News highlights: UN rapporteur finds no improvement of human rights in Eritrea, Bangladeshi media reports arrests related to Libya migrant killings, Parliaments inquire about human rights in Eritrea

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In this week’s news highlights: No improvement in Eritrea’s human rights situation; Eritrean profiles in mixed migration flows; Worries over starvation in Dankalia, Eritrea; Eritrea urged to release political prisoners; Sudanese alleged war criminal in ICC custody; Thousands of Ethiopian migrants return amid COVID-19; Ethiopia’s upper house speaker resigns; UK parliament questions situation in Eritrea; Belgian Parliamentary inquiries about human rights in Eritrea; Sea-Watch 3 sets sail to Libya; Migrants and refugees to relocate from Malta; Declined security in Libya causes more IDPs; Bangladeshi media reports arrests of traffickers related to deaths of 30 migrants in Libya; Attacks against civilians in Libya condemned by Amnesty; 250 refugees and migrants intercepted at sea by Libya; Doctors on the frontline of two Libyan battles; IOM releases guidance on recruitment of migrant workers; UNHCR calls for environmental action to protect refugees; And over 200.000 COVID-19 cases in Africa.

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea: Report by UN Special Rapporteur shows no changes in human rights situation Eritrea
On May 11, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, published her latest report. Kravetz’s mandate was extended for one year and she was requested to present a report on the situation in Eritrea to the Human Rights Council at its 44th session. The report does not show any improvement in the human rights situation in Eritrea and the high number of Eritreans fleeing the country confirms this. Key issues such as arbitrary imprisonment and forced labour under the indefinite national service remain, as widespread and systematic abuses continue, according to the report. Two years on from the peace agreement with Ethiopia, the agreement has yet to materialize for the Eritrean people. The Eritrean authorities have to implement much needed human rights reforms to improve this situation, as per the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur.

Eritrea: MMC publishes report on profiles and drivers of Eritreans in mixed migration flows
On June 3, the Mixed Migration Centre (MMC) published a report on profiles and driving factors of Eritreans in mixed migration flows in East-Africa and Yemen. The report is based on 122 interviews conducted with Eritreans travelling along mixed migration routes out of East Africa between June 2017 and December 2019. The report shows that thousands of Eritreans are forced to flee Eritrea every year, driven by the harsh conditions and conscription into indefinite national service. The Eritrean population living in East Africa experience uncertainty and often face high unemployment rates, lack of opportunities and human rights violations. Although the arrivals in Europe remain relatively low compared to earlier years, Eritreans continue to travel north despite increasingly dangerous situations of being trapped and tortured in Libya.

Eritrea: Statement by Network of Eritrean Women on human rights situation in Dankalia
On June 8, The Network of Eritrean Women published a statement on the human rights situation in the Dankalia region of Eritrea. The Network states that “the recent developments in the Dankalia region [are] truly horrific” and adds that many people “could possibly starve to death as people are unable to access food and medicines” due to COVID-19 restrictions and other measures that the Eritrean government imposed. They call upon the international community to take a stand against the Eritrean government to improve the human rights situation in Eritrea. Further indications show that the situation may be similar for other Eritreans in the country, who do not have the possibility to speak out.

Eritrea: Renewed calls to release political prisoners
Human rights groups and families have reaffirmed their call for the release of political prisoners detained in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions unprotected against COVID-19, reports AllAfrica. There are at least 10.000 prisoners of conscience, many of them held without a trial and often incommunicado. While Eritrea claims to be COVID-19 free after all 39 cases have recovered, critics and human rights groups remain skeptical and reiterate that Eritrea’s poor healthcare institutions and detention circumstances leave inmates extremely vulnerable.

Sudan: Fugitive for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur taken into ICC custody
On June 9, the International Criminal Court (ICC) stated that Ali Kosheib surrendered himself and is in court custody. Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that Ali Kosheib’s surrender to the ICC is a major step towards justice for the victims of atrocious crimes in Darfur (Sudan) and their families. Kosheib has been a fugitive for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by government-backed militias in Darfur since 2007. The ICC announced that the initial appearance of Kosheib before the ICC Pre-Trail Chamber will take place soon.

