Eritrea’s deteriorating state

Thursday, 17 September 2020 22:14 Written by


Source: Africa is a country

Eritrea’s deteriorating state

The Eritrean government continues to force students into military service in the middle of a pandemic. Things are about to get even worse.

Asmara, Eritrea. Image credit Clay Gilliland via Wikimedia Commons.

The Government Response Stringency index (GRSI) is a composite score developed by researchers at Oxford University, to compare countries’ policy responses to the coronavirus pandemic. It uses nine response indicators to rank governments, including school closures, workplace closures, and travel bans in its assessment of who has the strictest measures. Eritrea has topped the list most of the time.Eritrea has enforced a total lockdown since April 1, effectively banning all public transport, closing schools, and suspending everything in the literal sense, even postponing publishing the state newspaper—the only newspaper in the country—for five months. Although the pandemic’s consequences had been fatal across the world, in extremely impoverished countries like Eritrea where the essential food items are rationed in stores run by the ruling party, the magnitude of the lockdown is immense. Eritrea’s elites who hold absolute power have already frozen the state in time for more than two decades. Now families who have relatives in the diaspora depend on remittances to survive, subjected to extremely low exchange rates set by the ruling party’s financial sector, while the unlucky ones without family abroad suffer even more.

While the entire country has been put on hold, there is always an exception. During the past months, President Isaias Afwerki has traveled internationally three times to Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt with his big entourage. He also received Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the President of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan in July and September, respectively. Prior to that he has been absent from the scene for more than two months ensuing the usual rumor of that he is incapacitated, or dead.

The second exception is secondary in school in Sawa, the notorious military training center. Since 2003, the final year of secondary school has been taught at Sawa. Eritrean secondary school students as young as 16 years old attend their last grade of secondary school at the harshest place and most unconducive environment. According to the country’s national service proclamation and other international treaties Eritrea signed, the minimum age of military training is 18. With barely any facilities; a temperature that reaches up to 45 degree Celsius (about 113 Fahrenheit); and very frequent sandstorms, Eritrean children in Sawa are officially introduced to the machinery of slavery. In the one-year program, students combine military drills and academic studies. After spending a year in the military camp, they sit for the secondary school graduation certificate examination, which decides the fate of their life: either join colleges or head to the army with no exit. The school has been described by Human Rights Watch’s senior Africa researcher as: “at the heart of its repressive system of control over its population.”

Many governments have been releasing thousands of prisoners and adopting their programs to ensure social distance since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. The Eritrean diaspora has been pleading to their “government” to release prisoners of conscience and disperse thousands of students in Sawa, known for its overcrowding. In early April, the head of Economic Affairs for Eritrea’s ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) party, Hagos “Kisha” Gebrehiwet, in an online seminar said that Sawa and prisons are the safest places for quarantine as they are secluded. About three months later, Sawa hosted two heads of states with their first ladies accompanied by an entourage. In July, Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, facing tremendous pressure at home and in search of externalizing his domestic crises, visited Sawa to observe “graduation-parade rehearsals.”

A month later in mid-August, Sawa held its graduation ceremony, televised live. President Isaias Afwerki, who has never attended any graduation ceremonies of the defunct University of Asmara or other colleges, never misses Sawa’s ceremony. There was no indication in the ceremony of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid the strictest lockdown, 11th grade students have been recalled in August in what the minister of information described as “partial easing of restrictions,” to make up for the lost months. The aim was to prepare them at Sawa to attend their final year of training. Partial easing of lockdown restrictions, however, did not materialize apart from the recall of the students.

According to official announcements from the country’s ministry of health, the latest cases of COVID-19 have been from nationals who have returned from neighboring countries and no local transmission has been reported since early June. Yet, the lockdown has not been eased and there are now different quarantine centers for nationals who are returning from neighboring countries. It seems the pandemic came as a blessing for the regime that has been looking for excuses to confine its population.

There is no sense of urgency in today’s Eritrea. It is a country under self-imposed political siege. Eritrean parents are still unsure about the fate of their children who were expected to start school in September. There is not any information about the lockdown’s end. In an already improvised state, famine has started hitting hard. The only response from the state has been to reinforce the lockdown.

There is no way to challenge the state policies from inside Eritrea. Former students of Sawa, in exile, have been campaigning to end the practice of sending secondary school children to the military camp. The campaign #EndHighSchoolInSawa has gained traction among the Eritrean diaspora and has been amplified inside the country with the help of the diaspora-based independent media. Some prominent figures, such as former defense minister and now an exile, Mesfin Hagos, have joined the call.

