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UN Human Rights

Eritrea: Peace deal could offer hope for reforms, including three key steps, says UN expert 

GENEVA (18 September 2018) – The peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia raises hopes that human rights will be at the centre of Eritrea’s path towards a society respectful of all fundamental rights, says the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth.

The leaders of the two countries signed a Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship on 9 July 2018. They have reaffirmed it on several occasions since then, raising expectations that the end of the ‘no war, no peace’ stalemate between the countries would impact positively on Eritrea’s internal human rights situation.

The arrest of 11 senior Government officials who had criticised the President’s actions in an open letter, and that of 10 independent journalists, thus silencing analytical discussions and the private press on 18 September 2001, set off a period of sweeping oppression in Eritrea. Reportedly, such repression continues, quashing the aspiration for tangible improvements in its human rights record.

“During the past 17 years, the Government of Eritrea has maintained tight control over the country, stifling any form of public debate and participation. I have received reports that the former Minister of Finance, who recently wrote two books on the current state of affairs in the country, including the rule of law, has been arrested in Asmara during the morning of 17 September 2018. If confirmed, this arrest on the eve of the anniversary of the 2001 clampdown would add to the apprehension that improvements in Eritrea’s external relations are not mirrored inside, especially regarding respect for fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Ms Keetharuth.

“Comprehensive reforms at the domestic level are required on the path towards a free, just and democratic society, with citizens enjoying all their human rights,” the expert stressed, “yet, Government can take immediate action in three concrete areas, where urgent rectification is most needed.”

Firstly, the families of those who have disappeared in Eritrean prisons should be informed about the fate of their loved ones. Furthermore, the large but unknown number of people imprisoned in Eritrea, some for excessively long periods and others arrested more recently, should be brought before the courts of law as a matter of urgency or released unconditionally without delay.

Secondly, the implementation of the Constitution that has been pending since 1997 would be the natural basis on which to build a solid national legal framework and a society governed by the rule of law.

Thirdly, thousands of Eritreans have left the country because of violations committed in the context of national/military service. With the end of the ‘no war, no peace’ context that served as a justification for the indefinite nature of national/military service, the Government could inform those who have been enlisted as conscripts recently that they will not have to serve beyond the 18 months stipulated by Eritrean law. For those in the national/military service for lengthy periods already, the Government should elaborate a demobilisation plan without further delay, especially for long-serving conscripts.

“The achievement of peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia must be duly celebrated. However, Eritrean authorities must urgently embrace and implement bold measures to strengthen protection of and respect for human rights, justice and accountability,” the UN expert concluded.



Agreement on Peace, Friendship and Comprehensive Cooperation Between the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the State of Eritrea

Source: Shabait

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the State of Eritrea, hereinafter referred to as the Two Parties;

Considering the close bonds of geography, history, culture and religion between the two countries and their peoples;

Respecting each other’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity;

Desiring to achieve lasting peace and cement their historical ties to achieve their lofty objectives;

Determined to establish comprehensive cooperation on the basis of complementarity and synergy;

Determined further to contribute actively to regional and global peace and security;

Reaffirming the Joint Declaration on Peace and Friendship that they signed on July 9, 2018 in Asmara;

Reiterating their commitment to the principles and purposes of the Charter of the United Nations;

The Two Parties agree as follows;-

Article One

The state of war between the two countries has ended and a new era of peace, friendship and comprehensive cooperation has started.

Article Two

The two countries will promote comprehensive cooperation in the political, security, defense, economic, trade, investment, cultural and social fields on the basis of complementarity and synergy.

Article Three

The two countries will develop Joint Investment Projects, including the establishment of Joint Special Economic Zones.

Article Four

The two countries will implement the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission decision.

Article Five

The two countries will promote regional and global peace, security and cooperation.

Article Six

The two countries will combat terrorism as well as trafficking in people, arms and drugs in accordance with international covenants and conventions.

Article Seven

The two countries will establish a High-Level Joint Committee, as well as Sub-committees as required, to guide and oversee the implementation of this Agreement.
This Agreement is made at Jeddah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on this day of September 16, 2018 in two original copies in Amharic, Tigrinya, Arabic and English languages; in case of discrepancy in interpretation, the English version shall prevail.

