May 8, 2020 Ethiopia, News

Source: The National

Letter sent to top UN body stresses Cairo’s willingness to come to arrangement with Addis Ababa

Egypt has written to the UN Security Council about Ethiopia’s failure to reach an agreement over the operation of Addis Ababa’s nearly-completed dam that Cairo fears will significantly reduce its share of the Nile’ waters.


News of the letter broke late on Wednesday night in an Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement about a phone call between Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Urmas Reinsalu, his counterpart from Estonia, which currently chairs the 15-member council.

The ministry did not release the full text of the letter, saying only that it was sent recently.

The letter appears to be part of Egypt’s drive to take its dispute with Ethiopia over the dam on the Blue Nile to the international community after years of inconclusive negotiations involving Sudan, another Nile basin country. Egypt has publicly accused Ethiopia of time-buying tactics and of intransigence after its refusal to sign an agreement brokered by the United States. The dispute has entered a potentially explosive phase with Ethiopia’s recent announcement that it intended to start filling the hydroelectric dam’s massive reservoir this summer.
Egypt wants the reservoir to be filled over six to seven years to reduce the impact downstream. It also wants Ethiopia to release 40 billion cubic metres of water annually and show flexibility during sustained droughts. Ethiopia has baulked at these demands and the two countries have been engaged in a bitter war of words for months.

Egypt, the most populous Arab nation with 100 million people, depends on the Nile for more than 90 per cent of its water needs. It has maintained that a significant reduction in its share of Nile water would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and affect its food security. It has said it appreciates Ethiopia’s development needs and that its goal is to reach an agreement that would reduce the impact of the dam to manageable levels.

Ethiopia denies that the dam would harm Egypt, which it accuses of an unwarranted sense of entitlement to the river’s water.

Sudan, Egypt’s neighbour to the south, is unlikely to be affected by the dam the same way as Egypt since it has an alternative source of water in rainfall and the White Nile, which runs through the entire length of the vast Afro-Arab country.

The White Nile originates in central Africa and merges with the Blue Nile, whose source is on the Ethiopian highlands, in Khartoum to become the river Nile that flows across the deserts of northern Sudan and across Egypt to the Mediterranean. The Blue Nile contributes about 65 per cent of the water reaching Egypt.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has described Egypt’s water security as an existential issue and vowed that Cairo would never accept a de facto situation imposed on it. Some pro-government media voices have suggested military action to stop the Ethiopians from harming Egypt’s vital water interests. Mr El Sisi, a former military chief, has stated his preference for a negotiated settlement.

May 7, 2020 News, Uncategorized

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council


5 May 2020

Extend the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea


At the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council (24 June-12 July 2019), the Council extended a hand to the Eritrean Government. While renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the country, it signalled its willingness to offer Eritrea a constructive way forward, in particular by shifting the resolution from agenda item 4 to item 2.

While welcoming the adoption of Council resolution 41/1, and in particular the renewal of the mandate, many non-governmental organisations cautioned that any shifts in the Council’s approach should reflect corresponding changes in the human rights situation on the ground.

Regrettably, one year later, we, the undersigned non-governmental organisations, recall that the concerns expressed in a joint letter1 published last year remain valid, for the reasons set out below. Ahead of the 44th session of the Council (currently scheduled to begin in June 20202), we urge you to support the adoption of a resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea.

As Eritrea has entered the second year of its Council membership term, its domestic human rights situation remains dire. A free and independent press continues to be absent from the country and 16 journalists remain in detention without trial, many since 2001.3 Impunity for past and ongoing human rights violations is widespread. Violations continue unabated, including arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detention,4 violations of the rights to a fair trial, access to justice and due process, enforced disappearances, lack of information on the fate or whereabouts of disappeared persons, violations of women’s and girls’ rights, and severe restrictions on the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion or belief. Secondary school students, some still children, continue to be conscripted in their thousands each year into the country’s abusive national service system.5 Indefinite national service, involving torture, sexual violence and forced labour continues; thousands remain in open-ended conscription, sometimes for as long as ten years or more, despite the 2018 peace accord with Ethiopia.6

In resolution 38/15 (6 July 2018), the Council invited the Special Rapporteur to “assess and report on the situation of human rights and the engagement and cooperation of the Government of Eritrea with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, as well as with the Office of the High Commissioner [OHCHR], and, where feasible, to develop benchmarks for progress in improving the situation of human rights and a time-bound plan of action for their implementation.” The Council should ensure adequate follow-up by allowing the Special Rapporteur to pursue her work and OHCHR to deepen its engagement with the Eritrean Government.