“The most important impact of the #EndHighSchoolInSawa campaign is it re-sensitizes as many Eritreans were numb and accepted this hideous policy as normal,” says US-based Haikel Negash, who was among the initiators of the campaign; she is also a former student of the school. Her colleague and a PhD student of history at Queens University, Samuel Emaha maintains that although they could not stop the school, “The campaign aims to bring the issue to the agenda and attention of the common people. The campaign effectively brought the problems associated with the program, mainly because former students lacked the platform to speak about the school.”

Many former students of the school have now been loudly describing their harsh treatment at the school. Some former students have shared that they experienced rape and sexual harassment at Sawa, in line with reports on the problem from human rights organizations for years.

But the campaign was unable to force the Eritrean government to change its policy. Since September 8, high school students from all over the country have been heading to Sawa. The possible consequences of such a policy in the pandemic is not difficult to imagine. Students in Sawa live in crowded military barracks in the most communal lifestyle anyone could imagine. Social distancing is not only impossible, but there is enforced physical proximity. None can justify that the benefits of this untimely pronouncement would outweigh the possible consequences. Many have been pleading for the government to reconsider its decision, in the face of pandemic. But the regime prefers to contribute to the fastest possible spread of the pandemic.



Numbers being held in appalling conditions may be far greater than first thought

Source: Daily Telegraph

Saudi Arabia has come under mounting pressure from governments and human rights groups to release African migrants detained in deplorable conditions
Saudi Arabia has come under mounting pressure from governments and human rights groups to release African migrants detained in deplorable conditions CREDIT: The Telegraph
Ethiopians trapped in Saudi Arabia
Details are beginning to emerge showing that the sheer scale of Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on African migrants is far greater than anyone imagined.

Last month a Sunday Telegraph investigation found that hundreds if not thousands of mainly Ethiopian migrants are being kept in appalling conditions in centres across the Gulf Kingdom as part of a drive to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Using smuggled phones detainees detailed horrific accounts of disease, beatings and suicide.

But recent statements from Abdo Yassin, Ethiopia’s Consul General in Jeddah suggest that the centres highlighted by the Telegraph are just the tip of the iceberg.

Last week, Mr Yassin said that dozens of prisons are housing Ethiopians and that about 16,000 Ethiopian migrants are being held at just one detention centre at Al Shumasi, near the holy city of Mecca.

“Jeddah has over 53 prisons. Ethiopians are held in every one of them,” Mr Yassin told the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation. “If you take the one at Al Shumaisi…located around 60km from Jeddah, there are about 16,000 Ethiopians kept in the prison and the holding cells.”

Last month, the Telegraph was able to communicate with migrants at the centres at both Al Shumasi and Jazan, a port city on the border in Yemen. It is unclear how many people are being held at the detention centre at Jazan.

However, satellite images of the Jazan centre show more than a dozen buildings there. There are believed to be several other centres across the Kingdom.  Earlier this month, under international pressure from human rights groups, Western politicians and the United Nations, Saudi Arabia said it would investigate all of its detention centres.

However, migrants told the Telegraph that since news of their plight went around the world, they have been beaten brutally by prison guards who scoured the rooms for smuggled phones. They say they were stripped naked and that some of them were put in handcuffs during the searches.

The Ethiopian government in Addis Ababa has come under mounting pressure at home to repatriate the migrants stuck in the centres after the Telegraph revealed that officials tried to stop the migrants communicating with the outside world, most probably to avoid a diplomatic fall out with oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

Last week, nearly 150 women and children were repatriated to Ethiopia from Saudi Arabia. This was initially greeted as good news.

However, an Ethiopian government document from August shows that their repatriation was part of an arrangement between Saudi and Ethiopian authorities, which required migrants to purchase their own one-way tickets home from Ethiopian Airlines: something that the vast majority of impoverished migrants cannot do.

To make matters worse, Ethiopia’s embassy in Riyadh announced on Monday that Saudi immigration authorities had voided the agreement, leaving Ethiopian migrants with no remaining avenues to escape the Kingdom.

“It is shocking to hear that up to 16,000 Ethiopian migrants might be languishing in detention in the  Al Shumaisi facility. Human Rights Watch and the Telegraph documented horrific conditions in two other centres in Jazan Saudi Arabia where thousands more Ethiopian migrants may also reside,” said Nadia Hardman, a researcher at the NGO Human Rights Watch.

“We repeat our call on Saudi Arabia to immediately release the most vulnerable and improve the miserable conditions for the thousands that remain.”

Arrivals August 2020* 98

Total Arrivals 2020 2,710

UASC1 2020 244

UNHCR continues to receive new arrivals in East Sudan, largely from Eritrea. The Commission for Refugees (COR) receives and assists asylum-seekers at the border where they are temporarily hosted in reception centres. Within 1-2 weeks they are transported to Shagarab camps where they undergo screening, registration, RSD2 and two weeks quarantine while receiving life-saving services and shelter


The arrest and detention of Kjetil Tronvoll, a highly regarded and engaged scholar with a particular expertise on Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and academic inquiry.

