Category Archives: North Africa

Is the West letting Sudan and Bashir back in from the cold?

Institute of Security Studies

5 November 2015

On 29 October, the United States (US) embassy in Khartoum issued an interesting statement, welcoming Sudan’s removal from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) list of countries which are not playing their part in combatting money laundering and the financing of terrorism. The FATF is an inter-governmental body established in 1989 to combat such crimes.

The US embassy noted that last month FATF had taken Sudan off its watch list because of its ‘significant progress … in addressing the strategic anti-money laundering (AML)/counter-terrorism financing (CFT) deficiencies earlier identified by the FATF…’

The embassy also noted that ‘the rise of violent extremism poses a shared threat to the Sudanese and American people … and welcomes the opportunity to work with Sudan on future counter-terrorism efforts, such as denying safe haven to terrorists, blocking access to financial resources, and disrupting the flow of foreign fighters.’

This statement pointed the way to possible significant shifts in the hitherto combative relationship between Washington and Khartoum.

Sudan remains under comprehensive US sanctions and also, along with Iran and Syria, on America’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. Former US president Bill Clinton imposed the comprehensive trade sanctions against Sudan itself and the blocking of the Khartoum government in November 1997, when Sudan was still harbouring Osama bin Laden.

There are important signs that the Obama administration will start easing up on Khartoum
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The reasons he gave were Sudan’s ‘continued support for international terrorism, ongoing efforts to destabilise neighbouring governments, and the prevalence of human rights violations, including slavery and the denial of religious freedom…’ In March 2005, then president George Bush added targeted sanctions against the property of individual Sudanese who were deemed to be responsible for violations of human rights and humanitarian law in Darfur.

When Khartoum allowed South Sudan to secede in July 2011, it said it should be rewarded by the lifting or at least easing of sanctions. This did not happen. And the US, which holds the key to the World Bank granting the debt relief that Khartoum badly wants under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative, still has its finger hovering over the veto button.

Nevertheless there are important signs that the Obama administration – and the West at large – will now start to ease up on Khartoum. One of those signs was removing Sudan from the FATF list, mentioned above. Another was the failure of human rights defenders to get Sudan returned to the so-called ‘Item Four’ category of human rights offending countries at the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva last month.

The activists wanted Sudan punished for a recent surge in alleged atrocities by government forces in Darfur as documented in Human Rights Watch’s recent report, Men with no mercy. The report cites testimonies of many witnesses that the government’s Rapid Support Forces in particular have conducted systematic abuses of civilians, including murder and the widespread rape of young girls.

Sudan finds itself in a strategically important position on a range of important issues for the West
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For nearly two decades, Khartoum was classified under Item Four, meaning that its offences were a deliberate implementation of government’s policy. But in 2011, after it let South Sudan go, it was promoted to ‘Item 10’ classification, which focuses on ‘technical assistance and capacity-building’ and the need to raise awareness of the need for accountability.

The implication of this classification is the implausible assumption that a government is conducting human rights offences unwittingly and merely requires outside help to correct these mistakes.

The human rights defenders also failed in their attempt for the Human Rights Council to appoint a commission of inquiry into abuses in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where the government stands accused of indiscriminate bombing of civilians, among other offences.

The journal Africa Confidential has reported it was a ‘back-room’ deal between the US and Sudan in Geneva that thwarted these moves by Sudanese opposition forces and international human rights champions to tighten the screws on Khartoum. The journal said it was told by human rights activists ‘that Washington and Khartoum stitched up a deal and then passed it to the African group to sponsor.’

The quid pro quo for the US in this deal was supposedly greater intelligence cooperation from Khartoum, especially on Somalia’s al-Shabaab jihadist extremist group, which is trying to topple the African Union-backed government in Mogadishu and Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Berouk Mesfin, a senior researcher at the Institute of Security Studies (ISS) in Addis Ababa, though, thinks that Sudan would have more intelligence on the Islamic State, which some Sudanese have joined.

The human rights lobby is furious about the alleged deal between the US and Sudan. Africa Confidential quoted Sudanese human rights advocate Abdullahi Ahmed An Na’im, a professor of law at Atlanta’s Emory University, as saying, ‘The only consistency in the work of the UN Human Rights Council is its unfailing capacity to disappoint the lowest of expectations.’ An Na’im confirmed this quote to the ISS.

