Source: Prisoners List

An online memorial to missing Eritrean prisoners.
An online memorial to missing Eritrean prisoners. Setit site

On September 18, 2001, 19 years ago, the main reformists in Eritrea were arrested after denouncing the “dictatorial drift” of President Issayas Afewerki. This roundup marked the start of a wave of arrests in the following days, especially among journalists in the capital. None of these prisoners have been released to date and it is not known where they were held or their state of health. But to ensure that political prisoners are not forgotten, Eritreans in the diaspora have compiled an exceptional document released last month, listing the missing in detail.


We inevitably think of a memorial. Leafing through the fifty or so pages published last month on the Setit site , named after Asmara’s major newspaper which forcibly ceased to appear in September 2001, is like walking along the wall of a virtual monument: page after page follows one another. identity photographs, old and banal images, faces never seen for twenty years; short biographies, a job, a background; sometimes just a name and an approximate date of arrest, for lack of being able to find the families or relatives of the countless political detainees in this closed country in the Horn of Africa.

Since his New York exile, the former Eritrean journalist Ahmed Raji coordinated this publication based on data from NGOs, human rights associations, activists in exile, and families. He who was the friend of many of these disappeared from Eritrean prisons assumes a militant act in the face of ”  exceptional cruelty  “.

“  The government’s strategy is to simply throw these people in jail and forget about them ,” he explains. The prisoners are not even questioned! Some have been in prison for years, even decades, without knowing why they are being held. The guards who fled the country say that they are simply told: your role is to prevent them from escaping, period!  ”

Enforced disappearance is a common practice

Thanks to these rare testimonies from fugitives, it is also assumed that some of these prisoners died in detention, for lack of treatment or as a result of unfathomable psychological distress. Sometimes, very rarely, a body is returned to the families, but most of the time their death remains only a hypothesis. Similarly, we know the places where they would be held, secret or not, but without great certainty. The document published on theSetit also offers a satellite photo of one of these prisons, the isolated penitentiary of Eiraeiro, lost in the mountains, opening a sad chronological timeline going from independence in 1991 to the present day.

Because enforced disappearance is a common practice in Eritrea. “  It turns out that this is an old tactic of the ruling party, the Popular Front for Democracy and Justice, the FPDJ, which during the national liberation struggle was called the Popular Front for the Liberation of ‘Eritrea, the EFLP, explains Ahmed Raji. We have data on disappearances in the bush, long before independence. But that would be another story, more work to be done.  ”

“Remembering is an act of defiance”

On the cover page of the document is a motto: “  Remembering is an act of defiance . This is the same message that Ahmed Raji hammers to justify this painstaking work. “  By making these people disappear, the intention of the government is to ensure that they are forgotten ,” he explains. The intention is to erase them from the collective memory of the people. And our goal is quite simply to prevent the regime from achieving that goal.  ”

The profiles of the missing are diverse. They are not only famous politicians or opponents, rebellious soldiers, but also ”  young and old, women and men, intellectuals, peasants or teachers,” says Ahmed Raji. A bit like a parallel Eritrea.  “. A host of faces and shattered destinies, he concludes, in the form of “a  mirror image of Eritrea.” But an Eritrea that would be underground.  ”


Source: CSW

Conditional release of 27 Christian prisoners

11 Sep 2020

CSW has confirmed that 27 Eritrean Christians were released from Mai Serwa Prison near Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, on 4 and 8 September, possibly in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

According to CSW’s sources, the group consisted of 19 men and eight women who had been detained without charge or trial for between two and 16 years, and who are thought to be the first of around 54 anticipated releases. However, the releases are reportedly conditional on the submission of  property deeds ensuring their guarantors are held liable for their future actions.

Sources confirmed that the releases did not include any detained church leaders.  Moreover, the releases were preceded by the arrests of several Christians in Asmara, including around four church leaders, two weeks earlier.

Commenting on these events, a CSW source said: It is a government strategy. They cannot detain everybody, so they keep you for some time, hoping that you will become weak or frightened.  Then they put in other people. They release and put other people in prison at the same time.” 

The source put the number of Christians currently detained at a little over 300, including 39 children, “although these numbers fluctuate.”

Tens of thousands of Eritreans are currently held without charge or trial in life threatening conditions in more than 300 sites across the country. Among those incarcerated are prisoners of conscience, some of whom have been detained for well over a decade on account of their political views or religious beliefs. Conditions in these facilities are overcrowded, unsanitary and inadequate; detention facilities include shipping containers, underground cells, and the open air in the desert, and access to medical attention is insufficient and often withheld as punishment. Mai Serwa prison, where the former detainees were jailed, is infamous for utilising metal shipping containers as holding cells.

The spate of recent releases is being attributed to the spread of COVID-19 in the country’s overcrowded prison system.  However, Eritrea is officially reporting just 341 cases, and claims that no one has died of the virus so far. There has been no independent verification of these assertions.

