March 18, 2019 News

Last week a Dutch delegation led by Migration Minister Mark Harbers visited several camps in Libya. But his trip did not include Zintan, a detention centre with an atrocious conditions, seldom visited by international dignitaries. This information has been received from inside Zintan detention centre.

Migration Minister Mike Harbers

Over 700 refugees have been imprisoned in Zintan, of whom 165 refugees have been there since October 2017. The detention camp is 180 km from Tripoli. The refugees report that the situation is dire: there is little food; hygiene and their health is very poor.

It is reported that in the last five months 17 refugees detained in Zintan have died, among them one young woman who was driven to commit suicide. Most are said to have died of TB; thirteen of them were Eritrean.

The refugees say that the issue most worrying the refugees is that they have no information about their fate.

One of the refugees, has appealed for international protection. He was imprisoned in Eritrea before fleeing the country and is in real danger. His name is being kept confidential for his safety.

47 refugees have been moved from Zintan to another camp – Gharyan where they are still imprisoned. The refugees there are locked-up and held incommunicado. Four people are reported to have died in Gharyan in the last five months from TB.

What action from UNHCR?

The UN refugee agency has been made aware of the circumstances in which the refugees are being held. The detainees say they have tried to contact UNHCR, but with little success. The refugees are asking why the UNHCR has not visited the Zintan camp.

The plight of the Eritreans was underlined by the findings of the UN Deputy Human Rights Commissioner, Kate Gilmore. Speaking in Geneva last week she that Eritrea’s human rights record has not changed for the better since the government signed a peace agreement with Ethiopia last year, formally ending a two decades-long border conflict. Ms Gilmore was participating in a U.N. Human Rights Council interactive dialogue on the current situation in Eritrea.

Kate Gilmore said Eritrea has missed a historic opportunity because the government has not implemented urgently needed judicial, constitutional and economic reforms. She explained that the continued use of indefinite national service remains a major human rights concern.

“Conscripts continue to confront open-ended duration of service, far beyond the 18 months stipulated in law and often under abusive conditions, which may include the use of torture, sexual violence and forced labor,” she said.

Source=https://eritreahub.org/dutch-minister-misses-worst-libyan-detention-centres

 
 
 
 
Un requérant d'asile montre un lieu sur une carte du monde
Thousands of failed asylum seekers cannot be sent back and refuse to return home voluntarily. Many continue to live in Switzerland with emergency assistance, with no prospect of a future. Young Eritreans share their stories.

Mewael* lives in Geneva on CHF10 (around $10) a day. He is not allowed to train or work. To occupy his days, he plays football, does small jobs at the reception centre where he lives or cooks at a local charity. He is among thousands of people who have not been granted asylum, but who cannot return home and find themselves trapped in Switzerland. In 2017, more than 8,000 people received emergency assistance, mostly in the form of shelter or food.

Mewael is in his twenties. He fled Eritrea and arrived in Switzerland almost three years ago. He filed his asylum application and learned French while waiting for the decision that came through only two years later. His application was rejected and Mewael had to leave the country. He has appealed the decision and is clinging to the slim hope of a positive answer. The young man aspired to an apprenticeship as an electrician or mechanic, but no longer sees the merit in that.

"Life is complicated in Switzerland," sighs his friend Samson. "It's not complicated, it's dead," interjects Mewael, tears in his eyes.

Removal ordered but not executed 

Eritreans are particularly vulnerable to such situations because the Swiss government has not signed a readmission agreement with Eritrea. It cannot therefore forcibly expel the unsuccessful applicants. "At the international level, Switzerland stands out by issuing removal decisions: no European State carries out expulsions to Eritrea," says a very detailed report by the Observatory of the rights of asylum and foreigners in French-speaking Switzerland (ODAE)
Observatory of the rights of asylum and foreigners in French-speaking Switzerland (ODAE)  on the pressures faced by the Eritrean community.
 
Rejections without provisional admission for Eritrean asylum seekers
 
Diagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Samson has already been in Switzerland for four years. The inability to work adds to his suffering.
 
 "I am stuck, I don't know what to do. It's very stressful," he tells swissinfo.ch.

To get out of this situation, some have tried to apply for asylum in another country. Yonas went as far as Germany, but was sent back to Switzerland because of the Dublin agreement. He has also been in Switzerland for four years and dreams of becoming a mechanic, gardener or even a lawyer. "When I left home, I thought my problems were over, but in fact they followed me here," Yonas says.

All these young Eritreans speak French, but can no longer find the words when they talk about their life in Switzerland and their future prospects. "I feel bad, I have problems sleeping and concentrating," says Robel, who has been in Geneva for two years. "Here I thought I would find happiness, freedom, and I found nothing."

Impossible to get back
 
When they inform unsuccessful applicants of their obligation to leave Switzerland, the authorities offer them return assistance, but none of the Eritreans swissinfo.ch spoke to have plans to return.

Eritrea is not a safe place for its citizens, according to the United Nations (UN).

"Eritrean officials have been attacking civilians in a persistent, widespread and systematic manner since 1991. Since then, they have consistently committed crimes of slavery, imprisonment, enforced disappearance and torture, as well as other inhuman acts, persecution, rape and murder."

"We don't come here for money, we're just looking for freedom.”

Hayat wants to tell us what happened to him. He explains that in his country, everyone must serve in the army for an indefinite period. The population is not free to train or work as they wish. And many people vanish into thin air, without families ever being informed of their imprisonment or death.

Hayat's father disappeared in this fashion. And Hayat found himself in prison when he was only 16-years-old. He was beaten, tied up and locked in a cage. During a transfer, the young man managed to escape and cross Sudan, Libya and finally the Mediterranean. Initially, they were a group of 25 people. Only three of them reached Italy.

"We don't come here for money, we're just looking for freedom," says Hayat, who has just received good news: his appeal has been successful, and he has been granted temporary admission. The young man will be able to continue his training with an electrician, something he would have had to give up overnight had the decision been negative. It is a bittersweet victory given that all his friends are still waiting for a court decision or have been definitively rejected.

More than 1,500 Eritreans demonstrated in the Swiss capital last May for a more humane asylum policy.
(© Keystone / Peter Schneider)
 
A "Kafkaesque" system

"It's complicated for them, because at first they find a haven of peace and then they are told they have to leave," says a volunteer who tries to help these young people but feels powerless in the face of a fragmented system. "There is no global vision of the person, everything is always divided: there is one person responsible for care, another for housing, etc. The responsibility is always shifted to another department and it becomes Kafkaesque."

Temporary admission would at least allow applicants with a negative asylum decision to receive training and work. However, it can only be issued if the removal is contrary to Switzerland's commitments to international law. In other words, if it puts the individual in danger, or if it is not physically feasible to carry out the decision.

 "Failed Eritrean asylum seekers who are subject to a removal decision are legally obliged to leave Switzerland," explains the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).” Forced removals are not currently possible, but voluntary returns are."

"Forced removals are indeed not possible, but voluntary returns are"

End of quote

The SEM therefore considers that it would be wrong to give provisional admission to individuals who refuse to leave the country, simply because Switzerland cannot make a forced return. "This would reward people who, from the outset, make it clear that they will not comply with their obligation to leave the country, even though they do not need Swiss protection and would be forced to leave."

Limited support

The SEM explains that an individual who decides to stay despite everything is no longer entitled to social assistance, but only to emergency assistance. The objective is "to ensure that the persons concerned voluntarily comply with their obligation to leave Switzerland by no longer providing material incentives to stay. "

The cantons are responsible for providing emergency assistance and managing these unsuccessful applicants. Cantons cannot do much for this population, which cannot work or receive training. "It's complicated to stay positive and keep these young people motivated," says a social worker in Geneva.

A conference on the issue of training rejected asylum seekers was held in early February in Lausanne. Apprentices, employers, asylum professionals and teachers called on the cantonal and federal authorities to allow young people to complete their training, even in the event of a negative asylum decision.

Signatures are also being collected in Geneva for an online petition that asks the canton not to exclude Eritrean asylum seekers from social assistance and to allow them to train and work.

More restrictive asylum policy

However, the trend towards a tightening of asylum policy at federal level in recent years does not seem to be coming to an end. In 2016, the SEM published a new report on the situation in Eritrea and carried out a review, confirmed by recent decisions of the Federal Administrative Court. Judges now consider that Eritrean asylum-seekers can be sent back to their country, even if they risk being recruited into the army upon their return. The SEM has undertaken a review of more than 3,000 files of Eritrean applicants with temporary admission to assess whether a removal is required.

Migrant advocacy groups and the Eritrean community are mobilising against this tougher stance. A demonstration of 1,500 people took place last May in front of the parliament in Bern and a petition with more than 12,000 signatures was submitted for asylum to be granted with immediate effect to anyone threatened with ill-treatment. But the Senate refused to act on this petition because it overwhelmingly supporters the harder line taken by SEM.
 
*Name chosen by journalist to preserve anonymity.
 
 

Published on 12 Mar 2019

Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that this year’s dialogue came at a pivotal moment for Eritrea, as, after a 20-year military stalemate, the signing of the peace agreement with Ethiopia could lay down foundations for resilient peace. Despite these positive developments, the Office of the High Commissioner had not seen any improvements in the actual situation of human rights. This was a historic opportunity to lift up the human rights of the people of Eritrea and for the Government to demonstrate that peace yielded true dividends for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Daniela Kravetz, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, welcomed Eritrea’s move to join the Council in 2019. Despite making progress, Eritrea had yet to put in place an adequate legal and institutional framework to uphold minimum human rights standards. The country had not implemented its 1997 Constitution, had no national assembly, and no independent judiciary or free press. Last year’s declaration of peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia had created an expectation that Eritrea would implement reforms.

Tesfamicael Gerahtu, Head of the Eritrean delegation to the fortieth session of the Human Rights Council, said that despite challenges of peace, security and development, including under the pretext of human rights, Eritrea’s ground reality attested that there had never been any systematic crisis. The lifting of the United Nations sanctions on Eritrea was a welcome development. The Council was called on to terminate its confrontational approach that had existed for the past seven years, as there was no crisis that warranted a special mandate on Eritrea.

Vanessa Tsehaye, Founder, One Day Seyoum, said that the Government’s official response to everything that happened post 2001 was that it was because Ethiopia had no demarcated border, the so-called “no war, no peace” situation. The standoff at the border could not justify the horrible rape, torture and crimes committed. It did not justify the fact that the only university in the country had been shut down, that there was no free press, and that tens of thousands of people had been imprisoned without a trial.

Daniel Eyasu, Head of International Relations and Cooperation of the Union, National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students, said that Eritreans, particularly youth, had paid a huge price for the 20 years of instability. The national service was critical for nation building and its characterization as modern slavery was unwarranted, unjustified and unacceptable. It was incumbent on all to recognise the need for the whole of society to participate in burden sharing responsibility and thus to extend the duration of national service.

In the ensuing discussion, delegations welcomed the peace process and expressed hope that the peace declaration and the various commitments signed by countries in the Horn of Africa would contribute to the protection of human rights. Eritrea was urged to engage with the Special Rapporteur; reform its military service and place limits on its terms; release all political prisoners; stop the continuing practice of arbitrary arrests; and end torture and inhumane detention conditions. Eritrea was called on to use recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review as a roadmap. Some speakers expressed concern that although Eritrea was now a member of the Council, it would not improve its human rights situation.

Speaking were European Union, Angola on behalf of the African Group, Ethiopia, Sudan, United Kingdom, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Czech Republic, Somalia, Australia, Venezuela, Russian Federation, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Iceland, Iran, China, Greece, Luxembourg, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Hungary and Algeria.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Europe External Programme for Africa; East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project; Advocates for Human Rights; International Fellowship of Reconciliation; Jubilee Campaign; Christian Solidarity Worldwide; Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association; and Human Rights Watch.

