Somalia Parliament Approves New Prime Minister

WASHINGTON — Members of Somalia’s Parliament have approved the appointment of Hamza Abdi Barre as the new prime minister.

More than 200 members of Parliament, who were present at a session held Saturday in Mogadishu, unanimously backed Barre, who also is member of the lower house of Parliament.

After the vote, Barre told VOA in an exclusive interview he would form “an effective government to deal with the current situation.”

“I will form a government that would advance the key priorities of my new government, including security, drought response, reconciliation, and development,” Barre said.

“I thank the respected lawmakers for giving me the confidence, a confidence, I know comes with a burden and challenges, a confidence that makes me both happy and a little bit worried about its extent and the huge expectations.”

International humanitarian organizations and the Somalia’s special presidential envoy for drought and climate, Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, continue to warn that Somalia faces a climate emergency and a famine.

“Our people are facing a severe drought as a result of an unprecedented fourth failed rainy season with catastrophic hunger, and we extremely fear that the situation may turn into a deadly famine, therefore my government will give the priority in dealing with drought response,” Barre said.

Somalia politics often include disputes between presidents and prime ministers, which is the product of a complex constitution intended to encourage power sharing, which forces an elected president to handpick a prime minister from a rival clan and then hand over certain powers to that unelected post.

In the past, such disagreements often have paralyzed governments, leading to the eventual ouster of prime ministers by lawmakers.

Unlike previous prime ministers, though, Barre is a close friend of the current president and served as secretary-general of the president’s Peace and Development Party from 2011 to 2017.

Barre says this time around, if any political differences arise between him and the president it will not escalate into tension.

“It is the human nature. We can differ on a political issue, but I assure for Somalis that we will find a mechanism that we can solve our differences without political tension.” Barre said. “I assure you that the president will effectively work together for the betterment of the Somali people.”

Barre, 48, was elected to Parliament for the first time in December. Previously, he was the chair of the Jubaland regional electoral commission.

He was nominated June 15 as prime minister by the newly elected president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

One of the biggest challenges facing his government is the al-Qaida-aligned Islamist group al-Shabab, which still controls large areas of rural southern and central Somalia, continuing to carry out suicide attacks and assassinations in the main cities, including the capital, Mogadishu.

Source: Voice of America

Civics Groups Slam ‘Rigid’ Kimberley Process as Russia Emerges Unscathed

GABORONE, BOTSWANA — Activists in Botswana have slammed the Kimberley Process, which is intended to prevent diamonds from financing wars, after meetings this week failed to censure Russia.

The European Union (EU) and allies sought to expand the definition of conflict diamonds to include top supplier Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

A push to get Russian diamonds censured during a week-long meeting in the resort town of Kasane came up empty.

The EU, Ukraine and the United States had wanted the Kimberley Process inter-sessional meeting to broaden the definition of conflict diamonds in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Russian is the world’s largest producer of diamonds.

Speaking at the closing meeting Friday, Kimberley Process Chairperson Jacob Thamage said the efforts of the EU and its allies failed to go through due to lack of consensus.

“You will recall that when we started on Monday afternoon, it took quite an ordinate amount of time to reach consensus on the agenda as initially we had the EU proposing an inclusion of an agenda item around which there was no consensus,” Thamage said. “Ideas and proposals were tabled for inclusion on the agenda. For instance, those who supported the EU’s initial proposal, with a modified proposal that spoke to preventing diamonds from fueling conflict.”

World Diamond Council Chairperson Edward Asscher says there is a need for reforms, particularly with the definition of conflict diamonds.

“This year, throughout our engagement with many government participants here in Kasane, there seems to be strong support for further reforms, including that of the conflict diamond definition,” Asscher said. “We joined an inter-session hosted by the civil society coalition and we were pleased to have been able to conduct an open and honest dialogue about the reform of the KP. We would like to see this dialogue continued within the KP.”

Asscher says he still has confidence and belief in the Kimberley Process despite recent criticism the diamond trade body is losing relevance.

However, Hans Merket, a member of the Kimberley Process Civil Society Coalition, was disappointed with the outcome of the Botswana meeting.

“The consensus system makes it too easy for a small minority to hold everyone hostage,” Merket said. “The consensus model is being used to veto any progress. The world is bypassing the Kimberley Process.”

Merket adds it is disappointing that discussions on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine were blocked.

