June 13, 2018 @ 05:13 PM 2,995

, Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

At the end of May 2018, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea, a group of UK Parliamentarians from across both houses of Parliament, held a session at the UK Parliament to examine the ongoing religious persecution in Eritrea. The meeting was entitled ‘Religious persecution in Eritrea: A crime against humanity’ and was co-organised with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (another cross-party group consisting of over 110 UK Parliamentarians) with the support of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors UK and Aid to the Church in Need. It was chaired by Lord Alton of Liverpool who, over the years, has been a vociferous advocate for international religious freedom. During the event, religious leaders representing the Evangelical Protestants, Muslims and the Orthodox Coptic Christians, spoke of the challenges faced by their respective religious communities in Eritrea. Lord Alton speaking on the religious persecution in Eritrea, described Eritrea as the North Korea of Africa. Lord Alton raised the fact that the UK government appears to downplay the atrocities perpetrated against religious groups in Eritrea in order to ‘normalise relations’ with the Eritrean government. He claims that crimes against humanity are being perpetrated in Eritrea, yet the world continues to look the other way. 

The session coincided with a debate in the House of Commons (the so-called Westminster Hall debate) organised by Chris Philp MP, focused on the persecution of Christians worldwide. The debate raised the issue of religious persecution of Christians in Eritrea and, in particular, the case of 33 Christian women who were imprisoned for taking part in a prayer. Both events helped to shed light on the fact that not only is the religious liberty of Eritrea threatened, there is a strong argument that it does not exist in the first place (not in accordance to international standards). Religious persecution in Eritrea affects several religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witness and Muslim communities. These communities were the first religious groups to experience such challenges in Eritrea before other religious groups came under threat. 

Indeed, Eritrean law incorporates very few protections on religious freedom. Theoretically, the Eritrean constitution provides for a protection for the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief. Yet, despite the fact that the Constitution was ratified in 1997, it has yet to be implemented. More worryingly, it looks unlikely to be implemented since President Afwerki announced plans to draft a new constitution in 2014, rather than to implement the existing one. As a result, religious freedom does not have any effective protection under the Eritrean law. The fact that the constitution has not been implemented detrimentally also affects the protection of other fundamental human rights.

The question is then, is Lord Alton correct to claim that the religious persecution in Eritrea amounts to crimes against humanity? In short, certainly yes. He is certainly not the only one to have reached such a conclusion. In fact, in 2016, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (the CoI-E) http://www.refworld.org/docid/575920394.html">stated that there were reasonable grounds to conclude that crimes against humanity were being perpetrated in Eritrea. For this reason, the CoI recommended that the UN Security Council refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. In July, the CoI-E recommended that ‘an accountability mechanism to investigate, prosecute, and try individuals accused of committing crimes against humanity in Eritrea, including engaging in torture and overseeing Eritrea’s indefinite military service, which the CoI-E equated to slavery’ be implemented by the African Union.

Eritrea is a religiously diverse country and the government encourages a multi faith tradition, so long as the religion is officially recognised. The problem lies in the fact that the Eritrean government recognises only four religious groups: the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea. Other religious groups are subject to registration. Any religious group that is not registered is not allowed to conduct any religious activities until such time as the registration is granted. Having said that, according to Pew Research Centre, ‘the Eritrean government has not approved registration for any additional religious group since 2002.

The result of the requirement to register religions is that certain religious factions become effectively outlawed. Evangelical and Pentecostal religious groups are two such examples of religions which were effectively outlawed after the introduction in 2002 registration requirement. Groups practicing these religions face the risk of arrest followed by indefinite detention without charge or any chance of redress, as well as the physical and psychological violence often experienced in detention.

In its 2017 report, USCIRF found that

"Systematic, ongoing, and egregious religious freedom violations include torture or other ill treatment of religious prisoners, arbitrary arrests and detentions without charges, a prolonged ban on public religious activities of unregistered religious groups, and interference in the internal affairs of registered religious groups.

According to USCIRF, religious prisoners are routinely detained in the harshest of prison environments where they are subjected to cruel punishments. The report further states that

"Released religious prisoners have reported that they were kept in solitary confinement or crowded conditions, such as in 20-foot metal shipping containers or underground barracks and subjected to extreme temperature fluctuations.


