Thursday, November 30, 2017

Fight not flight: Eritrea's youth taking matters into their own hands - African Arguments


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The student protest in Asmara last month was rare and unique, but not unprecedented.

Are Eritrea's young people saying enough is enough? Credit: David Stanley.

Are Eritrea’s young people saying enough is enough? Credit: David Stanley.
On the 31 October, Eritrea experienced a rare protest as hundreds of people took the streets in opposition against the nationalisation of an Islamic school. Government forces reacted in characteristically brutal fashion and dispersed protesters with gun-shots in the capital Asmara.
A protest in the hugely repressive state of Eritrea is remarkable in of itself. But last month’s demonstration was additionally notable for the make-up of its participants. Many of those who took to the streets were secondary school students. An article on the Ministry of Information’s portal dismissively referred to the protestors as “a group of teenagers”.
For over 16 years, there has been virtually no space to challenge the government of Eritrea. There is no independent press or right to free association and movement. Internet penetration is almost non-existent. And extreme militarisation and surveillance pervade society. All the government’s former critics have all been imprisoned, disappeared or have fled.
However, that does not mean there is no opposition to the regime in the country. They may be disconnected from one another and uncoordinated, but 31 October was not the first time “a group of teenagers” has expressed its frustrations and openly defied the all-powerful Eritrean government.
The plight of Eritrea’s youth is well-documented. Facing indefinite military conscription and a lack of jobs, the youth are fleeing the country in droves only to be stranded in the neighbouring countries or faced with the risky journey across to Mediterranean. Even the sons and daughters of the ruling elite try to escape the country, including the youngest son of President Isaias Afwerki. They would prefer to cut ties with their parents and risk living as destitute refugees than remain in Eritrea.
Of course, not everyone leaves. Some stay happily. But for the many disillusioned young people who remain in the country, there is the feeling of a deepening divide between their generation and the governing system. Recently, this has manifested in a number of under-reported clashes between protesting youth and the government.
The regime attempts to suppress such incidences, which is made easier by its restrictions on international media. This means that these events largely remain confined to those directly affected, but they could have a much broader significance.

Fighting back

Despite continued repression and an education system set up to produce obedient citizens, Eritrea’s youth currently seems to be the only group ready to openly confront the regime. Young people in national service have reportedly booed officials coming to conduct seminars and killed commanders’ goats in protest.
The class of 2013 was reportedly particularly insubordinate. According to students and an internal report that was leaked, many of that year’s intake was punished for their defiance by being told they would be recalled to the military training centre Sawa after their exams. They were told to prepare for a long walk. That night, however, hundreds of students fled. Soldiers were deployed to lock down the camp.
Those who remained – more than 12,000 – were rounded up and forced to travel on foot for over 21 days. The report says two students drowned crossing a river, while another two died from snake bites. On arriving at their destination, the group was put in open prison camps without proper shelter. 34 more died, while there were 17 unwanted pregnancies.
This year, there was news of similar collective resistance. In July, 6,000 students were reportedly deployed to Adi-Halo where President Afwerki is attempting to establish a college of agriculture and machinery. However, there was allegedly no proper lodging to accommodate the students, many of whom were assigned there involuntarily.
They believed they were brought there to work on Afwerki’s projects in the area. In protest, they started leaving rocks on the road the president takes to his office in Adi-Halo and demanded he address their concerns.
When the military intervened, the unarmed students openly challenged the guards. In October, tensions escalated and protesters began throwing stones at them. The Eritrean opposition radio Medrek reports that the military responded by forcibly moving the students to Naro in the far north for military training.

Eritrea’s youth standing up

These isolated but notable incidents suggest that the protest in Asmara last month was unique, but not unprecedented. In that demonstration, hundreds took to the streets of the capital in defiance of the regime’s repressive rule and in anger at its decision to wield greater control over the education system. Once again, many of them were students.
These acts of insubordination suggest that many young people are now saying enough is enough. There does not seem to be coordination around a collective movement. But in the face of clear threats and repression by the regime, and in the absence of an organised opposition, groups of youth may be beginning to take matters into their own hands. Knowing no-one will instigate change for them, frustrated young people may be feeling a greater sense of ownership over their own affairs and future.
If they do continue to mobilise, they may nevertheless find support amongst their as yet quieter compatriots. In Asmara, police sent to disperse the protest reportedly told demonstrators that they share their grievances and refused to fire on them.
That is reportedly how the protesters managed to get so close to the Office of the President. It was there, however, that Special Forces fired on them in a show of violence that leaves those who would question the regime in no uncertain terms about what they ultimately are up against.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Canadian firm to face historic legal case over alleged labour abuses in Eritrea | Global development | The Guardian

Workers and visitors walk within the processing plant at the Bisha Mining Share Company in Eritrea, operated by Canadian company Nevsun Resources

Workers and visitors walk within the processing plant at the Bisha Mining Share Company in Eritrea, operated by Canadian company Nevsun Resources. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

