The acquittal of this victim of mistaken identity is also a damning indictment of Italy’s and the UK’s misguided anti-trafficking policy in the Horn of Africa, writes Dr Lutz Oette

Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe

Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe. Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images

The acquittal of Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe (Eritrean man accused of human trafficking cleared in case of mistaken identity, 13 July) is a much belated recognition of his innocence, after he was arrested in Sudan following a British tip-off and tried in Italy. It is also a damning indictment of Italy’s and the UK’s misguided anti-trafficking policy in the Horn of Africa. Both states have been at the forefront of the so-called Khartoum Process in which the EU and European states cooperated with regimes such as Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan. Critics of this process had warned all along about the risk of such partnerships. Mr Berhe’s case was therefore not an unfortunate, unforeseeable incident but entirely predictable. It is time for a thorough inquiry to establish the UK’s role in framing an innocent man and effectively delivering him into the hands of Sudanese forces who were known for torturing suspects, and duly did torture Mr Berhe, who is owed more than an apology by the UK.
Dr Lutz Oette
Senior lecturer in law, Soas University of London


Eritrea’s gulag state is crumbling

Saturday, 13 July 2019 23:36 Written by

July 13, 2019 News

Where’s the peace dividend? Eritrea’s gulag state is crumbling

“Silent protest is growing,” says another army officer. “When we meet in the military camps, we talk about the wrongdoings of this government.”

The Economist

Issaias Afwerki made peace a year ago. His people want the dividend


ABIY AHMED’S arrival in Asmara on July 8th last year was as colourful as it was historic. Thousands thronged the streets of the Eritrean capital to witness the first visit by an Ethiopian leader since the two countries fought a bloody war from 1998 to 2000. Both national flags fluttered along the boulevard from the airport; women carried plates of popcorn which they threw over the crowds in celebration. Eritrea’s ageing dictator, Issaias Afwerki, beamed as he embraced his young counterpart and signed a peace deal to end two decades of enmity. “There is no border between Ethiopia and Eritrea,” Abiy declared. “Instead we have built a bridge of love.”

The promise of peace was tantalising. Telephone lines and flights between the two countries were restored. Two months later the land border opened. For the first time in years Eritreans could leave their country freely. Many thought that, with the war over, Issaias would soon enact other reforms. They particularly hoped he would end the system of indefinite conscription that the UN likens to mass enslavement—and which has helped earn Eritrea the nickname “the North Korea of Africa”.

A year later Eritreans are still waiting. “Nothing has changed,” says Milena, a 16-year-old who faces being called up next year. The government has yet to say whether an old 18-month limit on conscription will be restored. Some recruits are now paid salaries and put to work in government offices, rather than brutal army bases in the desert. But there are no signs that Issaias will end conscription entirely.

Without explanation, Eritrea has once more closed all its border crossings with Ethiopia, ending a short-lived boom in cross-border trade. Food prices are rising. Markets in Asmara, which briefly bustled with Ethiopian traders, are quiet. Businesses and factories are closing, some because of a shortage of raw materials. Some water-bottlers, for instance, have shut for want of imported plastic.

Local authorities have stepped up the demolition of unlicensed homes. After the peace some residents began renovating or building new houses, wrongly assuming the government would loosen rules that effectively bar private construction. They are being bulldozed.

Even officials are perplexed. Some have stopped coming to work because they have not been told what to do. Their offices, in departments such as trade and education, stand empty. Issaias has held only one cabinet meeting since the peace deal.

Patience in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, is starting to wear a little thin. A draft trade agreement was sent to Asmara for comments late last year, according to insiders, but nothing has been heard of it since. Landlocked Ethiopia’s dream of using Eritrean ports, a huge potential benefit of the thaw, seems a long way off. The Eritrean Red Sea town of Massawa is “as dead as always”, remarks a visitor.

The most vexing issue of the peace deal, the physical demarcation of the border, appears to have been kicked into the long grass. Disputed areas such as Badme, the one-goat village over which the war started, remain under Ethiopian administration. Troops eye one another across the dusty frontier.

With neither a war to justify his repressive dictatorship, nor any promise of reforms to placate long-suffering citizens, Issaias’s grip on power seems to be weakening. For the first time in years, says a military officer, people are openly complaining in neighbourhood meetings, despite the threat of being denied state rations for doing so. “I see many people calling for his resignation,” he says. In recent weeks residents of Asmara have woken up to fresh graffiti calling for an end to conscription. Seditious pamphlets printed in Ethiopia, as well as two new television channels linked to the exiled opposition, are stirring anger. “Silent protest is growing,” says another army officer. “When we meet in the military camps, we talk about the wrongdoings of this government.”