Yet it is not only the US that is easing pressure on Khartoum and not only for the sake of cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

Mesfin agrees with an official from another Western country that the ‘enormous disappointment and fatigue’ caused by the disastrous civil war in South Sudan is also a factor in the quest for greater cooperation with Khartoum (therefore the easing of US and wider international pressure).

Are geo-strategic considerations again trumping human rights concerns?
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‘The South Sudan and Sudan country situations are closely interwoven and Sudan’s cooperation is key to return South Sudan to stability,’ the official says. ‘Sudan has the capability to “ignite” South Sudan into inter-communal and inter-ethnic strife, which would make today’s situation look like a tea party.’

The official also notes Sudan’s role in Yemen, supporting the Saudi-led (and largely US-approved) fight against the Houthi rebels. The official sees easing of pressure on Sudan as part of the Obama administration’s wider move to normalise relations with foes, such as Iran and Cuba.

‘Based on these considerations, the US is now more pragmatic than for a very long time in entertaining a dialogue with Khartoum on issues like terror listing, sanctions relief and debt relief.’

Sudan also plays a key role for Europe, the official notes, notably as a transit country for refugees from Eritrea especially, but also Ethiopia and Somalia. He recalls that Khartoum hosted a migration summit last year, a forerunner of the big European Union–African Union migration summit to be held in Malta later this month. Mesfin adds that Sudan can also play the role of a middleman between Ethiopia and Eritrea, as it has good relations with both.

So Sudan finds itself, rather fortuitously, in a strategically important position on a range of important issues for the West, and so with an unusually high degree of leverage. And, in this Cold War-like scenario, geo-strategic considerations are again trumping human rights concerns.

The irony is that the West and the African Union – which are otherwise cast as the antagonist and defender, respectively, over Sudan – now find themselves switching roles.

Last month in Khartoum, Sudanese President al-Bashir opened his National Dialogue, which is supposed to point the way to the political future. It was boycotted not only by most of the political opposition, but even by the African Union’s special envoy on Sudan – former South African President Thabo Mbeki. That was because al-Bashir’s government spurned conditions for participating in the Dialogue set by the opposition Sudan Call Forces coalition, including a neutral venue. Mbeki had agreed to those conditions.

‘I don’t think there are chances for Sudan’s political transformation as long as Bashir controls internal pressure,’ says Mesfin. ‘I also think Sudan’s removal from the FATF watch list means that the US and West are not going to apply external pressure.’

This turn of events, however, suggests – if only facetiously – a possible future strategy for the West in its eternal and mostly futile quest to win African backing in its fight against despotic African leaders – support them.

Peter Fabricius, ISS Consultant

Clashes continue between Sudanese army and Ethiopian shifta along the border

Sudan Tribune

(KHARTOUM) – Sources have disclosed ongoing clashes between Sudanese troops and Ethiopian gangs known as Shifta on the border between the two countries since Sunday saying that military reinforcement has been sent to the area.

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A road leading to Ethiopia-Sudan border (Photo Jamminglobal.com)

No official statement has been issued from both governments.

The fresh clashes come after the death of eight Ethiopian nationals during confrontations between Sudan’s Popular Defence Forces (PDF) and Ethiopian armed groups last September.

Sources in the state of Gedaref told Sudan Tribune that Ethiopian gunmen have entered Atrad area inside Sudan’s territory since Sunday, pointing to the tense situation in the area following the killing of several Ethiopian farmers last month.

Farmers from two sides of the border used to dispute the ownership of land in the Al-Fashaga area located in the south-eastern part of Sudan’s eastern state of Gedaref.

Last September, the governor of Gedaref state, Merghani Salih has complained that Ethiopia controls more than a million acres of Sudanese agricultural land in the area of Al-Fashaga, saying the area has been completely isolated from Sudan.

It should be mentioned that Al-Fashaga covers an area of about 250 square kilometers and it has about 600.000 acres of fertile lands. Also there are river systems flowing across the area including Atbara, Setait and Baslam rivers.

Multiple sources have confirmed that clashes are ongoing between the PDF and the Shifta gangs in Shingal area on the outskirts of Kinaina town in the locality of east Galabat, pointing that a Sudanese soldier was killed in the clashes.