For                                                                                                                     For

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia                                          The State of Eritrea

Abiy Ahmed Ali                                                                                           Isaias Afwerki
Prime Minister                                                                                             President



Noel Joseph nipote di PetrosAfrica ExPress Special Report
Noel Joseph
London, September 18th 2018

Tuesday 18 September 2018 marks the 17th anniversary since my uncle, Petros Solomon, was taken away along with his colleagues by the Eritrean security apparatus and made to disappear.

No one has ever been officially told their whereabouts, their situation, health or any other news for that matter. Sadly, we have heard that some of them passed away through guards or other officials who left the regime. What makes it painful is that these people spent most of their adult life fighting to bring about the existence of the very country that made them disappear. Soon after their disappearance, the journalists of the independent media followed, then hundreds of other officials who were thought to be sympathetic to their ideals also disappeared. Then others….. in fact we don’t really know how many people have disappeared or are in detention. Estimates indicate it is in the tens of thousands. Those of you reading about it for the first time might wonder why did that happen?

In a nutshell, it comes down to assertion of absolute power by the head of state. It was because they asked for accountability, the rule of law and constitutional governance. The head of state wanted to rule as he pleased and they wanted accountability. This was especially important as Eritrea lost tens of thousands of its young in the 1998 – 2000 so called “border war” with Ethiopia. There were numerous questions that needed answering and they wanted answers as did the Eritrean people. They deserved to know why and how their children died in the senseless war.

A big demonstration against the Eritrean Government was organized in Geneva Aug 31st

In their closed meetings, they agreed to accept the peace proposal presented by the US and Rwanda but the President unilaterally rejected it in the media. This culminated in the needless continuation of the war and loss of countless lives. Their call was simple, they asked the President to convene the long overdue meetings of the Central Committee of the ruling party and the National Assembly. Anticipating increasing criticism of the conduct of the war, the President used the tragedy of 9/11 to make his move against all of them. Then it convened a meeting of the National Assembly in February 2002 to accuse them of numerous falsehoods (in their absence) and that was that. The National Assembly never met after that time. The government has never officially stated their whereabouts.

Petros Solomon

All the countries that were supportive of the Eritrean people were outraged by what had happened and the EU delegation led by the then Italian Ambassador, withdrew from the country in protest. The situation kept deteriorating in the following years. All the young that did not go to college were kept in the army indefinitely under the pretext of the situation which was described as no-war-no-peace.

The hopelessness that was imposed then made Eritrea the highest refugee producing country per capita and keeps haemorrhaging its youth in the thousands every month.  We have all witnessed and are still witnessing on our TV screens the terrible tragedies in the Mediterranean where countless lives are being lost almost daily. Sadly, many Eritreans are among them.

And the Economy of the country is non-existent. Many of those working at different levels of responsibility in the government have also left. For a new country that came to being through huge sacrifices under 30 years ago, this is a tragedy of biblical proportions.

Now peace with Ethiopia seems to have arrived suddenly. This is indeed a welcome news as people of the two countries have not benefitted from the no-war-no-peace impasse that became the norm for the last 20 years. The new leadership in Ethiopia opened a new political chapter for the country and the region. Thousands of political prisoners were released, charges against opposition leaders were dropped and all were invited to return back to their country. There is clearly a peace dividend in Ethiopia. Sadly, no such thing in Eritrea.

Noel Joseph


Eritrea: Berhane Abrehe arrested

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Berhane Abrehe (1)Various sources have confirmed that Berhane Abrehe has been picked up by government security officials.

He was reportedly out walking on the streets of Asmara at around 9.00 am this morning when four security agents arrested him.

Berhane Abrehe’s arrest comes on the eve of the September 18, 2001 crackdown on the media and the opposition.

Berhane – a former minister of finance – had published a two-volume work critical of the Eritrean government and the role of President Isaias Afwerki. He called for a democratic order and the convening of the National Assembly. Berhane challenged the president to a public debate.

His decision to take such a bold step while living inside Eritrea received widespread support.

It drew the backing of several former government officials and senior party members, as reported by the opposition website, Awate.

Five former Eritrean officials issued a joint statement in support of Berhane Abrehe, the former minister of finance who is openly challenging Isaias Afwerki to step down.