But rather than taking to the streets, Eritreans are emigrating. Despite the closed border, many steal away. Soldiers, who once shot at those trying to sneak across the frontier, now turn a blind eye. More than 60,000 Eritreans have registered as refugees in Ethiopia since September.

Issaias does not face much international pressure. In November the UN lifted an arms embargo first imposed in 2009. He has also mended fences with Sudan and Somalia, and has drawn closer to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Even so, he seems concerned about the possibility of protests. He appears less frequently in public. He has shut down health centres run by the Catholic church (apparently because its bishops criticised him) and is arresting people at random. Social media have been blocked for weeks. Some internet cafés have been closed. “The government seems to fear the Sudan revolution might happen in Eritrea,” muses an employee at the agriculture ministry.

Yet unlike in Sudan, where protests forced out a veteran despot, Omar al-Bashir, there are few young folk left in Eritrea. Barely 1% of the population uses the internet, so it is hard to organise protests online. “It will not be done on the streets,” says Zecarias Gerrima, a former journalist who is now in exile. A coup is more likely, though Issaias may be able to hang on. His country, meanwhile, is emptying.

July 7, 2019 News

Gail Orenstein | NurPhoto | AFP

In mid-June, the Eritrean military forcibly closed down 21 Catholic hospitals and other medical facilities.

“The purpose of the brutal actions of the Eritrean government was to divest the Church of all services in the areas of education and health. Our work is to be restricted only to our places of worship,” an Eritrean priest told Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).Father Mussie Zerai lives in Rome and coordinates pastoral work for Eritrea and Eritrean communities in Europe, which are steadily growing as thousands of people leave their homeland each year.

In mid-June, the Eritrean military forcibly closed down 21 Catholic hospitals and other medical facilities. Patients were more or less thrown out of their beds. The military smashed windows and doors and harassed staff, Father Zerai said. He reported that the director of a hospital in northern Eritrea, a Franciscan sister, was arrested when she resisted the closure.

Observers from outside of the country have suggested that, in the eyes of the government of President Isaias Aferwerki, the Church has become too self-confident in its efforts to further the peace process with Ethiopia, and they believe that the government wants to have sole control of the social sector. Said Father Zerai: “The government is obsessed with having control over everything and everyone. It sees the Catholic Church as a threat because we are part of an international network and ask questions.”

There are at most between 120,000 and 160,000 Catholics in Eritrea. Half of its population is Christian. In addition to Roman Catholicism and Sunni Islam, the Orthodox and Lutheran Churches are the only other religious denominations tolerated by the state. Unlike other countries in North Africa, Islam is not the state religion in Eritrea. The country has a “strong atheistic leaning. If it were up to the government, religion would not exist. Essentially, it follows the same school of thought as China,” said Father Zerai.

The priest is only able to speak freely because he lives outside of the country. He is no longer able to return to his homeland. The bishops in the country—there are four dioceses—are frequently pressured by the government. But this has not stopped them from vehemently protesting against the closure of the hospitals.

 The priest said it is impossible to carry out opposition efforts against these and other human rights violations. “Any form of opposition, even the slightest sign of it, is immediately nipped in the bud,” he said. Thus, most of the reports of human rights violations in Eritrea come from refugees. International organizations are either refused entry into the country or it is made extremely difficult for them to function.

“Young Eritreans are leaving the country in growing numbers because there is no rule of law,” Father Zerai said. The country’s constitution has still not been fully implemented: “This is why people can just be picked up from their homes without reason. Military service has become legalized slavery,” he said.

The possibility of a future is taken away from the young,” Father Zerai said.  Attempts by the international community to put pressure on Eritrea’s government because of its human rights record have failed. The country has largely isolated itself.

According to Father Zerai, freedom of religion is severely restricted and at the mercy of capriciousness: “A few are permitted to freely practice their religion, but not all.” Despite the current crisis the priest is certain that “the Catholic Church will continue its pastoral work, but also its social work. After all, it says in the Bible: faith without works is dead. Taking away the ability of the Church to carry out charitable works is like amputating one of its arms.”

July 8, 2019 Ethiopia, News

Source: African Arguments

Since the historic accord last year, the border has closed again and little has changed. Patience among Eritreans is wearing thin.

Eritrea and Ethiopia. Credit: Fitsum Arega.

