosecutors to defend the supremacy and continuity of constitutional law against excesses by elected officials, to ensure that individual rights are not abused by hostile majorities or other powerful interests, and to prevent the politicization of justice so that competing parties can alternate in office without fear of unfair retribution. While not without problems, the United States has enjoyed a strong tradition of respect for the rule of law.

President Trump has repeatedly shown disdain for this tradition. Late in 2018, after a federal judge blocked the administration’s plan to consider asylum claims only from those who cross the border at official ports of entry, the president said, “This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.”

The remark drew a rare rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts, who declared “we don’t have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” and defended an independent judiciary as “something we should all be thankful for.” But Trump shrugged off Roberts’s intervention of behalf of the judicial branch, insisting that the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was “a complete and total disaster” and that if his asylum policy was obstructed, “there will be only bedlam, chaos, injury and death.”

Nor was this the first sign of hostility to the rule of law from the president. As a candidate in 2016, he questioned the impartiality of an American-born judge with a Hispanic surname who presided over a fraud suit filed against “Trump University.” Soon after taking office, he disparaged a federal judge who ruled against his travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries as “this so-called judge.”

The president has since urged the Department of Justice to prosecute his political opponents and critics. He has used his pardon power to reward political and ideological allies and encourage targets of criminal investigations to refuse cooperation with the government. He has expressed contempt for witnesses who are cooperating with law enforcement in cases that could harm his interests and praised those who remain silent. His administration’s harsh policies on immigrants and asylum seekers have restricted their rights, belittled our nation’s core ideals, and seriously compromised equal treatment under the law. In October 2018, the president went so far as to claim that he could unilaterally overturn the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship.

People take part in a protest against US immigration policies outside the US embassy in Mexico City on June 21, 2018. Photo credit: PEDRO PARDO/AFP/Getty Images.

The president’s attacks on the judiciary and law enforcement, echoed by media allies, are eroding the public’s trust in the third branch of government and the rule of law. Without that trust, the outright politicization of justice could well ensue, threatening the very stability of our democracy. Any American is free to contest the wisdom of a judge’s ruling, but no one—least of all the president—should challenge the authority of the courts themselves or use threats and incentives to pervert the legal process.

Demonizing the press

Legal protections for reporters are enshrined in America’s founding documents, and press freedom remains strong in practice. An array of independent media organizations have continued to produce vigorous coverage of the administration. But the constant vilification of such outlets by President Trump, in an already polarized media environment, is accelerating the breakdown of public confidence in journalism as a legitimate, fact-based check on government power. We have seen in other countries how such practices paved the way to more tangible erosions of press freedom and, in extreme cases, put journalists in physical danger. It would be foolish to assume it could never happen here.

In a tweet posted two days after a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue last October, and not long after a series of pipe bombs had been sent by a Trump supporter to targets including CNN, the president blamed the media for inciting public rage: “There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news,” Trump wrote. “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame … of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony. Fake News Must End!”

Previous presidents have criticized the press, sometimes bitterly, but none with such relentless hostility for the institution itself. Trump alone has deployed slurs like “enemy of the people,” flirted with the idea that the media are responsible for and perhaps deserving of violence, and defended his own routine falsehoods while accusing journalists of lying with malicious, even treasonous intent.

These practices have added to negative trends that were already apparent by 2017, including the emergence of more polarized media outlets on the right and left, the decline of independent reporting at the state and municipal level, the consolidation of ownership in certain sectors, and the rise of social media platforms that reward extreme views and fraudulent content. In this environment, more Americans are likely to seek refuge in media echo chambers, heeding only “reporting” that affirms their opinions rather than obtaining the factual information necessary to self-governance.

An independent, pluralistic, and vigilant press corps often antagonizes the subjects it covers. That is an acceptable consequence of the essential service it provides—keeping our democratic system honest, transparent, and accountable to the people. The press exposes private and public-sector corruption, abuses of power, invasions of privacy, and threats to public health and safety. Attempts by our leaders to disrupt this process through smears and intimidation could leave all Americans, the president’s supporters and detractors alike, more vulnerable to exploitation, perfidy, and physical hazard.

Self-dealing and conflicts of interest

Corruption and transparency are crucial factors in Freedom House’s assessments of democracy around the world. When officials use their positions to enrich themselves, or even tolerate conflicts of interest that sow public doubts about their motivations, citizens lose faith in the system and begin to avoid their own responsibilities, including paying taxes, participating in elections, and obeying the law in general. To avoid such decay, it is imperative that government and citizens alike uphold ethical rules and norms against corruption.