The officials who live in exile declared their unequivocal support for the “the call made to depose Isaias from his position and hand power over to the people.” The statement added, “we call on all our coworkers and colleagues from the armed struggle era to rise up in support of the Berhane Abrehe’s call.”

Last Sunday the two books that were authored by Berhane Abrehe were launched in Washington, DC. An audio recording by Berhane distributed on the Internet preceded the launch of his books.

The recording brought to rest a brief confusion that ensued after Gedab News published the news about the books. A few people had cast doubts on the news claiming that un-named individuals wrote the book and used Berhane’s name. Berhane’s friends handled the printing and they are now distributing it.

In the audio clip, Berhane asked Isaias Afwerki to call for a meeting of the “national assembly” which didn’t meet for nearly two decades to the extent that many Eritreans consider it non- existent. In addition, Berhane warns Isaias that, “in the meeting, the assembly will ask you to step down and it will elect your replacement.” He also challenged Isaias to a face-to-face public debate.



Ethnic clashes tearing Ethiopia apart

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While Prime Minister Abiy is rightly congratulated around the world for his domestic and international reforms – culminating in Sunday’s peace deal with Eritrea, signed in Saudi Arabia – at home he is in real trouble.

Ethnic clashes are blighting the country. Some 2.6 million people have been forced to flee their homes.

As one independent site summed up the situation: “There are over 910,000 refugees and approximately 2.6 million IDPs in Ethiopia. Around 1.4 million IDPs were newly displaced due to conflict and violence between January and June 2018.” 

Here is a detailed report of clashes outside Addis Ababa.

Source: Ethiopia Observer

Violence and looting on the outskirts of Addis Ababa

Violence and looting on the outskirts of Addis Ababa

A weekend of violence on the outskirts of Addis Ababa left unspecified numbers dead and hundreds displaced, police and witnesses said. A well-organised and ruthless gang prey on residents with knives, stones or iron bars in Ashewa Meda, Burayu, Anfo, Keta and Asko areas of Oromia region, according to multiple witnesses.

The attacks were carried out on Friday and Saturday nights, and according to many accounts had an ethnic and criminal trend, Oromo youths targeting minority Dorze, Gamo, and Wolaita ethnic groups. “They entered to our house and they destroyed all of our property. They torched all the weaving tools with box of matches. Nothing is left.”

Luckily, some neighbours helped us to leave and I fled with my children at around three after midnight,” a distraught man from Dorze tribe in his fifty told the state broadcaster ETV.  Most of the Dorzes are engaged in weaving white robe.

“We don’t know who they are. They entered into the house in groups and did a wholescale looting of property, and they attacked us,” another witness, a young woman in her twenties said.

The recently released leader of Ethiopian Muslim community, Ahmedin Jebel wrote on his Facebook page, citing some witnesses that the violence started with a skirmish between the local Oromo and Dorze tribes, which led to the death of two Oromo women. Angry Oromo mob reacted in retaliation, attacking Dorze people and looting their houses and shops, he cited the witnesses. Ahmedin also mentioned about receiving information from several people who said that Oromia police’s inability to decisively deal with the criminal activities and certain community dwellers organizing themselves into vigilante groups to protect themselves and others from the menace.

Terrified residents, most of them from Dorze and Gamo tribe, fled the area following the attack on the following day and around five hundred people including children and women have been given shelter in churches and schools in Addis Ababa. Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa, Takele Uma Banti who visited a temporary shelter at Kale school this morning tweeted that, “the spate of violence and counterattacks are unacceptable and run contrary to the spirit of medemer, unity, togetherness, and inclusion.” Local administrators have asked aid agencies operating in the area and residents to provide humanitarian assistance.

Residents flee after violence photo Kalkidan Yibelal

The Oromia region Police Commissioner Alemayehu Ejigu told ETV that 70 suspects have been arrested in connection with the violence. He said police is taking steps to restore peace and to return the displaced persons.

The assailants were not identified, but several people on social media and websites pointed fingers at the underground activist networks, known as Qeerroo. “The killings took place as the Qeerroos return home on Saturday to their districts outside the capital after taking part at a welcoming rally in Addis Ababa’s central Meskel Square for leaders of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a group that was in exile for most of its existence,” the Ethiopian Satellite Television and Radio (ESAT) reported.