Lebanon spoke in a right of reply.

The Council will next meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 March, to hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission on South Sudan.

Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea

Opening Remarks

COLY SECK, President of the Human Rights Council, reminded that in its resolution 38/15, the Human Rights Council had decided to hold an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, with the participation of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, civil society and other stakeholders.

Keynote Statements

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that the dialogue came at an important moment, pivotal for the Horn of Africa and for Eritrea, as after a 20-year military stalemate, the signing of the peace agreement with Ethiopia could lay down foundations for resilient peace. It was a moment that could be seized by the Government to propel forward urgently needed and long-awaited reforms that would lift up human rights for the people of Eritrea, including reforms to its indefinite national service, adoption of a human rights based Constitution, and reforms to enable the introduction of private enterprise that could contribute to the country’s economic and social development. The Deputy High Commissioner appreciated Eritrea’s election to the Human Rights Council, as it signalled new openings for the authorities to fully embrace the responsibilities of the Council membership, including their obligations to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, who could provide expert guidance on ways to advance human rights in the country. Eritrea had participated in the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in January 2019, with 261 recommendations issued to the Government. Those combined with the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur and the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights provided an authoritative roadmap to improve the human rights situation in Eritrea. However, it was regrettable that despite these positive developments, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Eritrea had not seen any improvements in the actual situation of human rights for Eritreans on the ground in the past year.

Eritrea’s 1997 Constitution had not been enforced, Ms. Gilmore reminded. For the sake of the dignity and protection of its people, the Deputy High Commissioner urged Eritrea to immediately take the necessary steps to correct that. The Government should tackle rampant impunity, release all those who had been subjected to unlawful and arbitrary detention, and allow civil society and human rights defenders to operate freely. The right to a fair trial must be respected while information should be provided to family members on the whereabouts of disappeared persons, with families provided access to justice as appropriate. Eritrea’s ranking in the 2018 world press freedom index remained unchanged compared to last year, whereas the continued use of indefinite national service remained a major human rights concern. Conscripts continued to confront open-ended duration of service, far beyond the 18 months stipulated by law and often in abusive conditions, which may include the use of torture, sexual violence and forced labour. Eritrea should bring its national service in line with the country’s international human rights obligations, the Deputy High Commissioner emphasized. In September 2018, the opening of the border with Ethiopia had led to an exodus of Eritreans. In the absence of promising signs of tangible progress, the flow of asylum-seekers was not expected to drop.

Presenting the Office of the High Commissioner’s actions on Eritrea, Ms. Gilmore reminded that following its last mission to Eritrea in October 2017, the Office had submitted a proposal for technical cooperation focused on reforms that Eritrea could adopt to bring its system of justice in line with international standards. It had further requested permission to visit Eritrea again and it looked forward to hearing back from the authorities on that. The Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peacefulassembly and of association had also sent requests to visit Eritrea, whereas Eritrea had invited the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education to carry out visits. It had also expressed interest in extending invitations to the mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, as well as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The Office was ready to visit Eritrea to engage with the Government so that it could provide all the necessary assistance to help improve the human rights situation for the people of Eritrea. The recent international developments were an historic opportunity to lift up the human rights for the people of Eritrea, Ms. Gilmore stressed. It was a moment the country’s leadership could seize to demonstrate to the people of Eritrea that peace did indeed yield true dividends in respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

DANIELA KRAVETZ, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, welcomed Eritrea’s membership in the Human Rights Council, which showed a recognition by the Government of the central importance of that United Nations body. As a member of the Council, Eritrea was duty bound to respect the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. Eritrea’s membership in the Human Rights Council represented an opportunity for the Government to ensure that its nationals enjoyed all of their rights, including their civil and political rights. It was also an opportunity to strengthen its rule of law. Despite making progress, Eritrea had not yet put in place an adequate institutional and legal framework to uphold minimum human rights standards. It had yet to implement its 1997 Constitution, or to finalize the drafting and adoption of a new Constitution. Eritrea continued to have no national assembly to discuss and adopt laws regulating basic rights. There was no independent judiciary to enforce the protection of and respect for these rights. The country did not allow freedom of press, freedom of association, or freedom of expression. Freedom of religion, which was central to the ability of people to live together, was in practice not guaranteed for all faiths.

The situation of detainees was particularly concerning. Many had received no information as to why their relatives had been detained, where they were being held, or when they would be released. Some had spent over a decade looking for their relatives. Under international law, detainees had rights. Those included the right to be brought before a judge, the right to legal counsel, the right to be informed of the charges against them, and the right to family visits. Those were basic minimum standards. Last year’s declaration of peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia had created expectations within Eritrea and in the international community that Eritrea would implement reforms. That had not yet happened. In particular, there had been no public announcement about a reduction of the duration of the national service or about any demobilization plans. Progress in promoting civil and political rights must be a critical part of Eritrea’s road to development, and Eritrea must take concrete steps to enable such progress. The Special Rapporteur urged Eritrea to live up to its international commitments as a member of the Human Rights Council. She remained willing to engage with Eritrean authorities in a constructive dialogue and cooperation.

TESFAMICAEL GERAHTU, Head of the Eritrean delegation to the fortieth session of the Human Rights Council, said that despite challenges to peace, security and development, including under the pretext of human rights, Eritrea’s ground reality attested there had never been any systematic crisis. Eritrea was participating in the enhanced interactive dialogue during an important historic development for both Eritrea and the Horn of Africa region. Eritrea wanted to appraise the Human Rights Council of a ground reality that had been neglected for the last seven years. There was a people-based political process of nation building, a people-power nexus, in the country. The negative effect of the last 20 years on the peace, security and development of the Horn of Africa region had been unprecedented, Mr. Gerahtu emphasized. Eritrea and Ethiopia had signed a peace, friendship and cooperation agreement, intending to harmonize efforts and policies and ensure peaceful coexistence. The lifting of the United Nations sanctions on Eritrea was a welcome development. The Government was now focused on three interrelated dimensions: macro-economic stability, comprehensive reorganization, and consolidation of institutions. Exerting pressure on Eritrea would be counterproductive. Nevertheless, Eritrea was committed to further strengthen its international cooperation. In the past eight years, Eritrea had been targeted by protracted country-specific resolutions and mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, which had not created any dividend in the promotion of human rights. In fact, they had undermined the engagement of Eritrea in the Universal Periodic Review as a viable way to address human rights concerns. In closing, Mr. Gerahtu called on the Council to terminate the confrontational approach that had lasted for the past seven years because there was no crisis that warranted a special mandate on Eritrea.

VANESSA TSEHAYE, Founder of One Day Seyoum, spoke as niece of Seyoum Tsehaye, a journalist and photographer who had been imprisoned without a trial in Eritrea since 2001. He was one of the members of the guerrilla group who had fought for the country’s independence and after the war had been won in 1991 he had expected democracy. In 2001, he had been imprisoned alongside other journalists because he had publicly demanded changes. The Government’s official response to everything that happened after 2001 was that it was because Ethiopia had no demarcated border. Without attempting to downplay what the Government had to deal with when facing threats to national security, Ms. Tsehaye said that the response was neither legal nor proportionate. There was no legal declaration of emergency and the standoff at the border could not justify horrible rapes, torture and other crimes committed, crimes that the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea had classified as crimes against humanity. It did not justify the fact that the only university in the country had been shut down, that there was no free press, and that tens of thousands of people had been imprisoned without a trial. It was hard to understand that anyone could take the Government’s justification seriously. Eight months after the peace deal, the Constitution was still not implemented, and the border was still not demarcated. There was no transparency about details of the peace agreement. Hope had an expiration date, and in the case of Eritrea, it was long overdue. The language of hope was being used to camouflage self-interest at the expense of the wellbeing of the Eritrean people. Ms. Tsehaye urged the Council to think about the Eritrean people, and the impact that its support had on prolonging their suffering.

DANIEL EYASU, Head of Cooperation and International Relations of the National Youth Union & Eritrean Students, thanked the Human Rights Council for the opportunity to present the voice of Eritrean youth. With more than 3,000 members, the organization’s aim was to ensure the responsible participation of Eritrean youth in national-building process, national unity and citizenship, and in Eritrea’s future. The broad, mass-based, extensive nature of the youth network gave it the liberty to provide a concrete representation of the situation in the country. The organization had provided follow-up to the Universal Periodic Review recommendations to Eritrea, and it had been involved in the preparation and compilation of reports. Mr. Eyasu noted that the Eritrean people, particularly youth, had paid a huge price for the 20 years of instability. The national service was critical for nation building and its characterization in the reports of the Council’s special procedures as modern slavery was unwarranted, unjustified and unacceptable. It was incumbent on everyone to recognize the need for the whole of society to participate in the responsibility of burden sharing. The Government had demobilized over 100,000 members of the national service in 2003, Mr. Eyasu pointed out. The Council should recognize that Eritrea had achieved significant progress, despite many challenges. He reiterated that there was no human rights crisis in Eritrea and he urged the Council to consider any issues through the Universal Periodic Review process.

Interactive Dialogue

European Union said it stood ready to support Eritrea’s investment in jobs, in support of efforts to demobilize the military. It encouraged Eritrea to support the establishment of an office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country and to engage with the Special Rapporteur in her work. Angola, speaking on behalf of the African Group, considered the peace agreements between the Horn of Africa countries as an essential development in the region. It called on Eritrea and the United Nations mechanisms to continue their ongoing cooperation in a constructive manner. Ethiopia stated that the peace declaration and the various commitments signed by countries in the Horn of Africa would contribute to the protection of human rights. It encouraged Eritrea to engage with the international community, including with the Human Rights Council, to ensure that human rights were upheld.

Sudan believed that the optimal way to promote human rights was through a non-biased and non-politicized approach, and through the provision of technical assistance. It encouraged Eritrea to continue its engagement with the international community, and it called for technical assistance to be extended to Eritrea. United Kingdom urged Eritrea to engage with the Special Rapporteur, given its obligations as a member of the Council, and to address the large scale detentions in the country, as set out by the Special Rapporteur. It also urged the Government to reform its military service to place limits on its terms. Belgium welcomed the recent efforts made by Eritrea in normalizing its relationship with Ethiopia, and expressed hope that the normalization would encourage Eritrean authorities to undertake reforms. Those should address the unlimited length of military service, human trafficking and violence against women.

Croatia was pleased to see an improvement of Eritrea’s relationships with other countries, but called on the Government to expedite work on reforms. Croatia called on Eritrea to use recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review as a roadmap for achieving that goal. Germany welcomed the peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which offered a unique chance for regional stability. It called on Eritrea to end involuntary conscription, release all political prisoners, stop the continued practice of arbitrary arrests, and end torture and inhumane detention conditions. Czech Republic urged the Government of Eritrea to organize general elections in accordance with international democratic standards, as the last elections were in 1993. Had the Rapporteur witnessed any improvement in Eritrea’s cooperation with her mandate?

Somalia noted that a new chapter of regional cooperation was taking place in the Horn of Africa and it acknowledged Eritrea’s progress in improving the standard of living. However, more needed to be done to improve women’s representation in decision-making process and Somalia encouraged Eritrea to cooperate with the human rights mechanisms. Australia remained concerned about reports of forced labour and indefinite national service. Reports of torture and arbitrary and indefinite detention were alarming, and Australia thus called on Eritrea to uphold the international human rights conventions and to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. Venezuela opposed the imposition of country-specific mandates, noting that the Universal Periodic Review was the best mechanism to improve the human rights situation in countries. The United Nations had to provide support to Eritrea in order for it to fulfil the recommendations.