In an earlier development, reports emerged in August indicating that members of the Muslim community who were  detained in 2018 in connection with protests following the death of respected Muslim elder Haji Musa Mohammed Nur had been released.

CSW’s Founder President Mervyn Thomas said: “While applauding the fact that people who were deprived of their liberty have regained their freedom, it is also important to recall that they were detained arbitrarily and without due process for excessive periods simply on account of their religious beliefs.  Moreover, these releases remain conditional, as they were secured by property deeds, leaving the guarantors vulnerable to losing their properties.  The guarantors could also lose their freedom should a former detainee exercise the right to leave the country, a right articulated in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Eritrea is party. Far more prisoners of conscience remain arbitrarily detained than have been released, and the fact that these releases were preceded by further arrests is indicative of an ongoing repression of the right to freedom of religion or belief.  CSW therefore continues to call for the immediate and unconditional release of prisoners detained arbitrarily, particularly in view of a pandemic that poses a risk to life for those still held in inhumane conditions.”

Eritrea ‘releases Christian prisoners on bail’

Kahsay Tewoldebirhan

BBC Tigrinya

The Eritrean government has released on bail more than 20 prisoners who had been in detention for years because of their faith, sources have told the BBC.

The prisoners from Christian evangelical and Pentecostal denominations are among those being held in a prison outside the capital, Asmara.

In Eritrea only four religious groups are officially recognised – Christian Orthodox, Catholic Church, Lutheran Church and Sunni Islam.

Since 2002 all other religious groups have lacked the legal basis to practise their faiths publicly, including holding prayer meetings or weddings, according to the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

US-based Hannibal Daniel, who campaigns for religious freedom, said people imprisoned for about 16 years were among those freed.

He said their conditional release could be linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Eritrean government has not officially commented on the reported release of the prisoners, but it has previously dismissed accusations of intolerance to religious freedom.

Campaigners advocating for religious freedom say three Jehovah Witnesses have been in prison in the country for more than 25 years.

The US State Department estimates that there are 1,200 to 3,000 prisoners of faith in Eritrea

Eritrea’s deteriorating state

Thursday, 17 September 2020 22:14 Written by


Source: Africa is a country

Eritrea’s deteriorating state

The Eritrean government continues to force students into military service in the middle of a pandemic. Things are about to get even worse.

Asmara, Eritrea. Image credit Clay Gilliland via Wikimedia Commons.

The Government Response Stringency index (GRSI) is a composite score developed by researchers at Oxford University, to compare countries’ policy responses to the coronavirus pandemic. It uses nine response indicators to rank governments, including school closures, workplace closures, and travel bans in its assessment of who has the strictest measures. Eritrea has topped the list most of the time.Eritrea has enforced a total lockdown since April 1, effectively banning all public transport, closing schools, and suspending everything in the literal sense, even postponing publishing the state newspaper—the only newspaper in the country—for five months. Although the pandemic’s consequences had been fatal across the world, in extremely impoverished countries like Eritrea where the essential food items are rationed in stores run by the ruling party, the magnitude of the lockdown is immense. Eritrea’s elites who hold absolute power have already frozen the state in time for more than two decades. Now families who have relatives in the diaspora depend on remittances to survive, subjected to extremely low exchange rates set by the ruling party’s financial sector, while the unlucky ones without family abroad suffer even more.

While the entire country has been put on hold, there is always an exception. During the past months, President Isaias Afwerki has traveled internationally three times to Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt with his big entourage. He also received Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the President of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan in July and September, respectively. Prior to that he has been absent from the scene for more than two months ensuing the usual rumor of that he is incapacitated, or dead.

The second exception is secondary in school in Sawa, the notorious military training center. Since 2003, the final year of secondary school has been taught at Sawa. Eritrean secondary school students as young as 16 years old attend their last grade of secondary school at the harshest place and most unconducive environment. According to the country’s national service proclamation and other international treaties Eritrea signed, the minimum age of military training is 18. With barely any facilities; a temperature that reaches up to 45 degree Celsius (about 113 Fahrenheit); and very frequent sandstorms, Eritrean children in Sawa are officially introduced to the machinery of slavery. In the one-year program, students combine military drills and academic studies. After spending a year in the military camp, they sit for the secondary school graduation certificate examination, which decides the fate of their life: either join colleges or head to the army with no exit. The school has been described by Human Rights Watch’s senior Africa researcher as: “at the heart of its repressive system of control over its population.”

