US takes Ethiopia’s adviser to task for hate speech

Thursday, 23 September 2021 22:48 Written by

Deacon Daniel Kibret

Source: AFP

US blasts ‘dangerous’ rhetoric by ally of Ethiopia PM

The United States on Monday condemned a speech by a prominent ally of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed which compared Tigrayan rebels to the devil and said they should be “the last of their kind”.

“Hateful rhetoric like this is dangerous and unacceptable,” a State Department spokesperson told AFP in response to the speech last week by Daniel Kibret, who is often described as an adviser to Abiy and was nominated to the board of the state-run Ethiopian Press Agency last year.

Since fighting broke out in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region last November, thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands forced into famine-like conditions, according to the UN, and the war has recently spread to the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions.

The UN and US have recently voiced concern about hate speech and dehumanising rhetoric in the conflict, but Daniel’s comments were the first to draw specific criticism from Washington.

At an event in Amhara attended by high-ranking officials, Daniel called for the total erasure of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated national politics for nearly three decades before Abiy took office in 2018.

“As you know, after the fall of Satan, there was nothing like Satan that was created… Satan was the last of his kind. And they (the TPLF) must also remain the last of their kind,” Daniel said.

“There should be no land in this country which can sustain this kind of weed.

“They should be erased and disappeared from historical records. A person who wants to study them should find nothing about them. Maybe he can find out about them by digging in the ground,” he said to applause.

Asked to clarify his comments, Daniel said in a text message to AFP: “‘They’ refers to the terrorist TPLF group.”

Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum dismissed Washington’s criticism.

“There continues to be a gross misreading of statements issued by various entities without understanding the nuances of Ethiopian languages. TPLF sympathiser translations cannot be the basis of declaring statements as ‘hateful rhetoric’,” she told AFP.

“Statements made against a terrorist organisation are purposely translated to make it seem that it has been made against our people of Tigray. That is a regrettable position of those who choose not to look beyond TPLF propaganda,” she added.

“The Ethiopian government is first to stand in guard of the people of Tigray.”

– ‘Truly disturbing’ –

But Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, told AFP that Daniel’s remarks were “truly disturbing and reckless”.

“Given the surge in deadly ethnic violence in Ethiopia it is hard to take at face value the claim that he was only talking about the TPLF rather than Tigrayans in general,” he said.

“The references to people as weeds that need to be removed, or as monsters that must be erased, is classic hate speech. And calling for the total extermination of any political party and its supporters is tantamount to incitement to commit war crimes and other atrocities.”

Other groups also sounded the alarm.

“The chilling speech and calls expressed, from a powerful figure, do not deserve a platform and should be swiftly and unambiguously condemned at the highest levels,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director for Human Rights Watch.

“Such statements can increase the risk of mass killing of civilians and targeting people simply because of who they are, where they live or where they were born,” said Nicole Widdersheim of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The State Department spokesperson told AFP that Washington was “concerned about bellicose rhetoric on all sides of the conflict”.

US President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order allowing for sanctions against the warring parties in northern Ethiopia if they fail to commit to a negotiated settlement.

Source=US takes Ethiopia’s adviser to task for hate speech – Martin Plaut


The Eritrean authorities have been holding what is being described as a “Seminar on national development programs.”

Sources in Asmara suggest the meetings at Asmara Expo site have little to do with the official subject.

Rather, the gathering – almost exclusively male and mostly elderly – has focussed mostly on the war in Tigray and the threat posed by renewed USA sanctions.

Eritrea is bogged down in what was initially meant to be a quick and easy war to rid President Isaias and Prime Minister Abiy of the Tigrayans.

But rather to the surprise of Asmara and Addis Ababa, the Tigrayans managed to fight back and thousands of Eritrean troops are now engaged in a war with apparently little end in sight.

Rather, there are reports of clashes between the Eritreans and their allies –  the Amhara militia – as Eritrean soldiers plunder areas they are deployed to.

At the same time President Biden is threatening further sanctions against anyone who perpetuates the conflict.

The head of the Eritrean military, General Filipos Woldeyohannes, is already personally sanctioned.

Hence the increasing nervousness in the Eritrean ruling circle.


The Forgotten Prisoners

During the commemorative event marking the 20th anniversary since the disappearance of 11 Eritrean parliamentarians, an online event that took place on Monday, 20 September 2021, organised by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in Geneva, Hanna Petros Solomon made the following speech. 

Hanna Petros Solomon

How can we discover the state of freedom in Eritrea today? Someone once said, “If you want to establish some conception of a society, go find out who is in jail.”

Sadly, this advice does not apply to Eritrea, because it never welcomed any enquiries about the Prisoners of Conscience or any other prisoners it holds behind bars.

Sep 18 2001 was the day when President Isaias Afwerki turned on his closest friends and allies who fought alongside him for three decades. The same group formed the ruling party. They were all members of the Central Council of PFDJ and members of the National Council. All had sacrificed their lives and given their youths to fight for the freedom of Eritrea.

Sep 18 2001 was the day when the unelected President Isaias Afwerki choked the voice of Eritreans and condemned the country and its people to ruins.

Yes, this Sep 18 of 2021 marked 20 years since Eritrea started going down a slippery slope which changed the trajectory of the country completely.  Dreams were foiled, expectations were blighted, and democracy was ripped to shreds.

The tragic consequences of that day did not stop there; it upended many lives, it affected the next generation. My family is one of many that were devastated by that incident on that fateful day.

During the liberation struggle both of my grandmothers witnessed their children join the front at a young age.  Years later, when the fighters returned home after liberating the country from Ethiopia, my grandparents thought the situation was going to get better. Unfortunately, the country went to war once again against Ethiopia – a war that consumed tens of thousands of young lives and much of the country’s resources.

Just when they sighed with relief, one’s son, my father, and the other’s daughter, my mother, were imprisoned. The elderly women watched with anguish as their children and grandchildren struggled with the harsh reality that the people of Eritrea have to live with. They prayed every day that the youth would survive the ordeal of leaving the country. My grandmothers have yearned to embrace their exiled children and regret never having met their new grandchildren and great grandchildren. So many lives ruined, so many dreams foiled.

Twenty long years have passed since the disappearance of Eritrea’s Prisoners of Conscience. Since then Eritrea began, rather openly, to move towards totalitarianism.

This is what happened …

Back in 2001, having observed the wrong path that President Isaias Afwerki was pursuing, a group of 15 parliamentarians, known as the G15, wrote an open letter to the president which admonished his ways.

The open letter was a result of long process that the G15 pursued in setting things right within the government which went unheeded.  When the president blocked efforts to reconvene the PFDJ leadership and the National Assembly, the G15 went public in May 2001 with an “open letter.”

The open letter criticised the president for his undemocratic behaviour and called for structural reforms of the party and the state, as well as a full and open assessment of the Border War with Ethiopia.

The letter was met with cruelty. Soon after, government security agents imprisoned 11 out of the 15 members; and the president started to adhere to rigid and inhumane measures to keep Eritrea under his control.

Luckily, three of the signatories were inadvertently spared because they happened to be abroad at the time; and one recanted under pressure.

What happened afterwards …

As the level of government propaganda and brutality spiked in 2001, people became very anxious and alarmed; the ex-freedom fighters themselves became fearful of the government; the general public lost faith and became wary of one another; the diaspora became so distant they all stayed in their host countries.

Eritrea became hostile and its future went bleak. A country is truly ruined when its youth, the future of the country, is spent.  Seeing no alternative to the hapless life that awaited them in Eritrea, the youth began to flee to neighbouring countries (and beyond) in masses. The number of Eritrean asylum seekers tripled and quadrupled in the last 20 years.

It causes me great distress to state that my beloved country is now one of the top refugee producing countries on earth. I was once one of those wanderers who managed to escape from that stifling condition in Eritrea. Eritrea has a full-fledged totalitarian government now. It is isolated from the international community, and it continues to feign as if it offers a rewarding life for its citizens.

The 11 war heroes

The president knows the sudden disappearance of the 11 war heroes, former high government officials, has left a scar on the national psyche which he cannot erase. His aim is to say nothing, ignore the scandal hoping the next generation would simply forget them altogether.

However, remaining tight-lipped and ignoring the cruelty will not erase the memory of the unjustly incarcerated former government officials who are thrown into unknown dungeons.

The prisoners’ family members are desperately hanging on to hope. For instance, mamma Mezgeb, my grandmother (from my mother’s side) whose eldest daughter is languishing in jail, laments the life her daughter missed out and the opportunity she was denied to raise her own children.  She still hopes, even if she is losing heart, to reunite with her daughter.

My other grandmother, mamma Mihret, prayed every day that her son would come back to her until her passing in 2016.

Mamma Demekesh is another mother who is hanging on for her dear life at the age of 88. She too is waiting for the return of her beloved daughter.

Humanitarian organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others have fought hard on behalf of the prisoners for decades. Institutions such as IPU have also done their bit in keeping the story of the prisoners alight.

The Open Letter the prisoners wrote was just an expression of their wishes for reforms.  According to Article 10 of the Human Rights Act, “everyone has the right to freedom of expression.”

Even though their ideals didn’t do well within the halls of government offices, the prisoners can stand tall in the knowledge that they drafted one of the best manifestos of our generation.

As for me, not a day goes by that I do not think of my mother and father. It is heart-breaking to contemplate the lives that my parents were robbed of. And the void that their absence has left in me as well as in my brothers and my sister is enormous.

It is this unresolved bereavement which I would like to share with you today. With your help I am telling the world the unjust incarceration of my parents has to come to an end. I will continue to keep their memory alive. As Pope Francis said, a little bit of mercy would have made the world less cold and more just.

