by Martin Plaut

This submission, by the campaign group Human Right Concern Eritrea, is in response to the Ethiopian government's own presentation to the Commission covering the period 1999 - 2016.


Below is the introduction.

  1. Human Right Concern Eritrea (HRCE) is an Eritrean - led non-political human rights organisation. Presently, HRCE is unavoidably, located outside of Eritrea. Our focus is: research and documentation of human right issues affecting Eritreans both in Eritrea as well as in the diaspora. HRCE is also active in human right advocacy and as part of this effort has previously made submissions to: UN Human Right Council and other bodies that are following Eritrea.
  1. We have worked and are working closely with African and International human rights organisations, to ensure that human right violations in Eritrea are reported and that Eritrean voices are heard in International Human Rights Fora. HRCE is a founding member of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defender Network.
  1. HRCE, welcomes the submission by the Government of Eritrea of the report: “Eritrea: Initial National Report (1999- 2016)” (the Report). And, specifically we welcome the opportunity to engage with the report to truly improve the human right situation for Eritreans at home as well as in the Diaspora.
  1. We would encourage the Eritrean Government, in the future to submit such report on as and when they are due. The current report covers a time span of seventeen years (17) this makes it very difficult to engage in a meaningful way.
  1. We note that the structure of the Report is such as to indicate that “Everything is fine and proceeding on track” and that there is no reference as to which: a) provisions and or directives of the ACHPR and other International Human Right Treaties Eritrea has complied; and b) provisions and or directive of the ACHPR and other International Human Right Treaties Eritrea is yet to comply with. We strongly urge the inclusion of such statements in future reports as this would enhance dialogue and exchange of ideas.
  1. We note the explanation under the heading: “National Report: Scope and Methodology” as to the involvement in the preparation of the report of “Relevant Ministries and National Civic Organisations”. Though not specifically mentioned by name in the methodology section, it is clear from the context of the report that the relevant “Civic Organisations” are: National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW); the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (NUEYS) and the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW).
  1. While their participation is necessary, these organisations are not independent Civil Society organisations. They are mass movement organisations linked to the ruling party that played key roles during the liberation period. They supported the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) now the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) in the organisation and the execution of the “Liberation Struggle”. And, since have continued to operate as extensions of the PFDJ. An exception to the norm, for a brief period, was the NCEW which from 2000 to 2005 established an independent NGO called ESCA to address the post 2000 Eritrea Ethiopia conflict emergency. This experiment terminated in 2005.
  1. We note the lack of any mention of consultation with Faith Based organisation. A matter of high relevance in a country were faith is of primary importance to the people as well as the Government’s ongoing religious persecution of those faiths who insist in the right of conscientious objection to “Military Service” and who expressed differing opinions on matters of independence.
  1. Particularly in regard to faith, we highlight the recent tensions with the Muslim Community, the closure of the Catholic Theological School, as well as of six (6) the Health Clinics operated by Catholic Mission; the insistence that seminary students must undertake “National Service”; the ongoing arrest of Abbuna Antonios (Eritrean Orthodox Church) and the two Pastoral Letters Written by the Catholic Bishop in response to social political crisis in the country in 2001 and 2014.
  1. There is no indication, in the report, of any consultation or an open and frank engagement with the Eritrean Diaspora. This is an interesting omission given that Eritrean Diaspora features prominently in the “Nation Building/Development” section of the Report. The Diaspora is not merely an important source of: “Remittances” and the taxation a resource to be exploited. The Diaspora is increasingly made up of youth and unaccompanied minors fleeing the human right, economic and social conditions in the country and are seeking asylum and refugee status. This aspect of the Diaspora is hardly considered in the Report.
  1. The Report affirms that Eritrea is doing well and is on track on issues of governance, civil and political rights as well as the economy. In this document HRCE will endeavour to demonstrate that this is not the case. We will demonstrate that Eritrea is not on track or doing well in the areas of rule of law, effective accountable institutions for all, independence of the Judiciary, human rights, as well a building economic foundation.
  1. Presently the Fragile State Index places Eritrea within the category of countries designated as “alert”.  And, the expectation, given the current trend, is that no significant progress will be made building state institutions until 2030.
  1. Eritrea remains a one-party state, where only the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) is legal. The Constitution, which guaranteed a multi-party system, was ratified in 1997 but has not been implemented and the process for adopting a new Constitution is not transparent.
  1. There is no independent media and there are no independent civil society organisations. Those organisations such as the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW); the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (NUEYS); and the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW) are mass movement organisations formed during the liberation struggle and who post-independence have remained strongly affiliated and connected to the PFDJ and the Government. Faith based organisations have been circumscribed and limited to pastoral activities and religious based and ethnic based persecution remains a feature of the country.
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by Martin Plaut

