‘News Stories’ Archive
Two of the three or four factions of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) have announced that they have reunited and agreed to work together combining all their resources after resolving their differences. According to a statement issued on the 28th of June, 2014, it is the OLF National Council (Shanee Gumii) and the OLF Transitional Authority (Qaama Ce’umsaa) that have made the reunification. Below is the full text of the declaration issued following the reunification
Declaration of Unity of the OLF
It is with great pleasure that we announce to our people and the supporters of our struggle for freedom the good news that, based on the accord they made in Kampala, Uganda, in November 2012, the two organizations of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), known as OLFShanee Gumii (”OLF National Council”) and OLF Qaama Ce’umsaa(”OLF Transitional Authority”), have resolved our differences and agreed to combine our two leaderships, unify our members, merge our organizational structures and inaugurate a reunified OLF. Although OLF has encountered many obstacles during the last forty years, there was no time when it has stopped the struggle that it was established to lead. No one can deny the fact that the national struggle led by the OLF has scored many victories and made many significant achievements that have taken the Oromo people a long way toward the national goal of independence. Among these great achievements is the level of political awareness of our people.
At the same time, we witness that the Oromo people are being targeted for extinction more than any time before. Oppression has reached intolerable levels making our people to rise up in defiance of tyranny, protesting peacefully in all corners of Oromia. But, as witnessed in the killings of students and others in many places in Oromia, the TPLF regime is responding violently to their lawful demands. Defying enemy atrocities, imprisonment, and torture, the young Oromo generation are making it known to the world that they will not tolerate humiliation and oppression anymore and that they will make the necessary sacrifices to liberate their people and homeland from alien oppressors. The OLF extends its condolences to families who lost their beloved sons and daughters, and expresses its admiration for the courage and bravery they have shown by the young Oromo generation to defend their people’s legitimate rights. As the vanguard of the Oromo struggle for freedom, we re-iterate our determination to continue the struggle until our people become masters of their destiny.
The re-unification of the two organizations of the OLF is a great step that will strengthen the Oromo struggle for freedom. United under one leadership, we are resolute to realize the principal objective of our struggle, namely the liberation of our people and the independence of our homeland Oromia. There is no question about the popularity of the goal of OLF-led liberation struggle among the Oromo people. Therefore, it is with determination that we pledge to make the necessary sacrifices, withstand the challenges ahead and carry through the Oromo national struggle to the ultimate goal of independence.
We are well aware that there are Oromo nationals who are organized separately under other names to advance our people’s legitimate rights. We will do all we can to coordinate our efforts with them to achieve the common goal. The OLF leadership states its decision and commitment to continue to work and conclude the ongoing talks with other forces committed to the same goal. Hence, we call on all Oromo organizations that uphold our people’s right to self-determination and independence to join us in carrying out this sacred mission.
We also take this opportunity to express our solidarity with the oppressed nations, nationalities and peoples who are struggling for justice against the same tyrannical regime, and call upon them to join us in the common struggle for basic human and democratic rights.
The TPLF-led regime’s violence against the Oromo people is abetted by military, political and economic assistance from external powers. The OLF appeals again to governments, both in the West and East, to strike a balance between their national interests and their international obligation of protecting human rights and stop giving economic, military and political support to a brutal regime that is evicting our people and others from their land and killing innocent civilian who are peacefully demanding their legitimate rights.
Victory for the Oromo People!
Oromo Liberation Front.
While kidnappings and/or extra-judicial arrests and detentions have continued particularly around academic institutions in different parts of the regional state of Oromia in Ethiopia, disturbing and worrisome reports are coming out of detention centres where the Oromo students arrested in the past two weeks are being held.
