This is the final report she will make to the UN before being replaced by her successor.

How little has improved. View her full report  here

Martin Plaut | October 27, 2018 at 7:10 am | Tags: Eritrea, Human Rights, Sheila Keetharuth, UN human rights council | Categories: News, United Nations Human Rights Commission | URL:

By Giulia Tranchina, human rights lawyer specialising in immigration and asylum

25 October 2018

“Thanks to all our efforts and campaign, today UNHCR registered all the 300 Eritrean refugees in Qaser Bin Ghashir.

However, they dont have sufficient food or clothes and are suffering from cold and hunger.

Also thanks to all the public pressure, between yesterday and today UNHCR, IOM and MSF went to the Alfarghi Sebha centre in Tripoli, so the 204 Eritreans received some little food and blankets.

However, the Libyan police is threatening to move them away to a hidden prison if they ask again for food or help.

They are hungry, sick and scared.

We need to continue contacting UNHCR to ask them to evacuate these two groups of refugees most urgently.

Hundreds of human beings are suffering in horrific conditions, from years in Libya.

Please write to UNHCR, IOM and MSG here on facebook via messenger, on twitter and by email, and join us at the next protests!”


Pastor deplores human rights situation in Eritrea

Source: Weltkirche Katholiche

“As an Eritrean,” said Pastor Mussie, “I wonder if it is not possible to bring the bodies of the victims of the massacre of Lampedusa and all the other young refugees who were drowned in the Mediterranean and buried in Italy back to Eritrea.”

[Google translation from German]

Mussie ZeraiDespite the new peace agreement with Ethiopia, the political situation in Eritrea has not improved. This assessment, from the Eritrean priest, Mussie Zerai comes in an open letter quoted by the Vatican press service Fides. Zerai, who now lives in Switzerland, has been campaigning for the rights of migrants for many years and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.

“The regime in Asmara,” the letter says, “is one of the world’s toughest regimes, a dictatorship that suppresses all forms of freedom, annulled the 1997 constitution, controlled the judiciary and made all citizens almost lifelong Committed to military service. “Especially young people flee from this regime and a poor economy that offers no employment opportunities.

The clergyman in the letter refers to United Nations investigations that record crimes against humanity in Eritrea over the past 25 years. Human rights violations in Eritrean detention centers and military camps, torture, kidnappings and arbitrary detention have to be brought before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, according to the experts.

According to Pastor Zerai, there are still dozens of political prisoners in Eritrea, while international commissions are denied access to the detention centers. Until recently regime opponents were arrested, Catholic schools and hospitals were closed.

Hundreds of thousands of Eritreans left their land and risked the deadly passage across the Mediterranean. Pastor Zerai reminded in this context of the boat crash on 3 October 2013, when more than 300 people died. “As an Eritrean,” said Pastor Mussie, “I wonder if it is not possible to bring the bodies of the victims of the massacre of Lampedusa and all the other young refugees who were drowned in the Mediterranean and buried in Italy back to Eritrea.” So far no one has taken responsibility for it. “It is time to overcome this problem in the name of a human principle: the families need a place where they can pray for their loved ones,” said the minister.

It was not until Tuesday evening that Pope Francis urged the governments of Europe to tackle the issue of migration together and decisively. “I ask everyone to look at the new European cemetery: It is located in the Mediterranean, in the Aegean Sea,” said the Pope.


BHaile Selassie incorporates Eritreay Petros Tesfagiorgis

When the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed their peace agreement the people of Eritrea were over the moon.

Many Eritreans took Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as a peace messenger sent by God. Indeed for the people of Eritrea peace is priceless.

They hoped that President Isaias would end the indefinite national service and other forms of human rights violations, so that they can build their shattered lives and escape from poverty and degradation.

To understand the fundamentals of peace in the Eritrean the context does matter a great deal. It means not only ending hostility with Ethiopia but also ending the gross human right violations that is destroying the fabric of the Eritrean society.