Russian Federation observed that the discussion of the human rights situation in Eritrea was not objective, noting that it was led by outside forces who had an interest in destabilizing the region. The steady development of relations between Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti was welcome, and any issues of human rights should be discussed in a constructive setting, such as the Universal Periodic Review. Netherlands remained concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea, particularly the indefinite national service, allegations of arbitrary detention, and allegations of the use of illicit means by Eritrea to collect diaspora tax from its nationals abroad. Netherlands urged Eritrea to build on the positive momentum and to accelerate necessary domestic reforms. France noted that despite some improvements in education and health policies, Eritrea should take all measures to improve the human rights situation in the country, put an end to the national service, and improve the respect of fundamental freedoms of its citizens.

Switzerland said that despite the signing of the peace agreement, the human rights situation in Eritrea remained worrying. It urged Eritrea to grant access to the Special Rapporteur, to demonstrate a real intention to cooperate with all the human rights mechanisms, and to act on all the recommendations in its Universal Periodic Review. Iceland stated that for progress to be made in Eritrea, comprehensive domestic reforms were needed and the 1997 constitution should be fully implemented. Iceland urged Eritrea to grant access to all international human rights mechanisms and instruments. Iran voiced its opposition to the politicization of human rights by singling out countries through non-constructive mandates. The Government of Eritrea faced many challenges in attaining international human rights standards; the role of the Council should be supportive rather than punitive.

China believed that Eritrea had improved the living conditions of vulnerable groups, including women and children. China understood the challenges it faced as a developing country, and it called on the international community to view Eritrea’s human rights situation in that context. Greece called on Eritrea to ensure the unimpeded work of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society in general. It expressed concern about the indefinite and compulsory nature of its national service. Luxembourg stated that the recent reconciliation between Eritrea and Ethiopia had given rise to hope, and it called on the authorities in Eritrea to bring about human rights changes. The indefinite military service was a human rights issue that greatly damaged the international image of the country and discouraged international investment.

Norway believed that the new dynamics in the Horn of Africa had raised hope for peace and normalization of relations, including improved human rights. It welcomed the willingness of the Government of Eritrea to engage with the international community. Saudi Arabia welcomed the positive developments between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which had culminated with the signing of the Jeddah Peace Accord of 2018, heralding the new era of peace and stability in the region. Saudi Arabia commended Eritrea’s efforts to promote human rights, in spite of multiple challenges. Djibouti believed that the opportunities provided by the peace and reconciliation developments in the Horn of Africa were significant. Djibouti had authorized the review of all individual cases of Eritrean prisoners of war held in Djiboutian prisons, but it remained concerned about the lack of information about the 13 remaining Djiboutian prisoners of war in Eritrea.

Hungary said that the election of Eritrea to the Council could be an opportunity for it to strengthen cooperation with human rights mechanisms. How could the Government of Eritrea be engaged to take forward institutional and legal reforms in the human rights area? Algeria welcomed positive dynamics in the Horn of Africa and urged countries involved to continue on the path of peace. Authorities were invited to constructively engage with the Office of the High Commissioner and the international community to provide adequate technical assistance.

Europe External Programme for Africa said that in 2018, the long-standing stalemate with Ethiopia had been resolved. This situation had been persistently cited by the Eritrean Government to supress rights and freedoms. Concern was expressed that the election of Eritrea to the Council might be used as a shield to hide the problematic record of human rights violations. East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project said that the opening of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border was positive for people of the region. However, grave concerns remained over Eritrea’s domestic human rights situation and Eritrea was urged to engage with the United Nations human rights system. Advocates for Human Rights drew attention to the forced military service and arbitrary detention, as many asylum seekers continued to flee from such situations in Eritrea. Arrests and detentions, without clear legal charges, solely due to connections to those that criticized the Government, were regularly reported. International Fellowship of Reconciliation noted that nothing had changed on the human rights front since Eritrea became a member of the Council and signed the peace agreement with Ethiopia. Peace had removed the only justification for the indefinite military and national service, but there had been no end to the endless forced conscription and over 10,000 prisoners of conscience were incarcerated in inhuman conditions.

Jubilee Campaign drew the Council’s attention to the lack of freedom of religion and belief in Eritrea. It highlighted the imprisonment of civilians for belonging to unregistered Christian denominations, including Jehovah Witnesses, Pentecostal Christians and Seventh Day Adventists, and called for their immediate release. Christian Solidarity Worldwide welcomed the improved relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia but was surprised that Catholic priests were not able to leave the country to participate in a church summit. It called for the immediate release of all those detained because of their religious beliefs and the creation of judicial mechanisms to hold identified perpetrators accountable. Maat for Peace, Development, and Human Rights Association stated that in addition to national service, shrinking civil society and crack downs, grave human rights violations against thousands Eritreans were perpetrated when then tried to leave the country. It recommended that Eritrea elaborate a strategy to promote the safe return of displaced people and to grant access to international human rights mechanisms and non-governmental organizations. Human Rights Watch regretted that there was little evidence that oppression in Eritrea had subsided since the signing of the peace agreement and highlighted that the Council’s Commission of Inquiry had labelled Eritrea’s national service as enslavement. It asked the delegation to outline a timetable for the demobilisation of its conscripts and to indicate whether it would allow the Special Rapporteur access to carry out her mandate.

Concluding Remarks

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she understood the need to extend the technical cooperation with Eritrea, adding that the Office of the High Commissioner had met with the delegation of Eritrea last week. The commitment was in place by the Office of the High Commissioner to extend support to Eritrea and work together in the administration of justice. Further meetings were expected to discuss details. The Government’s outreach to the Special Procedures was welcomed.

DANIELA KRAVETZ, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said that peace with Ethiopia represented a chance to put an end to the indefinite national service and to focus on institution building and empowering civil society. The lack of an adequate institutional and legal framework was the major barrier; the lack of a constitution, of a national assembly, and of a system of checks and balances. As she only started her mandate in November, the Special Rapporteur said she had made a few requests to meet with the delegation and so far no response was received, but she hoped that this would change soon. The situation of detainees was a particularly important issue, and it had to be a top priority. Human rights should be at the centre of development and economic projects, and States were urged to consider a human rights perspective when initiating international cooperation. The mandate included the development of benchmarks and a time plan for Eritrea going forward, so States were invited to share their inputs, and the delegation of Eritrea was particularly called on to share their input.

TESFAMICAEL GERAHTU, Head of the Eritrean delegation to the fortieth session of the Human Rights Council, disagreed with the way Eritrea was portrayed in the interactive dialogue. Eritrea was ready to seize the opportunity presented by its membership of the Council, but he regretted that the difficult situation that the country had been in over the past 20 years had been downplayed, which was unacceptable. The repeated comments made by some speakers, who expected changes overnight, were unrealistic. The offensive language used regarding forced conscription was wrong, and did not recognize that the military service had served to assert national survival in a time of hostilities. Nevertheless, transformation was underway to make changes to the national service in Eritrea, such as efforts to reintegrate national service recruits, even though these were not mentioned in the interactive dialogue. The membership of Eritrea in the Council was about responsibility for everybody. They were not in the Council to defend themselves, but to make modest progress, to detoxify the atmosphere in the Council, and to work with others to bring about changes. In addressing the criticism that Eritrea had not engaged with the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Gerahtu indicated they had requested to meet her here in Geneva.

VANESSA TSEHAYE, Founder of One Day Seyoum, addressed the issue of the politicization of human rights. The Eritrean delegate had created a false dichotomy between the Government and the international community, and he forgot one important group, the Eritrean people. The Eritrean people had no interest in politicizing their situation, or the human rights abuses that they were being subjected to. The Eritrean delegate spoke of the national service programme as part of his reality, but he was not the one in the camps, and was not the one serving his country indefinitely. The Eritrean people should remain front and centre of this discussion, and they should not get stuck in the hypocrisy of countries that was well known before and after the Council.

Right of Reply

Lebanon, speaking in a right of reply in response to allegations made by Israel during the interactive dialogue on Iran, said Israel was taking advantage of the debates in the Council for its own agenda, to disguise that they were occupying territories, including parts of Lebanon. Groups in Lebanon operated in line with the law and they were not terrorist groups.

For use of the information media; not an official record

Source=https://reliefweb.int/report/eritrea/human-rights-council-holds-enhanced-interactive-dialogue-situation-human-rights-0

March 12, 2019 News

Important statements were made at the UN in Geneva during yesterday’s discussions. These were some of them, including an Eritrean government committment to meet the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights.

In addressing the criticism that Eritrea had not engaged with the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Gerahtu indicated they had requested to meet her here in Geneva.” 

Full report below

  • KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights: the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Eritrea had not seen any improvements in the actual situation of human rights for Eritreans on the ground in the past year.  Eritrea’s 1997 Constitution had not been enforced, Ms. Gilmore reminded. For the sake of the dignity and protection of its people, the Deputy High Commissioner urged Eritrea to immediately take the necessary steps to correct that.  The Government should tackle rampant impunity, release all those who had been subjected to unlawful and arbitrary detention, and allow civil society and human rights defenders to operate freely.
  • DANIELA KRAVETZ, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea: Despite making progress, Eritrea had not yet put in place an adequate institutional and legal framework to uphold minimum human rights standards.  It had yet to implement its 1997 Constitution, or to finalize the drafting and adoption of a new Constitution.  Eritrea continued to have no national assembly to discuss and adopt laws regulating basic rights.  There was no independent judiciary to enforce the protection of and respect for these rights… As she only started her mandate in November, the Special Rapporteur said she had made a few requests to meet with the delegation and so far no response was received, but she hoped that this would change soon.
  • TESFAMICAEL GERAHTU, Head of the Eritrean delegation: Eritrea and Ethiopia had signed a peace, friendship and cooperation agreement, intending to harmonize efforts and policies and ensure peaceful coexistence.  The lifting of the United Nations sanctions on Eritrea was a welcome development.  The Government was now focused on three interrelated dimensions: macro-economic stability, comprehensive reorganization, and consolidation of institutions.  Exerting pressure on Eritrea would be counterproductive.  Nevertheless, Eritrea was committed to further strengthen its international cooperation.  In the past eight years, Eritrea had been targeted by protracted country-specific resolutions and mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, which had not created any dividend in the promotion of human rights…The offensive language used regarding forced conscription was wrong, and did not recognize that the military service had served to assert national survival in a time of hostilities.  Nevertheless, transformation was underway to make changes to the national service in Eritrea, such as efforts to reintegrate national service recruits, even though these were not mentioned in the interactive dialogue…In addressing the criticism that Eritrea had not engaged with the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Gerahtu indicated they had requested to meet her here in Geneva.   
  • European Union said it stood ready to support Eritrea’s investment in jobs, in support of efforts to demobilize the military.  It encouraged Eritrea to support the establishment of an office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country and to engage with the Special Rapporteur in her work.
  • VANESSA TSEHAYE, Founder of One Day Seyoum, spoke as niece of Seyoum Tsehaye, a journalist and photographer who had been imprisoned without a trial in Eritrea since 2001. Eight months after the peace deal, the Constitution was still not implemented, and the border was still not demarcated.   There was no transparency about details of the peace agreement.  Hope had an expiration date, and in the case of Eritrea, it was long overdue.  The language of hope was being used to camouflage self-interest at the expense of the wellbeing of the Eritrean people.