- Tortured Oromo Youth (Source: Facebook)
According to HRLHA, URJII’s closest partner in the advocacy of human rights, there have been cases of tortures of varying levels as well as detainees being taken away in the middle of the night to unknown destinations for unknown reasons. Fifty (50) detainees, including thirteen females, were taken away at one time alone; and their whereabouts were not known. In relation to tortures, the reports indicate that some of the detainees are isolated from others and held in separate rooms handcuffed and legs tied together with their hands on the their backs. There were ten students subjected to this particular situation, among whom were Std. Tesfaye Tuffa (male) and Std. Bontu Hailu (female). Although not confirmed at this point, there were also eight students who were screened out in order to be transferred to a detention or investigation office at the federal level; and these include:
1. Chalaa Fekaduu Gashe (high school student),
2. Chalaa Fekaduu (high school student),
3. Nimoonaa Kebede (Wollega University 5th year law student),
4. Moi Bon Misganuu (Wollega University, student),
5. Abdii Gaddisaa (high school student),
6. Abel Dagim (high school student),
7. Qalbessa Getachew (high school student),
8. Mulgeta Gemechu (high school student),
- The Agazi Special Squad in Oromo Neighbourhood Threatening People
In the meantime, reports indicate that kidnappings and/or extra-judicial arrests and detentions have continued in different parts of the regional state of Oromia, particularly in Hararge/Haromay, West Showa, and West Wollega, all in relation to the protests that have been going on in the Regional State of Oromia in opposition to the newly introduced master plan to expand the Capital City of Addis Ababa/Finfinne in all directions by displacing the local Oromo residents. The following are among the hundreds of the most recent cases of kidnappings, arrests and detentions:
1) Edosa Namara Deressa – Wollega University (Civil Engineering)
2) Walabuma Dabale -Adama University, West Showa,
3) Ebisa Dale -Adama University
4) Ganamo Kurke -Adama University
5) Liban Taressa – Adama University
6) Adam Godana -Adama University
7) Bodana (last name not obtained) – Adama University
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) has expressed its deep concern regarding the life-threatening situations in the detention centres where those young Oromos were held, and the safety and wellbeing of those who were taken to unknown destinations. HRLHA has called upon the Ethiopian Government to abide by all international instruments that it has signed, and refrain from subjecting the young detainees to such harsh situations. It has also called upon all local, regional, and international human rights, humanitarian, and diplomatic agencies to put pressure on the Ethiopian Government so that it unconditionally releases the Oromo students who were detained in the past two and three weeks simply because the attempted to exercise some of their fundamental rights in a peaceful and absolutely non-violent manner.
- Six/Seven armed men against two unarmed youth
Humni diinaa biyya keenya humnaan qabattee jirtu, kunoo haala kanaan, gara-jabina daangaa hin qabneen, amma nyaattee-dhugdu ol-fuutee ijoollee keenyatti buufatti. Innumtuu tokko yookaan lama miti; shan, jahaa fi torbaa taatee.
The brutal attempts of crackdown against Oromo protesters by the Agazi Special Squad continuing unabated in different parts of the regional state of Oromia, reports coming from Ambo in central Oromia indicate that the town and its surrounding has come under virtual seizure by the Agazi Federal Armed Force, daily movements and activities becoming almost impossible.
According to a report by HRLHA (URJII’s close partner in advocating and defending human rights), the Agazi Special Squad has been deployed in Ambo Town and its surrounding in much larger number than before and engaged in indiscriminately kidnapping the local people from along the streets and throwing them into detention centres in the area. There are also reports of widespread rapes being committed against female detainees.
Although the protests against the plan to annex some central small towns of Oromia into the Capital Addis Ababa/Finfinne have been involving Oromos from all walks of life, age and gender, the prime targets have been the youth, university, college, and high school students in particular. Since the protest started in different parts of the regional state of Oromia two weeks ago, more than 50,000 (fifty thousand) Oromos have been arrested and detained from Ambo, Gudar, Tikur Inchini, Ginda-Barat, Gedo, and Bakko-Tibe towns in West Showa Zone of Central Oromia alone. Apart from along the streets in cities and towns, especially students are being picked up even from dormitories and classrooms on universities and college campuses. Reports add that there have been around twenty (20) extra-judicial killings so far that have resulted from brutal actions against unarmed and peaceful protesters by armed forces.
Ever since the violence against Oromo protesters started two weeks ago, and following the release of its first urgent action over the incidents, the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) has been monitoring the situation through its correspondents in the region; and has been able to obtain some of the names of the Oromos (students and others) who have so far been killed, kidnapped or arrested, and detained or disappeared. There are also cases of beatings and wounds or injuries inflicted on some of the protesters by the heavy-handed federal armed force. The lists of the Oromo victims are available on: www.humanrightsleague.com.