Kjetil has now been freed and is on his way home. He has attended two Eritrea conferences hosted by Eritrea Focus.

Source: Blankspot

Norwegian professor detained at Ethiopia airport

By  | September 13, 2020

Norwegian professor Kjetil Tronvoll is said to have been abducted by police at Bole Airport in the capital Addis Ababa. He most recently came from Mekelle in the Tigray region, where he followed the “illegal election” criticized by the central government.

According to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, information was received during the evening that a Norwegian citizen had been detained at the airport.

– We have also been informed that he has now had the opportunity to travel further, says Ane Haavardsdatter Lunde at the press service at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to Blankspot.

Kjetil Tronvoll is head of the think tank Oslo Analytica as well as professor of peace and conflict knowledge at Bjorknes University. For the past thirty years, he has conducted field studies in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Zanzibar and also worked as an advisor and mediator in several peace processes.

One of his special areas is the development of democracy on the African continent.

But his presence during the election, which was won by the former ruling TPLF party, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for taking a stand for the opposition party.

Something he rejected on twitter this week.

“Just to clarify. I observe the election as part of my 30-year research on political developments in Tigray and Ethiopia. Studying a process does not mean supporting it, but the empirical reality is a key to later being able to analyze the situation. Some seem to confuse this, “wrote the Norwegian professor.

In another follow-up comment on twitter, Kjetil Tronvoll wrote that there was a smear campaign against his presence with allegations that he was there and working illegally on a tourist visa.

“It’s fake! I am here as part of my work as an adjunct professor at the University of Mekelle on an official visa issued by the Ethiopian government. ”

That is why the region’s politicians have arranged their own.

In an interview that Kjetil Tronvoll did recently with Al-Jazeera, he highlighted that both the people in the region and the TPLF party have undergone radical changes in recent years.

According to the ruling party TPLF, what has now taken place is a historic election that has given citizens an opportunity to choose between different political alternatives. They have also warned the government against intervening or in any way trying to stop the election because, according to them, it would be “a declaration of war”.

Relations between Tigray and the central government in Addis Ababa are strained, and in the past the TPLF, the dominant party in Tigray, has dropped out of government cooperation.

When asked by state television (EBC) about the election, the prime minister replied that it was a “minor headache” and that “the election is illegal because only the country’s national election commission can organize elections in Ethiopia”.

When Professor Kjetil Tronvoll returned to Addis Ababa’s airport Bole, he was taken away and detained, according to other passengers.

On Twitter, The Economist correspondent Tom Gardner writes that he was taken to a hotel.

According to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs , he now has the opportunity to continue his journey.


Government Ignores its own Covid-19 Restrictions

Source: Human Rights Watch

Government Ignores its own Covid-19 Restrictions

Sawa military camp from satellite
Satellite Imagery of the Sawa military camp, including the Warsai Yikealo Secondary School, recorded in January 2015.  Imagery © DigitalGlobe – Maxar Technologies 2019; Source: Google Earth

Videos and photographs circulating on social media earlier this week showed buses in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, crowded with students, who were not wearing masks, as they were separated from their families and sent off to a military training camp in the country’s west.

Each year, Eritrea’s government forces thousands of secondary school students, some still children, to attend their final school year in the infamous Sawa military camp, where students study but also undergo compulsory military training.

This year’s departures take place amid a lockdown. To curb the pandemic, the government imposed strict movement restrictions and closed schools. Yet it still decided to send the students off to Sawa and risk exposing them to the virus.

That is likely because the final secondary school year in Sawa serves as the government’s main conveyor belt through which it conscripts its citizens into indefinite government service.

Last year we reported on what life in Sawa looks like: students under military command, with harsh military punishments and discipline, and female students reporting sexual harassment and exploitation. Apart from Sawa’s other defects, dormitory life there is crowded, facilitating the spread of the virus if introduced. The danger is compounded by its very limited health facilities.

This has a devastating impact on students’ futures. From Sawa, those with poor grades are forced into vocational training – and most likely military service. Those with better grades go to college, then into a civilian government job. Students have little to no choice over their assignment.

Former Sawa students abroad have campaigned recently for the government to stop sending students to Sawa, but in vain.

Even in “normal” times, life at Sawa is grim and abusive. During the pandemic, it is likely even more dangerous. Eritrea will not build education back better after the pandemic if it funnels students into military camps.

Instead of bussing new students to Sawa, the government should allow students serving in Sawa to return home and let them choose where they complete their final year in school, including at public secondary schools closer to home. It should end compulsory military training during secondary school and ensure that no one underage is conscripted.