The IPU is the global organization of national parliaments. It was founded more than 130 years ago as the first multilateral political organization in the world, encouraging cooperation and dialogue between all nations. Today, the IPU comprises 179 national Member Parliaments and 13 regional parliamentary bodies. It promotes democracy and helps parliaments become stronger, younger, gender-balanced and more diverse. It also defends the human rights of parliamentarians through a dedicated committee made up of MPs from around the world. Twice a year, the IPU convenes over 1,500 parliamentary delegates and partners in a world assembly, bringing a parliamentary dimension to global governance, including the work of the United Nations and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


The story of the fate of Teklebrhan Ghebresadick was read out at the Eritrean Political Prisoners exhibition in London on Saturday 18th December.

Yenabi Mezgebe reading the story of Teklebrhan Ghebresadick’s fate


My name is Freweini Ghebresadick, an Eritrean by birth and American by nationality. I came to the U.S. during my teens at the beginning of the 80s. I am a sister of a political prisoner in Eritrea, who has been incarcerated since 26 April 1992, within less than a year of the Eritrean independence. His name is Teklebrhan Ghebresadick (alias Wedi Bashai).

Teklebrhan, together with his colleague and childhood friend Woldemariam Bahlibi were kidnapped by clandestine government security of Eritrea from Kassala, Sudan, on 26 April 1992, and taken to Eritrea. On that fateful day of 1992, they were invited for Easter lunch by a close relative of both (Mr. Tesfatsion Ghebreyesus). Eritrean government security squads came into the house of Mr. Tesfatsion and abducted them. This coming April, it will be 27 years since their detention. After all these years, no one officially knows their whereabouts, not even so much as an acknowledgment from the government of Eritrea of having abducted them. At that time, both men were Executive Committee members of the Eritrean Liberation Front-Revolutionary Council (ELF- RC). The fate of both prisoners was ever since tied together as far as my search goes. However, for the sake of brevity, I will mostly talk about Teklebrhan.

Five of my siblings were freedom fighters during the Eritrean War of Independence from Ethiopia. My brother, Teklebrhan, was one of the five fighters. Teklebrhan joined the Eritrean Liberation Front (E.L.F.). The other four were with the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), the only party that has been in power for over 27 years. Out of the four fighters with EPLF, three of them were taken to the fields while they were underage. One of them was barely nine years old and was taken from the playground. As a result, my mom and dad were alone throughout the years. When the war of independence ended, the authorities informed my parents about the martyrdom of their son and daughter. It was around the same time, in 1992, when my parents were unofficially informed about the kidnapping of Teklebrhan. No one had expected kidnappings by a government would take place in an independent Eritrea. The martyrdom of my younger brother, Assefaw, and my younger sister, Zaid, for the liberation of Eritrea, and the kidnapping of their son who fought for the same cause was perplexing for my parents. It was very difficult for them to deal with these two contradictory plights all at once. In fact, the conflicting news of the heroic martyrdom of their son and daughter and the detention of their other son, who was also a freedom fighter treated as a traitor, tormented my parents to no end. All five siblings fought for the same cause, only in two different liberation fronts.

To add insult to injury, in the 1990s, disclosing incidents of kidnappings and raising concerns about the lack of the rule of law, and the like carried severe consequences. As a result, families of victims of the regime cried alone and behind closed doors. There is no way to explain the thoughts and feelings that one goes through during this never -ending ordeal. I, too, suffered because of that silence and isolation. When I came out in the open, I suffered due to harassments and intimidations coming my way by government supporters in the diaspora, in the U.S.A. I will never comprehend how my mom and dad must have felt living under the nose of the oppressive Eritrean government in Eritrea. They died agonizing over not seeing their son and not knowing about his condition. In the days preceding her passing away, the last thing my mom said to me over the phone while she was severely ill, was that she will not see her son. She followed this by saying, even if he is released, it will be too late for him to lead a normal life; the best years of his life have been taken away from him. It tore my heart out to hear her say that in her last days on this earth, and her words will forever live with me.

My parents passed away with each passing day wishing and hoping to see their son. My dad passed away 13 years after my brothers’ detention and my mom after 22 years. All these years were agonizing for them. The lack of support from and the silence in their communities also added to their sufferings. Not being able to talk about what ailed them, talk about how they miss their disappeared son, and simply mentioning his name and memories they have of him with neighbors and family members was very painful for my parents. Added to that is too not being able to see me as I do not enter the country. That is how it all ended for my parents.

I have lived in the United States since my teens, and until that dreadful day of 26 April 1992, I was all focused on my studies and work. This day had changed my life forever. I turned into an activist and as a result, could not enter Eritrea to see any of my family members, which also added to my parent’s pain.

The kidnapping of Teklebrhan and Woldemariam, in April 1992, was published in the “African Confidential” and the editorial section of “Arab News”. The publications came out right after the incident took place, and that is how I found out.

My first action upon hearing the news was to go to Eritrea to inquire about Teklebrhan and Woldemariam. Since the time I left the country in my teens, this was also the first and last time I had set foot on Eritrean soil. I did not even spend any time with those who survived the 30-year war. I spent all my stay in search of the kidnapped. I frequented prisons around Asmara almost daily and specially Sembel prison. My parents had heard that Teklebrhan and Woldemariam were held in Sembel prison. The guards at Sembel prison kept on asking me to provide the prison cell number, which they referred to as “camera number” of Teklebrhan. Obviously, I could not provide them with a camera number as the Eritrean authorities do not acknowledge imprisonments, let alone share such information with victims’ families.

Nonetheless, day in and day out, the prison guards kept asking me for the cell number, and I kept telling them I did not know. This vicious cycle went on until one day, I observed a group of men leaving the prison, and I followed them, keeping a certain distance. After I had made sure they were out of sight of the prison guards, I ran and caught up with them and asked them if it would be okay to ask them a question. I asked them if they knew someone by the name of Teklebrhan Ghebresadick in the Sembel prison, to which a couple of them responded with “Wedi Bashai!”. I said yes, and they confirmed he was there and provided me with the prison cell number. Camera number 48, they said.

On the next day, the guards, as usual, asked me for the prison cell number. After I provided the number 48, the guards told me that prisoners in this cell were visited on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The coming Tuesday, I gathered my family, went to Sembel prison, and waited to be called. At last, we were called and accompanied by guards, passed through two gates, and lead to a room where prisoners were brought, allegedly including prisoners from cell number 48. My family and I, along with others, entered the room, and several visitors were hugging their loved ones; Teklebrhan and Woldemariam were missing.

Our hearts broke, and we just stood there, perplexed. I felt extremely sorry for my parents, and I was visibly furious. As a spontaneous reaction, I held one of the security guards on both shoulders and shook him asking him to bring my brother. He said he did not know where my brother was, but he would ask a senior E.L.F. prisoner in one of the prison cells and get back to us. I knew this was just a game, but waited for his answer nonetheless, which was not affirmative. This rang a bell as they played this same game in another prison, Hazhaz, where officers there took me to a small office and pretended to call different prisons stating, we have here such a person asking about the whereabouts of Wedi Bashai, and we were wondering if he is in your prison. I even doubted they were talking to anyone at all. Indeed, in Eritrea, things are bizarre. Little did I also know that the prison officer that I shook in despair was from my village, not only that, but he was also a brother of my cousin’s wife. I saw him again in another place with his whole body covered, wearing Muslim men’s attire. I uttered that he looked somehow familiar to me, after which a woman next to me told me to say nothing, as he is a secret service, and he does not wish to be recognized. Then I knew he knew who I was in the first place, as he knows my family. Having left Eritrea, this person is now in Switzerland. In fact, I got in touch with him over the phone, but he was not helpful. At first, he said Teklebrhan and Woldemariam were moved to another place soon after I was there. The second time I called him, he said he was moved from Sembel prison to another location soon after that.

That day while I was still in the prison compound of Sembel, somebody from the security took me aside and warned me that I will end up in prison if I ever pursue further inquiry about my brother. As is my stay was only a month as I had left work on emergency bases. I was working for General Electric at the time. I returned to the U.S.A. and never went back to Eritrea after that. Unfortunately, that was also the end of my innocent life. I became preoccupied with fighting the government and its crimes against humanity.

As far as I know, Amnesty International (A.I.) and the International Red Cross were the first humanitarian organizations that gave due attention to the case, and in fact, A.I. had been following the case for many years.

I was already involved with Amnesty International and especially in Indiana. So many petitions and appeals from the State of Indiana alone were sent to the government of Eritrea. The government gave deaf ears to all of them.

In less than a year of the kidnap, Ohio senators, including Senator John Glenn and state representatives inquired about the whereabouts and condition of Teklebrhan and Woldemariam. I was residing in Ohio at the time. The Eritrean government’s replies ranged from denying having kidnapped them to “Do not meddle in Eritrea’s internal affairs.”. Nonetheless, the officials repeatedly pleaded with the government for acknowledgment and due process of law to no avail.

President Bill Clinton also repeatedly pleaded with the Eritrean government. I also appealed through the then National Security Advisor, Anthony Lake, and the then Secretary of State Warren Christopher as well as the succeeding Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. The government of Eritrea played ignorant to its own deeds, although I did gather limited pieces of information from hanging around the prisons in my short stay in Eritrea and unofficial news from individuals from time to time.

All along, I was also appealing through the United States Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs and especially the Eritrean Country Officer. Diplomats have come and gone, and I ended up retelling my story with each change. A couple of the diplomats were kind enough to pass on my documents to the next person. One of these individuals was Mr. Thomas Gallagher, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in person in Indianapolis, Indiana. He had traveled from Washington DC to Indianapolis to meet with the then Sudanese opposition, led by Dr. John Garang. I will forever be indebted to him for encouraging me to keep strong and keep fighting to ensure that my brother’s case is never forgotten.