Ethiopia: Thousands of migrants are returned to Ethiopia
Over 15.000 Ethiopians have been returned since April 1 because they lost their livelihood abroad, reports the International Organization for Migration (IOM). IOM and other organizations have assisted hundreds in their return by providing quarantine centers, handwashing facilities, transportation, information campaigns, sanitation products, tents and training, states IOM. Between 2008 and 2013 an estimated 460.000 migrants left Ethiopia for the Gulf and hundreds of thousands more via irregular channels via Yemen. With COVID-19 still on the rise and migrants returning from abroad, combating the virus remains challenging. Other Ethiopians have been deported over the past months due to crackdowns in Saudi Arabia.

Ethiopia: Speaker of Ethiopia’s upper house resigns due to postponement of elections
On June 8, Ethiopia’s upper house speaker Keria Ibrahim resigned in protest at the postponement of planned elections in Ethiopia due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Reuters reports. Ibrahim is an official in the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), one of the biggest political parties in Ethiopia which has opposed the poll postponement for several weeks now. The resignation is a sign of growing tension between TPLF and the Ethiopian government. Ibrahim stated that she “can’t be an accomplice when the constitution is being violated and a dictatorial government is being formed”. In May, TPLF declared  it would organise polls for the Tigray region in opposition to the postponement, potentially setting the Tigray region on a collision course with the federal government.


UK: British Parliament asks questions about human rights situation in Eritrea
The British Members of Parliament started to work again and focused on the dire human rights situation in Eritrea through a series of questions to Ministers, EritreaHub reports. The questions concerned, among others, the difficult situation of Eritrean prisoners, the rights of journalists in Eritrea, COVID-19 and the desert locust effects in the country. The British Government commits itself to support the continued work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea by stating that “[t]he UK is a strong supporter of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea and the important work that she does in challenging the government of Eritrea to improve its human rights record”.

Belgium: Parliamentary inquiries about human rights in Eritrea
Belgian parliamentarian Els van Hoof inquired about Belgium’s role with regard to forced labor in Eritrea, directed at minister of foreign affairs and defense Philippe Goffin. The instigator for the questions is the recent lawsuit against the European Union (EU) by an Eritrean human rights foundation in the Amsterdam Court. The EU finances an 80 million euro road project that is constructed partly through forced labor and without direct overview by the EU. The EU defends its project by saying it does not finance forced labor, but rather the material that is used by forced laborers, an “odd position” according to Els van Hoof. Minister  Goffin responded that he cannot make a statement on an ongoing investigation from the Amsterdam Court, but that Belgium remains very concerned with the human rights violations in Eritrea. Belgium has urged a renewal of the UN mandate that investigates Eritrea while being in “open and constructive dialogue” with Eritrean authorities. The opportunities for dialogue remain questionable, as even the UN special rapporteur working on the renewed mandate was denied access to the country and all her policy proposals ignored.

Italy: Sea-Watch 3 has set sail from Italy
The private rescue ship Sea-Watch 3 has set sail from the Italian port of Messina after more than three months and is headed towards Libya, tweeted Sea-Watch International on June 6. Sea-Watch 3 will be the first NGO ship that will operate in the area for more than two months and has taken extra measures against COVID-19. Sea-Watch 4 will likely set sail in a few weeks from Spain and has a fully-equipped hospital on board. Italian authorities have confiscated and blocked multiple rescue ships through strict policies condemned by Amnesty International. The criminalization of NGOs, according to head of the Amnesty International Italian office Emanuele Russo, showed the Italian government lacked “the decency to hide its contempt for human rights and the dignity of people,” reports InfoMigrants.

Malta: EU countries to take in migrants and refugees from Malta
Germany, France, Portugal and Luxembourg are willing to take in some of the 425 migrants and refugees that just disembarked on Malta, report multiple news outlets. How many migrants and refugees will be relocated is unknown.  The migrants who had been stranded on four boats for months were refused by Malta due to COVID-19 and a lack of solidarity from other EU countries in relocation efforts. As tensions on the vessels grew,  the Maltese government stated it would not endanger the lives of crew members, migrants and refugees because member states show a lack of solidarity.  The European Commission has been seeking a more permanent and fair solution to divide migrants and refugees since January 2019 but has so far been unsuccessful, reports EuObserver.