Eritrea’s youth deserve real reform if they are to have any hope of a brighter future.

Bahrain follows UAE to normalise ties with Israel

Saturday, 12 September 2020 14:31 Written by

Palestine recalls Bahrain envoy, denounces latest deal as 'another treacherous stab to the Palestinian cause'.

Bahrain follows UAE to normalise ties with Israel
Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner travelled to Bahrain as part of his Middle East tour earlier in September [Bahrain News Agency/Handout via Reuters]

Bahrain has joined the United Arab Emirates in agreeing to normalise relations with Israel, in a US-brokered deal that Palestinian leaders denounced as "another treacherous stab to the Palestinian cause".

Donald Trump, the president of the United States, announced the deal on Twitter on Friday after he spoke by phone to Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"This is truly a historic day," Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, saying he believed other countries would follow suit.

"It's unthinkable that this could happen and so fast."

In a joint statement, the United States, Bahrain and Israel said "opening direct dialogue and ties between these two dynamic societies and advanced economies will continue the positive transformation of the Middle East and increase stability, security, and prosperity in the region".

A month ago, the UAE agreed to normalise ties with Israel under a US-brokered deal scheduled to be signed at a White House ceremony on Tuesday hosted by Trump, who is seeking re-election on November 3.

The ceremony is due to be attended by Netanyahu and Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The joint statement said Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani will join that ceremony and sign an "historic Declaration of Peace" with Netanyahu.

Like the UAE agreement, Friday's Bahrain-Israel deal will normalise diplomatic, commercial, security and other relations between the two countries. Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia, had already dropped a ban on Israeli flights using its airspace.

Friday's joint statement only made passing mention of the Palestinians, who fear the moves by Bahrain and the UAE will weaken a longstanding pan-Arab position that calls for Israeli withdrawal from already illegally occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.

The statement said Bahrain, Israel and the US will continue efforts "to achieve a just, comprehensive, and enduring resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to enable the Palestinian people to realise their full potential".

'Grave harm'

Netanyahu welcomed the agreement and thanked Trump.

"It took us 26 years between the second peace agreement with an Arab country and the third, but only 29 days between the third and the fourth, and there will be more," he said, referring to the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan and the more recent agreements.

For its part, Bahrain said it supports a "fair and comprehensive" peace in the Middle East, according to BNA state news agency. That peace should be based on a two-state solution to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the report said, quoting King Hamad.

Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior White House adviser, hailed the agreements as "the culmination of four years of great work" by the Trump administration.

Speaking to reporters in a call from the White House soon after Friday's announcement, Kushner said the UAE and Bahrain agreements "will help reduce tension in the Muslim world and allow people to separate the Palestinian issue from their own national interests and from their foreign policy, which should be focused on their domestic priorities".

The Palestinian leadership, however, condemned the agreement as a betrayal of the Palestinian cause and recalled the Palestinian ambassador to Bahrain for consultations.

Palestinians protest against normalizing ties with Israel as Arab foreign ministers meet
Palestinians have protested against Arab states normalising ties with Israel [File: Raneen Sawafta/Reuters]

In a statement, the Palestinian Authority said it "rejects this step taken by the Kingdom of Bahrain and calls on it to immediately retreat from it due to the great harm it causes to the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people and joint Arab action".

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), based in Ramallah, the occupied West Bank, called the normalisation "another treacherous stab to the Palestinian cause". And in Gaza, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said Bahrain's decision to normalise relations with Israel "represents a grave harm to the Palestinian cause, and it supports the occupation".

'A purely Saudi decision'

Khalil Jahshan, executive director at the Arab Center of Washington, said Saudi acquiescence was key to Bahrain's decision.

"It is a purely Saudi decision. In the absence of the ability, due to internal constraints, by the leadership in Saudi Arabia to respond positively to Trump, they gave him Bahrain on a silver platter."

Bahrain, a small island state, is home to the US Navy's regional headquarters. Saudi Arabia in 2011 sent troops to Bahrain to help quell an uprising and, alongside Kuwait and the UAE, in 2018 offered Bahrain a $10bn economic bailout.

Al Jazeera's Nida Ibrahim, reporting from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, agreed, saying Palestinian officials believe the Bahrain and the UAE deals would not have happened "without regional backing".

"The fear among the Palestinians is that these deals are a green light for more Arab states to normalise with Israel," she said. "And many Palestinians say that for years they saw the US as Israel's lawyer or partner and now they see it as Israel's agent. That's because Trump is the one announcing these normalisation deals."

Since taking office, the Trump administration has pursued staunchly pro-Israel policies, including moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, ordering the PLO to shutter its Washington, DC, office and recognising Israel's occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights.