USCIRF identified that the situation is particularly severe in the case of unregistered Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians as well as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As a result of these challenges, USCIRF indicated that Eritrea meets the requirements for a country of particular concern (CPC) designation under the International Religious Freedom Act. Indeed, the religious persecution in Eritrea is of concern and needs to be addressed urgently. As long as the Eritrean government is willing to engage in a constructive dialogue with the UN and individual states, there is some hope that the dire situation of persecuted religious groups will change. However, if that dialogue fails, Eritrea may well deserve the designation of being the North Korea of Africa.

Ewelina U. Ochab is a human rights advocate and author of the book “Never Again: Legal Responses to a Broken Promise in the Middle East.”



Houthi rebels fire a machine gun outside HudaydahHouhouthi

Houthi rebels are trying to hold the port city against government forces, backed by Saudi Arabia

Military sources here in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have told the BBC that a major force of Yemeni, UAE and Sudanese troops is on standby in Eritrea to take part in a final push to retake Hudaydah port from Houthi rebels.

The military campaign to drive out the Iranian-backed rebel militia from the key Red Sea port is being directed, funded and led by the UAE.

Officials here have responded to international objections to the campaign by emphasising that Hudaydah port remains open and that maintaining the flow of aid is a top priority.

Over the last two days a ground force of three Yemeni brigades has been advancing northwards towards the outskirts of the city, supported by UAE air strikes and helicopter gunships.

"They have punched through the green zone (of fertile land) relatively quickly to reach the gates of the airport" an unnamed spokesman said on Friday.

He added that the Houthis had laid multiple mines along the coastal strip as well as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that he said bore similarities to Iranian and Hezbollah devices used in Iraq and Lebanon.

Emirati soldiers flying over the Yemeni desert in a Chinook September 2015 Image copyright Reuters Image caption Emirati soldiers flying over the Yemeni desert

Around two thirds of Yemen's much-needed aid arrives through the rebel-held city and there have been international calls to halt the military operation for fear of disrupting the flow of aid.

But UAE officials say the delivery of humanitarian aid has always been an integral part of their planning which began two years ago. On Thursday they announced a 5-point plan to keep aid flowing in despite the military campaign.

Hudaydah has been in rebel hands for the last three years and the UAE believes it provides the Houthis with up to $40 million (£30m) a month in revenues.

The UAE also accuses the rebels of smuggling in arms from Iran, including ballistic missile parts, which both Iran and the Houthis deny. A UN report found that some weaponry had been supplied by Iran but could not determine when.

The coalition believes that if it can deprive the Houthis of these funds then they will quickly capitulate and negotiate a peace deal that ends Yemen's disastrous civil war.

But previous estimates of Houthi weakness have been misplaced and after more than three years of war the rebels still control most of the heavily populated areas in Yemen.

Map showing control of Yemen (13 June 2018)

UAE military sources also said they had been deploying a deception plan with more actions to come. They said this had involved luring the Houthis into believing they were being attacked from the sea to the north of the city when in fact the coalition ground force was advancing up from the south.

But this has come at a cost. They said an anti-ship missile fired by the Houthis at a cluster of UAE naval vessels 24 nautical miles offshore killed 4 Emirati navy personnel.

Meanwhile on the UAE-leased base in Eritrea a "significant" force of UAE F16 and other military aircraft is poised to carry out more air strikes.

A Yemeni man inspecting air strike damage Image copyright EPA Image caption Air strikes have killed thousands in Houthi-held areas of Yemen

The UAE spokesman said "you are not going to see a Mosul situation where air power will flatten whole city blocks".

Yet air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition have already caused high casualties in Yemen while failing to dislodge the Houthis from most major cities.

On Friday the CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), David Miliband, told the BBC that out of 100,000 air strikes over the last 3 years, around 4,500 had hit civilians.


By , CP Reporter | Jun 15, 2018 1:14 PM
(Screenshot: YouTube.com/Tearstojoyministries.org)Protesters gather to protest the arrest of religious minorities in Eritrea in this undated screenshot.

A pastor in the small East African nation of Eritrea has been released after being falsely imprisoned for 11 years in one of the worst nations in the world when it comes to Christian persecution.