When Prime Minister Abiy launched his campaign for peace he released all political prisoners, invited the opposition political organisations operating from abroad (mostly from Eritrea) to come home and participate in the social, political and economic life of the country peacefully.   On the other hand the president of Eritrea is using the peace with Ethiopia to consolidate his repressive regime and escape international isolation. The UN Human Rights Commission has voted for Eritrea to sit on the Commission. It is shameful that the Commission has effectively rewarded oppression.

Because of the peace with Ethiopia, Eritrean fears of the threat of a “Weyane” Ethiopian Government’s Invasion, which was used to intimidate the Eritrean population into submission has been removed. It was used as an scapegoat to hold the youth hostage in the national service indefinitely, so that they could not rise up and demand an end to the gross human rights violation in Eritrea.   It is expected that the youth will be demobilized.  My concern is that they may be used as cannon fodder (mercenaries) in Yemen’s devastating civil war instead.

Continuing human rights violations

In Eritrea, the human rights violations continue unabated. Arbitrary arrest are still taking place. Recently the ex-Finance Minister Berhane Abrehe – was arrested for writing a book critical of the President. President Isaias squandered the momentum generated by reconciliation with Ethiopia by failing to make peace with the Eritrean people. To add insult to injury, Isaias Afeworki did not bother to brief the people of all the agreements he did with Prime Minister Abiy.   The population has effectively been side-lined. Even his colleagues in the government are ignored.

It is sad to observe that at this critical moment Prime Minister Abiy appears unconcerned by  the gross human rights violations perpetrated by Isaias. One could argue that to take up these issues would amount to interfering in the internal affairs of Eritrea. But he is already involved in so many ways: this includes the extent to which he is allowing Ethiopians to invest in Eritrea (something denied to Eritrean investors.) This is scandalous.

Eritreans finding their voice

In fact, it looks as if the peace is just between two political leaders who are now friends. What happens if they quarrel? This has become a common concern among some Ethiopian intellectuals, and they are beginning to say so.  Eritreans have realized that if they are going to be listened and take seriously they have to unite to fight for this. They can do it: Eritreans have a long history of sacrifice and commitment to justice.  In fact, we are witnessing the Diaspora Eritreans organising conferences, seminars to that end. They are organising so that they will have the powerful voice they have hitherto lacked.

They should not expect any sympathy of their ordeal and pain from Ethiopians.  This has become crystal clear. When Prime Minister Abiy started his peace campaign,   Ethiopians from all walks of life were calling Eritreans “our brothers” and expressing their solidarity and love with passion.   But as soon as they found out that Isaias would not end the brutal repression they became silent.

An important history

I am not surprised of their silence. The history of Eritrea is always told by Ethiopian politicians without its historical context: saying Eritrea was part of Ethiopia.  This gave them the justification for the use force to maintain their occupation until they were defeated and forced to leave Eritrea in 1991.

This belief is particularly strong among the Amhara ruling elite who happen to be the main beneficiaries of feudal rule over 100 years.  (More on that on part 2). My only consolation is to see the genuine enthusiasm and joy of the people of Eritrea and Tigray/Ethiopia as they greet each other in Zalambessa and Rama celebrating the Ethiopian New Year and the feast of Kudus. It was uplifting.  After all, Tigray is the bridge between Eritrea and the rest of Ethiopia. Isaias’s “game over” carries no weight.

An important exhibition

In order to put Eritrea in its true historical context ERITREA FOCUS – organised a photo exhibition of the history in pictures in London.  It was in display for 25 days from 4 to 30 September. It is divided into 4 panels.  1.  Italian colonialism 1882 to 1941 2. British Administration 1941-1952. 3. Federation and annexation 1952 – 1991. 4. Armed struggle 1961-1991, Independence, human rights violation and the present peace with Ethiopia.

The exhibition was educational for the British citizens and particularly for Ethiopians and Eritreans who grew up in the West. Some young Eritreans said that they have seen the picture of Emperor Haile Selassie signing the agreement of the federation (above) for the first time. They had not seen another photograph of when the Emperor crossed the Mereb River  cutting  a ribbon as he steps his foot from Tigray/Ethiopia  to Eritrea.