A year ago today, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrived in the Eritrea capital of Asmara. Eritreans lined the streets, ecstatic to greet the leader of the country with whom they had been locked in conflict for two decades.

It was a truly landmark visit, ending years of hostility. From 1998 to 2000, Ethiopia and Eritrea had fought a border war in which some 100,000 people were killed. The resulting peace deal should have led to a renewal of relations as well as an exchange of prisoners and territory. But Ethiopia’s then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi refused to accept the loss of Badme, the village that had triggered the war, and there followed 20 years of stalemate. Troops from both countries stared across the thousand-kilometre border in a state of “no war, no peace”.

Prime Minister Abiy’s decision last year to recognise Badme as belonging to Eritrea opened the way for his visit to Asmara. His welcome could hardly have been warmer. Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki – renowned for hardly cracking a smile – was seen laughing and joking with his opposite number. Eritrean television showed Abiy meeting Isaias’s family and playing with his grandchildren.

Less than a week later, the Eritrean leader was in Addis Ababa where the welcome was just as warm. “This is a historic day for all of us,” President Isaias declared at a lunch with Abiy at the National Palace. “Anyone who thinks the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia are separated is considered as naïve from now on.”

In September, the relationship was then cemented by the formal signing of a peace deal in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, witnessed by the Saudi King and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Abiy and Isaias agreed that the Ethiopia-Eritrea borders would be opened, relations normalised, and the disputes of the past put behind them. What could possibly go wrong?

A year later

For a while, all went well. Ethiopians flew into Eritrea for joyous and tearful reunions with their families. Traders crossed the border to sell their goods in Eritrean towns. Businesses on both sides of the border boomed. Mebrhit Gebrehans, a middle-aged Ethiopian woman welcomed the transformation, telling the BBC: “What we fear is war. We love peace. When the Eritreans come to this market, I welcome them with a smiling face.” Eritreans were able to get into Ethiopia easily by taxi, and thousands made the journey, with up to 500 people a day leaving for a better life.

A year on, however, the situation has been reversed. The borders are officially closed. No explanation has been given for this decision, but it appears that Eritrean authorities feared that members of the opposition were crossing over from Ethiopia where they had been stationed for many years. The main remaining sign of the peace deal are the daily Ethiopian Airlines flights that are only available to well-off Eritreans, over the age of 50, with official clearance to leave the county.

Inside Eritrea, there have been few benefits from peace beyond the ability to find everyday items brought into the country by Ethiopian traders using unofficial trade routes. The government’s policy of indefinite national service for all Eritreans remains intact. There has been no apparent progress towards officially regulating the border, a task that was meant to be tackled by joint commission from both countries. And the Eritrean parliament, which was disbanded in February 2002, has not reassembled and has had no opportunity to scrutinise or ratify the treaty signed by President Isaias.

Meanwhile, some Eritreans are worrying about their country’s independence, won at such a high price in 1993. They watched nervously last year as Abiy and Isaias pledged to share the key Eritrean port of Assab, with the French promising to help Ethiopia rebuild its navy. They have also noted that some Ethiopians started producing unofficial maps of the region that didn’t recognise the sovereignty of Eritrea.

Growing frustrations

Today then, even Eritreans who had hitherto supported the government or at least refrained from criticising it, believing this to be the best approach to safeguarding Eritrea’s sovereignty, have begun changing their stand. Members of the diaspora have launched a campaign under the slogan ‘Enough!’ This has captured popular imagination, particularly among young people who were born and raised outside the country. The activists’ creativity has resulted in an unrelenting social media campaign calling for change. Rallies and unprecedentedly large gatherings of Eritreans abroad have taken up their call.

These campaigns have been echoed inside the country, with youths writing slogans on walls protesting against indefinite conscription. Thousands of leaflets have been distributed internally, while ordinary Eritreans now openly watch and debate issues covered by opposition radio and television shows broadcast from abroad to growing audiences.

The Eritrean government has retaliated by trying to identify and quash all potential sources of encouragement for popular protest. The regime has, for example, targeted religious groups, perhaps remembering the strong protests in 2017 when the government cracked down on a Muslim school in Asmara. It has disrupted Christian prayer meetings, arrested members of “unregistered” churches, and even detained outspoken priests and monks from the “registered” Orthodox church for supporting the Patriarch of the Orthodox church, who has been under house arrest since 2005. The government has also closed 33 hospitals, clinics and health stations run by the Catholic Church of Eritrea in apparent retaliation for pastoral remarks calling for a peace dividend for the people and the opening up of democratic space.