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS ENHANCED INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN ERITREA

 
11 March 2019

Human Rights Council this afternoon held an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that this year’s dialogue came at a pivotal moment for Eritrea, as, after a 20-year military stalemate, the signing of the peace agreement with Ethiopia could lay down foundations for resilient peace.  Despite these positive developments, the Office of the High Commissioner had not seen any improvements in the actual situation of human rights.  This was a historic opportunity to lift up the human rights of the people of Eritrea and for the Government to demonstrate that peace yielded true dividends for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Daniela Kravetz, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, welcomed Eritrea’s move to join the Council in 2019.  Despite making progress, Eritrea had yet to put in place an adequate legal and institutional framework to uphold minimum human rights standards.  The country had not implemented its 1997 Constitution, had no national assembly, and no independent judiciary or free press.  Last year’s declaration of peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia had created an expectation that Eritrea would implement reforms.

Tesfamicael Gerahtu, Head of the Eritrean delegation to the fortieth session of the Human Rights Council, said that despite challenges of peace, security and development, including under the pretext of human rights, Eritrea’s ground reality attested that there had never been any systematic crisis.  The lifting of the United Nations sanctions on Eritrea was a welcome development.  The Council was called on to terminate its confrontational approach that had existed for the past seven years, as there was no crisis that warranted a special mandate on Eritrea.

Vanessa Tsehaye, Founder, One Day Seyoum, said that the Government’s official response to everything that happened post 2001 was that it was because Ethiopia had no demarcated border, the so-called “no war, no peace” situation.  The standoff at the border could not justify the horrible rape, torture and crimes committed.  It did not justify the fact that the only university in the country had been shut down, that there was no free press, and that tens of thousands of people had been imprisoned without a trial.

Daniel Eyasu, Head of International Relations and Cooperation of the Union, National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students, said that Eritreans, particularly youth, had paid a huge price for the 20 years of instability.  The national service was critical for nation building and its characterization as modern slavery was unwarranted, unjustified and unacceptable.  It was incumbent on all to recognise the need for the whole of society to participate in burden sharing responsibility and thus to extend the duration of national service.

In the ensuing discussion, delegations welcomed the peace process and expressed hope that the peace declaration and the various commitments signed by countries in the Horn of Africa would contribute to the protection of human rights.  Eritrea was urged to engage with the Special Rapporteur; reform its military service and place limits on its terms; release all political prisoners; stop the continuing practice of arbitrary arrests; and end torture and inhumane detention conditions.  Eritrea was called on to use recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review as a roadmap.  Some speakers expressed concern that although Eritrea was now a member of the Council, it would not improve its human rights situation.

Speaking were European Union, Angola on behalf of the African Group, Ethiopia, Sudan, United Kingdom, Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Czech Republic, Somalia, Australia, Venezuela, Russian Federation, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Iceland, Iran, China, Greece, Luxembourg, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Hungary and Algeria.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Europe External Programme for Africa; East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project; Advocates for Human Rights; International Fellowship of Reconciliation; Jubilee Campaign; Christian Solidarity Worldwide; Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association; and Human Rights Watch.

Lebanon spoke in a right of reply.

The Council will next meet at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 March, to hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission on South Sudan.

Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea

Opening Remarks

COLY SECK, President of the Human Rights Council, reminded that in its resolution 38/15, the Human Rights Council had decided to hold an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, with the participation of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, civil society and other stakeholders.

Keynote Statements

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that the dialogue came at an important moment, pivotal for the Horn of Africa and for Eritrea, as after a 20-year military stalemate, the signing of the peace agreement with Ethiopia could lay down foundations for resilient peace.  It was a moment that could be seized by the Government to propel forward urgently needed and long-awaited reforms that would lift up human rights for the people of Eritrea, including reforms to its indefinite national service, adoption of a human rights based Constitution, and reforms to enable the introduction of private enterprise that could contribute to the country’s economic and social development. The Deputy High Commissioner appreciated Eritrea’s election to the Human Rights Council, as it signalled new openings for the authorities to fully embrace the responsibilities of the Council membership, including their obligations to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, who could provide expert guidance on ways to advance human rights in the country.  Eritrea had participated in the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in January 2019, with 261 recommendations issued to the Government.  Those combined with the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur and the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights provided an authoritative roadmap to improve the human rights situation in Eritrea.  However, it was regrettable that despite these positive developments, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Eritrea had not seen any improvements in the actual situation of human rights for Eritreans on the ground in the past year. 

Eritrea’s 1997 Constitution had not been enforced, Ms. Gilmore reminded. For the sake of the dignity and protection of its people, the Deputy High Commissioner urged Eritrea to immediately take the necessary steps to correct that.  The Government should tackle rampant impunity, release all those who had been subjected to unlawful and arbitrary detention, and allow civil society and human rights defenders to operate freely.  The right to a fair trial must be respected while information should be provided to family members on the whereabouts of disappeared persons, with families provided access to justice as appropriate.  Eritrea’s ranking in the 2018 world press freedom index remained unchanged compared to last year, whereas the continued use of indefinite national service remained a major human rights concern.  Conscripts continued to confront open-ended duration of service, far beyond the 18 months stipulated by law and often in abusive conditions, which may include the use of torture, sexual violence and forced labour. Eritrea should bring its national service in line with the country’s international human rights obligations, the Deputy High Commissioner emphasized.  In September 2018, the opening of the border with Ethiopia had led to an exodus of Eritreans.  In the absence of promising signs of tangible progress, the flow of asylum-seekers was not expected to drop.

Presenting the Office of the High Commissioner’s actions on Eritrea, Ms. Gilmore reminded that following its last mission to Eritrea in October 2017, the Office had submitted a proposal for technical cooperation focused on reforms that Eritrea could adopt to bring its system of justice in line with international standards. It had further requested permission to visit Eritrea again and it looked forward to hearing back from the authorities on that.  The Working Group on arbitrary detention and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association had also sent requests to visit Eritrea, whereas Eritrea had invited the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the Special Rapporteur on the right to education to carry out visits.  It had also expressed interest in extending invitations to the mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, as well as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.  The Office was ready to visit Eritrea to engage with the Government so that it could provide all the necessary assistance to help improve the human rights situation for the people of Eritrea.  The recent international developments were an historic opportunity to lift up the human rights for the people of Eritrea, Ms. Gilmore stressed.  It was a moment the country’s leadership could seize to demonstrate to the people of Eritrea that peace did indeed yield true dividends in respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

DANIELA KRAVETZ, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, welcomed Eritrea’s membership in the Human Rights Council, which showed a recognition by the Government of the central importance of that United Nations body.  As a member of the Council, Eritrea was duty bound to respect the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.  Eritrea’s membership in the Human Rights Council represented an opportunity for the Government to ensure that its nationals enjoyed all of their rights, including their civil and political rights.  It was also an opportunity to strengthen its rule of law.  Despite making progress, Eritrea had not yet put in place an adequate institutional and legal framework to uphold minimum human rights standards.  It had yet to implement its 1997 Constitution, or to finalize the drafting and adoption of a new Constitution.  Eritrea continued to have no national assembly to discuss and adopt laws regulating basic rights.  There was no independent judiciary to enforce the protection of and respect for these rights.  The country did not allow freedom of press, freedom of association, or freedom of expression.  Freedom of religion, which was central to the ability of people to live together, was in practice not guaranteed for all faiths.

The situation of detainees was particularly concerning.  Many had received no information as to why their relatives had been detained, where they were being held, or when they would be released.  Some had spent over a decade looking for their relatives.  Under international law, detainees had rights.  Those included the right to be brought before a judge, the right to legal counsel, the right to be informed of the charges against them, and the right to family visits.  Those were basic minimum standards.  Last year’s declaration of peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia had created expectations within Eritrea and in the international community that Eritrea would implement reforms.  That had not yet happened.  In particular, there had been no public announcement about a reduction of the duration of the national service or about any demobilization plans.  Progress in promoting civil and political rights must be a critical part of Eritrea’s road to development, and Eritrea must take concrete steps to enable such progress.  The Special Rapporteur urged Eritrea to live up to its international commitments as a member of the Human Rights Council.  She remained willing to engage with Eritrean authorities in a constructive dialogue and cooperation.

TESFAMICAEL GERAHTU, Head of the Eritrean delegation to the fortieth session of the Human Rights Council, said that despite challenges to peace, security and development, including under the pretext of human rights, Eritrea’s ground reality attested there had never been any systematic crisis.  Eritrea was participating in the enhanced interactive dialogue during an important historic development for both Eritrea and the Horn of Africa region.  Eritrea wanted to appraise the Human Rights Council of a ground reality that had been neglected for the last seven years.  There was a people-based political process of nation building, a people-power nexus, in the country.  The negative effect of the last 20 years on the peace, security and development of the Horn of Africa region had been unprecedented, Mr. Gerahtu emphasized.  Eritrea and Ethiopia had signed a peace, friendship and cooperation agreement, intending to harmonize efforts and policies and ensure peaceful coexistence.  The lifting of the United Nations sanctions on Eritrea was a welcome development.  The Government was now focused on three interrelated dimensions: macro-economic stability, comprehensive reorganization, and consolidation of institutions.  Exerting pressure on Eritrea would be counterproductive.  Nevertheless, Eritrea was committed to further strengthen its international cooperation.  In the past eight years, Eritrea had been targeted by protracted country-specific resolutions and mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, which had not created any dividend in the promotion of human rights.  In fact, they had undermined the engagement of Eritrea in the Universal Periodic Review as a viable way to address human rights concerns.  In closing, Mr. Gerahtu called on the Council to terminate the confrontational approach that had lasted for the past seven years because there was no crisis that warranted a special mandate on Eritrea.

VANESSA TSEHAYE, Founder of One Day Seyoum, spoke as niece of Seyoum Tsehaye, a journalist and photographer who had been imprisoned without a trial in Eritrea since 2001.  He was one of the members of the guerrilla group who had fought for the country’s independence and after the war had been won in 1991 he had expected democracy.  In 2001, he had been imprisoned alongside other journalists because he had publicly demanded changes.  The Government’s official response to everything that happened after 2001 was that it was because Ethiopia had no demarcated border.  Without attempting to downplay what the Government had to deal with when facing threats to national security, Ms. Tsehaye said that the response was neither legal nor proportionate.  There was no legal declaration of emergency and the standoff at the border could not justify horrible rapes, torture and other crimes committed, crimes that the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea had classified as crimes against humanity.  It did not justify the fact that the only university in the country had been shut down, that there was no free press, and that tens of thousands of people had been imprisoned without a trial.  It was hard to understand that anyone could take the Government’s justification seriously.  Eight months after the peace deal, the Constitution was still not implemented, and the border was still not demarcated.   There was no transparency about details of the peace agreement.  Hope had an expiration date, and in the case of Eritrea, it was long overdue.  The language of hope was being used to camouflage self-interest at the expense of the wellbeing of the Eritrean people.  Ms. Tsehaye urged the Council to think about the Eritrean people, and the impact that its support had on prolonging their suffering.

DANIEL EYASU, Head of Cooperation and International Relations of the National Youth Union & Eritrean Students, thanked the Human Rights Council for the opportunity to present the voice of Eritrean youth.  With more than 3,000 members, the organization’s aim was to ensure the responsible participation of Eritrean youth in national-building process, national unity and citizenship, and in Eritrea’s future.  The broad, mass-based, extensive nature of the youth network gave it the liberty to provide a concrete representation of the situation in the country.  The organization had provided follow-up to the Universal Periodic Review recommendations to Eritrea, and it had been involved in the preparation and compilation of reports.  Mr. Eyasu noted that the Eritrean people, particularly youth, had paid a huge price for the 20 years of instability.  The national service was critical for nation building and its characterization in the reports of the Council’s special procedures as modern slavery was unwarranted, unjustified and unacceptable.  It was incumbent on everyone to recognize the need for the whole of society to participate in the responsibility of burden sharing.  The Government had demobilized over 100,000 members of the national service in 2003, Mr. Eyasu pointed out.  The Council should recognize that Eritrea had achieved significant progress, despite many challenges.  He reiterated that there was no human rights crisis in Eritrea and he urged the Council to consider any issues through the Universal Periodic Review process. 

