News Highlights: Journalists in danger in the Horn, Frontex director resign after accusations, Deaths at sea rise in the Mediterranean

In this week’s News Highlights: TPLF states a general was murdered in Ethiopian federal prison; Somali region of Ethiopia has not seen rain since 18 month; Dozens of resistance committees members arbitrarily held in Sudanese jail; Al-Shabaab strikes on Somalian African Union base; Ethiopia as ‘worst jailers of journalists’ on the continent; Video allegedly shows abuses by the Ethiopian army towards ethnic Tigrayan boy; US Chargé d’Affaires calls for an immediate protection of journalists in South Sudan; New investigation strategy on crimes against humanity by the ICC in Libya; Eritrean refugees detained and pushed back by Egyptian authorities; Frontex director resigns after accusations of illegal pushbacks; UNHCR calls for urgent state action as deaths at sea rise in the Mediterranean; 547 migrants and refugees crossing the Channel in two days; Migrant and refugee camp attacked in Paris; Erdogan’s project of voluntary return for one million Syrian refugees; public seminar on Libya at the European Parliament; Alleged human trafficking network dismantled in North Wales; 20th World Press Freedom Index reveals ‘polarisation’ of journalism.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: TPLF states a general was murdered in federal prison
On 2 May, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) General Gebremedhin Feqadu was murdered in Addis Abeba prison, according to TPLF External Affairs Office. According to the narrative of the Ethiopian government, Gebremedhin Feqadu died of sudden death while talking to his family during visitation hours. On 3 May, TPLF asked for an independent investigation led by international entities into the death of Gebremedhin Feqadu. The late general was supposed to appear in court for a hearing regarding the charges he was facing in connection with the attack of the Ethiopian Defence Forces’ Northern Command Force.

Ethiopia: Somali region has not seen rain since 18 month
The Somali region has not seen rain for 18 months and the local nomads are in a critical situation, according to several sources. Most of the livestock that people rely on to survive have died due to the drought, and food insecurity is rapidly increasing in the region. According to several sources, the local populations did not have time to recover from the previous drought before the arrival of this one, which makes them particularly vulnerable. On 3 May the World Food Program (WFP) issued a report on the drought in the Horn of Africa stating:  “The cumulative rainfall amount over March to April shows that the rains have started in most areas. […] Although the received rains will to some extent provide some relief from the on-going drought, the overall seasonal rains might be insufficient to make a significant impact”.

Sudan: Dozens of resistance committees members arbitrarily held in jail
Dozens of resistance committee members and pro-democracy activists have been in prison for more than a month in the Soba prison in Khartoum without being charged with an offence and without explanation, according to Voice of America (VOA). According to Sudanese lawyer and human rights activist Abdulhameed Ibrahim, those arbitrary arrests violate international human rights law. Following the 25 October 2021 Sudanese coup, hundreds of resistance committees members and pro-democracy activists in total have been in prisons without being charged by a court of law, according to VOA.

Somalia: Al-Shabaab strikes on African Union base 
On 3 May,  Al-Shabaab forces attacked an African Union peacekeepers’ camp in the centre of Somalia,  killing multiple Burundian peacekeepers. Although no official numbers have been disclosed yet, according to a high ranking Burundian officer, 30 soldiers were killed, 22 wounded and 12 are still missing. According to Reuters, this attack is one of the biggest of Al-Shabaab this year. According to several sources, the attacks aim to destabilise the country as the presidential election is approaching in Somalia.

Ethiopia: Ethiopia as ‘worst jailers of journalists’ on the continent
Since the start of the war between the government and forces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Ethiopia has fallen in the international press freedom index produced by Reporters sans Frontières (RSF),  Voice of America (VOA) News reports. While some journalists, such as radio presenter Assegid Mulugeta, believe that press freedom has improved in Ethiopia in recent years – especially since the prime minister released imprisoned journalists in 2018 – others remain concerned. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission issued a statement on Tuesday 3 May expressing concern about the situation of journalist Gobeze Sisay, who was arrested by plainclothes agents on Sunday 1 May and whose location remains unknown. Some journalists have documented that 46 other journalists were detained in Ethiopia in 2021, “making [it] one of the worst jailers of journalists in Africa,” VOA News writes.