Many governments have been releasing thousands of prisoners and adopting their programs to ensure social distance since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. The Eritrean diaspora has been pleading to their “government” to release prisoners of conscience and disperse thousands of students in Sawa, known for its overcrowding. In early April, the head of Economic Affairs for Eritrea’s ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) party, Hagos “Kisha” Gebrehiwet, in an online seminar said that Sawa and prisons are the safest places for quarantine as they are secluded. About three months later, Sawa hosted two heads of states with their first ladies accompanied by an entourage. In July, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, facing tremendous pressure at home and in search of externalizing his domestic crises, visited Sawa to observe “graduation-parade rehearsals.”

A month later in mid-August, Sawa held its graduation ceremony, televised live. President Isaias Afwerki, who has never attended any graduation ceremonies of the defunct University of Asmara or other colleges, never misses Sawa’s ceremony. There was no indication in the ceremony of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid the strictest lockdown, 11th grade students have been recalled in August in what the minister of information described as “partial easing of restrictions,” to make up for the lost months. The aim was to prepare them at Sawa to attend their final year of training. Partial easing of lockdown restrictions, however, did not materialize apart from the recall of the students.

According to official announcements from the country’s ministry of health, the latest cases of COVID-19 have been from nationals who have returned from neighboring countries and no local transmission has been reported since early June. Yet, the lockdown has not been eased and there are now different quarantine centers for nationals who are returning from neighboring countries. It seems the pandemic came as a blessing for the regime that has been looking for excuses to confine its population.

There is no sense of urgency in today’s Eritrea. It is a country under self-imposed political siege. Eritrean parents are still unsure about the fate of their children who were expected to start school in September. There is not any information about the lockdown’s end. In an already improvised state, famine has started hitting hard. The only response from the state has been to reinforce the lockdown.

There is no way to challenge the state policies from inside Eritrea. Former students of Sawa, in exile, have been campaigning to end the practice of sending secondary school children to the military camp. The campaign #EndHighSchoolInSawa has gained traction among the Eritrean diaspora and has been amplified inside the country with the help of the diaspora-based independent media. Some prominent figures, such as former defense minister and now an exile, Mesfin Hagos, have joined the call.

“The most important impact of the #EndHighSchoolInSawa campaign is it re-sensitizes as many Eritreans were numb and accepted this hideous policy as normal,” says US-based Haikel Negash, who was among the initiators of the campaign; she is also a former student of the school. Her colleague and a PhD student of history at Queens University, Samuel Emaha maintains that although they could not stop the school, “The campaign aims to bring the issue to the agenda and attention of the common people. The campaign effectively brought the problems associated with the program, mainly because former students lacked the platform to speak about the school.”

Many former students of the school have now been loudly describing their harsh treatment at the school. Some former students have shared that they experienced rape and sexual harassment at Sawa, in line with reports on the problem from human rights organizations for years.

But the campaign was unable to force the Eritrean government to change its policy. Since September 8, high school students from all over the country have been heading to Sawa. The possible consequences of such a policy in the pandemic is not difficult to imagine. Students in Sawa live in crowded military barracks in the most communal lifestyle anyone could imagine. Social distancing is not only impossible, but there is enforced physical proximity. None can justify that the benefits of this untimely pronouncement would outweigh the possible consequences. Many have been pleading for the government to reconsider its decision, in the face of pandemic. But the regime prefers to contribute to the fastest possible spread of the pandemic.



Numbers being held in appalling conditions may be far greater than first thought

Source: Daily Telegraph

Saudi Arabia has come under mounting pressure from governments and human rights groups to release African migrants detained in deplorable conditions
Saudi Arabia has come under mounting pressure from governments and human rights groups to release African migrants detained in deplorable conditions CREDIT: The Telegraph
Ethiopians trapped in Saudi Arabia
Details are beginning to emerge showing that the sheer scale of Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on African migrants is far greater than anyone imagined.

Last month a Sunday Telegraph investigation found that hundreds if not thousands of mainly Ethiopian migrants are being kept in appalling conditions in centres across the Gulf Kingdom as part of a drive to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Using smuggled phones detainees detailed horrific accounts of disease, beatings and suicide.

But recent statements from Abdo Yassin, Ethiopia’s Consul General in Jeddah suggest that the centres highlighted by the Telegraph are just the tip of the iceberg.

Last week, Mr Yassin said that dozens of prisons are housing Ethiopians and that about 16,000 Ethiopian migrants are being held at just one detention centre at Al Shumasi, near the holy city of Mecca.

“Jeddah has over 53 prisons. Ethiopians are held in every one of them,” Mr Yassin told the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation. “If you take the one at Al Shumaisi…located around 60km from Jeddah, there are about 16,000 Ethiopians kept in the prison and the holding cells.”

Last month, the Telegraph was able to communicate with migrants at the centres at both Al Shumasi and Jazan, a port city on the border in Yemen. It is unclear how many people are being held at the detention centre at Jazan.

However, satellite images of the Jazan centre show more than a dozen buildings there. There are believed to be several other centres across the Kingdom.  Earlier this month, under international pressure from human rights groups, Western politicians and the United Nations, Saudi Arabia said it would investigate all of its detention centres.

