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Eritrean protesters rally outside the Israeli embassy in London

Eritrean protesters rally outside the Israeli embassy in London

Eritrean protesters demonstrated outside the Israeli embassy in London on Friday 31 August 2012 to denounce Israeli treatment of Eritrean refugees, the policy of detaining them and the threat of deportation to Eritrea where it is certain they will face persecution.

Waving both the Eritrean and the British flags and slogans which read: “Respect Eritrean Asylum seekers rights to protection in Israel" and “Don’t forget your history Israel” and so on and so forth while accusing Israeli Interior Minister of using “anti- refugees hatred rhetoric". The protesters had earlier assembled at High Street Kensington Station and marched through one of the capital’s busiest streets, the High street Kensington shopping Centre attracting the attention of passers by.

When the protesters started to arrive at the scene of the protest there was already a heavy police presence in the area. The demonstrators, who were noisy but peaceful, then continued to march towards Kensington Court to gather near the Israeli embassy that stands in a road blocked off by security gates that were guarded by a lot of police.

The demonstration was jointly organised by the Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change in the UK and Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea –CDRiE.. Representatives from EYSC-UK spoke during the protest and reiterated their support for the Eritrean refugees and/or asylum seekers right to international protection and called upon the International Community to intervene and remind Israel of its obligation to the Geneva Refugee Convention of 28 July 1951, which Israel is a signatory to it.

The protesters also called on Israeli citizens to lobby their government to improve its position towards genuine refugees, cease the threat of deportations and fulfil its obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 Protocol to which Israel is signatory and to put in place an appropriate refugee status determination procedure.

Flyers explaining the aim of the protest were also distributed to passers by.

Articles - English

London Demonstration - Press Statement

Press Statement 
 
31/08/2012: Demonstration outside the Embassy of Israel in London against the violence and mistreatment of Eritrean refugees in Israel
 
Several media reports have indicated that the Israeli government is building a massive detention centre where thousands of Eritrean and other African asylum seekers would be detained while the authorities finalise plans for their deportation. All this is done under the pretext that these are infiltrators or economic migrants and not genuine asylum seekers.
It is a well known fact that Eritreans, especially the young, are fleeing Eritrea in their thousands due to the prevailing conditions in Eritrea and because of the compulsory national service which during the last ten years has become service for life.
 
To urge and call upon the Israeli authorities to cease the threat of deportations and fulfil their obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 Protocol to which Israel signatory and to put in place an appropriate refugee status determination procedure, members of the Eritrean community in the United Kingdom gathered today August 31, 2012 in front of the Israeli Embassy in United Kingdom between 8:30 and 11:30 in a peaceful demonstration.
 
A petition letter together with over 2300 signatures of those who signed the petition was also delivered to His Excellency Daniel Taub, Israel Ambassador to the United Kingdom. http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/STOP_the_violence_against_Asylum_seekers_in_Israel/

 
This demonstration is jointly coordinated by:
Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change –EYSC
Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea –CDRiE
London 31 August 2012

Articles - English

North Africa: One Survivor, 54 Die At Sea Attempting the Voyage to Italy From Libya

North Africa: One Survivor, 54 Die At Sea Attempting the Voyage to Italy From Libya

 

PRESS RELEASE

Kate Thomas/IRIN

A boat carrying sub-Saharan African migrant workers arrives in Italy last year.

It is with great sadness that UNHCR received the news that 54 people perished attempting the sea journey from Libya to Italy. According to the sole survivor, an Eritrean man, 55 people boarded the boat in Libya in late June. He reported that all the other passengers died of dehydration during a 15 day ordeal.

"This is a tragedy," said T. Alexander Aleinikoff, Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees. "Fifty four people have lost their lives."

Fishermen found the survivor off the Tunisian coast last night. They alerted the Tunisian Coast Guard who rescued the man. He was immediately taken to Zarzis hospital where he is being treated for dehydration and exposure.

UNHCR staff interviewed the survivor. He said that the boat left from Tripoli in Libya in late June and a day later the boat reached the Italian coast, but high winds forced the boat back to sea. Within a few days the inflatable boat was punctured and air started to leak out.

According to the survivor, there was no water on board and people started to die of dehydration within days. Many drank sea water, including the man who survived. He was rescued floating on the remains of the boat and a jerry can. According to the survivor over half of the deceased were from Eritrea, including three of his relatives.

"I call upon all vessels at sea to be on heightened alert for migrants and refugees needing rescue in the Mediterranean," said Aleinikoff. "The Mediterranean is one of the busiest seaways in the world and it is imperative that the time honoured tradition of rescue at sea be upheld."