Interactive Dialogue

European Union said it stood ready to support Eritrea’s investment in jobs, in support of efforts to demobilize the military.  It encouraged Eritrea to support the establishment of an office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country and to engage with the Special Rapporteur in her work.  Angola, speaking on behalf of the African Group, considered the peace agreements between the Horn of Africa countries as an essential development in the region.  It called on Eritrea and the United Nations mechanisms to continue their ongoing cooperation in a constructive manner.  Ethiopia stated that the peace declaration and the various commitments signed by countries in the Horn of Africa would contribute to the protection of human rights.  It encouraged Eritrea to engage with the international community, including with the Human Rights Council, to ensure that human rights were upheld.

Sudan believed that the optimal way to promote human rights was through a non-biased and non-politicized approach, and through the provision of technical assistance.  It encouraged Eritrea to continue its engagement with the international community, and it called for technical assistance to be extended to Eritrea.  United Kingdom urged Eritrea to engage with the Special Rapporteur, given its obligations as a member of the Council, and to address the large scale detentions in the country, as set out by the Special Rapporteur.  It also urged the Government to reform its military service to place limits on its terms.  Belgium welcomed the recent efforts made by Eritrea in normalizing its relationship with Ethiopia, and expressed hope that the normalization would encourage Eritrean authorities to undertake reforms.  Those should address the unlimited length of military service, human trafficking and violence against women.

Croatia was pleased to see an improvement of Eritrea’s relationships with other countries, but called on the Government to expedite work on reforms.  Croatia called on Eritrea to use recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review as a roadmap for achieving that goal.  Germany welcomed the peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which offered a unique chance for regional stability.  It called on Eritrea to end involuntary conscription, release all political prisoners, stop the continued practice of arbitrary arrests, and end torture and inhumane detention conditions.  Czech Republic urged the Government of Eritrea to organize general elections in accordance with international democratic standards, as the last elections were in 1993.  Had the Rapporteur witnessed any improvement in Eritrea’s cooperation with her mandate?

Somalia noted that a new chapter of regional cooperation was taking place in the Horn of Africa and it acknowledged Eritrea’s progress in improving the standard of living.  However, more needed to be done to improve women’s representation in decision-making process and Somalia encouraged Eritrea to cooperate with the human rights mechanisms.  Australia remained concerned about reports of forced labour and indefinite national service.  Reports of torture and arbitrary and indefinite detention were alarming, and Australia thus called on Eritrea to uphold the international human rights conventions and to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur.  Venezuela opposed the imposition of country-specific mandates, noting that the Universal Periodic Review was the best mechanism to improve the human rights situation in countries.  The United Nations had to provide support to Eritrea in order for it to fulfil the recommendations.

Russian Federation observed that the discussion of the human rights situation in Eritrea was not objective, noting that it was led by outside forces who had an interest in destabilizing the region.  The steady development of relations between Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti was welcome, and any issues of human rights should be discussed in a constructive setting, such as the Universal Periodic Review.  Netherlands remained concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea, particularly the indefinite national service, allegations of arbitrary detention, and allegations of the use of illicit means by Eritrea to collect diaspora tax from its nationals abroad.  Netherlands urged Eritrea to build on the positive momentum and to accelerate necessary domestic reforms.  France noted that despite some improvements in education and health policies, Eritrea should take all measures to improve the human rights situation in the country, put an end to the national service, and improve the respect of fundamental freedoms of its citizens.

Switzerland said that despite the signing of the peace agreement, the human rights situation in Eritrea remained worrying.  It urged Eritrea to grant access to the Special Rapporteur, to demonstrate a real intention to cooperate with all the human rights mechanisms, and to act on all the recommendations in its Universal Periodic Review.  Iceland stated that for progress to be made in Eritrea, comprehensive domestic reforms were needed and the 1997 constitution should be fully implemented.  Iceland urged Eritrea to grant access to all international human rights mechanisms and instruments.  Iran voiced its opposition to the politicization of human rights by singling out countries through non-constructive mandates.  The Government of Eritrea faced many challenges in attaining international human rights standards; the role of the Council should be supportive rather than punitive.

China believed that Eritrea had improved the living conditions of vulnerable groups, including women and children.  China understood the challenges it faced as a developing country, and it called on the international community to view Eritrea’s human rights situation in that context.  Greece called on Eritrea to ensure the unimpeded work of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society in general.  It expressed concern about the indefinite and compulsory nature of its national service.  Luxembourg stated that the recent reconciliation between Eritrea and Ethiopia had given rise to hope, and it called on the authorities in Eritrea to bring about human rights changes.  The indefinite military service was a human rights issue that greatly damaged the international image of the country and discouraged international investment.

Norway believed that the new dynamics in the Horn of Africa had raised hope for peace and normalization of relations, including improved human rights.  It welcomed the willingness of the Government of Eritrea to engage with the international community.  Saudi Arabia welcomed the positive developments between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which had culminated with the signing of the Jeddah Peace Accord of 2018, heralding the new era of peace and stability in the region.  Saudi Arabia commended Eritrea’s efforts to promote human rights, in spite of multiple challenges.  Djibouti believed that the opportunities provided by the peace and reconciliation developments in the Horn of Africa were significant.  Djibouti had authorized the review of all individual cases of Eritrean prisoners of war held in Djiboutian prisons, but it remained concerned about the lack of information about the 13 remaining Djiboutian prisoners of war in Eritrea.

Hungary said that the election of Eritrea to the Council could be an opportunity for it to strengthen cooperation with human rights mechanisms.  How could the Government of Eritrea be engaged to take forward institutional and legal reforms in the human rights area?  Algeria welcomed positive dynamics in the Horn of Africa and urged countries involved to continue on the path of peace.  Authorities were invited to constructively engage with the Office of the High Commissioner and the international community to provide adequate technical assistance.

Europe External Programme for Africa said that in 2018, the long-standing stalemate with Ethiopia had been resolved.  This situation had been persistently cited by the Eritrean Government to supress rights and freedoms.  Concern was expressed that the election of Eritrea to the Council might be used as a shield to hide the problematic record of human rights violations.  East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project said that the opening of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border was positive for people of the region.  However, grave concerns remained over Eritrea’s domestic human rights situation and Eritrea was urged to engage with the United Nations human rights system.  Advocates for Human Rights drew attention to the forced military service and arbitrary detention, as many asylum seekers continued to flee from such situations in Eritrea.  Arrests and detentions, without clear legal charges, solely due to connections to those that criticized the Government, were regularly reported.  International Fellowship of Reconciliation noted that nothing had changed on the human rights front since Eritrea became a member of the Council and signed the peace agreement with Ethiopia.  Peace had removed the only justification for the indefinite military and national service, but there had been no end to the endless forced conscription and over 10,000 prisoners of conscience were incarcerated in inhuman conditions.

Jubilee Campaign drew the Council’s attention to the lack of freedom of religion and belief in Eritrea.  It highlighted the imprisonment of civilians for belonging to unregistered Christian denominations, including Jehovah Witnesses, Pentecostal Christians and Seventh Day Adventists, and called for their immediate release.  Christian Solidarity Worldwide welcomed the improved relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia but was surprised that Catholic priests were not able to leave the country to participate in a church summit.  It called for the immediate release of all those detained because of their religious beliefs and the creation of judicial mechanisms to hold identified perpetrators accountable.  Maat for Peace, Development, and Human Rights Association stated that in addition to national service, shrinking civil society and crack downs, grave human rights violations against thousands Eritreans were perpetrated when then tried to leave the country.  It recommended that Eritrea elaborate a strategy to promote the safe return of displaced people and to grant access to international human rights mechanisms and non-governmental organizations.   Human Rights Watch regretted that there was little evidence that oppression in Eritrea had subsided since the signing of the peace agreement and highlighted that the Council’s Commission of Inquiry had labelled Eritrea’s national service as enslavement.  It asked the delegation to outline a timetable for the demobilisation of its conscripts and to indicate whether it would allow the Special Rapporteur access to carry out her mandate.

Concluding Remarks

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she understood the need to extend the technical cooperation with Eritrea, adding that the Office of the High Commissioner had met with the delegation of Eritrea last week.  The commitment was in place by the Office of the High Commissioner to extend support to Eritrea and work together in the administration of justice.  Further meetings were expected to discuss details.  The Government’s outreach to the Special Procedures was welcomed.

DANIELA KRAVETZ, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said that peace with Ethiopia represented a chance to put an end to the indefinite national service and to focus on institution building and empowering civil society.  The lack of an adequate institutional and legal framework was the major barrier; the lack of a constitution, of a national assembly, and of a system of checks and balances.  As she only started her mandate in November, the Special Rapporteur said she had made a few requests to meet with the delegation and so far no response was received, but she hoped that this would change soon.  The situation of detainees was a particularly important issue, and it had to be a top priority.  Human rights should be at the centre of development and economic projects, and States were urged to consider a human rights perspective when initiating international cooperation.  The mandate included the development of benchmarks and a time plan for Eritrea going forward, so States were invited to share their inputs, and the delegation of Eritrea was particularly called on to share their input.

TESFAMICAEL GERAHTU, Head of the Eritrean delegation to the fortieth session of the Human Rights Council, disagreed with the way Eritrea was portrayed in the interactive dialogue.  Eritrea was ready to seize the opportunity presented by its membership of the Council, but he regretted that the difficult situation that the country had been in over the past 20 years had been downplayed, which was unacceptable.  The repeated comments made by some speakers, who expected changes overnight, were unrealistic.  The offensive language used regarding forced conscription was wrong, and did not recognize that the military service had served to assert national survival in a time of hostilities.  Nevertheless, transformation was underway to make changes to the national service in Eritrea, such as efforts to reintegrate national service recruits, even though these were not mentioned in the interactive dialogue.  The membership of Eritrea in the Council was about responsibility for everybody.  They were not in the Council to defend themselves, but to make modest progress, to detoxify the atmosphere in the Council, and to work with others to bring about changes.  In addressing the criticism that Eritrea had not engaged with the Special Rapporteur, Mr. Gerahtu indicated they had requested to meet her here in Geneva.

VANESSA TSEHAYE, Founder of One Day Seyoum, addressed the issue of the politicization of human rights.  The Eritrean delegate had created a false dichotomy between the Government and the international community, and he forgot one important group, the Eritrean people.  The Eritrean people had no interest in politicizing their situation, or the human rights abuses that they were being subjected to.  The Eritrean delegate spoke of the national service programme as part of his reality, but he was not the one in the camps, and was not the one serving his country indefinitely.  The Eritrean people should remain front and centre of this discussion, and they should not get stuck in the hypocrisy of countries that was well known before and after the Council.

Right of Reply

Lebanon, speaking in a right of reply in response to allegations made by Israel during the interactive dialogue on Iran, said Israel was taking advantage of the debates in the Council for its own agenda, to disguise that they were occupying territories, including parts of Lebanon.  Groups in Lebanon operated in line with the law and they were not terrorist groups.

