Sunday, June 28, 2015

UN expert seeks probe over 'crimes against humanity' in Eritrea | Swiss News | Expatica Switzerland

UN expert seeks probe over 'crimes against humanity' in Eritrea

24th June 2015, Comments 0 comments
A UN expert on Thursday called for a probe into whether the Eritrean government should face justice for alleged crimes against humanity following a damning report on sweeping rights violations.
The nearly 500-page UN report, released after a year of investigations, details how the Horn of Africa nation, under Isaias Afwerki's iron-fisted regime for the past 22 years, has created a repressive system in which people are routinely arrested at whim, detained, tortured, killed or go missing.
It said violations were taking place on a "scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere".
"There is also an issue as to whether the extent of the sorts of abuses we identified comprise crimes against humanity," Mike Smith, who headed the UN commission of inquiry, told reporters.
Smith said the commission did not have the mandate to investigate this, but added: "We did leave in our recommendations several suggestions on areas we thought the international community and the Security Council should follow up on."
"We didn't have the time, the resources (or) the possibility to be able to make any determination on (crimes against humanity) and we simply recommended that some mechanism could be judged to look at that issue," he said.
The report provides a list of government and state entities responsible for the abuse, including the military, police, justice ministry and Isaias himself.
Eritrea has dismissed the report and defended its controversial policy of decades-long national service from which about 5,000 people flee each month, saying it has "no other choice" due to threats from long-standing enemy Ethiopia.
Eritreans make up the second-largest number of people risking the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea, after Syrians, running the gauntlet of ruthless people smugglers and dangerous waters in the hope of reaching the European Union.
Smith also rejected criticism that the commission of inquiry had obtained a skewed report by speaking to asylum seekers with an agenda.
He said most of the people interviewed in Europe already had legal status and jobs.
Moreover, "their stories very much reflect those of people who left more recently," he said. "We don't believe we were duped."
Tens of thousands of young Eritreans brave razor wire, minefields and armed border guards to sneak out of the country every year in order to escape repression and avoid years of conscripted military service.
The UN commission report was based on 550 interviews with Eritreans living abroad, and on 160 written submissions.

Police in Geneva guard U.N. investigators into Eritrea's human rights after threats | Top News | Reuters

Thu Jun 25, 2015 7:13am GMT


A Geneva police staff holds his position,  November 23, 2013.    REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
1 of 1Full Size

By Tom Miles
GENEVA (Reuters) - Swiss police were guarding three U.N. investigators into Eritrea's human rights record in Geneva on Wednesday after a top official said they had received threats on the street and at their hotel.
The inquiry's report published earlier this month showed human rights violations in Eritrea that may amount to crimes against humanity, including extrajudicial killings, widespread torture and enforced labour.
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As the investigators began testimony before the U.N. Human Rights Council, council president Joachim Ruecker told the session they had been subjected to "various threats and acts of intimidation in their hotel and in the streets since their arrival in Geneva".
He said security had been redoubled, the Swiss police had been contacted and security measures had been taken to ensure the council meeting could go on "with calm and dignity".
A Reuters witness saw Swiss police guarding the team even though the meeting was held within the United Nations compound in Geneva. A police spokesman said he could not immediately comment.
Mike Smith, who led the commission of inquiry into Eritrea, said the threats were related to a demonstration against the inquiry on Monday, when 6,000 people from Eritrea and around Europe protested outside the U.N., organisers said.
"Accidentally or not, members of the commission came into contact with some of the demonstrators. And there was a bit of a discussion that got a little bit more than that," Smith said.
There was also "stuff on the blogosphere" aimed at his fellow commissioner Sheila Keetharuth, which he said was "not very pleasant".
Keetharuth said the threats were "specific" but declined to give details.
Smith said the government was able to influence Eritrean communities abroad and was "very active" in promoting its interests abroad, while witnesses were scared to give evidence even though they were living securely outside the country.
Eritrea's government systematically spies on individuals and entities inside and outside Eritrea, the inquiry's report said.
Harsh conditions in the country have been widely blamed for an exodus of around 5,000 Eritreans fleeing to Europe across the Mediterranean each month.
The U.N. inquiry, constrained by its terms of reference, stopped short of declaring whether Eritrea's government was committing crimes against humanity but recommended this be examined further, so a decision could be taken about whether to refer the case to the ICC.
Eritrea's neighbours Djibouti and Somalia are backing a Human Rights Council resolution to extend the team's mandate for a year to enable it to say if crimes against humanity were committed and to ensure "full accountability".
"The government must understand that the system that they have set up is simply unacceptable in the modern world," Smith said.
Eritrea has not cooperated with the investigators nor let them into the country. It has tried to discredit the methodology and motives of the report but has not shown any contrary evidence, he said.
Its ambassador Tesfamicael Gerahtu was upbraided by Ruecker for telling the council that the commission was "ignorant", that it had "a sinister political agenda" and that their report - based on 550 interviews and 160 written statements - was "a travesty of justice".