In the meantime, in an effort to show supports and solidarity, Oromos in Diaspora have been holding demonstrations in different countries and cities in Europe and North America condemning the brutalities of the TPLF/EPRDF Government against peaceful Oromo protesters. Inserted are some pictures depicting part of a demonstration held in Toronto, Canada on the 9th of May, 2014; and the following are links at which some related video clips could be watched:
- Part of Protest in Ambo (Source - Facebook)
Determined Oromos Students are being met with brutalities in different parts of Oromia by armed special squad of the Ethiopian EPRDD/TPLF Government while attempting to peacefully and non-violently exercise some of their fundamental rights. According to the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA), in a heavy-handed crackdown being carried out by the federal armed squad called Agazi, which is infamously known for its cruelty against innocent civilians particularly during such public protests, 16 (sixteen) Oromo students have so far been shot dead in the town of Ambo alone and scores of others have been wounded, according to HRLHA correspondents in the area. The victims of the brutal attacks were not only from among those who were out protesting in the streets, but also among those who stayed behind on university campuses. Hundreds of others have also been arrested, loaded on police trucks, and taken to unknown destinations. The protesting Oromo Students of Ambo University have been joined by Oromo nationals of all walks of lives residing in the town and its peripheries.
Although the brutalities of the armed squad and the resultant fatalities happened to be very high in Ambo Town, the peaceful protests by Oromo students of different universities and faculties have been taking place in the past couple of days in various towns and cities of Oromia including Diredawa and Adama in eatern Oromia, as well as Jimma, Mettu, Naqamte, Gimbi, and Dambidollo in western Oromia.
The Oromo students in all those and other universities took to the streets for peaceful demonstrations in protest to the recently made decision by the Federal EPRDF/TPLF-led Government to expand the city of Finfinnee/Addis Ababa by uprooting and displacing hundreds of thousands of Oromos from all sorts of livelihoods, and annexing about 30 surrounding towns of Oromia, the ultimate goal of which is claimed to be re-drawing the map of the Oromia Region. The federal annexation plan, which was termed as “The Integrated Development Master Plan”, is said to be covering the towns of Dukem, Gelan, Legetafo, Sendafa, Sululta, Burayu, Holeta, Sebeta, and others, stretching the boundary of Finfinne/Addis Ababa to about 1.1million hectares – an area of 20 times its current size. The protest is being intensified, according to various news sources.
- Part of Protest in Finfinne (Source - Facebook)
The Oromo protesters claim that the decision was in violation of both the regional and federal constitutions that guarantee the ownership, special interests and benefits of the Oromo Nation over Finfinne/Addis Ababa. Similar unlawful and unconstitutional action taken at different times in the past fifteen and twenty years have already resulted in the dispossessions of lands and displacements of hundreds of thousands of Oromos farmers and business owners from around the city of Finfinne, forcing them into unemployment and day labourer.
The Kenyan police and security agents have arbitrarily arrested and detained around 6000 refugees who are originally from neighbourning Horn of African countries; and have continued hunting for more, reported HRLHA reporter in Nairobi, Kenya on April 13, 2014.
This indiscriminate action against all immigrants who have been in the country began on Friday April 2, 2014; and has mainly targeted the immigrants living in Eastleigh District of Nairobi, a neighbourhood largely dominated by Somalis and Oromo immigrants and is often referred to as district of immigrants. More than 400 Oromos and other Ethiopian immigrants have been arrested in these crackdowns. The crackdowns against immigrants by Kenyan Police and security began is said to been in response to the three bomb blasts in Eastleigh/ Nairobi and Mombasa in late March 2014, which killed about 12 people and injured 8 others. According to HRLHA’s informant, more than two thousand asylum seekers and refugees have been detained in the Kasarani football stadium in the Capital, a location described as a temporary police station, while some are being held at the Pangani police station.
