Friday, August 30, 2013

Israel Denying African Refugees And Foreign Workers Gas Masks -

African Refugee hands covering face
Mass deportations of Eritrean refugees is also planned for after Rosh Hashana despite international law and treaties Israel signed which prohibit it. Even foreign workers hired to take care of elderly Israelis denied gas masks. IDF says if crisis develops, it will distribute gas masks to them. "The foreign population is mainly in big cities, in houses without a safe space, and their exposure to injury is huge. But Israel isn't even taking care of its own citizens right now. So it's important that first thing's [are done] first."

African Refugee hands covering face
Israel Denying African Refugees And Foreign Workers Gas Masks
Shmarya Rosenberg •

An Eritrean refugee was reportedly refused a gas mask Wednesday in Jerusalem because he is not an Israeli citizen.

"I have no saferoom in my house or a gas mask and I am afraid. I think the country needs to take care of us, even if it costs us money. We're so worried of a possibility of war here. I hope war doesn't come after me,” the 30-year-old Eritrean who had seen his share of war told Ynet.

The African refugees and foreign workers are not completely alone. The government comptroller recently issued a report that found that approximately 40% of Israeli citizens do not have a gas mask.

In response to that report, the Internal Security Ministry claimed that a significant amount of working gas masks exists and can be distributed if needed.

However, Ynet reports that it still remains unclear how the government will get gas masks to all Israelis who need them, and it is unclear what, if anything, will really be done for the 165,000 foreign workers, 55,000 African refugees, and other non-citizens if Syria strikes Israel.

"The foreign population is mainly in big cities, in houses without a safe space, and their exposure to injury is huge. But Israel isn't even taking care of its own citizens right now. So it's important that first thing's [are done] first,” Avi Naim, chairman of the security committee at the Union of Local Authorities in Israel, reportedly said.

The problem of protecting foreigners also directly impacts Israeli families in ways many people fail to consider.

"It's unclear what foreign workers who care for the elderly will do in a state of emergency. The authorities need to remember that these are people who live amongst us and it is our duty to protect them if an emergency occurs,” Reut Michaeli, director of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, said.

For reasons that are unclear, the IDF doesn’t appear to consider the situation to be urgent – even though tens of thousands of Israelis are clamoring for gas masks since Syria used poison gas on its own people a few days ago and foreigners have been completely shut out of that process.

"The Home Front Command is prepared at any time to protect the citizens of Israel in an emergency to the best of its ability. The gas masks distribution plan is meant for citizens of Israel and if an emergency occurs an assessment will be made about those staying in Israel without citizenship. The Home Front Command will in this case offer instructions and aid in a variety of languages,” the IDF Spokesperson's Unit reportedly said.

How this distribution would take place, especially if Syria strikes Israel with a surprise chemical attack, is unclear.

Meanwhile, Israel has promised to deport thousands of Eritrean refugees after Rosh Hashana, even though many Eritrean refugees who were “voluntarily” sent back to Eritrea by the government after it offered them a choice between indefinite jail sentences or “voluntary” deportation have disappeared, and some have reportedly been jailed and tortured.
Refugees who refuse to "voluntarily" be deported will have their visas cancelled and they will be punished if found to be working, Interior Minister Gidon Sa'ar said.

It is illegal under international law and under treaties Israel signed to deport Eritreans.

To get around this problem, the government has taken to identifying Eritreans as Ethiopians so deportations would be "legal." (They aren't.)

It has also made a deal with an unnamed East African country to take Eritreans in exchange for technical assistance and economic aid. It is likely this arrangement will turn out to be illegal and a violation of those treaties, as well.

In the past few years, Israel has failed to examine asylum requests, Ynetreported – in effect denying legitimate refugees refugee status by inertia.

The government also claims that the situation in Eritrea is much better than multiple international reports say. Israel is using this highly dubious claim to insist that the majority of Eritrean refugees are in fact migrant workers who entered Israel illegally and can therefore be deported – a claim similar to the claim many countries used to deny European Jews refuge after the Nazis took control of Germany.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

One Year after Meles’s Death, Citizens’ Rights Have Yet to Be Revived in Ethiopia | Freedom House

written by

Yoseph Badwaza
Intern, Africa Programs
Photo Caption: Hailemariam Desalegn, current prime minister of Ethiopia
The death of Ethiopian prime minister Meles Zenawi in August 2012 after two decades in power sparked hope that the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) would undertake reforms to open up the political system and loosen the harsh restrictions imposed on civil society, the media, and opposition parties. However, one year into the administration of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Meles’s successor, not much has changed in the highly repressive country.

Meles’s rule had become increasingly authoritarian, particularly after the disputed 2005 elections, when security forces killed some 200 people and imprisoned tens of thousands, including leaders of the opposition, journalists, and civil society activists. In the years that followed, Meles presided over a system that criminalized dissent through the use of repressive laws and an unrelenting crackdown by security forces. At the time of Meles’s death, the EPRDF held all but one of the 547 seats in the federal parliament and exercised a growing dominance over all forms of public life in Ethiopia.

