Saturday, December 15, 2012

Israel: attack on Ethiopian Jews' reproductive rights | World War 4 Report

Israel: attack on Ethiopian Jews' reproductive rights

We have noted before the systematic discriminaiton against the Ethiopian Jews, or Falash Mura, in Israel—including a recent move to abolish their traditional priesthood. Now a Dec. 11 report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency loans credence to long-standing charges of contraception abuse against the community. JTA cites a report in Hebrew on Israeli Educational Television, charged that coercive contraception is behind a 50% decline in the Ethiopian birth rate in Israel over the past decade. Israeli and Jewish aid officials are denying the report. Ethiopian women interviewed for the program, called "Vacuum" and hosted by Gal Gabbai, said they were coerced into receiving injections of Depo-Provera, a long-acting birth control drug, both at Jewish-run clinics in Ethiopia and after their move to Israel.

Rachel Mangoli, executive director of the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO) chapter in Israel's Katz village, told the TV show that she realized something was amiss when during a full year in her Ethiopian program just one Ethiopian baby was born. "I went to the health clinic and I was told that Ethiopian immigrants were given the contraception because they couldn’t be relied upon to take the pills every day," Mangoli said.

In Ethiopia's Gondar province, a woman identified as "S." said she was told at a Jewish aid compound: "If you don't get the shot, we won't give you a ticket."
She recalled, "I didn't want to take it. They wanted me to take it... I thought it was an immunization." Another Ethiopian interviewed for the program, Amawaish Alane, said, "We said we won't accept the shot. They told us, 'You won’t immigrate to Israel. You also won’t come into this clinic. You won't get help and medical treatment.’'"

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which runs clinics in Ethiopia for prospective immigrants to Israel, says it offers contraception among its services but that it is purely voluntary. A spokesman in New York said: "At no time did JDC coerce anyone into engaging at family planning at its clinics. Those options were totally voluntary and offered to women who requested it."

"Vacuum" also sent a hidden camera into an Israeli health clinic, where an employee told the undercover reporter that Ethiopian women are given the contraceptive shots "because they forget," "explanations are difficult for them" and "they essentially don't understand anything." But the Israeli Health Ministry denied any systematic effort against Ethiopian pregnancy or coerced contraception.

We have wondered if the courageous dissidents who have protested reproductive rights violations in China are aware that such abuses also take place in such US allies and client states as PeruMexico and the Czech Republic. It now appears that Israel can be added to the list.

From New Jewish Resistance

Saturday, November 17, 2012

German NGO quits Ethiopia in protest against "restrictions on civil rights and freedom of speech" - Sudan Tribune: Plural news and views on Sudan

November 15, 2012 (PARIS) - A German non-governmental organisation (NGO) said Thursday it is pulling out of Ethiopia in protest against Ethiopia’s controversial 2009 civil society and charity law (CSO), which has put growing restrictions on its activities.
The Heinrich Boll Foundation, named after the German Nobel Prize winner for Literature, said in a statement that the "closure of the office in Ethiopia is a sign of protest by the foundation against the ongoing restrictions on civil rights and freedom of speech."
The German NGO, which aims to promote democracy, gender equality and sustainable development, alleged that it has become impossible for the organization to carryout its work under the existing circumstances in Ethiopia.
The foundation’s country director, Patrick Berg, said the organization made a failed appeal to the Ethiopian government through the offices of German Development minister, Dirk Niebel.
"We realized that we cannot pursue our mission and we can no longer support our local partners of several years," he told German Radio DW.
Last month Ethiopia’s Charities and Societies Agency (CSoA), said that it has revoked the licenses of 10 Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs).
The agency has also warned over 400 organizations that it says are operating against rules and regulations of the country and is currently investigating 17 organizations.
Human rights and civil society groups condemn Ethiopia’s "NGO law" saying it curtails the activities of domestic and foreign non-governmental organizations and human rights groups operating in the country.
According to the NGOs, the law, restricts the freedoms of press, expression and assembly.
Despite the unpopular law, the Charities and Societies Agency says it is registering hundreds of new associations and charities.
Currently there are nearly 3,000 international civil society grounps, NGOs and charities operating in Ethiopia.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ethiopia's 'Religious Abuse' May Cause Regional Destabilization-

Addis Ababa — A US religious freedom group has called on Ethiopian authorities to stop what it said was an emerging religious freedom violations against Muslim minorities in the Horn of Africa.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that if Ethiopia continues to tighten its control against the Muslims, the ongoing mass protests in the east African nation could turn more violent and might lead to a larger destabilization in the already volatile region.
Ethiopia, which is seen as an important regional security ally of the US, has recently been a scene of Muslim protests who accuse government of interference in their religious affairs.
"Given Ethiopia's strategic importance in the Horn of Africa, it is vital that the Ethiopian government ends its religious freedom abuses and allow Muslims to practice peacefully their faith as they see fit", the Commission's Chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett said.
"Otherwise the government's current policies and practices will lead to greater destabilization of an already volatile region", she stressed, further calling on the US government to address the issue with the Ethiopia government.
According to USCIRF, escalating violations against religious communities in the name of countering extremism would lead to more extremism, greater instability, and possibly violence.
In recent months Ethiopian Muslims have further intensified their opposition against government's religious policies by staging protests every week following Friday prayers.
Protesters accuse the government of promoting an alien branch of Islam, the Al Ahbash sect, through Ethiopia's highest Muslim body, the Supreme Council on Islamic Affairs.
Ethiopia which fears a hard-line Islamist influence within the predominantly Christian nation, have repeatedly dismissed allegations over press freedom violations and accuse the protesters of attempts to incite Islamic militancy inspired by extremism.
Ethiopian Muslims are estimated to represent around 35 percent of the country's 81 million population.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ethiopia Unqualified for Human Rights Council Seat | IndepthAfrica