While Eritreans are growing restless, Ethiopians have their own problems to attend to. The northern region of Tigray has repeatedly refused to allow heavy artillery to be moved away from the border, fearing an Eritrean attack. Meanwhile, more than two million Ethiopians have been displaced by ethnic conflict and there was recently a largely unexplained apparent coup attempt in the Amhara region, with the simultaneous killing of the army chief of staff in Addis Ababa.

A year on, the euphoria of the Eritrea-Ethiopia peace deal has evaporated. A sullen, tense cloud now hangs over relations between Asmara and Addis Ababa, with both nations watching developments along the border with concern.

Ethiopia plans rail link with Eritrea

Saturday, 06 July 2019 14:45 Written by

July 5, 2019 Ethiopia, News

Source: Construction Review

The government of Ethiopia has announced plans to build a railway line that connects Ethiopia with port cities of Eritrea.

Speaking during the Ethio-Italian Business Forum, Ahmed Shide,Minister of Finance Minister of Finance said that a feasibility study has been launched and theWorld Bank Groupis behind the project. The studies will determine the overall cost of the project.

Ethiopia- Eritrea rail project

The railway project will see ports of Assab and Massawa will having direct railway links with North, East and central parts of Ethiopia. So far, Ethiopia has rail and road or power connectivity with Djibouti, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan.

Emanuela Del Re, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy on his side said that her government will consider involving in the Ethio- Eritrean railway connection.

Mr Del Re who met with Eritrea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Yemane Gebreab, Eritrea’s Presidential Advisor and Head of Political Affairs had a brief meeting about development projects in both countries and Italy pledged assistance on the preservation and protection of the Aksum Monolithic Obelisks in Ethiopia which are currently in a deplorable state.

The Italian Deputy Minister noted that Italy has provided US $170m to finance development projects. The business summit which witnessed attendances from high level government officials with 40 major companies of Italy briefed the delegates on the ongoing reform packages in Ethiopia.

President of Italian Trade Agency, Carlo Ferro who was also in attendance said that Italian businesses have invested US $672bn in Ethiopia and would like to invest more, recently Calzedonia Group, a renowned apparel brand has set foot in Ethiopia. 

July 3, 2019 News

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is appealing to Eritrea not to close the Umkulu refugee camp after hundreds of refugees left the site in recent weeks, amidst reports that local authorities had asked residents to leave.

Umkulu camp, located some 10 kilometres from the Red Sea port town of Massawa, is Eritrea’s only refugee camp. As of mid-June, the camp hosted more than 2,100 Somali refugees. Of these, 1,300 people have now arrived in northern Ethiopia.

“We call on the Eritrean authorities to continue to work with us on securing protection and solutions for refugees who remain in the country,”said Raouf Mazou, Director of UNHCR’s Regional Bureau for Africa.

“Closing a camp which has hosted Somali refugees for close to twenty years without offering alternatives raises serious concerns,” UNHCR’s Mazou added.

UNHCR is coordinating with the Ethiopian authorities to relocate the 1,300 refugees who arrived in Ethiopia away from the border and to transfer them to Melkadida in the Southern part of the country. The first relocations are expected to start on Wednesday, 3 July 2019.

Ethiopia is host to some 257,000 Somali refugees.

The United Nations has called for an independent inquiry into the bombing of a Libyan migrant detention centre that left at least 44 dead and more than 130 severely injured, describing the attack as “a war crime and odious bloody carnage”.

The detention centre east of Tripoli was housing more than 610 people when it was hit by two airstrikes. Libya’s UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, blamed the bombing on the air force of Khalifa Haftar.

The GNA has been defending Tripoli from an assault launched by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) on 4 April that has left hundreds of people dead.

Gen Khaled el-Mahjoub, a spokesman for the LNA, denied targeting the detention centre, saying it was the militia camp in the Tajoura neighborhood that was the target. He did not deny, however, that the migrant detention centre was hit. “We didn’t give orders to target the shelter,” he said.

The death toll, which includes many women and children, represents one of the largest single losses of civilian life since the civil war in 2011.

The air raid, involving two missiles, occurred in the early hours of Wednesday morning and left the detention centre a charred ruin. The LNA had on Monday warned that it was stepping up air raids on the capital in response to recent military reverses.

The commander of LNA’s air force operations room, Maj Gen Mohamed Manfour, had warned that as part of “exhausting all traditional means” to capture Tripoli, LNA would conduct “strong and decisive airstrikes” against select targets.