In Its flyer pamphlet Eritrea Focus wrote: Today there is a glimmer of hope. Ethiopia reached out to Eritrea. Their leaders have met and there is the prospect of reconciliation. Yet Eritreans still long for true freedom. This timely exhibition traces how the years of devastating conflict came about and includes rare photographs – some shown for the first time. The exhibition was opened by Lord Aston of Liverpool and there were about 80 people in the opening and it stayed for 25 days.

The price of ignoring suffering

It is not wise for Ethiopians to ignore the pains and suffering of the Eritrean people and put all their eggs in Isaias’s basket. The trust the people of Eritrea put on Abiy is wearing out. Abiy doesn’t need to sacrifice the people of Eritrea in order to serve the interest of Ethiopia, win-win is the answer. It could be done and is sustainable.   History won’t judge Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Ethiopian people kindly.

At least Prime Minister Abiy could have shown some concern towards the people of Eritrea by raising his voice to help rescue the Eritrean refugees trapped in Libya in this moment in time.   There are voices such as Giulia Tranchina, Meron Estefanos and Elizabeth Blunt   appealing for help persistently (1) reminding UNHCR, IOM to register and rescue the Eritrean refugee trapped in Libya. They are making a difference. To PM Abiy Ahmed the tragedy of Eritrean refuges in Libya presents a chance to show he is concerned about the pains and suffering of the Eritrean people as well and taking advantage of his reputation as a peace maker he is well positioned to ask UNHCR or IOM to move the refugees out of Libya to a third country. His peace campaign has given him powerful voice and he can be heard.

Demonstrate outside the Italian Embassy

Sham Gabriel from the London based organisation Eritrean Youth has called on You Tube for a demonstration outside the Italian Embassy – in London in order  to put pressure on the Libyan Government to give protection to the refugees and treat them humanely. After all it is the Italian Government  that is funding the Libyans in order to prevent refugees going to Italy but what they did is to put them in detention camps worse than concentration camps. They are being enslaved, starved and in danger of their life.

Date of the demonstration is 31 October 2018

The End

  1. ERITREA FOCUS (EF) Founded in 2014 is an association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) human rights organisations, exile and refugee groups and individuals concerned with the gross abuses of human rights of Eritrea. In addition to various activities it has solicited a study and came out with a report titled MINING AND REPRESSION IN ERITREA: CORPORATE COMPLICITY IN HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES Presented to the All-Party Parliamentary group on Eritrea. Can be downloaded from its website
  2. The Urgent Appeal:  Please help us to try to contact these numbers for the 300 refugees including about 150 women and children in Qaser Bin Ghashir detention centre, 27 km from Tripoli. They need to be registered by UNHCR and evacuated most urgently! Below are UNHCR hotline numbers to call: Community Service lines: 1. Tripoli: 00218917127644.2. Benghazi: 00218910007218.Registration line: 00218919897937.Sea Rescue line: 8916998580.
    General Protection and Detention line: 00218919897936.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Source=                                                                                                                               


Members of the Tigrai People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM) – known as “Demhit”, was the most powerful of the Eritrea-based Ethiopian rebel groups.

The 2014 Monitors report for the UN Security Council said Demhit as had 20,000 fighters.

In September 2015 members of Demhit returned to Ethiopia. Here is a report on how this happened.

Torture allegations

Now its members have made detailed allegations that they were tortured while they were in Eritrea.

“Members of DEMHIT revealed how the ER tortured, imprisoned, slaved and used them in forced labour,” was how this was reported in a tweet.

The Facebook report can be seen here.

With its developing ports, the Horn of Africa is an area of significant commercial and military strategic importance where investments carry an increasing risk

By Philip Kleinfeld, October 22, 2018
Maritime 1
Container vessel in port in Djibouti

For decades it has been one of the world’s most fragile regions, plagued by armed conflict, poverty and periodic droughts. But in the 1990s, the Horn of Africa, comprising the states of Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti, became the focus of a somewhat surprising investor: DP World, a global port operator that is majority owned by the government of Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

We are seeing a race between regional and global players to take advantage of big opportunities located in the region.

From its headquarters in Dubai’s sprawling port of Jebel Ali, the maritime company and its Emirati owners saw in the Horn of Africa what many others didn’t: an area of vast economic potential and geostrategic importance.