So far in 2012, over 1,300 people have arrived by boat from Libya in Italy. A boat, reportedly carrying 50 Eritreans and Somalis, is currently at sea. They refused to be rescued by Maltese military forces yesterday.

Over 1,000 people on 14 boats have arrived in Malta from Libya so far this year. Two other boats were intercepted by Maltese authorities, but the majority elected not to be rescued and continued to Italy.

UNHCR Italy estimates that so far this year some 170 people have been declared dead or lost at sea attempting to make the journey from Libya to Europe.

 
Articles - English

Eritrean tyranny fuels mass exit

Eritrean tyranny fuels mass exit

 

29 JUN 2012 08:13 - DAN CONNELL
Draconian military conscription rules in Eritrea mean children as young as 12 can be forced into duty. Dan Connell reports.

Binyam Zaid (22) was an unwilling conscript in the Eritrean army when he was caught trying to flee the country and jailed for 18 months at the Halhal military prison. On May 24 he was released in an amnesty that marked Eritrea’s 21st birthday and sent back to his unit.

Three days later he walked into the bush to relieve himself and never turned back.

 

Tigiste Beyene (35) was pregnant with her second child when she was sent to a desert prison in northern Eritrea for attending a banned Pentecostal prayer meeting. Upon release she was given 10 months to renounce her faith and pressed to do so by the local Eritrean Orthodox priest who had turned her in and by her family, who had to guarantee the state 50 000 nakfa (R28 000) to get her out. Four months later, she paid a smuggler 30 000 nakfa [R17 000] to take her to Ethiopia.

“The dark side of my life was not the year in prison, but the time I spent at home with my family,” she said as she sat on the dirt floor of her cramped 3m-by-5m mud-brick house. “It was a torment.”

Said Ibrahim (21), orphaned and blind, made a living as a singer in Adi Quala bars when a member of the security police claimed one of his songs had “political” content and detained him at the Adi Abieto prison. After a month he was released but stripped of his monthly disability payments for two years when he declined to identify the lyricist.

“I went back to my village and reflected on it,” he said over tea at an open-air café in the Adi Harush camp, set up in 2010 when the Eritrean refugee camp Mai Aini reached capacity. It is already nearing its limit of 20 000, according to United Nations officials. “If the system could do this to a blind orphan, something was very wrong.”

After appealing to his neighbours for help, two boys, aged 10 and 11, helped him to sneak over the border to Ethiopia and asked for asylum with him.

Tense border
The newcomers join more than 65000 Eritreans in five camps along the tense border, whose disputed location was the spark that set off a fierce fight between the two countries from 1998 to 2000 and remains a source of heightened tension.

Most refugees tell similar stories of run-ins with the authorities in this once promising new nation, which has turned into one of the most efficient tyrannies on the continent over the past decade.

What distinguishes the influx here, as in Sudan on Eritrea’s western flank, is that most are young men who, like Binyam, are trying to break free of Eritrea’s national service, which they describe as a system of state-run indentured servitude that ties them up for 10 years or more, often as low-skilled workers in government departments or state- and party-owned businesses for which they are paid a pittance.

Launched in 1995, the programme initially demanded 18 months of military training and work on national reconstruction. Some grumbled at the time, but most saw this as a legitimate obligation of citizenship after a 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia that had left the territory devastated.

Even now, many escapees say they support the concept, just not the length of service, which has been extended further by requiring secondary school students to take their final year of school at a military base to prevent them from escaping. Students who drop out before that, or who fail to achieve passing grades, can be conscripted as young as 12.

Crisis seizing the country
The huge outflow of draft-age men it has triggered has become a major factor in the crisis seizing the country today. Its intensely secretive leadership shows signs of unravelling for the first time since a brutal crackdown on dissent in 2001 that followed Eritrea’s defeat in the last round of the border war.

Former soldiers say that most Eritrean Defence Force units are now operating at 25% of capacity or lower and the overall strength of the army, often estimated by outsiders at 250 000 to 300 000, may actually be less than 80 000.

Perhaps to compensate, Eritrea’s unelected president – former liberation front commander Isaias Afwerki – has ordered all able-bodied men not in the uniformed military to join village and neighbourhood militias and is issuing AK-47 assault rifles to them. He also ordered a shake-up in the defence force command structure, diminishing the authority of General Filipos Weldeyohannes, his favourite for the past five years, and elevating General Tekali “Manjus” Kiflai. It is  something he does periodically with top generals and political appointees to prevent anyone from accumulating a base of support.