Representatives from the United Nations and international NGOs participated in a hearing on Eritrea’s record Wednesday as the United States Congress and its Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission focused on the drivers behind high rates of Eritrean migration.

Watch the entire hearing here.

“Migrants from the small east African nation of Eritrea make-up a disproportionate number of those included in the global refugee crisis,”the commission said, noting that about 8 percent of the population was in refugee or asylum seeker status at the end of 2016.

“Many of these asylum seekers are exploited by smugglers, and traffickers, or find themselves in Libyan slave markets enduring detention, torture, and forced labor,” the commission said. “What are the human rights conditions in Eritrea that are causing so many people to leave their homes at the risk of slavery, trafficking, and death?”

Among those providing expert testimony were Jana Mason, a senior advisor to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Father Thomas Reese of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom; and Maria Burnett, the Human Rights Watch director for East Africa and the Horn.

“Based on Human Rights Watch research, Eritreans’ most predominant impetus for flight is to escape what is known as ‘national service,’” Burnett said. “To be clear, limited terms of national conscription do not, in themselves, constitute human rights violations. But it is not limited in Eritrea. The Eritrean government disregards the proclamation’s time limits. Many conscripts are forced to serve indefinitely.”

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Source: Xinhua   2018-04-28 00:00:02

ADDIS ABABA, April 27 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto wrapped up his three East African nations tour on Friday here with a pledge to boost economic and security ties with Ethiopia.

Yamamoto, who started his East Africa tour in Eritrea on Monday and then went to Djibouti on Wednesday, arrived in Ethiopia on Thursday with economic, peace, security issues being priorities for discussion.

Speaking to reporters in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Yamamoto said the U.S. administration led by President Donald Trump sees Ethiopia as a key partner in economic and political issues.

"We discussed a wide range of issues particularly initiatives President Trump is looking at positioning the U.S. in making it a clear and critical partner not only for Ethiopia but for all of Africa on economic development, trade and investment," he told reporters.

Yamamoto especially singled out Ethiopia's ambitious industrialization drive which aims to make the country of around 100 million an industrialized middle-income economy by 2025.

"The U.S. government has expressed keen interest to engage in Ethiopia's industrialization drive, in addition they want to help Ethiopia add value on agriculture, to help Ethiopian goods be able to be exported to U.S. market," he said.

Meles Alem, Spokesperson of Ethiopia Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), told journalists that the U.S. is very keen on partnership with Ethiopia on specific sectors.

"Yamamoto and his Ethiopian counterparts have reached agreement on how they can proceed on energy and aviation partnership," said Alem.

The discussion between Yamamoto and Ethiopian officials also touched upon regional and continental peace and security issues.

Alem mentioned discussions focusing on how to end the civil war in the world's youngest nation, South Sudan, and to counter the threat of Islamic militancy in Somalia.

Ethiopia has been the main base for South Sudan peace talks ever since civil war broke out in December 2013 and is currently hosting about half a million South Sudanese refugees.

Ethiopia is also a major troop contributing nation to a peacekeeping force in Somalia known as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which since 2007 has been trying to counter the threat of Al-Qaida linked militant group Al-Shabab and support a fragile Somalia federal government based in Mogadishu.

Yamamoto commended Ethiopia's efforts to bring about peace in South Sudan through its chairmanship of the East Africa Bloc, the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

He pledged full U.S. support for efforts led by Ethiopia and IGAD to end South Sudan's brutal civil war which has killed tens of thousands and displaced about 4 million people.