For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/19/31E

Source=https://eritreahub.org/eritrean-government-argees-to-meet-un-human-rights-special-rapporteur

Congressional Delegation Returns From Africa

Wednesday, 06 March 2019 22:39 Written by

March 5, 2019

Press Release
WASHINGTON – Today, Representative Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, and Representatives Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) returned from a Congressional Delegation (CODEL) to Ethiopia and Eritrea. The goal of the visit was to support regional peace and security in the Horn of Africa and to encourage countries to place human rights at the center of the reforms.

“It was important our first Congressional Delegation trip of this Congress be to the Horn of Africa because of the change the region is going through following the historic peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea that ended 20 years of conflict,” said Representative Bass. “Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came into office with a serious reform agenda aimed at ending political repression. Since coming into office, the Prime Minister has freed thousands of political prisoners, opened the media, and appointed women to half of the cabinet posts. I was in Ethiopia shortly after the Prime Minister took office and looked forward to an update on his progress. Our delegation was fortunate to meet with the President of Ethiopia and several of the new female cabinet members.  

“In addition to wanting to send the signal that we support Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s reform agenda, our delegation was also meant to encourage the new peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The last U.S. Congressional Delegation to visit the country was in 2005, when my predecessor on the Subcommittee, the late Congressman Donald Payne of New Jersey, traveled to Eritrea. Our delegation had a number of productive conversations with Eritrean government officials. We discussed the need for transformation and urged officials to be vigilant about human rights abuses in Eritrea and to implement respect for civil liberties. We also discussed Eritrea’s unlimited national service requirement, which is one of the main reasons why thousands have fled the country. The government officials we met with informed us that the policy is under review now that the security situation in Eritrea has improved. We also met with young Eritreans and were able to hear about their daily lives and their hope for the future. 

“This Congressional Delegation to the Horn of Africa was critical because it signals to the region as a whole that we are supportive of positive reforms.”

“I echo Chairwoman Bass’ statement, and appreciated the opportunity to join her on this diplomatic CODEL trip to Ethiopia and Eritrea,” said Representative Neguse. “I look forward to further discussions with my colleagues and the State Department on how to further promote peace, security, human rights, and democratic reforms in the region.”  

“I was impressed with the regional thaw in East Africa after Eritrea and Ethiopia made peace,” said Representative Omar. “As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, my focus has been on peace and human rights and shifting our focus on humanitarian aid to developmental aid. It was a great honor to join Chairwoman Bass for the first official CODEL to the Horn of Africa. America has been supportive of Prime Minister Abiy’s reform agenda, and I believe we must use this opportunity to foster prosperity in the region and make investments that will fundamentally transform our relationship with the region.”

Source=https://bass.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congressional-delegation-returns-africa

 

Addis Abeba, March 05/2019 – This has been an eventful year for Ethiopia’s politics. Under Abiy Ahmed Ali, who became Prime Minister in April 2018, 

Visiting Eritrean President and Ethiopian PM wave hands for crwods gathered to welcome them at Juba Airport on 4 March 2019 (Photo SSPPU)
March 4, 2019 (JUBA) - Eritrea, Ethiopia and South Sudan leader Monday have agreed to bolster regional integration and work coordinate position on regional and international issues.

President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia paid a one-day visit to Juba where they received by President Salva Kiir.

In a joint communiqué issued at the end of the visit, the three leaders pointed to the need to consolidate peace implementation in South Sudan and to "seek to coordinate the positions of the three countries on both Regional and Global issues"

On the regional integration, the joint statement said they three leaders tasked their foreign ministers and other relevant government agencies "to work out the common projects that will facilitate the attainment of the goal of Regional Economic integration and shared prosperity".

Citing the office of the Prime Minister, the Ethiopian News Agency said that the three leaders would hold talks on regional peace, economic ties and infrastructure development, and ways to develop joint capacities and working together in an integrated manner.

The official agency stressed that the visit "comes in the framework of the regional efforts to consolidate economic and political integration of the East African region which has been initiated by Premier Abiy".

In the Sudanese capital, the presidency did not issue a statement to explain why Abiy did not make a stop at Khartoum airport as announced on Sunday to meet President al-Bashir on his way to Juba.

(ST)

Source=http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article67164

Eritrea Liberty Magazine Issue No. 55

Saturday, 02 March 2019 22:12 Written by

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)

March 1, 2019 (KHARTOUM) - The Joint Sudanese-Ethiopian Higher Committee (JSEHC) has agreed to complete the border demarcation between the two countries as soon as possible.

On Thursday, the JSEHC concluded its meeting in Khartoum. The final communiqué was signed by Sudan’s Vice-President Osman Kibir and Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime, Minister, Demeke Mekonnen.

Speaking at a joint press conference following the end of the talks, Kibir praised efforts of the joint technical committee between the two countries, saying the two sides have agreed on all issues under discussion.

He pointed out that meeting stressed the need to activate all joint mechanisms and committees, saying the two sides agreed on the need to complete the demarcation of the joint border.

Sudan’s Vice-President also said the meeting enhanced the already strong ties between the two countries, pointing to the importance of promoting relations among the border regions.

For his part, the Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister said the meeting would strengthen bilateral relations on all levels.

He pointed out that the joint committees play an important role in promoting bilateral ties, saying the two countries enjoy deep and historical relations.

Mekonnen further said the two sides agreed to activate the rest of the joint political, social and security committees, expressing keenness to implement all agreements reached during the meeting.

Ethiopia and Sudan are engaged more and more in joint security, military and economic cooperation.

In April 2017, the two sides signed a number of joint agreements to promote economic relations and strengthen ties between the two countries.

Also in February 2018, they signed multiple agreements to further boost up cooperation on a range of development activities.

In March 2012, al-Bashir announced his support to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), saying his government understands the mutual benefits the project could offer Ethiopia and Sudan.

Although Khartoum and Addis Ababa have close ties, the border area between the two countries remains a source of tension and violence between the two sides due to the human trafficking and smuggling to reach Egypt and Libya.

Also, Ethiopian farmers are accused by the Sudanese farmers of occupying vast agricultural land in the Al-Fashqa area of Gedaref State.

The third issue until recently was Ethiopian rebels who sneak over the border coming from Eritrea. Many have been detained and handed over to the Ethiopian authorities.

Last month, there were media reports that Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister, Workneh Gebeyehu, has warned that Sudan’s failure to curb continued arms smuggling into Ethiopia through its border may lead to cutting diplomatic relations.

However, the Ethiopian government has dismissed these reports as unfounded saying the Foreign Minister’s remarks were taken out of context.

In October 2017, the security committee between Sudan’s Gedaref state and Ethiopia’s Amhara region decided to recommend to the leadership of the two countries to deploy a joint force along the border.

Last August, the Sudanese and Ethiopian armies signed an agreement to withdraw troops from both sides of the border and to deploy joint forces to combat "terrorism", human trafficking and to eliminate any potential security tensions. But it was not clear if effective steps have been taken towards its deployment.

It is noteworthy that the current borders between Sudan and Ethiopia were drawn by the British and Italian colonisers in 1908. The two governments have agreed in the past to redraw the borders and to promote joint projects between people from both sides for the benefit of local populations.

The JSEHC announced in December 2013 that it reached an agreement to end disputes between farmers from two sides of the border over the ownership of agricultural land.

In November 2014, the former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and President al-Bashir instructed their Foreign Ministers to fix a date for resuming the border demarcation. The operation had stopped following the death of Ethiopia’s former premier, Meles Zenawi.

(ST)

Source=http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article67151

February 27, 2019 Ethiopia, News

“Popular concerns are increasing about the government’s apparent powerlessness to curtail the growing climate of violence, as is the disillusionment of the literati and civil society elites. The advocates of a classic model of liberal democratization feel increasingly impotent. They believe they can do nothing other than support Abiy and keep silent over the multiple criticisms that they level at him in private, because they are convinced that to express them in public, or to mobilize their adherents, would simply throw oil on the fire. One of them sums up their dilemma in the following way: ‘Abiy is in the driving seat of the bus; if he is pushed out, no one will be able to replace him; the bus will end up in the ditch.'”

Source: Open Democracy

If the Prime Minister chooses to lean on his personal popularity, could he obtain and sustain enough political support ? There is no easy answer or quick fix to the gathering predicament.

lead lead Abiy Ahmed welcomed at Brandenburg Gate before summit on private investment in Africa launched by Angela Merkel as President of G20. Kay Nietfeld/ Press Association, October, 2018. All rights reserved.

In Ethiopia today, most political forces keep repeating the same mantra: we need to get everything in place for free and fair polls in 2020. Elections are heralded as the last crucial stepping-stone to the completion of a democratic transition that is believed to definitively turn the page on the authoritarian order and struggling ethnic federal system established in 1991.

Taking the long view, one might wonder whether holding elections on schedule and under acceptable conditions will really give birth to the new, fair, and stable order as promised, given the political fragmentation and polarization observed in Ethiopia today. In the short-term, however, this mantra raises two questions: Are the political parties publicly advocating for the election to go ahead as planned really committed to that stance? And are they acting as if it is their sincere desire?

While last year’s dismantling of the ‘TPLF system’ was lightning fast and radical, the construction of the framework needed to hold competitive elections is erratic and slow.  Work was announced by the ‘old’ EPRDF during the height of the protests 18 months ago, but pushed as a priority shortly after Abiy Ahmed took office. Yet revising two of the three big anti-freedom laws (terrorism and media) is still ongoing, as is the revision of election laws and the regulatory framework for the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE).

The work on the electoral system hadn’t gone much further than a draft bill and the appointment of a new chairperson of the board. Agreement has only just been reached on “the procedure to conduct and regulate the upcoming negotiations and discussions” between the government and the plethora of registered parties. Yet it is via the NEBE that Abiy Ahmed proposed to restart the dialogue between EPRDF and the opposition after the burial of the Political Parties Negotiations Forum, set up in January 2017. In late December, NEBE itself sounded the alarm: “delays in pre-election preparations may create hectic schedule to hold the much anticipated general elections in 2020.”

Sensitive census

The immensity of the task at hand may partly explain this procrastination. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome. The national census is planned for April and its outcome is crucial for credible elections. Highly sensitive issues are at stake.

Close to three million people are now internally displaced. The census will count the number in each of the “nations, nationalities and peoples”, which carries highly significant political and economic weight in a federal system. It will also assess the ethnic composition in mixed areas. But for the first time, no one will be forced to choose an ethnic identity, and can instead register as “Ethiopian” or of “mixed ethnic heritage”. This may prove confusing for the ethnic quota system.

Furthermore, the Constitution states that it is “on the basis of the census results” that “the boundaries of constituencies are determined”. This may appear as a recipe for continued ethnic conflicts and demographic rearrangements (read, ‘cleansing’); or ‘ethnic ownership’ of cities such as Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Harar, and Hawassa. Hence, will existing ethnic tensions prevent completion of the census, or, more likely, preclude its findings from being widely accepted?

In addition, the work of the newly created Administrative Boundaries and Identity Issues Commission, or the ongoing demand of different zones in the SNNP to become states, could impact the election’s organization. In particular, will the Sidama statehood claim complicate the election process, as it seems unlikely that the Sidama will accept a postponement of their presumed right to establish their own region? So far NEBE has not started to prepare for a referendum on this question, although they are required to do so within a year of the request, which was made in June/July. Sidama activists are demanding that the process must be obeyed. A separate Sidama state would add additional burdens on NEBE to prepare for elections in the southern region, as a new electoral map would need to be drawn.

Delayed reaction

The herculean task ahead of the NEBE to put its house in order to facilitate a “free and fair ” election in just 15 months’ time has allegedly led to discreet discussions at the center to possibly postpone them for about six months until after the main rainy season. However, whatever they publicly say, for a substantial proportion of political forces, creating suitable conditions for timely elections does not genuinely seem a priority. This position is dictated by beliefs and/or interests.

