Saturday, November 14, 2015

Mmegi Online :: AU should act on Eritrea

The African Union (AU) is on the spotlight again, this time after failing to make bold decisions on its members. First it was the Burundi conflict, where president Pierre Nkurunziza manipulated loopholes in that country’s constitution to seek a third term. 

ByMMEGI EDITORThu 12 Nov 2015, 11:56 am (GMT +2)
Despite all evidence that majority of his people were against his move, Nkurunziza went ahead and forced his third term in office amid violent protests that claimed hundreds of lives.

To this day, a month after the disputed elections and his proclaimed victory, there are reports of killings of his opponents, the latest being a top military officer a week ago.

Amid all this, the AU has been silent and has done little to intervene and stop the massacre of Burundians at the hands of their leader. Even after the much publicised address by president of United States of America, and son of an African, Barack Obama, the AU did little to stop Nkurunziza from going against his country’s constitution.

In the first address of AU by an American president, Obama warned that African problems are caused by leaders who think that they are the only people blessed with wisdom to run their countries and therefore should stay in power forever.

Just not far away from Burundi, in the Horn of Africa, a silent killer is raging in Eritrea. A dictatorship has been going on for long, but the AU seems disinterested in finding a solution to this. Two months ago, Eritrean national team came to play with the Zebras. When the time came for them to leave, 10 of the players refused to go stating their reasons as the human rights abuses they have

to endure back home.
This week, the BBC ran a special report on Eritrea dictatorship stating that close to half of that country’s population has left and now live in refugee camps in neighbouring Ethiopia, where AU headquarters are built. We wonder why the influx of refugees into another state should not ring a bell that things are not well. It does not take a rocket scientist to realise that a country is going through a dictatorship and AU should be at the forefront to determine that. First, the AU should establish intelligence that will gather information to inform its decision making.

We hope that the AU Commissioner, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is working day and night to reform this institution to make it a more proactive institution that can avert disaster, and not one that only responds to disasters.  We hope that the AU has learnt lessons from Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Libya that they should not wait for a genocide to happen before taking action. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why AU should enhance its relationship with other world bodies such as the United Nations Security Council and International Criminal Court.

The AU should adopt a policy of targeted sanctions against individuals of any undemocratic regime.

Today’s thought

“Eritrea is becoming a “giant prison” due to its government’s policies of mass detention, torture and prolonged military conscription.”

– Human Rights Watch.
- See more at:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Hollande: Let's put more pressure on Eritrea | News24

Ankara - French President Francois Hollande says "maximal" political and diplomatic pressure should be applied on the "unscrupulous leaders" of Eritrea, whose citizens have been fleeing in droves for years to Europe.
Hollande said Eritrea "is becoming empty of its own population". He spoke on Wednesday at a European Union-African summit on migrants in Malta.
Eritreans are fleeing what human rights watchdogs call an oppressive state, where jailing can last indefinitely and conscription can last years. They constitute one of the largest groups from Africa seeking asylum in Europe. Tens of thousands have escaped to Europe, many making perilous sailings in smugglers' boats across the Mediterranean to Italy.
Hollande said that Europe's dealings with Eritrea require "a job to be done which is political, and which needs a strict and demanding diplomacy"

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Why do so many people want to leave Eritrea for Europe - BBC News