Taken against the backdrop of recent Ethiopian incursions along the disputed border – none answered by the Eritreans – these moves could signal the possibility of renewed head-to-head conflict, a threat Afwerki frequently invokes to justify his continuing crackdown on public debate. However, they may also indicate that the embattled leader, who has steadfastly refused to implement a Constitution ratified more than a decade ago and has never permitted national elections, is circling the wagons to protect himself from internal challenges.

His abrupt disappearance from public view for most of April – an unprecedented absence for a man whose daily comings and goings are the centrepiece of coverage in the state-run media – set off a wave of speculation among exiles that he was either incapacitated or dead. Although he reappeared in May, reports that a cabal of second-tier officials is meeting to plot a transition continue to circulate.

Irritant
But, although Eritrea appears obsessed with Ethiopia, the reverse no longer seems to be the case. “Eritrea is an irritant, not a strategic enemy,” said Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

“Our strategic enemies are poverty and backwardness,” he said in a two-hour interview on the subject of Ethiopia’s economic and social transformation. “We have seen poverty at its worst,” he said. “Nothing is more dehumanising.”

A former guerrilla commander himself, who came to power at the same time as Afwerki when the rebel armies they commanded routed the regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, Zenawi insisted that he would step down at the end of his term in 2015. But he wants to wind down the conflict with Eritrea first, stabilising relations and reaching a service agreement to access Eritrea’s Red Sea ports similar to the pacts Ethiopia has with Djibouti, Somaliland, Kenya and Sudan.

 “I would like Eritrea to be at peace with itself so it can be at peace with us and we can all benefit from common prosperity,” he said. “But I am not choosy how it happens.”

The decade-long standoff between the two countries, which  played out in a web of proxy wars across the region, none of which reached the point of a direct confrontation, took a turn for the worse in 2010 when Ethiopia charged Eritrea with a bomb plot intended to disrupt an African Union summit in Addis Ababa.

“They wanted to transform Addis into Baghdad,” said Zenawi. “This made it impossible for us to ignore what they were doing.”

Pressure
Since then, Ethiopia has sought to increase the pressure on the Afwerki regime, first lobbying for sanctions at the United Nations and then launching a series of attacks on “hard targets” close to the border inside Eritrea, while simultaneously waging a hearts-and-minds campaign aimed at the Eritrean public.

Ethiopian media have toned down their once vitriolic coverage of Eritrea – or simply ignored it – and Eritreans deported from Ethiopia during the border war have been urged to return to reclaim seized assets. But the most dramatic shift was the announcement of an “open camps” policy permitting refugees to live anywhere in Ethiopia so long as they prove that they have the means to support themselves. More than 1000 Eritreans now attend Ethiopian universities, refugee officials say.

Ethiopia also hosts about 34 Eritrean opposition parties, a number that has refugees here scratching their heads in frustration and leads many to dismiss them as little more than a talk shop. During a week of interviews in three camps, the Addis Ababa-based parties were rarely mentioned.

“The only time we see them is when they want to recruit us,” said one refugee, who denounced the government in Asmara, but saw the squabbling opposition parties as cut from the same cloth.

Many here think that change, when it comes, will arise from within the country and that it may take time to sort itself out. One scenario is for a junta to take over that would include key figures from the three main power centres: the military, the national security forces and the ruling party, the ironically named People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, over which the defence minister, General Sebhat Ephrem, presides.

Inherently unstable
Such a coalition would be inherently unstable because it would comprise bitter rivals, all of whom aspire to step into Afwerki’s shoes, even though none has his charisma or commands a similar following among the rank and file.

What makes Ephrem attractive as a front man is that Afwerki has long treated him as a largely ceremonial figure and given him little actual power, so he is not seen as a threat by his more ambitious colleagues.

Ephrem is also popular with Western governments and carries a degree of credibility with the public for his prominent role in the liberation of the country, first as the head of civilian mobilisation and then as the military chief of staff in the final years of the war.

How long such an arrangement would last, though, is an open question.

Dan Connell, a lecturer in journalism and African studies at Simmons College, Boston, has covered events in Eritrea for more than 35 years (danconnell.net)

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Articles - English

Call for Action on Eritrea at UN Human Rights Council

 

JUNE 19, 2012

To: Members of the Human Rights Council

Excellency,
The undersigned non-governmental organisations are writing to express their utmost concern about the ongoing widespread and systematic human rights violations in Eritrea and to call on members of the Human Rights Council to take urgent action at its 20th regular session in response to this dire situation.