However, others disagreed. Mohammed Ademo, the founder and editor of, said that the organized mob and agent provocateurs represent no one. “They are hired (organized) to sow discord, division and mistrust. Let‘s not fall into their traps. Let’s stop pointing fingers at each other and blaming entire groups of people or communities,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “No one benefits from the lawlessness and rising violence. It will hinder the ongoing reform. It will pull us back to the dark days of mass arrests and military command post,” Mohammed warned.

The incident further heightened security fears, after worsening violence across the country and casts shadow for the reformist leader Abiy Ahmed.

Abiy who is in Saudi Arabia denounced the killings.“Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed strongly condemns the killings and acts of violence against innocent citizens … These cowardly attacks represent a grave concern to the unity and solidarity of our people & will be met with appropriate response,” said Fitsum Arega, the prime minister’s chief of staff, in a tweet.


Source: Bloomberg

Rebels in Eastern Ethiopia to Seek Self-Determination Vote

17 September 2018, 00:00 GMT+1Updated on 17 September 2018, 07:36 GMT+1
  • Group to make the demand at historic talks with government

“We want to achieve self-determination recognized by international law under the current Ethiopian constitution,” Ahmed Yassin Abdi, the ONLF’s foreign secretary, said by phone from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. “We want our people to have a right to decide.”

A rebel group in Ethiopia said it will demand a referendum on self-determination for the country’s troubled, gas-rich Somali region during landmark peace talks with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government.


The plan by the Ogaden National Liberation Front, which has staged a low-level insurgency in Ethiopia’s east for more than three decades, comes as Abiy invites once-banned opponents to take part in elections. The demands may aggravate a scramble for the region’s energy resources, including natural gas reserves the government estimates will eventually earn it $7 billion a year.


At stake are an estimated 8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Ogaden Basin, where exports are due to begin 2021 via a pipeline to neighboring Djibouti. A unit of China Poly Group Corp. has also started testing oil deposits.


“We want to achieve self-determination recognized by international law under the current Ethiopian constitution,” Ahmed Yassin Abdi, the ONLF’s foreign secretary, said by phone from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. “We want our people to have a right to decide.” He said his group has no preconditions for the talks. The region’s new president expressed support for greater autonomy.


Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country after Nigeria, is a federation designed to give autonomy to its dozens of ethnic groups. The ONLF has long maintained that the Somali regional state, which it calls the Ogaden and borders war-torn Somalia, hasn’t been properly represented by the federal government.

Ethiopia’s constitution enshrines the rights of people with “a large measure” of common culture, customs, language, identity and “psychological makeup” in an “identifiable, predominantly contiguous territory” to seek self-determination and even establish their own states.

Seeking Settlement

The ONLF, which took up arms in 1984 and has been an intermittent threat to regional authorities, declared a cease-fire at a July meeting of its leaders in Eritrea, pending what Ahmed calls an unspecified “comprehensive political settlement.”

Its largest attack was in April 2007 on a site in the Somali region — operated by China’s Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau — where it killed nine Chinese workers and 65 Ethiopians. Ahmed said that was justified because the then-government sought to produce gas “without consent of our people.”

While he wouldn’t disclose the number of armed fighters the ONLF has, the figure is thought to be significantly diminished from a decade ago.

A special police force in the Somali region has been notorious for its alleged counter-insurgency tactics, with accusations it jailed and tortured people suspected of having ONLF sympathies. Since the regional president, based in the local city of Jijiga, was ousted by federal forces in August, authorities and the group haven’t clashed, according both to Ahmed and the new state president, Mustafa Omer.

“There are some areas where we agree,” Mustafa said in an interview in the national capital, Addis Ababa. “Yes, we want more autonomy for our region, genuine self-rule.”

While the cease-fire predates Mustafa’s rule as a response to Ethiopia’s recent sweeping reforms, the ONLF is supporting the new president because “he can make a difference in clearing the system and creating a new political environment,” Ahmed said. “We have agreed to work together to seek more rights for the Somali people.”