The United States benefits from a number of strong antigraft protections, including independent courts, congressional oversight mechanisms, and active monitoring by the media and civil society. But as on other topics, President Trump has broken with his modern predecessors in flouting the ethical standards of public service.

From the outset of his administration, the president has been willing to ignore obvious conflicts of interest, most prominently with his decision not to divest ownership of his businesses or place them in a blind trust. Instead, he moved them into a revocable trust, managed by his sons, of which he is the sole beneficiary. During his presidency, his businesses have accepted money from foreign lenders, including banks controlled by the Chinese government. Trump has swept aside the norm against nepotism by having his daughter and son-in-law, both seemingly saddled with their own conflicts of interest, serve as senior White House advisers. He also rejected the tradition obliging presidents to release their income tax records.

Trump properties have hosted foreign delegations, business dinners, trade association conferences, and Republican Party fund-raising events, complete with Trump-branded wines and other products, likely arranged in the hope of earning the president’s gratitude. The Washington Post revealed that a month after President Trump’s election, lobbyists representing Saudi Arabia booked hundreds of rooms at Trump International Hotel in the capital. Indeed, a number of foreign and domestic interests allegedly sought to influence the new administration by arranging donations to Trump’s inauguration festivities, which are now under investigation.

The unusual nature of President Trump’s approach to conflicts of interest has been underscored by the emergence of first-of-their-kind lawsuits accusing him of violating the constitution’s prohibition on public officials accepting gifts or “emoluments” from foreign states. The nation’s founders understood the corrosive threat of such corruption, and so have most presidents.

Attacking the legitimacy of elections

The importance of credible elections to the health of a democracy should be self-evident. If citizens believe that the polls are rigged, they will neither take part in the exercise nor accept the legitimacy of those elected.

Nevertheless, unsubstantiated accusations of voter fraud have been a staple of the president’s assault on political norms. During the 2018 midterm elections, he suggested without evidence that Democrats were stealing a Senate seat in Arizona and committing fraud in Florida’s senatorial and gubernatorial balloting. He complained that undocumented asylum seekers were invading the country so they could vote for Democrats. He suggested that Democratic voters were returning to the polls in disguise to vote more than once.

Months before his own election in 2016, candidate Trump began alleging voter fraud and warned that he might not accept the results if he lost. Even after winning, he insisted that millions of fraudulent votes had been cast against him. To substantiate his claims, he created a special commission to investigate the problem. It was quietly disbanded in early 2018 without producing any evidence.

At the same time, the administration has shown little interest in addressing genuine and documented threats to the integrity of US elections, including chronic problems like partisan gerrymandering and the fact that balloting is overseen by partisan officials in the states.

But the most glaring lapse is the president’s refusal to clearly acknowledge and comprehensively combat Russian and other foreign attempts to meddle in American elections since 2016. The Homeland Security Department provided some assistance to states in protecting their voting and counting systems from outside meddling in 2018, but recent reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee indicate that foreign influence operations are ongoing across multiple online platforms, and that such campaigns are likely to expand and multiply in the future.

The threat to American ideals abroad

Our poll found that a strong majority of Americans, 71 percent, believe the US government should actively support democracy and human rights in other countries. But America’s commitment to the global progress of democracy has been seriously compromised by the president’s rhetoric and actions. His attacks on the judiciary and the press, his resistance to anticorruption safeguards, and his unfounded claims of voting fraud by the opposition are all familiar tactics to foreign autocrats and populist demagogues who seek to subvert checks on their power.

Such leaders can take heart from Trump’s bitter feuding with America’s traditional democratic allies and his reluctance to uphold the nation’s collective defense treaties, which have helped guarantee international security for decades. As former US defense secretary James Mattis put it in his resignation letter, “While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.”

Trump has refused to advocate for America’s democratic values, and he seems to encourage the forces that oppose them. His frequent, fulsome praise for some of the world’s worst dictators reinforces this perception. Particularly striking was his apparent willingness, at a summit in Helsinki, to accept the word of Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies in assessing Russia’s actions in the 2016 elections.

The president’s rhetoric is echoed in countries with weaker defenses against attacks on their democratic institutions, where the violation of norms is often followed by systemic changes that intensify repression and entrench authoritarian governance.