Let us recall first that in the 2005 election, the only one under EPRDF to have been relatively free, people voted primarily for a party, embodied by a leader, and took practically no interest in the candidate representing their local electoral constituency. The vast majority probably did not even know the names of the local candidates. Thirteen years on, however, some strong representatives, linked with varying degrees to the opposition, have emerged locally, especially during the last few years of widespread protests. This time, voters may be more influenced by these figures than by party leaders in Addis Ababa. And, let’s not forget, the Prime Minister is not on the ballot; it is the House of People’s Representatives that elects the premier from among its members.

Some are convinced that elections can only occur as the culmination of a democratic transition. The recent proliferation of articles pleading for a postponement, for different reasons, is symptomatic of this trend. For example, they should only be heldafter the public has regained its trust in the democratic institutions of the nation… There is a danger in allowing incumbents to stay in office beyond the mandated limit, but there is just as much peril in pushing forward with an election before the foundations for a democratic nation are laid.”

Building these new foundations by May 2020 is an impossible task, given the dearth of reforms completed so far and the disorganization and fragmentation of deeply conflicting political forces. So, how could a democratic transition be managed, according to those calling for elections to be postponed? For its promoters, by a transitional government only. The question of the elections should be shelved until comprehensive institutional reforms are completed and consolidated.

But this logic returns us to the same obstacle: are the present political forces cohesive enough to reach a consensus on how trustworthy democratic institutions should be designed, when simply agreeing on an electoral roadmap has been so laborious?

Systemic opposition

Above all, too many factions and figures believe that elections on the due date and under current rules would be fatal. First among these are the “unitarians” or “pan-Ethiopianists” who prize “Ethiopianness” above all else. In private, they cite years of harassment, even prohibition, as a reason why they should be given ample time to rebuild their constituency and party platform and why the elections should be postponed. But their reasons go deeper. Some of them never accepted ethnic federalism. Yet the most important issue is their observation that radical ethno-nationalist parties currently dominate the political stage.

Some extremist positions are presented. To prevent the next elections being “dominated by over ninety percent of ethnic based parties”, there should even be a ban on “all ethnicity based political parties from participating in electoral politicssome even argue. Without going as far as this, the dominant current within this political segment is surreptitiously pushing to prevent the victory of a “block” of ethnic and resolutely ethnofederalist parties, and at the same time for measures to be taken against the growing insecurity in the country. They argue consistently for the establishment of a sort of special transitional regime. Parliament would be mothballed and the executive would govern by decree.[1]

The new alliance created around Ginbot 7 is the spearhead of the “unitarians”. However, the situation is nothing like 2005, when the Amhara region, Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, and parts of the South – in particular Gurage area – were their bastions. It is likely that they would still attract urban votes – Addis Ababa in particular – and from segments of the South, primarily Gurage. But the newly established National Movement for Amhara (NaMA) has the wind in its sails, partly as the ruling Amhara Democratic Party is widely discredited. The growth of Amhara nationalism would diminish Ginbot 7’s support in the region. Elsewhere, they would probably be even less popular, except in urban centers with strong Amhara – or rather ‘Ethiopianised’ – populations.

Party moves

A similar scenario may also face Abiy’s Oromo Democratic Party (ODP). The stigma of being the EPRDF flag bearer may haunt it. We have not met any Ethiopian who is currently a die-hard defender of EPRDF; rather, the opposite – it is generally despised. The ODP political machine, for instance, is so disparaged that a majority of informed observers think the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), possibly in alliance with the Oromo Federalist Congress, might win a majority of federal seats in Oromia.

In the Southern Nation, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State (SNNPRS), the governing party, the Southern Ethiopian Peoples’ Democratic Movement (SEPDM) is a shambles, as the region’s integrity crumbles. Mismanagement, internal power struggles, the stepping down of former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn as chairperson, and a host of other issues, have left SEPDM in such disarray that most southern observers claim that it no longer de facto exists.

Paradoxically, the only EPRDF party that has more or less sustained its cohesion and regained its grassroots support is the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Strong criticism from the grassroots was articulated against the leadership for mismanagement, corruption and lack of delivery. Certain corrective measures have been undertaken, foremost of these the change of leadership. However, the turn of events elsewhere in Ethiopia, and the more or less open persecution of all things Tigrayan as a consequence of collective blame for the authoritarian streak of TPLF/EPRDF rule since 1991, has led the Tigrayan people to ‘circle the wagons’ for individual as well as collective protection.

Tigrayans are convinced that the only agent strong enough to provide this protection in the uncertain terrain into which Ethiopia is heading is the TPLF; hence its absolute dominance at the ballot box in 2020 seems guaranteed. The Tigrayan opposition parties Arena and Tand are in talks of a merger, also possibly including the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement. Although they may gather some protest votes, it seems unlikely they will pose any threat as a constituency level anywhere in Tigray.

In short, if the political landscape and electoral system remains the same and if a free and fair election is conducted, which is highly questionable as things stand today, then EPRDF – with the exception of TPLF in Tigray – can feel nothing but dread about the possibility of elections in 2020; and consequently Abiy Ahmed about his chances of continuing as Prime Minister.

Ambiguous Abiy

As on so many other points, Abiy Ahmed’s public position is ambiguous.

Heading a federalist party, he has nevertheless made repeated statements and moves which were godsends for the “unitarians”. Abiy’s emphasis on ‘medemer’ – Ethiopian ‘synergy’ or ‘oneness’, is permeating all his speeches, as well as his intentions to reconnect Eritrea, one way or the other, to Ethiopia; making both his own qeerroo constituency and Eritrean nationalists nervous.

And according to a report about the last session of the EPRDF Executive Committee, “the chairman of the ruling party does not seem to have made up his mind whether to let the national elections be conducted on schedule.” His game is obviously to keep things vague in order to hold two irons in the fire, one in each camp, each totally opposed to each other on this subject. On the one hand, he has allegedly stated at a forum with 81 opposition parties that “constitutional amendment, if necessary, will only happen after first having a legitimately elected government with the mandate to govern.

On the other hand, there are multiple rumours about his intention to switch to a presidential system. He declared: “eighty people in the Council of the EPRDF made me PM,[2] even though there are 100 million Ethiopians. We need to open up the leadership to direct elections.” Apparently he recently asked the Attorney General’s Office to prepare a legal brief on this matter, and he all but admitted his ambitions in his recent first major interview with the international media. This would be the major card he could play, in fact his trump card, in order to stay in charge of the country, since there is no other national figure likely to overshadow him.

Bulcha Demeksa, a veteran Oromo figure who still has a certain political stature, has always advocated for a presidential system. It is gaining adherents in Oromia, in particular because the Oromo are the most numerous ethnic community and direct suffrage would increase their chances of getting one of their own to the pinnacle of government. A move to a presidential regime is also advocated by the “unitarians”, including Berhanu Nega, head of Ginbot 7, due to a belief it would have a national unifying dynamic.

Federalist unity

At the other extreme, a pivot to a presidential system is rejected by all those who fought dearly for ethnic federalism and who believe that they would benefit under the current system. This is the case in particular for the resolutely federalist dominant camp ­– not to say confederalist forces – such as OLF, OFC, TPLF, and most parties from the so-called ‘peripheral regions’ of Afar, Somali, Benishangul-Gumuz and Gambella. Nevertheless, some of them, particularly among the former outlawed parties, are considering that a brief electoral postponement would be welcome to help them reinforce their positions.

In the face of this stalemate, the political class, whether in power or in the opposition, seems unwilling or unable to break it. There are absolutely fundamental disagreements among the political forces, mainly on the role of ethnicity and the degree of devolution in the federal system, and on the shift to neoliberalism. They lack sufficient cohesion and coherence to rise to most of the challenges they face. The autocratic rule of former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi undermined the collective leadership model of EPRDF after the 2001 split, and authoritarianism devastated the political opposition.

After Abiy Ahmed’s rise to power ended the wave of protests, there is a popular impetus and mobilization to move towards a liberal democratic system, similar to those in countries escaping from an authoritarian regime. However, the mismatch between this business-as-usual approach and the gravity of the country’s situation is striking.

At the federal level, the ruling group comes down to a handful of persons under the thumb of a Prime Minister who is the sole embodiment of power. He is hyperactive and hyper-visible, but is busy with routine tasks. Day after day, he receives foreign VIPs, travels frequently to foreign countries, speaks to various groups, inaugurates… But to the best of our knowledge, he has for instance yet to visit any of the IDP camps scattered across the country; and to tackle head-on the primary crisis of security in Ethiopia.

Instead the PM is focusing on his top priority of resuming high growth, running after potential investors, mainly foreigners, as if the political crisis is in the process of being resolved. Thus he acts in accordance with the analysis of the former government for which the root cause of unrest was the lack of jobs, mainly for the youth.

Collective irresponsibility

Addis Fortune noted an incongruity that “best describes Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.” Addressing an audience of Ethiopian financiers who expected to be discussing “the most important subject” in their eyes – the faltering economy – Abiy Ahmed asked them to put their hands in their pockets to contribute to two tourist amenities in Addis Ababa, together representing a sum of more than $1.2 billion.

Lemma Megersa, President of Oromia, recently travelled to the Netherlands, accompanied by Gedu Andargachew, President of the Amhara region, “to familiarize with some of the Dutch companies active in Ethiopia.” The other ministers are largely invisible, except to some extent Workneh Gebeyehu, at Foreign Affairs. For example two new key ministers, the Minister of Peace, responsible, among other things, for all the security services, and the Minister of Defense, both with no previous experience in their field, are hardly visible in the public domain, although their portfolios are crucial.

The opposition leaders occasionally speak up here and there, mainly to complain about the slow pace of reform, but seem incapacitated or powerless to assume an active position as checks-and-balances to power and push efficiently for genuine democratization. At the same time, these same leaders, whatever their allegiance, are quite ready to claim that the house is on fire, that Ethiopia is on the edge of the precipice and at risk of sinking into a Yugoslavia scenario.

True, the agreement reached between OLF and ODP to put an end to their confrontations, notably in Wollega, sends a positive signal. However, it remains to be seen whether it will be applied by all the Oromo Liberation Army units, many of which are semi-autonomous, and whether the young Oromo activists who recently took up arms to form the mass of the combatants in Wollega will agree to disarm. The Somali region is beginning to heave again. There is a renewal of tensions between Afar and Issa. The conflict – and reportedly mass evictions and killings  – between the Amhara authorities and the Quemant is still ongoing, without any official comment or intervention from the federal government.

In Tigray, the Raya grievance remains tense. Concomitantly NaMA and Amhara nationalists are mobilizing to reclaim Wolkait and Raya areas of Tigray, as they are seen as Amhara lands. In addition, the incorporation of Metekel Zone into Benishangul-Gumuz after 1991 is criticized on the ground that it was historically part of Gojjam. A cold war between Amhara and Tigray is in effect, as their border is securitized and crossing it is restricted, as local Amhara vigilantes erratically prevent personnel and goods going to and from Tigray; most has to be re-routed through Afar region. Former chief of staff Tsadkan Gebretensae, a TPLF veteran thrown out of the party after the 2001 split, known for his levelheadedness, has declared that: “a war [between Tigray and the Amhara region] seems at the zenith of the chaotic situation.”