The same sources noted that reinforcement from the Sudanese army and the special forces are en route to support the PDF troops.

The two governments have agreed in the past to redraw the borders, and to promote joint projects between people from both sides for the benefit of local population. However, the Ethiopian opposition has used to accuse the ruling party of abandoning Ethiopian territory to Sudan.

In November 2014, Sudan’s president Omer al-Bashir and Ethiopia’s premier, Hailemariam Desalegn, instructed their foreign ministers to set a date for resuming borders demarcation after it had stopped following the death of Ethiopia’s former prime minister, Meles Zenawi.

Also, in December 2013 the Joint Sudanese- Ethiopian Higher Committee (JSEHC) announced that it reached an agreement to end disputes between farmers from two sides of the border over the ownership of agricultural land particularly in the Al-Fashaga.

(ST)

 

Sudan’s Bashir gets some goodies on China trip

East African

Sudan President Bashir bags goodies on China trip

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) shakes hands with his Sudanese counterpart Omar al-Bashir during a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 1, 2015. PHOTO | AFP 

By Mohammed Amin in Khartoum

Posted  Friday, September 4  2015 at  12:56

IN SUMMARY

  • Khartoum news agency Suna quoted Finance minister Badr Aldien Mahmoud as disclosing that the Sudanese delegation had signed more than 10 investment contracts with Chinese companies.
  • The deals, the minister said, include oil and gas, transport and telecommunication and space technology.
  • Beijing and Khartoum also signed a ports corporation agreement and an airbus aircraft sales deal.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s visit to China may have prompted international uproar, but has yielded several economic deals for his country.

Khartoum news agency Suna quoted Finance minister Badr Aldien Mahmoud as disclosing that the Sudanese delegation had signed more than 10 investment contracts with Chinese companies.

The deals, the minister said, include oil and gas, transport and telecommunication and space technology.

Suna said the the contracts, signed by presidents Bashir and Xi Jinping in the presence of the Chinese companies representatives, will see the latter advance several loans and inject funds into the Sudanese economy.

”We signed many contracts with the Chinese oil companies to expand our production and also prospect for natural gas in Block 8 which is in the middle of Sudan,’’ Mr Mahmooud was quoted as disclosing.

He further pointed out that Beijing and Khartoum signed a ports corporation agreement and an airbus aircraft sales deal.

War crimes

“There is another agreement to build a new free zone in Sudan and many industries,’’ he added.

President Bashir Tuesday attended the Chinese parade commemorating the end of World War II in Beijing in the company of his Chinese counterpart.

Several states and international organisations had expressed their opposition to China hosting the Sudanese leader, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur.

Sudan has for years supplied roughly seven per cent of China’s oil needs – the equivalent of the former’s half daily output – in exchange for financial and military support.

The proposed Chinese investments are expected to lessen the economic crisis that Sudan has endured for two decades, courtesy of the US sanctions.

The US strongly condemned China for hosting President Bashir and called on Beijing to respect its international obligations as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in statement on Tuesday that the ICC request for the arrest President Bashir still stands.

“We believe China, like any member of the Security Council, should weigh its concerns – or weigh the world’s concerns about President Bashir and the fact that he has an active warrant out for his arrest for war crimes,’’ said Mr Turner.

Sudan – Darfur conflict changing and becoming more internecine but not getting better

ISS

In Darfur, things have changed, but not for the better
31 August 2015

The Peace and Security Council (PSC) undertook a field mission to Darfur and Khartoum this month amid growing concern about the situation in Darfur. The African Union (AU) has been involved in attempts to solve the Darfur conflict for over a decade, having started to send peacekeepers to the area in 2004.

In June 2015, the United Nations (UN) Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the UN–AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), citing a ‘significant deterioration of the security situation’.

The unanimous vote represented something of a defeat: an admission that after 11 years of international involvement, the region remains as dangerous and unstable as ever.

It is important not to underestimate the scale of the Darfur conflict, and its cost – in both human and financial terms. Since the fighting began in earnest in 2003, more than 300 000 people have been killed and an estimated 2.5 million more displaced (this from a population of around 6.2 million).

The AU has had a presence there since 2004, in the form of the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS), which morphed into UNAMID in 2007. UNAMID’s mandate provides for 15 845 military personnel, 1 583 police personnel and 13 formed police units of up to 140 personnel each, which are drawn from 37 different countries. Its budget is currently US$1.1 billion per year. The International Crisis Group (ICG) estimates that the total international cost of the war in Darfur, including humanitarian aid, has exceeded US$20 billion since 2003.