France's Hollande: Eritrea 'Becoming Empty' as Residents Leave

French President Francois Hollande (r) talks to President of the European Council Donald Tusk at an informal summit on migration in Valletta, Malta, Nov. 11, 2015.
French President Francois Hollande (r) talks to President of the European Council Donald Tusk at an informal summit on migration in Valletta, Malta, Nov. 11, 2015.
VOA News
French President Francois Hollande says Africa needs more international development aid in order to curb the flow of migrants from African countries.
Speaking at a meeting of more than 60 leaders from both Africa and the European Union, Hollande said that unless the EU delivers in terms of aid, the migration crisis that has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing to Europe this year will continue.
Hollande noted that a lot of the migrants are from Eritrea and Sudan. He said that in the case of Eritrea "maximum pressure" has to be applied to the country's leaders to mend a serious situation. "Nobody is talking about it.  It is a country that is becoming empty of its own population with unscrupulous leaders who let their people go."
The EU summit Wednesday and Thursday in Valletta, Malta, is focusing on addressing the reasons why people are leaving their home countries, better organizing legal migration channels, boosting protections for migrants, battling smugglers and improving cooperation with African nations on returning people who do not qualify for asylum.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called for firm commitments beyond political declarations.
"We believe we must both combat illegal immigration, combat traffickers, we believe we must also progress in the field of return and readmission policies. In exchange, the European countries must be mobilized for more economic development support, humanitarian support, and also more support to allow for, as an example, exchanges of students to enable the exchange of researchers, which is also important for the future," said Michel.
Meanwhile, Sweden says it will introduce temporary border controls to stem the flow of migrants.
Swedish Interior Minister Anders Ygeman said the border controls will begin on Thursday.
Sweden is struggling to absorb tens of thousands of refugees.
President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz, second from right, arrives at the Maltese parliament to delivers a speech on the occasion of a migration summit in Valletta, Malta, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015.
President of the European Parliament Martin Schultz, second from right, arrives at the Maltese parliament to delivers a speech on the occasion of a migration summit in Valletta, Malta, Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015.
EU member Slovenia began building a barbed wire fence on its border with Croatia Wednesday, which prompted a meeting of negotiators from both countries, since, according to Croatians, the fence passes through its territory.  Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar, however, said the country is not closing its borders and that what he called "obstacles" were being put in place in order to direct migrants toward border crossings.
As part of the effort, Europe is offering $1.8 billion in new aid to African countries.  But critics are questioning Europe's response, saying the EU is trying to push people back to areas where there are serious questions about human rights and a lack of economic opportunities.
About 800,000 people have crossed into Europe by sea this year, nearly four times the number in 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.  Italy and Greece are the most popular landing points.  More people have landed in Italy from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan than anywhere else, making up half of the 140,000 migrants who have arrived there this year.
More than 3,400 people have died making dangerous sea crossings to Europe this year.  At least 14 people drowned Wednesday after a boat sank on a trip from northern Turkey to Greece.  
The EU's Malta-based European Asylum Support Office released data showing a backlog of 800,000 applications for international protection through September.
It also said almost one in three migrants has been waiting at least three months for applications to be processed, and said 200,000 applicants have been waiting six months or longer.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Sunridge Gold agrees US$65mln sale of Eritrea gold mine to China -

Sunridge Gold agrees US$65mln sale of Eritrea gold mine

It prices the stake in the Asmara mine at a significant premium to Sunridge's market value
Sunridge Gold agrees US$65mln sale of Eritrea gold mine
The Chinese buyer will also pay Sunridge US$13.3mln owed by state-owned partner ENAMCO
Sunridge Gold (CVE:SGC) shot up around 50% after it struck a US$65mln (C$85mln) cash deal to sell its majority stake in Asmara Mining, the joint venture company that owns the Asmara mine, in Eritrea.
Michael Hopley, Sunridge chief executive, highlighted that the proposed deal is at a premium valuation.
He added: “(it) equates to a significant premium to the present market value of Sunridge and under the continuing challenging market conditions for junior resource companies we believe that this is an attractive cash offer.”
The buyer, a Chinese group called Sichuan Road & Bridge Mining Investment Development Corp (SRBM), has also agreed to take on the responsibility for paying a deferred US$13.3mln payment to Sunridge on behalf of state-owned partner ENAMCO.
On closing of the transaction SRBM will pay out US$71mln to Sunridge, accounting for the US$65mln purchase plus the first US6mln owed by ENAMCO. A further US$7.3mln would then follow six months later.
ENAMCO remains responsible for the interest on the US$7.33mln during that period.
The Toronto listed company told investors it would return cash proceeds to shareholders.
Sunridge shares were changing hands this afternoon at 25 Canadian cents each, up 47%, and at that price the group is valued at C$52.5mln.