Protesters call on the Ethiopian government to respect human rights
Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s taciturn, ironfisted ruler, passed away after 21 years of increasingly autocratic rule, leaving the country and its global allies at an interesting and rare crossroads: Will the country continue along its current path of political authoritarianism and its extensive machinery of suppression, or will we see the rights of Ethiopian people restored in an more transparent, accountable political system? Amnesty International
The United States is competing with four Western countries for three seats on the Human Rights Council in the only contested election at the U.N.’s top human rights body.
The 193-member General Assembly is scheduled to vote Monday for 18 members of the 47-member council.
African, Asian, Eastern European and Latin American countries have put forward uncontested slates whose candidates are virtually certain of victory.
Several human rights groups have criticized a number of these candidates as unqualified including Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and Venezuela.
The five Western nations competing for seats — the U.S., Germany, Greece, Ireland and Sweden — were all deemed qualified by the rights groups.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based advocacy group UN Watch, called the absence of competition in four out of the five regional slates “scandalous.”
He said at the group’s annual luncheon at U.N. headquarters ahead of the vote, on Friday, that the United States was the last of the five candidates to enter the race and found that many countries had already made commitments to the other candidates.
“Most people that I’ve spoken to say America is polling somewhere either fourth or fifth,” he said. “If they do lose … we think it will be a setback for the council. We don’t agree with everything America has done but UN Watch thinks America has been a leader of the few good things that have occurred.”
Philippe Bolopion, United Nations director for Human Rights Watch, said that to its credit, the Western group is the only regional group allowing true competition in Monday’s election.
“As a result, and despite its highly effective engagement in the Human Rights Council, the U.S. faces a tough yet healthy competition,” he said.
Bolopion said it was sad that the Africa, Asian, Eastern European and Latin American groups at the U.N. “have pre-cooked this election by offering as many candidates as they have been allotted seats.” He said this is “making a mockery” of the standard set by the General Assembly that all candidates for the council “uphold the highest standards” of human rights.
The Human Rights Council was created in March 2006 to replace the U.N.’s widely discredited and highly politicized Human Rights Commission. But the council has also been widely criticized for failing to change many of the commission’s practices, including putting much more emphasis on Israel than on any other country and electing candidates accused of serious human rights violations.
Former President George W. Bush’s administration boycotted the council when it was established over its repeated criticism of Israel and its refusal to cite flagrant rights abuses in Sudan and elsewhere. But in 2009, then newly elected President Barack Obama sought to join the council saying the U.S. wanted to help make it more effective.
In that contest, the U.S. was elected on an uncontested slate winning 167 votes, far more than the 97 vote majority needed.
Amnesty International’s U.N. representative, Jose Luis Dias, said member states “should return a blank ballot if they feel a candidate does not meet the high human rights standards expected of council members.”
Amnesty has written letters to all candidates urging them to demonstrate their commitment to human rights, he said.
For example, Dias said, the organization has called on Ethiopia to instruct the security services to remove barriers to the work of human rights defenders and journalists and has highlighted Ivory Coast’s 2010 Supreme Court ruling upholding a husband’s right to “discipline his wife and children, provided that this left no visible marks.”
The African candidates are Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya and Sierra Leone. The Asian Group candidates are Japan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates. The Eastern European Group candidates are Estonia and Montenegro, and the Latin American and Caribbean Group candidates are Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How To End Government Intolerance Of Islam In Ethiopia - OpEd Eurasia Review