In 2006, DP World won a contract to build the Doraleh container terminal in Djibouti, now the small nation’s biggest employer and source of revenue. Years later, in 2016, it signed a $442-million agreement with Somalia’s secessionist region of Somaliland, to manage and invest in the deep-sea port of Berbera. Both decisions proved prescient.

Middle-Eastern countries battle for space in the Horn of Africa

Today, the UAE is among a number of Gulf and Middle-Eastern countries scrambling for control of ports across the Horn of Africa, in a race that analysts say could benefit, but also potentially destabilise, the already fragile east-African region.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have become active in ports and military bases in Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia, while Qatar and Turkey, who align with Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran, are building in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and the Red Sea port of Suakin, off the coast of Sudan.

“We are seeing a race between regional and global players to take advantage of big opportunities located in the region,” says Camille Lons, programme co-ordinator at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

One reason for this scramble is commercial. The Horn of Africa is strategically located next to one of the world’s busiest sea lanes, with access to both the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Every day around five million barrels of crude and petroleum products flow through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a neck of water bordered by Eritrea and Djibouti.

“It is one of most trafficked shipping lanes in the world,” says Olivier Milland, a political risk analyst at Allan & Associates.
Maritime 2
Political rivalry meets commercial interest

More ports and better infrastructure are also needed to handle growth in the Horn of Africa’s largest economy, Ethiopia, which is predicted to expand by 8.5 per cent this year, but is landlocked and therefore heavily dependent on Djibouti.

Since sweeping to power in April, Ethiopia’s new, reform-minded prime minister Abiy Ahmed, 42, has made port development a key priority, calling for investments across the region.
“It is very important for Ethiopia to diversify its trading streams,” says Mr Milland.

But Gulf interest in the Horn of Africa is also being driven by regional political rivalries, with different states seeking to secure strategic locations, especially in the context of the war in Yemen, where a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE has been fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels since March 2015.

The UAE has been launching operations in Yemen from a military base around the Eritrean port of Assab and also has armed forces present in Berbera, a port in Somaliland.

Will tensions spill over to conflict in the Horn of Africa?

As geopolitical interest in the Horn increases, observers fear these regional Gulf rivalries could end up spilling over.

This was the case after the Gulf crisis of June 2017, when Saudi Arabia and its allies severed diplomatic ties with Qatar, which they accuse of supporting Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood and a form of political Islam which threatens the stability of their regimes.

During the crisis, the governments of Djibouti and Eritrea sided with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, causing Qatar to withdraw peacekeepers from a disputed border between the two Horn of Africa countries, where they had been patrolling since 2010.

Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland, which is not internationally recognised as an independent country, also chose the side of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, while the central government in Mogadishu, which is closer to Qatar and Turkey, stayed neutral.

Analysts say this has amplified dangerous divisions between Somalia and its regions, a divide that can be seen most clearly in Berbera, an ancient port town in Somaliland.
Maritime 3
UAE and Somali rivalries meet and merge

Last year the UAE began constructing a military base in Berbera, which is 190km south of Yemen. In March this year, DP World also finalised a contract with the Somaliland authorities to develop and operate Berbera’s port, in which Ethiopia also has a 19 per cent stake.

The venture has the potential to turn Somaliland into a regional maritime hub, but has prompted a furious response from Somalia’s federal government which regards the region as part of its territory and says the secessionists have no right to sign international agreements.

“The deal has been perceived as a foreign intrusion by Mogadishu,” says Ms Lons.

On March 12, Somalia’s federal parliament took the step of banning DP World from operating in the country in a move Somaliland’s president Muse Bihi Abdi referred to as a declaration of war.

The crisis has since soured relations between Mogadishu and the UAE. In April, Somali security forces confiscated millions of “undeclared” US dollars from a UAE plane landing in the capital. The UAE responded by ending a military training programme it was running in Somalia.

Maritime agreements playing newly strategic role on global stage

Despite its long-standing involvement in the region, the UAE has also run into problems in Djibouti. In February, following years of dispute, the Djibouti government dramatically seized control of the DP World-operated and part-owned Doraleh Container Terminal.