Among hundredths of Ethiopian Oromos arrested in Nairobi, HRLHA has managed to obtain the following names:
||Abdi Mohammed Ahamed
||Arif Amin Abdallaa
||Suleyman Nuure Mohammed
||Ismail Iliyas Kamaal
||Ibsaa Safuan Mohammed Najash
||Arif Abdulwad Abdalle
||Rudwan Abubakar Ali
||Ibsaa Jemal Mohammed
||Iliyas Kamal Usma’il
||Abdisaa Mohammed Kalif
||Mommed Nasir Yusuf
||Jemaal Sani Mohammed
||Mommed Nasir Yusuf
||Anwar Muktar Ahamed
||Tumsaa Robaa Qaxxisoo
||UN.mndt file NETH033036/1
||Imane Ahamed Yusuf
||UN file #NETH038280
||Rihanaa Mohammed Mussaa
||Jbny Najib Abubakar
||Roba Yusuf Abdalle
||Ifa Abdulahi Hassan
||Mohammed Osman Roba
||Fuad Aliyi Mumme
||Nasri Ibrahim Jibro
||Yusuf Yahya Ahamed/Somli
Asylum Seeker18Faami Sharif Ali 43Abdi Abduraman KabirAsylum Seeker19
Jemal Abdo Osman
44Zakariya Mohammed OumerAsylum Seeker20Gatiso Phetroos Eroke 45Yassin Ahamed/OromoAsylum Seeker21Sani Ahamed Yusuf 46Haaji Shariif AliAsylum Seeker22Xeha Mohammed 47Abdusamad AmeWith Family23Ashrafuu Ali Mussaa 48Mubina AbdusamadWith Family24Mohammed Osman Mussaa 49Caaltuu AbdusamadWith Family25Zanabe Hobe Negiso
The HRLHA has also learnt that the Kenyan police and security forces are extorting valuable materials and also committing physical and mental abuses during the arrests. Besides, the Kenyan authorities have disclosed to different media agents that they are intending to deport all UNHCR unregistered asylum seekers; and have already deported 82 Somali refugees based on a pretext that they entered into Kenya without legal document.
The HRLHA would like to reiterate that deportations of regugees to their countries of origin against their wills is in breach of Kenyan and international laws. In case those Ethiopian-Oromo and other refugees have been deported, the Ethiopian Government has a well-documented record of gross and flagrant violations of human rights, including the torturing of its own citizens who were involuntarily returned to the country. The government of Ethiopia routinely imprisons such persons and sentences them to up to life in prison, and often impose death penalty. There have been credible reports of physical and psychological abuses committed against individuals in Ethiopian official prisons and other unofficial or secret detention centres. Under Article 33 (1) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (189 U.N.T.S. 150), to which Kenya is a party, “[n]o contracting state shall expel or forcibly return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his . . . political opinion.” This obligation, which is also a principle of customary international law, applies to both asylum seekers and refugees, as affirmed by UNHCR’s Executive Committee and the United Nations General Assembly. By deporting the four refugees and others, the Kenyan Government will be breaching its obligations under international treaties as well as customary law.
(HRW) – The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has requested that the Kenyan authorities reconsider a new plan to forcibly move 50,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers from cities to overcrowded and underserviced refugee camps. News media reported that Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku made the announcement on March 25, 2014, two days after unidentified attackers killed six people in a church near Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa.
Such a move would violate a July 26, 2013 Kenyan High Court ruling, which quashed an identical government refugee relocation plan from December 2012. The court said the relocation would violate refugees’ dignity and free movement rights, and would risk indirectly forcing them back to their respective countries of origin, although the plan in the first place targets Somali refugees. It also said the authorities had not proved that the move, which followed a series of grenade and other attacks in Kenya by unidentified people, would help protect national security. Below is the statement by the human rights agency Human Rights Watch:
“Kenya is once again using attacks by unknown criminals to stigmatize all refugees as potential terrorists,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher. “This plan to force tens of thousands of refugees into appalling conditions in severely overcrowded camps flouts a crystal clear court ruling banning such a move.” Ole Lenku said on March 25 that, “All refugees residing outside the designated refugee camps of Kakuma and Dadaab are hereby directed to return to their respective camps with immediate effect.” Citing “emergency security challenges” in Kenyan towns, he also said that, “Any refugee found flouting this directive will be dealt with in accordance with the law.”
In January 2013, Human Rights Watch called on the authorities to drop their first relocation plan. Human Rights Watch said then that the authorities had failed to show, as international law requires, that the plan was either necessary to achieve enhanced national security or the least restrictive measure possible to address Kenya’s national security concerns. The plan also unlawfully discriminated against refugees because it would allow Kenyan citizens to move freely while denying refugees that right. Kenyan police operations in Nairobi and Mombasa have frequently committed serious human rights violations against both refugees and Kenyan citizens in the wake of attacks.