For example, Cambodian strongman Hun Sen consolidated one-party rule in sham elections last summer after banning the main opposition party and shutting down independent media. He acknowledged that he and President Trump shared a point of view about journalists, saying, “Donald Trump understands that are an anarchic group.” Poland’s president, whose party has sought to annihilate judicial independence and assert control over the press, similarly thanked Trump for fighting “fake news.” Saudi Arabia’s crown prince almost certainly ordered the assassination of a leading journalistic critic, apparently believing that the action would not rupture relations with the president of the United States. It seems he was correct.

As the United States ceases its global advocacy of freedom and justice, and the president casts doubt on the importance of basic democratic values for our own society, more nations may turn to China, a rising alternative to US leadership. The Chinese Communist Party has welcomed this trend, offering its authoritarian system as a model for developing nations. The resulting damage to the liberal international order—a system of alliances, norms, and institutions built up under Trump’s predecessors to ensure peace and prosperity after World War II—will not be easily repaired after he leaves office.

Neither despair nor complacency

Ours is a well-established and resilient democracy, and we can see the effect of its antibodies on the viruses infecting it. The judiciary has repeatedly checked the power of the president, and the press has exposed his actions to public scrutiny. Protests and other forms of civic mobilization against administration policies are large and robust. More people turned out for the midterm elections than in previous years, and there is a growing awareness of the threat that authoritarian practices pose to Americans.

Yet the pressure on our system is as serious as any experienced in living memory. We cannot take for granted that institutional bulwarks against abuse of power will retain their strength, or that our democracy will endure perpetually. Rarely has the need to defend its rules and norms been more urgent. Congress must perform more scrupulous oversight of the administration than it has to date. The courts must continue to resist pressures on their independence. The media must maintain their vigorous reporting even as they defend their constitutional prerogatives. And citizens, including Americans who are typically reluctant to engage in the public square, must be alert to new infringements on their rights and the rule of law, and demand that their elected representatives protect democratic values at home and abroad.

Freedom House will also be watching and speaking out in defense of US democracy. When leaders like Mohammed bin Salman or Victor Orbán take actions that threaten human liberty, it is our mission to document their abuses and condemn them. We must do no less when the threats come from closer to home.

Source=https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/freedom-world-2019/democracy-in-retreat

February 6, 2019 10:54 am

Gedaref State has transferred 1400 Ethiopian refugees from Basonda and Al-Fazra areas to Al-Shagarab camp to complete their applications for refugee status in Sudan.

Speaking to SMC, Basonda accredited Osman Mohamed Ahmed said the refugees have been transferred to Al-Shagarab camp under the supervision of the security committee and the Ethiopian consulate in Gedaref.

He pointed out that the refugees have entered Sudan last month following ethnic clashes between Amhara and Tigray.

Ahmed added that 98 refugees have been repatriated to Ethiopia, saying the government of Gedaref State has exerted huge efforts to provide the necessary services to the refugees.

He stressed that the security situation at the border localities with Ethiopia is stable.

Source=http://smc.sd/en/sudan-transfers-1400-ethiopian-refugees-to-al-shagarab-camp/

Posted by: ECADF

February 5, 2019

Traditional Teff harvesting in Ethiopia.

                                               Traditional Teff Harvesting in Ethiopia

(Africa News) — Ethiopia government is set for a legal battle in respect of patent rights for teff – an African grass economically important as a cereal grass.

Teff, famed for yielding white flour of good quality is at the center of a patent war between the government and a Dutch company.

Speaking on the issue, Ftism Arega; a former Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister and Commissioner of the Ethiopian Investment Commission wrote on Twitter: “I looked into the Teff patent issue.

“It is an issue of our inability to own our national assets in the international legal system. I’m told Federal Attorney General office is looking into it-to hire international intellectual property lawyers. We need to defend it!” he added.

The produce also serves as forage and hay. It is used in ‘injera’ bread and other traditional Ethiopian food, Teff is widely known as part of Ethiopia’s cultural heritage…”

For centuries, millions of Ethiopian farmers have depended on the growing of teff which is native to the country. The country has a factory that makes teff into flour for export. Processed teff is also made into bread, biscuits and pizza.

The Ethiopian government for over a decade has been battling for the revocation of the rights of the Dutch company granted patent for the production and distribution of teff in Europe.