As a Council member, Eritrea has an obligation to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.” However, during the Council’s 43rd session, in February 2020, both the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Daniela Kravetz, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, reported that no concrete evidence of progress in Eritrea’s human rights situation, including against the benchmarks, could be reported.By streamlining its approach and adopting resolution 41/1 under its item 2, the Council offered a way forward for human rights reform in Eritrea. In March 2019, Eritrea took an initial step by meeting with the Special Rapporteur in Geneva. More recently, in February 2020, a human rights dialogue took place between the Government and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in a more constructive spirit than during Eritrea’s 2019 review by the Human Rights Committee. Unfortunately, despite the window of opportunity provided by Eritrea’s CEDAW review and the Eritrean Ambassador indicating, at the Council’s 43rd session, that his country was committed to confidence-building measures and technical cooperation, Eritrea refuses to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, and recently launched yet another unwarranted attack on her and her mandate.8 The Government continues to reject findings of ongoing grave violations, as well as calls for reform, and human rights-based recommendations, including in relation to the Covid-19 crisis.9

The Council should urge Eritrea to make progress towards meeting its membership obligations and to engage with the UN human rights system constructively. It should not reward non-cooperation by, but rather maintain scrutiny of, one of its members. We believe that a technical rollover of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, under the same item, would contribute to this aim.

At its upcoming 44th session, the Council should adopt a resolution: (a) Extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for a further year; (b) Urging Eritrea to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur by granting her access to the country, in accordance with its obligations as a Council member; (c) Calling on Eritrea to develop an implementation plan to meet the progress benchmarks, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur and OHCHR; (d) Requesting OHCHR to present an oral update on Eritrea at the Council’s 46th session; and (e) Requesting the Special Rapporteur to present an oral update at the Council’s 46th session in an interactive dialogue, and to present a report on the implementation of the mandate at the Council’s 47th session and to the General Assembly at its 76th session.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as needed.


1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies

2. AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)

3. Amnesty International

4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

5. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)


7. Civil Rights Defenders

8. Committee to Protect Journalists

9. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)

10. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)

11. Eritrean Law Society (ELS)

12. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)

13. Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme

14. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect

15. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)

16. Human Rights Watch

17. International Service for Human Rights

18. Network of Eritrean Women (NEW)

19. Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa / Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits

Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)

20. One Day Seyoum

21. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

22. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)

23. West African Human Rights Defenders Network / Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des

Droits Humains (ROADDH/WAHRDN)

24. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

1 DefendDefenders et al., “Eritrea: the UN should ensure continued scrutiny of the human rights situation,” 11 June 2019, (accessed on 16 April 2020).

2 The exact dates of the session are likely to be affected by the Covid-19 situation, which led the Council to suspend its 43rd session on 13 March 2020.

3 Committee to Protect Journalists, “2019 prison census: 16 Journalists Imprisoned in Eritrea,”

cation (accessed on 30 April 2020). Eritrea remains at the top of the CPJ’s most-censored countries, as per a 2019 report, “10 Most Censored Countries,” available at: php (accessed on 30 April 2020).

4 Amnesty International, “Human rights in Africa, Review of 2019,” 8 April 2020, Index: AFR 01/1352/2020, available at (accessed on 16 April 2020), p. 39.

5 Human Rights Watch, “‘They Are Making Us into Slaves Not Educating us.’ How Indefinite Conscription Restricts Young People’s Rights, Access to Education in Eritrea,” 8 August 2019,; Human Rights Watch, “Statement to the European

Parliament’s Committee on Development on the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea,” 18 February 2020, available at (accessed on 24 April 2020).

6 Amnesty International, “Human rights in Africa, Review of 2019,” op. cit., p. 38. 2

7 Interactive dialogue with the SR on Human Rights in Eritrea – 9th Meeting, 43rd Regular Session, Human Rights Council (webcast archive), 26 February 2020,; Presentation of High Commissioner/Secretary- General country reports & Item 2 General Debate – 10th Meeting, 43rd Regular Session, Human Rights Council (webcast archive), 27 February 2020, (accessed on 9 April 2020).

8 Permanent Mission of the State of Eritrea to the United Nations, Geneva, “Harassment of Eritrea is Unconscionable,” 6 April 2020, (accessed on 23 April 2020).

9 Amnesty International, “Eritrea: Show humanity and release prisoners of conscience amid COVID-19,” 3 April 2020,; Human Rights Watch, “With COVID-19 Threat, Eritrea Should Release Political Detainees,” 2 April 2020, (accessed on 24 April 2020). 3

By Petros Tesfagiorgis

The ruler of Eritrea, Isaias Afeworki, has refused the COVID-19 supplies donated by the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma and his Alibaba Group. The plane carrying the goods was not authorized to land in

By Petros Tesfagiorgis

The ruler of Eritrea, Isaias Afeworki, has refused the COVID-19 supplies donated by the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma and his Alibaba Group. The plane carrying the goods was not authorized to land in Eritrea and returned to where it came without delivering the intended goods. Because of this the people of Eritrea will be paying a heavy price.

Monday 20 April 2020 the Covid-19 pandemic Global update was:  Infected: 2.4 million; Deaths: 168.000;   Recovered: 485,455

The figures above show that out of more than 2.4 million people affected by Covid-19 there is a good number of people who recovered. That shows government guidelines issued to their citizens to protect themselves from the virus is helpful. There are also other forms of support. For example, in UK there are more than 75,000 volunteers who deliver shopping to those who are sick and old.  There are food banks that distribute food for free to the poor and there is financial help for those who lost their income and cannot pay their house rents and other bills.

In contrast, poor countries lack the resources and expertise to do the same.  This was acknowledged globally and the rich countries felt responsible to provide help.