November 11, 2012
By Alemayehu Fentaw Weldemariam
The current Ethiopian constitution provides for freedom of religion and requires the separation of state and religion. However the Muslim community in Ethiopia has been, for more than a year now, holding protests at mosques around the country against what is perceived as government interference in religious affairs. The protesters are demanding that the current members of the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (Majlis) be replaced by elected representatives and that elections for Majlis representatives be held in mosques rather than in the Kebeles. Some members of the Muslim community accuse the Ethiopian Government of controlling the Majlis and sponsoring the propagation of Al-Ahbash, a little known sect of Islam. The Ethiopian Government, on the other hand, accuses the protesters of being led by extremists who want to establish an Islamic state in place of the current secular multination federation.
The Ethiopian Government has responded against some protests in 2012 with deadly force, most recently in Assassa in April and Gerba in October, resulting in the death of at least seven protesters, a large number of injuries, and the imprisonment of a number of protesters on terrorism charges.
The protests were triggered by the suspension of the Awoliyah Muslim Mission School and the dismissal of 50 Arabic teachers via a letter issued by the Majlis. The Awoliyah Muslim Mission School, has been a member since 1993 of the Islamic charitable agency known as International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and has been linked to the Saudi Arabia controlled World Muslim League. Ethiopian authorities consider Awoliyah to be a breeding ground for a new generation of radical Muslims, which they refer to as “Salafi-Jihadists” or “Wahabi-Salafists”. However, the Muslim protesters have consistently adhered to nonviolent demonstrations, leaving the Ethiopian Government with little to no evidence of behavior or action that could be described as terrorism. It is clear to date that the Ethiopian Government is manufacturing a security problem where none actually exists.
A careful consideration of the matter reveals that what’s happening in Ethiopia today is a reflection of what has been taking place in the West. Concerns about terrorism have degenerated into an irrational suspicion of Muslims, which will continue unabated until Ethiopia and its Western partners reflect more critically on their own perceptions.
It is reasonable to argue that Ethiopia’s leaders are experiencing a growing fear of Islamic terrorism given the fact that it is combating the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab in Somalia and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in the Somali region of Ethiopia. This is buttressed by a universal consensus among analysts that Somalia and Sudan are exporters of both political Islam and Islamic terrorism. Given that Ethiopia is widely considered as a bulwark against Al Qaeda-linked terrorists in the Horn of Africa, Somalia and, across the Gulf of Aden, in Yeman, one could argue that Ethiopia is not suffering from siege mentality, but rather that it is suffering from rational fear.
There is some evidence that the Ethiopian Muslim community has been radicalized, although not in the sense that it has a political agenda, but in the sense that it has attained a higher degree of religious consciousness and has become more aware of its particularistic identity. In light of “Arab Spring” events that took place in North Africa and the Middle East, toppling repressive governments, it can be argued that the Ethiopian authorities are haunted by the fear of an ‘Ethiopian Spring’, which has not only contributed to the current crackdown on the media and the political opposition, but also against the Muslim community. Ethiopia has increasingly become intolerant of Islam.
There is little evidence to support the Ethiopian Government’s claim that its own Muslim community poses a legitimate threat to national and regional security. It only seems to be driven by a shrewd strategic calculus. Since Ethiopia is a critical partner in the West’s war on terror, the government thinks it helps to foment fear of the rise of radical Islam in Ethiopia that would lead to an improbable takeover of power by political Islam. The current Ethiopian Government seeks to keep Western support and aid flowing into the country through characterizing the Muslim community as linked to Islamic radicals and terrorist and thus a threat to national security.
The fear being cultivated by the Ethiopian Government without basis in evidence has lead to the dubious actions it has engaged in. It would be irrational for a country that has had a history of Islamic terrorism to dismiss the fear of Islamic terrorism. When it comes to Ethiopia, the fear is irrational in light of its recent past and current events. My point is that rational fear can be a guide to sensible public policy. However, it is simply absurd to believe that all Muslims in Ethiopia are fiends and terrorists in disguise. The Ethiopian Government is using irrational fear to justify intolerance of Islam, and all of this because of bad public policy.
To the extent that secularism is a constitutionally enshrined principle of governance, the interference is unacceptable. Any sponsorship by the government of a religious sect over others or any attempt of privileging one religion over another is illegitimate, be it Al-Ahbash or Wahabi. But this is not to divest the government of its legitimate authority to neutralize security threats as they arise. Recognizing the threshold requires not only good public policy and laws, but also responsible enforcement. If the Ethiopian Government supports a religious group such as Al-Ahbash, it must leave the task of propagating it to the faith-based nongovernmental organizations, rather than the Ministry of Federal Affairs. The primary problem is that the Ethiopian Government has already legislated civil society out of existence with its charities legislation, so that the legitimate activities of religious groups are constrained.
The threat claimed by the Ethiopian Government, which as yet is not clear and present, does not emanate from radicalization, but from the embrace of political Islam and its concomitant militancy. The threat emanating from radicalization in my view does not call for direct government intervention. It would have been better addressed by civil society organizations. Unfortunately, in Ethiopia today there is barely any vibrant civil society, including religion-based and inter-faith NGOs working in the area of peace and reconciliation as they were legislated out of existence by the government itself.
My prognosis is that the protests will surely grow so much so that it overwhelms the government’s ability to handle the situation. I don’t expect the peaceful Muslim protesters to resort to violent means in the near future. My concern is that the Ethiopian government will eventually resort to more force and repression than is warranted under the circumstances. While it is impossible to predict the consequences, one thing is certain – hatred begets hatred. Some thought the protests would simply go away with the Majlis elections. Now we know that a significant proportion of the Muslim community boycotted the polls that took place on 7 October 2012, although the Government claimed the elections were concluded successfully.
Another reason why the Ethiopian Government’s actions are misguided is because Islam has been historically a decentralized religious institution in Ethiopia. With the formal establishment of the Majlis by the Ethiopian Government in 1976, it has enjoyed an official governmental status, with its chairman considered by the government as “representative of the entire Muslim community,” and is accorded the same courtesies as the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, the Bishop of the Catholic Church, and the Head of the Protestant Churches in public ceremonies. Historically, it has always been the responsibility of local mosques to appoint clerics, which makes the Ethiopian Government’s effort to control each and every mosque in the country through the Majlis untenable. It simply doesn’t work that way.
If the Ethiopian Government wants to help resolve this emerging conflict, it should refrain from interference. It should also make a goodwill gesture not only towards meeting the demands of Muslim protesters, but also in promoting a respectful and sustained dialogue among Muslims belonging to different Islamic sects, instead of promoting one sect of Islam to the exclusion of others. A positive first step would be to release the imprisoned elected leaders of the Muslim community and conduct the election of the members of the Majlis at the mosques rather than at the kebeles. Moreover, it must stop sponsoring Ahbashism at the expense of other sects of Islam as long as they respect the constitution and other laws of the land.
Last but not least, the Ethiopian Government should refrain from unnecessary provocations, which have been abundant in government publications and statements by authorities. After all, the Ethiopian Government owes Ethiopian Muslims all due respect and treatment, if not tolerance. For me, tolerance is not enough. The problem with applying the concept of tolerance to the case of Ethiopian Muslims is that it neglects the rich history of Islam in Ethiopia. It ignores the fact that Ethiopia’s Muslims were early historical converts in the same way as Ethiopia’s Christians.
However, through repressive interference the Ethiopian Government will only be sowing the seeds of a radicalized political Islam that it seeks to keep at bay. The ongoing interference will do more harm than good.
The views expressed are the author’s own.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ethiopia abusing religious freedom of Muslims: U.S. body - Yahoo! News

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - A U.S. panel on religious freedom accused the Ethiopian government of trying to tighten control of its Muslim minority amid mass protests, saying it is risking greater destabilization of the Horn of Africa region.
Ethiopia, which has long been seen by the West as a bulwark against Muslim rebels in neighboring Somalia, says it fears militant Islam is taking root in the country.
However, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) accused the government of arresting peaceful Muslim protesters, noting that 29 of them had been charged last month with what the authorities said was "planning to commit terrorist acts".
Ethiopian Muslims, who make up about a third of the population in the majority Christian country, accuse the government of interfering in the highest Muslim affairs body, the Ethiopia Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC). Thousands of Muslims have staged weekly mosque sit-ins and street protests in Addis Ababa over the past year.
"The arrests, terrorism charges and takeover of EIASC signify a troubling escalation in the government's attempts to control Ethiopia's Muslim community and provide further evidence of a decline in religious freedom in Ethiopia," the Commission said in a statement issued on Thursday.
Ethiopian officials were unavailable for comment on the statement from the Commission, whose members are appointed by President Barack Obama and senior Congressional Democrats and Republicans.
Commission Chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett called on the U.S. government to raise the issue with Addis Ababa.
"USCIRF has found that repressing religious communities in the name of countering extremism leads to more extremism, greater instability, and possibly violence," she said.
"Given Ethiopia's strategic importance in the Horn of Africa ... it is vital that the Ethiopian government end its religious freedom abuses and allow Muslims to practice peacefully their faith as they see fit," she added. "Otherwise the government's current policies and practices will lead to greater destabilization of an already volatile region."
Over the past six years Ethiopia has twice sent troops into Somalia to battle Islamist rebels, including al Shaabab militants, and officials say some of the protesters are bankrolled by Islamist groups in the Middle East.
The Commission backed the protesters' complaints that the government had been trying since last year to impose the apolitical Al Ahbash sect on Ethiopian Muslims. The government has denied this but dozens of Muslims have been arrested since the demonstrations started in 2011.
Ethiopia is 63 percent Christian and 34 percent Muslim, according to official figures, with the vast majority of Muslims adhering to the moderate, Sufi version of Islam.
(Editing by Drazen Jorgic and David Stamp)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Amnesty International Demands Independent Investigation Into Rights Violations by Ethiopian Gov't - Ikhwanweb

Amnesty International Demands Independent Investigation Into Rights Violations by Ethiopian Gov't