A May 2013 Human Rights Watch report described how Kenyan police in Nairobi tortured, raped, and otherwise abused and arbitrarily detained at least 1,000 refugees, including women and children, between mid-November 2012 and late January 2013 following grenade and other attacks. The police called the refugees “terrorists” and said they should move to the camps. The new relocation order comes after numerous statements by senior Kenyan officials, going back as far as March 2012, calling on Somali refugees to return to Somalia.
On January 17, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, issued guidelines on returns to Somalia and called on countries not to return anyone before interviewing them and ensuring they do not face the threat of persecution or other serious harm if returned. On January 28, UNHCR also issued a news release about the guidelines, appealing to all governments “to uphold their obligations” not to forcibly return anyone to Somalia unless they are convinced the person would not suffer persecution or other serious harm upon return.
UNHCR said that
southern and central Somalia “remains a very dangerous place” and that it “consider[s] the options for Somalis to find protection from persecution or serious harm within Southern and Central Somalia to be limited.” The agency said that this “is especially true for large areas that remain under the control of the Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab,” which “prohibits the exercise of various types of freedoms and rights, especially affecting women” and uses “public whipping, amputation … and beheadings” as punishment. UNHCR also said that al-Shabaab attacks in Mogadishu, the capital, that killed civilians had increased in 2013 and that the Somali authorities are “reported to be failing to provide much of [the] population with basic security.”
Kenyan authorities should not press refugees to return to Somalia. Such pressure would violate Kenya’s obligations not to forcibly return – or refoule – refugees to situations of persecution or generalized violence. The ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Dadaab camps in Kenya – where about 400,000 refugees are crammed into space meant for 170,000 – and the lack of properly developed new camps there or near the Kakuma camps means that any transfer of refugees from the cities to the camps would also breach Kenya’s international legal obligations. They require Kenya not to adopt “retrogressive measures” that would negatively affect refugees’ rights to adequate standard of living – including food, clothing and housing – and to health and education.
On March 10, the international humanitarian organization Médecins sans Frontières, which runs health care programs in the refugee camps, released a report describing the serious humanitarian conditions and insecurity in the camps.
Foreign donors to Kenya and UNHCR should oppose the new relocation plan, based on its inevitable violation of refugees’ rights to free movement, basic social and economic rights, and the right not to be forcibly evicted. “The new plan risks riding roughshod over Kenya’s High Court and a range of refugees’ fundamental rights,” Simpson said. “Foreign donors to Kenya and UNHCR should encourage Kenya to abandon the plan.”
Around two hundred Oromo Students of a high school in Shakiso, Guji Zone, in southern Oromia have been detained following a clash with ethnic Amhara Students attending the same school on the 12 of March, 2014. The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa has issued the following press release:
Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) would like to express its deep concern over the safety and fates of Oromo Students who became victims of discriminate mass arrest and detention in Shakiso Town of Guji Zone in southern Oromia. Around two hundred ethnic Oromo Students have been sent to a jail in the nearby Adola Town, and some have received varying degrees of injuries both from bullets that were shot by the security forces during the interference and by beatings.
Those high school Oromo Students, almost all of whom are juvenile, were arrested and/or picked up at different times from different places including the school compound following a minor clash between them and ethnic Amhara Students of the same high school. According to information obtained by HRLHA through its correspondents, the clash between the two groups occurred following a provocation by the ethnic Amhara Students in opposition to the singing of the regional anthem in the regional Oromo Language by ethnic Oromo Students during flag raising ceremony at the school based on the rules and regulations provided for by the constitution of the regional state. The ethnic Oromo Students were reporting the incident and filing their complaints with the school administration when the school compound was raided by the federal security forces. Among the ironies surrounding this incident were that:
1). The Federal Security Forces were deployed to interfere in such very minor and localized issues that could easily be dealt with by local administrative bodies and communities including that of the school itself,
2). The ethnic Oromo Students, who were the victims of the clash were discriminately double-victimized while those who triggered the violence were left unquestioned,
3). Not only that such constitutional provisions as a regional anthem that have been in place for close to two decades becomes a subject of dispute, but also those who attempted to exercise such legal provisions were deemed criminals that belong to detention instead of those who contradicted the constitution head on.
