Minister for Immigration, Integration and Asylum Policy Gerd Leers informed the House of Representatives in a letter that the Netherlands will not force anyone to return to Eritrea. Asylum seekers from Eritrea who left without permission of the Eritrean authorities will be able to obtain an asylum residence permit. He based this decision on the most recent information about Eritrea from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
January 31, 2012
Beirut – Thirty-five Ethiopian Christians are awaiting deportation from Saudi Arabia for “illicit mingling,” after police arrested them when they raided a private prayer gathering in Jeddah in mid-December, 2011, Human Rights Watch said today. Of those arrested, 29 were women. They were subjected to arbitrary body cavity searches in custody, three of the Ethiopians told Human Rights Watch.
The Ethiopians gathered to pray together on December 15, during the advent of Christmas, in the private home of one of the Ethiopians, when police burst in and arrested them, three jailed members of the group, two women and one man, told Human Rights Watch.
“While King Abdullah sets up an international interfaith dialogue center, his police are trampling on the rights of believers of others faiths,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch. “The Saudi government needs to change its own intolerant ways before it can promote religious dialogue abroad.”
In October, Saudi Arabia, together with Austria and Spain, founded the King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, located in Vienna, and funded by Saudi Arabia.
The Ethiopian men spent two days at al-Nuzha police station in Jeddah, after which the police transferred them to Buraiman prison. The women had already been transferred to Buraiman prison. Two of the women said that officials there forced the women to strip, and then an officer inserted her finger into each of the women’s genitals, under the pretext of searching for illegal substances hidden inside their bodies. She wore a plastic glove that she did not change, the women told Human Rights Watch. Officers also kicked and beat the men in Buraiman prison, and insulted them as “unbelievers,” the jailed Ethiopian man said.
Both men and women complained of inadequate medical care and unsanitary conditions at Buraiman prison. There were too few toilets, they said. In the men’s wing, six of twelve toilets were reserved for Saudi inmates, while hundreds of foreign inmates were forced to share the remaining six toilets. One female detainee said she suffers from diabetes and was given an injection in the prison clinic that caused swelling, and has received no further medical attention.
The Ethiopians, speaking via telephone from prison, said that about 10 days after being arrested, some in the group were taken to court, where they were forced to affix their fingerprints to a document without being allowed to read it. Officials told the group that they were being charged with “illicit mingling” of unmarried persons of the opposite sex. Some of the Ethiopians have been living in the kingdom for 16 years, while others are newer arrivals. Some of the women and men did not have valid residency papers, but all faced deportation, including those with valid papers, the jailed Ethiopian man said.
In July 2006, the Saudi government promised that it would stop interfering with private worship by non-Muslims. In a “Confirmation of Policies,” a written document the Saudi government sent to the US government, Saudi Arabia said it would “guarantee and protect the right to private worship for all, including non-Muslims who gather in homes for religious practice,” and “ensure that members of the [religious police] do not detain or conduct investigations of suspects, implement punishment, [or] violate the sanctity of private homes.” In this document, the government also said it would investigate any infringements of these policies. Public worship of any religion other than Islam remains prohibited in the kingdom.
“Saudi authorities have broken their promises to respect other faiths,” Wilcke said. “Men and women of other faiths have nowhere to worship in Saudi Arabia if even their private homes are no longer safe.”
The Arab Charter of Human Rights, to which Saudi Arabia is a state party, guarantees “[t]he freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs or to perform religious observances, either alone or in community with others,” and prohibits “arbitrary arrest.”
Saudi Arabia has no codified criminal law or other law that defines “illicit mingling.” In 2006, Shaikh Ibrahim al-Ghaith, the president of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, the religious police, told Human Rights Watch in an interview in Riyadh, “Mingling of the sexes is prohibited in public, and permitted in private unless it is for the purpose of corruption.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Saudi authorities to release the 35 Ethiopian men and women immediately if there is no evidence to charge them with offenses that are recognizably criminal under international norms. Saudi authorities should also investigate their allegations of physical and sexual abuse and, if warranted, compensate them for arbitrary arrest and any mistreatment they endured, and to hold accountable any officials found to be responsible for these acts.