The Djibouti government accused the company of poor performance and failing to expand the terminal as quickly as it had promised. It also claimed the company paid bribes to secure the original concession, a claim rejected by the London Court of International Arbitration.

You have the largest Middle-Eastern maritime logistics shipper DP World in an implicit, forward-looking contest with another global shipping alliance, which includes the Chinese - David Styan, Lecturer in politics, Birkbeck, University of London

With the UAE sidelined in Djibouti, analysts say other countries could step in and that Gulf nations aren’t the only ones in the running. Some have speculated that the Djibouti government may hand over Doraleh to investors from China, which is currently building a naval base in the country.

The involvement of China in the Horn of Africa’s ports adds “another dimension to an already complicated equation”, says David Styan a lecturer in politics at Birkbeck, University of London.

“You have the largest Middle-Eastern maritime logistics shipper DP World in an implicit, forward-looking contest with another global shipping alliance, which includes the Chinese,” Dr Styan adds.

But as different nations scramble for control of ports in the Horn of Africa, Mr Milland says it is worth remembering that the region is still prone to instability. Somalia is dealing with the threat of resilient al-Shabaab militants, Eritrea remains one of the world’s most repressive countries, and even Ethiopia, considered relatively stable, is currently facing widespread ethnic violence and displacement.

“The area has huge commercial potential,” Mr Milland concludes, “but there are still regional and country tensions that could put new investments at real risk.”

Will Russia get a Red Sea base in Eritrea?

%PM, %20 %941 %2018 %23:%Oct Written by

Pres Isias with Russia's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mikhail Bogdanov

The Eritrean government has announced that President Isaias Afwerki has been meeting Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Mikhail L. Bogdanov.

Apart from stating that: “President Isaias underlined Eritrea’s readiness to strengthen its bilateral cooperation with Russia in various sectors,” little has been revealed about their discussions.

But there has been speculation for some time that Eritrea is about to grant Moscow a base – or at least a ‘logistical centre’ – on its soil. See the article from VOA below.

This would allow the Russians to match the other foreign interests active in the Red Sea, including China, USA and France (in Djibouti), Turkey (Sudan). The UAE and the Saudis already have based in Eritrea, from where they fly sorties to Yemen, attacking Houthi rebel targets.

Russia-Eritrea Relations Grow with Planned Logistics Center

Source: VOA
September 02, 2018 

FILE - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, welcomes Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed, second from left, prior to a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017.
FILE – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, welcomes Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed, second from left, prior to a meeting in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Jan. 30, 2017.

Russia and Eritrea expanded their diplomatic relationship Friday when Moscow announced plans to build a logistics center at a port in the East African country.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov disclosed the plans at a meeting with a high-level delegation from Eritrea, according to RIA, a Russian state-owned news agency.

The scope, location and timeline of the project have not been announced, but the diplomatic development is an important milestone for both countries, each of whom has sought to expand its bilateral ties.

For Russia, it’s the latest effort to forge alliances with countries in Africa, following multiple trips to the continent this year by Lavrov to discuss military, economic and diplomatic partnerships.

In late August, Russia signed a military cooperation agreement with the Central African Republic. That deal focuses on training armed forces in the CAR.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Wednesday, May 23, 2018.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadéra, in St. Petersburg, Russia, Wednesday, May 23, 2018.

For Eritrea, a deepening Russia alliance is the latest sign that decades of isolation may be ending, after a historic peace deal in July with neighboring Ethiopia. Since that agreement was signed, Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, has met with leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Somalia and South Sudan. He’s also received delegations from Japan and Germany.


For Friday’s meeting, Eritrea sent a delegation led by Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Yemane Ghebreab, a senior presidential advisor, to Sochi, Russia, about 3,100 kilometers north of the Eritrean capital, Asmara. It’s the latest get-together in the countries’ 25-year diplomatic relationship.

Strategic location

Eritrea’s two ports, in Massawa and Assab, occupy strategic points along the Red Sea. Access to those ports is one benefit Ethiopia, a landlocked country, may reap from the peace deal.

Ethiopia and Eritrea began talks about the possibility of joint port development immediately following the deal. Such a cooperation could involve an existing facility or one that hasn’t yet been conceived.