Ethiopia: Video allegedly shows abuses by the Ethiopian army towards ethnic Tigrayan boy
A four-minute video shared online allegedly shows a teenage boy, apparently of Tigrayan origin, being abused by men wearing Ethiopian army uniforms, Voice of America (VOA) News reports. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission told VOA News that it was “gathering information regarding the incident”. The video reportedly shows a boy, whom the men say is from Abbi Adi, a town in the Tigray region, with a bloodied face surrounded by the uniformed men. The men then allegedly asked a teenage girl to force-feed the boy, before shooting him in the stomach. The boy’s condition is unclear. VOA News says it is unable to verify the location or identity of the people in the video, and says members of the Ethiopian government have declined to comment on the incident. Earlier, in January 2021, a similar incident was reported by rights groups, claiming that a video also showed members of the Ethiopian army executing a number of civilians in the Tigray region.

South Sudan: US Chargé d’Affaires calls for immediate protection of journalists
On Tuesday 3 May, David Renz, Chargé d’Affaires at the US Embassy in Juba, South Sudan, called on the Media Regulatory Authority (MRA) to urgently protect journalists. On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, David Renz expressed that journalists should be able to carry out their duties in a safe and protected manner, reports The Sudan Tribune. “I urge all sectors of society to support the nation’s media organisations in their struggles against censorship, intimidation, unlawful arrests, and extralegal suspension of independent radio stations,” said David Renz. In the latest Reporters sans Frontières report, South Sudan ranks 128 out of 180 in terms of press freedom, while, as David Renz pointed out, press freedom itself is guaranteed by Article 24 of the South Sudan Transitional Constitution, writes The Sudan Tribune.

North Africa

Libya: New investigation strategy on crimes against humanity by the ICC in Libya
On Thursday 28 April, Karim Khan, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), presented a new investigation strategy to the UN Security Council regarding crimes committed in Libya, UN News reported. This new strategy will take into account the accusations of crimes against humanity and war crimes against several perpetrators, committed since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi’s government in 2011. “Justice delayed may not always be justice denied, but justice that can still be arrived at,” says Karim Khan. Although Libya is not a state party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, the latter is authorised to investigate there following a unanimous decision by the Security Council, Jurist explains.

Egypt/Eritrea: Eritrean refugees detained and pushed back 
Eritrean refugees are facing illegal pushbacks, known as refoulement, to Eritrea by the Egyptian authorities, according to several sources. According to president of the association Pioneers Initiative Adam Hassan, the UN refugee office does not deal with refugees that are not registered, who are imprisoned in Egypt and deported without access to asylum procedures or to help of any kind. According to Amnesty International, Eritrean refugees pushed back to Eritrea are facing high risks of detention and torture.


EU: Frontex director resigns after accusation of illegal pushbacks
Fabrice Leggeri, director of Frontex, the EU’s border management agency, resigned on Friday 29 April after the agency was repeatedly accused of mistreating migrants and refugees at the EU’s borders, Reuters reported. Fabrice Leggeri’s resignation comes as he and two other staff members have been under investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) since 2021, following allegations of human rights abuses by Frontex, reports The Guardian. The charges relate to illegal refoulements, which violate the EU’s obligations under humanitarian law, says Reuters. Fabrice Leggeri was given the opportunity to explain the OLAF report at an extraordinary session of Frontex’s board on Thursday 28 April, after which the agency itself issued a statement announcing the end of Leggeri’s contract. 

Europe/UN:UNHCR calls for urgent state action as deaths at sea rise
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) released a report on 29 April raising the alarm on the number of migrants and refugees who died or went missing while trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean and Atlantic ocean during 2021. “In 2021, 1,153 refugees and migrants were reported dead or gone missing on the Northwest African maritime route to the Canary Islands, and 1,924 along the Western and Central Mediterranean routes,” the report said. The UNHCR states that the high death toll is caused  by the use of precarious boats by migrants and refugees, which have not been designed to float at sea and make such journeys. Since 2019, the UNHCR has been publishing figures for the number of lives lost each year, a figure that has been steadily rising, Reuters reports. “States must ensure unhindered humanitarian access to be able to provide essential services to people on the move or stranded en route, intercepted at sea or held in detention centres, and to determine whether they have international protection needs,” said UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo.