Yamamoto also told journalists the U.S. is keen to partner with Ethiopia to help Somalia build institutions and to help security coordination between Somalia federal government and regional administrations.


April 27, 2018 (KHARTOUM) - Sudanese and Ethiopian senior military officials discussed in Addis Ababa a bilateral defence protocol signed between the two countries and agreed to activate the joint border forces.

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A road leading to Ethiopia-Sudan border (Photo

The agreement was announced in Khartoum on Friday following the end of a two-day meeting in Addis Ababa between the military delegations chaired by the army chiefs of staff of the two neighbouring countries.

The two armies reaffirmed their readiness for full solidarity to ensure border security, exchange of information and curb uncontrolled groups, combating smuggling, human trafficking, arms and drugs trade, and transnational crimes, said a statement released by the official news agency SUNA.

"The two sides, also, agreed to activate and re-energize the joint border forces to maintain security and stability, as well as cooperation in the fields of joint training and exchange of experiences," said the statement.

"The military chiefs of staff of two countries signed the minutes of the meetings and recommendations ahead of its enforcement," it further stressed.

Last January following the deployment of Sudanese troops on the border with Eritrea, there were reports about the deployment of Ethiopian troops along the border with Eritrea from the Sudanese and Ethiopian sides.

Also, since several years Ethiopia and Sudan boosted security cooperation between the two countries. Khartoum handed over rebels and opposition activists to Ethiopia and Addis Ababa banned any rebel activity from the border area with Blue Nile state.

Last January, The Nile State and Ethiopia’s Benishangul-Gumuz region agreed to deploy a joint border force to secure the border area and prevent goods and arms smuggling.





Sub-Saharan Africa has maintained its third place in the ranking by geographical region, with a slightly better overall indicator than in 2017. But there is a wide range of situations within the region, and journalists are often the victims of intimidation, physical violence, and arrest.
Namibia (26th), which has yet to adopt a promised law on access to information, has surrendered the title of best-ranked African country to Ghana (23rd). At the other end of the Index, Africa still has many news and information black holes. Press freedom is non-existent in Eritrea (second from last at 179th), Djibouti (173rd), Burundi (159th) and Somalia (168th), where four journalists were killed in terrorist attacks in 2017.

Reporting difficulties

Investigative reporting is very risky for journalists in Africa. This is the case, for example, in Tanzania (down ten places at 93rd, one of this year’s biggest falls), where President John Magufuli tolerates no criticism. A popular news forum’s founder was summoned to court dozens of times in the space of a year to name his sources, while a reporter who was investigating a series of murders of local officials went missing in November 2017.

In Madagascar (54th), a journalist was given a jail sentence (albeit suspended) for the first time in 40 years as a result of investigative reporting that exposed corruption. In Swaziland (152nd), a newspaper editor had to flee to South Africa after questioning a decision to award a licence to a local mobile phone company.

In Democratic Republic of Congo (154th), Journalist in Danger (JED), RSF’s partner organization, documented 121 cases of abuses against the media in 2017. Attacks, arbitrary arrests, and media closures constitute an organized system for preventing journalists from covering the Congolese regime’s dangerous authoritarianism.

Covering street protests is a delicate exercise in many African countries. In Togo (86th), the authorities withdrew the accreditation of an international TV broadcaster’s correspondent after she covered opposition protests. In Guinea (down three places at 104th), the president’s direct threats to close media outlets that interviewed a union leader helped create a climate of hostility towards the media. Radio stations were closed while journalists were sometimes targeted by protesters.

In response to threats and attacks on reporters during demonstrations in Chad (123rd), the country’s journalists staged a “Day without Press” protest in February 2018. Sudan (still near the bottom of the Index at 174th) continues to be one of the continent’s riskiest places for street reporting. In January 2018, 18 journalists were arrested and several media outlets were shut down amid protests against a bread price increase. In neighbouring South Sudan (144th), it has become almost impossible to cover the four-year-old civil war. In 2017, 20 foreign journalists were banned from the country and a freelance war reporter was fatally shot during conflict in the south.