Over the years, the conflict has changed, becoming ever more fractured and internecine
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This investment of money, personnel and diplomatic capital has failed to resolve the situation, however. Even though a high-profile peace deal – the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD) – was signed in 2011 between the government of President Omar al-Bashir and various rebel groups, the fighting has intensified over the last 18 months. This has left policymakers wondering whether UNAMID is fit for purpose, and what it should be doing differently.

Changing nature of the conflict

Understanding the tangled web of alliances and motivations that underpin the conflict has never been easy, although when the fighting began it was possible to observe the broad trend, which pitted non-Arab tribes against government forces and government-sponsored militia groups (known pejoratively as the Janjaweed). It is on this basis that peace talks proceeded, and the DDPD reflects this understanding, even though several major rebels groups refused to sign the document.

Over the years, however, the conflict has changed, becoming ever more fractured and internecine. ‘Violence in Darfur has continually evolved. In 2003–2005, it was mostly due to attacks by pro-government, largely Arab militias targeting non-Arab communities accused of supporting the rebels. While those continued and intensified again in 2014, violence has mutated since 2006, with Arab communities and militias fighting each other and, to a lesser extent, non-Arab communities targeting non-Arab communities. Arab militias also turned against their government backers, while rebel factions fragmented and fought against each other as well,’ said the ICG in a report in April 2015 entitled ‘The chaos in Darfur’.

It is also important to note that the conflict has outgrown Darfur itself, especially with the occasional cross-border incursion by Chadian forces, and the deal between several major Darfuri rebel groups and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states to form the Sudan Revolutionary Front (SFR).

This poses challenges for any effective peace talks (although the prospect of new peace talks remains illusory, as the Sudanese government resolutely refuses to renegotiate the DDPD). Where should the international community begin: With the rebels and the government? With the government and the Janjaweed, themselves increasingly resistant to Khartoum’s dictates? With the intra-Arab spat between the Salamat and Misseriya, or the resource-fuelled dispute between the Beni Husein and abbala Reizegat? With the long-standing tensions between the non-Arab Zaghawa and other non-Arab militias? With the faction fighting between fragmenting rebel groups?

Involving armed groups in parallel processes

‘Resolution of Darfur’s diverse conflicts requires many things, including a rethink by the international community, in particular the UN Security Council, of many aspects of its relationship with Sudan. One element of that resolution, however, must be to involve as many armed groups as possible in parallel peace processes, including local inter-tribal conferences; Darfur regional security talks; and the national dialogue. In particular, Arab militias need representation in all processes, and government and rebels must acknowledge that they do not fully represent those communities,’ concluded the ICG.

There are encouraging signs that the AU is cognizant of the need for a new, inclusive peace process, particularly in the wake of the PSC’s field mission to Darfur and Khartoum from 19–21 August. Following this visit, the PSC met to discuss the activities of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan and South Sudan, and issued a communiqué that emphasised the importance of national dialogue. Most significantly, the communiqué indicated that the PSC had extracted significant concessions from al-Bashir while in Sudan:

The PSC extracted significant concessions from al-Bashir while in Sudan
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‘[The PSC] notes the statement made by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir that the Government of Sudan is ready to observe a two-month ceasefire in order to create the necessary confidence for all stakeholders, including representatives of the armed movements, to join the National Dialogue process, and further notes the commitment made by President al-Bashir to grant amnesty to members of the armed movements to enable them to attend the National Dialogue in safety,’ said the communiqué.

This is a ‘big picture’ issue, however, and if it is to have any chance of success it will need a great deal of political will, and time. In the short term there is still an important role for UNAMID and the international community to play. But to do so they may need to focus on smaller, more readily solvable issues.

Room for improvement

In assessing the effectiveness of any peacekeeping mission, there are two distinct levels of analysis. Firstly, would the situation be worse without the presence of the mission? And secondly, what can the mission do better?