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why Is This Tiny African Country The Second-Biggest Source Of Migrants Crossing The Mediterranean

Why Is This Tiny African Country The Second-Biggest Source Of Migrants Crossing The Mediterranean - BuzzFeed News





























Why Is This Tiny African Country The Second-Biggest Source Of Migrants Crossing The Mediterranean?

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The East African country is one of the most oppressive in the world, and yet it rarely makes headlines.








This year has seen a surge in migrants from the Middle East and Africa trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe — and dying when their boats capsize. EU ministers are meeting this week for the latest round of talks on the crisis.

This year has seen a surge in migrants from the Middle East and Africa trying to cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe — and dying when their boats capsize. EU ministers are meeting this week for the latest round of talks on the crisis.
Migrants wait to disembark from an Iceland Coast Guard vessel at a harbor in southern Italy on May 6 after being rescued at sea. Antonio Calanni / AP

Many migrants are fleeing well-known conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan. Others hail from west Africa and are seeking better economic fortunes. But one of the largest groups comes from Eritrea — a tiny east African country that rarely makes the news.

Many migrants are fleeing well-known conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan. Others hail from west Africa and are seeking better economic fortunes. But one of the largest groups comes from Eritrea — a tiny east African country that rarely makes the news.
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Eritreans are the second-largest group of migrants crossing the Mediterranean so far this year and last year, according to the U.N.’s refugee agency.





Syrians account for a third of the 90,000 migrants who made the crossing during the first five months of this year — but Eritreans account for over a 10th. They also accounted for almost a fifth of those making the crossing last year.
In Italy, the most popular landing country for the migrants crossing the Mediterranean, Eritreans are the biggest group arriving, according to the International Organization for Migration. The number of Eritrean refugees arriving in the U.K. doubled last year to become the highest total from any single country, the BBC reported.
But, if there’s no big war going on in Eritrea, why does everyone want to leave?

Eritrea, which hasn’t held elections in two decades, is one of the world’s most oppressive countries. It uses torture, forced disappearances, mass surveillance, and indefinite military service to control its citizens, the U.N. said in a report last week.

Eritrea, which hasn’t held elections in two decades, is one of the world's most oppressive countries. It uses torture, forced disappearances, mass surveillance, and indefinite military service to control its citizens, the U.N. said in a report last week.
Eritrean refugees in Israel protest against their government outside their embassy in Tel Aviv on May 11. Baz Ratner / Reuters

The main reason Eritreans flee is because of the potentially endless military service that starts when people finish studying, human rights activists and Eritrean asylum-seekers told BuzzFeed News.





Robel, an 18-year-old asylum seeker who left Eritrea last year and is now in the British city of Bristol, told BuzzFeed News he fled as soon as he finished school to avoid the draft. “It’s too hard to live in Eritrea because there are a lot of things they can do to you,” he said in a phone interview last month. “You can be in the military service for unlimited years, or in prison, and you don’t have a chance to raise your voice, to change the president.”
Thomas, a 32-year-old Eritrean who fled in 2013 and now lives near Gothenburg, Sweden, told BuzzFeed News that he fled after spending 14 years in forced military service, during which he was forced to work as a border guard and paid just over $40 a month (this blog post from The Economist from last year put the typical monthly salary even lower, at $30 or less).
Both Thomas and Robel asked us not to use their full names as they still have relatives in Eritrea.

Eritrea gained independence from its far bigger neighbor Ethiopia after a 30-year warthat ended in the early 1990s. President Isaias Afewerki has been at the helm ever since.