The US president and his advisers have championed a so-called "deal of the century" proposal to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - and they have courted Arab Gulf states to try to drum up support for that initiative.

Bahrain, for example, hosted a US-led conference in June 2019 to unveil the economic side of the proposal, and Emirati and Saudi leaders voiced support at the time for any economic agreement that would benefit Palestinians. Palestinian leaders boycotted that summit, however, saying the Trump administration was not an honest broker in any future negotiations with Israel.

Reporting from Washington, DC, Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett said while the deals between Israel, Bahrain and the UAE are not high on the list of priorities for most US voters, a large portion of Trump's supporters are Evangelical Christians who favour his pro-Israel positions.

Halkett said Trump is trying to show them before the November 3 contest that he can get the "deal of the century" done in his second term.

"He's acting as if this is a framework that will bring about that so-called 'deal of the century'," Halkett said, despite the fact that "the president and his administration's representatives are not even talking to the Palestinians right now".




Source: Washington Post

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, left, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed disembark from an airplane upon arrival at Juba International Airport in South Sudan before meeting with South Sudan’s president for tripartite talks on regional affairs on March 4. (Akuot Chol/AFP/Getty Images) By Adam Taylor October 11 at 2:14 PM

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was announced as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, with the committee that decides the awards singling out his efforts to achieve peace with neighboring country Eritrea.

But notably, the prize was not awarded to Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, Abiy’s partner in the talks.

Instead, Nobel Committee Chair Berit Reiss-Andersen simply acknowledged that “peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone” and said that they hope the “peace agreement will help to bring about positive change for the entire populations of Ethiopia and Eritrea.”

In some years, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to multiple parties for their work trying to end a conflict. In 1994, for example, the prize was awarded to Israel’s Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, as well as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

But the decision to award the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize only to Ethiopia’s Abiy was hardly surprising. Eritrea’s Isaias leads one of the most repressive military dictatorships in the world; his government has been compared to North Korea and accused of possible crimes against humanity.

And even though he reached an agreement with Abiy in Eritrea’s capital last year to end the conflict between the two nations, in practice the agreement remains largely unimplemented, and there have been little visible benefits for Eritreans.

“I think there was a lot of hope in Eritrea,” said Laetitia Bader, a researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But very quickly, Eritreans saw that things were not changing on the ground.”

Vanessa Tsehaye, an Eritrean activist based in London, noted, “I’d say it has brought no positive developments for the Eritrean people, because the lived reality is the same more than a year after the peace deal.”

The conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia stretches back decades. After European powers left occupied Eritrea in 1951, landlocked Ethiopia claimed the land of its coastal neighbor, eventually resulting in a civil war that started in 1961 and lasted three decades.

In 1991, Eritrean forces helped overthrow the communist-led government in Ethiopia, and two years later, Eritreans voted for independence.

However, the two nations did not reach an agreement on the border between them, and in 1998, small-scale border incidents around the town of Badme grew into a full-fledged conflict. It’s estimated that almost 100,000 people died, and after it ended, Ethiopian troops had control of Badme and other disputed areas.

As part of a peace agreement brokered in Algiers, in 2000, a commission cited colonial-era documents to rule that the land around Badme was part of Eritrea. But Ethiopia did not agree to the arbitrated border, and the two sides remained in a standoff.

Their relationship was dubbed “no war, no peace,” which meant that diplomatic, trade and transport ties were severed, and the countries remained on a war footing, clashing repeatedly and supporting rival rebel groups.

Abiy, a former intelligence officer who had taken part in the operations to drive Eritreans out of Badme, took office as Ethiopia’s prime minister in April 2018 and almost immediately began changes in the country, which had long been ruled by authoritarian governments.

On June 5, 2018, Abiy made a key pledge to accept the peace agreement with Eritrea and withdraw Ethiopian troops from occupied territory. Within weeks, Isaias responded by saying that both nations yearned for peace.

Just a month after Abiy’s announcement on July 8, the Ethiopian leader touched down at the airport in Eritrea’s capital Asmara, where he was greeted by Isaias. The leaders embraced and later announced they would reopen embassies, allow direct communications and restore transport links.

“Love is greater than modern weapons like tanks and missiles,” Abiy said. “Love can win hearts, and we have seen a great deal of it today here in Asmara.”

Despite the signs of goodwill, critics say not much has changed between the two nations. Among the Eritrean diaspora, many voiced disapproval for the Nobel Peace Prize focusing on the agreement with Eritrea when so little had changed in practice.

“I didn’t know one could win a peace award without achieving peace!” Selam Kidane, a London-based activist wrote on Twitter.