Human Rights Watch also called on the authorities to allow members of the group who fear persecution in Ethiopia to lodge asylum claims with the UN refugee agency.
There were a number of popular uprisings against dictators that erupted in 2011 in the Middle Eastern and North African Arab countries: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. So far we have witnessed that at least the dictators on Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are gone, with Gadafi for good.
The 2011 Arab Springs: Lessons for Ethiopians
There are many common features in all these countries: the dictators ruled the people for decades with absolute power, stifling democracy, imposing state of emergencies; whether they were monarchies or otherwise, the rulers were closely knit by kinship, affinity and kleptocracy; they killed, maimed, jailed and forced into exile all those who dared to dissent; they divided their people and opposition along ethnic, tribal and sectarian lines; looted their countries’ resources and became tycoons on the back of their impoverished people.
Doesn’t this sound familiar to the Ethiopian dictators? Aren’t they their mirror images?
What else is common in those countries? Despite the sufferings of their people the dictators were all being propped up by Western democracies, in exchange for their oil or other security considerations.
People had to rise up and many lives had to be sacrificed, even just to attract western media attention. The people of those countries had to demonstrate that they have reached the point of no return to induce any regional or global intervention.
Unless they see any potential shift in the balance of power on the ground, none of the western powers will come to our rescue just on moral grounds. In politics and international relations, national interest takes precedence over morality. Even when there is an uprising and determination on the part of the oppressed people, they will not intervene until they see the signs of power tipping on the side of the opposition (Bahrain and Saudi).
Dictator Meles Zenawi, “the Ethiopian Caligula” is today the “darling of the West”, a “friendly tyrant” being propped up with injections of billions of dollars aid money and military support. Despite the siphoning of billions by the tyrant for personal enrichment, in amounts unheard in Ethiopian history, money is still being pumped into the dictator’s coffer. They might even rescue him, as they did with Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s deposed dictator, when the day comes.
But we still have to come together and rise up, learning the lessons from the Arab Spring. Change in Woyane’s Ethiopia will not come through elections. Never! We have to rise up!
January 30, 2012
Alemayehu G Mariam
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is on the chase; and over the past few months, things have taken a slow turn for the worse for African dictators and human rights violators. They are finding out that they can’t run and they can’t hide.
Laurent “Cling-to-power-at-any-cost” Gbagbo of Cote d’Ivoire was snatched from his palatial hiding place in April 2011 after he defiantly refused to give up power to Alassane Ouattara in a presidential election certified by international observers in December 2010. In late November 2011, Gbagbo was quietly whisked away to the Hague from house arrest in Korhogo in the north of the country to face justice before the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity (murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhuman acts) that were allegedly committed during the post-election period. The U.N. estimates well over three thousand people died between December 2010 and April 2011 as a result of extrajudicial killings by supporters of Gbagbo and Ouattara. Gbagbo is the second former head of state to be tried by the ICC since it was set up in 2002.
Last week, a High Court judge in Kenya ordered Kenyan officials to arrest and deliver Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir to the ICC to face charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide if he ever set foot again in Kenya. The U.N. estimates well over 300,000 people have perished under Bashir’s regime. Bashir unsuccessfully claimed immunity from prosecution as a sitting head of state. Nearly all of the other unindicted African dictators have chimed in to severely criticize the ICC and demand suspension of Bashir’s arrest warrant. Five other suspects are also sought on ICC warrants in the Sudan including Ahmed Haroun, a lawyer and minister of humanitarian affairs, Ali Kushayb, a former senior Janjaweed (local militiamen allied with the Sudanese regime against Darfur rebels), Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, a rebel leader and two others.