To that effect, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell said that “cooperation and joint efforts at the international level and multilateral solutions are the way forward, for a true global agenda for the future.” The EU has pledged to provide help worth more than €15.6 billion for countries across Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Balkan region to fight the coronavirus pandemic, of which €3.25 billion is to be channelled to Africa, including €1.19 billion for the Northern African neighbourhood countries.

The Prime Minster of Ethiopia, Dr Abiy Ahmed (PMAA) has written a long letter highlighting the consequence of failing to help the poor countries. He concluded, “We can defeat this invisible and vicious adversary but only with global leadership. However, this is not shared by his confidant, Isaias Afeworki.

This pandemic coronavirus is a global enemy that needs a global effort and commitment to defeat it. Sadly Isaias Afworki does not subscribe to this.  He chose to be a pariah an outcast by design. Is it because getting international help demands monitoring and Isaias is against it, this is has become a serious issue among the Diaspora Eritreans

The decision of the Eritrean government not to accept help from the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma has worried health experts because Eritrea is not equipped to fight a pandemic. Meron Stefanos, executive director of the Eritrean Initiative on Refugee Rights, said to VOA: “Eritrea is not ready for anything.  First of all, just eight months ago, Eritrea shut down 29 clinics run by the Roman Catholic Church.

Furthermore the Government of Ethiopia has ordered the closure of Hitsats refugee camp were 13,000 Eritrean refugees including 1600 minors live. To transfer them to the other crowded camps of Aba Guna, Mayaini and Shimelba on Lorries and buses having to drive for long distances is dangerous. Unaccompanied Eritrean Children are at risk in Ethiopia due to the country’s revised refugee policy, reports Human Rights Watch.

Another troubling incident is the decision of the Ethiopian Government   to stop giving asylum to Eritreans. The repression in Eritrea is continuing unabated so why this change of policy at this time.  This has given rise to all kind of conspiracy theories such as that Isaias has a hand in it.  Many Eritreans asylum seekers unable to get any support from UNHCR are forced to beg in the streets of the town of Mekele, Shire and other towns in the Tigray region.  The population of Tigray and the Government of Tigray region are doing their best to help. This is unforgettable act of sympathy and solidarity.  It is the right way of building peace between the people of Tigray and Eritrea.

The regime do not want to close SAWA, a military training camp where the school leaving year, 12th grade, is taking place. In the camp thousands of young people from the age of 18 to 40 are kept hostages and are assigned to work for international mining companies, in construction sights and farms owned by corrupt high ranking army officers.  It is a form of slavery.  At the same time the regime claims they are there to defend the country from the threat of Weyan (TPLF) invasion. It is an escape goat to hold hostage the youth so they will not oppose the gross human rights violations in Eritrea. In SAWA people live in Dormitories in big numbers and eat in a cafeteria. If the coronavirus entered Sawa it is going to be genocide.

On April 6, the Heads of State of member countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) agreed to formulate a plan to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The leaders of Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, and Sudan together with the prime minster of Ethiopia and the First Vice President of South Sudan held a virtual summit as the amount of confirmed COVID-19 cases keeps increasing in their countries.  Eritrea was the only IGAD member state absent during the virtual summit.  Isaias is scared that being a member of IGAD may require to abide by its decisions one of which could be to release prisoners. That will be unacceptable by Isaias.

It has become crystal clear that the priority of Isaias is to hide his crimes and bury truths and not to release prisoners and save lives. Family members and friends are not allowed to visit their loved ones in prison. More often than not they don’t even know in what prison they are kept and whether they are dead or alive. Some sources reveal that many have died and are buried in unmarked graves.

What is to be done? There is no other way except seize the most challenging momentum yet and call for action: There is no time the regime must be sued to face trial.

To sum up the Government of Eritrea has blocked any help to combat COVID-19. It rejected the United Nations appeal to release prisoners. It failed to close the training camp of SAWA. About 8 months ago it closed 29 health centres serving many villages and small towns. As a consequence how many sick people, including pregnant women are dying of lack of simple health care? The UN inquiry commission on Eritrea reported that the many violations in Eritrea are of a scope and scale seldom seen anywhere else in today’s world. The commission finds that crime against humanity may have occurred with regard to torture, extrajudicial executions, forced labour in the context of national service.

These are powerful set of crimes for which the regime has no defence when and if is brought to the court of law. To act along those line are the only way the just seekers can challenge the power of the regime.

There are information that explains the worst that could happen to the developing countries.

Coronavirus pandemic ‘will cause famine of biblical proportions’

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

The Guardian

I quote “Covid-19 is likely to be sweeping through the developing world but its spread is hard to gauge. What appears to be certain is that the fragile healthcare systems of scores of developing countries will be unable to cope, and the economic disaster following in the wake of the pandemic will lead to huge strain on resources

The desperate situation in Eritrea is expressed in a letter sent to the UN by Daniela Kravetz the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation   of human rights in Eritrea, highlighting the danger Eritreans are facing because of COVID-19.  The special rapporteur is alerting the UN of the danger to Eritreans.

First and foremost, the Just seekers have to prepare well packaged manifesto of the already documented gross human right violations.