Ethiopia is thus barred under the agreement from exporting its teff to Europe. The company that was granted the patent incidentally however has ceased to exist and the patent is in the name of an individual.

Source=https://ecadforum.com/2019/02/05/ethiopia-confirms-legal-teff-war-with-dutch-company-over-patent/

 

There was no fanfare, no jostling of television cameras and no sign of the prime minister or elected officials at the airport to greet them.

Unlike the media frenzy that marked the arrival of the first of 60,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, federal officials have quietly achieved another immigration feat that has largely gone unnoticed: They eliminated one of the country’s worst refugee resettlement backlogs and ushered in 12,000 Eritreans to begin new lives in Canada.

familyFrom left, Debretsion and Senait Abbe and their children, Merken,9, Nerhawi, 10, and Mesuna, 5.

They spent three years in Sudanese refugee camp before arriving in Canada, sponsored by family and friends.

Ottawa began tackling the Eritrean backlog in 2015 — at the same time world attention was focused on the desperate plight of Syrian refugees. The Eritreans, who fled President Isaias Afwerki’s oppressive military regime, had been languishing for years in refugee camps in Sudan, where they, again, were often subjected to violence.

But thanks to an inspired collaboration between frontline visa officers on two continents, most of the Eritrean refugees were resettled in Canada by December.

Debretsion Abbe was thrilled when his application to come to Canada was approved and he was issued a permanent residence visa after waiting nearly three years with his family in a refugee camp in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

“We felt we were reborn,” said the 48-year-old carpenter, who arrived in Toronto in September with wife, Senait, 38, and their three children, Merhawi, 10, Merken, 9, and Mesuna, 5. They were sponsored by Senait’s brother and friends in Toronto. “We are very happy to be here, to live a peaceful and free life where my children can be educated and have a future.”

“It was tough to live in limbo,” he added, describing the harsh conditions in the camp. “We were afraid of thefts, rapes and being stopped by police who arrested refugees and put us in jail when they needed money.”

Canada has six visa offices in Africa: The Cairo office, one of the smallest overseas operations with just two Canadian officers, is responsible for processing immigration-related applications from Sudan. Through the years, it had been inundated by private sponsorship applications from Eritreans in Sudan.

Knowing it would take ages for their colleagues in Cairo to chip away at the Eritrean backlog, staff at the visa office in Rome — with five Canadian officers and eight local staff — reached out in 2015 and offered to lend a hand.

“That was an ambitious goal at the time,” said Ed Cashman, who was a consul at the Canadian embassy in Khartoum between 2015 and 2018. “I wasn’t sure how they would do it. It was incredible just because of the sheer number of files in Sudan. We had no experience of doing anything like that before.

“These Eritreans had been in camps in Sudan all this time just waiting for a decision (from Canada), some for 10 years. It’s gratifying to see the faces of these people who got their notifications and were finally accepted. Their lives are changed forever in a positive way.”

After the Eritrean files were transferred from Cairo to Rome, the first wave of Eritreans arrived in Canada in 2016. So far, more than 11,690 have landed here.

During the collaboration, officials in Rome made four to six trips to Sudan every year to interview applicants awaiting resettlement while two additional Canada-based decision-makers and two support staff were assigned to help.

The officers would interview refugees in the embassy office in Sudan, which was a four-bedroom house with a reception area to hold eight people at a time, said Cashman, adding it was not really equipped and designed for these interviews.

“You look at the Syrian resettlement project where hundreds of staff were assigned and travelled to the Middle East to process files. Here we had a small team of people doing this all out of Rome on top of other things,” Cashman noted. “The Eritrean resettlement effort was an incredible accomplishment.”

tekle bahlibi

Tekle Bahlibi has helped co-ordinate the community's sponsorship effort since 1987.  (Photo Supplied)

The Eritrean initiative was part of the immigration department’s ongoing effort since 2012 to reduce global refugee resettlement backlogs, said department spokesperson Peter Liang.

Previously, the backlog of people around the world waiting to be approved for private sponsorship was staggering, with wait times as long as 10 years. In 2012, the then-Conservative government began capping the number of new applications per year — a policy that has continued under the Liberals. It helps limit the intake while allowing officials to tackle old files. Currently, 88 per cent of private sponsorship applications have been in the system for under two years.

“The department has devoted significant effort and attention to processing older cases of privately sponsored refugees across the network. To increase efficiency, certain streamlined practices put into place during the Syrian refugee resettlement initiative have now become permanently implemented,” said Liang.