North Africa 

Libya: More IDPs due to deteriorating security in Libya
Between June 5 and June 7 at least 3.695 families, approximately 18.475 people, were internally displaced in Libya, reports the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in their Displacement Tracking Matrix report. This brings the total number of internally displaced people (IDP) to 401.836. 94% were displaced due to the deterioration of the security situation related to the civil war and 60% live in rented accommodations they have to pay themselves. Food and sanitation items are the humanitarian priority but psychosocial support and healthcare are also vital says the IOM.

Libya: Bangladeshi media reports 20 arrests in connection with migrant killings in Libya
Bangladeshi media is reporting that 20 arrests of suspected human traffickers have taken place in relation to the killing of 30 migrants in Libya. 26 of the 30 victims are said to originate in Bangladesh. One of those arrested is named as Kamal Hossain, also known as Hazi Kamal, who is allegedly involved in the transport of around 400 Bangladeshis to Libya in the past decade.

Libya: Amnesty International condemns deliberate attacks on civilians
Through witness testimonies and analyses of photos, videos and satellite images, Amnesty International found that deliberate attacks on civilians took place between April 13 and June 1 in Libya. The attacks include looting, arson, forced eviction, planting mines in civilian buildings, indiscriminate attacks and punishing civilians for their perceived affiliation with opposing groups. Amnesty International warns that these may constitute war crimes. Both the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Khalifa Haftar-led Libyan National Army (LNA) were conducting indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians. GNA-affiliated combatants for example threatened in an online video message that  they would “not leave a single woman alive” if they captured Tarhuna. With the Libyan judicial authorities unwilling or unable to investigate and punish the war crimes Amnesty International calls upon the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish a commission to investigate the violations.

Libya: UNHCR reports disembarkation of 250 refugees and migrants in Tripoli
On June 10, the UN Refugee Agency Libya (UNHCR) reported that “some 250 refugees and migrants are disembarking at Tripoli naval base after being intercepted at sea by Libyan Coast Guard”. The UNHCR, together with the International Red Cross (IRC) are on the ground providing life-saving assistance to all the survivors.

Libya: Libyan doctors and nurses are fighting on two fronts
The war in Libya between eastern forces who allied with Khalifa Haftar and the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) was already a battle for doctors and nurses but the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the situation for the medical personnel. Doctors and nurses are fighting on the frontline despite the fact that their salaries often go unpaid, the hospitals are being shelled and Libya is not prepared for a global pandemic. A Libyan maternity nurse working in a hospital in Tripoli – which was shelled five days in April – told The New Humanitarian that the “healthcare system is collapsing” and added that the hospitals “are not safe, either for us or for our patients”.


World: IOM launches guidance on recruitment of migrant workers
June 8, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) published its global guidance for member states on the “regulation of international recruitment and protection of migrant workers”. The guidance aims to help policymakers to develop a “comprehensive, multi-faceted approach to promote ethical recruitment, enhance transparency and accountability, and improve the migration and employment outcomes for all stakeholders”. Migrant workers can be vulnerable to abuse and exploitation during employment due to unethical recruitment and experience fear of deportation or the inability to find alternative employment, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

World: UNHCR urges to reduce environmental impact to protect refugees
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), supporting the UN Environmental Programme, calls for more action to prevent and mitigate climate-induced displacement. Furthermore the UNHCR urges to protect displaced populations and their host communities. The UNHCR Special Advisor on Climate Action, Andrew Harper, said that “[c]limate change and environmental issues are closely intertwined with refugee movements and internal displacement”. The UNHCR renews its own commitments to reduce the environmental impact of its operations.

Africa: Over 200.000 confirmed coronavirus cases in Africa
There are over 200.000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with close to 5.500 deaths, reports the World Health Organization’ Regional Office for Africa. The variations in confirmed cases between neighboring countries suggests a lack of testing and thus underreporting. South Africa for example, is the country with most recorded infections in Africa with almost 53.000 cases, while neighbor Angola has reported just 93 infected. Overall data is missing as there are just 8 African countries with statistics that show the number of tests per confirmed COVID-19 case, and they differ widely.  Tunisia has 115 tests per confirmed case, Nigeria has 6. Furthermore there are wide gaps in methodology, with some countries counting only deaths in hospitals while others include deaths at home.  Health experts warn that many African countries have fragile health systems that could be overwhelmed by COVID-19, reports Al Jazeera.