Border crossings between Ethiopia and Eritrea were opened last year, but Eritrea soon closed the border again. Analysts suspect that Eritrea, which has virtually complete control over its citizens, is delaying because of fears about wider reform.

Isaias, a former freedom fighter, has led the country since 1993, and his government has left no room for opposition. In 2015, the United Nations released the results of a year-long investigation into human rights in the country, finding “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations,” including extrajudicial killing, torture and forced labor.

Bader said that there was little evidence that there had been any positive change to some of the most restrictive elements, such as the arbitrary arrest of people for perceived political crimes, or the indefinite national service that sees many Eritreans permanently conscripted to the military.

“The government has often argued that it was the ‘no war, no peace’ situation with Ethiopia was what forced it to conscript its whole population,” Bader said.

Jeffrey Smith, the director of Vanguard Africa, said that he viewed the Nobel Prize as “encouraging Prime Minister Ahmed and the new regime in Ethiopia as much if not more than it is about the progress already made.”

But for activists such as Tsehaye, the peace deal had helped legitimize Isaias, the leader of an isolated and repressive nation of 5 million people on the world stage. The Eritrean leader had traveled with Abiy to foreign nations, and the United Nations lifted sanctions on Eritrea.

“Peace is always a good thing, it’s never something that we should be against,” Tsehaye said, “but we need to understand peace beyond its literal meaning of no war.”


Why apparently blame Tigray for the failings integral to the politics of Eritrea and Ethiopia? This is a strangely mistaken approach. The bottom line is that Eritrea’s President Isaias loathes the TPLF and is determined to destroy the party, which he believes has designs on Eritrean land.

But the division is far deeper. Ideology, traditional animosity and the terrible decision by Eritrea to close off access aid to Tigray from Sudan during the 1984-85 famine run deep. Finally: it was Eritrea that sponsored, trained and directed Ethiopian rebels that attacked Ethiopia when Tigrayans ran Ethiopia under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

It’s a complex history – not easily summarised. But I do support the conclusion: “The priority is to de-escalate tensions between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray region. Consultation and confidence building is equally important between Eritrea and Tigray’s leadership and people. Only then will the new peace deal stand a chance of bringing much-needed stability to the people of both countries and the region.”


Source: ISSafrica

The Eritrea-Ethiopia peace deal is yet to show dividends

Tensions in both countries relating to Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state are hampering progress.

It’s been over two years since the much-heralded rapprochement between Eritrea and Ethiopia culminated in a peace and friendship agreement in July 2018. The deal, brewed personally by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, symbolised an end to the 20 years of no war, no peace situation and the start of cordial relations between the two countries.

The settlement was internationally praised for its potential to stabilise the region beyond improving the two countries’ affairs. Abiy even received the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to build bridges with Eritrea.

Two years later, positive steps have been taken in some areas, but not in others due to tensions between Ethiopia’s federal government and Tigray regional state, and unresolved animosity between Tigray and Eritrean leaders.

The dispute over the small border town of Badme, which both Eritrea and Ethiopia claimed as their own, is often cited as the reason for the outbreak of the 1998-2000 border conflict. However the root causes go deeper.

They include historical rivalry, political and economic differences and hegemonic competition between the ruling elites of both countries. These were the Eritrean leadership, and the ruling party in Ethiopia’s Tigray State – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – Ethiopia’s dominant political party until Abiy came to power.

The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), established to resolve the border issue, decided in 2002 that Badme should belong to Eritrea. A failure to implement the EEBC’s decision led to the stand-off between the two countries.

In the 2018 peace deal, the leaders agreed to begin political, economic, social, cultural and security cooperation. They decided to resume diplomatic, transport, trade and communication ties that had been frozen for two decades. The leaders resolved to implement the EEBC decision and jointly ensure regional peace, development and cooperation.Twenty years after the border war, and despite the peace deal, the main protagonists are still fighting" style="box-sizing: border-box; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; outline: none; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); text-decoration: none; transition: all 0.1s ease-in-out 0s; border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2);">" rel="noreferrer noopener" style="box-sizing: border-box; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; outline: none; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); text-decoration: none; transition: all 0.1s ease-in-out 0s; border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2);">" rel="noreferrer noopener" style="box-sizing: border-box; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; outline: none; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); text-decoration: none; transition: all 0.1s ease-in-out 0s; border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2);">

Since then, progress in reconnecting the two countries has been made in key areas. Numerous high-level leadership visits took place, diplomatic relations were normalised and embassies reopened. Daily flights between Addis Ababa and Asmara were established and phone connections resumed. Four border posts were opened, although they were closed after a short period.