Exodus from Eritrea after independence dream became a nightmare | Al Jazeera America


Exodus from Eritrea after independence dream became a nightmare

Some 5,000 Eritreans flee each month from regime of national hero-turned-dictator

Feruz Werede
Feruz Werede left Eritrea with her mother in 2001.
Courtesy Feruz Werede
Editors note: This is the first in a two-part series. Part 2 details the horrors of Eritrean refugees' journey to Europe.
LONDON — In the brutal misery driving an exodus of Eritreans to Europe, Feruz Werede sees both a national tragedy and a very personal betrayal.
Werede’s parents belonged to a guerrilla movement that spent 30 years fighting for Eritrean independence from Ethiopia, finally defeating one of Africa’s strongest armies in 1993 and propelling charismatic rebel leader Isaias Afwerki to power.
Since then, Eritrea has had no other president, held no national elections, and Afwerki has gone from being described by then-President Bill Clinton as a “renaissance leader,” to being called an “unhinged dictator” by Washington’s envoy to a country now dubbed the “North Korea of Africa.”
The United Nations refugee agency says that some 5,000 Eritreans are fleeing the former Italian colony each month, and outnumber other nationalities on the Mediterranean Sea crossings that have claimed more than 3,000 lives this year.
On a chilly autumn evening in a London café, Werede searched her phone for a photograph of a very different time and place: her parents’ 1980 wedding party in what was then a rebel-held region of Ethiopia.
The sepia-tinged image shows four young Eritreans sitting at a table. Drinks stand in front of them and a crowd mills around behind, as two men lean in, laughing, to talk to the bride; on the right-hand side, chatting to the groom, sits Afwerki.
“He was the best man at their wedding,” said Werede, who left Eritrea with her mother in 2001.
“That’s how close they were. So for my parents, what has happened and is happening now in Eritrea is an absolute betrayal.”
Under Afwerki’s increasingly brutal and paranoid 22-year rule, Eritrea has become one of the world’s poorest, most oppressive and isolated states, in which the only one way for most of its 4.5 million people to improve their lives is by leaving.
After Syrians and Afghans, Eritreans are the third-most-common asylum-seekers arriving in the European Union, and almost all are granted refugee status; a United Nations report issued in June after a year-long inquiry helped explain why.
The U.N. commission discovered that “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed in Eritrea under the authority of the government. Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.”
Under Afwerki’s “rule of fear,” arbitrary detention was found to be “ubiquitous,” violence against women “perpetrated in an environment of impunity,” forced labor so prevalent that “all sectors of the economy rely on it” and torture so widespread that the commission concluded it must be government policy.
All major rights groups have issued similarly damning reports on Eritrea, with media watchdog Reporters Without Borders placing it at the very bottom of its global press freedom index for the last eight years — below even North Korea.
“The comparison with North Korea is absolutely fair,” said Werede.
“It’s a criminal regime that is corrupt to the core. Under its rule, there is no chance of change. And everything we hear suggests life there is only getting worse.”
Eritreans living abroad who are not in conflict with the regime can return to their homeland, and summer visitors are a key source of information on the tightly controlled country.
“People who were there recently say there are shortages of food and electricity, even in the capital Asmara. Some think the government’s doing it on purpose, to stop people using satellite dishes to watch news from the outside world,” said Werede.
Telephone and Internet traffic are monitored by the security services, so it is dangerous for Eritreans to discuss life in the country with people abroad.
Berhane Asmelash
Berhane Asmelash left Eritrea in 1999 and was granted refugee status in the UK five years later.
Courtesy Berhane Asmelash
Berhane Asmelash, a protestant pastor now living in London who opposes the Afwerki regime, receives email messages via proxy servers and intermediaries who can travel outside Eritrea because they are not under suspicion from its sprawling security services.
One recent evening, he read a message from a contact who told him that a “friend” and his wife had been arrested after neighbors had denounced them for holding a prayer meeting in their home — many protestant churches are outlawed in Eritrea and dozens of Asmelash’s fellow clergymen have been jailed for long terms.
No news of the couple had been received for two months, and relatives were caring for their children.
“The government says it is every Eritrean’s duty to inform. All taxi drivers and hotel workers are forced to be informers, so all visitors are under surveillance,” said Asmelash.
He recalled meeting Eritreans in a refugee camp in neighboring Ethiopia, where a man told him a story about his wedding.
“People were visiting him after the wedding, and two boys there talked about leaving the country. Someone informed the government. They arrested the boys and the man too, for being there and not informing. He was put in jail for four years,” said Asmelash.
“When he got out, he took his bride and crossed the border to Ethiopia. People are jailed like that in Eritrea.”
Asmelash left Eritrea in 1999 to study in the UK, couldn’t return due to repression of his church and associates; he was granted refugee status in UK in 2004.
Afwerki trained and studied in China in 1966-67, and Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution of the time is seen as an inspiration for his imposition of tight state control over Eritrea’s economy, mass conscription and forced labor.
The rebel movement led by Afwerki espoused Marxism, but he drifted away from it with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and now it is not clear what political and economic vision the 69-year-old is following for his country.
“They destroyed what we had and replaced it with nothing,” said Asmelash, whose foreign-funded church organization ran education, farming, medical and water projects in Eritrea until it was shut down in 2002.
“No one knows what our government is trying to do, or whether they are still Marxists. All we see is that they are against civilization and free thinking,” he added, describing how military-run colleges now dominate higher education in Eritrea.
“The main feature of the regime is paranoia — anything they are not involved in and do not control, they suspect is against them.”
Afwerki’s allies argue that strict security is essential, given what they call Ethiopia’s continuing aggression toward Eritrea following a 1998-2000 border war, and alleged efforts by Western powers to provoke regime change.
Eritrea said June’s U.N. rights report comprised “vile slanders and wild accusations” aimed at destabilizing a nation that was making progress against great odds, and claims particular success in improving health care.
Senior Eritrean diplomat Tesfamicael Gerahtu blamed human traffickers rather than conditions in the country for driving his compatriots to Europe, and insisted refugees from other African states were falsely claiming to be from Eritrea.
"The whole ideological apparatus of the Western countries has been mobilized against Eritrea, believe it or not,” Gerahtu, Eritrea’s ambassador to the UK, told Reuters in Geneva in July.
Eritrea and Ethiopia have not signed a peace deal to end a border conflict that claimed 100,000 lives, and fears of renewed fighting — constantly whipped up by Eritrean state media — give Afwerki’s military huge power, and is used to justify a system of 18-months of compulsory national service which, in reality, can go on indefinitely.
“The right hand of the government is the military, and President Isaias [Afwerki] rules through different officers,” said Dr. John R Campbell, an expert on Eritrea at SOAS, the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies
“The country is divided into different zones, each commanded by a senior officer, and they have carte blanche. Under-age children are conscripted, and they have extended the age of conscription to include people in their seventies. There are two types of national service: into the military or in so-called development projects … a lot of which turn out to be projects to the benefit of senior officers.”
“People are paid a very low minimum wage, on which they can just about survive but, when all the farm labor has been conscripted, the people in rural areas, the older people, just cannot survive,” Campbell explained.
“There are regular round-ups, called giffa, ostensibly aimed at underage youth to recruit them into the military. Conscription into the military is indefinite,” he added.
“Between the conscription drive, extremely low wages and very depressed national economy — as well as the political repression — people have just decided they’ve had enough.”
Eritreans from all sections of society are leaving — in October, 10 players on the national soccer team sought asylum in Botswana after a game.
The U.N. says more than 300,000 Eritreans — about 7 percent of the population — are now refugees; more than 100,000 have fled to both Ethiopia and Sudan, from where many strike out for Europe on a voyage that can take years, and claims many lives.
“I saw no chance in life, because it seemed they would never release me from the army,” said Teame Frewengel, who spent 20 years — half his lifetime — doing national service “in the army, factories, construction — wherever they made me work.”
“They do everything by force, with violence. They move you around from place to place, living in a tent in the desert, with no home. They put me in prison a few times too, because I defied their orders. It’s like they own you, as if you are their property. So I had to do something — I had to go.”
In July 2014, Frewengel did something that happens often now in Eritrea: when he was stationed near the border on guard duty, he just dropped his weapon and started walking through the desert towards Ethiopia.
He asked for asylum once there, but like most refugees soon moved on, using cash sent by relatives to pay people smugglers to move him through Sudan and Libya, and onto a rubber boat that took him and about 80 others to Italy.
Now he lives in the Netherlands, where he hopes to receive asylum, find a job and be reunited with his wife and three children.
“It is just getting worse and worse in Eritrea,” he said.
“Living there, you might as well be dead.”
The trust and credit that Afwerke earned from his people by leading their fight for independence is dwindling, and young Eritreans do not have the same bond, forged through war, which older generations share with him.
Despite their suffering, Eritreans are still deeply patriotic, and it stung them to hear how the then-U.S. envoy to Asmara described the country that they fought for, and for which so many died, in a 2009 cable that he sent to Washington.
“Young Eritreans are fleeing their country in droves, the economy appears to be in a death spiral, Eritrea's prisons are overflowing, and the country's unhinged dictator remains cruel and defiant,” Ronald McMullen wrote.
Six years on, that summary seems truer than ever, but Werede and Asmelash, like Eritreans all over the world, still feel great nostalgia for home.
“It’s a small country with everything: mountains, forest, desert and seaside,” Asmelash said in a London café, as locals hurried past in the early evening gloom, heads bowed under autumn rain.
“Asmara is at nearly 8,000 feet, but the seaside is just 70 miles away, and the drive is beautiful. We had good infrastructure, well built towns, roads and hotels, and great Italian food even in small towns,” he recalled.
“It’s impossible to live there now, but I really miss my country.”
Werede also longs for Eritrea’s “Italian architecture, palm trees, pastries and cappuccino”, and remembers the joy that came with victory for the rebel forces of Afwerki and her parents.
“On independence day, when the rebels entered Asmara, I was woken by people shooting into the sky with happiness. There was euphoria,” she said.
“I think we were blinded, and we didn’t realize what was going on until the border war erupted in 1998. We are very patriotic, and we trusted the government.”
Unlike Asmelash however, Werede believes she will go home, and that her three children will experience all the things that she and her parents love, and miss, about Eritrea.
“We have learned our lesson. We got independence the hard way and then we got betrayed, big time,” Werede said.
“I think that when we finally get our country back, we’ll do things right.”

