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High time for human rights

International | Analysts say new peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia could lead to reform
by Onize Ohikere
Posted 7/24/18, 04:33 pm

Eritrea announced Saturday it has appointed its first ambassador in two decades to neighboring Ethiopia, the latest conciliatory move between the countries after a bitter war that killed 80,000 people.

The two nations reached several agreements over the past month after formally restoring relations, prompting celebrations. Analysts say the reconciliation could increase the pressure for political and human rights reforms in both countries.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, but war broke out after a border dispute. Ethiopia’s reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who took office in April, opened the path to peace when he accepted a United Nations ruling that gave Eritrea control of some key disputed areas.

Semere Russom, Eritrea’s former ambassador to the United States and present education minister, will head the diplomatic mission. Last week, Ethiopia appointed its former ambassador to Ireland, Redwen Hussien, to lead its mission to Eritrea.

The two nations also restored their telephone lines. Alemnesh Woldegiorgis, a 64-year-old Eritrean living in Ethiopia, said he already has spoken with his sisters in the Eritrean port city of Massawa. “I can’t put my joy into words,” he said.

On Wednesday, an Ethiopian Airlines aircraft—tagged “the bird of peace”—became the first Ethiopian commercial flight to touch down in the Eritrean capital of Asmara in 20 years. The passengers included several dignitaries and people looking to reunite with family members.

One passenger, Senait Tesfaye, told Reuters she had not seen her grandmother Abrehet in more than two decades. “We have been longing to see her for all these years,” Tesfaye said. “Words cannot express the joy we feel as a family.”

Maria Burnett, the Human Rights Watch director of East Africa and the Horn of Africa, welcomed the peace deal but added that the two countries still require serious reforms. Ethiopia has yet to launch investigations into extrajudicial killings during mass protests in recent years, she noted. 

The U.S. State Department includes Eritrea on its list of countries of practical concern for religious freedom abuses, while Open Doors USA has the nation on its annual World Watch List of the 50 most dangerous countries for Christians.

Eritrea has not held any elections since gaining independence in 1993, and still lacks a constitution and an independent judiciary. The nation also conscripted its citizens into indefinite military or civil service. Hundreds of thousands of Eritrean refugees have sought refuge in other countries, including Israel and Ethiopia.

“Now that Eritrea and Ethiopia have finally made peace with each other, it’s high time they each worked to protect the basic rights of their citizens,” Burnett said.

Associated Press/Photo by Ronen Zvulun (pool) Associated Press/Photo by Ronen Zvulun (pool) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

‘This is our state’

Israel’s Knesset last week passed a controversial law that describes the country as a principally Jewish state, sparking concerns among minority groups.

The government said the bill only enshrines into law Israel’s character as a Jewish state. It also excluded Arabic as an official language, downgrading it to a “special status,” which allows its continued use in Israeli institutions. Hebrew is the official language.

“Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, which honors the individual rights of all its citizens,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “I repeat this is our state. The Jewish state.”

Israel’s 1948 independence declaration had described the state’s nature as a Jewish and democratic nation. Ayman Odeh, head of the Arab Joint List, warned in a statement that the bill welcomed an “evil law,” adding, “Today, I will have to tell my children, along with all the children of Palestinian Arab towns, that the state has declared that it does not want us here.”

The American Jewish Committee said it was deeply disappointed in the law, saying it “puts at risk the commitment of Israel’s founders to build a country that is both Jewish and democratic.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that “the soul of Hitler has risen again within some of Israel’s officials” and the move would lead to “blood, fire and pain” in the region and the world. —O.O.

Facebook/Hakim Bao Facebook/Hakim Bao A portrait of Malaysian Chief Justice Richard Malanjum

Malaysia appoints Catholic as chief justice

Continuing reforms following elections in May, Malaysian King Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V on July 11 appointed Richard Malanjum as the new chief justice. Malanjum is Roman Catholic and the first person to hold the post from either of Malaysia’s two predominantly Christian states on the island of Borneo, according to, a Catholic news service.

Malanjum had been chief judge in Sabah state since 2006. Sabah Law Society president Brenndon Keith Soh heralded the historic appointment and praised Malanjum’s judicial experience. The Muslim Islamic Party criticized his selection, but others defended Malanjum as independent and fair to all religions.

Former Chief Justice Raus Sharif resigned this month following criticism for remaining on the court past the mandatory retirement age of 66 years and 6 months. One of his critics, according to South China Morning Post, was Malaysia’s newly elected prime minister, who ran on an anti-corruption platform.

Malanjum was the most senior federal judge and “equally qualified in all aspects” for the post, according to Datuk Joy Appukuttan, ex-president of the Catholic Lawyers Society of Kuala Lumpur. “Race and religion is not and should not be a criterion in the appointment,” he added. “We must move away from making any suggestions that his appointment is good for Malaysian Christians. Instead we must view his appointment as being good for Malaysia. We need to restore public confidence in the judiciary and we are moving in this direction with his appointment.” —Julia A. Seymour

China’s Xi tours Africa

Chinese President Xi Jinping launched on Saturday a four-nation visit in Africa, his first trip abroad since he began his second term.

Xi became the first Chinese leader to visit Rwanda, where he stopped at the 1994 genocide memorial and signed bilateral agreements with the African nation. Xi also visited Senegal, where President Macky Sall signed up for China’s plan to build a transport network connecting China by land and sea to Africa, Europe, and other parts of Asia.

Xi will attend the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, Indian, China, and South Africa) summit for emerging economies on Wednesday in South Africa and wrap up his trip with a stop in the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius.

The visit comes as China, Africa’s largest trading partner, continues to expand its reach. Last year, China opened in Djibouti its first military base on the continent. —O.O.

Nigeria arrests school kidnapping suspects

Nigerian police arrested 22 suspected Boko Haram extremists, Nigerian officials said, including eight who confessed their role in the 2014 kidnapping of 270 girls from Chibok school.

State Police Commissioner Damian Chukwu said authorities arrested the suspects—including three top commanders, two logistics suppliers, and 17 fighters—in raids in Borno and Yobe states earlier this month.

Abba Kyari, the deputy police commissioner who led the operation, told Reuters that eight of the suspects, including one commander, confessed to partaking in the planning and kidnapping of the Chibok girls.

“It was an intelligence-led operation,” Kyari said. “We have been monitoring them for about six months to a year.”

Chukwu added that the suspects are providing information that could result in the arrests of other Boko Haram commanders. The extremist group’s insurgency has killed more than 20,000 people. —O.O.

Congo confirms end of latest Ebola outbreak

After 42 days with no new confirmed cases, Congo’s latest outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus is over, its health ministry announced Tuesday. The virus in early May spread from rural areas to Mbandaka, a city of 1 million people, and produced 54 cases of Ebola and 33 deaths. Health ministry officials credited a quick international response and vaccinations of more than 3,300 people for containing the virus. —Les Sillars

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD's Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University-Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria. Follow her on Twitter @onize_ohiks.

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