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) has been able to obtain the names of the following students among those who have been detained:
1. .Bezabish Gurmeessaa (MEMBER OF OPPOSITION OFC)- wounded by bullet,
2. Desta Waaree – beaten up and injured,
3. Bali Chachu (MEMBER OF OPPOSITION OFC)
4. Buno Shaggola (MEMBER OF OPPOSITION OFC)
5.Bakalcha Oddo (MEMBER OF OPPOSITION OFC)
10. Kifle Areri
11. Badhadha (father name not identified)
12. Beyena Jarso
14. Jemal Aga
15. Wendimu Areri
16. Nagessa Gedo
17. Getachew Demise
18. Boru Dube
19. Gemechis Bilu
20. Chari Chana
21. Ware Kottola
Although the interference of the government security forces was not far from expectations, the very harsh and violent actions that have resulted in life-threatening injuries are not acceptable by any standard. Given the violent way the students were dealt with, it is also very likely that they could be subjected to tortures.
Therefore, HRLHA calls up on the Ethiopian government to interfere in the situation, and unconditionally release the detained students; and allow necessary treatments for those who have been injured and/or wounded. It also calls upon the Ethiopian government to investigate the clash between the two sides; and bring the culprits to justice so that they refrain from continued racist provocations that will create conflicts between the two nationalities.
Since 2009, hundreds and possibly thousands of refugees, most of them Eritrean, have been kidnapped in eastern Sudan and sold to traffickers in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where they are held and tortured until their relatives can raise tens of thousands of dollars in ransom money. According to a report released on 11 February by Human Rights Watch (HRW), security forces in Sudan and Egypt have either turned a blind eye to this violent trade in men, women and children or, in some cases, colluded with the traffickers. The 79-page report documents the kidnapping and torture of victims, and describes how Sudanese and Egyptian security officers facilitated abductions by traffickers, or failed to take action against them.
HRW alleges that at Sudan’s eastern border with Eritrea, near the town of Kassala, police and border guards regularly intercept Eritrean refugees and hand them over to traffickers, while security officials allow traffickers and their victims to pass through checkpoints between Sudan and Egypt’s Suez Canal. “When the authorities fail to tackle traffickers or help them, it’s not just a criminal law enforcement issue, it becomes a human rights issue,” Gerry Simpson, a senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report’s author, told IRIN. “The [Sudanese and Egyptian] states have been wilfully turning a blind eye to massive criminal activity at best and at worst are actively supporting some of it.”
Smugglers become traffickers
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says 300,000 Eritreans had sought asylum outside their country by the beginning of 2013. The majority left after 2004, fleeing widespread human rights abuses, including mandatory and indefinite military service, arbitrary arrest and detention, and severe restrictions on freedom of expression and movement. Most leave without the exit permits required by Eritrean law, risking severe punishment if they are caught. In the last decade, tens of thousands have registered as refugees at camps in eastern Sudan and Ethiopia, but most have quickly moved on in search of better conditions and opportunities.
Between 2006 and 2012, many hired smugglers to help them reach Israel via Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Around 2009, reports began to surface of smugglers turning on their clients during the journey through Sinai, and holding them in torture camps while they extorted increasingly large sums of money from desperate relatives. By the end of 2010, Sudanese traffickers were kidnapping Eritreans in or near eastern Sudan’s refugee camps and selling them to Egyptian traffickers operating in Sinai. Most victims said they never intended to go to Egypt or Israel. A report published in December 2013 by three human rights activists and researchers estimated that between 2009 and 2013, as many as 30,000 people were victims of trafficking and torture in the Sinai Peninsula, and that between 5,000 and 10,000 of them did not survive their ordeal. Yonathan Habte*, 28, is among those who survived. He left Eritrea in March 2012 and was kidnapped from Shagarab refugee camp near Kassala a few weeks later. He had been warned about the threat of kidnappers in eastern Sudan but thought he would be safe in the camp. In fact, by 2012 UNHCR was recording about 30 kidnappings a week in and around eastern Sudan’s refugee camps.
Habte told IRIN how he had been collecting firewood one morning when three vehicles entered the camp, and he and two other men were grabbed. His kidnappers took him and 30 other Eritreans to Egypt, where they were divided between several traffickers operating torture camps near the Israeli border. “They made us call home to our families two or three times a day, and every time they beat us up so our families heard us screaming,” he said.
After his family had paid a ransom of US$3,500, Habte was sold to another trafficker, who demanded $30,000 for his release. At the second camp, the torture intensified. Habte and 12 other hostages, including three women, one of whom was pregnant, were beaten constantly and hung up by their ankles or wrists for hours at a time.