Voice of the Martyrs Australia has confirmed that Pastor Oqbamichel Haiminot, the senior pastor of Kale Hiwot (Word of Life) Church in Asmara, has finally been released from prison at the 5th Police Station.

Haiminot, a married father of three, was among over 60 evangelical Christians who were arrested in 2005 while participating in a wedding ceremony and were taken to the Sawa military center for "military punishment."

The global persecution advocacy organization reports that while the police gradually released several of the Christians, Haiminot and about five others were kept in detention as military officials tried to get them to recant their faith in Christ.

After refusing the request to deny Jesus, Haiminot was placed in solitary confinement. He was also subject to cruel punishments and inhumane conditions that include being forced to carry rocks up a mountain.

https://g-4cf9.kxcdn.com/cp/img/icon-expand.png); background-origin: padding-box; background-position-x: 50%; background-position-y: 50%; background-repeat: no-repeat; background-size: auto; bottom: 10px; cursor: pointer; height: 18px; left: 10px; overflow: hidden; padding-bottom: 7px; padding-left: 7px; padding-right: 7px; padding-top: 7px; position: absolute; text-indent: -3200px; transition-delay: 0s; transition-duration: 0.1s; transition-property: background-color; transition-timing-function: cubic-bezier(0.25, 0.1, 0.25, 1); width: 18px;">Expand | Collapse

(Photo: ChurchinChains.ie)Pastor Oqbamichel Haiminot

Although he was later released after he suffered a mental breakdown, Pastor Haiminot was re-arrested in 2007 and would stay locked up for over the next decade.

While it is unclear why Pastor Haiminot was finally released after years of advocacy from international rights groups, Voice of the Martyrs reports that Haiminot was in need of medical attention following his release.

"Many pastors [in Eritrea] have been arrested. Many Christians have been arrested," Todd Nettleton, chief of media relations for Voice of the Martyrs USA, said in a statement. "Typically, however, they're not held as long as Pastor Oqbamichel was... We don't know exactly why he was released at this time. Why not a year ago? Why not a year from now? We don't know what the logic behind that is — or if there is any logic behind it."

Haiminot gained international attention in 2003 after he became the first church leader in Eritrea to be imprisoned for religious activities.

His release comes as Eritrea ranks as the sixth worst nation in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians, according to Open Doors USA's 2018 World Watch List.

"The arrest, harassment and murder of Christians accused of being agents of the West is commonplace [in Eritrea]," Open Doors reports. "At the same time, Muslims, who make up roughly half of the population, are becoming more radicalized, resulting in increased vulnerability for Christians living in their vicinity."

According to Nettleton, Eritrea has gone through crackdown against the evangelical Christian community that started in 2002.

"The government actually closed all of the Evangelical churches in Eritrea," he said. "[They] basically called in the church leaders and said, 'Your churches can't meet anymore.' Every Christian activity after that became illegal."

The crackdown was renewed in 2017 and rights groups reported that over 200 Christians were arrested in house-to-house raids, according to the U.S. State Department's 2017 International Religious Freedom report.

"There were reports of deaths of members of minority religious groups imprisoned for their religious beliefs as well as physical mistreatment of persons in custody," the report states. "In October the government's enforcement of its ban on religious groups operating schools sparked demonstrations that led to the arrest of an Islamic school director and at least 40 other persons."



2 Christians Ambushed, Hacked to Death After Leaving Evangelical Church Service in Nigeria

Christians Condemn 'Outrageously Evil' Killing of Priest at Altar of Philippines Church

Communist Authorities Remove Jesus Images, Destroy Major Way of the Cross Pilgrimage in China

Christian Couple in Morocco Fight for Right to Marry in Muslim-Majority Country

Last August, Fikadu Debesay, an evangelical mother of three, died while she was imprisoned at the Metkel Abiet camp. It is possible that some form of "mistreatment" could have contributed to her death.

A relative at her funeral told Morning Star News that she saw a scar on the Debesay's face and another scar on her hand that "could have been a sign of some mistreatment or intense sunburn that resulted to her untimely death."

"It has been very difficult consoling [her] children," the relative said. "They want to know what happened to their mother."

Two Pentecostal Christians died last March while on a hunger strike to protest their mistreatment. Their bodies were reported to have shown signs of sexual abuse.