Abdiwasa Abdillahi Bade, an assistant professor of political science at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia’s capital, doesn’t see “a clear vision and objective” from the group. “Before we talk about self-determination, we have to establish who is ONLF and who represents ONLF,” Abdiwasa said.

Mustafa said regional authorities are letting the ONLF mobilize grassroots support and he’ll help arrange its formal talks with Abiy’s government in the coming weeks. The president welcomed the possibility of the ONLF taking part in federal elections slated for 2020.

Ahmed said the ONLF will discuss the possibility of its disarmament with the government, and, should the negotiations face difficulty, Somalia President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has offered support in the talks. Once a deal is reached, the ONLF may compete in elections, he said.

“We need to have a negotiation — agreement on a comprehensive political settlement, and peace in the Ogaden — then oil companies can come and explore,” Ahmed said.


Date: 16/09/2018
Author: Martin Plaut

The leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea are due to sign a peace agreement today in Saudi Arabia. The signing ceremony will be hosted by Saudi King Salman in the coastal city of Jeddah.
Witnessed by the UN Secretary General, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat, it is designed to ‘cement’ peace between the two countries.

The Eritrea- Ethiopia peace agreement has been encouraged and supported by many external powers. The United States played a key role, supported by the European Union. But no-one did more to pursue this initiative than the Arab states.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE were at the forefront of these initiatives. Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki made repeated trips to both countries before the agreement unfolded.

Alex de Waal has argued persuasively that a ‘Pax Arabia’ is replacing a ‘Pax Americana’ in the region. But, as he warns, this could be transitory.

“A momentary “Pax Arabica” may emerge based on Gulf money used to meet African leaders’ urgent cash needs. But any peace agreements that result will be only as good as the transitory alignments of political interests from which they arose. Today, the UAE’s immediate need for a friendly African hinterland as it presses forward with its war in Yemen creates such a configuration. But that is not a foundation for a durable peace and security order.”

There is a real danger in expanding Arab influence in the Horn, for with it comes an intolerant form of Islam which was once alien to the region.

I described this before.

“Relations between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula go back centuries, with trade playing a key component in binding their people together. Religion has also played a part. The expansion of Wahhabism– the interpretation of Islam propagated by Saudi Arabia – has been funded by the massive oil wealth of the kingdom.

Mosques, Koranic schools and Imams have been provided with support over many years. Gradually this authoritarian form of Islam began to take holdin the Horn. While some embraced it, others didn’t.

Somalia is an example. While most Somalis practised a moderate form of Suffi Islam, the Islamic fundamentalists of al-Shabaab didn’t. Soon after taking control of parts of central and southern Somalia in 2009 they began imposing a much more severe form of the faith. Mosques were destroyed and the shrines of revered Suffi leaders were desecrated.

The export of faith has been followed by arms. Today the Saudis and their allies in the United Arab Emirates are exerting increasing military influence in the region.”
This issue has not been resolved.

What price will the Saudis and their allies ask for their support? And will its overt and covert war against Iran drag the Horn of Africa into this conflict?

In short: what would it mean if the region became part of an Arab sphere of influence?

These are questions that have to be pondered.


Ethiopian Girl

14 Sept 2018

The leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea will attend a summit in Saudi Arabia on Sunday to sign a peace agreement "cementing" the relations between the two former Horn of Africa bitter rivals, according to a United Nations spokesperson.

Farhan Haq said on Friday that the signing ceremony will be hosted by Saudi King Salman in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat are also expected to attend.

Haq did not provide further details about the agreement.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki signed a declaration of peace in July that formally ended a two-decade standoff and restored diplomatic relations.

On Tuesday, Ethiopia and Eritrea reopened two land border crossing points for the first time in 20 years, clearing the way for trade between the two nations.

Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in the early 1990s. War broke out later that decade over a border dispute.

A 2002 UN-backed boundary demarcation was meant to settle the dispute for good, but Ethiopia refused to abide by it.

A turnaround began in June when Abiy announced that Ethiopia would hand back to Eritrea the disputed areas, including the flashpoint town of Badme where the first shots of the border war were fired.


Eritrea Ethiopia flags

This article is a fascinating read. Posted on Eritrea Digest it highlights issues that have been swirling around in the last few weeks.