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Eritrea gained independence from its far bigger neighbor Ethiopia after a 30-year war that ended in the early 1990s. President Isaias Afewerki has been at the helm ever since.
President Afwerki addresses the U.N. General Assembly in 2011. Chip East / Reuters

Eritrea says extended military service has been necessary because of threats from Ethiopia, the BBC has reported. The two neighbors fought another war in the late 1990s, and Ethiopia later rejected a border set by an international commission.





Yohanna Teklu, a spokesperson for the Eritrean embassy in London, told BuzzFeed News that the national service had been extended “for [a] much longer time than anticipated” because of Ethiopia’s actions, and was due to be returned to its originally planned length of 18 months this summer.
Teklu also said those leaving the country were not fleeing repression but simply hoped to find better-paid jobs in Europe, like economic migrants from many other parts of Africa.

Many Eritreans had been going to Israel. But Israel has in recent years started pressuring asylum-seekers to leave and even deporting them, The Guardian has reported, forcing escapees to try to reach Europe instead.

Many Eritreans had been going to Israel. But Israel has in recent years started pressuring asylum-seekers to leave and even deporting them, The Guardian has reported, forcing escapees to try to reach Europe instead.
African migrants protest against Israel’s detention policies in February 2014. Baz Ratner / Reuters
Despite Eritrea’s isolation, many people there are switched on about how unusual their situation is due to a growing diaspora that keeps relatives back home informed, said Gaim Kibreab, an expert on forced migration in Eritrea at London South Bank University. This awareness makes people increasingly likely to flee, he said.
“It’s a literate population, and also everyone has a brother or sister or something overseas,” Kibreab told BuzzFeed News. “People know what’s going on.”

Monday, June 15, 2015

Eritrean ambassador insists her compatriots’ claims of persecution are an invention - The Malta Independent

Eritrean ambassador insists her compatriots’ claims of persecution are an invention

John CordinaSunday, 14 June 2015, 07:30Last update: about 1 day ago
There are over 300,000 Eritrean refugees – and thousands more seeking asylum – across the world: a significant proportion of people from a country whose population is only around six million.
But representatives of the Eritrean government will invariably dismiss claims of persecution, arguing instead that those who leave are simply doing so for economic reasons.
Hanna Simon, Eritrea’s ambassador to France, who was recently in Malta to attend a conference on irregular migration, was no exception.
When asked by The Malta Independent to comment about the claims of persecution that led to her compatriots seeking – and obtaining – humanitarian protection in Malta and elsewhere, Ms Simon was dismissive of their claims.
“Each of them will tell you that. Each of them tells the same story… that they have no freedom, that they are being persecuted. Have you realised that,” the Ambassador retorts after a brief pause.
“Let me tell you, all those ‘refugees’ are economic migrants,” she maintains, highlighting the fact that her country is one of the poorest in the world. In fact, despite its much larger size and population, its annual GDP is less than half that of Malta.
Ms Simon even claims that the number of people cited as having fled the country is inflated. She insists that the asylum policies of various governments were not only encouraging Eritreans to claim asylum, but were also encouraging others from Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries to falsely claim to be Eritrean to claim a place in Europe.
Of course, such an assertion implies that these “false” asylum seekers would be able to convince those assessing their asylum claims that they truly hail from a country they have not actually lived in, even though such entities – the Office of the Refugee Commissioner in Malta’s case – specifically seek to identify those making false claims of persecution to live and work in their country of destination.
In her comments to The Malta Independent, however, the ambassador does acknowledge that her country’s harsh national service is contributing to the departure of many Eritreans.
While men and women alike are ostensibly expected to serve for 18 months, the reality is that national service, which includes military service, lasts for an indefinite period.
But in any case, Ms Simon defends national service, and even the fact that people are serving for much longer periods than they should.
“The country has a right to prolong national service. People must understand that we are barely six million people facing a country of 90 million; we have to prepare the people to defend the country,” she maintains.
What Ms Simon is referring to is Ethiopia, which annexed Eritrea after the Second World War and stripped away the autonomy that the former Italian colony had been promised. A war for independence, which broke out in 1961, lasted for 30 years before Ethiopian forces were ousted from Eritrea when the Derg regime ruling Ethiopia at the time collapsed.
Relations between the two countries are tense – an ongoing border dispute saw them go to war between 1998 and 2000 and Ethiopia still occupies the border town at the heart of a dispute, even though international courts awarded it to Eritrea.
“We are working on getting national service back to 18 months, and working hard to push the economy forward, but the international community has to let us work and help us,” the ambassador maintains.
Ms Simon insists that not only are her country’s concerns being ignored by the international community, but Eritrea is also being unfairly targeted.
The country is under UN sanctions, primarily due to its apparent aid to the ash-Shabaab Islamist terrorist group in nearby Somalia – a claim it denies. At the conference, the ambassador had argued that sanctions punished people, rather than countries, and that the “baseless sanctions” her country faced were contributing to emigration.
Ms Simon also dismisses claims of religious persecution in her country, although this is cited as a factor contributing to the creation of refugees by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights. The country only recognises four religious groups with a long-established presence in the country – Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Sunni Muslims – and members of various minority religions, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, are reportedly subject to persecution and arbitrary detention.