Second:  It has to be remembered that when the UN inquiry commission reported all the crime committed in Eritrea, the UN did not take any   action. It failed even to condemn Isaias let alone bring Isaias to court.  Simply, Justice has been denied to the Eritrean people by the UN. It is a historical blunder. The UN encouraged by the peace reached between Eritrea and Ethiopia allowed Eritrea to be a member of the UN human rights commission. Isaias felt more empowered as to close the 29 clinics and imprisoned several Muslims. There are a lot of questions to be answered by the UN.

Third: The just seekers has another option. To go it alone and sue Isaias in courts in the West. It is possible to sue a governments by an individual or groups of individuals in courts in Europe – of a crime that involves thousands of people – in a form of class action. Class action can be brought by few people but could represent thousands of victims in the same case.

Take the example of Citizens for Peace (CPE) in Eritrea.  Following the senseless Ethio-Eritrean border war of 1998-2000, CPA, to which I was a founding member was active in helping a group of American lawyers who initiated a class action case against the Government of Ethiopia on behalf of some expelled Eritreans whose properties were confiscated.  The American Lawyers succeeded in convincing an American law firm to take the case to the US court. The legal hearing / proceedings had been set in motion. The Ethiopians said that they are ready to pay any compensation but there is already a commission regarding compensation and they   will deal with it when the study is complete. They said they will cooperate with it and give compensation.  Indeed there were 3 commissions. Boundary commission, Compensation commission and commission to study how and who started the war.

Belatedly more Ethiopians found out that Isaias hands are poisonous, instead of promoting peace in Eritrea and in Ethiopia he became the champions of hate, dishing out hate campaign   against the regional Government of Tigray in collusion with the Ethiopian extremists like ESSAT.

The most important question is how do deal with it. I don’t have an answer to that but it worries me. There must a committee staffed with professional activists to run the show.  

On the positive side many professional association have mushroomed among the Diaspora, The Eritrean Law society, the newly formed Eritrean women Association in USA who launched a successful conference in Washington DC. A noticeable growth in the confidence and determination of Eritrean women.  One such positive thing of immense importance is the formation of Professional Associations composed of 95 Eritreans Ph.D. holders. There are many other activists such as Hidri Jeganuna,   Eri-platform, Eritrea Focus, Network of Eritrean women in Europe. Most importantly the Eritrean youth.  The youth are on fire saying enough is enough the regime has to go. They have established popular Eritrean Mass Movement “Yiakle” . There are also the contribution of the  political parties.

On the negative side. There is a lack of action that became a handicap to move forward. It must come to an end. During the closure of 29 Health centres, the imprisonment of Muslims in masses and the campaign to refuse to go to SAWA by the youth in Asmara. Nothing was done to condemn the regime. The slogan of the justice seekers “the voice of the voiceless” still remains a slogan only. The just seekers have failed to seize such important momentums and build pressure on the regime and gain valuable experience in working together.

I was about to post this article to when someone told me that Martin Plaut has twitted that the British and US Government have asked their nationals to leave Eritrea. Something is cooking.  May be Isaias is losing control.

That makes even more urgent to act. Isaias is exposed more than ever and even the Ethiopians belatedly learned that he is a liability to them as well. Today the powerful media of Ethiopia is exposing the Human Rights violations in Eritrea. They are asking to clean his house first before he interferes in the internal affairs of Ethiopia.

We have to make clear to the world our objectives   in shaping the highest values in Eritrea: Freedom, democracy, justice, equality, and respect of human rights, the rule of law, fairness and sovereignty. Also in peace with our neighbours.

I reiterate the people of Eritrea wanted peace with all Ethiopians and not minus Tigray. Yes, we have to keep on looking for ways to have real peace- not peace between leaders only but also between our people. A kind of peace that puts the welfare of the people centre stage.  Peace is about re-conciliation, forgiveness, to use the language of peace and other forms of peace building exercises. After so many years of being victims of human rights violation we have to be champion of peace in the Horn. To be so is to reject proxy wars that is bleeding Africa.

The Eritrean Mass movement (Yiakl) are quick to   establish charities to help the refuges mismanaged in Ethiopia   COVID-19 Relief for help refugees is organised by Eritrean Community Connections. Let all of us be generous and help.

The End

Citizen for Peace in Eritrea (CPE) is a voluntary Association of concerned Eritrean citizens who have come together as a committee for the purpose of studying and disseminating information about the Ethio-Eritrean conflict and its human consequences.

April 30, 2020 News

Source: al-Jazeera

Eritrea’s failure to efficiently respond to the pandemic could bring down its authoritarian government.

The coronavirus pandemic will likely spell trouble for Eritrea's authoritarian government led by President Isaias Afwerki, writes Zere [Feisal Omar/Reuters]
The coronavirus pandemic will likely spell trouble for Eritrea’s authoritarian government led by President Isaias Afwerki, writes Zere [Feisal Omar/Reuters]

Similarly, when the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba’s founder Jack Ma offered to send hundreds of ventilators as well as hundreds of thousands of personal protective equipment (PPE) to 54 countries in Africa, most African leaders, such as Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, swiftly accepted the donation and expressed their gratitude.