Displacement activities

Ethnic confrontations, far from diminishing or even stabilizing, are becoming worse. The number of IDPs driven out by conflict has risen from 1.47 to 1.77 million in the last two months. “The country registered one of the fastest growing internally displaced population (IDPs) in the world in 2018”. A recent report puts even this figure as at least 2.4 million: “more than 80 per cent of the at least 3 million IDPs in the country… cited inter-communal violence as the primary driver of displacement”.[3]

Although information on the ground is patchy, not a day goes by without news of civilians being killed here or there by unidentified “gunmen” or by the security forces. Arms-trafficking is exploding,[4] and reportedly gunshots are heard during the nights in cities across Amhara region as people are testing their newly purchased arms.[5] The prices for Kalashnikovs and hand-guns are skyrocketing. The police, whether federal or regional, have ceased to play their full role. The army seems to be the only solution in the event of significant disorder. But there are also some worrying signs that the new “Republican Guard” special force may develop in parallel to the armed forces and is commanded directly by the Prime Minister.

The economy has ground to a halt: the 8 per cent growth forecast for the current fiscal year is probably an over-estimate for two main reasons: insecurity, and as Abiy has decided to turn his back on the developmental state strategy to embrace neo-liberalism. But this U-turn is so sudden and unprepared that its management is chaotic. A close observer of Ethiopia’s economic performances and development since the Derg period draws a parallel with the radical policy shifts seen in the economic sector that happened after Trump’s takeover in the U.S.. Whatever policy Obama had pursued, even if it was working well, was thrown out regardless. Apparently the same is happening in Addis. Ethiopian neo-liberals are called home and given authority to redesign the economic sector. The brain behind Ethiopia’s industrial park program, Arekbe Oqubay, is reportedly sidelined, and with him institutional memory is lost.[6]

The dollar is shooting up again on the black market (now c.37/38 to the dollar, while official exchange is 28), exports have declined by 10 per cent and FDI has fallen by half compared with the same period last year. Ethiopia will not be able to reimburse its loans without restructuring, the industrial parks are failing to keep their promises in terms of both exports and jobs.

Divided rule

So the political class recognizes that the situation is dire, but does not take proportionate action. It seems neither willing nor capable of rising to the challenges – to prioritise – but jumps from one issue to the next without proper empirically underpinned policy planning, accountable decision-making processes, and speedy institutionalization. It is hanging in the air, as if it would be in charge of a virtual country, a country in a tranquil situation. A smart but disillusioned observer close to the political class, including the top players, reveals that they are locked in “pathetic short-term political calculations.”[7]

In this flux, Abiy is said to have informed the EPRDF Executive Committee meeting that the opposition is “highly fragmented and occupied by mutual squabbleshence little worry about their capacity to challenge the ruling party on the electoral front”, which could thus expect “a landslide victory”. This harks back to a similar statement a month before the 2005 elections, when Meles Zenawi was asked by French officials during his visit in Paris about the election outcome. He smiled and responded: “It will be a formality”[8]

All observers agree that the EPRDF is more divided and polarized than at any previous time. Even key leaders and politburo members of EPRDF admit in private that “the party is dead[9], even if it is the only surviving power pole at national level. By way of illustration, although they are supposed to form part of the same coalition, ADP and TPLF are at daggers drawn. The Tigray assembly, composed exclusively of TPLF members, yet with two ministers in the federal government, declared the formation of the Administrative Boundaries and Identity Issues Commission – an institution backed by the head of the government and approved by parliament – to be unconstitutional and void in matters related to Tigray.

An arrest warrant issued against Getachew Assefa, former chief of the federal security services, has not been executed, and Getachew remains a member of TPLF’s politburo and at large. Most recently, at the Yekatit celebrations commemorating the 44th anniversary of TPLF, the chair Debretsion Gebremichael made his most critical statement against the federal government and the PM to date; calling all federalist forces to stand together against the chauvinist rule in the palace. He stressed that TPLF and Tigray will take all necessary measures to defend the constitutional framework and Tigray region.[10]

It is no surprise, then, that the lines of authority that EPRDF maintained between the federal government and the regions, as well as within the regions, have disappeared to the point that in many places the exercise of power is no longer decentralized, but atomized. In some places, local authorities have been chased out of office by local vigilante groups, or are mainly ceremonial because they are delegitimized by the population. When they do continue to effectively administer, they do largely what they want. With one key exception: Tigray; TPLF maintains law and order and normal public administration throughout the region.

Premier ambition

If the electoral framework is derailed, the compass which sets the only common course of the political leaders in general at least officially, would disappear. Ethiopia would enter into unknown territory. But this could strengthen Abiy’s hand. Objectively, the longer the political class remains divided and impotent, the stronger his position as the irreplaceable leader will become.

Speculations about his ultimate intentions continue. In particular, the question of whether his ostensible reformism is rooted in sincere and sustained conviction, or is instead the card he has played to attain power by riding the wave of the Qeerroo’s anti-authoritarian protest. He is rightly credited with having rapidly shattered the yoke that was weighing on Ethiopia’s neck, and radically opened up democratic space.

However, a double note of caution is in order. First, the high-speed liberalization he introduced had been sought and initiated by his predecessor: the main lines of reform were decided at the EPRDF Executive Committee meeting in December 2017. Second, his conversion to liberalism is very recent. Like his partner Lemma Megersa, and like the number three at the top Workneh Gebeyehu, he spent a large part of his career in the security services of a particularly repressive regime.

Moreover, it is not known whether Abiy initially opposed the brutal repression exerted on Oromo protesters from 2015 onwards. As a Member of Parliament, he did not vote against the proclamation of the first state of emergency. It was only after the stampede at the Oromo Irreecha Festival caused dozens, perhaps hundreds, of deaths in October 2016 that he performed a U-turn to endorse the demands of the Oromo protests.

Abiy Ahmed doesn’t always make a big deal about accountable government, administrative procedures and the rule of law; or at least he turns a blind eye when it is challenged. For example, Abdi Iley, the former president of Somali region, ruled in an unacceptable way. But the federal army couldn’t intervene legally to depose him if not requested by the Somali regional government, which of course did not happen. So the intervention was, de jure, unconstitutional.

Old tricks

Furthermore, the constitutionality of the Administrative Boundaries and Identity Issues Commission is also highly questionable. Likewise, the prosecutions for corruption and human rights violations focused on former leaders may appear to have an ethnic bias as most of them are Tigrayan, and some old-class ‘TPLF loyalists’ such as Bereket Simon. Yet there are suspicions that are at least as serious hanging over senior figures who remain untouched. As a result, the neutrality and independence of the judicial system remains in doubt, as it can be perceived as being used as a political revenge tool. The state media has been used to condemn the individuals arrested before they even got to court.

While Tigrayans were overrepresented at many levels of the state apparatus and in public or semi-public companies, and while an adjustment of the ethnic balance is justified, there is no apparent legal basis for the seemingly targeted purge they are experiencing, while currently serving Oromo officials known to be part of the ancient regime are left untouched. Despite appealing endlessly to “medemer”, the ruling power risks the same error for which its predecessor, the TPLF, has paid such a heavy price: to cleave instead of to reconcile.

Abiy Ahmed clearly favours the role of individuals over the work of institutions. Despite a Parliamentary constitution, the representatives “cheer and sing to the tune of the incumbent in the executive as if they are guests at a wedding”. He makes spectacular and mostly unexpected appointments to key positions, showing an indisputable willingness to open things up. But the question is not only whether the appointees have the required skills: are they given the resources, political backing and means to revitalize the often moribund institutions in their charge? He has created multiple committees of eminent figures charged with proposing solutions to the most burning issues, rather than task the institutions concerned with these problems. They are filled with members recommended by him for forgone approval by the Parliament,

In particular, the institutions don’t seem to play a leading role in tackling the major question of ethnic conflict. Most of the attempts at mediation, which have not yet produced lasting results, are entrusted to groups of elders, religious leaders, etc. The recent agreement between the government and Dawud Ibsa’s OLF was organized, driven, and underwritten by the Abba Gadaa Council, the senior body of the traditional Oromo system of governance, which has no constitutional existence. Dawud Ibsa went so far as to announce that the OLF combatants would be handed over to “the Oromo people and the Abba Gadaa”, in other words not to the established state institutions.

The slide towards the personalization and deinstitutionalization of power seems apparent. Apart from Abiy Ahmed’s evident ambition, another factor may be at work. Abiy Ahmed, like the two other key leaders Lemma Megersa and Workeneh Gebeyu, is a fervent Pentecostalist. Pentecostalism is a doctrine with a profoundly individualistic vision, which perceives the achievement of required change much more as a personal accomplishment than a collective enterprise. Such a worldview may also influence his governance thinking.

Illiberal democrat?

Given such a level of complexity, confusion and open conflict, any prediction on the way forward for Ethiopia would be bravado more than ever. But three assessments and one question may be derived. In the present political and legal environment, could the elections lead to an effective winner? Here is the core of the problem. The probability that Abiy and the EPRDF would be defeated in 2020 is high, assuming it is a “free and fair” process. The possibility that another consolidated coalition could rise to power is low. Hence, the likely outcome would, if a democratic vote occurs, be a hung parliament without any strong coalition achieving a majority.

If so, there is a risk that the gate could be open for Abiy to assert himself as the sole vehicle to prevent Ethiopia entering into this unknown territory – a prospect that would increase if there is a renewed drive to convert the EPRDF into a unified party under Abiy; with or without TPLF or other affiliates in the federalist camp. Then a sort of “illiberal democracy” could emerge, dominated by a benevolent and modernizing firm-handed leader, a contemporary remake of the “enlightened despot” or, to draw on Ethiopian history, the “Big Man”, the teleq säw. He would rely for his acceptance on a relative tolerance of dissidence, crushed under the previous regime, on a return to order, and on hoped-for growth, revitalized by economic liberalization.

A recent article by Messay Kebede, a notable opponent of ethnic federalism, is symptomatic of this broader call for something like this. Faced with ethnic parties that seek only to “foment disorder and violence to achieve their true goals,” faced with rising insecurity, Abiy Ahmed and EPRDF are the only game in town. Certainly, “Abiy and his supporters may well be compelled to resort to authoritarian methods.” But “authoritarianism is not always a negative outcome so long as it continues to promote the order of achievement,” so long as it is used by “reforming” and “modernizing” “nationalist elites” “to promote a social order upholding achievement”.

Popular concerns are increasing about the government’s apparent powerlessness to curtail the growing climate of violence, as is the disillusionment of the literati and civil society elites. The advocates of a classic model of liberal democratization feel increasingly impotent. They believe they can do nothing other than support Abiy and keep silent over the multiple criticisms that they level at him in private, because they are convinced that to express them in public, or to mobilize their adherents, would simply throw oil on the fire. One of them sums up their dilemma in the following way: “Abiy is in the driving seat of the bus; if he is pushed out, no one will be able to replace him; the bus will end up in the ditch.”

There is thus no easy answer or quick fix to the predicament Abiy, EPRDF and Ethiopia are in. If the Prime Minister chooses to lean on his personal popularity and reinforce his position in the driving seat, could he obtain and sustain support from enough of the political spectrum? And could he also bring on board the army and the security forces, and the general population, in particular the young protesters that helped bring him to power, so that the bus would continue unsteadily along its treacherous course?

openDemocracy and Ethiopia Insight are pleased to be publishing the author’s pieces jointly.


[1] Personal accounts, Addis Ababa, October 2018.

[2] Where this figure of eighty comes from is unknown. The EPRDF Executive Committee consists of 36 members, the Central Committee of 180 members.

[3] These figures contradict the Abiy Ahmed assertion that “90pc of the people that were displaced since the reform began.”

[4]Bahir Dar: 498 illegal guns seized in the residence of a police commander

[5] Personal account, February 2019.

[6] Personal account, February 2019.

[7] Personal account, January 2019.

[8] Personal account, April 2005.

[9] Personal account, October 2018, January and February 2019.

[10] Personal account, 22 February 2019