However, migrants told the Telegraph that since news of their plight went around the world, they have been beaten brutally by prison guards who scoured the rooms for smuggled phones. They say they were stripped naked and that some of them were put in handcuffs during the searches.

The Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa has come under mounting pressure at home to repatriate the migrants stuck in the centres after the Telegraph revealed that officials tried to stop the migrants communicating with the outside world, most probably to avoid a diplomatic fall out with oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

Last week, nearly 150 women and children were repatriated to Ethiopia from Saudi Arabia. This was initially greeted as good news.

However, an Ethiopian government document from August shows that their repatriation was part of an arrangement between Saudi and Ethiopian authorities, which required migrants to purchase their own one-way tickets home from Ethiopian Airlines: something that the vast majority of impoverished migrants cannot do.

To make matters worse, Ethiopia’s embassy in Riyadh announced on Monday that Saudi immigration authorities had voided the agreement, leaving Ethiopian migrants with no remaining avenues to escape the Kingdom.

“It is shocking to hear that up to 16,000 Ethiopian migrants might be languishing in detention in the  Al Shumaisi facility. Human Rights Watch and the Telegraph documented horrific conditions in two other centres in Jazan Saudi Arabia where thousands more Ethiopian migrants may also reside,” said Nadia Hardman, a researcher at the NGO Human Rights Watch.

“We repeat our call on Saudi Arabia to immediately release the most vulnerable and improve the miserable conditions for the thousands that remain.”

Arrivals August 2020* 98

Total Arrivals 2020 2,710

UASC1 2020 244

UNHCR continues to receive new arrivals in East Sudan, largely from Eritrea. The Commission for Refugees (COR) receives and assists asylum-seekers at the border where they are temporarily hosted in reception centres. Within 1-2 weeks they are transported to Shagarab camps where they undergo screening, registration, RSD2 and two weeks quarantine while receiving life-saving services and shelter


The arrest and detention of Kjetil Tronvoll, a highly regarded and engaged scholar with a particular expertise on Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and academic inquiry.

Kjetil has now been freed and is on his way home. He has attended two Eritrea conferences hosted by Eritrea Focus.

Source: Blankspot

Norwegian professor detained at Ethiopia airport

By  | September 13, 2020

Norwegian professor Kjetil Tronvoll is said to have been abducted by police at Bole Airport in the capital Addis Ababa. He most recently came from Mekelle in the Tigray region, where he followed the “illegal election” criticized by the central government.

According to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, information was received during the evening that a Norwegian citizen had been detained at the airport.

– We have also been informed that he has now had the opportunity to travel further, says Ane Haavardsdatter Lunde at the press service at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Blankspot.

Kjetil Tronvoll is head of the think tank Oslo Analytica as well as professor of peace and conflict knowledge at Bjorknes University. For the past thirty years, he has conducted field studies in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Zanzibar and also worked as an advisor and mediator in several peace processes.

One of his special areas is the development of democracy on the African continent.

But his presence during the election, which was won by the former ruling TPLF party, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for taking a stand for the opposition party.

Something he rejected on twitter this week.

“Just to clarify. I observe the election as part of my 30-year research on political developments in Tigray and Ethiopia. Studying a process does not mean supporting it, but the empirical reality is a key to later being able to analyze the situation. Some seem to confuse this, “wrote the Norwegian professor.

In another follow-up comment on twitter, Kjetil Tronvoll wrote that there was a smear campaign against his presence with allegations that he was there and working illegally on a tourist visa.

“It’s fake! I am here as part of my work as an adjunct professor at the University of Mekelle on an official visa issued by the Ethiopian government. ”

That is why the region’s politicians have arranged their own.

In an interview that Kjetil Tronvoll did recently with Al-Jazeera, he highlighted that both the people in the region and the TPLF party have undergone radical changes in recent years.

According to the ruling party TPLF, what has now taken place is a historic election that has given citizens an opportunity to choose between different political alternatives. They have also warned the government against intervening or in any way trying to stop the election because, according to them, it would be “a declaration of war”.

Relations between Tigray and the central government in Addis Ababa are strained, and in the past the TPLF, the dominant party in Tigray, has dropped out of government cooperation.

When asked by state television (EBC) about the election, the prime minister replied that it was a “minor headache” and that “the election is illegal because only the country’s national election commission can organize elections in Ethiopia”.

When Professor Kjetil Tronvoll returned to Addis Ababa’s airport Bole, he was taken away and detained, according to other passengers.

On Twitter, The Economist correspondent Tom Gardner writes that he was taken to a hotel.

According to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs , he now has the opportunity to continue his journey.