To the first point: almost certainly, Darfur and its beleaguered civilian population would be worse off without UNAMID. The mission not only provides protection to various camps for internally displaced persons but also conducts regular patrols and containment operations to minimise the opportunity for violence. According to the most recent report of the UN secretary-general on UNAMID, during the period from 26 February 2015 to 15 May 2015, the mission ‘conducted 10 376 patrols, comprising 5 567 routine patrols, 682 short-range patrols, 204 long-range patrols, 2 007 night patrols, 178 humanitarian armed escorts and 1 738 logistics and administrative armed escorts. A total of 5 008 villages were covered during these patrols.’

In addition to this, UNAMID provides protection and support for other humanitarian operations, and support for high-level mediation efforts. All these go some way towards improving the situation on the ground, even if only marginally.

‘What can UNAMID do better? This question can be answered by asking another question. What would Darfur look like if UNAMID was not there? Clearly, the situation without UNAMID would have been much worse than the situation on the ground now. It is not perfect, but I believe the mere presence of UNAMID contributes a lot,’ said Meressa Kahsu, a Researcher and Training Coordinator for the Institute for Security Studies who has visited Darfur recently.

UN spokesperson describes ‘conspiracy of silence’

Despite its obvious impact, UNAMID has not been immune to criticism that it could and should be doing more to fulfil its mandate, especially when it comes to protecting civilians. Most damaging were the revelations from former mission spokesperson Aicha el Basri, who resigned from her position to reveal what she described as a ‘conspiracy of silence’ to mask the mission’s shortcomings. She said that UNAMID troops had repeatedly failed to intervene to protect civilians, even when incidents happened before their eyes; and that the mission was also guilty of covering up the scale of these incidents. ‘I felt ashamed to be a spokesperson for a mission that lies, that can’t protect civilians, that can’t stop lying about it,’ she told the BBC.

Recognising shortcomings

The UN denied these accusations, but it is well aware of other shortcomings in the mission. In his report, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon outlined several factors that prevent it from fulfilling its mandate effectively. These included 60 attacks and hostile incidents against UNAMID personnel in the 90-day reporting period; other attacks against UN agencies and other humanitarian actors; restrictions on movement, access denial and denial of clearances imposed on UNAMID and humanitarian actors, most often by local government officials; and delays or denials of visas for UNAMID staff. These add up to an extremely hostile operating environment.

Despite its faults, Darfur’s civilians would be worse off without UNAMID
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‘The mission is like a prisoner who can’t move outside the jail. UNAMID can’t move outside the base without permission from the Government of Sudan. So how can it be effective in implementing its mandate? One example is the media reports on an incident of mass rape in the village of Tabit towards the end of 2014,’ said Kahsu. ‘UNAMID was unable to reach the village in a timely manner and investigate the alleged cases, only gaining access some days after the incident. This brings the credibility of the UNAMID report on the incident into question.

‘Consent of the host country is one of the principles of UN peacekeeping. In my view, this consent is no longer there,’ said Kahsu. In fact, things have become so bad that the government has demanded that UNAMID leave the country entirely. In response, UNAMID is examining possible options for an exit strategy.

If some of these challenges are beyond UNAMID’s control, it can work harder to address other criticisms. One that is well within the mission’s control is to improve cooperation between the UN and the AU, which is not always as good as it should be. The hybrid nature of the operation poses difficulties, but it also represents an opportunity: by leveraging the UN’s experience with the logistics of such missions and the AU’s political influence with the government in Khartoum, UNAMID should be able to punch well above its weight – and make a real difference. At the moment, Institute for Security Studies research shows that this is not happening.

The international community may not be able to solve the situation in Darfur in the near future. It can, however, take concrete steps to make UNAMID more effective, thereby allowing the peacekeeping force to better fulfil its mandate. Already, UNAMID’s presence is able to mitigate the worst effects of the violence for thousands of Darfuris, and there is no reason why it cannot play this role even more effectively. In fact, if it is truly to live up to its mandate, it must do so.

Relevant documents

Communiqué of the 539th meeting of the PSC on the activities of the AU High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) for Sudan and South Sudan

Report of the Secretary-General on the African Union–United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur, 26 May 2015

UN Security Council Resolution 2228 (2015) [extending UNAMID’s mandate until 30 June 2016]

Inter Press Service

Moroccan security forces charge against a group of Sahrawi women in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Courtesy of Equipe Media

Moroccan security forces charge against a group of Sahrawi women in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Courtesy of Equipe Media

LAAYOUNE, Occupied Western Sahara, Aug 23 2015 (IPS) – Ahmed Ettanji is looking for a flat in downtown Laayoune, a city 1,100 km south of Rabat. He only wants it for one day but it must have a rooftop terrace overlooking the square that will host the next pro-Sahrawi demonstration.