In another development in Kenya last week, Uhuru Kenyatta, finance minister and son of Kenya’s famed independence leader Jomo Kenyatta, resigned following an ICC ruling that he will face trial for crimes against humanity in connection with the communal post-election violence between supporters of presidential candidates Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki in 2008. The U.N. estimates some 1,200 people died in weeks of unrest between December 2007 and February 2008 and 600,000 people were forcibly displaced. Cabinet secretary Francis Muthaura, a close ally of president Mwai Kibaki, former Education Minister William Ruto and radio announcer Joshua arap Sang face similar charges.
The ICC had also issued arrest warrants for Moammar Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi on charges of crimes against humanity. Last week, Libya’s Justice Minster announced that Libya, and not the ICC, will be trying Saif al-Islam. Al-Senoussi remains a fugitive from justice.
Last but not forgotten is former Liberian president Charles Taylor who went on trial on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes in The Hague before the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He is awaiting a verdict after a nearly three and half year trial.
The ICC presently has open investigations against individuals in various countries including Uganda, DR Congo, Central African Republic, Darfur and Cote d’Ivoire. The rogue’s gallery of suspects sought in ICC issued arrest warrants for crimes against humanity and war crimes include five senior leaders of the “Lord’s Resistance Army” in Uganda including the notorious Joseph Kony and his deputy Vincent Otti and three other top commanders. In the DR Congo various rebel and militia leaders and Congolese military officers and politicians including Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Bosco Ntaganda, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui and two others are targets of ICC investigation.
No ICC, No Justice?
The ICC, established in 2002, is an institution with a lot of legal and political limitations in its investigative and prosecutorial duties. For instance, it has authority over “crimes against humanity” only if the acts were “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” The crimes must have been “extensively or rationally orchestrated” by the perpetrators. The ICC can investigate cases only where the accused is a national of a state party that has accepted ICC jurisdiction and the alleged crime took place on the territory of a state party, or if a “situation” is referred by the Security council. Most importantly, it can exercise its jurisdiction only when national courts are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute such crimes.
The ICC has a very difficult job to do in investigating and chasing the world’s worst human rights violations across the planet. Despite its recent establishment, obstacles and limitations, it has a respectable record. As of September 2010, the Office of the ICC Prosecutor had received 8,874 “communications” about alleged human rights violations. After an initial review, it declined to proceed with 4,002 of them concluding that they are “manifestly outside the jurisdiction of the Court”. To date, the Court has opened investigations in seven African countries. Three investigations began following referral by state parties, the UN Security Council referred two more (Darfur and Libya) and two were begun proprio motu (“ICC prosecutor began on his own initiative”). To date, the ICC has charged 27 people and issued arrest warrants for 18 more. Five individuals are in various stages of trial and eight remain at large as fugitives. Two individuals died before their trials concluded and charges were dismissed against four.
The one unsettled question is what happens to those individuals who commit crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in official or unofficial capacity but cannot be prosecuted because they are not part of the regime of the Rome Statute which established the ICC. For instance, Ethiopia has not ratified or accepted the Rome Statute and technically does not come under ICC jurisdiction. Does that mean the individuals who perpetrated crimes against humanity and war crimes in that country will never be held accountable under any international system of criminal justice?
The evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Ethiopia is fully documented, substantial and overwhelming. An official Inquiry Commission report in 2006 documented the extrajudicial killing of at least 193 persons, wounding of 763 others and arbitrary imprisonment of nearly 30,000 persons in the post-2005 election period in that country. There are at least 237 individuals identified and implicated in these crimes. In December 2003, in Gambella, Ethiopia, 424 individuals died in extrajudicial killings by security forces. In the Ogaden, reprisal “executions of 150 individuals” and 37 others were documented by Human Rights Watch in 2008 which charged:
Ethiopian military personnel who ordered or participated in attacks on civilians should be held responsible for war crimes. Senior military and civilian officials who knew or should have known of such crimes but took no action may be criminally liable as a matter of command responsibility. The widespread and apparently systematic nature of the attacks on villages throughout Somali Region is strong evidence that the killings, torture, rape, and forced displacement are also crimes against humanity for which the Ethiopian government bears ultimate responsibility.