Some of those measures, he said, included accepting applications by email, streamlining forms and guides for applicants, and changes to the assessment process to effectively handle complex cases.

While most of the resettled Syrians were supported by private community groups, the Eritreans were mostly sponsored by family and friends who were already established here. The sponsors are still responsible for the newcomers’ initial settlement and financial needs for the first year.

Brian Dyck, national migration and resettlement co-ordinator at Winnipeg’s Mennonite Central Committee, said it was difficult — and risky — for Eritrean refugees to travel from Sudan to Cairo for resettlement interviews, especially during the violence and anti-government uprisings that broke out in Egypt in 2011 during the Arab Spring.

“The older cases got more complicated to finish off. Babies born. People died, married, moved and changed their phone (numbers),” Dyck said of the challenge to keep old files up to date.

He attributed the elimination of the backlog to the Justin Trudeau government’s resolve to let in more privately sponsored refugees to Canada, which has almost doubled to 18,000 over the last three years from 9,350 in 2015.

“The Liberals came in and opened up the bottom of the funnel. That’s a more important factor than the cap in dealing with the situation,” Dyck explained.

News of the clearance of the Eritrean backlog was welcomed by the Eritrean Canadian community, whose members have long criticized the slow processing time for their cases.

“This is a very good news. So many of them have suffered in limbo in Khartoum for years,” said Tekle Bahlibi, who has helped co-ordinate the community’s sponsorship effort since 1987. “It shows us when there’s a political will, things can happen.”

Source=https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2019/02/02/we-felt-we-were-reborn-thousands-of-eritrean-refugees-quietly-welcomed-to-canada.html

The Reporter

2 February 2019

The Government of Ethiopia (GoE) has urged its neighboring country, Sudan, to control the illegal arms being smuggled through the border the two countries share which otherwise might bring an unwanted diplomatic setback between the two nations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) told the legislative.

Presenting its six-month report to the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) on Tuesday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD) indicated that over the past few months, the government has observed a decline in the level of fire arms being smuggled in through all border points,while still the highest number of illegal arms is coming from Sudan.

The Minister–noting that the decline in the illegal fire arms trade across borders as a result of government’s tight control– told the House that the Ethiopian government “has clearly informed the Sudanese President, Omar al-Beshir, and his respective ministers that the Sudanese government should take the concern of Ethiopia very seriously; and take into account how this uncontrolled arms trafficking would affect the stability and security of Ethiopia.”

“We have held frequent discussions with the Sudanese officials through diplomatic channels as well as special meetings at higher government levels,”Workneh told the House, adding that both governments have already identified who are behind the arms trafficking as well as how they have been smuggling.

Furthermore, the Minister said that, “We have informed the [Sudanese officials] that they should tighten their border control in their part to deter smuggling. We have clearly informed them that, otherwise, this will eventually lead to the cutting or impacting of diplomatic ties or relations.”

Additionally, the Minister told the House that Ethiopia has identified the manufacturer of the guns mostly smuggled to Ethiopia.

“We have discussed with the manufacturer of the gun. We still keep following up on this issue seriously,” he went on citing international laws and treaties over illegal gun trafficking and the right way of selling armaments. “It has to be carried out in a legitimate way,in a sovereign nation along with the proper identifications, make and model of the gun and other information,” he said. However, he did not disclose the name and the country of origin for the manufacturer of the arms being smuggled into Ethiopia.

Besides reporting on the efforts made in addressing the arms trafficking issue; the renewed Ethio-Eritrean relation and the subsequent progress registered in the past six months was also another issue included in Workneh’s report.

Citing the praise the Ethiopian government has received from the international community following the rapprochement of the two countries; he reiterated the relationship is growing at a very fast pace. To support his argument, the Minister cited the opening of the border as an example of the progress made in the past six months.

However, MPs raised questions over the growing concern and potential challenges of border openings and the resulting border trade without putting in place a common legal framework.

Responding to the questions, the Minister disclosed that draft laws have already been finalized and are expected to be summited to the Council of Minister and will arrive at HPR upon the endorsement of the Council.

Workneh highlighted the overall diplomatic activities his office has carried out in the past six months, declaring it has registered “considerable gains”. He added that, in addition to Sudan and Eritrea, “The overall actives we have undertaken so far are successful diplomatic achievements that has ensured sustainable relationships with neighboring countries in particular and other countries and development partners in general.”

He further told the House that Ethiopia has sent a draft document to Asmara specifying port usage rates and logistics service provisions by Eritrean.

In addition to that, he added that a continuous dialogue has been held with relevant bodies to resolve the problems along the Ethio-Djibouti corridor while discussions were held with Somalia to use ports in Somalia as well.

Worknehalso highlighted efforts to persuade Nile basin countries to ratify and sign the Cooperative Framework Agreement (CPA).

After hearing the report, the Peace and Foreign Affairs Standing Committee of the House in its part lauded the encouraging achievements of the Ministry in terms of restoring peace with Eritrea and the Horn on top of enhancing development cooperation, and diplomatic relations with several countries.

According to the Standing Committee, other works that have been carried out by the ministry were also encouraging particularly relating to the Ethiopian Diaspora and the diplomatic relations with various countries to scale up financial support.

However, budget performance, audit findings and cooperative negotiations with Nile basin countries were among the issues recommended by the standing committee to be addressed.

Source=https://www.thereporterethiopia.com/article/ethiopian-government-urges-sudan-tighten-border-control


A checkpoint in Metema in north-western Ethiopia, next to the border with Sudan. The town is a centre of a booming trade in migrants from Ethiopia and Eritrea. (AP Photo)
February 1, 2019 (KHARTOUM) - An Ethiopian delegation has arrived in Sudan’s eastern state of Gedaref to check on the situation of Ethiopian refugees in the state, reported the semi-official Sudan Media Center (SMC)

The commissioner of Basonda locality in Gedaref State Osman Mohamed Ahmed told the SMC that a meeting has been held to discuss the situation of the Ethiopian refugees in his locality.

He pointed out that several officials have attended the meeting including the Ethiopian consular, representative of Ethiopia’s north-west Amhara region, the security committee in Gedaref and a number of executive officials.

According to Ahmed, the meeting discussed the voluntary repatriation of Ethiopian refugees who wish to return to their country as well as relocating those who seek to be granted refugee status to Al-Shagarab refugee camp.

He stressed his government’s commitment to coordinate with the Ethiopian regions to protect the join border and provide the refugee needs in cooperation with national and international aid groups.

The commissioner also vowed to protect the refugees’ properties in the localities of Basonda and Al-Qalabat Al-Sharquiya, pointing to the governor’s directive to provide urgent relief to the Ethiopian refugees.

Last November, the Sudanese Commission of Refugees (SCR) said 400 Ethiopian refugees have arrived in the eastern state of Gedaref following ethnic clashes between Amhara and Tigray.

According to statistics of the SCR, Sudan is hosting around 2 million refugees from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Chad, Somalia, Central Africa Republic, South Sudan, Yemen and Syria.

The United Nations says Sudan hosts 110,000 Eritrean refugees, 400,000 South Sudanese refugees and more than 100,000 Syrian refugees.

In addition, some 500,000 South Sudanese who stayed in Sudan following the separation are also in need of humanitarian assistance according to the UN.

(ST)

Source=http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article67005

By Issued on 01-02-2019 Modified 01-02-2019 to 13:43

media Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki (left) and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir (right) during a welcome ceremony in Khartoum, 11 June 2015.Photo: Ashraf Shazly/AFP
 

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has ordered the reopening of his country’s border with Eritrea. Sudan’s eastern border had been closed since last year following the announcement of a state of emergency in the regions of Kassala and North Kordofan.

“Politics can divide us but they [Eritreans] are still our brothers and relatives,” Bashir said, according to the AFP news agency.

Bashir made the announcement during a televised address for a rally in the regional capital Kassala. However, he did not provide more details on the decision.

The border was closed in January 2018 in line with a six-month state of emergency in Kassala and North Kordofan. The intention was to stop smuggling, control unlicensed vehicles and tackle human trafficking, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Bashir’s address in Kassala also touched on continuing protests in Sudan that have erupted in Khartoum and other cities since December.

“Changing the government or presidents cannot be done through WhatsApp or Facebook. It can be done only through elections,” Bashir told the crowd of supporters.

“It’s only the people who decide who will be president,” he added.

Protests started over increases in the price of bread, but have morphed into a more general dissatisfaction with Bashir and his government.

Human rights groups say more than 40 people have been killed in a crackdown by security forces on demonstrations since December. Sudanese officials say 30 people have died in protest-related violence.

Source=http://en.rfi.fr/africa/20190201-bashir-reopens-sudan-border-eritrea-and-dismisses-protests

A ‘roadmap’ for Eritrea – Ethiopia co-operation

Wednesday, 30 January 2019 23:02 Written by

January 30, 2019 Ethiopia, News

Source: Borkena

Eritrea and Ethiopia roadmap for cooperation ready

“The next step for the two countries to sign agreements of overall bilateral cooperation and establish a joint-commission which will oversee implementation of the agreements.”
 
Ethiopia _ EritreaAbiy Ahmed (right) and Isayas Afeworki (left)

January 29,2019

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia said today that preparation of road-map to institutionalize cooperative relation between Ethiopia and Eritrea is ready.

Part of the purpose is to regulation the relation in a range of areas. Border trade, port usage, custom, immigration and transport are some of the areas to be regulated through legal frame works which is already drafted and discussed, according to a report by Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC).

Dr. Workeneh Gebeyehu disclosed the information during his appearance at the 22 regular session of House of People’s Representative today to present his six months of report regarding what the ministry has been doing.

The next step for the two countries to sign agreements of overall bilateral cooperation and establish a joint-commission which will oversee implementation of the agreements.

Eritrea’s Minister for Information, Yemane Gebremeskel, disclosed today that high level committee of Ethiopia and Eritrea is undertaking consultations to regulate trade and transport. From what Mr Yemane tweeted, the consultations between authorities of the two countries is informed by experiences during the trial periods in the last four months.

It is to be recalled that in late December 2018, Eritrea closed border along Zalambessa in Tigray – seemingly with intent to regulate the movement of people and trade to and from Eritrea.

The border between the two countries was reopened after two decades old “no peace -no war” relation was ended following rapprochement policy by the administration of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Ethiopia says it is focusing on business diplomacy in the region as well and is working to improve relations with Djibouti,Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan.

January 30, 2019 News, UN

The full report can be accessed here.

Readers can judge whether they think it accurately reflects the currents situation in Eritrea.

Note, for example, how the right to Freedom of expression, association, assembly is described. The second sentence curtails and effectively nullifies the first.

“A fundamental principle in the transitional codes and proclamations is respect and protection of citizens’ right to lawful expression and opinion without interference. This demands collective responsibility to the nation and hence protection of national security, national values, public order and respect to others.”

An unseemly row has broken out between the Italian and Dutch governments over who is responsible for 47 refugees saved after their craft sank 10 days ago.  Some 50 refugees and migrants drowned.

Seawatch – a maritime rescue organisation working in the Mediterranean – has appealed to both sides to come to an agreement about what to do about the men, women and 13 children, now on board their vessel Seawatch 3.

The boat is effectively stranded: moored 1.4 miles off the coast of Sicily.

The mayor of the Sicilian port of Syracuse says he would welcome the survivors, but the Italian authorities have refused permission to land.

Instead, the captain of the rescue vessel, Captain Jeroen, has been instructed by the Italian government to find another port to take the refugees. The Italian Minister of the Interior, Matteo Salvini has threatened to take legal action against the crew accusing them of supporting illegal migration.

Mr Salvini told the Dutch authorities they are responsible for the fate of the refugees, since Seawatch 3 is registered in the Netherlands.

But this is not happening, as Jelle Goezinnen, spokesman for Seawatch, explained, since the Dutch have refused.

“The Dutch government says it has no responsibility to find a port at which the 47 can be landed,” says Jelle Goezinnen. “But its clear under the Search and Rescue Convention, which is legally binding, that the responsibility for finding a port is a shared between the coastal state (Italy) and the flag state (the Netherlands.)”

A delegation of Italian Members of Parliament visited the asylum seekers on Sea Watch 3 on Sunday. The delegation consisted of Nicola Fratoianni, Riccardo Magi and Stefania Prestigiacomo, the Mayor of Siracuse Francesco Italia, as well as doctors and lawyers. The MPs called for an immediate disembarkation of the 47 survivors.

Professor Mirjam van Reisen from Tilburg University argues that Sea-Watch is operating within the law to save lives. “The Italian prosecutor confirmed this,” she says.

“While Italy must open its harbours, as local ports are ready to receive the ship, the Netherlands should help to shoulder the responsibility. Many of the victims of the shipwreck are minors and most, if not all, are victims of human trafficking in Libya and need protection.”