I kept my efforts with Washington, the office of the president as well as the United States Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs. The U.S. ambassadors to Eritrea Mr. Robert Gordon Houdek and John F. Hicks had also appealed on my behalf. It was very difficult to galvanize support to the extent, as thousands of Eritreans were also telling these offices the opposite of what I was disclosing. I know, as I was being made aware of the fact that I was telling a different story. I am convinced all successive officials did the best they could; after all, the incident took place right after independence, and criticizing the Eritrean government was like walking on eggshells. The Eritrean government was playing, as it does to this day, the card of “We did everything alone; the whole world was against us, etc.”. I was grateful for the U.S. Department of State for deciding to publish the incident in the annual report “Eritrea Human Rights Practices”, starting from 1993. I was and still am grateful to my government and to U.S. government officials as a whole. Sadly, I cannot say anything remotely related to that towards the Eritrean government. My experience is that the Eritrean government would acknowledge a dead fly more than it would acknowledge any human being.

Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana was especially helpful as he persistently inquired about the whereabouts of Teklebrhan and Woldemariam. Year after year, he appealed to the Eritrean government. The government officials never admitted to the kidnapping, but they finally, in one of their replies through the former presidential advisor, Naizghi Kiflu, admitted to Senator Lugar that they know these individuals. Prior to that, they always said they did not know who these people were, although Naizghi is said to have blurted out when he was drunk, that Teklebrhan and Woldemariam were their detainees. However, the official letter only acknowledged knowledge of them while denying the detention.

Just to mention, I also have a few times written to the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan in the 90s. I never received any acknowledgments of my appeal letters from his office. I also wrote and sent copies of the “African Confidential,” and “Arab News” reports to Mr. Thomas Keneally, the author of, among other books, “Schindler’s List” and “Towards Asmara”. Mr. Keneally was a friend of Isaias Afewerki since his 1987 work with the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) during the struggle for independence. This experience led to his writing “Towards Asmara”. After independence, he continued his friendship with the Eritrean government for years. Given his connection with the government, I thought he would be in a position and willing to ask about human rights abuses in Eritrea.

Former President Jimmy Carter also made efforts to appeal to the Eritrean government. He was not in speaking terms with President Isaias Afewerki at some point; however, he said he would try to inquire through an envoy who was involved in mediating between Ethiopia and Eritrea regarding the war that broke out in the late 90s. Nothing came out of this effort.

I also appealed to President Nelson Mandela and French officials through my French cousin in law, Andre Rieussec, and many others. After all these efforts, the government never accepted any responsibility.

It was after the government of Eritrea played ignorant for four or so years that I decided to go to the Eritrean public and suffer the consequences. I determined that the Eritrean government did not deserve the respect I afforded it by directly dealing with it through officials of the U.S. government, humanitarian organizations, and individuals, all the while sending copies of appeals and petitions to its office. From time to time, I used to call its embassy in Washington, D.C., for follow-ups, which was futile. With all its serious shortcomings, I thought it was somehow a government and deserving of some sort of formality, but I was wrong. Accordingly, I decided, after those few years, to go public with the news to the Eritrean Diaspora. In addition to the enormous love and respect I have for Teklebrhan, I was convinced that to act and let my voice be heard was a responsible thing to do. I owed it to my brother and others like him to tell their stories.

Furthermore, I wanted to encourage others who were suffering in isolation and silence to come out and share their stories as well. What ensued after my going public, I would not wish on my worst enemy. My life turned upside down, receiving threats and just plain crazy stuff through phone messages at both home and my place of employment. Sometimes it sounded like gunshots, sometimes like heavy breezing, just all kinds of weird stuff. I would get emails in my email box, not with all accurate information, but enough to make me believe that they knew about some of my daily activities. For example, a restaurant I went to that day and the names of my colleagues who lunched with me. They would misspell or not accurately spell the names but enough for me to know they were referring to the colleagues, who that day spent time with me. There are too many intrigues to list here. I told my boss about the harassments on my office phone. She asked to hear the messages for herself in order to report the case to the police. She reported to the police. However, they found out that the calls were being made from public phones. I also found which I thought was a listening device on the bottom of a vase with synthetic flowers. It was one of my decors in the family room. I found it by coincidence while I was dusting. I placed the device in a small Tupperware and immediately turned it in to the senator’s office. F.B.I. agents in Indiana were also protecting me and following my situation using their discretion. One time a letter with a death threat was sent to me via, an online discussion board of the Eritrean government supporters. F.B.I. investigation revealed that the threat originated from a certain address in Cairo, Egypt; but Egypt was outside of their jurisdiction. They advised I stay low for a while, give it a rest for a while. In this discussion board, I faced great adversities, which I expected going in.

In the year 2000, something more drastic happened. I sometimes stay at work until late at night, mainly to finish my work and occasionally to write and send appeals. There was always a security guard inside the building sitting at the desk in the lobby. On one of those nights, I left work at about 10 P.M. and as usual, went to the parking lot to my car. I did not see anyone. I started my car, and someone who was parked directly behind me started his car. I drove off to the highway, and this car followed me, really pursuing me. I exited where I knew there was a place with business buildings. I drove around the parking lot of these buildings while the car was still tailgating me, but I did not see anyone. I exited the parking lot and returned to my workplace, where I knew for sure the guard would still be there. The car still followed me. I entered the parking lot of my workplace and literally parked in front of the lobby door disregarding the upsurge. At that point, he drove away. I told the guard what had happened and he admitted to seeing the car leave behind me, but he did not think anything of it.

My heart was pounding and the headlights of the car behind me were too bright, and so I could not get any specific information. I was able to tell that the driver was male when I looked in the rearview mirror at the initial start of the car, but no details. The guard had reported the incident. I did not hear anything about it after that, except that the driver was a young adult. I am not sure as to whether this particular incident has any connection to my activism and is part of the usual threat. Nonetheless, I started to leave work early as much as I could and sometimes leaving my car in a church parking lot near my house so that they would think I am not at home. Of course, I could not completely avoid leaving work late, but I would ask the guard to look after me as I drive off.

In a year or so, in the last quarter of 2001, I resigned from my job of many years and moved to Germany. By that time, I met someone who is now my husband. The Eritrean opposition was stronger in Germany, especially around Bonn than other places. So apart from the disruption of my life plans, including my career, and making some lifestyle adjustments, as far as my security goes, I was fine after my move to Germany, except for one incident.

This incident took place following the banning of the 13th Euro Conference of the Young People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (YPFDJ), the diaspora youth wing of the government in Eritrea. Mayor of Veldhoven, Jack Mikkers banned the said YPFDJ conference. Veldhoven is a town in the Netherlands, where the conference was to be held on 13 April 2017. The ban measure was taken to prevent public disorder ensuing from the conflict between YPFDJ and Eritrean refugees, who take YPFDJ meetings as affronts to justice and provocative.

The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), the party of the Eritrean government, planned to sue the Dutch authorities, namely the mayor of Veldhoven, Jack Mikkers, for banning the above YPFDJ conference. To that effect, PFDJ called for meetings in different cities in Europe, one of which was in Cologne, Germany, held on 05 May 2017. According to the publicly distributed invitation pamphlet, the agenda of the meeting was “…to discuss a legal action to be taken against the unfair and unjust decision by the Dutch Authorities on 13 April 2017 to halt and evacuate the YPFDJ conference.”

It is my participation in the demonstration held against the PFDJ meeting in Cologne on 05 May 2017 that led to PFDJ suing me in the name of one of their members, Freweni Debesay. She resides in Frankfurt and not in Cologne; I never met her in my life, including on the day of the demonstration. A defamation case was fabricated and filed against me in the name of a woman whom I never met and have supposedly defamed.

At the conclusion of the demonstration and as I proceeded to leave, I was approached by a policeman informing me that someone from inside the building, where the PFDJ meeting was still going on, has pointed me out as having defamed a woman and he demanded personal details, such as my passport and home address. I expressed to the policeman that I was not, at all, the type of person who would defame anyone and that such words would not come out of my mouth, to which he said not to worry too much about it. He then told me to expect a letter of disclosure of the preliminary investigation from the state prosecutor’s office, at the address I provided. Upon receipt of the legal notice from the state prosecutor’s office, I went to the police presidium as instructed. After explaining my rights and the nature of the accusation, I was asked what I plan to do about the charges made against me. I expressed my decision to remain silent and to hire a lawyer. The case went on until November 2017 but ended positively. The judge dismissed the case. The case was closed only with what I had to pay my lawyer and the time it cost me away from work. As is the customary practice of PFDJ, I know the groundless lawsuit was mainly to make me go through hardships, render me helpless, and force me into silence.

The experience did not and will not silence me, but it hurt me deeply because my brother has been incarcerated for nearly three decades without any charges, without having his day in court, without family visitations, without disclosure of his whereabouts and his condition. The very Eritrean government, which committed all these crimes against my brother and thousands of others like him with the impunity to continuously make my life extremely difficult by exploiting the freedoms in the countries where I found refuge, is utterly offensive.

Back in Eritrea, my family found out about what befell Teklebrhan through a prominent veteran freedom fighter right after the incident took place. There was a gathering of an occasion in our house; he came there unannounced and told my parents that Teklebrhan was in Asmara. They did not take it to mean kidnaped, so my mom joyously ululated and asked him when he will be coming home. He said that Teklebrhan would not be coming home right away, but in time, they will be able to see him. I think they were able to perceive the situation then, as my dad also just returned from visiting Teklebrhan in Sudan. Actually, Teklebrhan was kidnaped as my dad was on his way back home. For the following couple of years, this man was able to follow the movements, but then he announced that he was afraid to continue any longer.