In 2010, Human Rights Watch made a submission to the U.N. Committee Against Torture “regarding serious patterns of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in Ethiopia.”
Torture and ill-treatment have been used by Ethiopia’s police, military, and other members of the security forces to punish a spectrum of perceived dissenters, including university students, members of the political opposition, and alleged supporters of insurgent groups, as well as alleged terrorist suspects. Human Rights Watch has documented incidents of torture and ill-treatment by Ethiopian security forces in a range of settings. The frequency, ubiquity, and patterns of abuse by agents of the central and state governments demonstrate systematic mistreatment involving commanding officers, not random activity by rogue soldiers and police officers. In several cases documented by Human Rights Watch, military commanders participated personally in torture.
The are obvious limits to the globalization of criminal justice under the ICC regime. But does that mean human rights violators who are not subject to ICC jurisdiction get away with murder, torture, war crimes and genocide? Maybe not.
There is an encouraging trend globally that more and more national courts are willing to operate under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction to prosecute gross human rights violators for atrocities committed outside their countries. Simply stated, if someone who committed crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide is found in another country where the crimes were not committed, that country makes it its obligation to bring the perpetrator to justice using its own courts. For instance, Article 5 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment provides that each State shall “take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over such offences in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction and it does not extradite him.”
Universal jurisdiction has been exercised in a number of high profile cases. A Spanish judge charged former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet in 1998 for crimes against humanity committed in Chile. After years of appeal and delays, Pinochet died in 2006 without facing justice. A Belgian court in 2001 convicted the killers of two Rwandan nuns for war crimes during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. A Belgian court in 2005 indicted the former president of Chad, Hissène Habré, for crimes against humanity, torture, war crimes and other human rights violations committed during his presidency in Chad. Two weeks ago, a Senegalese court blocked the extradition of the Chadian dictator because Belgium failed to file the “original arrest warrant and other papers”. A German court has convicted a former leader of a paramilitary Serb group for acts of genocide committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1997. Over the past several decades, more than 15 countries have exercised universal jurisdiction in investigations or prosecutions of persons suspected of crimes under international law including Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, the UK and the United States of America.
There are other non-criminal legal remedies as well. For instance, the Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit (HRVWCU) in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) National Security Investigations Division conducts investigations to prevent foreign war crimes suspects, persecutors and human rights abusers from entering the United States. It also identifies, prosecutes and deports such offenders who have entered the U.S. Over the past 8 years, ICE has arrested more than 200 individuals for human rights-related violations under various criminal and/or immigration statutes and deported more than 400 known or suspected human rights violators from the United States. Currently, ICE is pursuing more than 1,900 leads and removal cases involving suspected human rights violators from nearly 95 different countries. HRVWCU receives anonymous tips and information from those who report suspected war criminals and human rights violators residing in the U.S. Individuals seeking to report suspected human rights violators may contact the HRV unit at HRV.ICE@DHS.GOV
Justice Delayed is Not Justice Denied, Just Delayed
Justice delayed is just delayed. The victims of former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet might have thought justice delayed is justice denied. So may have thought the victims of Argentina’s Dirty War. The facts are very encouraging. Since December 2006, Chilean prosecutors and judges have convicted hundreds of former military personnel in the Pinochet regime accused of committing grave human rights violations. As of July 2008, 482 former military personnel and civilian collaborators were facing charges for a variety of offenses classified under crimes against humanity. Among these, 256 had been convicted, of whom 83 had had their convictions confirmed on appeal. In the Argentine Dirty War (the generals’ war against thousands of activists, militants, trade unionists, students, journalists and others), the mighty generals have been held to account. Many of the top military officers involved including Leopoldo Galtieri, general and President of Argentina, Jorge Rafael Videla, former senior Army commander and de facto President and other lesser known top officers were tried and sentenced to life imprisonment or long prison terms. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s dictator for over three decades, his sons, interior minsiter and others are today facing justice in an Egyptian court. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Ali Saleh of Yemen will no doubt face justice in Syria, Yemen or elsewhere. Justice will also arrive like a slow, chugging and delayed train for those who have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes in Ethiopia.