Internet cuts or restrictions on access to online social networks are now widely used in Africa as censorship tools to gag dissent and prevent coverage of unrest within a sector of the population. They are systematically imposed on the eve of every street protest in Democratic Republic of Congo.

In Cameroon (129th), an unprecedented complaint was filed against the government before its own Constitutional Council after it disconnected the Internet for several months in two English-speaking regions that were protesting against discrimination. After falling 10 places in 2016, Uganda has fallen another five places to 117th, in part because it created a special security unit to closely monitor websites and social networks.

Some subjects still off limits

In a disturbing trend, journalists are encountering growing difficulties when covering subjects with national security ramifications. This is the case in Nigeria (119th) and Mali (115th), where journalists are often harassed by the authorities. They are accused of undermining troop morale when they refer to the difficulties of the security forces in combatting terrorism.

The Cameroonian journalist Ahmed Abba was released in December 2017 after being held for 29 months for covering the activities of the Jihadi armed group Boko Haram. In Côte d’Ivoire (82nd), the authorities detained eight journalists in order to ask them to name their sources for articles about sizeable army mutinies in 2017.

Mauritania (whose 17 place fall to 72nd was Africa’s largest decline) has passed a law making apostasy and blasphemy punishable by death even when the offender repents. The blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mohamed is still detained despite having completed a two-year jail sentence for “heresy.” Slavery, which still exists in Mauritania although now illegal, is a highly sensitive subject that sometimes gets foreign reporters expelled.

A recent RSF report highlighted the fact that journalists who cover stories involving women’s rights or gender issues often suffer severe reprisals. In Somalia, journalists who interview rape victims are liable to be jailed on defamation charges. In Uganda, a journalist was abducted and beaten after pointing out that the president had not kept his promise to distribute tampons in schools.

More generally, any reporting critical of the authorities tends to get a poor reception in sub-Saharan Africa, as seen in the one-year jail sentence passed on appeal on Baba Alpha, a TV journalist in Niger (down two places at 63rd) who has a reputation for drawing attention to bad government practices. After completing his sentence, he was recently expelled to neighbouring Mali as a "threat to internal state security."

Restrictive laws

The new media laws adopted during the past year did not encourage more journalistic freedom and independence. The anticipated decriminalization of press offences in Senegal (up eight places at 50th), was not included in the new press code adopted in June 2017.

There are no longer any grounds for detaining journalists in the new media law approved by Côte d’Ivoire’s national assembly but journalists can still be the subject of prosecutions for insulting the president or for defamation. Terrorism laws are often used to arrest journalists in Ethiopia (150th) and Nigeria (119th).

The only good news in this domain came from Malawi (whose six-place rise to 64th was Africa’s second biggest) with the promulgation of a law facilitating access to information about elected officials and government institutions, 12 years after it began being debated.

Promising regime change?

The departure of some of the continent’s worst press freedom predators could open the way to a new era for journalism in the countries concerned.

In Gambia (which soared 21 places to 122nd), the new president has promised a less restrictive media law and the inclusion of free speech in the constitution. In Zimbabwe (up two places at 126th), Robert Mugabe’s successor, his former right-hand man, has also promised reforms and a “new democracy” in a country with especially draconian media laws.

The prospect of finally seeing the birth of free and independent journalism in Angola (up four places at 121st) is more uncertain. Joao Lourenço’s installation as president after 38 years of rule by the Dos Santos clan has not yet lead to any significant improvement in media freedom.

In these three countries, the promises made after the installation of new leaders need to be translated quickly into concrete measures that finally allow the freedom to inform.


Africa, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Horn of Africa
Date: 25/04/2018
Author: Martin Plaut

Donald Yamamoto is the most senior African diplomat in the Trump administration.

His visit to Eritrea has ended (see below) but the State Department is making no comment on what was achieved until his trip to the Horn of Africa is over. This includes a visit to Djibouti and then Ethiopia on Thursday, 26th of April.