Talks about infrastructure and transport linkages, such as Ethiopia’s use of Eritrean ports (including a feasibility study for a railway between Massawa and Addis Ababa) and rebuilding of roads, dominated discussions. Other symbolic soft power and people-to-people interactions took place. United Nations sanctions on Eritrea were lifted.

The high-profile start of the rapprochement raised expectations, both at home and internationally, that 20 years of tension and mistrust could be eroded. Two years later, this potential has waned, paralysing anticipated socio-economic gains for people in both countries. And the cause is mostly tensions between Ethiopia’s federal and Tigray officials, and ongoing conflict between the TPLF and Eritrean leadership – just like old times.

Ethiopia’s Tigray regional state and Eritrea share the border that was contested. Badme is also under Tigray administration, and so the region’s TPLF leaders share responsibility for implementing the EEBC’s decision. But the peace process was initiated from Addis Ababa, and there wasn’t adequate consultation and consensus building among stakeholders like the TPLF. The peace process failed to adequately consult some stakeholders like the TPLF" style="box-sizing: border-box; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; outline: none; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); text-decoration: none; transition: all 0.1s ease-in-out 0s; border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2);">

This exclusion – together with other political differences relating to ideology, foreign policy, governance and elections – have worsened the division between Abiy’s government and the TPLF’s rule in Tigray. One point of contention involves how to engage with Eritrea.

Abiy, in his April 2018 inaugural speech, announced his administration’s unconditional acceptance of the stalled Algiers agreement signed in 2000 and aimed at ending the border war. In February 2020, Debretsion Gebremichael – the TPLF’s highest official – said a structured peace process was needed that included all relevant sides, not just the two national leaders.

Implementation of the 2018 deal cannot occur without buy-in from all relevant government actors in Tigray. Consensus is also needed within the respective agencies of both Ethiopia and Eritrea and all other relevant stakeholders.

The four border posts that were opened and quickly closed symbolise the lack of consensus among federal and state agencies on both sides around regulating movement and trade across national boundaries. Proper consultations would have allowed time to develop harmonised positions and enact new regulations.Implementation of the 2018 deal requires buy-in from all the relevant government actors in Tigray" style="box-sizing: border-box; -webkit-font-smoothing: antialiased; outline: none; color: rgb(0, 147, 194); text-decoration: none; transition: all 0.1s ease-in-out 0s; border-bottom: 1px solid rgba(0, 0, 0, 0.2);">

Unresolved hostility between Eritrea’s and the Tigray region’s ruling elites also hampers progress. Isaias accused the TPLF of complicating implementation of the EEBC’s decision, which the TPLF denied. Isaias also claims the TPLF created division among Eritreans, organising ethnic-based opposition and spreading misinformation to spoil relations between Eritreans and Ethiopians. The TPLF in turn accuses Eritrea of interfering in Ethiopia’s internal affairs and threatening regional security.

Twenty years after the bloody border war, and despite the new peace deal, the conflict’s main protagonists – the TPLF and the Eritrean leadership – are still fighting.

Given the increasingly serious confrontation between Mekele and Addis Ababa and the unresolved animosity between Mekele and Asmara, the TPLF feels unfairly targeted from both sides. Without political will and confidence building between the TPLF, Abiy and Isaias, the peace deal may not bear fruit.

Resolution of the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea is imperative for advancing economic and development prospects in the Horn. Sustainable peace and the benefits that it will bring can only be achieved if the 2018 agreement is implemented.

The priority is to de-escalate tensions between the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray region. Consultation and confidence building is equally important between Eritrea and Tigray’s leadership and people. Only then will the new peace deal stand a chance of bringing much-needed stability to the people of both countries and the region.

Selam Tadesse Demissie, Research Officer, Horn of Africa Security Analysis, ISS Addis Ababa

Urgent support needed as flooding in Sudan intensifies

Thursday, 10 September 2020 22:05 Written by


News and Press Release Source 

 Posted 10 Sep 2020 Originally published 9 Sep 2020 Origin View original

Islamic Relief is launching an urgent humanitarian response as devastating flooding intensifies in Sudan, plunging hundreds of thousands of people into dire need. Nearly 100 people are reported to have lost their lives so far, and this number is expected to rise.

The flooding, which began in July, is a result of extremely heavy rainfall, causing the River Nile to rise to its highest level in 100 years.

The situation has significantly worsened in recent days and the country has declared a state of national emergency.

More than 110,000 people have been affected by the flooding in the first week of September alone, according to the Government’s Humanitarian Aid Commission.

The states of Khartoum, Blue Nile, River Nile, Gezira, West Kordofan and South Darfur are amongst the worst hit.

The country was already struggling to cope amid the Covid-19 pandemic, as over 13, 000 people have now tested positive for the virus. Sudan is also experiencing a severe food crisis in which 9.6 million people do not know where their next meal is coming from.