My dad was visiting prisons around Asmara and making efforts to plead with the Eritrean officials, who are inaccessible, or with great difficulty if ever accessed. One of the officials my dad visited was Minister of Interior, Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo. On his first visit, my dad was told to present his case in writing. After preparing a written case of the kidnap of my brother, my dad returned to Minister Sherifo’s office. A woman at the front office, who my dad guessed was a veteran freedom fighter, asked what brought him there. He told her and she asked for the paper. My dad handed her the paper, thinking she was going to hand it over to the minister. Instead, she tore the paper and threw the pieces on the face of the old man, my dad. As she was doing that, a gentleman, apparently who works there, came out of the office and saw what she did. He showed his displeasure over what the woman did and let my dad enter the office of Minister Sherifo. As the written information was destroyed, my dad explained the predicament of his son, pleading with the minister to tell him the whereabouts of his son and to allow him to visit his son. Minister Sherifo said, abo, meaning father, “You said Teklebrhan was kidnapped from Sudan by the Eritrean government; then the proper thing to do would be to go to Sudan and ask the Sudanese government since he was kidnapped within their jurisdiction.”. My dad literary kneeled, as if to pray, and begged Minster Sherifo to have mercy and allow him to see his son, adding that he is an old man and just wanted to see his son before he dies.

My mom visited many prisons in Eritrea. Some of the locations of the prisons were new to her and she did not know the people in the vicinities. She would simply pack some food and coffee and leave the house in search of her son. During her travels to prisons, she would ask the residents in the area if she could rest, borrow some fire to prepare and drink her coffee in or near their house. When I brought my parents for a visit to the U.S. in 1998, she personally went to Senator Lugar’s office and asked them to appeal for her son. In 2001 before my parents returned to Eritrea, representatives of the government of Eritrea were making their rounds for public discussions regarding the national election that was supposed to have been held that year. I took my parents to this large meeting to show Eritreans that indeed Teklebrhan was a real person and that he has parents, not only that, but also that he was one of them. At that meeting, my mom surprised me by presenting her case to the delegation of the Washington D.C. Eritrean Embassy during its public discussions in Indianapolis, Indiana.

She went out in front of the audience, asked for the microphone and said, “My name is Rigbe Araya, a mother of Teklebrhan Wedi Bashai, who has been kidnapped and detained by the Eritrean government since April 1992. It is not new for governments to imprison individuals; imprisonments existed since time immemorial. Therefore, this is not unique to the Eritrean government. What is unique is the Eritrean government not admitting imprisonments that it has committed, not disclosing places of detentions, not allowing families to visit, and not bringing the accused to a court of law. I know what I am talking about; I had family members in prison during the Haile Selassie regime. We were allowed to visit them, to take food to them, and they were brought to a court of law. I am not in a position to judge my son; I cannot speak of his guilt or innocence; he is an adult; he is a man. But, I ask you to bring him to trial in a court of law to either set him free, sentence him 10-20 years, or life, or even death. But bring him to trial, you must”. My dad, who is much older than she is, also took the microphone and in the same way, pleaded with the delegation to bring his son to justice. He also expressed his fear of dying before he saw his son. He said he is an old man and that he is ready to go to his Maker, but he would die a happier man if the government of Eritrea would allow him to see his son, even for a day.

My parents never had it easy, to begin with. During the war for independence, my mom frequented the battlefields to see all her kids. She went to places where the E.L.F. controlled to see Teklebrhan, and likewise to places where EPLF controlled to see Assefaw, Zaid, and the other two. Two of the four with EPLF were taken away from my parents by EPLF when they were very young. One was conscripted form home at night time and the other under 10 years old was kidnaped from the playground. This youngest one was born after Teklebrhan joined the liberation struggle.

To reiterate, my parents passed away with each passing day wishing and hoping to see their son. My dad passed away 13 years after my brothers’ detention and my mom after 22 years. All these years were agonizing for them. The lack of support from and the silence in their communities also added to their sufferings. Not being able to talk about what ailed them, talk about how they miss their disappeared son and simply mentioning his name and memories they have of him with neighbors and family members was very painful for my parents. Added to that is too not being able to see me as I do not enter the country. That is how it all ended for my parents.

Unfortunately, too, with my move to Germany, my parents went back to Eritrea, the environment, where they were constantly reminded of being the parents of Teklebrhan, after having stayed a few years in the U.S. with me away from the daily provocations.

As far as the fate of the rest of my siblings goes, I can imagine that everything they do and say is closely scrutinized.

What is most unfortunate is, over the years, my family’s story has become the story of the majority of Eritreans, including relatives of mine who were on the government’s side. These stories are not limited to incommunicado imprisonments, but also include alleged suicide in one’s office; alleged suicide in one’s prison cell; a death allegedly inflicted by cows, while one was in active military duty; death caused by an alleged car accident that never occurred; sudden deaths, and the like. These are all stories of close relatives of mine, which are no different from the stories of other Eritreans. And of course, almost no one escapes the notorious indefinite military service. The only way to escape the indefinite national service is to defect and be trafficked to other countries paying huge sums of money.

During that one time I visited Eritrea in 1992, I have seen families at the Sembel prison in search of their loved ones, whose whereabouts the families did not know. One woman, in particular, caught my attention as I continually saw her there. One day I struck up a conversation with her, and she told me that her missing son was a freedom fighter with the EPLF and in fact, she went to Sahel and saw him there in the 1980s during the struggle for Eritrea’s independence. She was not among those who were informed about the martyrdom of their loved ones, but no one would tell her what had happened to her son either. Not having any information about what had happened to her son, she thought prison was one possibility. She looked overwhelmed and exhausted. I was deeply saddened and disgusted by the fact that EPLF politicians would not want to provide closures to parents of their own fighters. I found this an affront to humanity.

Yours sincerely,

Freweini Ghebresadick, Bonn


Today (18 September) we commemorate the anniversary of the arrest of the Eritreans who fought President Isaias for their country’s freedom. They stood for the universal human rights Eritrea signed to when they signed the UN charter – but which are cruelly denied. They were the members of the “G15” who were inside Eritrea and the independent journalists who were rounded up as their newspapers were closed down.

They are not the only Eritreans to rot in President Isaias’s jails: some were imprisoned before; some were imprisoned afterwards. All deserve to be remembered and hopefully released from the jails in which they now suffer. The brave men and women we highlight here are just the tip of the iceberg of Eritrea’s imprisoned. There are many, many more.


Patrick Grady MP kindly opened the exhibition on Friday – recalling the repression that Eritrean journalists and political activists had faced. He pointed to the years they had been imprisoned without trial and promised to continue raising the issue in the British Parliament. Mr Grady is a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group in Parliament.

Habte Hagos, the chair of Eritrea Focus thanked Mr Grady and the other members of parliament who attended – Brendan O’Hara, the MP for Argyle and Bute, and Jeremy Corbyn, the MP for Islington North, where the exhibition is being held.

The BBC Tigrinya service was at the event and broadcast an interview with Habte Hagos.  Other media were there to cover the opening.

The exhibition will hear lectures by Muslim and Christian clerics at 2.00 pm today (Saturday).

It is being held at Resources for London, 356 Holloway Rd, London N7 6PA


CNN uncovers evidence of torture, detention and execution in Tigray 08:41

(CNN)President Joe Biden signed a new executive order Friday authorizing broad sanctions against those involved in perpetrating the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia as reports of atrocities continue to emerge from the Tigray region.

The administration did not immediately impose sanctions under the new order, but “is prepared to take aggressive action” unless the parties — including the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and the Amhara Regional Government — “take meaningful steps to enter into talks for a negotiated ceasefire and allow for unhindered humanitarian access,” a senior administration official told reporters.
This official said the administration is looking to see action within “weeks, not months.” Biden approved the executive order after the administration has “telegraphed for months that the parties need to change course,” a second senior administration official said.
“The ongoing conflict in northern Ethiopia is a tragedy causing immense human suffering and threatens the unity of the Ethiopian state,” Biden said in a statement Friday.

‘A different path is possible’

“The United States is determined to push for a peaceful resolution of this conflict, and we will provide full support to those leading mediation efforts,” Biden said in a statement.
He continued, “I join leaders from across Africa and around the world in urging the parties to the conflict to halt their military campaigns respect human rights, allow unhindered humanitarian access, and come to the negotiating table without preconditions. Eritrean forces must withdraw from Ethiopia.”
“A different path is possible but leaders must make the choice to pursue it,” the President said.
The executive order reflects a growing sense of urgency at the situation in Tigray, where humanitarian access to deliver critically needed food, fuel and medicine has been largely cut off and hundreds of thousands face famine.
CNN has uncovered evidence that mass detention, sexual violence, and killings that bear the hallmarks of genocide have occurred in Tigray. Those investigations have spurred Congress to ratchet up pressure on the administration to take action, according to one Senate aide, who noted that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing for the administration to not only name sanctions targets, but also make a determination on whether the atrocities that have taken place constitute genocide.
The aide told CNN the US Embassies in Ethiopia and Eritrea have identified names of some potential sanctions targets.
In the statement Friday, Biden said he is “appalled by the reports of mass murder, rape, and other sexual violence to terrorize civilian populations.”
The administration officials acknowledged that the situation in Tigray has deteriorated in recent months and voiced concern that violence could soon escalate as the rainy season comes to an end, allowing for greater movement in the region.
However, the first administration official said that the decision to sign the executive order but not immediately impose sanctions reflects the administration’s belief that “a different path is possible.”
“This is not a decision that this administration has taken lightly and our preference, quite frankly, is to not to use this tool,” they said. “We would prefer that the parties to the conflict work with the international community to advance discussions toward a negotiated ceasefire.”
“We want to see a prosperous, prosperous, peaceful, united Ethiopia, as well as the region in the Horn of Africa, but this ongoing protracted conflict is risking — puts all of that at risk,” they said.

