News highlights: Libyan coast guard refuses rescue, citing full detention centres, AU Summit aims to end conflicts, Eritrean children malnourished

In this week’s news highlights: Discrimanation against Eritrean Women examined; UNICEF discovers Eritrean kids most malnourished; AU summit aims to end conflict on the continent; Eritrean man killed by police; Eritrean president criticizes TPLF in an interview; President of South Sudan accused of being unwilling to form coalition while human rights violations continue; Former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir may be handed over to International Criminal Court; Germany did not hold to its promise to accept boat refugees after Malta agreement; Salvini sent to Italian court over refused disembarkation; Partnership between Spain and Italy on new migration policy; Crew of German rescue ship awarded by Amnesty International; Libyan coast guard fails to save 91 people, now feared missing; and UNHCR is struggling in Niger.

Greater horn of Africa 

UN Committee reviews discrimination against women in Eritrea
From February 10 to 28, The United Nations Committee on the Elemination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is holding its 75th session, in which the situation for women in several countries – including Eritrea – is reviewed. In a submitted report, the Eritrean government states that it “strongly [believes] that promoting gender equality and harnessing the productive potential of women is a necessity”. However, The Network of Eritrean Women said that “[t]he absence of rule of law and democratic institutions [in Eritrea] gravely affected every aspect of the rights of women and girls,” UN Geneva reports. CEDAW asks Eritrea for more information regarding the implementation of anti-discrimination laws and measures taken against “the crime of enslavement, including acts of sexual slavery, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and rape”.

Eritrea: Children in Eritrea the most malnourished in Eastern and Southern Africa
More than 60% of the Eritrean children younger than 5 years old are not growing well – they are “stunted, wasted or underweight,’’ according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). UNICEF concludes that Eritrea has the largest percentage of malnourished children in Eastern and Southern Africa. EritreaHub argues that “[a]ny self-respecting government would resign if UNICEF produced a report showing this level of suffering”.

Ethiopia: African Union Summit under the theme ‘silencing the guns’
On February 9 and 10, the 33rd African Union (AU) Summit was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Under the theme ‘Silencing the guns’, the African leaders tried to find a way to end the regional violence across the African continent, reports Aljazeera. The new AU president Cyril Ramaphosa, president of South Africa, said at the summit: “We will focus our efforts on conflict resolution across the African continent, especially those experiencing protracted conflict.” The conflicts in South Sudan and Libya were high on the agenda.

Eritrea: Eritrean man killed in the streets by the police
Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE) announced that Shewit Yakob Gebretensae, a 27-year old man, was shot dead in Mendefera, Eritrea. Shewit did not commit any crimes, but allegedly resisted when the police arrested him – he was shot and killed on the spot. The reason for the arrest was Shewit leaving national service without official permission, to take care of his disabled mother and younger brother, reports HRCE. Elizabeth Chyrum, Director of HRCE, argues that this murder highlights an important problem in Eritrea, namely “the virtual imprisonment for life of whole generations of young men and women in the military or in slave labour.” She further commented that “[t]his tragic situation will only end when a short time limit is imposed and effectively enforced in the National Service conscription system of Eritrea”.

Eritrea/Ethiopia: Isaias Afwerki blames TPLF for border dispute
Eritrea’s state-owned EriTV broadcasted an interview with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. The president spoke about the situation in Ethiopia and his concern about the ethnic conflict involving the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of the Tigray region in Ethiopia. Isaias holds the TPLF responsible for the unsolved border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia, especially around the Badme area in Eritrea. A peace deal was signed in 2000 and a boundary commission decided that the Badme area belongs to Eritrea. According to Isiais, TPLF, active in the Badme region, refused to give the area to Eritrea although the findings of the commission were accepted by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018. In the interview Isaias claims: “… TPLF, has and continues to engage in an act of an all-out destructiveness,” Eritrea Hub reports. The President’s remarks could heighten tensions between Tigray and Eritrea.