Eritrean ambassador insists her compatriots’ claims of persecution are an invention - The Malta Independent

Eritrean ambassador insists her compatriots’ claims of persecution are an invention

John CordinaSunday, 14 June 2015, 07:30Last update: about 1 day ago
There are over 300,000 Eritrean refugees – and thousands more seeking asylum – across the world: a significant proportion of people from a country whose population is only around six million.
But representatives of the Eritrean government will invariably dismiss claims of persecution, arguing instead that those who leave are simply doing so for economic reasons.
Hanna Simon, Eritrea’s ambassador to France, who was recently in Malta to attend a conference on irregular migration, was no exception.
When asked by The Malta Independent to comment about the claims of persecution that led to her compatriots seeking – and obtaining – humanitarian protection in Malta and elsewhere, Ms Simon was dismissive of their claims.
“Each of them will tell you that. Each of them tells the same story… that they have no freedom, that they are being persecuted. Have you realised that,” the Ambassador retorts after a brief pause.
“Let me tell you, all those ‘refugees’ are economic migrants,” she maintains, highlighting the fact that her country is one of the poorest in the world. In fact, despite its much larger size and population, its annual GDP is less than half that of Malta.
Ms Simon even claims that the number of people cited as having fled the country is inflated. She insists that the asylum policies of various governments were not only encouraging Eritreans to claim asylum, but were also encouraging others from Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries to falsely claim to be Eritrean to claim a place in Europe.
Of course, such an assertion implies that these “false” asylum seekers would be able to convince those assessing their asylum claims that they truly hail from a country they have not actually lived in, even though such entities – the Office of the Refugee Commissioner in Malta’s case – specifically seek to identify those making false claims of persecution to live and work in their country of destination.
In her comments to The Malta Independent, however, the ambassador does acknowledge that her country’s harsh national service is contributing to the departure of many Eritreans.
While men and women alike are ostensibly expected to serve for 18 months, the reality is that national service, which includes military service, lasts for an indefinite period.
But in any case, Ms Simon defends national service, and even the fact that people are serving for much longer periods than they should.
“The country has a right to prolong national service. People must understand that we are barely six million people facing a country of 90 million; we have to prepare the people to defend the country,” she maintains.
What Ms Simon is referring to is Ethiopia, which annexed Eritrea after the Second World War and stripped away the autonomy that the former Italian colony had been promised. A war for independence, which broke out in 1961, lasted for 30 years before Ethiopian forces were ousted from Eritrea when the Derg regime ruling Ethiopia at the time collapsed.
Relations between the two countries are tense – an ongoing border dispute saw them go to war between 1998 and 2000 and Ethiopia still occupies the border town at the heart of a dispute, even though international courts awarded it to Eritrea.
“We are working on getting national service back to 18 months, and working hard to push the economy forward, but the international community has to let us work and help us,” the ambassador maintains.
Ms Simon insists that not only are her country’s concerns being ignored by the international community, but Eritrea is also being unfairly targeted.
The country is under UN sanctions, primarily due to its apparent aid to the ash-Shabaab Islamist terrorist group in nearby Somalia – a claim it denies. At the conference, the ambassador had argued that sanctions punished people, rather than countries, and that the “baseless sanctions” her country faced were contributing to emigration.
Ms Simon also dismisses claims of religious persecution in her country, although this is cited as a factor contributing to the creation of refugees by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights. The country only recognises four religious groups with a long-established presence in the country – Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Sunni Muslims – and members of various minority religions, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, are reportedly subject to persecution and arbitrary detention.