The 20-storey African Union Conference Centre built and donated to Africa by the Chinese government was inaugurated on Saturday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia amidst fanfare.
President Goodluck Jonathan attended the inauguration and several other meetings of the AU alongside his counterparts from the continent.
The inauguration featured colourful cultural display by many African countries including Nigeria.
The 100 metre tall centre said to the tallest tower in Ethiopia incorporating a 2,500 capacity plenary hall was built at a cost of $200 million.
In his opening remarks, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr. Jean Ping, described the building as a dream come true.
Ping expressed his gratitude to both the governments of Ethiopia and China.
“Our dream came true and we are now overlooking a modern architectural jewel symbolising the historical relations between China and our continent,” he said.
He added that the new conference centre would help promote the AU’s presence and its competitiveness in the global arena, as well as improve its working capacity.
The Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Mr. Meles Zenawi, said the new headquarters of the continental organisation which has been at the centre of the struggle for the African integration and development was a symbol of the rise of Africa.
He noted that over the past decades and despite rampant hopelessness throughout the continent, China-Africa cooperation has gone from strength to strength.
“The future prospects of our partnership are even brighter and it is therefore very appropriate for China to decide to build this hall,” he said.
President of the Republic of Equatorial Guinea and Chairperson of the African Union, Mr. Teodoro Mbasogo, said the new conference centre was a reflection of the new Africa, and that it endows Africans with the right tools to showcase their human and natural resources.
The inauguration of the building concluded with the presentation of gifts to seven Chinese officials who played a key role in the construction of the centre followed by the handing over of the golden key of the conference centre to the Chairperson of the Union who then handed it over the Chairperson of the AU.
Following a group photograph and amidst cultural performances drawn from member states of the AU, a statue of Kwame Nkrumah was unveiled.
There was also a brief ceremony to lay the foundation stone for the construction of an African Union Human Rights Memorial.
January 29, 2012
Built on a 110,000 sq of land donated by Ethiopian government to the AU, the over 100 meters tall new African Union Conference Center (AUCC) financed by the Chinese government was inaugurated on Saturday January 28, 2012 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
With a budget of $200 million dollars, around 350 Chinese and Ethiopian workers started the construction project in June 2009. The AUCC is a standard international conference center and it has 2,500 seat big conference hall, a 650 seats medium conference hall, five press conference rooms, two VIP rooms, water fountains, a garden, theatre, parking area, libraries and medical centers among many other facilities. Several African leaders and dignitaries attended the inauguration ceremony Saturday. Ethiopian Prime Minister hailed the new building as “a symbol of the rise of Africa.”
The building also has a helicopter landing pad so that African leaders can be flown from Bole International Airport directly to the AU building to avoid traffic. The office tower next to the conference halls will become the new home of about 1,000 African Union staff members.
The inauguration ceremony was followed by the laying of the first stone of the AU Memorial for Human Rights and the unveiling of the Kwame Nkrumah Monument, in honor of the first Ghana president. Along with Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I, President Kwame Nkrumah was one of the founders of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the AU. Underneath the golden statue of Kwame Nkrumah is a biblical quote and the inscription: “Ethiopia shall stretch forth her hands unto God, Africa must unite,” a statement on the founding of OAU, the predecessor of the AU, the Organisation of African Unity in May 1963. Former Ghana President Jerry John Rawlings and President Mills were guests of honor at the ceremony.
African Union leaders meet on Sunday, January 29, 2012 for the 18th African Union Summit and the first summit since the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi, who wanted to change AU headquarters from Addis Ababa to Sirte town of Libya. Gadaffi was a strong promoter of the idea of the “United States of Africa (USA),” a concept first initiated by Emperor Haile Selassie in 1964. During the 2012 Summit, AU leaders will vote to select the next Chairperson of the 54-nation AU executive council.