So what might have been on the table? Ethiopian sources speculate that his tour of the Horn might lead to a lifting of sanctions against Eritrea and support for peace talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The well-informed magazine, Jane’s, agrees.

They may be right. But it is important to remember the context.
Eritrea has – repeatedly – offered the US navy access to its ports. The American military have considered the option from time to time. [See below]

But Eritrea also has a history of harassing the United States diplomatic mission, by arresting and imprisoning dozens of Eritrean local staff. Ronald McMullen, who served as US ambassador to Eritrea from 2007-2010 revealed that “Forty eight of our Eritrean employees have been arrested from 2001 to 2010. Some have been arrested for many years; others were arrested for several weeks or months and kept in horrible conditions.” [See below]
So there could be gains for both sides. If President Isaias Afwerki is prepared to guarantee that the US can have normal diplomatic relations and its staff can work unhindered, then there might be movement on the rest of the agenda.

Certainly, progress on a resolution to the Eritrea – Ethiopia border dispute would be a huge gain for the people of both countries. Can Yamamoto make progress? He is a man of immense experience in Africa. Few are better placed, but the problems are extremely intractable.

Let’s see what happens.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Yamamoto Travel to East Africa
Source: Media Note: Office of the Spokesperson, US State Department
Washington, DC
April 21, 2018
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Ambassador Donald Y. Yamamoto will travel to Eritrea from April 22-24 for bilateral consultations with Eritrean government officials, to meet with the diplomatic community, and to visit the Embassy’s staff based in Asmara. He will then lead the U.S. delegation to the U.S.-Djibouti Binational Forum April 24-25 in Djibouti, our annual dialogue on matters of political, economic, assistance, and security cooperation. Ambassador Yamamoto will travel to Ethiopia on April 26 to meet with Ethiopian government officials to discuss shared interests and concerns.

Eritrea Pushes to Get U.S. Base
Source: Washington Post

By Judy SarasohnNovember 21, 2002

“Why Not Eritrea?” That’s what the government of Eritrea, a poor African country, wants to know and what it has its lobbyists asking in Washington.

The issue paper “Why Not Eritrea?” pushes the country’s plan for the United States to take advantage of its strategic location in the Horn of Africa as a military staging ground in the buildup toward a looming war with Iraq. After all, the surrounding nations are members of the Arab League and not what one would call very supportive of U.S. interests, the paper says. Even Djibouti, already host to about 3,200 U.S. troops who are being trained in desert warfare, has voiced reservations about U.S. intentions.

Eritrea notes that it is pro-American and half Christian, half Muslim.

U.S. officials are considering Eritrea’s offer, and Gen. Tommy Franks has visited the country.
But to help make sure its message gets heard — and accepted — Eritrea has hired Greenberg Traurig, the law firm that includes a lobbying team headed by Jack Abramoff, who has close ties to the new House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).

According to Greenberg Traurig’s contract with Eritrea, included in the firm’s Foreign Agents Registration Act filing at the Justice Department, the country is paying Greenberg Traurig $50,000 a month for helping “in implementing its public policy goals in Washington.” That’s $600,000 for the yearlong engagement from April 15, 2002, to April 14, 2003.

By the way, the CIA World Factbook 2002 pegs Eritrea’s per-capita gross domestic product at about $740 for last year. Eritrea, which gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, went through a punishing war from 1998 to 2000 with its neighbor. Eighty thousand people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

“Their biggest issue is they want to reach out to America and have better relations,” says Padgett Wilson, director of governmental affairs at Greenberg Traurig.

Wilson notes that having a U.S. base in Eritrea would bring in much-needed capital and encourage U.S. companies to do business there, helping the country develop a middle class and “providing economic stability for U.S. companies.”

The lobbyist acknowledges some U.S. officials believe Eritrea hasn’t moved fast enough toward democracy. There was a widespread crackdown on government critics last year, with some dissidents held without charges and private newspapers shut.

“They have problems; they have a way to go,” Wilson says, but Eritrea is working on it, and a closer relationship with the United States would help.