While on the phone to their friends and relatives, molten plastic was dripped on their skin so their screams would ensure the ransom money was paid as quickly as possible. Meron Estefanos, an Eritrean journalist and activist living in Stockholm, Sweden, has been listening to the screams of Eritrean refugees held hostage in Sudan and Egypt for three years. During a weekly radio programme she takes calls from the refugees and their relatives, and broadcasts these to listeners. In 2012, she received a phone call from her cousin, who had been kidnapped near Kassala and taken into Sinai. Her captors were demanding $37,000 for her release.
“If you’re listening to your cousin being gang-raped or burnt – the cries, the begging… you just want to end those phone calls,” Estefanos told IRIN. “So I collected the money [from friends and relatives] and borrowed some.” But, after the traffickers released her cousin, she was arrested by Egyptian soldiers and held in a prison in Sinai for seven months. “At first we didn’t know where she was,” said Estefanos. “We thought [the traffickers] had killed her. It took four months to find her.” The Human Rights Watch report says it is common for recently released trafficking victims to be arrested by Egyptian border police and detained for many months at police stations in northern Sinai until they can pay their airfare to Eritrea or Ethiopia. “Egyptian authorities, in effect, hold the victims of trafficking hostage a second time, subjecting them to indefinite and arbitrary detention until their relatives can produce the money for the air ticket, which secures their release and removal from Egypt,” the report says.
Detainees are denied access to adequate medical care for their injuries and asylum-seeking procedures. Estefanos paid for her cousin’s flight to Ethiopia, where she finally received treatment for severe burns and now lives in a refugee camp.
Survivors disappear in Sinai
By the time Habte was released, he was in a critical condition but evaded arrest and was carried across the border into Israel by fellow Eritrean refugees. Doctors in Israel saved his life but could not save his hands, which require advanced reconstructive surgery he could not pay for. Israel has since completed a fence that virtually seals its border with Egypt. In 2013, only 36 irregular migrants were intercepted while trying to cross into Israel from Egypt, compared to over 10,000 in 2012, before the fence was erected. In 2013 the Egyptian military also launched an offensive against Islamic militants in northern Sinai, which has continued into 2014.
The human rights activists report released in December 2013, which Estefanos co-authored, suggests that the sealing off of escape routes into Israel and the military campaign in the Sinai desert have resulted in increasing numbers of trafficking victims disappearing and presumably dying following the payment of a ransom and their release. A by-product of the military campaign appears to have been the destruction of many of the houses used by traffickers to hold their victims, although Simpson of HRW and Estefanos both say this was not a stated aim of the operation. “At one point, they rescued about 150 hostages, who were chained with each other, only to put them in prison and deport them,” said Estefanos. “I have pictures of the houses where hostages were held, copies of [ransom] payments, but they [Egyptian authorities] never approached me to ask for that evidence… they’ve never been interested.”
Since the military crackdown in Sinai started, Estefanos has received more calls about Eritreans being held for ransom in Sudan than in Egypt. “Some are still being taken to Sinai, but it has become more difficult now because of the military operation.” Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Eritreans are avoiding Egypt and Israel, and trying to reach Europe via Libya instead, risking treacherous desert and Mediterranean crossings. Italy recently released figures showing that nearly 10,000 Eritreans reached its shores in 2013, a 400 percent increase from the previous year. Of the more than 350 migrants who drowned when their boat sank off the coast of Lampedusa Island in October 2013, most were Eritreans and, according to Estefanos, 12 were survivors of torture camps in Sinai. In its report, Human Rights Watch accuses both Sudan and Egypt of failing to take action to stop the trafficking and abuse of Eritrean refugees.
However, Chiara Cardoletti-Carroll, the UNHCR assistant representative in Sudan, argued that in 2013 the Sudanese government took a number of important steps to prevent kidnappings and prosecute traffickers, including endorsing a joint initiative by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to combat trafficking. She noted that the deployment of a rapid emergency force outside the refugee camps near Kassala, and increased policing around the camps, had successfully deterred traffickers. “We have not had a single kidnapping incident out of the eastern camps since February 2013,” she told IRIN, adding that trafficking cases reported to UNHCR through its victim counselling services had also gone down significantly. She confirmed that the routes used by Eritrean refugees had changed, with more heading to Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, which has become a jumping-off point for Libya. Khartoum is now becoming a “hot spot” for smugglers and traffickers. Regional cooperation on the issue, particularly between Sudan and Egypt, is still lacking. “On this front, I feel there’s a long way to go,” said Cardoletti-Carroll.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations.]