By Sal Younis

An excellent report has been published by the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’. It highlights the impact of EU policy on the smuggling of refugees across the Sahara.

You can read the full report EU policies and Saharan migration.

Below are extracts of the report showing how the smuggling has effected Eritreans. It highlights the role of the Sudanese government.

Eritreans as commodities

In recent years, notably as a result of anti-migrant policies in both Niger and Sudan, Chad has become a new transit country for both West African and East African migrants. Migrants from countries such as Senegal, Mali, Liberia, Somalia and Eritrea, who were rarely seen in Chad in the past, are now crossing the country towards Libya.

According to a former Chadian rebel based in Libya, Chadian rebels or former rebels have been involved, rather than in ‘buying’ migrants, in capturing or ‘stealing’ them from their original smugglers or traffickers. Such operations specifically target Eritreans who, according to the former rebel, ‘represent the second business, just after drugs’

Routes from Sudan to Libya

Sudanese migration routes have evolved and become more diverse. Eritrean migrants mostly used to cross from eastern Sudan to Egypt, while Sudanese also reached Egypt from Sudan’s northern region. In recent years, flows have shifted towards Libya, along two main routes, which in the past were used by Sudanese migrants looking for work in Libya but are now used by refugees fleeing wars and undemocratic regimes across the entire Horn of Africa. The easternmost route, used notably by Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalians, goes from Khartoum to Dongola by an asphalt road, then crosses north-western Sudan to the Libyan border and Kufra.

Some were arrested by regular forces, but the task has to large extent been assigned to the so-called Rapid Support Forces (RSF). In 2013, Khartoum re-hatted some of the Darfur Arab militias generally known by the nickname of janjawid, which led most of the counter-insurgency campaign that devastated the region and displaced some 3 million civilians, into a new paramilitary force, the RSF. The new force is better equipped, better funded, and deployed not only in Darfur, but all over Sudan. Since 2016 it has been directly under presidential control, in the hope it would be better controlled and more loyal than the former janjawid. It is led by Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, aka ‘Hemmeti’, who proved less disloyal towards Khartoum than other Darfur Arab militia chiefs.

In 2016, coinciding with the EU dialogue with Sudan on migration, Khartoum redeployed RSF in the Northern State, from where they patrolled up to the Libyan and Egyptian borders. In an April 2018 video, Hemmeti claimed the RSF had 23,000 men ‘scattered throughout the desert borders’ – a credible count for RSF forces deployed from North Darfur and the Chadian border, to Eastern Sudan and the Egyptian and Eritrean borders.

Double game: migrants smuggled or trafficked by Sudanese government militias

Since being deployed in Sudan’s north-western quarter, the RSF have gradually monopolised control of routes to Libya. But they do not always arrest the smugglers and migrants they intercept. ‘Officially, our orders are to drive the migrants back toward their country of origin,’ an RSF member explains. ‘So, from time to time, we intercept migrants and transfer them back to Khartoum, in order to show the authorities that we are doing the job. We’re not supposed to take money from the migrants to let them escape or to transport them to Libya… but the reality is rather different…’Several smugglers and migrants confirm that the RSF tax the vehicles or migrants they intercept then let them go.

In some cases, the RSF did not drive migrants in their own cars but provided an escort to civilian smugglers. In 2016, S., an Eritrean asylum seeker, was intercepted by Sudanese government forces in the desert and brought back to Khartoum. ‘Some of the migrants paid to be released,’ he explains. One year later, he tried again, through the same Eritrean intermediaries based in Khartoum. The whole process was unchanged: the migrants were gathered in a Khartoum house together with other mostly Ethiopian and Eritrean migrants. One year to the next, even the fare was the same: USD 1,700 for the desert crossing and USD 2,300 from Libya to Europe. ‘Thus, 4,000 dollars is the official fare to Europe but we know it is likely to be much higher as we are kidnapped.

From Darfur, Dongola or Khartoum to Libya, and from Darfur to Chad, the RSF transported or escorted migrants from Sudan as well as from other Horn of Africa countries. According to several migrants, ‘the RSF prefer the non-Sudanese, especially Ethiopians, Eritreans and Somalians, as they consider them as very valuable. Their family in the diaspora pays for them when they are kidnapped.