UK/France: 547 migrants and refugees crossing the Channel in two days
Between 1 and 2 May, 547 migrants and refugees arrived in the UK on small boats, according to the British Ministry of Defence. The rising  numbers are the consequence of 11 previous days without crossing due to bad weather, according to Infomigrants. According to Marguerite Combes, coordinator for the NGO Utopia56, the crossing of the Channel is now more dangerous than ever due to the over-militarization of the northern coast, pushing migrants and refugees to take longer and more risky roads.

France: Migrant and refugee camp attacked in Paris
On 1 May, four persons attacked a camp of around 100 young migrants and refugees in Paris, according to several sources. Two persons from the camp were injured and the aggressors said they were going to come back to “shoot them down one by one”, according to witnesses. On 3 May, following the aggressions, authorities moved the migrants and refugees from the camp to accommodation centres to shelter them, according to a member of the NGO Utopia 56. According to Le Figaro, 35 refugees and migrants were not sheltered by the authorities and slept in a park.

Turkey: Erdogan’s project of voluntary return for one million Syrian refugees
On Tuesday 3 May, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a new initiative on the return of about one million Syrian refugees to their countries, with the project already at an “advanced stage”, reports InfoMigrants. This return of Syrian migrants and refugees would be based on voluntary return, Erdogan claims, with the help of various local and international organisations. “We are preparing a project for the return of one million of our Syrian sisters and brothers to their home country,” Erdogan said in a video message, recorded on the occasion of the inauguration of thousands of prefabricated houses built in north-western Syria to accommodate migrants and refugees wishing to return home. In recent years, Syrian nationals have faced resentment from the Turkish population, blaming them for the economic difficulties in Turkey, according to InfoMigrants. Some aid organisations therefore fear that Syrian refugees will become “scapegoats for the country’s problems in the 2023 presidential and parliamentary election campaign,” writes InfoMigrants.

European Parliament: Event – Libya; The way forward
On Thursday 2 June 2022, the Socialists & Democrats Group (S&D) and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung are organising a public seminar on Libya, which will take place in the European Parliament in Brussels (the event will also be held online). The aim of this event will be to allow an open dialogue and exchange on the current political developments, the ongoing peace process in the country, as well as the human rights situation, including the condition of migrants and displaced persons. Registration is open on the S&D Group website.

UK: Human trafficking network dismantled in North Wales
In North Wales, 2 alleged human traffickers were arrested  on suspicion of forced labour and human trafficking offences amid investigations into modern slavery in care homes in Wales, according to Walesonline. 14 potential victims of modern slavery were identified and provided with help, according to Walesonline. They were all Indian nationals on student visas, forced to work in care homes through a recruitment agency linked to the 2 alleged traffickers.  Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) Senior Investigating Officer Martin Plimmer said: “we will not tolerate the exploitation of vulnerable workers under any circumstances. It’s crucial that people continue to be aware of the signs of exploitation and report their concerns to us so we can take action”.


RSF/UN: 20th World Press Freedom Index reveals ‘polarisation’ of journalism
On 3 May, the 20th World Press Freedom Index was published by Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), the day after UN chief António Guterres said that journalists and media workers were facing an “increasing politicisation” of their work, and threats that were “growing by the day”. The global ranking assesses the condition of journalism in 180 countries and territories, and highlights the persistent divisions and fractures among repressive regimes, propaganda platforms, and the “Fox News model” of disinformation, reports RSF. “From global health to the climate crisis, corruption, and human rights abuses, they face increased politicisation of their work and attempts to silence them from many sides,” said Guterres. RSF ranks the situation as “very bad” in a record number of 28 countries, and 12 countries are even on the Index’s red list (such as Belarus and Russia). The bottom two places are held by Eritrea and North Korea. 

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