Meanwhile, specifics on the purpose of the planned Russian logistics facility haven’t been announced, but Russian and Eritrean leaders said the project would invigorate trade and business deals between the countries.


If Russia follows through on its plans for a logistics center, it won’t be the first time a foreign player has set up shop in Eritrea.

Assab is already home to a United Arab Emirates naval base, and Eritrea has allowed the U.A.E. to launch planes from Assab to fight Houthi rebels in Yemen. The port, at the mouth of the Red Sea, has a particularly strategic location less than 200 kilometers north of an array of international military bases in Djibouti.

Decades earlier, in the 1940s, the United States established a military and logistics base at Kagnew Station in Asmara for reconnaissance missions in Word War II and the Cold War.

Last year, U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher called for renewed military ties with Eritrea in the fight against terrorism.

Sanctions next?

Eritrea faces U.N. sanctions against specific individuals, along with an arms embargo. It’s hoping to use evolving diplomatic relationships to build momentum to remove the penalties.

Talk of lifting the sanctions has accelerated since the peace deal with Ethiopia, but Eritrea’s sanctions, in place since 2009, were imposed not because of that conflict, but rather separate concerns with other regional neighbors, including alleged support of al-Shabab in Somalia and a border dispute with Djibouti.

The al-Shabab issue is all but settled, with the United Nations deciding last November to disband the monitoring group that was tasked with investigating Eritrea’s links to the armed extremist group, after years of inquiries produced no evidence of ties.

FILE - Djibouti’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohamed Siad Doualeh.
FILE – Djibouti’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohamed Siad Doualeh.

Objections over the border with Djibouti, however, have persisted, with Mohamed Siad Doualeh, Djibouti’s ambassador to the United Nations, writing a forceful letter to the U.N. Security Council in late July outlining his country’s grievances, which include occupation of Djiboutian land and prisoners of war who have not been accounted for or returned.

Lifting sanctions will require nine of 15 Security Council votes, including the support of all five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Lavrov said Friday that sanctions against Eritrea should be lifted, according to TASS, a Russian state-owned news agency.

It’s the first time a permanent member of the Security Council has addressed the sanctions issue since the peace deal with Ethiopia and, backed by aspirations for bilateral business deals, increases Eritrea’s odds before a potential vote.

Osman Saleh
Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban 
The United Kingdom says it has no evidence of human rights reforms in Eritrea since the last session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. It added that it had raised the situation with the Eritrean government.

In a written question and answer session in parliament, David Patrick Paul Alton of Liverpool asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, FCO, about Eritrea.

His question posed on 10th October was responded to eight days later by Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, Minister of State, FCO, who said UK’s Minister for Africa had raised human rights concerns with Eritrean foreign minister Osman Saleh as recently as September 2018.
Alton’s question was as follows: “To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have seen any evidence of substantive Human Rights reforms in Eritrea since the most recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea to the thirty-eighth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

​The October 18 response read: “The UK has seen no evidence of any human rights reforms in Eritrea since the last session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“The Minister for Africa raised our concerns on the human rights situation with the Eritrean Foreign Minister when they met on 25 September, and expressed our hope for an improvement in light of political developments in the region.”

Minister of Africa, Harriet Baldwin met with Osman Saleh on the sidelines of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York. Eritrea dedicated its address to demand for the lifting of sanctions imposed by the security council.

Eritrea was late last week elected to serve on the United Nations Human Rights Council, a move that attracted condemnation from rights groups that have long condemned Asmara for systemic right abuses.

The UN special rapporteur for the region has in the past called for the government to be held for crimes against humanity. Many political dissidents are believed to be in jails along with journalists and pro-democracy activists.

Government justified their election to the council by saying it would afford the country the opportunity to deal with human rights issues.

The Associated Press

Posted: Oct. 12, 2018 3:56 pm

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Human rights groups and the United States said U.N. Human Rights Council elections Friday gave abusive countries a seat at a table where they should be called out, as nations including the Philippines and Eritrea won an uncontested election.

Eighteen countries, ranging from India to the Bahamas to Denmark, were chosen in a U.N. General Assembly vote.