EU states in ‘deals to shut Eritrean borders’ | World news | The Guardian

Eritrean migrants in Calais




 Eritrean migrants, pictured in Calais, are the second largest African group fleeing to Europe. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/REUTERS


UN officials and human rights organisations are increasingly concerned at what they believe are secret deals being drawn up between Eritrea and European Unionnations, which may involve the regime being given money or having sanctions lifted in return for imposing tougher border controls.
Norwegian state secretary Jøran Kellmyr is under fire for travelling to Eritrea – often called “Africa’s North Korea” because of the repressive and murderous regime of President Isaias Afwerki – to forge a “return” agreement enabling Norway to send back Eritrean refugees.




It is believed Italian and British officials have been to the Eritrean capital Asmara on similar errands. The Home Office said it would not comment.
Eritreans are the second largest group, behind the Syrians, of those migrating to Europe. About 200 leave each day and the money sent home by the diaspora is almost exclusively responsible for supporting those who remain.
UN report last week issued a damning picture of a “culture of fear” within Eritrea, citing random arrests, torture and systematic rape, military service that equated to slave labour, political persecution and executions.
But Kallmyr stressed it had been written without access to the country, relying on accounts of Eritreans who have fled. Norway and the UK toughened their stance on asylum requests from Eritrea earlier this year, controversially citing a Danish report, Eritrea – Drivers and Root Causes of Emigration, which suggested many Eritreans were fleeing for economic reasons. The report caused outrage and was widely discredited; two of its authors resigned. Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch attacked it as “a political effort to stem migration”.
But the UK issued new guidance on Eritrea, citing the Danish report, and since then the refusal rate for asylum applications from Eritreans has risen from 13% in 2014 to 23% so far this year.
“Key European figures have been heading to Asmara and it’s clear there is a real political will to solve the migrant crisis by getting the borders shut from the Eritrean side – it’s a very dangerous tactic,” said one UN insider. There are fears the Eritreans could re-impose a shoot-to-kill border operation. At present, there is a UN and EU arms embargo on Eritrea, a travel ban and an asset freeze on listed individuals.
A Home Office spokesperson said there were no immediate plans to change policy towards Eritrea but added: “We will carefully consider the findings of the United Nations report.”

Friday, June 12, 2015

Money sent to Eritrea provides a vital lifeline | Letters | World news | The Guardian



Children in Eritrea
 Children in Eritrea. Photograph: Sayyid Azim/AP


As a Ugandan who has been voluntarily taxing myself every month and sending money to support my family back home since I came to the UK over 20 years ago, I was disappointed to read the report that police are examining claims that the “Eritrean embassy in London uses threats and coercion to collect recovery and reconstruction tax that allegedly funds African militants” (Report, 9 June, theguardian.com). The well-documented truth is that, employed or not, all Africans in the diaspora make it a point to send money to their families even before they pay their essential household bills.
According to the African Development Bank: “More than 30 million Africans (about 3% of Africa’s total population) are living outside their home countries. These remittance inflows have more than quadrupled since 1990, reaching $40bn in 2010. This represents about 3% of Africa’s total GDP. Remittances by African migrants provide many benefits to African households and governments. Evidence suggests that, all things considered, poor households receiving remittances tend to have better living conditions than their counterparts without access to this source of income. According to the World Bank, remittances by African migrants could support between 10 and 100 people, by boosting household income and spending on healthcare and education. Thus remittances play an important role in poverty reduction and improving human development.”
Based on this report, the police and other government agencies should seriously consider the wider implication of stopping Eritreans in the UK from sending money to their families.

Sam Akaki

Director, Democratic Institutions for Poverty Reduction in Africa (Dipra)
 You say in your editorial on Eritreans fleeing their country (11 June) that “Europe’s obligation is to be open to them”. But surely the obligation falls upon the UN, not just the EU. If, for example, states much closer to Eritrea had an obligation to be open to the migrants and channel UN help to them, many hardships might be avoided and many lives saved.

Gerry Abbott

Manchester