Jehovah's Witnesses have also been arrested and died in Eritrean prison.

"Two Witnesses have recently died after their transfer to the Mai Serwa Prison. Habtemichael Tesfamariam died at age 76 on January 3, 2018, and Habtemichael Mekonen died at age 77 on March 6, 2018," JW.org reports. "Eritrean authorities imprisoned both men in 2008 without charges. A total of four Witnesses have now died while imprisoned in Eritrea."

Cover 2
This report, by Eritrea Focus, is the first of its kind, including interviews with those who were trapped in the mining sector.
It pulls together information to highlight the extent to which international investors, including UK-based institutions, are involved in the extractive sector in Eritrea.
This is concerning, especially in light of the UK Government’s strong position on modern slavery.
Eritrea Focus has submitted the report to the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea, which is the best vehicle by which to carry out its recommendations.


MINING AND REPRESSION IN ERITREA Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Abuses

A summary of key facts and recommendations made in this report for officers of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea:

 Since 1993, Eritrea has been ruled as a one-party state under the dictatorship of President Isaias Afwerki. There is no independent judiciary, civil society or independent media in the country, and the Constitution of Eritrea – ratified in 1997 – has never been fully implemented. As a result, many thousands flee into exile every month.

 A 2016 UN Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea found that enslavement inside the country “has been committed on an ongoing, widespread and systematic basis since 2002.”

 At the age of 18, Eritrean citizens are drafted into compulsory indefinite military or national service. The UN Commission of Inquiry report found that most “are subject to forced labour” in public and private companies.

 Any foreign firm operating in Eritrea is required by law to contract public construction companies. The US State Department reported in 2015 that the country’s “mandatory national service programme,” and tendency to “place persons performing national service in commercial enterprises, may leave businesses open to charges of relying on conscripts as forced labour.” These concerns were echoed in 2016 and 2017.

 The 2016 UN Commission of Inquiry report stated that the mining industry was “one of the most successful economic sectors in Eritrea” and that proceeds from mining operations jointly owned by the Government and transnational corporations were an “important and undisputed source of revenue.”

 UN Security Council Resolution 2023 expressed concern that the mining sector was being used as a financial source “to destabilize the Horn of Africa”, and called on Eritrea to “show transparency in its public finances.” This has not been complied with.

 At least 17 mining and exploration companies – including from Australia, Canada, China, and the United Kingdom – currently operate in Eritrea.

 Of the approximately 1,500 people working for Nevsun Resources Ltd, which manages the Bisha mine west of Asmara, more than 1,400 are sub-contracted by Segen Construction. Segen, owned by the ruling party, is accused by Human Rights Watch of relying heavily on conscript labour.

 Nevsun’s 2016 financial statement showed that the company had paid more than $1bn in taxes to the Eritrean state since production began at the Bisha mine in 2011. Nevsun has “consistently cited confidentiality non-disclosure agreements” when questioned about its finances by the UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia.

 A 2013 report by Human Rights Watch into the Eritrean mining sector found “clear evidence that many of Segen’s workers at Bisha…faced terrible conditions, from inadequate food supplies to unsafe housing”. Workers interviewed said that they “lived in fear and were ordered not to complain about their plight.”

 First hand testimonies collected for this report found evidence of forced labour and torture. National Service conscripts were being subjected to abusive working and living conditions, hazardous working and living conditions, and the withholding of wages.

 At the time of writing, British investment management company M&G Investments, whose parent company is the insurance and financial services firm Prudential plc, holds almost 29 million shares (9.5%) in Nevsun.

 J.P. Morgan Asset Management, headquartered in the UK, holds shares in both Nevsun and Danakali, an Australian company engaged in a joint project with Eritrean state-owned mining firm ENAMCO.

 UK-based Andiamo Exploration currently holds an exploration licence for copper and gold in Eritrea. Major investors include Ortac Resources Ltd., whose own shareholders include the investment arms of Halifax and Barclays banks.

 Under Section 54 of the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, every organisation operating in the UK with an annual turnover of £36m or more is required to produce a yearly slavery and human trafficking statement, setting out what action they have taken to ensure slavery is not taking place in their supply chains. If a business fails to produce a slavery and human trafficking report for a particular financial year, the Home Secretary may bring a High Court injunction requiring the company to comply. Failure to do so is punishable by an unlimited fine.