With no competition, each candidate got well over the 97 needed votes, including the Philippines, widely condemned internationally for a deadly drug crackdown, and Eritrea, which has faced criticism from a commission set up by the council itself.

“Elevating states with records of gross human rights violations and abuses is a tremendous setback,” said Amnesty International USA’s advocacy director, Daniel Balson. “It puts them on the world stage, and moreover, it empowers them to fundamentally undermine notions of human rights that are accepted internationally.”

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the “lack of standards continues to undermine the organization and demonstrates again why the United States was right to withdraw from it” in June.

The U.N. missions for Eritrea and the Philippines didn’t immediately respond to inquiries about the vote and the criticism. Eritrea’s mission tweeted that the Horn of Africa nation “will work for enhanced dialogue and (an) effective” Human Rights Council.

U.N. officials, meanwhile, declined to opine on the vote results but suggested all council members should be open to scrutiny of their own handling of human rights.

“It’s clear that the world expects the members of international bodies to abide by a certain set of standards of behavior consistent with the bodies they have been elected to,” said Monica Grayley, a spokeswoman for General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces.

The 47-member Human Rights Council can spotlight abuses and has special monitors watching certain countries and issues. It also periodically reviews human rights in every U.N. member country.

Created in 2006 to replace a commission discredited because of some members’ sorry rights records, the new council soon came to face similar criticism. The U.S. left partly because it saw the group as a forum for hypocrisy about human rights, though also because Washington says the council is anti-Israel.

The Philippines will join at a time when President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has left more than 4,800 mostly poor suspects dead in clashes with police, by the government’s account; rights groups say the toll is much higher. Over 155,000 other people have been arrested in the two-year-old campaign, which has alarmed Western governments, U.N. groups and rights organizations.

Duterte has denied condoning unlawful police killings in the drug war, though he has repeatedly threatened death to drug dealers.

Eritrea hasn’t held a presidential election since independence in 1993, and rights groups have long accused the country of having a harsh system of military conscription that has spurred many citizens to flee. A U.N. commission of inquiry in recent years found widespread human rights abuses, including forced labor. The government said the allegations were unfounded and one-sided.

Eritrea recently reached a peace agreement with neighboring Ethiopia after decades of war and unease, but it remains to be seen whether the conscription system will change.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups also raised red flags about some other countries elected to the council Friday, including Bahrain and Cameroon.

Bahrain has been cracking down on dissent. In Cameroon, rights activists say civilians have been subjected to abuses amid fighting between English-speaking separatists and government security forces, and it is thought that thousands of people who fled the violence were unable to vote in Sunday’s presidential election.

Bahrain’s and Cameroon’s U.N. missions didn’t immediately respond to inquiries Friday.

The new members of the Geneva-based council also include Argentina, Austria, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, the Czech Republic, Fiji, Italy, Somalia, Togo and Uruguay.



Since peace dawned in July, Eritrean refugees have flooded into Ethiopia. But the weight of new arrivals has left the region struggling to cope, raising fears the border could close again

People go about their business along the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia
People go about their business along the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which was opened on 11 September following a July peace deal between the two countries. Photograph: Michael Tewelde

Abraham and Binyam* had failed to escape before. The two Eritrean men, both in their early 20s and from the small town of Adi Keyh, are draft dodgers. Like hundreds of thousands of their compatriots over the past decade, they longed to cross the border into neighbouring Ethiopia to avoid a life of indefinite national service. Abraham attempted it in 2016, Binyam in February last year.

Both were arrested and imprisoned. Abraham was incarcerated for five months, during which he says he was beaten with batons and belts and fed only a few pieces of bread each day. Binyam was detained for a week, during which only one comfort break was allowed each day – out in a field, because the prison had no toilets. Both were then sent to the military, from which they absconded, returning to their hometown and a life in the shadows.

It isn’t like it is now. Now everyone is crossing. But then it was life or death,” says Abraham at a housing estate on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.The opening of the border with Ethiopia on 11 September, following a historic peace agreement in July, has changed everything. Suddenly, without a word from the Eritrean government, border patrols have disappeared. For the first time in decades, Eritreans can leave the country without a passport, a permit or even a promise to return.