South Africa’s Minister Ms. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is the main challenger to unseat the current AU executive Chairperson Mr. Jean Ping, the former foreign minister of Gabon.
BRUSSELS — The suspension of Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele and 34 others was lifted Tuesday, clearing the way for the Ethiopian great to run at the London Games.
“We have agreed to discuss all the matters concerning their problems,” Ethiopian Athletics Federation president Bisrat Gashawten Tirfe told The Associated Press.
The athletes were suspended last week for not reporting for an early pre-Olympic camp to improve performance and competition.
Bekele won the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the Beijing Olympics and holds the world record in both events. He was suspended along with Tirunesh Dibaba, winner of the two women’s long-distance titles in Beijing. The suspension would have prevented them from running at this year’s Olympics.
Under the agreement, though, the federation said all athletes still would have to report to camp in the future, despite calls from Bekele to be allowed to continue individual training.
Federation spokesman Fikru Tekele said the 35 athletes have agreed to “fully follow” the federations training without any exceptions.
“Kenenisa is our hero and we have great respect for him, but the rules don’t discriminate,” Fikru said. “To ensure results in London we should be tight, control them and protect them from injuries.”
Bekele’s agent, Jos Hermens, said his client had been extremely angry about the suspension and even inquired about changing nationality. Hermens also said training camps on a hard Mondo track as proposed would worsen injuries instead of helping prevent them.
The crisis started Jan. 19, when the federation wrote in an email that it “has decided any international competition including Dubai Marathon is closed from January 20, 2012 until end of the (Olympic) event on August 2012” for the 35 athletes who did not attend the camp early this month.
The group also included Dibaba’s husband, Sileshi Sihine, a two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 10,000.
The federation had set up a training camp for all leading athletes early this month to improve preparation for London after an abysmal showing in August at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea.
Kenya won seven gold medals at the world championship, compared to only one for Ethiopia. Kenya was third in the overall medals tables with 17, while Ethiopia was ninth with only five.
Bekele has struggled for most of the past two years with injuries and dropped out of the 10,000 in Daegu.
The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing tens of thousands of indigenous people, with the apparent aim of leasing some of the vacated land to an India-based flower exporter, Human Rights Watch charges.
These population transfers are being carried out with no meaningful consultation and no compensation, says the New York-based NGO in a report entitled “Waiting Here for Death.”
“Relocations have been marked by threats and assaults, and arbitrary arrest for those who resist the move.”
State security forces enforcing the displacements have been implicated in at least 20 rapes in the past year, the report adds.
“Some of the relocated populations have faced hunger and even starvation,” due to the poor quality of the land to which they have been moved and due also to the government’s failure to provide agricultural support, Human Rights Watch says.
About 70,000 members of the Anuak, Nuer and other ethnic groups have so far been forced from their homes in Ethiopia’s western Gambella region under what the government calls a villagisation programme, the report finds.
Karuturi Global Ltd, an Indian conglomerate that grows roses in Kenya as well as in Ethiopia, ranks as one of the largest investors in the Gambella region. The villagisation initiative there appears aimed at making more land available to Karuturi, says Rona Peligal, deputy director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.
Karuturi has leased more than 300,000 hectares in Ethiopia — about one-tenth of the total amount of land that the government has made available to domestic and foreign investors.
The 3.6 million hectares leased so far in Ethiopia is equivalent in size to the Netherlands, Human Rights Watch points out.
In a letter appended to the report, Karuturi’s founder and managing director Sai Ramakrishna Karuturi denies that the company is engaged in a land grab in the Gambella region.
“Karuturi has neither been involved in any way with the Ethiopian government’s policy on villagisation or resettlement of people, nor is aware of any such programme of the Ethiopian government in any greater detail,” the letter states.