The Ethiopian authorities are committing human rights violations in response to the ongoing Muslim protest movement in the country.
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 Ethiopia: Government continues to target peaceful Muslim protest movement
The Ethiopian authorities are committing human rights violations in response to the ongoing Muslim protest movement in the country. Large numbers of protestors have been arrested, many of whom remain in detention. There are also numerous reports of police using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators. Key figures within the movement have been charged with terrorism offences. Most of those arrested and charged appear to have been targeted solely because of their participation in a peaceful protest movement.
Tens of thousands of Muslims have participated in regular peaceful protests throughout 2012, opposing alleged government interference in Islamic affairs. Protestors accuse the government of attempting to impose the teachings of the Al Ahbash sect of Islam on the Muslim community and of interference in elections for the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs.
Ethiopia’s Constitution prohibits state involvement in religious affairs. The Constitution also contains an expansive provision on the right to peacefully protest, which is routinely flouted by the authorities.
Allegations of excessive use of force by police
An incident that occurred in Gerba town, in the South Wollo zone of the Amhara region, on Sunday 21 October -during which police officers fired on civilians, killing at least three people and injuring others - raises serious questions about the use of deadly force against protestors. In speaking about the incident to the media, the government confirmed the three deaths but claimed that protestors had attacked a police station armed with machetes and hand guns to try to secure the release of another protestor who had been arrested earlier in the day. The government also stated that a police officer was killed in the alleged attack. However, the protestors report that they had peacefully demanded and secured the release of the arrested person during the morning of 21 October and the protest had subsequently dispersed. Later in the day federal police, called in as reinforcements, arrived at the mosque in Gerba town and opened fire, targeting people coming out of the mosque as well as others in the vicinity. One man told Amnesty International that he had seen a police officer killed in the ensuing violence. Other witnesses said they could not confirm any police deaths. An unknown number of arrests are reported to have taken place during the incident on 21 October and more arrests reportedly occurred in the aftermath of the incident, including the arrests of people who spoke to the media about events.
Amnesty International has previously reported on similar, incidents of police allegedly using excessive force. In July Amnesty International called for an investigation into two incidents – at Awalia and Anwar mosques in Addis Ababa – in relation to which numerous allegations were made about excessive use of force by police, including firing live ammunition and beating protestors in the street and in detention, resulting in many injuries among protestors. However, no investigation has taken place to Amnesty International’s knowledge.
Amnesty International is also calling for an independent investigation into an incident that took place in Asasa town, Arsi district, Oromia region in April in which the police reportedly shot dead at least four people. Reports about the incident from the government and from those involved differ widely. The violence is reported to have occurred when the police attempted to arrest an Imam from the mosque. In statements to the press after the event, the government stated that supporters of the Imam attacked the police station to try to secure his release. However, local sources told the media that the police had opened fire in the town when supporters tried to prevent the man’s arrest. The government claimed the Imam had been preaching extremist ideology. However the protestors claim that the attempted arrest was because the Imam had refused to undergo ‘training’ in Al Ahbash ideology, which the government had made obligatory for Muslim preachers.
Use of Anti-Terrorism legislation against leaders of peaceful protest movement
On 29 October, 28 men and one woman were formally charged with ‘terrorist acts’ and ‘planning…, incitement and attempt of terrorist acts’ under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (2009) in relation to their involvement in the protest movement. Two Muslim organisations were also charged under the same law with ‘rendering support to terrorism.’ Those charged include nine members of the committee selected by the Muslim community to represent their grievances to the government, and one journalist, Yusuf Getachew, who works for the publication Ye’Muslimoch Guday (Muslim Affairs).
These individuals appear to have been arrested and charged solely because they exercised their human rights to freedom of expression and to participate in a peaceful protest movement. Since its introduction in 2009 the excessively broad Anti-Terrorism Proclamation has predominantly been used to prosecute dissenters and critics of the government, including journalists and members of political opposition parties.
At least 24 of those charged on 29 October were arrested in mid-July and have been held on remand under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which allows for up to four months of investigative detention without charge. The defendants were detained illegally for the last five days before the charges were brought, after the police and prosecutors failed to turn up to a hearing on 24 October at which they were required to present charges and evidence, causing the judge to declare the case closed, according to one of the lawyers for the defendants. However, the judge did not order the release of the group, who were then brought to court on 29 October and charged.
A senior representative of the government told Amnesty International that the arrested individuals instigated violence and were trying to undermine the Constitution under the guise of religion. Similar statements from other senior members of the government have also been reported in the media. Amnesty International is concerned that, in a country where the government has significant influence over the courts, these comments may undermine the right of the accused to presumption of innocence.
The government has repeatedly attempted to paint the protest movement as violent and terrorist-related in statements to the media and in parliament. However, the vast majority of the protests are reported to be peaceful, and peaceful tactics have repeatedly been used by the protestors, including silent demonstrations and holding up white material, paper and ribbons as a sign of peaceful intent. While a few isolated incidents of violence have occurred, these have taken place during episodes where excessive police force is alleged. According to the accounts of the protestors, it was the actions of the police that triggered a violent response. Independent investigations are required to establish the course of events during these incidents.
Continued arrests and detention of peaceful protestors
Since July, when large numbers of arrests took place and incidents occurred at Awalia and Anwar mosques in Addis Ababa, protests have continued to take place in several regions, including in the towns of Dessie, Jimma, Harar, Shashemene, Adama, Bati, Kemise, and Robe. In addition to the original grievances of the movement, the protestors also demonstrated against the continued detention of members of the committee chosen to represent the Muslim community’s grievances to the government. Arrests, arbitrary detention and harassment of protestors are reported to have taken place in a number of locations.? Many of these reports have included allegations of police beating protestors, and the use of tear gas against peaceful demonstrations has been alleged in at least two locations.
Many demonstrations occurred in advance of elections for the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, which took place on 7 October. Although the long delay in holding the elections was one of the central grievances of the movement, the protestors raised several serious concerns in relation to the elections, including: the fact that the elections took place while their chosen representatives remained in detention; the level of control the government had over the poll; and the rejection of the protestors’ long-standing demand that the elections should be held in mosques instead of in kebele (local administration) offices. Demonstrators also allege that the government was coercing voters in advance of the election, threatening the withdrawal of access to state resources and other repercussions for those who did not vote. In statements made to Amnesty International and to the media, members of the protest movement have reported that a significant proportion of the Muslim community boycotted the poll, although the government declared the elections a success.
It is not known how many protestors are now in detention. Hundreds of arrests have been made over recent months. Of the large numbers who were arrested around the two July incidents, as reported by Amnesty International on 25 July, many were detained for a few days and subsequently released. However, an unknown number remain in detention, in Maikelawi, Ziway and other detention centres.
Efforts to prevent reporting on the government’s response to the protests
The government has sought to prevent reporting on the protest movement. Two colleagues of Yusuf Getachew from Ye’Muslimoch Guday fled the country after Yusuf was arrested and their own houses were searched. Neither Ye’Muslimoch Guday nor two other Muslim publications - weeklies Selefiah and Sewtul Islam - have been published since the July events. A correspondent for Voice of America was temporarily detained on 5 October in Addis Ababa while reporting on protests against the Supreme Council elections, and was told to delete any interviews she had recorded with protestors.
The response of the Ethiopian government to the protest movement has involved widespread violations of human rights. There has been almost no effort on the part of the authorities to engage with the protestors on their grievances or to put in place mechanisms for dialogue.
Amnesty International believes that the majority, if not all of those arrested, have been detained for exercising their right to peaceful protest, as protected under the Ethiopian Constitution and international law. The organization is calling on the Ethiopian authorities to release immediately and unconditionally any individuals who have been detained for their participation in protest actions. All detainees who remain in detention without charge must be brought swiftly before a judicial authority. Where credible evidence of a criminal offence exists people must be charged promptly, or should be immediately and unconditionally released. All detainees must have their rights in detention upheld, be provided with full access to legal representatives, medical care if they require it and to family members.
The reports of police use of excessive force against protestors in Gerba on 21 October, in Addis Ababa in July and in Asasa in April, must be properly investigated through processes that meet international standards in relation to impartiality and credibility. If enough admissible evidence of crimes is found, suspected perpetrators should be prosecuted in effective trial proceedings that meet international standards.
? These incidents have been reported in local and Diaspora media, on social media sites, and in information submitted directly to Amnesty International. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Israel: Eritreans Pushed Back to Egypt, Despite Risk of Abuse| Human Rights Watch