Government Ignores its own Covid-19 Restrictions

Source: Human Rights Watch

Government Ignores its own Covid-19 Restrictions

Sawa military camp from satellite
Satellite Imagery of the Sawa military camp, including the Warsai Yikealo Secondary School, recorded in January 2015.  Imagery © DigitalGlobe – Maxar Technologies 2019; Source: Google Earth

Videos and photographs circulating on social media earlier this week showed buses in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, crowded with students, who were not wearing masks, as they were separated from their families and sent off to a military training camp in the country’s west.

Each year, Eritrea’s government forces thousands of secondary school students, some still children, to attend their final school year in the infamous Sawa military camp, where students study but also undergo compulsory military training.

This year’s departures take place amid a lockdown. To curb the pandemic, the government imposed strict movement restrictions and closed schools. Yet it still decided to send the students off to Sawa and risk exposing them to the virus.

That is likely because the final secondary school year in Sawa serves as the government’s main conveyor belt through which it conscripts its citizens into indefinite government service.

Last year we reported on what life in Sawa looks like: students under military command, with harsh military punishments and discipline, and female students reporting sexual harassment and exploitation. Apart from Sawa’s other defects, dormitory life there is crowded, facilitating the spread of the virus if introduced. The danger is compounded by its very limited health facilities.

This has a devastating impact on students’ futures. From Sawa, those with poor grades are forced into vocational training – and most likely military service. Those with better grades go to college, then into a civilian government job. Students have little to no choice over their assignment.

Former Sawa students abroad have campaigned recently for the government to stop sending students to Sawa, but in vain.

Even in “normal” times, life at Sawa is grim and abusive. During the pandemic, it is likely even more dangerous. Eritrea will not build education back better after the pandemic if it funnels students into military camps.

Instead of bussing new students to Sawa, the government should allow students serving in Sawa to return home and let them choose where they complete their final year in school, including at public secondary schools closer to home. It should end compulsory military training during secondary school and ensure that no one underage is conscripted.

Eritrea’s youth deserve real reform if they are to have any hope of a brighter future.

Bahrain follows UAE to normalise ties with Israel

Saturday, 12 September 2020 14:31 Written by

Palestine recalls Bahrain envoy, denounces latest deal as 'another treacherous stab to the Palestinian cause'.

Bahrain follows UAE to normalise ties with Israel
Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner travelled to Bahrain as part of his Middle East tour earlier in September [Bahrain News Agency/Handout via Reuters]

Bahrain has joined the United Arab Emirates in agreeing to normalise relations with Israel, in a US-brokered deal that Palestinian leaders denounced as "another treacherous stab to the Palestinian cause".

Donald Trump, the president of the United States, announced the deal on Twitter on Friday after he spoke by phone to Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"This is truly a historic day," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, saying he believed other countries would follow suit.

"It's unthinkable that this could happen and so fast."

In a joint statement, the United States, Bahrain and Israel said "opening direct dialogue and ties between these two dynamic societies and advanced economies will continue the positive transformation of the Middle East and increase stability, security, and prosperity in the region".

A month ago, the UAE agreed to normalise ties with Israel under a US-brokered deal scheduled to be signed at a White House ceremony on Tuesday hosted by Trump, who is seeking re-election on November 3.

The ceremony is due to be attended by Netanyahu and Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The joint statement said Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani will join that ceremony and sign an "historic Declaration of Peace" with Netanyahu.

Like the UAE agreement, Friday's Bahrain-Israel deal will normalise diplomatic, commercial, security and other relations between the two countries. Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia, had already dropped a ban on Israeli flights using its airspace.

Friday's joint statement only made passing mention of the Palestinians, who fear the moves by Bahrain and the UAE will weaken a longstanding pan-Arab position that calls for Israeli withdrawal from already illegally occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.

The statement said Bahrain, Israel and the US will continue efforts "to achieve a just, comprehensive, and enduring resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to enable the Palestinian people to realise their full potential".

'Grave harm'

Netanyahu welcomed the agreement and thanked Trump.

"It took us 26 years between the second peace agreement with an Arab country and the third, but only 29 days between the third and the fourth, and there will be more," he said, referring to the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan and the more recent agreements.

For its part, Bahrain said it supports a "fair and comprehensive" peace in the Middle East, according to BNA state news agency. That peace should be based on a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the report said, quoting King Hamad.

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior White House adviser, hailed the agreements as "the culmination of four years of great work" by the Trump administration.

Speaking to reporters in a call from the White House soon after Friday's announcement, Kushner said the UAE and Bahrain agreements "will help reduce tension in the Muslim world and allow people to separate the Palestinian issue from their own national interests and from their foreign policy, which should be focused on their domestic priorities".

The Palestinian leadership, however, condemned the agreement as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause and recalled the Palestinian ambassador to Bahrain for consultations.