The leaders of Eritrea, a country ranked 182/189 in the United Nations’s 2019 Human Development Index, however, surprisingly chose to reject the vital equipment Ma offered to send them. On April 5, the head of Economic Affairs for Eritrea’s ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) party, Hagos “Kisha” Gebrehiwet, publicly confirmed that the Eritrean government rejected Ma’s donation. Talking as a guest speaker at the bi-weekly Hagerawi Nikhat (“national consciousness”) teleconference, an exclusive online seminar in which senior party officials get a chance to communicate with their cadres in the diaspora, the man in charge of Eritrea’s economy said the country does not want to become a “dumping site” for “unsolicited donations”. Accepting such offers would be against “the principled stance of the Eritrean government which advocates for self-reliance,” he added.

Within the very same online seminar, Gebrehiwet explained that the Eritrean leadership is now trying to buy the medical equipment needed to treat COVID-19 cases from the incredibly competitive Chinese market and arrange the shipment of these items to Eritrea on chartered planes.  

Of course, despite its rejection of foreign aid, the Eritrean government does not have the necessary funds to swiftly make such purchases. As a result, it turned to its own long-suffering citizens and launched aggressive fundraising campaigns to make them donate the little money they have to the state to help the efforts to combat the virus. Thanks to these aggressive campaigns, some of Eritrea’s most penurious citizens, including members of the national service, have already been coerced to make donations. It is not yet known, however, whether these donations proved sufficient for the country to buy everything it needs to contain the spread of the virus.

While the Eritrean government undoubtedly hindered the country’s ability to respond to this public health emergency by rejecting Ma’s generous donation, this was only one example demonstrating its tendency to value its own image and survival more than the wellbeing of its constituents, even during a pandemic.

While Eritrea is one of the most isolated countries in the world, it did not escape the pandemic. The first COVID-19 case in Eritrea was reported on March 21, and, as of April 28, there are 39 confirmed cases in the country, of which 19 have recovered according to the Ministry of Health. The country has been in a nation-wide lockdown to slow the transmission of the virus since April 1.

The pandemic has not yet reached its peak in Eritrea, but all signs indicate that the country is heading for catastrophe.

Eritrea’s healthcare system is not strong enough to handle a deadly and highly infectious disease like COVID-19. Even before the pandemic, the country’s healthcare facilities had been suffering from an acute shortage of supplies. At certain times, patients have even been asked to buy intravenous (IV) infusions from private pharmacies before being admitted to hospital. The Eritrean government closed all private clinics in 2009. In the second wave of state seizure that started in June 2019, it also took control of 29 Catholic hospitals, health centres and clinics. Meanwhile, the unfavourable working conditions pushed many Eritrean physicians to flee the country, causing major staff shortages in hospitals.

And lack of quality public healthcare is not the only reason why the coronavirus pandemic is likely to have catastrophic consequences for Eritrea.

Although many countries, including some developed nations, are suffering from a shortage of essential products as a result of the pandemic, the magnitude of the problem is double in the case of Eritrea where import and export businesses have been banned since 2003.

As, even during normal times, Eritreans can only buy rationed essential supplies that are on sale in the governing party’s stores, they could not stockpile to prepare for the lockdown. Moreover, even if the state miraculously managed to secure extra goods to put on sale, Eritreans would not be able to do any extra shopping as they are not allowed to withdraw more than $330 in any given month from their own savings. This, despiteEritrea being a complete cash economy

Since the mid-2000s, Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki has been spending most of his time supervising dam constructions. Yet the country’s major cities, including the capital, are still suffering from a chronic shortage of running water and electricity. In August 2018, the regime rounded up many water-tank truck owners. Many of them remain in prison. All water bottling companies were closed in June 2019. This makes it impossible for many Eritreans to follow the hygiene protocols necessary to curb the spread of the virus.

If not impossible, the regime has also made it very difficult forEritreans in diaspora to help their family members back home. Eritrean citizens living abroad are required to pay the so called “diaspora tax” first if they want to send goods to their home country. Wiring money back to Eritrea is also not easy for members of the diaspora, as they are forced to use an extremely deflated fixed currency rate imposed by the government to do so.

Eritreans are also suffering from a lack of political leadership during this difficult time. While the leaders of most countries are doing daily briefings to inform their citizens on the latest developments about the pandemic, President Isaias has not spoken to the Eritrean people or media for almost two months after giving an interview to the state-run media in mid-February, in which he did not even mention the growing threat posed by the new coronavirus. His prolonged absence from public life led to rumours that he is incapacitated or even dead. 

Inside sources told me the president was in the port-city of Massawa during his months of absence from public life, as he reportedly plans to relocate his temporary office to Gedem, near Massawa. Sources close to the matter also told me that it has been very difficult to get hold of him during this time. In an extremely centralised system, where senior state officials cannot make the smallest decision without the president’s approval, one can only imagine the damage caused by Afwerki’s absence during such a crucial time.

After his prolonged absence, on April 18, the president suddenly sent a five-minute recorded message to the Eritrean people from an unknown location. Afwerki only mentioned the pandemic in the introduction of his message and went on to tell his constituents that COVID-19 should not “derail the development programmes” his leadership has embarked on. The president’s message made it clear that the pandemic is just a secondary concern for the government. The Ministry of Information, however, only translated into English the short section of the message where the president mentioned the pandemic.