“Rooftop terraces are essential for us as they are the only places from which we can get a graphic testimony of the brutality we suffer from the Moroccan police,” Ettanji told IPS. This 26-year-old is one the leaders of the Equipe Media, a group of Sahrawi volunteers struggling to break the media blackout enforced by Rabat over the territory.

Ahmed Ettanji and a fellow Equipe Media activist edit video taken at a pro-independence demonstration in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“There are no news agencies based here and foreign journalists are denied access, and even deported if caught inside,” stressed Ettanji.

Spanish journalist Luís de Vega is one of several foreign journalists who can confirm the activist´s claim – he was expelled in 2010 after spending eight years based in Rabat and declared persona non grata by the Moroccan authorities.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences,” de Vega told IPS over the phone, adding that he was “fully convinced” that his was an exemplary punishment because he was the foreign correspondent who had spent more time in Morocco.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences” – Spanish journalist Luís de Vega

This year will mark four decades since this territory the size of Britain was annexed by Morocco after Spain pulled out from its last colony of Western Sahara.

Since the ceasefire signed in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front – the authority that the United Nations recognises as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people – Rabat has controlled almost the whole territory, including the entire Atlantic coast. The United Nations still labels Western Sahara as a “territory under an unfinished process of decolonisation”.

Mohamed Mayara, also a member of Equipe Media, is helping Ettanji to find the rooftop terrace. Like most his colleagues, he acknowledges having been arrested and tortured several times. The constant harassment, however, has not prevented him from working enthusiastically, although he admits that there are other limitations than those dealing with any underground activity:

“We set up the first group in 2009 but a majority of us are working on pure instinct. We have no training in media so we are learning journalism on the spot,” said Mayara, a Sahrawi born in the year of the invasion who writes reports and press releases in English and French. His father disappeared in the hands of the Moroccan army two months after he was born, and he says he has known nothing about him ever since.

Sustained crackdown

Today the majority of the Sahrawis live in the refugee camps in Tindouf, in Western Algeria. The members of Equipe Media say they have a “fluid communication” with the Polisario authorities based there. Other than sharing all the material they gather, they also work side by side with Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV. SADR stands for ‘Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’.

Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV in Laayoune. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Khatari, a 24-year-old journalist, recalls that she started working in 2010, after the Gdeim Izzik protest camp incidents in Laayoune. Originally a peaceful protest camp, Gdeim Izzik resulted in riots that spread to other Sahrawi cities when it was forcefully dismantled after 28 days on Nov. 8.

Western analysts such as Noam Chomsky have argued that the so-called “Arab Spring” did not start in Tunisia as is commonly argued, but rather in Laayoune.

“We have to work really hard and risk a lot to be able to counterbalance the propaganda spread by Rabat about everything happening here,” Khatari told IPS. The young activist added that she was last arrested in December 2014 for covering a pro-independence demonstration in June 2014. Unlike Mahmood al Lhaissan, her predecessor in SADR TV, Khatari was released after a few days in prison.

In a report released in March, Reporters Without Borders records al Lhaissan´s case. The activist was released provisionally on Feb. 25, eight months after his arrest in Laayoune, but he is still facing trial on charges of participating in an “armed gathering,” obstructing a public thoroughfare, attacking officials while they were on duty, and damaging public property.

In the same report, Reporters Without Borders also denounces the deportation in February of French journalists Jean-Louis Perez and Pierre Chautard, who were reporting for France 3 on the economic and social situation in Morocco.

Before seizing their video recordings and putting them on a flight to Paris, the authorities arrested them at the headquarters of Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), one of the country’s leading human rights NGOs, which the interior ministry has accused of “undermining the actions of the security forces”.

Likewise, other major organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly denounced human rights abuses suffered by the Sahrawi people at the hands of Morocco over the last decades.

Despite several phone calls and e-mails, the Moroccan authorities did not respond to IPS’s requests for comments on these and other human rights violations allegedly committed in Western Sahara.