Palestinians protest against normalizing ties with Israel as Arab foreign ministers meet
Palestinians have protested against Arab states normalising ties with Israel [File: Raneen Sawafta/Reuters]

In a statement, the Palestinian Authority said it "rejects this step taken by the Kingdom of Bahrain and calls on it to immediately retreat from it due to the great harm it causes to the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people and joint Arab action".

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), based in Ramallah, the occupied West Bank, called the normalisation "another treacherous stab to the Palestinian cause". And in Gaza, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said Bahrain's decision to normalise relations with Israel "represents a grave harm to the Palestinian cause, and it supports the occupation".

'A purely Saudi decision'

Khalil Jahshan, executive director at the Arab Center of Washington, said Saudi acquiescence was key to Bahrain's decision.

"It is a purely Saudi decision. In the absence of the ability, due to internal constraints, by the leadership in Saudi Arabia to respond positively to Trump, they gave him Bahrain on a silver platter."

Bahrain, a small island state, is home to the US Navy's regional headquarters. Saudi Arabia in 2011 sent troops to Bahrain to help quell an uprising and, alongside Kuwait and the UAE, in 2018 offered Bahrain a $10bn economic bailout.

Al Jazeera's Nida Ibrahim, reporting from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, agreed, saying Palestinian officials believe the Bahrain and the UAE deals would not have happened "without regional backing".

"The fear among the Palestinians is that these deals are a green light for more Arab states to normalise with Israel," she said. "And many Palestinians say that for years they saw the US as Israel's lawyer or partner and now they see it as Israel's agent. That's because Trump is the one announcing these normalisation deals."

Since taking office, the Trump administration has pursued staunchly pro-Israel policies, including moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ordering the PLO to shutter its Washington, DC, office and recognising Israel's occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights.

The US president and his advisers have championed a so-called "deal of the century" proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and they have courted Arab Gulf states to try to drum up support for that initiative.

Bahrain, for example, hosted a US-led conference in June 2019 to unveil the economic side of the proposal, and Emirati and Saudi leaders voiced support at the time for any economic agreement that would benefit Palestinians. Palestinian leaders boycotted that summit, however, saying the Trump administration was not an honest broker in any future negotiations with Israel.

Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett said while the deals between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE are not high on the list of priorities for most US voters, a large portion of Trump's supporters are Evangelical Christians who favour his pro-Israel positions.

Halkett said Trump is trying to show them before the November 3 contest that he can get the "deal of the century" done in his second term.

"He's acting as if this is a framework that will bring about that so-called 'deal of the century'," Halkett said, despite the fact that "the president and his administration's representatives are not even talking to the Palestinians right now".




Source: Washington Post

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, left, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed disembark from an airplane upon arrival at Juba International Airport in South Sudan before meeting with South Sudan’s president for tripartite talks on regional affairs on March 4. (Akuot Chol/AFP/Getty Images) By Adam Taylor October 11 at 2:14 PM

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was announced as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, with the committee that decides the awards singling out his efforts to achieve peace with neighboring country Eritrea.

But notably, the prize was not awarded to Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, Abiy’s partner in the talks.

Instead, Nobel Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen simply acknowledged that “peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone” and said that they hope the “peace agreement will help to bring about positive change for the entire populations of Ethiopia and Eritrea.”

In some years, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to multiple parties for their work trying to end a conflict. In 1994, for example, the prize was awarded to Israel’s Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, as well as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But the decision to award the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize only to Ethiopia’s Abiy was hardly surprising. Eritrea’s Isaias leads one of the most repressive military dictatorships in the world; his government has been compared to North Korea and accused of possible crimes against humanity.

And even though he reached an agreement with Abiy in Eritrea’s capital last year to end the conflict between the two nations, in practice the agreement remains largely unimplemented, and there have been little visible benefits for Eritreans.

“I think there was a lot of hope in Eritrea,” said Laetitia Bader, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But very quickly, Eritreans saw that things were not changing on the ground.”

Vanessa Tsehaye, an Eritrean activist based in London, noted, “I’d say it has brought no positive developments for the Eritrean people, because the lived reality is the same more than a year after the peace deal.”

The conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia stretches back decades. After European powers left occupied Eritrea in 1951, landlocked Ethiopia claimed the land of its coastal neighbor, eventually resulting in a civil war that started in 1961 and lasted three decades.

In 1991, Eritrean forces helped overthrow the communist-led government in Ethiopia, and two years later, Eritreans voted for independence.

However, the two nations did not reach an agreement on the border between them, and in 1998, small-scale border incidents around the town of Badme grew into a full-fledged conflict. It’s estimated that almost 100,000 people died, and after it ended, Ethiopian troops had control of Badme and other disputed areas.

As part of a peace agreement brokered in Algiers, in 2000, a commission cited colonial-era documents to rule that the land around Badme was part of Eritrea. But Ethiopia did not agree to the arbitrated border, and the two sides remained in a standoff.