Report: By KRISTY SIEGFRIED
Usual as it has been in the past twenty or so years, four Oromo refugees have been arrested or kidnapped in Nairobi, Kenya on the first of this month of February, 2014, and taken to an unknown destination. Below is an URGENT ACTION issued by the HRLHA regarding the current situation around the lives and whereabouts of the four Oromos who have been taken away by Kenyan Security agents:
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) expresses its deep concern regarding the safety of four Oromo refugees from Ethiopia who were arbitrarily arrested by Kenyan anti-terrorist squad from Isili area in Nairobi on different dates of operations and taken to unknown destinations.
According to information obtained through HRLHA correspondent in Nairobi, Mr. Tumsa Roba Katiso, (UNHCR attestation File#: NETH033036/1) was arrested by members of Kenyan anti-terrorist squad, who arrived at the scene in two vehicles, on February 1, 2014 at around 10:00 AM from 2nd Street in the Isili locality in Nairobi on his way home from shopping. The other three refugees, Mr. Chala Abdalla, Mr. Namme Abdalla, and the third person whose name is not known yet were picked up from their home which is located in the same Isli area in Nairobi, Kenya on February 3, 2014 by members of the same anti-terrorist squad of Kenyan. The whereabouts of those Ethiopian-Oromo refugees is unknown until the time of compilation of this urgent action.
The HRLHA is highly suspicious that those Ethiopian-Oromo refugees might have been deported to Ethiopia. And, in case those Ethiopian-Oromo refugees have been deported, the Ethiopian Government has a well-documented record of gross and flagrant violations of human rights, including the torturing of its own citizens who were involuntarily returned to the country. The government of Ethiopia routinely imprisons such persons and sentences them to up to life in prison, and often impose death penalty. There have been credible reports of physical and psychological abuses committed against individuals in Ethiopian official prisons and other unofficial or secret detention centres. Under Article 33 (1) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (189 U.N.T.S. 150), to which Kenya is a party, “[n]o contracting state shall expel or forcibly return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his . . . political opinion.” This obligation, which is also a principle of customary international law, applies to both asylum seekers and refugees, as affirmed by UNHCR’s Executive Committee and the United Nations General Assembly. By deporting the four refugees and others, the Kenyan Government will be breaching its obligations under international treaties as well as customary law.
- Under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1465 U.N.T.S. 185) to which Kenya acceded in 1997, Kenya has an obligation not to return a person to a place where they face torture or ill-treatment. Article 3 of the Convention against Torture provides:
No state party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds to believe that they would be in danger of being subjected to torture.
2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights. We strongly urge the government of Kenya to respect the international treaties and obligations it has signed
The Kenyan Government is well known for handing over refugees to the Ethiopian Government by violating the above mentioned international obligations. It is very disheartening to recall that Engneer Tesfahun Chemeda, who died on August 24, 2013 in Ethiopia’s grand jail of Kaliti due to torture that was inflicted on him in that jail, was handed over to the Ethiopian Government Security Agents in 2007 by the Kenyan Government.
Tesfahun Chemeda was arrested by the Kenyan anti-terrorist forces, along with his close friend called Mesfin Abebe, in 2007 in Nairobi, Kenya, where both were living as refugees since 2005; and later deported to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Government detained them in an underground jail in a military camp for over one year, during which time they were subjected to severe torture and other types of inhuman treatments until when they were taken to court and changed with terrorism offences in December 2008. They were eventually sentenced to life imprisonment in March 2010. (Mesfin’s death sentence was later commuted.)
The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) is highly concerned about the safety and security of the above listed refugees who were recently arrested by the Kenyan anti-terrorist forces; and for those who are still living in Kenya. It urges the government of Kenya to respect the international treaties and obligations, and unconditionally release the arrested refugees, and refrain from handing over to the government of Ethiopia where they would definitely face torture and maximum punishments. It also urges all human rights agencies (local, regional and international) to join the HRLHA and condemn these illegal and inhuman acts of the Kenyan Government against defenseless refugees. HRLHA requests the governments of the Western countries as well as international organizations to interfere in this matter so that the safety and security of the arrested refugees and those refugees currently staying in Kenya could be ensured.