‘No military solution’

This official added that they are “not optimistic about the situation on the ground and that’s why the President authorized this executive order in order to ramp up the pressure, but we are optimistic about the growing moves by regional leaders, by the (African Union) Envoy (Olusegun) Obasanjo to press for a mediated solution, and we hope that we can marshal support for these efforts.”
The situation is likely to be a “key discussion” at next week’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, the second official said, “because it is right now one of the largest humanitarian catastrophes in the world.”
“There’s a widespread consensus, outside of Ethiopia, at least, that there is no military solution to this conflict,” they said.
Friday’s executive order is broader in scope compared to previous sanctions announced in the region and will give the Treasury and State Departments authority and flexibility to identify individuals and entities responsible for the conflict if steps toward a ceasefire are not taken.
The first official emphasized that any sanctions will not be targeted at the people of Ethiopia, noting that the Treasury Department will issue general licenses laying out “clear exemptions for any development, humanitarian, and other assistance efforts, as well as critical commercial activity in Ethiopia and Eritrea.”
In May, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced sweeping visa restrictions on “certain individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining resolution of the crisis in Tigray” and the US sanctioned the chief of staff of the Eritrean Defense Forces for his connection to “serious human rights abuse committed during the ongoing conflict in Tigray.”
The State Department has also “imposed restrictions on foreign assistance for Ethiopia and have brought our defense trade control policy in line with this action,” according to a State Department spokesperson.
“Security assistance programs have been suspended. A planned Millennium Challenge Corporation economic growth ‘threshold’ program also remains on hold at this time,” they said.

‘Deeply disturbing’

In a statement last week, State Department spokesperson Ned Price called “reports of human rights abuses and atrocities” by parties to the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia “deeply disturbing,” saying that those “mounting reports of human rights abuses underscore the urgency of independent and credible international investigations.”
The statement was released following reporting from CNN that found bodies of Tigrayans, some of which bore signs of torture, washing up in a Sudanese town near the border with Ethiopia. Reuters recently reported that Tigrayan forces killed more than 100 civilians in a village in the Amhara region.
The Biden administration is also conducting “a law and fact-based review” about whether crimes which may amount to genocide have taken place in Tigray.
That review has been underway since at least late June. Acting Assistant Secretary of State Robert Godec told lawmakers at the time that “the administration is in full agreement that horrifying atrocities have been committed in Tigray and Secretary Blinken did say in earlier testimony, as you’ve said, that there were acts of ethnic cleansing.”
“We are in the process of a fact and law-based review to determine whether the terms crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes can and should be used,” he said. “The final decision on whether we’re going to use those terms is up to the Secretary of State.”


Eritrean forces arrived in the northern town of Hitsats on Nov. 19, killed residents, and pillaged and occupied the refugee camp, HRW said. Some refugees helped direct looters, one resident told HRW. “In every house, people were killed,” one resident told HRW.

Full Report Below

NAIROBI, Sept 16 (Reuters) – Eritrean soldiers and Tigrayan militias raped, detained and killed Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray, an international rights watchdog said on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch’s report detailed attacks around two camps in Tigray, where local forces have battled the Ethiopian government and their Eritrean allies since November in a conflict that has rocked the Horn of Africa region.

Tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees live in Tigray, a mountainous and poor province of about 5 million people.

Tigrayans distrusted them because they were the same nationality as occupying Eritrean soldiers, Eritreans because the refugees’ loyalty was suspect after they fled their homeland.

“The horrific killings, rapes, and looting against Eritrean refugees in Tigray are clear war crimes,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), whose work – first reported by Reuters – drew on interviews with 28 refugees and other sources, including satellite imagery.

Eritrea’s minister of information did not immediately return calls seeking comment, but Eritrea has previously denied atrocities and said their forces have not targeted civilians.

A spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front said formal, uniformed Tigrayan forces had only recently moved into the area and that it was possible abuses were committed by local militias.

“It is mostly the last month or so that our forces moved into those areas. There was a huge Eritrean army presence there,” Getachew Reda told Reuters. “If there were vigilante groups acting in the heat of the moment I cannot rule that out.”

International investigators were welcome to visit the area, he said.

Prior to the Tigray conflict, Ethiopia hosted around 150,000 Eritrean refugees, fleeing poverty and authoritarian government.

Much of the report focused on two camps – Shimelba and Hitsats – destroyed during the fighting. HRW cited U.N. refugee agency UNHCR figures that 7,643 out of 20,000 refugees then living in Hitsats and Shimelba camps are still missing.

UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, said it was “appalled” at the reports of “immense suffering” in refugee camps, which it was unable to access from November to March.


Eritrean forces arrived in the northern town of Hitsats on Nov. 19, killed residents, and pillaged and occupied the refugee camp, HRW said. Some refugees helped direct looters, one resident told HRW.

“In every house, people were killed,” one resident told HRW.

Four days later, Tigrayan fighters attacked an area near Hitsats camp’s Ethiopian Orthodox church, killing nine refugees and injuring 17, HRW reported.

“My husband had our 4-year-old on his back and our 6-year-old in his arms. As he came back to help me enter the church, they shot him,” one refugee told Human Rights Watch.

Two dozen residents in Hitsats town were reportedly killed in clashes that day, HRW reported.

The report said that HRW had been unable to determine the extent that Tigray’s formal forces directly commanded over local Tigray militias operating around Hitsats.

Shortly after, Eritrean soldiers detained two dozen refugees, who were never seen again, HRW said. They also took the 17 injured refugees back to Eritrea.

Eritrean forces withdrew from Hitsats camp in early December. Tigrayan forces returned on Dec. 5, sending refugees fleeing under attack.

Refugees around the villages of Zelasle and Ziban Gedena, northwest of Hitsats, reported being shot at and attacked with grenades. Tigrayan forces marched fleeing refugees back to Hitsats, shooting some stragglers, refugees reported to HRW. Some women also said they were raped by Tigrayan fighters as they fled. One 27-year-old woman said Tigrayan fighters raped her along with her 17-year-old sister.

Tigrayan forces withdrew from Hitsats on Jan. 4, HRW said. The Eritrean forces returned, ordered remaining refugees to leave, then destroyed the camp.

In the northernmost camp, Shimelba, Eritrean forces killed at least one refugee, raped at least four others and killed local residents, HRW said.

The violence and severe food shortages forced some refugees to return to Eritrea. Others fled south to two other camps, Adi Harush and Mai Aini. Tigrayan forces took over those camps in June and refugees have reported killings and looting.

“We are extremely worried about the current situation of over 20,000 Eritrean refugees living in Mai Aini and Adi Harush camp in southern Tigray,” UNHCR told Reuters on Wednesday, saying there were severe food and water shortages and healthcare was unavailable.

Ethiopia: Eritrean Refugees Targeted in Tigray

Need for Urgent Protection, Assistance; Thousands Still Missing

(Nairobi) – Eritrean government forces and Tigrayan militias have committed killings, rape, and other grave abuses against Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Human Rights Watch said today. All warring parties should cease attacks against refugees, stay out of refugee camps, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Between November 2020 and January 2021, belligerent Eritrean and Tigrayan forces alternatively occupied the Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps that housed thousands of Eritrean refugees, and committed numerous abuses. Eritrean forces also targeted Tigrayans living in communities surrounding the camps. Fighting that broke out in mid-July in Mai Aini and Adi Harush, the two other functioning refugee camps, again left refugees in urgent need of protection and assistance.

“Eritrean refugees have been attacked both by the very forces they fled back home and by Tigrayan fighters,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The horrific killings, rapes, and looting against Eritrean refugees in Tigray are evident war crimes.”

Since January, Human Rights Watch has interviewed 28 Eritrean refugees: 23 former residents of Hitsats camp and 5 former residents of Shimelba camp, and 2 residents of the town of Hitsats who had witnessed the abuses by Eritrean forces and local Tigrayan militia. Human Rights Watch also interviewed aid workers and analyzed satellite imagery.

Human Rights Watch sent letters summarizing the findings and requesting further information to Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR)Eritrea’s permanent mission to the United Nations, and other international organizations in Geneva. Responses from ARRA and UNHCR are included below. Eritrea did not respond.

On November 19, Eritrean forces arrived in the town of Hitsats and indiscriminately killed several residents. They occupied and pillaged the town and took over the refugee camp. Some refugees took part in the looting, contributing to community tensions.

On November 23, Tigrayan militia entered Hitsats camp and attacked refugees near the camp’s Orthodox church. Clashes between the militia fighters and Eritrean soldiers ensued in and around the camp, lasting several hours. Nine refugees were killed and 17 badly injured.

One refugee said that Tigrayan militia fighters killed her husband as their family tried to seek shelter inside the church: “My husband had our 4-year-old on his back and our 6-year-old in his arms. As he came back to help me enter the church, they shot him.”

Two dozen residents in Hitsats town were also reportedly killed during and after the clashes that day. The Tigrayan militia retreated from Hitsats after the fighting.

Eritrean forces later detained approximately two dozen refugees in the camp and took them away in military vehicles. Their whereabouts have not been revealed. Eritrean forces also removed the 17 injured refugees from the camp, taking at least one – and likely others – back to Eritrea, ostensibly for treatment.

The Eritrean forces withdrew from the camp in early December. Tigrayan forces returned on the evening of December 5, shooting into the camp, and sending hundreds of refugees fleeing. In the ensuing days, Tigrayan militia attacked, arbitrarily detained, and sexually assaulted some of the refugees who had fled, notably around Zelazle and Ziban Gedena, north of Hitsats. They then marched the refugees back to Hitsats.

“I am a double victim,” said a 27-year-old woman whom Tigrayan militia fighters raped along with her 17-year-old sister while they fled Hitsats. “Both in Eritrea, and now, here [in Ethiopia], I am not protected.”

In Hitsats, Tigrayan militias and special forces, and members of an unidentified armed Eritrean group, arbitrarily detained hundreds of refugees, apparently to identify refugees who collaborated with the Eritrean forces or who were responsible for looting in the town.