The UN refugee agency had previously called for people to be removed from the detention centre in Tajoura, expressing fears that they were likely to be victims of air raids being mounted by Haftar’s air force. The detention centre is close to a military supply depot for militia working to protect the GNA.

Condemning the destruction, the UN special envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, said: “This attack clearly could constitute a war crime, as it killed by surprise innocent people whose dire conditions forced them to be in that shelter. The absurdity of this ongoing war today has led this odious bloody carnage to its most hideous and most tragic consequences.”

The international outcry, including an emergency closed session of the UN security council, will put pressure on Haftar’s backers, notably the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, to withdraw their support, or at least demand an end to the nightly air raids.

The UAE is already facing a threat of a US congressional ban on US arms sales amid claims, denied by the UAE, that arms supplied by the US have been transferred to Haftar for his assault on Tripoli. The UN has imposed an arms embargo on Libya.

The multiple calls for an inquiry into the attack on the detention centre were led by the UN secretary general, the African Union and the European Union, and supported by individual states including Germany, France, Turkey, Qatar and the UK.

Salvini, criticised across Europe for his refusal to allow migrant ships from Libya to dock in Italy, was the most forthright, saying: “Haftar is responsible for a criminal attack … I hope there is no one left, and I do not mention the French, who for economic and commercial reasons support an attack on civilian targets.” Italy has repeatedly accused France of covertly helping Haftar, and his claim to be leading a fight against Islamists and terror.

The EU defended itself from claims that it was responsible for the plight of the migrants in Libya by backing Libyan coastguard efforts to deter the migrants from reaching Europe.

Calling for an independent investigation, the EU said: “We have sought to evacuate refugees and migrants from the detention centres near the frontline. Where possible, we have enabled them to find safety outside Libya – these efforts must continue and be stepped up urgently.

“Unfortunately, many more are at risk and should be transferred to safe places swiftly so they can receive assistance and be evacuated.”

Libyan Red Crescent workers recover migrants bodies after an airstrike at a detention centre in Tajoura

Libyan Red Crescent workers recover bodies after the airstrike at a detention centre in Tajoura. Photograph: Hazem Ahmed/AP

The UN refugee agency said it had called for migrants to be removed from the base. It said some 3,300 migrants and refugees remained arbitrarily detained inside and around Tripoli in conditions that could only be described as inhumane. It added that migrants and refugees faced increasing risks as clashes intensified nearby and called for the centres to be closed.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army said the attack may have been committed by the GNA missiles, a claim that led some countries to hold back from identifying LNA culpability, at least until an inquiry was complete.

In a statement, the GNA denounced the attack as a “heinous crime” and blamed it on the “war criminal Khalifa Haftar”. It accused pro-Haftar forces of having carried out a “premeditated” and “precise” attack on the detention centre.

The NGO Exodus claimed that Haftar’s forces were responsible for the raid, but said: “The bombardment, however criminal, is due to the equally criminal practice implemented by GNA forces of Fayez al-Sarraj to use migrants as human shields, hiding militias and armaments inside detention centres crowded with migrants.”

The group said it had been warning European leaders for two months that people in the detention centres were in danger from the air raids, but that its pleas had been met only with “grim political calculation”.


July 2, 2019 News

The UK welcomed Eritrea’s increasing engagement with the Human Rights Council, but called for Eritrea to respect freedom of religion or belief & release all those in arbitrary detention.

flags UN Geneva

Thank you, Mr Vice-President,

The United Kingdom thanks Ms. Kravetz, for her report and her work over the past year. We are disappointed that the Government of Eritrea, as a member of this Council, has not engaged with the Special Rapporteur, or her predecessors.

We welcome Eritrea’s increasing engagement with the Human Rights Council and encourage the Government to strengthen its cooperation with the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights in order to achieve improvements in the human rights situation in Eritrea.

Eritrea remains a priority country for the United Kingdom’s work on human rights. We renew calls for the Government of Eritrea to reform the national service system, implement the constitution, respect freedom of religion or belief, respect freedom of expression and release all those in arbitrary detention. We strongly support the Council’s continued focus on these issues.

The UK agrees with the Special Rapporteur’s report of 16 May. We agree with the areas the Special Repporteur identifies as being unaddressed and urge the Eritrean government to use the benchmarks as a tool for achieving meaningful and lasting progress on human rights.

Special Rapporteur,

We note the benchmarks you included in your report. How do you think these could be best used at an operational level, nationally and internationally?

Thank you, Mr Vice-President.

Liberty Magazine Issue No. 57

Wednesday, 03 July 2019 09:33 Written by