“Based on the current sentiment of the Arab community and the geography of the region, it is increasingly clear that failure to form an alliance with Eritrea is unconscionable,” the issue paper states.

Taking Foreign Policy to Stonebridge

Joy E. Drucker has left the Council on Foreign Relations, where she was deputy director of the Washington office, for Stonebridge International, the international strategy company started by former Clinton national security adviser Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger. In her new job as director of government and international affairs at Stonebridge, Drucker will be lobbying and handling foreign policy matters and communications on behalf of clients.

US Ambassador: Eritrea Arrested 48 of Our Staff
Source: The World News

Between 2001 and 2010, Eritrea arrested 48 Eritrean employees of the US embassy in Eritrea, according to former US ambassador to Eritrea,Ronald McMullen.

In an interview with Global Journalist on August 6,  Ambassador McMullen, who appeared on the show with representatives of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ),  disclosed “Forty eight of our Eritrean employees have been arrested from 2001 to 2010. Some have been arrested for many years; others were arrested for several weeks or months and kept in horrible conditions.”

Mr. Ronald McMullen served as ambassador from 2007-2010.

The ambassador went on to shed light on why the United States and Eritrea no longer have relationship at the ambassador level:

“It is very tough,” he explained, “Everyday was a challenge and we looked for small victories and in keeping the embassy open, and maintaining a platform for American values talking about human rights and democratization, and trying to promote regional stability in a very volatile part of the world.”

The ambassador said that his office had to give a 10-day notice to Eritrean officials to get a permit to leave the capital city, Asmara, and that of his 65 requests, only 14 were approved.

While using glowing terms to describe Asmara and the people of Eritrea, Ambassador McMullen said that the country “is very, very, repressed and the government of President Isaias [Afwerki] is highly centralized and very authoritarian and attempts to control all aspects of life.”

In Eritrea, diplomats are also prevented from having access to the local population. Ambassador McMullen explained, “For example, at one point, we were having a public lecture series in an auditorium; the Ministry of Communication prohibited us from having one evening’s lecture, actually physically locked.. chained the gates shut on the auditorium.”

Asked by the host, what the lecture was about, Ambassador McMullen said  “it was about anthropology, and how Eritrea had been the bridge for early homo sapiens to go from Africa across the Red Sea…”

The government of Isaias Afwerki tried  “to get the names of all the 150 Eritreans who were attending this lecture. They roughed up one of my junior officers, an American foreign services officer. In the end, we moved this lecture into the patio of the embassy and continued. But the Ministry of Communications didn’t want 150 Eritreans to listen to this lecture.”

“… we had a lot of Eritreans who were willing to talk with us, ministers of the government came to my house for dinner; we had regular discussions with the president’s political and economic advisers. We had relatively good access, but bad relations. I mean they closed down the defense attaché’s office; the peace corps has been closed, USAid kicked out, they seized diplomatic pouches in contravention of the Vienna convention. So it is really a tough place to be an American diplomat.”

In June 26, 2001, Gedab News contacted the Public Relations Officer at the American Embassy in Asmara, Ms. Colette Christian, who dismissed the reports saying, “there has been no problem between USAid and the government since 1996.”

In 2001, the Eritrean Government detained two employees of the American embassy. Relations between the Eritrean government and the USA has been bumpy since the government of Isaias Afwerki arrested Mr Ali Alamin and Mr Kiflom Gebremichael. The two have not been officially charged with any crimes but they were rumored to have translated for the embassy the documents of Eritrean opposition groups.

In the same year, the government arrested Mr Fitwi Gezae, who was the webmaster of the US embassy in Eritrea and Mr Biniam Girmay, who was its Facility Management Assistant, were detained by Eritrean security officials.

Amassador McMullen is now a visiting professor at the University of Iowa.

Each year, the US Department of State provides country reports and while its annual reports on Eritrea have always been negative, the ambassador is the first official to disclose that as many as forty eight Eritrean employees of the US embassy have been arrested and the case of only two embassy employees, Ali Alamin and Kiflom Gebremichael, had always been presented as an obstacle to normalizing relationship between the two countries.


from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation

Published on 24 Apr 2018View Original

JERUSALEM, April 24 (Reuters) - The Israeli government said on Tuesday it had abandoned a plan to forcibly deport African migrants who entered the country illegally after failing to find a willing country to take in the migrants.