A Canadian mining company has lost its bid to block a lawsuit accusing it of human rights abuses against miners in Eritrea after a ruling by an appeals court in British Columbia.
The decision, against Nevsun Resources, paves the way for a groundbreaking legal challenge that links the Vancouver company to allegations of modern slavery.
The case, launched in 2014 by three refugees who alleged they were forced to work at Bisha mine and endured harsh conditions and physical punishment, is one of only a handful in which foreign claimants have been granted access to Canadian courts to pursue firms based in the country over alleged human rights abuses abroad.
Filed in Canada, the lawsuit was directed at Canada’s Nevsun, which owns a controlling interest in the gold, copper and zinc mine through a chain of subsidiary corporations.
The case was catapulted into the spotlight last year when a court in the province of British Columbia ruled that it could be heard in the Canadian legal system.
Nevsun appealed the 2016 ruling, arguing that any lawsuit should be heard in Eritrea. On Tuesday, however, the British Columbia court of appeal dismissed the company’s challenge, noting the risk of corruption and unfairness in the Eritrean legal system.
Joe Fiorante of Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman, the lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said: “There will now be a reckoning in a Canadian court of law in which Nevsun will have to answer to the allegations that it was complicit in forced labour and grave human rights abuses at the Bisha mine.”
In affidavits filed with the court, the plaintiffs – all of whom have since left Eritrea – alleged that as conscripts in the country’s national service system, they were forced to work for government-owned construction firms subcontracted to build the mine. They claimed the conditions were inhuman and work was carried out under the constant threat of physical punishment, torture and imprisonment.


A truck arrives to ferry excavated gold, copper and zinc ore from the main mining pit at the Bisha Mining Share Company in Eritrea
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 A truck arrives to ferry excavated gold, copper and zinc ore from the main mining pit at the Bisha Mining Share Company in Eritrea. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters


Since Nevsun owns 60% of the Bisha Mining Share Company, which owns and operates the mine (the other 40% is owned by the Eritrean government), the plaintiffs claim the Canadian company must have been aware of the reported abuses, but failed to prevent or stop them.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
In their decision, the British Columbia appeals court judges referenced a 2016 UN inquiry into human rights in Eritrea, which found the government had committed crimes against humanity in a widespread and systematic manner. The report noted that officials in the one-party state had enslaved up to 400,000 people, with many describing how the country’s system of lifelong military service amounts to modern-day slavery.
This system is at the heart of the case against Nevsun, said Fiorante. “Our case alleges that people that were conscripted into that system were forced to work in service of building a Canadian-owned gold mine in Bisha, Eritrea,” he said.
Fiorante added that about 60 people have so far come forward with similar claims of being forced to work at the mine.
Nevsun has denied the allegations contained in the lawsuit. While the company declined to comment on the latest ruling as the matter is before the court, a Nevsun spokesperson referred to a 2015 human rights audit of the Bisha mine, noting that contractual commitments strictly prohibit the use of national service employees by Bisha’s contractors and subcontractors.
Last year the Guardian spoke with several people who alleged they had been forced to work at the mine, earning as little as a dollar a day. The work was carried out amid horrendous conditions and a climate of fear and intimidation, they claimed.
“The mine was like an open prison,” said one former security guard, speaking on condition of anonymity to protect family still in Eritrea. “They can take you and do what they want with you. I was owned by them. We were like objects for the government and for foreign companies to do with us what they wanted.”

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Protest in Asmara 10/31/2017

ኣብ ኣስመራ ሎሚ ዕለት 31/10/2017 ዝተላዕለ ህዝባዊ ናዕቢ

Gunfire heard in Eritrea's capital as protests break out, U.S. embassy says

FILE - A general view shows buildings in the central business district of Eritrea's capital Asmara, Feb. 16, 2016.

The U.S. embassy in Eritrea said on Tuesday it had received reports of gunfire in several parts of the capital, Asmara, after protests erupted in one of Africa’s most secretive nations.
“The Embassy advises U.S. citizens to avoid the downtown area where protests appear to be more prevalent,” it said in a statement.
“Avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place and exercise caution when in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations.”
It was not immediately clear what had caused the protests.
Several UN reports have accused the Eritrean government of crimes against humanity including torture, rape and murder. It denies the charges.
A U.N. Commission of Inquiry report last year said that atrocities - including an indefinite military national service program that amounted to mass enslavement - had been committed since the country’s independence in 1991 and were ongoing.

Monday, October 9, 2017

World Council of Churches to intervene in longstanding Ethiopia-Eritrea border dispute







(REUTERS / Pascal Rossignol)Migrants from Ethiopia and Eritrea queue in line during a food distribution near the former "jungle" in Calais, France, August 23, 2017.


For the first time, a WCC delegation went to the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church last month. Dr. Nigussu Legesse, the council's program executive and convener for Africa, and Ecumenical Relations head Fr. Daniel Buda led the delegation, Africa News detailed.
The WCC delegation and officials from the Eritrean Church held synod meetings during the visit. They also went to historic monasteries and archaeological sites in the area.
"We came here with great expectations and we are looking forward to having constructive dialogue and encounters with the Eritrean Orthodox Church which is our WCC member church here in Eritrea and with other churches, religious communities and state authorities," Dr. Legesse shared.
The border dispute between the two countries sparked in 1993 when Eritrea got its independence from Ethiopia. Morocco tried to mediate between the two nations in 2000, but the border demarcation deal that was created that time still has not been fully implemented. The issue led to a two-year war in 1998 which left around 70,000 dead.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia has released two Eritrean TV reporters after more than 10 years of being imprisoned. Sources told Voice of America's Horn of Africa service that cameraman Tesfaldet Kidane and show host Salih Gama were freed a few days ago.
Kidane and Gama were arrested in December 2006 at the border between Kenya and Somalia during the time that Ethiopia invaded Somalia. In April 2007, the Foreign Ministry of Ethiopia reportedly identified them as among the 41 terror suspects who were captured, but they were never formally charged, nor were they tried in court.