Tuesday, April 30, 2013

UN human rights expert to gather first-hand testimonies from Eritrean refugees - Sudan Tribune: Plural news and views on Sudan

April 29, 2013 (KHARTOUM) - The United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, is due to begin an official visit to Ethiopia and Djibouti on Tuesday to collect first-hand information from Eritrean refugees on the situation inside their country.
JPEG - 58.6 kb
The United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth (IHRDA)
The visit comes as the government of the reclusive Red Sea nation blocked her from entering the country.
“Due to lack of access to Eritrea, I will engage with all others concerned by human rights in Eritrea, including those who consider themselves to be victims of alleged human rights violations, human rights defenders and other civil society actors,” Keetharuth said in a statement issued by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The visit will be Keetharuth’s first field mission since her appointment in November 2012.
Under her one-year mandate, she is tasked with carrying out investigations on the human rights situation inside Eritrea and reporting her findings to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
“I will gather first-hand information from Eritrean refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries,” she said, adding that her investigations will be strictly limited to the situation inside Eritrea.
Keetharuth’s findings will be published in her first report to the UNHRC in June.
Authorities in both Ethiopia and Djibouti have agreed to provide access to Eritrean refugee populations residing within their borders for the purposes of Keetharuth’s 10-day fact-finding mission.
The special rapporteur has made several requests to visit Eritrea, all of which were denied.
Calls by Keetharuth for Eritrean authorities to collaborate with her mandate with a view to addressing the country’s human rights challenges have also been ignored.
Asmara says it rejects her appointment, describing it as politically motivated.
During her upcoming mission, Keetharuth will interview Eritrean refugees in various locations to assess allegations of widespread and systematic violations of human rights in Eritrea contained in a number of disturbing reports received from different sources.
The special rapporteur will also attend meetings with government authorities in both countries.
Rights groups have described Eritrea as the North Korea of Africa, saying its secretive and repressive state apparatus headed by president Isaias Afewerki shows scant regard for human rights, imposing strict controls on personal freedom and a policy of mandatory military conscription, often for indeterminate periods.
Many female conscripts have alleged they were subject to sustained sexual abuse and harassment from their military superiors throughout their service.
According to rights groups, arbitrary, indefinite and incommunicado detention is routine, with summary executions and the systematic torture of those who oppose the regime commonplace.
“Eritrea is a country where no human right is respected, be it the choice of religion, the right to a fair trial, the right to vote in free elections, the right to leave town looking for food and work, the right not to join the army, not to be sexually molested, tortured, beaten, and even killed”, Elizabeth Chyrum, director of London-based NGO Human Rights Concern-Eritrea, said partly in an open letter to British foreign secretary William Hague on Friday.
Keetharuth plans to release her preliminary findings on the human rights situation in Eritrea at the conclusion of her field visits on 9 May.
A lawyer from Mauritius, Keetharuth has been involved in human rights issues in Africa for over two-and-a half-decades. She also worked as a broadcaster for over eight years.
In 2011, she was awarded a medal of honour by the Madrid Bar Association in recognition of her human rights work on the African continent.
The UNHRC approved her appointment for a one-year mandate during its 21st regular session in September 2012, with Keetharuth taking up her functions the following month.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Under darkness in the Somali region of Ethiopia | Redress Information & Analysis

Silence in Ogaden
No matter how tightly the truth is tied down, confined and suffocated, it slowly escapes. It seeps out through cracks and openings large and small, illuminating all and revealing the grime and shame that cowers in the shadows.
The arid Somali (or Ogaden) region of Ethiopia, home to some five million ethnic Somalis, has been isolated from the world since 2005, when the Ethiopian government banned all international media and most humanitarian groups from operating in thearea.

State criminality

Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports that the Ethiopian government “has tried to stem the flow of information from the region. Some foreign journalists who have attempted to conduct independent investigations have been arrested, and residents and witnesses have been threatened and detained in order to prevent them from speaking out“. Aid workers with the United Nations, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross, plus journalists from a range of Western papers, including the New York Times, have all had staff expelled and/or detained, by the Ethiopian regime, which speaks of democracy yet fails to act in accordance with its own liberal constitution and consistently violates international law, with total impunity.
Under the cover of media darkness and donor country indifference, the Ethiopian government, according to a host of human rights organizations, is committing wide-ranging human rights abuses that amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Serious accusations, based on accounts relayed by refugees and interviews with Ogaden Somalis on the ground, give what could be only a hint of the level of state criminality taking place in the troubled and largely ignored region. HRW makes clear the seriousness of the situation, stating that “tens of thousands of ethnic Somali civilians living in eastern Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State are experiencing serious abuses… Ethiopian troops have forcibly displaced entire rural communities, ordering villagers to leave their homes within a few days or witness their houses being burnt down and possessions destroyed – and risk death.”
In a detailed study conservatively titled Concerns Over the Ogaden Territory, the African Rights Monitor (ARM) found “that the Ethiopian government has systematically and repeatedly arbitrarily detained, tortured and inhumanly degraded the Ogaden people”. Women and children, they report, “are raped, sexually assaulted and killed”. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), they found, “systematically attacks the women and children as they are the weakest in a civil society” and are unable to defend themselves. Documenting a series of specific cases of violence, HRW  reports that “an Ethiopian government-backed paramilitary force [the Liyuu police] summarily executed 10 men during a March 2012 operation”. HRW “interviewed witnesses and relatives of the victims who described witnessing at least 10 summary executions. The actual number may be higher.”
Accounts such as these clearly warrant investigation by independent agencies, and yet they are resolutely ignored. Supporters of the regime know well what is occurring throughout the Ogaden, and yet they remain silent. America – the single biggest donor to the country, with military bases inside Ethiopia from where their deadly drones are launched into Somalia and Yemen – and Britain are close allies of the Ethiopian government but not of the Ethiopian people, it seems.

A regime of abuse

Page after page could be filled with detailed accounts of abuse from refugees who have fled the region, human rights groups and members of the Ogaden diaspora. According to Genocide Watch (GW), atrocities meted out to innocent civilians suspected of supporting the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) amount to “war crimes and crimes against humanity”. These include beating people to death, hanging people from trees, tying people with wire and holding them over burning chillies, rape and repeated false imprisonment – unjustifiable acts that are justified by the government as part of a “counter-insurgency operation” against the ONLF, which is predictably branded as terrorist.
Documented reports of human rights violations amounting to state terrorism are dismissed by the EPRDF government, which has a notoriously dismal human rights record. However, as Leslie Lefkow, HRW’s deputy director of Africa, says “if the Ethiopian government doesn’t have anything to hide, why don’t they allow independent investigators and journalists into the region”. There is, she says with understatement, “a lot of concern about the human rights situation on the Ogaden”. GW are more blunt, claiming unequivocally that Ethiopia is committing genocide in the Somali region, as well as to the “Anuak, Oromo and Omo” ethnic groups (or tribes). And it calls on the EPRDF regime to cease all attacks on the Ogaden Somali people and immediately release all prisoners, urging it to “adhere to it’s own constitution and allow its provinces the legal autonomy they are guaranteed”.

The captain’s story

In 2005, implementation of the Ethiopian government’s policy of violent suppression in the Ogaden was transferred from the military to the newly-formed paramilitary group, the Liyuu police. As Faysal Mohmoud Abdi Wali,  38, a captain who defected from the Liyuu’s ninth regiment, based in Duhun  district, makes clear, the Liyuu is not a recognizable police force but “an extension of the military”, which operates under a cloak of impunity and lacks any accountability. Abdi Wali served in the Liyuu from its inception eight years ago, when it was called the ‘Liyuu Xayi’, and defected in 2012. His testimony is sof particular interest, especially given the media ban.
Abdi Wali was interviewd by Swedish journalists, Amnesty International and myself. He related how young men are forced to join the Liyuu’s police and arrested if they refuse. He confirmed findings by HRW that forced recruitment takes place among tribal groups whose elders are ordered, Abdi Wali says, “to bring at least 80 fighters for every single tribe. If any of these [recruited fighters] escapes from the militia they seek and capture [them] then [the escapee is] forced to kill one of his relatives or kinship”.
He recounts mass killings in “Hamaro, Sagag and Dhuhun of Fiq provinces”, where he says “large numbers of civilians accused of being ONLF sympathizers” were massacred. “These people are mostly killed by hanging from trees and girls are gang-raped and then murdered”.
He goes on to say “the youth in Dhuhun, the young men and the young women in Hamaro – the young men slaughtered in Degeh-bur and teens summarily executed [in] Denan and Dakhato”. Extra-judicial executions, intimidation and “forceful methods, strangling and rape of females aged 15-25”, are used as weapons of terror, “based on the advice we received from the regional president, Abdi Mohamud Omar, who said “indoctrinate the women with the male phallus and the men with guns”. Omar was largely responsible for the creation of the Liyuu, which evolved out of the Ethiopian army and was embraced by former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
The captain states he was an “eyewitness for unaccountable massacres” by Liyuu police who, after killing villagers, “burned the entire village to the ground”. They “forcefully remove them [the villagers] from the land and slaughter their livestock. In remote villages, they sometimes massacre them all. For example, they forcefully removed many villagers from Gudhis, massacring 125 members from that village and burned the village, in 2007.”
Soldiers are rewarded, he says, for killing civilians, for the “good job they have done”. Nomads who have the misfortune to see the Liyuu in action are killed, “in order to make sure that their information is not received by the ONLF rebels“. Summary executions, he reports, are commonplace, as “in Dakhato in June 2010 … [where] 43 nomads were killed”. Abdi Wali estimates the number of civilians murdered by the Liyuu since 2005 “to be in excess of 30,000 people”.

Urgent action required

The Somali region, poor and desolate, is potentially the richest part of Ethiopia. Natural gas and oil have been discovered under the harsh surface and various contracts for exploration have been granted to international companies (without consultation with local, indigenous people, needless to say).
The current round of violence is to many people linked to the discovery of these natural treasures. GW relays how, “immediately after oil and gas were discovered in the Ogaden, Ethiopian government forces evicted large numbers of Ogaden Somalis from their ancestral grazing lands”. According to Abdi Wali the federal government “has strategic economic and land acquisition aims in the Ogaden region, intended to exploit the natural resources of the region”. These are strategic aims which they are seeking to realize by silencing the indigenous local people.
While some numbers, dates and locations from these and other accounts may be debated, the weight of claims of human rights violations and state criminality is, it would appear, beyond dispute, to the extent that GW has “called upon the United Nations Security Council to refer the situation in Ethiopia to the International Criminal Court”.
This necessary measure, together with a range of others (including the immediate release of all political prisoners, the correct distribution of all humanitarian aid to the needy, giving journalists open and unrestricted access, and a thorough investigation by independent observers) would be the right and proper course of action in the region. It is a course of action that should be urgently undertaken at the insistence of Ethiopia’s main donors: the United States, Britain and the European Union

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Shocking story: Man in India arrested after baby is sold over Facebook - YouTube

Shocking story: Man in India arrested after baby is sold over Facebook - YouTube: ""

'via Blog this'

Celebrating 4/20: Legalize Marijuana, Embrace Alternative Lifestyles | The Conference Channel Blog

Rick Steves Advocates Legalization of Marijuana from Commonwealth Club on FORA.tv

At 4:20 p.m. this afternoon, hundreds of thousands–if not millions–of people will gather in large spaces such as Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or sit inside the privacy of their own homes and light up to celebrate marijuana. The time “4:20″ has long been associated with cannabis subculture, when a group of teenagers living San Rafael, California, in 1971 used to gather at 4:20 p.m. to smoke pot after school.
Along with the time, the date April 20 (or 4/20) is now commonly observed by marijuana smokers, who come often together in large groups to consume cannabis and in some cases advocate for its legalization in public places throughout the United States and around the world.
This year’s 4/20 celebration will be particularly meaningful in Colorado and Washington, two states that legalized the retal sale of marijuana in the 2012 election. In the following video from the Commonwealth Club, author Rick Steves thinks liberal laws on marijuana use advocate a positive tolerance toward alternative lifestyles.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Ethiopia: Muslim Protesters Face "Unfair Trial" Under Ethiopia's Anti-Terror Law, Says HRW