 There is currently no requirement for these reports to be independently audited. There is also no effective monitoring system to record which companies fail in their obligation to report, and no effective enforcement mechanism for compliance.

Recommendations made in this report to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea

The first recommendation is that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea invites the company directors of M&G Investments/Prudential Plc, Ortac Resources Ltd, and JP Morgan UK, along with the relevant officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who deal with the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles, to appear before the APPG to address the concerns raised in this report.

 The second recommendation is for the All-Party Parliamentary Group to write to M&G Investments/Prudential Plc, JP Morgan UK, Halifax and Barclays, to ask what steps they are taking to produce human rights impact assessments.

 The third recommendation is for the All-Party Parliamentary Group to ask the appropriate government departments what steps are being taken, in the light of the evidence of gross human rights violations, to ensure that measures in accordance with UK Anti-bribery legislation, the Modern Slavery Act, and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative are applied to company activities in Eritrea.

 The fourth recommendation is for the All-Party Parliamentary Group to issue a statement highlighting the abuses outlined in this report, publicly calling for companies to end their activities in Eritrea until there is a sustained and verifiable improvement in human rights within the country.

 The fifth recommendation is for the All-Party Parliamentary Group to write to the relevant ambassadors and High Commissioners of the countries in which companies operating in Eritrea, and their investors, are headquartered, raising the human rights concerns detailed in this report while at the same time remaining actively informed about the developments in Eritrea’s mining sector.

 The sixth recommendation is for the All-Party Parliamentary Group to write to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Trade, asking what steps have been taken to force the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2023, and what the outcome of such advice has been.

This map, which was produced by the UN Cartographic Section in September 2000, shows the Temporary Security Zone all along the Ethiopia-Eritrea border.

It was drawn to show the twenty-five kilometre deep area inside Eritrea that was created along the border, awaiting the outcome of the Boundary Commission, which would decide exactly where the border would be.

Ethiopia Eritrea Temporary Security Zone

The zone was created in line with Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities drawn up by the OAU (predecessor to the African Union) of 18 June 2000.

Paragraph 9 stated: “Ethiopia shall submit redeployment plans for its troops from positions taken after 6 February 1999, and which were not under Ethiopian administration before 6 May 1998, to the Peacekeeping Mission. This redeployment shall be completed within two weeks after the deployment of the Peacekeeping Mission and verified by it.”

Paragraph 12 stated: “In order to contribute to the reduction of tensions and to the establishment of a climate of calm and confidence, as well as to create conditions conducive to a comprehensive and lasting settlement of the conflict through the delimitation and demarcation of the border, the Eritrean forces shall remain at a distance of 25 km (artillery range) from positions to which Ethiopian forces shall redeploy in accordance with paragraph 9 of this document. This zone of separation shall be referred to in this document as the ‘temporary security zone.'”

The Boundary Commission subsequently ruled on where the border lay, but Ethiopia insisted (until this month) that it would only implement the ruling after further talks. This position has now changed.

To resolve the border it is necessary for both sides to adjust the location of their forces  in two ways. Firstly, they have to reposition them away from areas that the Boundary Commission ruled lay inside the other state. Secondly, Ethiopia will have to allow Eritrean forces to enter the Temporary Security Zone (where they have not done so already). Both will require careful planning and co-ordination if they are to be undertaken successfully, without further incidents.

It would, of course, be sensible to take into account the feelings and wishes of local people. This was not allowed for by the Algiers Agreement, which both countries signed. This stated that: “The parties agree that a neutral Boundary Commission composed of five members shall be established with a mandate to delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border based on pertinent colonial treaties (1900, 1902 and 1908) and applicable international law. The Commission shall not have the power to make decisions ex aequo et bono.” The Latin phrase means that the Commission was forbidden from using fairness or justice as criteria in making their judgement.

At the same time there is nothing to preclude Ethiopia or Eritrea from being fair of just, as they move to end this border stalemate.