Civic groups and independent media crushed

Repressive laws that effectively stifled dissent continue to be enforced under the new leadership. The virtual ban on foreign funding for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) imposed by the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP), coupled with governmental intrusion into the operations of human rights groups, has resulted in minimal independent monitoring and reporting on the country’s dismal human rights situation.

The CSP forced prominent human rights groups to abandon their core missions and to scale back operations significantly. Ethiopia’s leading human rights NGO, Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO, now HRCO), had to close 9 of its 12 regional offices and cut 85 percent of its staff. The Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association (EWLA) cut nearly 70 percent of its staff. In December 2009, the Charities and Societies Agency (ChSA), the regulatory body created under the CSP, ordered the freezing of these two groups’ bank accounts, claiming that the money had been received in violation of the ban on foreign funding—effectively a retroactive application of the law.HRCO and EWLA’s appeals to the courts were not successful.

Eight directives issued in July 2011 by the ChSA to facilitate implementation of the CSP have exacerbated the grim situation of prodemocracy and human rights NGOs. In particular, the directive imposing a 30 percent cap on administrative expenses further undermined the capacity of these groups.

Meanwhile, another 2009 law, the antiterrorism proclamation, became the authorities’ primary tool for imprisoning journalists and members of legitimate opposition parties. Prominent journalists Woubshet Taye and Reeyot Alemu and blogger Eskinder Nega are still in jail, serving lengthy prison sentences for charges brought against them under the antiterrorism proclamation. In April 2013, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared Eskinder Nega’s detention arbitrary and a violation of international human rights law and called for his immediate release. Although independent journalism persists on websites hosted overseas, the government has invested heavily in the technical capacity to conduct widespreadinternet filtering, with the aim of denying Ethiopian users access to content that is critical of government policies and actions.

Assault on the political opposition

Since their strong showing in the 2005 elections was overshadowed by the violence that followed the announcement of results, opposition political parties have also been the target of a continuous crackdown. This has fostered a climate of fear and created a profound imbalance in the political landscape that heavily favors the EPRDF. The antiterrorism law has been used to sentence notable opposition politicians such asAndualem Arage of the Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) party and Bekele Gerba of the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) to harsh jail terms, with some receiving life in prison.

Human rights commitments ignored

At the conclusion of its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process at the UN Human Rights Council in December 2009, Ethiopia agreed to accept 99 of the 142recommendations put forward by members of the council’s Working Group. Notable recommendations dealt with concerns over implementation of the antiterrorism proclamation; political prisoners; endangered freedoms of expression, association, and assembly; and formulating a national plan of action on human rights. While such a plan was unveiled in March 2013, little to no progress has been made to improve the operating environment for civil society and independent media. Despite the flow of significant funding from donors, the national Human Rights Commission has not become an independent watchdog that monitors, investigates, and reports on violations. Ethiopia will come up for another review under the UPR system at the April/May 2014 session. This will provide an opportunity to evaluate the extent to which recommendations made by the Working Group and accepted by Ethiopia have been addressed.

The sad reality is that the very groups best equipped to engage most productively in the UPR process are those that the government successfully crippled using the CSP. Well-founded fears of reprisal further discourage domestic human rights groups from engaging in the UPR process, as the Ethiopian government has been intolerant of organizations that go public with criticism of its human rights record.

Reforms needed ahead of elections in 2015

Ethiopia’s next national elections are set to take place in May 2015. Now is the time to commence political reforms designed to avoid a repetition of flawed elections in 2010 (national) and 2013 (local). In both years, the EPRDF totally controlled the electoral process, capturing more than 99 percent of the legislative seats nationwide. While recent moves, such as allowing large-scale protest rallies, are encouraging, these need to be fortified with institutional and legal measures aimed at opening up the operating environment for civil society, the media, and the political opposition.

As he marks the end of his first year in office, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn should commence reforms to lay the groundwork for competitive, transparent, free, and fair democratic elections in 2015. In particular, the government should:
  • Intensify efforts to implement the recommendations of the UPR Working Group, especially those calling for measures to support the work of human rights defenders and guarantee genuine freedom of expression and association.
  • Amend the restrictive provisions of the CSP and subsequent directives, particularly those restricting foreign funding for human rights work and imposing the 30 percent cap on administrative expenses.
  • Allow the media and civil society to operate freely by refraining from using laws like the antiterrorism proclamation to persecute journalists and human rights defenders in connection with their work.
  • Eliminate barriers that prohibit legitimate opposition groups from freely organizing public events and reaching out to their constituencies.
  • Encourage open and all-inclusive dialogue on key political and governance issues by granting alternative voices unfettered access to state-owned media and other public platforms, including the internet.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ethiopian repression of Muslim protests must stop | Amnesty International

The Ethiopian government must end its use of repressive tactics against demonstrators, following initial reports of widespread arrests of Muslim protestors during this morning’s Eid al-Fitr celebrations, said Amnesty International today.
“We are extremely concerned at reports coming out of Ethiopia this morning of further widespread arrests of Muslim protesters. The Ethiopian government’s  ongoing repressive crackdown on freedom of speech and the right to peacefully protest has to end now,” said Claire Beston, Amnesty International’s Ethiopia researcher.
Last week, another incident related to the protests reportedly ended in the deaths of an unconfirmed number of people in the town of Kofele in Oromia region.
During the 18 month-long protest movement against alleged government interference in Islamic affairs, the vast majority of demonstrations have been peaceful. However, there have been at least four incidents involving serious allegations of the excessive use of force by security forces against demonstrators in the long-running movement.  While a few isolated incidents of violence involving protestors have occurred, these have taken place during episodes where excessive police force is alleged.
“These reports of further deaths in the context of the Muslim protest movement are deeply worrying. There must be an immediate, independent and impartial investigation into the events in Kofele, as well as into the four incidents last year which resulted in the deaths and injuries of protestors,” said Claire Beston.
“With further protests planned, it is imperative that the behaviour of the security forces is scrutinised and if enough admissible evidence of crimes is found, suspected perpetrators should be prosecuted in trial proceedings that meet international standards.”
Accounts of last week’s incident in Kofele from the protestors and the government differ widely.
Protestors report that the security forces opened fire on unarmed people who were protesting against the arrests of members of the local Muslim community. One resident of Kofele told Amnesty International that 14 people were shot dead by the army, including at least three children. Another said that 11 people had been killed.
According to media reports, the authorities have said that the protestors were armed, leading to an outbreak of violence which resulted in the deaths of three protestors and injuries to a number of police officers. Government representatives refused to respond to Amnesty International’s queries about the incident.
There are also reports of large numbers of arrests in and around Kofele, Oromia, and further arrests in Addis Ababa over the last week.
Those arrested included two journalists - Darsema Sori and Khalid Mohamed - detained early last week in Addis Ababa. 
The two men were working for Radio Bilal, which has regularly reported on the protest movement. Darsema Sori had also previously worked for the publication Ye’Muslimoch Guday (Muslim Affairs), from which two employees have already been arrested during the protest movement, and who are currently being prosecuted under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.
According to information received by Amnesty International Darema Sori and Khalid Mohamed are being held at Sostegna (third) police station in Addis Ababa and are not being permitted visitors. They have reportedly been taken to court and were remanded in custody while the police continue their investigation.
Reports of arrests and detentions of peaceful protestors and people suspected of involvement in organising the protests have continued throughout 18-months of demonstrations.
Despite many months of large-scale, peaceful protests, the government has repeatedly attempted to paint the protest movement as violent and terrorist-related in statements to the media and in parliament. Amnesty International has received a number of reports of messages aired via the state media over the last week, warning that the authorities would take firm action against anyone who attempted to take part in further demonstrations.
“This is a violation of people’s right to peacefully protest, as protected in Ethiopia’s Constitution,” said Claire Beston. “The government continues to respond to the grievances of the Muslim community with violence, arbitrary arrests and the use of the overly-broad Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to prosecute the movements’ leaders and other individuals.”
As demonstrations continue, Amnesty International is concerned that the response of the authorities will also continue to involve human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests of peaceful protestors and possible further bloodshed.
The organization urges the Ethiopian government to respect the right of its citizens to peacefully protest and urges an immediate end to heavy-handed tactics in response to the protests. Anyone arrested solely for exercising their right to peaceful protest must be released immediately.
The trial continues of 29 figures related to the protest movement including nine members of a committee of representatives selected by the Muslim community to represent their grievances to the government, and one journalist, Yusuf Getachew, of the publication Ye’Muslimoch Guday. The trial has already been marred by a number of fair trial concerns, including the airing on state-run Ethiopian Television (ETV) of a programme called “Jihadawi Harakat.” It painted the Muslim protest movement and some of the individuals on trial as having connections with Islamic extremist groups, seriously jeopardising the right of the defendants to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The trial is now taking place in closed proceedings, increasing fears that the defendants will not receive a fair trial. Amnesty International believes that the individuals on trial are being prosecuted because of their participation in a peaceful protest movement.
Solomon Kebede, another journalist working for Ye’Muslimoch Guday was recently charged under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation along with 27 other people, according to information received by Amnesty International.
During 2012 there were at least four incidents in which the security forces were alleged to have used excessive force during the dispersal and arrest of protestors. At least two of these incidents - in the towns of Gerba in the Amhara region, and Asasa in the Oromia region - resulted in the deaths of protestors.
Two further incidents in Addis Ababa reportedly resulted in many injuries to protestors. Amnesty International called for independent investigations to be conducted into these incidents, but according to available information, no such investigation has taken place.
Other protests have also been affected by the government’s pervasive intolerance of dissent. The opposition Unity for Democracy and Justice Party has reported arrests of its members in a number of locations around the country in recent weeks. They were engaged in organising demonstrations, handing out leaflets for demonstrations and calling on people to sign a petition calling for the revocation of the Anti-Terrorism Legislation and the release of political prisoners.