Photo: African Arguments
Ethiopian Muslims take part in protests in Addis Ababa (file photo).
Paris — Human Rights Watch has expressed grave concern on the prosecution of 29 Muslim protesters in Addis Ababa, including nine prominent Islamic leaders who are being tried under Ethiopia's controversial anti-terrorism law.
The leaders and activists were arrested in July last year following six months of public protests staged by the Muslims in the Ethiopian capital and in other towns. The protestor are by the Ethiopian government of interfering in the religious affairs of the Islamic population, which comprises around 35% of Ethiopia's 84 million population.
Ethiopian authorities have denied the allegations and blamed a small group of extremists for violent protests, which first begin in December 2011.
All the 29 arrested protestors are charged with plotting acts of "terrorism" under Ethiopia's controversial terror legislation. A move which is deeply concerning the New York based rights organisation has said.
The trial resumed on Tuesday after it was postponed for 40 days. "Ethiopia's deeply flawed anti-terrorism law raises serious fair trial concerns" it said in a press release on April 2.
According to Human Rights Watch, the case has already had major due process problems. Defendants said they were given only little access to legal counsel. Others alleged that they have faced ill-treatment in pre-trial detention.
Human Rights Watch added that the high court has since January 22 closed the hearings to the public, including the media, diplomats, and family members of defendants.
"There seems to be no limit to the Ethiopian government's use of its anti-terrorism law and unfair trials to stop peaceful dissent," said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
"The government's treatment of these Muslim leaders bears the hallmarks of a politically motivated prosecution." Lefkow added. The group has called on the Ethiopian government to review the 2009 passed terror law and noted a need for Ethiopian authorities to hold dialogue with the Muslim community to resolve the crises.
"Rather than jailing peaceful protesters and critical journalists, the government should amend the anti-terrorism law and stop these politically motivated trials," Lefkow said.
"The government should be reaching out to the Muslim community and discussing their grievances rather than silencing their voices and leaders."
Ethiopia has a secular government and prohibits government interference in any religion of the country.
Religion-related unrest is rare in Ethiopia and the country has a history of religious tolerance between Muslims and the dominant Christians.
More on This
Muslim Protesters Face 'Unfair' Trial
The prosecution of 29 Muslim protest leaders and others charged under Ethiopia's deeply flawed anti-terrorism law raises … see more »

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

'Appalling' abuse of kidnapped refugees in Sinai must end - new briefing

One Eritrean man tortured, doused in petrol and set on fire because family couldn’t pay ransom 
Egypt and Sudan must make urgent and concerted efforts to stop asylum-seekers and refugees being kidnapped from camps in Sudan, forcibly transported to Egypt and severely abused in the Sinai desert, Amnesty International said in a new briefing today.
Amnesty is calling on the Egyptian security forces to urgently investigate reports that refugees and asylum-seekers are being held captive in compounds in northeast Sinai. 
The vast majority of victims are Eritrean. For over two years, refugees and asylum-seekers have been kidnapped from in and around the Shagarab refugee camps in eastern Sudan, near the Eritrean border. They have then been trafficked to Egypt’s Sinai desert, where they’ve been held captive by Bedouin criminal gangs who’ve demanded ransom payments of up to £25,000 in telephone calls to their families. 
Amnesty continues to receive fresh reports of kidnappings in and around the Shagarab camps and the organisation is alarmed at the apparently inadequate safety and security provision there. 
According to testimonies gathered by Amnesty, captives in Sinai have suffered extreme violence and cruelty, including repeated rape and other forms of sexual violence, beatings with chains, burning with heated plastic and metal, electric shocks, suspension from the ceiling, and being doused with petrol and set on fire. One Eritrean survivor describes what happened to another captive who was “made an example of” because he said his family could not pay:  
“He was bleeding all over. After more beatings, they poured petrol on him and set him on fire. After he died, they left his body in the room with us until it became rotten and worms started crawling. They forced all of us in turns to hold him.”
One teenage boy held for eight months in Sinai witnessed seven deaths among the other captives during that time.
Amnesty International Eritrea researcher Claire Beston said:
“The Egyptian authorities have a duty to protect any individual on their soil, and must urgently take steps to free all people held captive and subjected to appalling abuses in Sinai, and provide them with immediate medical attention and access to asylum procedures and support.
“It is particularly worrying that numerous victims have alleged that the members of the Sudanese National Security Service are involved in the kidnappings near the borders with Eritrea and Ethiopia.
“The Sudanese government must investigate all allegations of the involvement or complicity of Sudanese officers and where sufficient evidence is found, individuals must be arrested and prosecuted.”
Amnesty is also calling on the countries along the trafficking route - running from Eritrea through Ethiopia and Sudan into Egypt - to work together to bring an end to the kidnapping, trafficking and horrific abuses, and to increase engagement with international agencies’ initiatives to tackle these crimes. However, the organisation cautioned that regional cooperation must not infringe on the rights and safety of refugees and asylum-seekers.  
The majority of victims of abuses in Sinai who have been freed are now in Israel, while some are in Egypt and Ethiopia. Amnesty said that destination countries, including Israel, must put in place transparent systems to identify victims of trafficking and other abuses, and provide victims with access to medical, psycho-social and rehabilitation services and to fair asylum procedures.