The government had been working for months on an arrangement to expel thousands of mostly Eritrean and Sudanese men who crossed into Israel through Egypt's Sinai desert.

Read more on the Thomson Reuters Foundation

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation:

For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit


Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Yamamoto Travel to East Africa

Media Note
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
April 21, 2018

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Ambassador Donald Y. Yamamoto will travel to Eritrea from April 22-24 for bilateral consultations with Eritrean government officials, to meet with the diplomatic community, and to visit the Embassy’s staff based in Asmara. He will then lead the U.S. delegation to the U.S.-Djibouti Binational Forum April 24-25 in Djibouti, our annual dialogue on matters of political, economic, assistance, and security cooperation. Ambassador Yamamoto will travel to Ethiopia on April 26 to meet with Ethiopian government officials to discuss shared interests and concerns.


Apr 17, 2018

Teklit Michael started running with Eritrea’s fastest athletes when he was just 14 years old. His plan: to compete in the 2012 London Olympics.

Michael burned through a pair of sneakers nearly every month, so he went to work at a government textile factory to foot the bill. One day after hours of labor, he went to collect his earnings. But he says his supervisor, a government employee, refused to pay him. When Michael pushed back, the man threatened him.

“He told me, 'You are a son of a bitch, and you are talking against the government,'” Michael recalls.

According to Freedom House, a watchdog agency that evaluates the state of democracy worldwide, Eritrea is not considered a "free" country. The dictatorship there is considered among the most repressive governments in the world. Military conscription can stretch indefinitely, and rights groups say the country ranks at the bottom when it comes to press freedom — below North Korea. Michael says punishment for criticizing the government is often prison.

He eventually decided to quit that job.

One day after practice, Michael's running coach pulled him aside as if he was foreshadowing, and told him, “You’re born to run. So don’t stop running."

Looking back at that moment, Michael says he thinks his coach knew he might get arrested. “He knew there was something wrong in the country,” Michael says. “He knew that something going to happen.”

A few months later, the police arrived and handcuffed Michael, accusing him of questioning the government. They put him in a dirty, crowded prison cell, which Michael says he was routinely dragged out of and beaten.

But even in his cell, Michael continued to train. He says the other prisoners made room for him while he did jumping jacks and jogged in place.

“They gave me space, one to two meters to jog — up and down, up and down,” he says. 

After nearly a year of detention without an official charge, Michael decided to escape. He and another prisoner jumped a fence at night and sprinted into the darkness. When they reached the Sudanese border three days later, Eritrean soldiers tried to arrest them.

So they ran. Michael says the soldiers shot at them. Bullets hit the ground and dust flew up around his ankles. Michael remembers thinking “not my legs, not my legs. Please don’t shoot my legs,” he says. “I was always praying when people are shooting [at] me, 'Please don’t hit my legs.'”

Fleeing Eritrea

He ran fast, all day, covering about 100 kilometers (about 62 miles). At some point, he and his friend from prison were separated.

When Michael finally made it to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, he walked to a massive open-air stadium. It was empty. Michael was hungry and wearing plastic sandals on his feet, but he stepped onto the track — and he ran. He imagined the stadium packed with people, cheering him on.

“It reminds you that you are special person, you are human being. You are not just a person searching to live — or searching to survive,” Michael says.

For the first time since he was dumped in prison, Michael says he felt human again. But he quickly went back to survival mode because he heard that the Sudanese government was arresting and deporting thousands of Eritreans.

Michael earned some money working odd jobs, mostly on farms. He scraped up enough to pay smugglers to get him to Egypt and across the Sinai desert. There, he pulled himself over the border fence into Israel’s Negev desert. 

A new life in Israel 

He eventually made his way to Tel Aviv. At first, Michael was homeless. He got a job sweeping floors in a 10-story parking garage and during his breaks, he would run the stairs. He ran whenever and wherever he could.