Swiss-based Eurochem, owned by Russian businessman Andrei Melnichenko, has agreed to buy the output of one of the richest sources of potash in the world: in Eritrea’s Danakil desert.
The statement, from Australian based Dankali Limited, says that Eurochem “will take, pay, market and distribute up to 100% (minimum 87%)” of its sulphate of potash output.
The mine is 50% owned by the Eritrean government’s Eritrean National Mining Corporation and 50% by Danakali Limited.
Danakali’s chairman, Seamus Cornelius, described the deal as a “significant milestone because it enables Danakali to achieve the required project funding and significantly de-risks its financial position in relation to its Colluli potash project.”
The Colluli mine is the company’s flagship asset that will produce almost 1 million kilotons of sulphate of potash annually when the project is fully developed over the coming years. Exploration has been under way since 2012.
Eurochem is owned by Andrei Melnichenko, reportedly Russia’s seventh richest businessmen, with an estimated wealth of over $15 billion.
The company produced the first potash from its new $2 billion plant in Russia in March and plans to launch another plant later this year.
Eritrea’s Danakil desert, one of the hottest places on earth, is the source of rich potash deposits.
Australia’s Dankali provided this description of the planned operation: “The Project is located in the Danakil Depression region of Eritrea, and is ~75km from the Red Sea coast, making it one of the most accessible potash deposits globally. Mineralisation within the Colluli resource commences at just 16m, making it the world’s shallowest potash deposit. The resource is amenable to open pit mining, which allows higher overall resource recovery to be achieved, is generally safer than underground mining, and is highly advantageous for modular growth.”
This is the company video.
Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki cannot afford to ignore Ethiopia's peace offer.
Isaias Afwerki has been Eritrea's president since 1993 [Reuters/James Akena]
Isaias Afwerki has been Eritrea's president since 1993 [Reuters/James Akena]
On June 5, Ethiopia announced it would fully accept and implement the 2000 Algiers Peace Accord that ended its border war with Eritrea. It also said it would accept a 2002 ruling by the UN-backedEritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), which awarded several disputed territories, including the town of Badme, to Eritrea. Ethiopia had been ignoring the commission's ruling and refusing to withdraw its troops from these territories for the past 16 years, making the demarcation of the border practically impossible.

Adis Ababa's announcement last week was welcomed as a major step towards permanently calming the deadly tensions between the two warring neighbours.

Celebrations and concerns

Eritreans in the diaspora celebrated Ethiopia's announcement as if it was a national holiday - a second independence day of sorts. They were happy because they assumed the statement would start a normalisation process between the two countries, which could encourage the Eritrean government to finally abandon its policies of militarisation and loosen its iron grip on the population.

But, as the days passed and the Eritrean government remained silent on the subject, the Eritrean diaspora's enthusiasm and joy transformed into disappointment and anger.
Rare reports from inside Eritrea indicated that Eritreans still living in their homeland also welcomed the news. Of course, Eritreans in the country were not able to celebrate Addis Ababa's surprising declaration openly. "We have been beaten down to submissiveness and even lost the language of celebration," a contact in Asmara told me. "People have been waiting for state approval to celebrate it officially and openly." He asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

The response from independent experts who have been working with the Eritrean government was also prompt and clear. Lea Brilmayer, a professor of international law at Yale Law School, who led the Eritrean Boundary Commission and later the Claims Commission, told the Voice of America: "If the statement was made in good faith and they [Ethiopia] implement it, that would be great".

But Addis Ababa's unexpected move was not necessarily welcomed by all.

Eritrean residents of the Tsorena sub-zone in the border area, where the Border Commission had awarded several villages to Ethiopia, have openly expressed concerns. One of their representatives anonymously spoke to Australia's Radio SBS Tigrinya via telephone and pleaded with the two governments to consider his community's unique concerns.

Meanwhile, ethnic Irobs living in the border area between the two countries currently under Ethiopia's rule organised a protest to condemn the decision to accept the boundary commission's ruling. Irobs say the implementation of the "arbitrary" borders drawn by the border commission would divide their community between the two countries.

Despite these concerns and protests, most observers expected an enthusiastic response from the Eritrean government, which appeared to have finally gotten what it always wanted. Yet, no official response has come from the Eritrean state to date.

When contacted by Reuters on the day of the announcement, Eritrea's Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel claimed that he had not yet seen the Ethiopian government's statement, so could not immediately comment. A day later, when pressed to comment on the issue on Twitter, Gebremeskel simply said, "Our position is crystal clear and has been so for 16 years". He did not elaborate.

Other officials from the Eritrean regime also chose to stay quiet about the announcement that carried the African nation to headlines around the globe. This was not surprising; as in Ethiopia, Eritrean officials do not usually comment on such issues before receiving some guidance from more senior members of the regime. Only after Gebremeskel's tweet did some of them began sharing - albeit vague- opinions on the issue.

Eritrean regime caught off-guard

Under President Isaias Afwerki's ironclad rule, Eritrea has become increasingly isolated from the international community. In 2009, the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on the country, which are still in force.

In 2016, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea accused Eritrean state officials of committing "crimes against humanity". For decades, things have been getting worse for Eritreans thanks to the short-sighted policies of the country's repressive and reclusive government. The state has also become increasingly militarised under Afwerki's rule.
The Eritrean government blames Ethiopia and the international community for all its problems and refused to take any responsibility for the grave situation the country is currently in. In their 2017 report submitted to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, the Eritrean government once again tried to blame all its wrongdoings and failures on "the border war with Ethiopia that erupted in May 1998 and the subsequent ongoing existential external threats and belligerencies against Eritrea".

But today, the Eritrean government appears to be caught off guard by Ethiopia's unexpected readiness to resolve the long-standing bone of contention between the two countries. The Eritrean regime seems confused, unprepared and clueless about how it should respond to Ethiopia's peace offer.

Ethiopia's call for normalisation and peace put President Afwerki in a very difficult position, as it undermines his current strategy of blaming Ethiopia for his repressive rule. Afwerki kept the country under tight control for two decades by using the "Ethiopia threat" as an excuse. Even if not fully convinced, many Eritreans were coerced to accept those fears as "legitimate" and stoically withstand years of economic hardship, political repression, and military obligations that are akin to modern slavery.

If Ethiopia does follow through with its stated intention to accept the Boundary Commission's 2002 verdict, it's doubtful that Eritreans would accept any further fearmongering from the Afwerki administration regarding Addis Ababa's actions and intentions. If Afwerki attempts to dismiss or undermine this long-awaited gesture from its neighbour, the population may openly turn against the regime.

Eritreans have been demonstrating their willingness to make amends with their neighbour for a very long time. Over the last few years, many Eritreans actively defied their government by travelling to Ethiopia to visit friends and family on Eritrean passports via a third country. These visits helped the Eritrean public hear from the Ethiopian people directly and diluted the state-controlled media's hateful rhetoric about Ethiopia.

Today, there is a real opportunity to reach a peaceful resolution of this long-standing conflict. If the Eritrean government tries to ignore Addis Ababa's peace offer, it will find itself taking a stance against not only the Ethiopian government but also the Eritrean people.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance.
Abiy AhmedThe New Ethiopian PM, Abiy AHmed
Eritrea's Catholic religious men and women embrace the olive branch of peace from Ethiopia and urge their country’s leaders to accept the offer.
Agenzia Fides - Asmara

"The step taken by the Ethiopian government is positive and fills our hearts with happiness. Now it is up to (Eritrean President) Isayas Afeworki to act. He will decide if he really wants to make peace," These are some of the comments from the Catholic religious men and women in Eritrea.

Ethiopia is ready to cede disputed territories

In April, this year, Abiy Ahmed became Ethiopian prime minister. Africa's youngest head of government, 42-year-old Abiy has surprised many inside and outside Ethiopia with his fast-paced radical reform agenda since taking office. He has quickly lifted a state of emergency; vowed to end months of deadly protests and released thousands of political prisoners. On Tuesday, Abiy announced that Ethiopia would implement the Algiers peace agreement that requires it to cede the disputed territories with Eritrea, including the border town of Badme, which it has occupied for more than twenty years.

At the root of it all is a bitter and bloody two-year conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea that led to the loss of thousands of lives on both sides. The tensions and enmity have lingered on and provided the Eritrean government with a convenient excuse for repression of its people citing the importance of readiness for war with Ethiopia.

Eritrea’s religious urge reconciliation

This week, Eritrea’s religious commended Ethiopia’s willingness to cede the disputed territories to Eritrea and put an end to the twenty-year tensions.

"What we ask ourselves is if peace with Ethiopia is really convenient for Isayas Afeworki,” the religious who cannot be named for security reasons told Agenzia Fides.

Eritrea is considered one of the most repressive countries in the world. The Eritrean government exercises absolute power over the country and has banned opposition parties in the country. The state does not have any independent media.The United Nations’ Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea in 2009 because the government was providing political, financial and logistical support to militant groups in Somalia. Eritrea has always denied the accusation.

Eritreans and Ethiopians are brothers and sisters

The religious in Eritrea say they dream of a country where there is peace.

"Ethiopians and Eritreans are brothers and sisters. They have the same origins. They speak languages which come from the same linguistic family (ge'ez). They have the same religious traditions; the same costumes and even the same cuisine. They are called to reconciliation and to living together," Agenzia Fides quotes Eritreanreligious men and women.

(Additional reporting –AP)

June 8, 2018 (ADDIS ABABA) - Ethiopia’s two regional allies Sudan and Djibouti have welcomed a pledge by the Ethiopian prime minister to implement a peace deal with Eritrea signed in 2000 ending a border dispute between the two countries.

JPEG - 31.1 kb
Eritrean president, Isias Afewerki (AFP Photo)

The decision which was announced last Tuesday entails the withdrawal of Ethiopian army from the disputed border town of Badme in line with the rule of the Ethio-Eritrean Boundary Commission (EEBC).

In a statement on Friday, the Ethiopian foreign ministry said Sudan and Djibouti expressed "their strong support" to the Government of Ethiopia in its recent commitment to fully accept and implement the EEBC decision.

"In their talks with Ethiopian ambassadors in their respective countries Foreign Ministers of Sudan and Djibouti stated that Ethiopia’s role towards ensuring peace and stability to the Horn of Africa is monumental," further said the statement.

The Ethiopian foreign ministry said the Sudanese foreign minister al-Dirdiri Mohamed Ahmed affirmed his "Government’s support to Ethiopia’s bold decision" during a meeting with the Ethiopian ambassador to Sudan Mulugeta Zewde.

Further, it said that Djibouti’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Ali Yusuf re-affirmed his country’s full support, saying the decision aimed at ending the stalemate and rejuvenating the uniquely historical brotherly ties between Ethiopia and Eritrea is quite noteworthy.

On Wednesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said ending the war with Eritrea and increasing economic ties with Asmara is critical for stability and development in the Horn of Africa.

However, the Eritrean government didn’t react to the decision as observers say President Isaias Afewerki prefers to see the effective withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops before to react.

Ethiopian officials in the past declared their acceptance of the 2002 ruling but said they want to negotiate first with Asmara. But the latter refused any discussions before the withdrawal.



June 8, 2018 Martin Plaut News

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has issued this information.

Organisations working with Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers have been concerned for some time that this might happen if the US authorities begin the enforced return of refugees.
John Stauffer, President of The America Team for Displaced Eritreans, said: “For all of the tragedy in the episode, it demonstrates that Eritreans who are denied asylum often fear a fate worse than death if forced to return to Eritrea. This man may have felt that.”
Source: Press Release
Enforcement and Removal
ICE detainee passes away in transit to home country
CAIRO – An Eritrean national in transit to his home country passed away Wednesday at a detention holding area in the Cairo International Airport, after an apparent suicide.
Zeresenay Ermias Testfatsion, 34, was being held by Egyptian authorities as he awaited removal to Asmara, Eritrea. Egyptian authorities later notified ICE that they found him deceased in a shower area. Egyptian officials later transported the remains to Heliopolis Hospital.

Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General and the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility were notified of the incident.

Additionally, Egyptian authorities will advise the Embassy of Eritrea of Testfatsion’s death and take responsibility for transporting the remains to Asmara, Eritrea.

Testfatsion had been in ICE custody since Feb. 2, 2017, following his arrest at the Hidalgo, Texas Port of Entry after he attempted to unlawfully enter the United States.

In October 2017, a federal immigration judge ordered Testfatsion removed from the U.S. He had remained in ICE custody while the agency finalized removal arrangements.