On January 4, following heavy clashes near the camp, Tigrayan forces withdrew from Hitsats. The Eritrean forces returned and ordered all remaining refugees to leave along the main road toward Eritrea. Between January 5 and 8, Eritrean forces destroyed and burned shelters and humanitarian infrastructure in the camp, leaving significant parts of the camp in ruins.

Most refugees then faced an arduous days-long trek to the Ethiopian town of Sheraro and the contested border town of Badme, then under Eritrean control. Refugees said that once there, many felt they had no choice but to return to Eritrea, despite the risks of being detained and facing indefinite forced conscription. Witnesses said hundreds boarded buses headed to Eritrea in January.

Other refugees managed to escape back into Ethiopia, some toward urban areas or the two still-functioning Eritrean refugee camps in southern Tigray, Mai Aini, and Aid Harush. UNHCR reported that 7,643 out of the 20,000 refugees known to have been in Hitsats and Shimelba camps in October 2020 are unaccounted for as of late August 2021. Many of the refugees that have been accounted for fled to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, but neither the Ethiopian government nor international partners have provided any assistance to date. Refugees who are not receiving assistance are more vulnerable to further abuse, including exploitation, Human Rights Watch said.

“For years, Tigray was a haven for Eritrean refugees fleeing abuse, but many now feel they are no longer safe,” Bader said. “After months of fear, abuse, and neglect, Ethiopia, with support from its international partners, should ensure that all Eritrean refugees have immediate access to protection and assistance.”

For more information and accounts from witnesses, an overview of Ethiopia’s international legal obligations, and recommendations, please see below.

Eritrean Refugees in the Tigray Region

As of October 2020, Ethiopia hosted approximately 149,000 registered Eritrean refugees. Many were in the northern Tigray region, bordering Eritrea, in four camps, with approximately 20,000 in Hitsats and Shimelba in northwestern Tigray and about 31,000 in Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps in southern Tigray.

Ethiopia has a long history of providing group (“prima facie”) recognition to Eritreans fleeing persecution, forced conscription, and other rights abuses in their country. But in January 2020, Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA) stopped registering some categories of new arrivals, including unaccompanied children.

In March 2020 the Ethiopian authorities announced that they would close Hitsats camp. In February 2021 following the fighting between Eritrean forces and Tigrayan armed groups, ARRA stated that Hitsats and Shimelba had been closed.

Hitsats was the newest of the four camps. It was established in 2013 because the others were congested. Hitsats was in a remote and harsh area next to the small town of Hitsats, with little delineation between it and the local community.

For almost five months after the start of the conflict in November 2020, UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies were unable to access Hitsats and Shimelba camps due to insecurity and federal government restrictions. When UNHCR visited the camps in late March, they found them destroyed and empty of refugees.

Eritrean Military’s Killings, Looting in Hitsats Town (November 19 to 23)

On November 19, Eritrean forces arrived in Hitsats, clashed with local Tigrayan forces, and took control of the town and neighboring refugee camp.

Human Rights Watch received credible reports of the killings of at least 31 people in and around Hitsats town between November 19 and 23, but the actual number is most likely significantly higher. A local organization documented and shared the names of 26 people, predominantly from one family, who were all killed on November 23. “All houses were searched by Eritrean troops, and in every house, people were killed,” one resident said. “A friend of mine, Yenialeman Geday Mehari, and her three siblings were killed in their home near the police station.”

At least four of five Ethiopian staff members of humanitarian organizations working in Hitsats were also among those killed in Hitsats between November 19 and 23, humanitarian groups said.

Eritrean forces initially refused to let the community bury their dead. “We heard that the priests were begging to bury them,” a humanitarian worker said. “But [the Eritrean forces] told them to leave the bodies.”

Eritrean soldiers also looted Hitsats town for several days following their takeover, in some cases accompanied by refugees, witnesses said. “They [the Eritrean soldiers] were looting everything, including sugar, jewels, and water from the shops. They butchered the animals.” one refugee said. A local resident saw some refugees pointing out the houses of militia members and members of the town’s administration to the Eritrean forces during house-to-house searches.

Refugees Killed During Fighting in Hitsats Camp (November 23)

There was no fighting in Hitsats camp in the initial days of the Eritrean occupation. The Eritrean forces set up tents inside the camp and established bases at the UNHCR, ARRA, and other humanitarian offices, where they also looted humanitarian equipment. Refugees said soldiers pressured them to return to Eritrea, warning them that they would not be safe in the camp and that the host community was planning to kill them.

On November 23, at around 6 a.m., heavy fighting broke out in Hitsats town, witnesses said. Mid-morning, Tigrayan militia armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, recognized by some refugees as town residents, entered the refugee camp from at least two directions and started shooting at refugees around the camp’s Orthodox church.

A 28-year-old refugee said three Tigrayan militia fighters stopped him along with two friends and his relative as they headed to church for services:

They didn’t give us much time. They said: “Your ‘shabia’ [Eritrean forces] are killing us and you have the luxury of going to church.” My cousin was the first person injured, not a serious injury at first, but then he tried to escape, and they shot him again. This is when I fled toward the church. Once inside [with other refugees], we locked the door. Thankfully [the militia fighters] didn’t enter.

Several witnesses said that a small contingent of Eritrean forces in the camp fired back at the Tigrayan militiamen.

Nine refugee men were killed, and at least 17 refugees seriously injured, including one woman and a young man who suffered spinal cord damage.

As the clashes continued, Eritrean reinforcements arrived. Two refugees said that the Eritrean forces fired mortar rounds from outside the camp. Satellite imagery recorded on November 23 at 10:39 a.m. shows signs of burning inside the compound of the camp’s high school, and another fire is detected at 1:36 p.m. on a hill, east of the camp.

By early afternoon, the Tigrayan militia forces had fled the camp and town.

After the fighting ended, a refugee who worked at the health clinic on the outskirts of the camp went to the clinic where shots by militiamen had been fired and said he found the body of his colleague, Yonas Kinfe, another refugee, in the toilet: “He had been shot in the forehead.”

Camp residents set up a makeshift clinic in a playground. The cousin of the 27-year-old man who was the first person shot outside the church said his cousin had been shot three times but survived: “The third bullet was hardest to get out. There was no anesthetic; it was horrific. He screamed so much.”

After a few days, Eritrean forces took the injured refugees away, reportedly back to Eritrea. “They told us that they would be taken to Barentu [a town in northwest Eritrea],” a refugee nurse said. “No one was happy about being taken to Eritrea. In particular, the boy with the spinal cord injury, he really didn’t want to go. He complained a lot, but there was no other option.”

The cousin of the 27-year-old injured man still has no news about his relative. “One morning I went back to the tents, and he had disappeared. I was told he had been taken for treatment, but no one told me where. I asked my relatives back in Eritrea, but they had no news. I continue to pray.”

Enforced Disappearances of Refugees by Eritrean Forces (Late November)

On November 26 following the violence inside Hitsats camp, Eritrean forces called the refugees to a meeting and told them to leave the camp. “The meeting was short, no questions asked,” said a refugee who was in attendance. “It was just an order.” Most refugees reportedly ignored the order to leave.

After the meeting, Eritrean forces detained between 20 and 30 refugees, who were reportedly identified on a list of refugee committee members and perceived opposition supporters, two of them women. One refugee said the Eritrean forces had informants in the camp: “We were so scared. We didn’t trust each other anymore, and we didn’t dare to speak among ourselves.”

The detained refugees were held at the camp for two days then taken away in Eritrean military vehicles. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

Killings, Rape, Detention, and Looting by Tigrayan Militias (Early December)

The Eritrean forces pulled out of Hitsats camp in early December, after heavy fighting around Edaga Hibret, south of Hitsats, a local resident reported. On December 5 at about 6 p.m., Tigrayan forces entered the camp and began shooting indiscriminately, injuring a woman, and sending hundreds of refugees fleeing.

During the conflict’s first months, the Tigrayan fighters were made up predominantly of the region’s special police forces, as well as local militia forces, which traditionally include retired soldiers. The extent of the special forces’ command and control over the militias in the initial months of the conflict was unclear. Later in the fighting, the Tigrayan forces self-branded as the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF).

Human Rights Watch spoke to eight refugees who fled north in the following days and were abused by Tigrayan militias in and around Zelasle and Ziban Gedena towns. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm the number of refugees killed or injured in the incidents around Zelasle and Ziban Gedena, but interviews with witnesses suggest that at least two dozen people died between December 5 and 8.

Two refugees said that Tigrayan militia fighters and civilians armed with blunt weapons, including knives and machetes, encircled dozens of refugees at night, then threw a grenade at them. One survivor said: “They brought us toward an old riverbed with a hole where they would dig for gold. We were only held there for about 15 minutes before a grenade was thrown. We didn’t manage to flee far as we were encircled by people shooting.”

Several refugees said the militia fighters robbed them of the few possessions they carried. A 33-year-old man said 20 Tigrayan militiamen stopped him along with his cousin, his cousin’s pregnant wife, and their children: “they told us to go back to our camp. Then they stole everything we had with us. But we were alive, and so we were relieved.”

Two refugee women said that Tigrayan militia fighters raped them, along with four other women, when they escaped from the camp. A 27-year-old said that she and her 17-year-old sister were raped:

Two militia fighters caught us and told the boys with us to stop, but the boys fled. We were already so tired; we had no strength to run. They beat my sister and me. We fell to the ground; then they abused us. We lost consciousness after the rape. The men had disappeared when we came to [regained consciousness]. We found our clothes dispersed. We found a little hole in the ground, and we got into the hole, and it protected us a bit.

The militia fighters also detained scores of refugees in Zelasle town. A refugee who was detained for two days in what he thought was a school said a local administrator came:

He said, “We’ve helped a lot of Eritreans, and now we are suffering. Our villages are being burned by the Eritrean forces.” He said we would return to Hitsats, but anyone who collaborated with the Eritrean forces would face consequences. The problem was with the militiamen. Some wanted to kill us, while some wanted to follow his [the administrator’s] order.