As it became clear that Eritrea is not going to be able to protect its citizens from COVID-19, rights groups, exiled scholars, and the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Eritrea, have called on the Eritrean government to release the tens of thousands of prisoners of conscience who have long been languishing in overcrowded and unsanitary prisons. Many also expressed concern about the thousands of students who are living in cramped conditions at the Sawa military training centre.

During his online seminar, Gebrehiwet also responded to these calls, brushing them off as “hypocritical”. Rather than offering an explanation as to how they are planning to stop the virus from spreading like wildfire in prisons and military schools, he claimed these would be the best places for anyone who needs to be in quarantine.

In response to the growing criticism of its COVID-19 response and concerns over the wellbeing of its citizens, the Eritrean government issued a statement on April 6, accusing the UNHRC of “harassment” and claiming that the state’s “enemies” are using the pandemic to push for regime change.

While the accusation that rights groups, media organisations and the UN itself are using the pandemic to push for regime change in Eritrea is clearly unfounded, there is a very real chance that this public health emergency is going to spell trouble for Eritrea’s authoritarian government.

History shows that public health crises such as pandemics, food shortages or extreme pollution harm all governments, but pose the most significant threat to authoritarian regimes. The 1973-1975 Ethiopian famine, for example, was the final trigger that ended Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign in the country. In Sudan, it was Omar al-Bashir’s repeated failure to handle such crises, such as the cholera outbreak of 2017 and the spike in the price of bread in 2018, that led to the demise of his 30-year regime.

The Eritrean government demonstrably failed to respond efficiently to the most significant public health threat the world has faced in a century. If it does not change its ways, accept the global community’s help and take action to save the lives of already-suffering Eritreans, it is unlikely to survive past this pandemic. 

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


President of the Sudanese Transitional Council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (C), walks alongside military officer during an army exercise on the outskirts of the capital Khartoum on 30 October 2019. [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images]
President of the Sudanese Transitional Council, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan (C), walks alongside military officer during an army exercise on the outskirts of the capital Khartoum on 30 October 2019. [ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP via Getty Images]

The Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council has revealed that Ethiopian forces and militias have seized a large part of his country’s territory along the border.

“There are old problems. Herders have lost their livestock and farmers have lost their lands. The armed forces had nothing to do but to protect them because the Ethiopians imposed their presence,” explained Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan in an interview broadcast on Saturday on official Sudanese TV.

Al-Burhan’s announcement was the first admission by a Sudanese official of the Ethiopian occupation of agricultural land in Gedaref Governorate in the east of Sudan. He confirmed that a Sudanese soldier was killed and two others were injured during a recent cross-border attack by Ethiopian militias.

READ: Arab, Gulf countries intervene to help with Ethiopia dam dispute 

Earlier this month, Al-Burhan accompanied the Army Chief of Staff, the Director of the Intelligence Service and other senior army officers as they inspected the 2nd Infantry Division stationed along the border with Ethiopia. At the time, the Chairman of the Sovereignty Council said that the army is fully prepared to protect Sudanese citizens and lands and stressed that the armed forces will never fail in their duty.

Two days later, Ethiopia’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Adam Mohamed, arrived in Khartoum, accompanied by a number of senior military officers. He held talks with Al-Burhan and also met with Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The two officials agreed to control the border and curb transnational crimes, reaching a “full and lasting understanding to secure joint borders.”

On 30 March, the Sudanese army was redeployed, after an absence of nearly 25 years, in Al-Fashaqa Al-Sughra on the border with Ethiopia. The area is disputed by the two countries and is witnessing occasional tension due to criminal activities.


(File photo) child marriage, girl, school, rape, abuse
6 April 2020
UN Women (New York)


With 90 countries in lockdown, four billion people are now sheltering at home from the global contagion of COVID-19. It’s a protective measure, but it brings another deadly danger. We see a shadow pandemic growing of violence against women.

As more countries report infection and lockdown, more domestic violence helplines and shelters across the world are reporting rising calls for help. In Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom(1), and the United States, (2) government authorities, women’s rights activists and civil society partners have flagged increasing reports of domestic violence during the crisis, and heightened demand for emergency shelter (3 ,4 ,5). Helplines in Singapore (6) and Cyprus have registered an increase in calls by more than 30 percent (7). In Australia, 40 per cent of frontline workers in a New South Wales survey reported increased requests for help with violence that was escalating in intensity(8).

Confinement is fostering the tension and strain created by security, health, and money worries. And it is increasing isolation for women with violent partners, separating them from the people and resources that can best help them. It’s a perfect storm for controlling, violent behaviour behind closed doors. And in parallel, as health systems are stretching to breaking point, domestic violence shelters are also reaching capacity, a service deficit made worse when centres are repurposed for additional COVID-response.

Even before COVID-19 existed, domestic violence was already one of the greatest human rights violations. In the previous 12 months, 243 million women and girls (aged 15-49) across the world have been subjected to sexual or physical violence by an intimate partner. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, this number is likely to grow with multiple impacts on women’s wellbeing, their sexual and reproductive health, their mental health, and their ability to participate and lead in the recovery of our societies and economy.