South Sudan: President South Sudan accused of “spoiling peace”
Several news agencies report on an article of The Associated Press, in which it is stated that the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, received the “spoiler of peace” award. The award is created by Dismas Nkunda, a Ugandan activist, who “accuses Kiir of being unwilling to compromise on major issues needed to form the coalition government,” Voice Of America (VOA) reports. The new coalition government in South Sudan needs to be formed before February 22 according to agreements. However, UN officials say that the human rights situation in the country is getting worse as the deadline comes closer. In VOA, it is stated that thousands of people are forced to flee their homes because of the ongoing fights, journalists continue to be tortured and children continue being recruited as soldiers by both parties.

Sudan: Ex-president Omar al-Bashir to face international court
According to several news agencies, Sudan is willing to hand over its ex-president Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court. Al-Bashir is being accused of committing war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Darfur from 2003 until 2019, The Guardian reports. The news agency further states that, according to the UN, 200,000 to 400,000 people died in the conflict and 2,7 million people were displaced.


Italy: Salvini to face trial for not letting migrants and refugees disembark
On February 12, the Italian Senate decided to permit the prosecutors to bring Matteo Salvini, Italy’s former interior minister, to court. According to BBC, Salvini “is accused of illegally keeping people on a boat off Sicily for days in August 2019”. 116 migrants and refugees on board the rescue vessel had to stay at sea for almost a week before they were allowed to enter Italy. Salvini commented to the Senate: “I want to go to a courtroom with my head held high. Defending the borders was my duty. I am proud of what I have done,” reports The Guardian. On February 27, the Senate will vote again to decide whether Salvino should be prosecuted for ‘kidnapping’ 164 migrants from the Open Arms rescue vessel.

Germany: Germany fails to implement Malta agreement
Germany fails to keep its promise to relocate a quarter of migrants and refugees who arrived in Southern Europe since the Malta agreement in September, according to a list submitted to the Tagesspiegel by the Federal Minister of Interior of Germany. The only time Germany relocated people was one day after the Malta Agreement was signed; the country took in 47 shipwreck survivors. Germany indicated that 309 more persons were pending. Stephan Mayer, a German politician, declared in mid-January that 501 persons had been transferred to Germany so far and insinuated that the Malta agreement had been successful. However, the list now shows that this number is the sum of previous rescue operations since summer 2018, the year before the Malta Agreement.

Spain/Italy: Spain and Italy join forces and work on new migration policy
Spain and Italy want to form an alliance to influence the European Union’s new migration policy, The Associated Press reports. Foreign Ministers of Spain and Italy, Arancha González Laya and Luigi Di Maio, announced that they worked on an informal proposal. Because both countries receive a large influx of migrants and refugees, they “know better than anybody else the migration phenomenon,” Di maio said. González Laya highlighted that the proposal is based on “justice” and “solidarity.”

Germany: crew of rescue vessel receives Amnesty’s human rights prize
Amnesty International Germany awarded the crew of the German rescue ship ‘Iuventa’ with the Amnesty human right award 2020 for rescuing more than 14,000 migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. The crew of Iuventa undertook 16 rescue operations from July 2016 till August 2017. However, in August 2017, the boat was taken by Italian authorities and ten crew members are facing criminal charges “even though all they were doing is saving people from drowning in the Mediterranean,” Amnesty explained to several news agencies.

North of Africa

Libya: Libya rejects rescue attempt – a boat with 91 migrants is feared missing
The Libyan coastguard refused to set up a rescue attempt after they were contacted by the emergency helpline ‘Alarm Phone’ concerning a small boat with 91 migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. The Libyan coastguard did not launch a rescue attempt because they claim their detention centers to be “full”, Infomigrants reports. The 91 people are feared missing. On Sunday, 93 other persons in distress at the Meditteranean Sea were saved by the Spanish NGO Aita Mari.

Niger: The UNHCR encounters difficulties in Niger
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) finds itself in a difficult position in Niger, migration researcher Johannes Claes reports to The New Humanitarian (TNH). Claes and TNH argue that UNHCR is stuck in the middle between the duty to provide protection and services to the Sudanese refugees in Niger and the government of Niger who is worried about the growing number of Sudanese refugees. It has become more difficult for the UNHCR to provide protection and certainty, not only in Niger. In December 2019, the situation became worse after a protest in Agadez by Sudanese asylum seekers escalated.