Ties between Sudanese government militias and Libyan traffickers

Migrants who were smuggled by the RSF to Libya report that the RSF systematically ‘sold’ them to Libyan traffickers, in the Sudan-Libya borderlands. The practice is generally known as taslim (delivery) in Arabic, a word that is also used for exchanges of drug loads across the Sahara. Those Libyan traffickers often torture and enslave the migrants.

According to an RSF member, ‘the RSF receive money for each migrant handed over to the Libyans.’This explains why migrants could board RSF cars on credit: in principle, this involved repaying their debt later after finding work in Libya, but obviously the RSF did not care about being reimbursed and were getting the migrants’ ‘debt’ paid by the Libyan traffickers. This generally allows the Libyans to ask the migrants to reimburse their debt, torturing them until they could get relatives to pay for their release or obliging them to work without payment.

But even migrants who had paid the RSF for their whole trip were ‘bought’ by Libyan traffickers and endured abuses. Thus, in June 2017, S., the Eritrean asylum seeker mentioned above, was sold to Libyan Arabs, together with more than a hundred fellow passengers. ‘They told us that we were their property, that we had been sold,’ he remembers. The migrants were obliged to telephone their relatives to ask them to pay a USD 1,700 ransom – precisely the amount S. had paid the RSF for travelling to Libya. Those who could not find the money were forced to pick dates from palm trees.

Generally, RSF and other Sudanese smugglers sell their passengers to Libyan traffickers in the Sudan-Libya borderlands, and do not go further.

Involvement of other Darfur rebels and ex-rebels in migrant smuggling

Other Darfur rebels and former rebels have allegedly been involved in migrant smuggling. In 2017, Darfurian combatants reportedly guarded a farm in Jufra area, in central Libya, where 300 to 400 Eritreans were detained, but it is unclear whether those troops were active or former rebels. According to one of the leaders of a faction that joined the government in 2012 – known as JEM (Justice and Equality Movement)-Dabajo – some combatants from this group defected and became smugglers.

RSF deployment in eastern Sudan

In early 2018, the RSF were also deployed in eastern Sudan, on the Eritrean border. According to Sudanese government sources, about a quarter of migrant smugglers arrested in January-February 2018 on this border were arrested by the RSF. Yet, as along the Sudan-Libya border, the RSF deployment in the east may respond to another agenda: it coincided with the closure of the Eritrean border, following Sudanese accusations that Egypt and Eritrea were colluding to reopen rear bases for Sudanese rebels in Eritrea. Until 2006, Eritrea had hosted rebel groups from both Darfur and eastern Sudan. Among the latter were the Free Lions, a movement recruiting among the Rashaida Arabs straddling the Sudan-Eritrea border. Since 2006, former Free Lions leaders were allegedly involved in smuggling Eritrean migrants to Egypt through eastern Sudan, with the complicity of both Eritrean and Sudanese security apparatuses. This smuggling entente is now threatened, notably by the new anti-smuggling policies.

According to a former Chadian rebel based in Libya, Chadian rebels or former rebels have been involved, rather than in ‘buying’ migrants, in capturing or ‘stealing’ them from their original smugglers or traffickers. Such operations specifically target Eritreans who, according to the former rebel, ‘represent the second business, just after drugs’: they reportedly can be sold for LYD 2,000 to 30,000 (EUR 300-4,500). Chadian rebels or former rebels reportedly raided convoys with Eritrean migrants as far away as Jebel Aweynat at the Libya-Sudan-Egypt tri-border. Eritrean migrants are also commonly ‘stolen’ in places where they are kept, for instance in Um-el-Araneb. In late 2017, bandits based in Um-el-Araneb also reportedly drove to Jufra area where they captured some 300 Eritrean migrants held on a farm, before reselling them.

NISS agents involved in migrant smuggling

It is not only Sudanese paramilitary forces but also members of regular forces who are reportedly involved in migrant smuggling. There have been various reports on the involvement of members of Sudanese regular forces, notably of the NISS (National Intelligence and Security Service) in human trafficking between Eritrea and Egypt, through eastern Sudan.166 More recently, it appears NISS is also involved in smuggling migrants from Sudan to Libya, including through Darfur.