One day, Michael was spotted by a coach from the Israeli national team. The coach told Michael he had the potential to run professionally and invited him to train with the team. He brought Michael new shoes and jerseys.

“What can I say? It was my dream, to compete,” Michael says. “It’s not about the prize, it’s not about the medal.”

Michael's Olympic dreams were back on track. But there was one more problem standing in his way: he didn’t have papers or a passport. 

“To be in that level [of competition] you have to have at least travel documents. I have none of them,” he says. “I am a stateless person. I am out of the system.”

He didn’t have much hope of that changing. Of the nearly 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants who have arrived in Israel since 2009, just 11 have received asylum.

Michael says his coach had one final idea, and it was a long shot. His coach told him that if he converted to Judaism, he might have a chance at citizenship. (Reporter's note: When I asked a spokesperson from the Israeli Federation of Athletics about this plan, he told me he had never heard of anything like that happening.)

Michael went to church, where he sat down to think about the suggestion. By the time he stood up, he says he knew it wasn’t an option for him. He was Eritrean and an Orthodox Christian. He says that converting felt as if it would be a betrayal of his identity.

Putting away his running shoes, and picking up a new purpose

He made another decision at that point too. He gave up his dream of Olympic competition.

“I say to myself, 'There is no more running,'” he says.

Michael, 29, now works as an advocate at the Eritrean Community Center in south Tel Aviv. In the past few years, he has spoken out against Israeli policies targeting asylum-seekers from African countries.

“When I stopped training one thing came to my mind: I have to shift my thinking. Not just to cry, but to do more meaningful things,” he says.

The Israeli government announced plans in January to deport about 20,000 African migrants over the next two years. On April 2, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a deal with the United Nations Refugee Agency to resettle about 16,000 African migrants to the West and give a similar number temporary status to remain in Israel. When he heard the news, Michael says he felt more optimistic than he had in years.

But the next day, Netanyahu cancelled the deal, amid criticism from harder-line members of his governing coalition.

Michael now says he doesn't trust any government anymore. Every government, he says, has betrayed him.


press release

Co-Chairman Hultgren and members of the Commission, thank you for the invitation to testify today.

Thousands of Eritreans, many of them young, flee Eritrea every month. This means Eritrea is losing a significant percentage of its population - by far the largest of any country not wracked by active conflict. UNHCR reported that at the end of 2016 there were 459,000 Eritreans who had claimed asylum worldwide in African states, in the Middle East, in Europe and here in the United States. Eritrea does not release population statistics, but estimations put that at more than 10% of Eritrea's current population.

Based on Human Rights Watch research, Eritreans' most predominant impetus for flight is to escape what is known as "national service." By a proclamation issued in 1995, all Eritreans are subject to 18 months of national service, including six months of military training. Eritrean law requires Eritreans leaving the country to hold an exit permit which the authorities only issue selectively, severely punishing those caught trying to leave without one, including with jail time.

To be clear, limited terms of national conscription do not, in themselves, constitute human rights violations. But it is not limited in Eritrea. The Eritrean government disregards the proclamation's time limits. Many conscripts are forced to serve indefinitely. Human Rights Watch has interviewed hundreds of Eritreans who were forced to serve a decade or more before they decided to flee -- in one recent case, a man had been in forced national service for over 17 years.

While some fortunate conscripts are assigned to civil service jobs or as teachers, many are placed in military units assigned to work on "development" projects in agriculture and infrastructure. None have a choice about their assignments, the locations or length of their service.

In the past few years, more and more unaccompanied children have fled Eritrea. When interviewed in Europe, they've explained they feared being forced into possibly indefinite military service. Many children told us they had observed what had happened to their fathers, older siblings, or other close relatives who had been conscripted and didn't want to suffer the same fate.

It's not just the length of time that causes so many conscripts to flee. What happens to them during their years of service is also devastating.

Pay during national service is below subsistence, although the Eritrean government has recently announced increases for some conscripts. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry in 2015 correctly called Eritrea's national service a form of "enslavement." During service, commanders subject conscripts to physical abuse, including torture.