The Ethiopian government also says the villagisation initiative in Gambella is not connected to commercial land-leasing. But Human Rights Watch cites affected villagers and former local government officials as indicating the opposite.
A rush to buy or lease vast stretches of African land has been underway for at least the past few years as companies in more developed parts of the world move to meet soaring demand for food at steadily increasing prices.
A pending transaction involving 325,000 hectares in Tanzania has been denounced by a US-based research institute as a land grab by an American agribusiness company.
The same think tank also recently highlighted a deal whereby a Texas-based company is seeking to lease 600,000 hectares in South Sudan.
January 28, 2012
Norway has signed an agreement with Ethiopia enabling nationals to return home, officials say.
Ethiopian protesters, Oslo Cathedral
Photo: ©2011 Fikru Tadesse/The Foreigner
The new deal means will enable around 400 paperless Ethiopians living in Norway illegally from authorities’ point of view to go back. Deputy Minister of Justice Pål K. Lønseth encourages them to return to Ethiopia voluntarily, giving them 40,000 kroner.
“We will not be using the option of forcible returns before the 15th March, meaning they have the opportunity to apply for a voluntary one soreturn. So the can return to Ethiopia under general conditions,” he tells NRK.
According to him, 15,000 kroner is “if they choose to reintegrate themselves in Ethiopia”, the rest is financial support towards measures after their arrival.
Approximately 100 Ethiopians went on hunger strike last February, locking themselves inside Oslo Cathedral, in protest against their treatment by the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI).
Those demonstrating at the time felt their lives were in danger because of Ethiopia’s political situation. The hunger strike lasted a week and the protesters gathered support from people in Oslo and Stavanger.
Calling the new agreement following 20 years of negotiation “good for Norway”, Deputy Minister Lønseth is now hoping deals can be made with other countries, and that “police and immigration authorities use it effectively.”
However, watchdog the Norwegian Organisation for Asylum Seekers (NOAS) personnel express concern about how the government has handled matter, particularly regarding children.
Secretary General Ann-Margrit Austenå says, “A number of Ethiopian children have lived in Norway for quite some time, and we believe their situation must be addressed. The government must postpone cases and make a new assessment if it is serious about their best interests.”
“I fear we will see some incidents of imprisonments [when Ethiopians have returned], and at the very worst torture, as well as destruction of individuals and families. Ethiopia’s regime is extremely authoritarian, with human rights violations having got worse over the past year. Many of them have been engaged in political opposition whilst living in Norway, and it will have consequences for some,” she concludes.
January 27, 2012
An Ethiopian rebel group said the country’s government is blocking the release of two German hostages the fighters are holding. Communications Minister Bereket Simon denied the allegation.
The two Germans and two Ethiopians were abducted during a Jan. 17 attack on a group of tourists on the edge of Erta Ale volcano in the northeastern region of Afar that killed two Germans, two Hungarians and an Austrian.
“Bianca Irmer and Jurgen Quick are in our custody and safe and we are more than ready to set them free,” the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front, or Arduf, said in an e- mailed statement today. “Ethiopian authorities in the Afar region are out to render these efforts null and void in order to get a plausible pretext to unleash a war on neighboring Eritrea.”
Arduf is backed by Eritrea and the rebel group is responsible for the hostages’ fate, Bereket said in a phone interview today from Addis Ababa, the capital.
“These are the terrorists who attacked the tourists and now they are pretending they have an iota of humanity,” he said. “It is a far-fetched and pretentious accusation.”
Ethiopia’s government has accused Eritrea of being behind the kidnappings and killings of the tourists. The hostages were taken after a gun battle between the Ethiopian army and Arduf in which 16 Ethiopian soldiers died, the group said.
“We have no contact with the Eritrean government but we know for sure they have to take responsibility to ensure their release otherwise they will face the consequences,” Bereket said.
Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a border war from 1998 to 2000 that killed 70,000 people, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. The border dispute that caused the war has not been resolved and troops from both sides are still a heavy presence on parts of the divide.
To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa at