News highlights: Murder of Oromo singer-activist sparks violence in Ethiopia, Special Rapporteur on Eritrea presents statement in Geneva, Eritreans seek remedy for illegal pushback

Artwork from Banksy

In this week’s news highlights: Violence after the murder of Ethiopian Oromo singer and activist; New funding under the EUTF announced for the Horn, including Eritrea; UN Special Rapporteur presents statement on Eritrea; Calls for divestment from Eritrea; New Eritrean Diaspora organization seeking members; Eritrea Focus launches conference; Statewatch calls for end “mockery of the law” in Libyan SAR zone; Tunisia receives EU-funded monitoring system; Eritrean asylum seekers seek for remedy from Malta; Oxfam criticizes EU and Greek asylum system; German rights group calls for human rights-based refugee policy; And EU accused of wanting “migrants to drown” by Sea-Watch 3 captain.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Violent crackdown of protests following singer’s murder
On June 29, popular Ethiopian singer and activist of Oromo ethnicity, Hachalu Hundessa, was shot dead in the capital of Addis Ababa. The murder set off large protests all over the country. The Ethiopian government is accused of a violent crackdown on the protests, report multiple news outlets. The military has been deployed after “armed gangs roamed neighbourhoods” and over 80 people were killed during the protests, reports Reuters. On  the morning of June 30 the Ethiopian government shut down the internet and there are reports of police opening fire on protestors. Furthermore, authorities have arrested and detained political opposition leaders who are held incommunicado. Civil rights organizations have criticized the Ethiopian government for the internet shutdown, the arbitrary arrest of opposition leaders and the violence during the protests.

Horn of Africa/EU: Additional projects announced under the EUTF, including for Eritrea
The European Union announced a new package of projects under the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF) of almost 100 million EUR. Most of the funding goes to Sudan to address the social and economic crisis in the country. 19.7 million EUR goes to projects in Eritrea, which were announced earlier, but have now been approved. The projects in Eritrea relate to supporting “the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review Recommendations, diaspora engagement, justice administration, and economic growth through job creation and public finance management.” Smaller amounts of funding are also allocated to South Sudan and Rwanda.

Eritrea/UN: UN Special Rapporteur presents statement on Eritrea at the Human Rights Council
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, presented her statement during the 44th Session of the Human Rights Council on June 30. Kravetz notes no progress in the situation of human rights in Eritrea. She is especially concerned that the COVID-19 situation will exacerbate the already dire situation for many people, amid recent reports of food shortages and famine. Kravetz notes that “Eritrean authorities have complained that my report presents a distorted picture of the situation in the country.” However, Kravetz explains Eritrea has refused to cooperate with the mandate. Eritrean officials refused to meet, did not respond to requests for input and have denied access to the Special Rapporteur from the start. Due to the lack of progress, human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch push for the renewal of the mandate, which is up for renewal in the coming weeks.

Eritrea: Human rights organisation calls for divestment from Eritrean forced labour
Human rights organisation Freedom United has started a campaign for international divestment from forced labour in Eritrea. Freedom United states that Eritrea’s mandatory and indefinite system of forced labour under national conscription is “aided and abetted by numerous international governments and companies.” Among them are the European Union, 17 mining companies and the United Kingdom branch of JP Morgan Chase.  The EU invests in Eritrea to curb migration, because Eritrea is one of the top 10 refugee-source countries and the only one in the top 10 that is not an active warzone, explains the organisation. It notes that the brutality of national conscription is the major reason for Eritreans to flee the country, but the European Commission still chooses to fund projects that make use of national conscription. This is happening without EU oversight and against the advice from the European parliament.

Eritrea: Call for members and cooperation by newly formed Eritrean Diaspora organization
A group of Eritrean scholars and professionals have formed the Eritrean Research Institute for Policy and Strategy (ERIPS) and are calling for other Eritrean professionals, academics (also without a doctorate) and experienced activists to join their Institute in setting up a think tank to speed up “positive change,” transform the political system and end the “suffering of the Eritrean people.” In a dual-track, ERIPS envisions to combine cooperation with other Eritreans and organizations with the development of input for policy reform that would outline the eventual transformation of Eritrea’s institutions. ERIPS was founded after a group of signatories of the recent “The 2020 Manifesto of Eritrean Scholars and Professionals in the Diaspora” got together in May to discuss human rights and justice for Eritrea. In a similar declaration, the Eritrean Political Forces have urged for “all Eritrean political organizations now to respond to the heightened public call for unity to remove the dictatorial regime without delay.”

Eritrea: Digital conference kicks off
Eritrea Focus launched a conference digitally this week. The conference invited a wide range of people to interact in smaller groups on key topics in relation to Eritrea, human rights and cooperation. The conference is a follow-up of an earlier meeting in London which discussed democracy in Eritrea.

North of Africa

Libya: Open letter by Statewatch urges  end to “mockery of the law” that is Libyan SAR zone
In an open letter the civil rights organization Statewatch, together with hundreds of signatories, has called upon the SecretaryGeneral of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Kitack Lim to revoke the Libyan maritime search and rescue zones in order to curb what Statewatch describes as ‘pull-back’ operations in which Libyan actors ‘pull’ migrants and refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean ‘back’ into detention centers where the face systematic and widespread abuse, mistreatment and violence. This system, according to Yasha Maccanico from Statewatch, “makes a mockery of the law of the sea. It allows other states to relinquish their responsibilities under international law and subordinates human rights, the right to life and the prohibition of torture.Statewatch states that Libya cannot be seen as a safe port for disembarkment for refugees, which is a requirement under international law. Furthermore, with the current search and rescue zones system the EU can relinquish its responsibility for the wellbeing of humans and hand over this responsibility to Libyan actors who have been shown to have links to human traffickers. NGOs, meanwhile, are criminalized for trying to uphold international laws by taking refugees to safe ports.

Tunisia/EU: New EU-funded monitoring system to combat migration installed in Tunisia
A new monitoring system funded by the European Union (EU) is being set up in Tunisia to counter irregular migration across the Mediterranean Sea, reports Matthias Monroy, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei. A similar system has been set up in Libya as well, and Algeria and Egypt cooperate in similar schemes. The Tunisian monitoring system is financed by the European Commission, member states and Switzerland to supply Tunisian authorities with communication systems, radars, position transponders and receivers as well as equipment for night and thermal vision. Germany already supplied equipment and training in 2019. Human rights organizations, rescue organizations and several lawyers see these kinds of projects as unethical and against international laws on rescue and non-refoulement.


Malta: Eritrean asylum seekers seek remedy from Malta after being wrongfully ‘pushed back’ to Libya
13 Eritrean asylum seekers have filed a judicial protest and call upon Malta to provide an effective remedy after their rights were breached in a botched pushback operation to Libya, reports Times of Malta. The principle of non-refoulement was breached after a fishing boat acting as a Maltese state agent returned the distressed vessel carrying migrants and refugees to Libya, which goes against Malta’s obligation under international law to take migrants and refugees to a safe port. Among the group were a number of vulnerable women and a two-and-a-half-year-old child. In Libya the asylum seekers endured abuse, beatings and lack of food in inhumane detention. The botched pushback operation itself resulted in the death of five refugees in May 2020. Because the Maltese authorities refused to start an investigation, the NGO Repubblika started a criminal complaint which led to a government inquiry. Although the prime minister and the crew Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat were cleared from homicide allegations, the 13 Eritrean asylum seekers seek a proper remedy.

Greece: Oxfam condemns EU and Greek asylum system
According to Oxfam the new Greek asylum law that entered into force on January first 2020 has “significantly diminished protection for people seeking asylum,” and increased “asylum seekers’ vulnerabilities, while limiting access to their fundamental right to seek asylum and be protected from serious risks.” The EU is also to blame, states Oxfam in their Diminished, Derogated, Denied report; for years the EU has refused to share responsibility while using Greece as a testing ground for inhumane migration policies. Asylum seekers who are in dire need of protection and support are crammed into overcrowded tent camps where basic facilities, protection and assistance are lacking. Meanwhile the principle of non-refoulement is violated by the limiting of legal asylum-seeking options and pushbacks to Turkey.

Germany: Human rights group calls for human rights-based refugee policy
Human rights group PRO ASYL has called upon Germany to foster human rights-based refugee policy as the country assumed European Council Presidency on July 1. Since the EU-Turkey deal “the Federal Government is pushing ahead with the outsourcing of refugee protection to non-European states such as Turkey. But people don’t get protection there!” states Günter Burkhardt, Managing Director of PRO ASYL. As a result of this border externalization, countries like Malta and Italy refuse to perform their duty under international law to rescue migrants and refugees in distress at sea, which has resulted in the drowning of men, women and children under the eyes of border agencies and coastguards. Furthermore, the pushback of migrants and refugees to countries where their rights are violated, like Libya or Turkey, has become a common occurrence.  And so has the locking up of asylum seekers in deplorable conditions such as the Greek Moria refugee camp.

EU: “EU wants migrants to drown” says Sea-Watch 3 captain
Captain Carola Rackete from the civil rescue boat Sea-Watch 3 says that despite the new coalition government in Italy, the situation for migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean did not improve, reports InfoMigrants. According to Rackete, European states hinder rescue and monitoring missions in the Meditererranean “because the European Union wants them [migrants and refugees] to drown, to scare those who might attempt to cross. They drown because Europe denies them access to any safe routes and leaves them no options other than to risk their lives at sea.” The statements were made on June 29, on the one year anniversary of Rackete’s arrest for bringing 53 rescued migrants and refugees to Lampedusa, Italy, without permission.