Since September 2001, eleven prominent government officials who called for the implementation of the country’s ratified Constitution and ten independent journalists have been held incommunicado.
Their fate is unconfirmed: while some are reported to have died in detention, the others remain in harsh detention centres without due legal process. Thousands of their fellow citizens face a similar fate: arbitrarily detained in inhumane and degrading conditions without trial. An Eritrean can be arrested and imprisoned without charge or trial for years upon end merely for being critical of the government, belonging to what the government defines as one of the ‘wrong’ religious groups, or refusing to comply with the indefinite national service imposed on all Eritreans over the age of 18 years. Some conscripts have served for a decade or more. It is estimated that there are currently between 5,000 and 10,000 prisoners whose “crime” is that they are suspected of not being fully loyal to the regime. Torture, arrests, killings and forced labour are common. No independent civil society organizations can operate inside Eritrea, and since 2001, there has been no independent
domestic media and journalists are arbitrarily arrested en masse.

We commend efforts by various entities of the United Nations to raise concern about the human rights situation in Eritrea, including most recently in the opening statement of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at this session of the Human Rights Council. In March 2012, 44
countries supported a cross-regional joint statement at the 19th session of the Human Rights Council which invited the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. A number of UN special procedures have equally sent communications and
requested country visits, requests which the government has so far ignored.

Members of Eritrean civil society in exile and their supporters have also sought redress at the regional level and submitted their complaints to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (communications 250/2002 and 275/2003). In two separate decisions the Commission found the government to be in violation of fundamental rights contained in the African Charter and also called for the release of the government officials held incommunicado since September 2001 and for access to legal counsel to be granted to at least eighteen journalists also held
incommunicado. To date, Eritrea has ignored both these decisions.

We believe that the dire human rights situation in Eritrea merits sustained engagement on the part of the Human Rights Council and therefore call on the HRC to adopt a resolution at its 20th session that would:

  •  Support the establishment and appointment of a Special Rapporteur to report to the UN Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in Eritrea on a regular basis.
  •  Request the High Commissioner for Human Rights to report to the Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in Eritrea at its 21st session.

Excellency, we thank you for your attention to these concerns and remain available to provide any further information as may be useful. Sincerely,

African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
African Democracy Forum
Amnesty International
ARTICLE 19
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Asian Legal Resource Centre
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Eritrean Refugee Initiative
Friends of Aster
Forum pour le Renforcement de la Société Civile (Burundi)
Human Rights Concern-Eritrea
Human Rights House Foundation
Human Rights Watch
Open Society Foundations
Partnership for Justice
Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa
West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network

Articles - English

U.N. rights chief accuses Eritrea of torture, killings

 

GENEVA | Mon Jun 18, 2012 9:03am EDT

(Reuters) - United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay accused on Monday gold-rich Eritrea, which holds a strategic stretch of the Red Sea coast, of carrying out torture and summary executions.

Pillay told the U.N. Human Rights Council there were between 5,000 and 10,000 political prisoners in the secretive African nation of some 6 million people which has been ruled by a single party and president since independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

"The human rights situation in Eritrea is a matter of deep concern," said Pillay, a South African former senior judge on the International Criminal Court in The Hague, who has just had her four-year term extended for a further two years.

"Credible sources indicate that violations of human rights include arbitrary detention, torture, summary executions, forced labor, forced conscription, and restrictions to freedom of movement, expression, assembly and religion," she said.

Eritrea, where former anti-Ethiopia guerrilla leader Isaias Afewerki has been head of state for nearly two decades, is rarely mentioned in the 47-nation council, where African and Asian countries often work to shield each other from criticism.

But responding to Pillay's remarks on Monday, a European Union representative said the 27-nation grouping backed Pillay's comments on the Red Sea state -- whose population is mainly Christian but includes a large Muslim minority.

Thousands of people have fled Eritrea in recent years because of poverty and political repression, according to human rights groups. Many have settled in neighboring Sudan, and some have reached Israel and Western Europe.

Independent human rights groups say the country has one of the world's most repressive governments, an accusation Eritrean officials reject, arguing that the country is the target of a foreign smear campaign backed by the United States.

Eritrea fought a border war with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000 which killed 70,000 people on the two sides and occasional clashes have flared up since with both accusing each other of supporting armed rebel groups.

In April, Ethiopia's President Meles Zenawi Afewerki accused Eritrea of abducting dozens of miners from his country's north-western gold region which borders an area where Eritrea' largely untapped reserves of the precious metal are located.

Pillay told the rights council that she had written to the Eritrean government in January this year with an offer to send a mission from her office by this month at the latest to help it address its "human rights challenges."

But despite later talks with an Eritream delegation in Geneva, she said, there had so far been no reply.

(Reported by Robert Evans, editing by Diana Abdallah)

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