Building a border fence does not give Israel a right to push back asylum seekers.
Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher and advocate
(Jerusalem) – The Israeli military has since June 2012 prevented dozens of asylum seekers, most of them Eritreans, from crossing Israel’s newly constructed fence on its border with Egypt, Human Rights Watch, the Hotline for Migrant Workers, and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel said today.Israel has also unlawfully deported dozens more back to Egypt, the three groups said. Israel should stop rejecting asylum seekers at the fence unless its officials determine in a fair procedure that they do not face threats to their lives or freedom or inhuman and degrading treatment because of that rejection.
In forcing asylum seekers and refugees to remain in Egypt and in deporting others, Israel is putting them at risk of prolonged detention in Egyptian prisons and police stations, where they cannot claim asylum, of forcible return to Eritrea, and of serious abuse by traffickers in the Sinai region. Israeli officials’ claims that Israel may seal its borders to anyone are wrong under refugee and human rights law.
“Building a border fence does not give Israel a right to push back asylum seekers,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher and advocate at Human Rights Watch. “International law is crystal clear: no summary rejection of asylum seekers at the frontier and no forcible return unless and until it is established that their refugee claims are not valid.”
At least seven times since June, Israeli forces patrolling Israel’s newly constructed 240-kilometer border fence with Egypt’s Sinai region have denied entry to dozens of Africans, mostly Eritreans, thousands of whom continue to flee persecution in their country every year. In July, Israeli forces also detained about 40 Eritreans just inside the Israeli border and then forcibly transferred them to Egyptian custody.
The 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Israel is a state party, customary international refugee law, and international human rights law require all countries to respect the principle of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone to a place where their life or freedom would be threatened or where they would face the threat of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment. This means anyone seeking asylum may not be summarily rejected at the border and may not be deported unless their claim has been fairly determined.
Based on Israeli government figures, about two-thirds of those trying to cross the border are from Eritrea, where Human Rights Watch has documented widespread and severe abuses against people seeking to avoid mandatory and indefinitely prolonged national service on wages barely sufficient to survive, and against adherents of “unrecognized” religions and government critics.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that more than 80 percent of Eritreans who claim asylum worldwide are recognized as refugees.
Recent interviews with Eritreans arriving in Israel confirm that many passing through Sinai to reach Israel are facing serious abuses, including torture and rape, by traffickers in Sinai who hold the Eritreans for ransom. Those who pay are allowed to travel onward to reach the Israeli border.
The three human rights organizations recently documented cases in which Israeli border guards blocked Eritreans and others at the fence, firing warning shots in the air, throwing stun grenades and teargas, and using long metal poles to push them back from the border fence. On some occasions, witnesses contended that Israeli soldiers had entered Egyptian territory and detained them until Egyptian forces arrived, although Israeli and Egyptian authorities have denied those accusations.
In one case a group of Eritreans alleged that Israeli soldiers allowed them to enter Israel but then beat them with fists and guns to force them back into Egypt.
“Not only are there credible reports that Israeli soldiers are blocking asylum seekers at the border, but also that they are using violence to do so,” Simpson said. “Israeli authorities should immediately instruct its border patrols to stop abusing people who try to enter Israel.”
Israeli aid groups also say that in recent months Israeli soldiers prevented them from assisting Eritreans who had been waiting for days at the fence. Israeli media reports also said Israeli soldiers had received orders to deny food and water to people trying to enter Israel, whom one soldier described to a reporter as “skinny like skeletons.”
Israeli authorities contend that asylum seekers to whom it denies entry can request asylum from Egyptian authorities, that Israel has the right to seal its borders, and that its obligations toward asylum seekers do not extend to those who are prevented from entering its territory. None of these arguments are correct under the Refugee Convention or international human rights law, the three rights groups said.
UNHCR’s Executive Committee – of which Israel is a member – has stated in its Conclusion No. 22 (1981) that, “In all cases the fundamental principle of non-refoulement involving non-rejection at the frontier must be scrupulously observed.” It elaborated on this inConclusion No. 82 (1997), stating that the principle of nonrefoulement prohibits “expulsion and return of refugees in any manner whatsoever…whether or not they have been formally granted refugee status” and establishes “the need to admit refugees into the territories of States, which includes no rejection at frontiers without fair and effective procedures for determining status and protection needs.”
UNHCR has stated, when intervening in legal proceedings, that “the extraterritorial applicability of the principle of any person within a State Party’s actual control, irrespective of his/her physical location.”
With respect to Israel’s assertion that asylum seekers it turns away at the border can request asylum in Egypt, UNHCR’s Executive Committee has stated in its Conclusion No. 15 (1979) that, “Asylum should not be refused solely on the ground that it could be sought from another state."
UNHCR’s guidance on the safe third country concept says that while it is legitimate for a state to consider whether an asylum seeker had sought or could have sought asylum in another state he or she had passed through before reaching that state, this cannot be presumed but needs to be examined. UNHCR’s guidance maintains that the obligation to respect the principle of nonrefoulement still applies.
UNHCR’s guidance also “discourages unilateral action by States to return asylum seekers to countries through which they passed without the countries’ agreement, because of the risk of chain deportations, forcible returns to situations of persecution, and of orbit situations as well as the need for international solidarity and burden-sharing.”
Various credible sources say Egypt refuses to give UNHCR – which is solely responsible in Egypt for registering asylum claims – access to sub-Saharan nationals detained for lengthy periods in police stations in Sinai. Since 2008, Human Rights Watch has also documented cases in which Egypt hasforcibly returned Eritrean refugees, registered asylum seekers, and would-be asylum seekers to Eritrea.
The three rights groups have also reported on widespread trafficker abuses against sub-Saharan Africans in Egypt’s Sinai desert, against which the Egyptian authorities have consistently failed to take effective action. Over the past few years, hundreds and possibly thousands of sub-Saharan Africans – most from Eritrea and Sudan – have been held and tortured for months in Sinai before crossing into Israel to claim asylum.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly called on Egypt to locate and prosecute traffickers abusing asylum seekers, and to allow UNHCR access to asylum seekers detained by Egyptian authorities in Sinai.