Their relationship was dubbed “no war, no peace,” which meant that diplomatic, trade and transport ties were severed, and the countries remained on a war footing, clashing repeatedly and supporting rival rebel groups.

Abiy, a former intelligence officer who had taken part in the operations to drive Eritreans out of Badme, took office as Ethiopia’s prime minister in April 2018 and almost immediately began changes in the country, which had long been ruled by authoritarian governments.

On June 5, 2018, Abiy made a key pledge to accept the peace agreement with Eritrea and withdraw Ethiopian troops from occupied territory. Within weeks, Isaias responded by saying that both nations yearned for peace.

Just a month after Abiy’s announcement on July 8, the Ethiopian leader touched down at the airport in Eritrea’s capital Asmara, where he was greeted by Isaias. The leaders embraced and later announced they would reopen embassies, allow direct communications and restore transport links.

“Love is greater than modern weapons like tanks and missiles,” Abiy said. “Love can win hearts, and we have seen a great deal of it today here in Asmara.”

Despite the signs of goodwill, critics say not much has changed between the two nations. Among the Eritrean diaspora, many voiced disapproval for the Nobel Peace Prize focusing on the agreement with Eritrea when so little had changed in practice.

“I didn’t know one could win a peace award without achieving peace!” Selam Kidane, a London-based activist wrote on Twitter.

Border crossings between Ethiopia and Eritrea were opened last year, but Eritrea soon closed the border again. Analysts suspect that Eritrea, which has virtually complete control over its citizens, is delaying because of fears about wider reform.

Isaias, a former freedom fighter, has led the country since 1993, and his government has left no room for opposition. In 2015, the United Nations released the results of a year-long investigation into human rights in the country, finding “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations,” including extrajudicial killing, torture and forced labor.

Bader said that there was little evidence that there had been any positive change to some of the most restrictive elements, such as the arbitrary arrest of people for perceived political crimes, or the indefinite national service that sees many Eritreans permanently conscripted to the military.

“The government has often argued that it was the ‘no war, no peace’ situation with Ethiopia was what forced it to conscript its whole population,” Bader said.

Jeffrey Smith, the director of Vanguard Africa, said that he viewed the Nobel Prize as “encouraging Prime Minister Ahmed and the new regime in Ethiopia as much if not more than it is about the progress already made.”

But for activists such as Tsehaye, the peace deal had helped legitimize Isaias, the leader of an isolated and repressive nation of 5 million people on the world stage. The Eritrean leader had traveled with Abiy to foreign nations, and the United Nations lifted sanctions on Eritrea.

“Peace is always a good thing, it’s never something that we should be against,” Tsehaye said, “but we need to understand peace beyond its literal meaning of no war.”


Why apparently blame Tigray for the failings integral to the politics of Eritrea and Ethiopia? This is a strangely mistaken approach. The bottom line is that Eritrea’s President Isaias loathes the TPLF and is determined to destroy the party, which he believes has designs on Eritrean land.

But the division is far deeper. Ideology, traditional animosity and the terrible decision by Eritrea to close off access aid to Tigray from Sudan during the 1984-85 famine run deep. Finally: it was Eritrea that sponsored, trained and directed Ethiopian rebels that attacked Ethiopia when Tigrayans ran Ethiopia under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

It’s a complex history – not easily summarised. But I do support the conclusion: “The priority is to de-escalate tensions between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray region. Consultation and confidence building is equally important between Eritrea and Tigray’s leadership and people. Only then will the new peace deal stand a chance of bringing much-needed stability to the people of both countries and the region.”


Source: ISSafrica

The Eritrea-Ethiopia peace deal is yet to show dividends

Tensions in both countries relating to Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state are hampering progress.

It’s been over two years since the much-heralded rapprochement between Eritrea and Ethiopia culminated in a peace and friendship agreement in July 2018. The deal, brewed personally by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, symbolised an end to the 20 years of no war, no peace situation and the start of cordial relations between the two countries.

The settlement was internationally praised for its potential to stabilise the region beyond improving the two countries’ affairs. Abiy even received the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to build bridges with Eritrea.

Two years later, positive steps have been taken in some areas, but not in others due to tensions between Ethiopia’s federal government and Tigray regional state, and unresolved animosity between Tigray and Eritrean leaders.

The dispute over the small border town of Badme, which both Eritrea and Ethiopia claimed as their own, is often cited as the reason for the outbreak of the 1998-2000 border conflict. However the root causes go deeper.

They include historical rivalry, political and economic differences and hegemonic competition between the ruling elites of both countries. These were the Eritrean leadership, and the ruling party in Ethiopia’s Tigray State – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – Ethiopia’s dominant political party until Abiy came to power.