Suffering is now expected to increase further, with Islamic Relief estimating that this latest disaster has now left up to 500,000 people in need of urgent humanitarian aid.

We urgently need your support

Islamic Relief are on the ground and working in coordination with other humanitarian actors to provide essential support to affected families.

Our current priorities are providing food, temporary shelter and household water treatment to families affected by the flooding in West Kordofan, which has been very badly hit.

Every year heavy rains trigger devastating flooding in Sudan, a country on the frontline of the climate emergency as natural disasters become increasingly frequent and intense.

More rainfall is expected in the coming days and weeks and we are in urgent need of your help to increase our support in Sudan as the situation worsens: donate to our Global Emergencies Fund now.



Prosecutors appeal acquittal of men who lynched migrant mistaken for terrorist

Supreme Court to discuss case of IDF soldier and Prisons Service officer filmed beating Eritrean man Haftom Zarhum in aftermath of 2015 terror attack in Beersheba

Security camera footage showing an Eritrean man being shot in the Beersheba central bus station on October 18, 2015, after he was thought to be a terrorist. (screen capture: Channel 2)

Security camera footage showing an Eritrean man being shot in the Beersheba central bus station on October 18, 2015, after he was thought to be a terrorist. (screen capture: Channel 2)

State prosecutors on Sunday appealed a July court decision that acquitted two men, Israel Defense Forces soldier Yaakov Shimba and Israel Prisons Service officer Ronen Cohen, over their roles in the 2015 lynching of an Eritrean migrant who was mistaken for a Palestinian terrorist.

In the minutes after a terror attack at the Beersheba bus station on October 18, 2015, Haftom Zarhum, 29, an innocent bystander, was shot by two soldiers and a security guard who thought he was the perpetrator. As he lay bleeding on the ground, a crowd of angry passersby — believing him to be the terrorist — beat him, some of them delivering powerful blows to his head and pummeling him with a metal bench. He died hours later in a hospital, and an autopsy ruled that the primary cause of death was the gunshot wounds.

The attack was carried out by Muhanad Alukabi, 21, from an unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev. He first opened fire with a pistol, killing IDF soldier Omri Levi, then took Levi’s service rifle and used it to wound 11 others. He was killed in a shootout with police after holing up in a bathroom.

Citing reasonable doubt, the Beersheba District Court in July accepted the argument presented by Shimba and Cohen that they had genuinely thought Zarhum was the terrorist.

On Sunday, the prosecution appealed the district court’s decision, taking the matter to the Supreme Court.

The reasoning for the appeal must be submitted to the country’s top court within 15 days.

Shimba, Cohen and two other men, who were caught on security cameras beating Zarhum, had been accused of “causing injury with grave intent,” an offense potentially carrying a punishment of up to 20 years in jail. Unlike the two other defendants, they did not agree to a plea deal that would downgrade the charge and offer a relatively lenient punishment.

The indictment said that in the aftermath of the attack, Shimba kicked Zarhum in the head and upper body with force. It said Cohen threw a bench onto him, and after another man removed the bench he took it and again dropped it on the prone man.

Cohen also shoved a civilian who asked him to stop his attack, according to the charges.

Haftom Zarhum, 29, died of his wounds on October 19, 2015, a few hours after he was shot and beaten by a mob that mistook him for an assailant in the terror attack in Beersheba on October 18, 2015. (Courtesy)

Despite the fact that Zarhum was already critically injured, Justice Aharon Mishnayot ruled that the pair’s argument — that they beat him because they genuinely thought he was the terrorist — was enough to merit an acquittal.

Cohen’s attorney, Zion Amir, called him a “hero.”

Commenting on the ruling, Amir said: “There is no doubt that this is a big day for an officer who acted heroically during the incident, and instead of an award got an indictment. I am glad that the court acquitted him after an almost five-year legal battle.”

The two other defendants in the lynching, Evyatar Dimri and David Muial, were convicted in 2018 in plea bargains that downgraded their charges to “abusing the helpless,” a lesser crime carrying a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

Dimri was sentenced to four months in prison and Muial got 100 days of community service and eight months of probation and was ordered to pay NIS 2,000 (approximately $550) compensation to Zarhum’s family.

Zarhum’s family has sued the state for damages, claiming negligence and failure to follow proper procedure caused his death.

The lawsuit, filed in 2017 at the Beersheba District Court, demanded NIS 3 million ($780,000) in compensation and that the National Insurance Agency recognize Zarhum as a victim of terror, entitling his family to additional state benefits.

The National Insurance Agency rejected recognizing Zarhum as a terror victim because the Eritrean had entered the country illegally.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.