While detained, the refugees received limited food and water. Two said they had to drink their urine because of the lack of water.

From Zelasle, the militia fighters marched hundreds of refugees back to Hitsats camp. The refugees, already suffering from hunger and thirst, said that the walk back, although just a few hours long, was grueling. Four of the refugees said they witnessed militiamen killing fellow refugees who became tired along the way. “One person, who I helped myself, he was very tired,” a 25-year-old refugee said. “But the militia fighter told me, ‘Leave him.’ And then they shot him. Some others, who didn’t think they would make it, gave us their ID cards to inform their families.”

Arbitrary Detention, Movement Restrictions, and Looting in Hitsats (December)

Once the refugees were back in Hitsats, Tigrayan special forces, Tigrayan militias, and members of the unidentified Eritrean opposition armed group, working together, detained hundreds of refugees in a warehouse previously run by a Dutch nongovernmental organization, ZOA, in a room in which charcoal was stored. Most were held for between three days and a week, some reportedly longer. A 25-year-old refugee said:

When I arrived, there were already 30 people there [in the warehouse]. In our group, we were 500. Little by little, they released people. First the women, then the elders. Those they kept longer were the younger people. For three days, I didn’t eat anything. When I was released, I spoke about the hunger, and so after that, refugees started to bring food to the detainees.

Tigrayan special forces, Tigrayan militias, and the Eritrean armed group brought Hitsats residents to the warehouse to identify refugees who had allegedly committed crimes. They also met with refugee elders, saying the refugees should return all looted goods.

For the rest of December, these forces, who were based in the host community and controlled the surrounding area, ordered the refugees not to leave the camp, telling them that they would be unable to protect them from further attacks if they left, refugees reported.

The refugees in the camp had very little food. A nurse in the camp said: “We would go and drink in a well that wasn’t clean. Then people started to eat moringa leaves. It was terrible. We lost three people, a young woman, an elderly woman, and a young man. They were hungry and ill, and they died.”

Tigrayan militias repeatedly came into the camp during this period and looted food and basic goods from the refugee community. A refugee leader said:

[The militia fighters] started to steal from us. We had no choice; they carried the guns. Three came to my home. They told me to give them all our blankets and mats. When we talked to their boss, we told him that they took all our blankets. The boss said if any militiamen came to you, come, and tell us. For at least two or three weeks they were stealing. But then it reduced.

No humanitarian aid reached the camp throughout this period.

In response to allegations that Tigrayan forces abused refugees, Getachew Reda, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) spokesman, told Human Rights Watch that special forces had not been present in Hitsats or Shimelba during this period. He said the TPLF could not account for the behavior of all allied militia and irregular forces.

Eritrean Forces Return and Burn, Destroy Hitsats Camp (early January)

On January 3, Tigrayan forces started to leave the Hitsats area as heavy fighting broke out in the vicinity. Three refugees and a Hitsats resident said that Eritrean forces fired mortars as they approached Hitsats from the northeast, with some rounds exploding within meters of the camp. They then took control of the camp and town.

Human Rights Watch analyzed satellite imagery recorded before, during, and after the attacks. Two burn scars on the ground are visible between January 2 and 4, over two hills, 100 and 600 meters north of Hitsats camp.

On January 4, Eritrean forces ordered the thousands of refugees remaining in the camp to leave and take the road toward Sheraro, a town near the Eritrean border. Desperate and terrified, refugees said they felt they had no choice.

One refugee who stayed in the vicinity of the camp until January 5 said he saw Eritrean forces spreading fuel in the camp and lighting it on fire: “The camp is no longer there, it’s burned down. It wasn’t just the camp; they also burned some homes of civilians [in the town].”

Satellite imagery and thermal anomaly data collected by an environmental sensor show that the destruction of the camp started on January 5 between 11:02 a.m. and 1:24 p.m. and continued for at least three days. On January 5 the fires seem to start around structures in the western part of the camp, within the camp’s residential zones. By January 6 at 11:03 a.m., humanitarian facilities in the eastern part of the camp, such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) offices, were severely burned. Active fires, smoke plumes, and burn scars appear throughout the camp by January 8, reducing large swathes of the camp to ashes.

A UNHCR spokesperson said that when UNHCR reached the camps in late March, they found that “most of the shelters in an area known as Zone A, as well as UNHCR’s offices and staff guesthouse, were burned to the ground.”

Trek to Eritrean Border, Coerced Repatriations (January)

Refugees who were forced to leave the camp in January described a harrowing days-long trek, with no provisions, as they walked toward Sheraro, which was then under Eritrean control. One refugee said:

The journey was terrible. There were fields that were burning, houses burning. A lot of sadness. We found abandoned donkeys and put elderly people on these donkeys. Some people were too tired, so people had to drop their clothes, suitcases. The Eritrean soldiers did not even help women who gave birth along the way but forced them to keep walking.

The refugee said he saw one woman, who reportedly suffered from diabetes, die along the way.

Once they reached Sheraro and the contested town of Badme, some refugees felt they had no choice but to continue into Eritrea.

A 20-year-old refugee who returned to Eritrea via Badme said the Eritrean forces took three weeks to process those waiting to return to Eritrea around Badme, even though the refugees there had little food or shelter. She and hundreds of others eventually boarded buses and headed to Eritrea. While UNHCR said they were unable to verify the number of refugees that may have returned to Eritrea, ARRA said that they believed all those who ended up at the border returned to Ethiopia.

Abuses in Shimelba Camp by Eritrean Forces

Human Rights Watch interviewed five Eritrean refugees who fled Shimelba camp and faced violence and abuses, primarily from Eritrean forces, and spoke with aid workers who interviewed survivors from Shimelba.

Eritrean forces occupied Shimelba camp on November 17. Refugees said the Eritrean forces immediately threatened and intimidated them, pressuring them to leave. The soldiers called a meeting and told the refugees that “UNHCR would not be coming for them” and ordered them to return to Eritrea.

Eritrean soldiers walked around the camp with lists and detained approximately 20 refugees, men, and some women, including several community leaders. The refugees were taken away to an unknown location.

On December 7, as they occupied the camp, Eritrean forces executed six or seven Tigrayans in the vicinity of the camp, and left their bodies largely uncovered, sparking fear among the refugees. Many refugees fled Shimelba to the town of Sheraro, approximately 35 kilometers away. The Eritrean forces exerted considerable pressure on the refugees in Sheraro to return to Eritrea, the refugees said. One said: “Eritrean forces came into a big hall where we sheltered and told us that we had to leave. Some they took by force. In the street, if they found us, they told us to leave.”

Hundreds of refugees eventually returned to Shimelba. Meanwhile, Tigrayan militia fighters and special forces occupied Shimelba camp and prohibited refugees who remained from leaving.

Eritrean forces returned to Shimelba on December 16. Aid workers who spoke with survivors said that Eritrean soldiers shot dead at least one refugee at his home in front of his family and raped at least four refugees in the camp and its vicinity.

Around December 17, heavy fighting took place in and around the camp. Eritrean forces again took control of the camp.

Three residents said that at least six refugees were killed during the fighting. One witness said: “The heavy bombs were falling in the DICAC [Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission] schoolyard, and behind the schoolyard, there were local residents’ houses. Some of the civilian houses were destroyed. The schoolyard was in flames.” Satellite imagery recorded on December 17 at 10:42 a.m. shows burned ground in the DICAC schoolyard that then expanded across the schoolyard on December 18.

Hardships Facing Eritrean Refugees Remaining in Ethiopia

For refugees who found a way to remain in Ethiopia, survival has been hard.

In December the deputy head of ARRA told the media that the government was returning hundreds of refugees who had fled from Tigray to Addis Ababa back to the two functioning refugee camps, Mai Aini and Adi Harush. In January UNHCR raised concerns about refugees being returned against their will after ARRA informed them that 580 Eritreans had been taken back to Tigray. In its September 10 response letter, ARRA said that refugees arriving in Addis Ababa from Tigray had created logistical complications and that the refugees were returned after an ARRA assessment team found the two southern camps to be safe.

Most of the refugees identified had moved to or been moved to Mai Aini, Adi Harush, and Addis Ababa. UNHCR told Human Rights Watch that as of late August, of the refugees who are known to have received food rations in Hitsats and Shimelba in October 2020, 12,611 have been identified, while 7,643 remain unaccounted for. ARRA, however, said that the great majority of refugees from Hitsats and Shimelba have been accounted for, but the agency acknowledged that refugees could have been counted twice.

Human Rights Watch found that refugees outside of camps lacked access to urgent assistance. For several months, those who had made their way to Shire, a town in central Tigray, received no food assistance other than some high-energy biscuits. All the refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch who had fled to Addis Ababa said that they needed urgent assistance, including medical care, food, and shelter.

In May, UNHCR said that many refugees needed urgent assistance, but that discussions with the government were ongoing about providing this assistance outside the camp setting. In August UNHCR reported that ARRA had agreed to provide refugees who had arrived in Addis Ababa from Hitsats and Shimelba with temporary identification documents for three years, which would enable them to open bank accounts and receive support through cash transfers. ARRA confirmed this to Human Rights Watch. At the time of writing, refugees in Addis Ababa had still not received this support.

Refugees in Adi Harush and Mai Aini, along with UNHCR, raised concerns about armed men engaged in crime in both camps. In February, for instance, unidentified armed men attacked three refugees as they lined up for scarce water at about 5 a.m., wounding one and stealing their belongings.