Abraham and Binyam, along with thousands of other Eritreans, made straight for the Ethiopian border town of Zalambessa. From there they took a bus to Addis Ababa, where they arrived on September 22nd. Neither has any plan to return.

“I was euphoric,” Abraham says. “I thought all my worries would be solved overnight.”

Since September 11th at least 15,000 Eritreans have crossed into Ethiopia, according to local authorities. Many have come to trade and to visit the friends and family from whom they were separated in 1998, when war broke out. On arriving in Ethiopia, Abraham was reunited with a half-sister he had not seen in more than 20 years. The border had been almost impermeable since Ethiopia’s failure to implement a UN peace deal signed in 2000.

Most dramatic, though, has been the swell of refugees. The number registering each day has multiplied sevenfold, according to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. Between 12 September and 2 October nearly 10,000 arrived seeking asylum, mostly women and children hoping to reunite with family members who left illegally before the border opened.

Others, such as Even, who arrived in Addis Ababa from the Eritrean capital Asmara three weeks ago, have yet to register but plan to do so. The 25 year-old says he wants to join his family in Switzerland as soon as possible. His father and siblings left Eritrea four years ago, while he was still in prison for attempting to escape military service.

Eritreans along the Ethiopian border
In the absence of border patrols, the number of Eritreans making for Ethiopia has risen sevenfold. Photograph: Michael Tewelde

In the regional capital of Mekele, in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, buses are full of Eritreans en route to Addis Ababa. One middle-aged couple, in Ethiopia to visit a sister the wife last saw before the war, waited in a hotel for a week because tickets had sold out. The city is also crowded with Eritreans looking for jobs and rooms to rent. One Ethiopian tour guide in Mekele, who asked not to be named, said he met a group of 10 young Eritrean girls who came looking for work as waitresses and housemaids.

Some worry about the burden the influx of new arrivals is placing on the region. The same Mekele local said he found a group of five teenage Eritrean boys living in a room without enough food to eat. He took a 15-year-old called Daniel into his home after discovering the child arrived in the city on the back of a truck with only 40 nakfa (£2) in his pocket. He later paid for him to go home to Asmara.

Meanwhile the region’s refugee camps are struggling to cope with the sudden strain. Ethiopia now hosts more than 175,000 refugees from across the border.

Many of the new arrivals fear the frontier will close again. A common rumour is that it was supposed to open only for a week or so for Eritreans, though the government in Asmara has not said this. Reports of Eritrean officers hunting for defectors have heightened such fears. So too have incidents, confirmed by the Guardian, of Eritreans being denied passports and assistance at their new embassy in Addis Ababa in order to migrate further afield.

The UNHCR has said that Ethiopia remains firmly committed to the protection of refugees from Eritrea, but many – including those who arrived years before the peace agreement – remain doubtful. Even has yet to register, because he says he heard rumours he might be sent back to Eritrea if he does.

Details of the deals struck between Isaias Afwerki, Eritrea’s only president since independence from Ethiopia in 1993, and Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s new prime minister, have not been made public, which has also provoked suspicion.

“We are scared our status will be revoked,” says an Eritrean teacher who arrived in Ethiopia more than a year ago. “We don’t know what deal this government has made with ours.”

Not all intend to stay, even among those who make it as far as Addis Ababa. Even’s friend plans to return to Asmara in a couple of weeks, though he says he describes his decision as unusual. The 24-year-old says that, as a Pentecostal Christian, he came to take advantage of Ethiopia’s relative religious freedom. Pentecostalism is banned in Eritrea and his father has been in prison for eight years for his beliefs.

“I just came to worship freely and be blessed by the preachers,” he says. “But my mother needs me back home.”

In the absence of domestic reform inside Eritrea, peace with Ethiopia will probably mean that many more people simply leave for good. Despite signs the government intends to limit indefinite national service, and downsize the army, there has been almost nothing concrete yet.

Meanwhile, a former finance minister was reportedly arrested in September for publicly criticising the president, and more Pentecostal Christians were arrested in August.

“I never want to go back,” says Abraham, “because I’m a deserter, and if you desert your country the government won’t ever let you go.”