Wide under-reporting of domestic and other forms of violence has previously made response and data gathering a challenge, with less than 40 per cent of women who experience violence seeking help of any sort or reporting the crime. Less than 10 per cent of those women seeking help go to the police. The current circumstances make reporting even harder, including limitations on women’s and girls’ access to phones and helplines and disrupted public services like police, justice and social services. These disruptions may also be compromising the care and support that survivors need, like clinical management of rape, and mental health and psycho-social support. They also fuel impunity for the perpetrators. In many countries the law is not on women’s side; 1 in 4 countries have no laws specifically protecting women from domestic violence.

If not dealt with, this shadow pandemic will also add to the economic impact of COVID-19. The global cost of violence against women had previously been estimated at approximately US$1.5 trillion. That figure can only be rising as violence increases now, and continues in the aftermath of the pandemic.

The increase in violence against women must be dealt with urgently with measures embedded in economic support and stimulus packages that meet the gravity and scale of the challenge and reflect the needs of women who face multiple forms of discrimination. The Secretary-General has called for all governments to make the prevention and redress of violence against women a key part of their national response plans for COVID-19. Shelters and helplines for women must be considered an essential service for every country with specific funding and broad efforts made to increase awareness about their availability.

Grassroots and women’s organizations and communities have played a critical role in preventing and responding to previous crises and need to be supported strongly in their current frontline role including with funding that remains in the longer-term. Helplines, psychosocial support and online counselling should be boosted, using technology-based solutions such as SMS, online tools and networks to expand social support, and to reach women with no access to phones or internet.  Police and justice services must mobilize to ensure that incidents of violence against women and girls are given high priority with no impunity for perpetrators. The private sector also has an important role to play, sharing information, alerting staff to the facts and the dangers of domestic violence and encouraging positive steps like sharing care responsibilities at home.

COVID-19 is already testing us in ways most of us have never previously experienced, providing emotional and economic shocks that we are struggling to rise above. The violence that is emerging now as a dark feature of this pandemic is a mirror and a challenge to our values, our resilience and shared humanity. We must not only survive the coronavirus, but emerge renewed, with women as a powerful force at the centre of recovery.

April 25, 2020 News

There have been lots of queries about what Britain is doing.

To avoid any doubt, I am posting screenshots of the advice that was on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office website yesterday.

I make no reference to the many rumours swirling around about the situation inside Eritrea.

April 19, 2020 Ethiopia, News

Please note: there have been a series of articles with different reports on the situation. See previous posts.

Source: Al-Jazeera

Residents express deep concern about planned relocation as aid groups say the move risks exposure to COVID-19.

Eritrean refugee children play in the Hitsats refugee camp in the Tigray region near the Eritrean boarder [File: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]
Eritrean refugee children play in the Hitsats refugee camp in the Tigray region near the Eritrean boarder [File: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters]

Home to some 26,000 people, including some 1,600 minors, Hitsats is one of four camps in the northern Tigray region hosting nearly 100,000 Eritrean refugees, according to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR).

Earlier this month, Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) announced to residents in Hitsats camp that the federal government had decided to relocate them to Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps, or offer them the possibility to live in towns. 

The plan has yet to be executed amid the coronavirus pandemic, but officials say preparations continue.

“We are ready to start the relocation at any time,” Eyob Awoke, deputy director general of ARRA, told Al Jazeera, noting that the declaration of a state of emergency last week due to the pandemic had forced authorities “to timely adapt the initial plan”.

“External factors are hampering us,” Eyob added, “but we can start with small numbers”.

“Hitsats refugees are suffering a lot from shortage of water, shelter and access to electricity,” Eyob said. “Merging of these camps is mainly required to ensure efficient and effective use of available resources.”

COVID-19 risk

The timeline and measures for the closure have not been shared with the UNHCR and other partners.

Yet, there are concerns that Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps are almost full and lack the infrastructure needed to cope with new arrivals, including sub-standard access to water.

In a statement sent to Al Jazeera on Friday, the UNHCR urged the government to put on hold any relocation effort, saying it risked making refugees vulnerable to COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus.

“Any large-scale movement now will expose the refugees to risk of COVID-19 outbreak in camps”, the agency said.

ARRA assured that the transfer of the refugees would be carried out in a coordinated way. As of April 19, Ethiopia had 108 confirmed coronavirus cases, including three deaths.

In a letter sent to the UN at the end of March, refugees in Hitsats camp had also expressed deep concern about the prospect of the camp’s closure.

“We are in a deep fear, psychological stress and we need protection”, read the letter, which was seen by Al Jazeera.

“We feel threatened. They told us that if we decide to stay, we will lose any kind of support,” a refugee living in Hitsats camp told Al Jazeera.

Currently, only critical humanitarian and life-saving activities are running at the camp, as well as awareness-raising activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the beginning of the month, the UNHCR and the World Food Programme reported that residents in Hitsats received a food ration for April.

INSIDE STORY: Why are Eritreans fleeing their country? (23:05)

Eritrean refugees are also allowed to live outside camps, but many do not want to leave Hitsats.

Other refugees eventually settle in the capital, Addis Ababa, but struggle to make a living and are highly dependent on external aid.