Refugee rights groups have also documented dozens of cases in 2012 in which traffickers have kidnapped people from or near refugee camps in Ethiopia and Sudan and transported them against their will into the Sinai.
Recent medical examinations by Israeli doctors and interviews with some asylum seekers whom Israel allowed to cross the border for medical treatment because of their apparent poor health also provide evidence that Bedouin traffickers continue to torture and rape sub-Saharan Africans in Sinai. One man said traffickers had detained him for three months and forced him to work in a detention camp, where he heard women being tortured and saw other Africans held for ransom die while in captivity. His brother borrowed money and paid US$38,000 to secure his release.
The three rights groups said that when Israel returned asylum seekers to the Sinai ithout considering their cases, it was putting them at risk that Egypt would ignore their refugee claims, that it would forcibly return them to Eritrea, and that they would be abused by traffickers in the Sinai against whom the Egyptian authorities have been unable or unwilling to provide protection.
“Based on arguments that are wrong in law and on the facts, Israel is forcibly turning back people who have fled persecution at home, have faced severe abuse by traffickers in Sinai, and who then risk detention in Sinai with no access to asylum,” Simpson said. “There is simply no loophole justifying Israel’s denial of protection to asylum seekers by rejecting them at the border without fully considering their individual cases. To accept such a claim would be to accept the evisceration of refugee protection.”
For details about Israel’s position on its recent pushbacks of people on the Sinai border, international legal obligations, and the recent pushbacks, please see the text below.
Four Erroneous Israeli Arguments for Blocking Asylum SeekersIsrael has made four arguments to justify blocking asylum seekers at its fence on the Israel-Egypt border.
1.     The sovereign prerogative to control immigration – the floodgates argument
On September 6, Interior Minister Eli Yishai told Israeli Army Radio that, “A sovereign country, responsible for its borders, can decide for itself who can enter and leave its territory,” and warned that making exceptions for individual groups of migrants would mean that Israel would have to allow entry to many of the “300 million people in Africa.”
While states do, indeed, have sovereign rights to control immigration, refugee and human rights law strictly prohibit refoulement – forced return that would expose people to persecution, torture, or inhuman and degrading treatment.
Refugee law says countries may not return or expel anyone claiming to be a refugee, including at their borders, without fairly considering their asylum claims. In its Conclusion on International Protection No. 22 (1981), UNHCR’s Executive Committee stated that, “In all cases, the fundamental principle ofnon-refoulement involving non-rejection at the frontier must be scrupulously observed.” And in Conclusion 99 (2004), the Committee called on states to ensure “full respect for the fundamental principle of nonrefoulement, including non-rejection at frontierswithout access to fair and effective procedures for determining status and protection needs.”
2.     Refugee obligations do not apply outside a state’s territory – the extraterritoriality argument
In a July 27 affidavit submitted to an Israeli refugee lawyer, Anat Ben-Dor, an Israeli soldier said that in June his superior officers on the Sinai border had told him that blocking someone’s access to asylum procedures is lawful as long as they are blocked before they set foot on Israeli soil. The soldier said that on the basis of this advice, his unit had entered Egyptian territory three times, where it had intercepted Africans approaching Israel’s border fence and had handed them over to Egyptian border police.
Egyptian officials denied that Israeli forces are operating on Egyptian territory. However, on August 10, the Associated Press reported that the Israeli military spokesperson’s office stated that Israeli soldiers stopped groups of Africans near the border several times and held them “until the arrival of Egyptian forces that took the infiltrators.”
As a matter of law, a country’s obligation not to summarily return asylum seekers is not limited by territorial boundaries. Refugee law is not concerned with the place from which refugees are being returned but with the place to which they are being returned.
The 1951 Refugee Convention specifically prohibits countries from returning refugees “in any manner whatsoever” to places where their lives or freedom would be threatened. UNHCR has also stated that, “The principle of non-refoulement does not imply any geographical limitation,” that, “The resulting obligations extend to all government agents acting …within or outside national territory” and that as a result, “The extraterritorial applicability of the non-refoulement obligation [under the Refugee Convention] is clear.”
3.     Refugee obligations do not apply to people who have not been officially recognized as refugees
In the past, under its so-called “hot-returns” policy, Israel said that as long as it apprehended irregular border crossers close to the border and returned them to Egypt within hours or days, it was not obliged to allow them to lodge asylum claims in Israel. In 2011, the military told Israel’s Supreme Court it had stopped the practice. But in July 2012, Israel appears to have returned at least 40 Eritreans less than an hour after they entered Israel.
A person who meets the “well-founded fear of being persecuted” definition is a refugee independent of being formally recognized as such, however. The UNHCR Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status says that recognition of refugee status is declaratory: “He does not become a refugee because of recognition, but is recognized because he is a refugee.” And UNHCR’s Executive Committee, in Conclusion 79 (1996), recognized that the principle of nonrefoulement prohibits the expulsion and return of refugees “whether or not they have formally been granted refugee status.”
Also, the proximity of apprehension to the time and place of entry are irrelevant to Israel’s obligation to abide by the prohibition on refoulement. UNHCR’s Executive Committee Conclusion 6 (1977) has affirmed “the fundamental importance of the observance of the principle of nonrefoulement - both at the border and within the territory of a State ….”
Frustrating the lodging of asylum claims or refusing to consider claims therefore does not legally absolve a country of its obligations to protect asylum seekers and refugees.
4.      Egypt is a “safe third country”
In response to a petition by Israeli refugee rights groups, on September 4, Israel’s state attorney claimed Israel had no obligation to consider requests for asylum by Africans arriving at Israel’s border fence because they could claim asylum “in Cairo.”
UNHCR’s Executive Committee has stated in its Conclusion on International Protection No. 15 (1979) that, “Asylum should not be refused solely on the ground that it could be sought from another state.”
Israel has no formal agreement with Egypt governing the return of third country nationals – including asylum seekers – at the Sinai border, and Egypt has never made a commitment to Israel that it would allow asylum seekers among them to claim asylum.
Furthermore, Egypt systematically refuses to allow UNHCR to visit sub-Saharan nationals detained in police stations across the Sinai desert. Since UNHCR is solely responsible in Egypt for registering asylum claims, this practice prevents them from seeking asylum there and means Israel cannot claim that Eritrean asylum seekers refused entry to Israel at the Sinai border or returned to Egypt receive adequate protection.
Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers remain at risk of forcible return to Eritrea from Egypt. As recently as October 2011, Egyptian prison guards at the al-Shalal prison in Aswanbeat 118 Eritrean detainees– including 40 registered refugees – to force them to sign papers for their “voluntary” return to Eritrea. Human Rights Watch has documented other cases in which Egypt has forcibly returned Eritrean refugees, registered asylum seekers and would-be asylum seekers to Eritrea.
Recent Cases Involving Israel Blocking or Deporting Eritrean and Other Asylum SeekersAccording to various sources, on at least seven occasions since June, Israel has prevented dozens of Eritrean asylum seekers from seeking asylum in Israel on the Egypt-Israel border. In July, Israel also unlawfully deported around 40 Eritreans from Israel to Egypt.
Pushback Case 1In October, the two Israeli nongovernmental organizations – the Hotline for Migrant Workers and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel – spoke to an Eritrean asylum seeker whom Israeli border guards had allowed to enter Israel because of his apparent ill-health. He said that although the guards had allowed him and another Eritrean man to cross, they had prevented four other Eritrean men and two Eritrean women from entering Israel. He said that before they had reached the Israel border, traffickers had held all eight of them – together with many other sub-Saharan Africans – for ransom in the Sinai before finally taking them to the Israeli border.
The man gave a detailed account of abuses he and others had faced at the hands of the traffickers. He spoke of the screams of women whom the traffickers beat while the women called their relatives on phones to plead with them to pay the traffickers a ransom to secure their release, of how men detained in other rooms said that the bodies of detainees who had died chained to each other were not removed for days, and of how traffickers forced him and other men to build rooms at their detention site.
The three rights groups were unable to verify independently whether the six Eritreans had been denied entry into Israel. However, Meron Estefanos, an Eritrean journalist and activist living in Sweden, spoke with Human Rights Watch and said she received a phone call on October 15 from the sister of one of the Eritrean men who had been denied entry to Israel. The woman said she had spoken with her brother, who was detained in an Egyptian prison. She said that during the call, an Arabic-speaking man had taken the phone from her brother and told her that if her family paid a fine, her brother would be released and be allowed to travel to Ethiopia.
Pushback Case 2
Two Eritrean women and a 14-year-old boy who were allowed to cross into Israel and who spoke with Israeli rights groups said that between August 28 and September 6, Israeli soldiers stationed at the border fence prevented them and 18 Eritrean men from entering Israel. One of the women said Israeli soldiers fired shots in the air when they first arrived at the fence and “twice threw [tear]gas at us and pushed a long metal pole through the fence to try and get us to move away.” The second woman said soldiers used teargas when members of the group tried to break through the fence.
The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported that on September 11 an Israeli rights group, We Are Refugees, filed a complaint with Israel’s high court on behalf of the two women and the boy, who submitted affidavits stating that Israeli forces had used teargas and violence to force the other 18 people in their group away from the fence.
Israeli aid groups also said Israeli soldiers stopped them from helping the group. The two women and boy said that on September 6, the soldiers cut a hole in the Israeli border fence and allowed them to cross, but forced the 18 men to pass back through a second fence on the Egyptian side of the border on the other side of which they could see Egyptian soldiers.
Pushback Case 3
In a similar case, the Israeli daily newspaperYedioth Aharonothreportedon September 6 that for six days in August, Israeli forces prevented a group of about 20 Eritreans and Sudanese migrants from crossing the border fence. The article included an account from an Israeli soldier, who said his unit was ordered not give the group any food and to use teargas and stun grenades to force them away from the fence. On the following day, the paper reported that Israeli forces had received orders to prevent migrants from crossing the fence and to give them only bread and a small amount of water.
Pushback Cases 4 – 6
An Israeli soldier’s affidavit given to Anat Ben-Dor, the refugee lawyer at Tel Aviv University, said that in June Israeli forces detained at least three groups of sub-Saharan Africans at the border and forcibly handed them over to Egyptian forces without allowing them to claim asylum.
Pushback Case 7The medical group Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has said that in August Israeli forces refused to allow a group of Eritreans to cross for four days. The group, whose size was not clear, was forced to remain for four days in an area near the border fence. An anonymous witness told the group by phone that Egyptian forces were guarding the Egyptian end of the area. The Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson’s office confirmed to Haaretz on August 10 that, “The IDF is operating in conjunction with Egyptian forces to extract the foreigners” from the area. Israeli forces eventually allowed the Eritreans to cross. They are now detained in the Saharonim detention facility in Israel’s Negev desert, near the border.
Possible Pushback Case 8
In another case involving possible unlawful blocking of entry, Israeli refugee rights groups reported on September 9 that Israeli forces had prevented a group of 11 Africans, including a pregnant woman, from crossing the border for three days. The rights groups have been unable to determine whether any members of the group were allowed to enter.
Unlawful Deportation CaseAccording to Estefanos, the Swedish-Eritrean journalist, on July 19 Israeli forces detained and unlawfully returned to Egypt a group of about 40 Eritrean asylum seekers, including a pregnant woman. Estefanos interviewed two of the returned men by phone on August 2 while they were in Egyptian detention.
The men said that when the group – which included people who had been beaten by traffickers –reached the Israeli border, Amharic and Arabic speaking Israelis soldiers said, “Welcome to Israel.” They told some of the group to get into a military truck and told the rest to walk along a road under construction next to the border fence on the Israeli side. After a short while, the soldiers told those on the truck to get out and ordered the whole group to cross back into Egypt.
One of the men said that when they refused, the Israeli soldiers contacted the Egyptian army by radio, soon after which four Egyptian soldiers arrived. The other man said he overheard the radio communication and heard the Egyptian soldiers tell the Israeli soldiers to push the group down a steep incline into Egyptian territory. The man said “We refused to get out, and so the [Israeli] soldiers beat us with their hands and gun-butts, and then threw us down [the incline]. Many of us were badly injured [by the Israeli soldiers] and the Egyptians took us straight to prison.”