On July 12, fighting broke out in and around Mai Aini and Adi Harush between the Tigrayan Defense Forces and Amhara regional forces, killing at least one refugee, according to UNHCR. The insecurity in the area caused access to aid, including food and water, to be cut off. UNHCR said that emergency assistance started again on August 5 but warned that “basic services such as health care remain unavailable, and clean drinking water is running out.” ARRA said on September 10 that, given the insecurity, they currently do not have a presence in the camps. While Tigrayan forces reportedly control the camps and vicinities, reports of insecurity and clashes in the area persist. Responding to a query about plans to relocate Eritrean refugees out of Tigray, Getachew Reda, the TPLF spokesman, questioned whether there were any credible security concerns for Eritrean refugees remaining in Tigray.

International Legal Obligations

Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia are protected by international human rights and humanitarian law. International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, prohibits attacks against civilians, including refugees, and civilian property, and requires parties to the conflict to facilitate humanitarian access to civilians in need. The warring parties who have committed abuses against refugees are responsible for laws-of-war violations. Individuals who have committed serious violations with criminal intent can be held responsible for war crimes.

Ethiopia is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and to African regional refugee conventions. These hold Ethiopia responsible for ensuring the protection of refugees within its territory and for cooperating with the UN refugee agency to facilitate its response to refugee crises.

UNHCR’s Executive Committee has long condemned military or armed attacks on refugee camps, and has said that governments should preserve the civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps, ensure safe access for humanitarian assistance, and hold accountable those responsible for attacks on the security of refugees.


  • All parties to Ethiopia’s armed conflict should immediately cease attacks and abuses against Eritrean refugees and other civilians. They should respect the humanitarian nature of refugee camps and not deploy forces there. They should facilitate humanitarian access and freedom of movement for all refugees;
  • The Ethiopian government should, with international support, provide immediate and adequate emergency assistance, including medical care, food, and shelter, to the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers currently displaced outside of camps, including in Sheraro, Adigrat, and Addis Ababa. They should identify and support those at particular risk or with specific needs, including women, the high caseload of unaccompanied and separated minors and other children, older people, and people with disabilities;
  • The government should also ensure the physical safety of refugees within its territory, including by: protecting Eritrean refugees from Eritrean and other armed forces and groups; ensuring humanitarian access to all refugee camps and conflict areas; and committing to not forcibly returning Eritrean refugees to Eritrea or to areas where their lives and security would be at risk;
  • Any UN-led, international investigation into alleged international crimes in the Tigray region should include an investigation into warring parties’ actions against Eritrean refugees and protected humanitarian infrastructure;
  • Tigrayan armed forces should ensure the protection of Eritrean refugees in areas under their control, including through ensuring humanitarian access to all refugee camps, freedom of movement for all refugees, and cooperating with international investigations into abuses against Eritrean refugees;
  • Ethiopia, Eritrea, and UNHCR should cooperate to account for the whereabouts and well-being of the thousands of refugees from Hitsats and Shimelba camps and throughout Tigray still unaccounted for; and
  • UNHCR and affected governments should accelerate the handling of pending cases of third-country resettlement for Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, as a highly vulnerable group.


Grand Renaissance Dam GERD Nile

Date: 15/09/2021

Source: What’s in blue

Security Council Presidential Statement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

This afternoon (15 September) the Security Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The draft presidential statement calls for a resumption of the negotiations led by the African Union (AU) to reach a “binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD”. This will be the first Security Council product on the issue.

The negotiations on the presidential statement were prolonged and apparently difficult. Tunisia initially proposed a resolution on the issue, but following Council members’ inability to agree on this product, decided to pursue a presidential statement. It circulated a first draft of the presidential statement in early August and held several rounds of negotiations. It seems that the draft presidential statement set to be adopted this afternoon is the fourth version of the text.

The ongoing dispute concerns a major dam on the Blue Nile and dates back to 2011, when Ethiopia started the construction of the GERD. The hydropower dam is reported to have an expected capacity of 6,000 megawatts and to cost $4 billion. While Ethiopia argues that the dam is vital for its development, downriver countries Egypt and Sudan have expressed concern that the GERD threatens their own water supply.

In March 2015, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan signed a Declaration of Principles on the GERD in which they committed to the equitable and reasonable use of water resources. However, disagreements among the three states have persisted on some aspects of the functioning of the dam, including the filling and operations of the GERD during periods of drought and on a dispute resolution mechanism, preventing the parties from reaching common ground. Negotiations on the outstanding issues, including under the auspices of the AU, have yielded little progress.

The dispute was first discussed by the Security Council on 29 June 2020, in conjunction with the first filling of the GERD by Ethiopia. When Addis Ababa’s intention to move forward with the second filling of the dam became clear earlier this year, the dispute again garnered international attention.

On 15 June, following a meeting requested by Egypt and Sudan, the League of Arab States (LAS) adopted a resolution which called on the UN Security Council to discuss the dispute and on Ethiopia to refrain from filling the dam without first having reached an agreement with the countries affected. In a 15 June statement, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the LAS resolution “in its entirety”. Tunisia— a member of both the UN Security Council and the LAS—has raised the issue within the Security Council, requesting a meeting on the GERD (which was held on 8 July) and leading the negotiations on a Council product.

Tunisia first circulated a draft Security Council resolution on the GERD on 2 July. Following the 8 July briefing, Tunisia circulated a revised draft. However, it appears that there was insufficient support for the text to be adopted. Tunisia apparently circulated an initial draft of the presidential statement on 5 August. Following comments by Council members, a first revised draft was put under silence until 16 August, a deadline which was later extended to 17 August. After Kenya broke silence on the statement on 17 August, a second revised draft was circulated by Tunisia and put under silence on the same day. However, Kenya broke silence on the draft again. A third revised version was circulated by Tunisia on 2 September, with a read-through on 3 September and comments were submitted by 7 September. A fourth revised version was circulated on Monday (13 September) and passed the silence procedure yesterday (14 September).

It seems that an agreement on the draft statement became possible through compromise and the considerable scaling back of the content of the text. A notable caveat in the draft statement is that the Council “underscores” that the “statement does not set out any principles or precedent in any other transboundary water disputes”. This language is apparently intended to address concerns by several Council members that the adoption of a Council product on the GERD could create a precedent where the Council would be called to intervene in transboundary water disputes across the globe. During the 8 July Council meeting, several members noted that these types of disagreements are better solved regionally and through dialogue among the parties involved. Kenya called on the parties “to recommit to negotiating in good faith within the AU-led process” and expressed its “total confidence that our Egyptian, Ethiopian and Sudanese brothers and sisters will make the principle of African solutions for African challenges a reality”, while Niger called on “all parties to prioritize reaching a regional and African solution to the GERD issue”. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines referred to Chapter VIII of the UN Charter (which encourages the peaceful resolution of local disputes by regional arrangements or agencies as long as their efforts are consistent with the principles and purposes of the UN) and said that “the African Union is best-suited to facilitate the pacific settlement of disputes on the motherland”. Mexico also referenced Chapter VIII in its statement. India stated that “transboundary-water disputes should ideally be resolved through mechanisms agreed upon by the primary stakeholders and taking into account the respective rights and issues of technical details, historical usage and socioeconomic aspects”.

Another apparent contentious reference that appeared in earlier iterations of the text, but was removed in the final version, requested the Secretary-General to report on the dispute to the Council within six months. This would have placed the GERD on the Security Council’s agenda, which proved unacceptable to some Council members.

The overall tone of the statement has also been considerably softened during the lengthy negotiation process. In the draft presidential statement, the Security Council “encourages” Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to restart the AU-led negotiations “to finalize expeditiously the text of [a] mutually acceptable and binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD”. While having a reference to a “binding agreement” was arguably one of the priorities of the states who called for a Council product on the GERD, a previous iteration of the statement included stronger language “requesting” Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to reach such an agreement. Similarly, the Council calls upon the three countries to resume the negotiation process “in a constructive and cooperative manner”, while a previous version directly called upon them “to refrain from making any statements or taking any action that may jeopardize the negotiation process”.



Eritrea Media Suppression

By Siyad Arts @artssiyad (a political cartoonist who believes arts has power to change the world).

PHOTO EXHIBITION – 18 to 19 September 2021 10.30am to 4.30pm

17 September 2021 at 5pm: Exhibition Opening by Patrick Grady, MP for Glasgow North and Vice-Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group for Eritrea

At Resources for London, 356 Holloway Road, London N7 6PA

Eritrea – bordering on the Red Sea – has been fought over for generations. Colonised by Italy, it was forcibly united with Ethiopia after the Second World War. Deprived of many of their freedoms, and suffering egregious extrajudicial killings, its people rose in revolt.

After a liberation struggle lasting 30 years, Eritreans finally won their independence in 1991. But a further border war with Ethiopia between 1998 and 2000 and a ruthless internal crackdown plunged the nation into dictatorship and repression. Eritreans have fled their country in their hundreds of thousands, seeking refuge in neighbouring states, or drowning in the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach sanctuary in Europe or the USA.

Today Eritrea finds itself engaged in another bloody war in Ethiopia, between the Tigrayans and the Federal Government. Eritreans, along with Ethiopians and Amhara militia have committed despicable atrocities since the outbreak of the war in November 2020, including systematic attacks and abduction of Eritrean refugees in Tigray. Thousands of Eritrean troops have been killed in this unnecessary war, instigated by Prime Minister Abiy and the unelected president of Eritrea, Isaias Afeworki. All in the name of the “Peace Accord” signed by the two countries in 2018. There is no prospect of the war ending soon, despite appeals for peace from the international community and the UN.

Following the end of the border war with Ethiopia, on 18 September 2001, the Government of Eritrea banned all independent media outlets and incarcerated all but the most compliant journalists. Government critics were also rounded up and detained without trial in the most brutal of prisons.

The journalists and political activists who were arrested twenty years ago have not been seen or heard of since. We mourn their loss and demand their freedom.

For further information, please contact:

Eritrea Focus

Post: 2 Thorpe Close, Ladbrooke Grove, London W10 5XL

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Tel: +44 (0) 7949 700 412

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