Back in downtown Laayoune, Equipe Media activists seemed to have found what they were looking for. The owner of the central apartment is a Sahrawi family. It could have not been otherwise.

“We would never ask a Moroccan such a thing,” said Ettanji from the rooftop terrace overlooking the spot where the upcoming protest would take place.

Edited by Phil Harris   

Sudan – Bashir offers ceasefire in Blue Nile, S Kordofan and Darfur

Sudan Tribune

August 20, 2015 (KHARTOUM) – Sudanese President Omer al-Bashir on Thursday said he is ready to declare a two-month ceasefire in Blue Nile, South Kordofan states and Darfur region and renewed his offer of amnesty for the rebel who are willing to join the national dialogue.
  
Members of the national dialogue general assembly and President Omer al-Bashir attend the third session of the internal process in Khartoum on August 20, 2015 (Photo AFP/Ashraf Shazly)

Al-Bashir who chairs the national dialogue committee aka ,7+7 mechanism, made his offer in a speech before the general assembly of the dialogue process which includes over 83 political parties and 50 national figures.
He told the participants that his call for the national dialogue in January 2014 was motivated by the government’s keenness to achieve peace in Sudan. he further stressed his readiness to provide all the guarantees enabling them to participate in the internal political process and leave the country freely.
The president stressed that they “will not despair” of calling on the holdout opponents inside and outside Sudan to join the process , and repudiate violence as a way to gain power.
“In this regard, we renew our full amnesty for arms bearers who honestly wish to participate in the dialogue. Also (we declare) our readiness for a two-month ceasefire in order to hold the dialogue in a healthy atmosphere and high patriotism,” he said
Bashir stressed that there would not open any negotiation after the end of the dialogue process, and asserted that the ruling National Congress Party and the government will adhere to the implementation of whatever agreed by the conference.
The opposition Sudan Call forces including the rebel groups , National Umma Party (NUP) and National Consensus Forces (NCF), say the government is not serious in its search for a genuine peace and democratic reforms.
After the government refusal to attend a pre-dialogue meeting before April elections, they proposed to enhance the mandate of the African Union chief mediator Thabo Mbeki and to hold the peace talks outside the country before to go inside the country for an inclusive conference on the constitutional reforms.
The African Union High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) is expected to meet the rebel groups that participated in the two tracks of negotiations organized last November and the NUP leader to discuss the way forward.
Bashir told the general assembly of the national dialogue he refuses to release imprisoned rebels who participated attacks and killed people.
“To make it clear these (rebels) will not be released,” he said.
He is seemingly alluding to the rebel combatants members of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) who attacked Omdurman on 10 May 2008.
The Sudan Call forces call for their release saying it is part of the confidence building measures provided in the African Union roadmap to facilitate the national dialogue, .
(ST)

Mauritanian anti-slavery activist loses appeal against sentence

Reuters

A Mauritanian court on Thursday rejected an appeal by the country’s leading anti-slavery campaigner to be released from jail, upholding a two-year sentence passed in January.

The West African government has attempted to criminalise slavery and last week passed a law making it a crime against humanity and doubling prison terms for offenders. But campaigners say it will not be enough to stamp out the practice, thought to affect between 4 and 20 percent of the population.

Biram Dah Abeid, a former presidential candidate, was arrested in November during a peaceful anti-slavery march. He was sentenced in January for inciting trouble and belonging to an unrecognised organisation.

Members of the Haratin community, or black moors, from which slaves are drawn, filled the benches of the courtroom in the southern town of Aleg and cried out in disbelief after the verdict.

The court’s president said that in the absence of new defence testimony it would uphold the earlier sentences.

Biram Dah Abeid, who has twice before been imprisoned for opposing slavery, boycotted the proceedings together with his lawyers.

“I refuse to give up. I will not be silenced. I will not stop challenging the dogma which is used to legitimise slavery here,” he wrote in a letter from jail, released by global activist network Avaaz.

“The real reason for the decision is that Mauritania is willing to pass laws on slavery but does not intend to implement change,” said Alice Jay, campaign director for Avaaz, which has collected a million signatures for a petition for his release.

Jay says the organisation plans to visit European Union leaders in Brussels to lobby for a suspension of up to 195 million euros ($218 million) in EU aid for Mauritania’s government.

Other types of aid given directly to other organisations in the country would not be affected, she said.

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