The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), established to resolve the border issue, decided in 2002 that Badme should belong to Eritrea. A failure to implement the EEBC’s decision led to the stand-off between the two countries.

In the 2018 peace deal, the leaders agreed to begin political, economic, social, cultural and security cooperation. They decided to resume diplomatic, transport, trade and communication ties that had been frozen for two decades. The leaders resolved to implement the EEBC decision and jointly ensure regional peace, development and cooperation.Twenty years after the border war, and despite the peace deal, the main protagonists are still fighting" style="box-sizing: border-box; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; outline: none; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); text-decoration: none; transition: all 0.1s ease-in-out 0s; border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2);">" rel="noreferrer noopener" style="box-sizing: border-box; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; outline: none; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); text-decoration: none; transition: all 0.1s ease-in-out 0s; border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2);">" rel="noreferrer noopener" style="box-sizing: border-box; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; outline: none; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); text-decoration: none; transition: all 0.1s ease-in-out 0s; border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2);">

Since then, progress in reconnecting the two countries has been made in key areas. Numerous high-level leadership visits took place, diplomatic relations were normalised and embassies reopened. Daily flights between Addis Ababa and Asmara were established and phone connections resumed. Four border posts were opened, although they were closed after a short period.

Talks about infrastructure and transport linkages, such as Ethiopia’s use of Eritrean ports (including a feasibility study for a railway between Massawa and Addis Ababa) and rebuilding of roads, dominated discussions. Other symbolic soft power and people-to-people interactions took place. United Nations sanctions on Eritrea were lifted.

The high-profile start of the rapprochement raised expectations, both at home and internationally, that 20 years of tension and mistrust could be eroded. Two years later, this potential has waned, paralysing anticipated socio-economic gains for people in both countries. And the cause is mostly tensions between Ethiopia’s federal and Tigray officials, and ongoing conflict between the TPLF and Eritrean leadership – just like old times.

Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state and Eritrea share the border that was contested. Badme is also under Tigray administration, and so the region’s TPLF leaders share responsibility for implementing the EEBC’s decision. But the peace process was initiated from Addis Ababa, and there wasn’t adequate consultation and consensus building among stakeholders like the TPLF. The peace process failed to adequately consult some stakeholders like the TPLF" style="box-sizing: border-box; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; outline: none; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); text-decoration: none; transition: all 0.1s ease-in-out 0s; border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2);">

This exclusion – together with other political differences relating to ideology, foreign policy, governance and elections – have worsened the division between Abiy’s government and the TPLF’s rule in Tigray. One point of contention involves how to engage with Eritrea.

Abiy, in his April 2018 inaugural speech, announced his administration’s unconditional acceptance of the stalled Algiers agreement signed in 2000 and aimed at ending the border war. In February 2020, Debretsion Gebremichael – the TPLF’s highest official – said a structured peace process was needed that included all relevant sides, not just the two national leaders.

Implementation of the 2018 deal cannot occur without buy-in from all relevant government actors in Tigray. Consensus is also needed within the respective agencies of both Ethiopia and Eritrea and all other relevant stakeholders.

The four border posts that were opened and quickly closed symbolise the lack of consensus among federal and state agencies on both sides around regulating movement and trade across national boundaries. Proper consultations would have allowed time to develop harmonised positions and enact new regulations.Implementation of the 2018 deal requires buy-in from all the relevant government actors in Tigray" style="box-sizing: border-box; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; outline: none; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); text-decoration: none; transition: all 0.1s ease-in-out 0s; border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2);">

Unresolved hostility between Eritrea’s and the Tigray region’s ruling elites also hampers progress. Isaias accused the TPLF of complicating implementation of the EEBC’s decision, which the TPLF denied. Isaias also claims the TPLF created division among Eritreans, organising ethnic-based opposition and spreading misinformation to spoil relations between Eritreans and Ethiopians. The TPLF in turn accuses Eritrea of interfering in Ethiopia’s internal affairs and threatening regional security.

Twenty years after the bloody border war, and despite the new peace deal, the conflict’s main protagonists – the TPLF and the Eritrean leadership – are still fighting.

Given the increasingly serious confrontation between Mekele and Addis Ababa and the unresolved animosity between Mekele and Asmara, the TPLF feels unfairly targeted from both sides. Without political will and confidence building between the TPLF, Abiy and Isaias, the peace deal may not bear fruit.

Resolution of the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea is imperative for advancing economic and development prospects in the Horn. Sustainable peace and the benefits that it will bring can only be achieved if the 2018 agreement is implemented.

The priority is to de-escalate tensions between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray region. Consultation and confidence building is equally important between Eritrea and Tigray’s leadership and people. Only then will the new peace deal stand a chance of bringing much-needed stability to the people of both countries and the region.

Selam Tadesse Demissie, Research Officer, Horn of Africa Security Analysis, ISS Addis Ababa