So far this year, ARRA has issued 5,000 official permits for refugees to live outside camps, according to the UNHCR, mainly for Eritreans in Hitsats and other camps in Tigray.

“In light of the current rush to close the camp, one is compelled to ponder whether the decision is more political as opposed to an operational one?” said Mehari Taddele Maru, a professor at the European University Institute.

The UNHCR, in its statement to Al Jazeera, said it could not speculate about the government’s rationale for closing the camp.

In a letter dated April 9, 2020 that was seen by Al Jazeera, ARRA communicated to all humanitarian partners that new arrivals from neighbouring Eritrea would no longer be offered “prima facie” refugee status, revisiting a longstanding policy of automatically granting all Eritrean asylum seekers the right to stay.

“We will have to narrow down the criteria for accepting Eritrean asylum claims, they have to demonstrate a personal fear of persecution based on political or religious action or association or military position”, Eyob said.

“Today, the situation is not like before, many people are coming to Ethiopia and going back to Eritrea.”

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sparked an historic rapprochement with Eritrea soon after taking office in April 2018, restoring ties that had been frozen since a 1998-2000 border war. His efforts in ending two decades of hostilities were cited by the Norwegian Nobel Committee as one of the main reasons for awarding Abiy the Nobel Peace Prize last year.

The rapprochement, however, has yet to lead to the full normalisation of the two neighbours’ ties, while activists’ hopes that the peace process would lead to major policy reforms within Eritrea have been largely dashed. The long-criticised universal conscription is still in place while crippling restrictions on press freedom and freedom of expression continue.

“We cannot return to Eritrea”, a refugee in Hitsats told Al Jazeera.

“For Eritreans, fleeing is one of the only real options to escape their government’s repression”, Laetitia Bader, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said.

“Any policy shifts are definitely a risk to Eritreans’ right to asylum,” Bader said.


This difficult and depressing report comes from the UN Economic Commission for Africa. The full report can be found here.

Perhaps the most important message is that keeping 2 metres away from people we are not living with and regularly washing our hands with soap and water (don’t forget your thumbs and the backs of your hands!) are the best defences against Covid-19.

These are not easy measure, given the numbers living in informal settlements, or urban slums, as the report calls them.

Perhaps the most shocking and deeply worrying set of statistics come as a footnote to Annex 1. It the gap the Economic Commission for Africa estimates exists between the health resources Africa has at present, and what it needs.

Screenshot 2020-04-18 at 09.39.17

This suggests that Africa has only half the hospital beds it needs, just 20% of the intensive care beds and none – yes none – of the ventilators and test kits the continent requires.

This is their summary.


People: Anywhere between 300,000 and 3.3 million African people could lose their lives as a direct result of COVID-19, depending on the intervention measures taken to stop the spread.

Screenshot 2020-04-18 at 09.29.37Africa is particularly susceptible because 56 per cent of the urban population is concentrated in overcrowded and poorly serviced slum dwellings (excluding North Africa) and only 34 per cent of the households have access to basic hand washing facilities. In all, 71 per cent of Africa’s workforce is informally employed, and most of those cannot work from home. Close to 40 per cent of children under 5 years of age in Africa are undernourished. Of all the continents Africa has the highest prevalence of certain underlying conditions, like tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. With lower ratios of hospital beds and health professionals to its population than other regions, high dependency on imports for its medicinal and pharmaceutical products, weak legal identity systems for direct benefit transfers, and weak economies that are unable to sustain health and lockdown costs, the continent is vulnerable.

Screenshot 2020-04-18 at 09.29.00

Prosperity: The impact on African economies could be the slowing of growth to 1.8 per cent in the best case scenario or a contraction of 2.6 per cent in the worst case.

This has the potential to push 27 million people into extreme poverty. Even if the spread of COVID-19 is suppressed in Africa its economic damage will be unavoidable. The price of oil, which accounts for 40 per cent of Africa’s exports, has halved, and major African exports such as textiles and fresh-cut flowers have crashed. Tourism – which accounts for up to 38 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) of some African countries – has effectively halted, as has the airline industry that supports it. Collapsed businesses may never recover. Without a rapid response, Governments risk losing control and facing unrest. To protect and build towards our shared prosperity at least $100 billion is needed to immediately resource a health and social safety net response. Another $100 billion is critical for economic emergency stimulus, including a debt standstill, the financing of a special purpose vehicle for commercial debt obligations, and provision of extra liquidity for the private sector.

Partnerships: African economies are interconnected: our response must bring us together as one. The development finance institutions must at this time play an unprecedented counter-cyclical role to protect the private sector and save jobs.

We must keep trade flowing, particularly in essential medical supplies and staple foods, by fighting the urge to impose export bans. Intellectual property on medical supplies, novel testing kits and vaccines must be shared to help the continent’s private sector take its part in our response. The level of assistance that is required is unprecedented. Innovative financing facilities are needed, including a complete temporary debt standstill, enhanced access to emergency funding facilities, and the provision of liquidity lines to the private sector in Africa. We must “build back better”, by ensuring that there is an abiding climate consciousness in the rebuilding and by leveraging the digital economy. And we must be firm and clear on good governance to safeguard African health systems, ensure proper use of emergency funds, hold African businesses from collapse and reduce worker lay-offs.