Friday, November 6, 2015

UN Body Set for Next Round of Eritrea Rights Probe

Map of Eritrea
Map of Eritrea

It has been three years since the United Nations began investigating alleged human rights abuses in Eritrea.  Earlier this year, the Commission of Inquiry presented its first report to the the U.N. Human Rights Council, describing arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, disappearances and imprisonment without charge inside the East African country.
But Eritrea's government strongly rejected the report, and its findings have divided the global Eritrean diaspora.
In October 2012, Sheila Keetharuth of Mauritius was appointed as the first special rapporteur to investigate claims that there were between 5,000 and 10,000 political prisoners in Eritrea.  Since then, Keetharuth’s work has expanded into a full commission with three members: herself, Chairman Mike Smith, and Victor Dankwa, an associate professor at the University of Ghana.
Keetharuth told VOA that her current focus as special rapporteur is on three issues: whether Eritreans have economic, social and cultural rights; whether Eritreans have rights to adequate housing; and most pressing, what is forcing tens of thousands of Eritreans, including many unaccompanied minors, to put their lives into the hands of smugglers and flee the country.
“Smuggling and trafficking are but the symptoms of a system where human rights violations still continue,” she said. “If people can’t go or have to use clandestine means to leave the country, and the level of human rights in the country is such that they would rather put their lives in the hands of traffickers and smugglers, then there is a big question in what is driving [them], what are the root causes?”
Eritrea a No-Go Zone for COI Investigators
Investigators for the commission have never set foot inside Eritrea, and their findings are based solely on interviews with expatriates and other documents. Critics say the commission’s work is politically motivated, and that the people it quotes are lying.
When the report came out last June, Reuters reported that about 6,000Eritreans supporting the government rallied outside the United Nations building in Geneva, Switzerland in protest. The situation was tense and some commission members had to be protected by the police.
Keetharuth says that it is not the controversial nature of the report that worries her, but the physical threats that follow. “I am very open to scrutiny and I am very happy that people have had the opportunity to discuss the report but when it gets to physical attack, then that’s a problem,” she said. Swiss police are currently investigating the incident.
Keetharuth has made numerous requests to travel to Eritrea, interview officials and gain access to prisons and other important sites. Her latest request was made on August 24 of this year and, like before, she received no reply.
“I don’t receive an answer to the letters I send,” she said. “But when I started on this job as special rapporteur, they said that the mandate was politically motivated and they would not agree to this kind of country specific review of the human rights council. That they would prefer the process [go] through the UPR, the Universal Periodic Review, which looks at the human rights record of each country.”
The permanent representative of Eritrea to the United Nations, Girma Asmerom, says his country has no incentive to cooperate with the commission, which he believes was created without “credible evidence” at the request of Eritrea’s hostile neighbors.
Fabricated testimony from asylum seekers and political enemies of Eritrea drive the commission's work, Girma says.
“It is redundant, waste of money and resources because the special rapporteur is part of the inquiry commission. You don’t interrogate your own report, so there’s not going to be a different report. And Wikileaks has leaked how Eritrea should be punished for its geopolitical location and not dancing to the tune of major powers who have an agenda of dominating the Horn of Africa," he says.
Girma acknowledged that people are fleeing Eritrea, but dismissed the idea they flee because of government policies. Instead, he cites a magnet effect of Western nations offering Eritreans asylum.
“What makes Eritrea different in this dynamic is the European and Australian and American governments who are encouraging the human trafficking by their own admission that they will give immediate refugee or asylum status to any Eritrean who reaches those shores,” Girma said.
Girma also rejected the label of Eritrea as a closed or secretive nation. “Because I have not allowed this particular group, which is three people, does not mean that I am hiding anything because it is assumed as if there is something," he said.  "But there are diplomatic missions, U.N. agencies -- plenty of them -- and there so many delegations who travel back and forth. So, do people read their reports or the report that is written by three people from outside the country who have never been there?”
Commission Not Finished
Although Eritrea has been uncooperative with the commission, the nation does have a working relationship with the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and the U.N. Development Program, Commission of Inquiry chairman Mike Smith said.  He added that the commission does not plan to reinvestigate a disputed figure from its last report stating that 5,000 people flee the country every month.
A document produced by a Danish fact-finding mission in 2014 said that estimate was on the “very high end.”
But Smith said the number of people leaving is not necessarily important. “A thousand less or a thousand more doesn’t make that much of a difference because what we are interested in is what is happening inside," he said.  "What's important to us is the composite story regarding [Eritreans'] experiences, which we recorded in our report.”
The commission continues to meet, and its mandate has been extended until June 2016. But it has not yet decided how the inquiry will proceed, according to Smith.
“We thought that we had finished our work with the first report, but the Human Rights Council in its wisdom has asked us to do this additional work and now we are getting started on it,” Smith said.
How they will proceed remains a question, however.  For these U.N. investigators, the state of Eritrea remains closed.