“We had somewhat expected a discussion on whether Russian diamonds must be seen as conflict diamonds with the invasion of Ukraine,” Merket said. “That discussion was blocked. We were prepared that veto power will be used to avoid KP to address that. What is worse is that we could not have a discussion on what the KP’s general weakness are and how the KP falls short in breaking the link between diamonds and violent conflict.”

The world’s leading diamond producers, drawn from 85 countries, will return to Botswana in November for plenary discussions.

Source: Voice of America

‘Total Bloodbath’: Witnesses Describe Ethiopia Ethnic Attack

NAIROBI, KENYA — The heavily armed men appeared around the small farming village in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, frightening residents already on edge after recent clashes between government troops and rebels.

“The militants assured us that they will not touch us. They said they are not after us,” resident Nur Hussein Abdi told The Associated Press. “But in reality, they were surrounding our whole village for a deadly massacre. What happened the next day was a total bloodbath.”

Abdi escaped by hiding on a rooftop, a horrified witness to one of the worst mass killings in Ethiopia in recent years. Hundreds of people, mostly ethnic Amhara, were slaughtered in and around the Tole village June 18 in the latest explosion of ethnic violence in Africa’s second most populous nation.

Multiple witnesses told the AP they are still discovering bodies, with some put in mass graves containing scores of people. The Amhara Association of America said it has confirmed 503 civilians killed. Ethiopian authorities have not released figures. One witness, Mohammed Kemal, said he has witnessed 430 bodies buried, and others are still exposed and decomposing.

Kemal begged Ethiopia’s government to relocate the survivors, saying the armed men had threatened to return.

“They killed infants, children, women and the elderly,” resident Ahmed Kasim said. The Amhara Association of America said the dead include a 100-year-old and a one-month-old baby, and some people were killed in a mosque where they had tried to hide.

Residents and Oromia regional officials have blamed the Oromo Liberation Army, an armed group that Ethiopia’s government has declared a terrorist organization. An OLA spokesman denied it, alleging that federal troops and regional militia attacked the villagers for their perceived support of the OLA as they retreated from an OLA offensive.

Again, Ethiopians are left wondering why the federal government failed to protect them from the violent side of the country’s ethnic tensions — and why ethnic minorities in a federal system based on identity are left so vulnerable.

Teddy Afro, Ethiopia’s much celebrated pop star, released two songs this week highlighting the crisis that has worsened in the past four years and dedicating his songs to civilians who have lost their lives.

“It’s never an option to keep quiet when a mountain of death comes in front of me,” one of his lyrics says.

On Friday, thousands of students at Gondar University in the neighboring Amhara region protested the killings and demanded justice.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has said security forces have launched a military operation against the OLA, but many Ethiopians appear skeptical after seeing the deadly cycle play out in the past.

The president of the Oromia region, Shimelis Abdisa, on Thursday acknowledged that it will be difficult to arrange security in every location but said the current operation “will cripple the enemy’s ability to move from place to place.”

Ethnic Amhara are Ethiopia’s second-largest ethnic group but have found themselves under attack in some areas where they are in the minority. Several dozen were killed in attacks in the Benishangul Gumuz and Oromia regions over the past three years alone.

“Ethnic Amharas who live outside of their region do not have legal and political representation, which results in no protection,” said Muluken Tesfaw, a community activist who tracks abuses against the Amhara. “There were even speeches by Oromia region government officials that seek to reduce Amharic-speaking people.”

“An anti-Amhara narrative has been spreading for over 50 years now,” said Belete Molla, chairman of the opposition NaMA party. “The Amhara living in Oromia and Benishangul are hence being targeted.” He also accused some members of the Oromia region’s ruling party of “working for or sympathizing with the Oromo Liberation Army.”

The latest mass killings brought international alarm. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has urged Ethiopian authorities to hold “prompt, impartial and through” investigations. The U.S. State Department called on Ethiopians to “reject violence and pursue peace.”

Ethiopia continues to struggle with ethnic tensions in several parts of the country and a deadly conflict in the northern Tigray region that has severely affected the once rapidly growing economy, but the prime minister is adamant that better days are ahead.

“There is no doubt that Ethiopia is on the path of prosperity,” he declared in a parliament address this month.

But Ethiopians who escaped the latest attack seek answers.

Nur Hussein said he and other Tole villagers had called nearby officials about the appearance of the armed men shortly before the violence exploded. “Their response was muted. They said there were no specific threats to respond to. But look at what unfolded,” he said. “God willing, we will get past this, but it is a scar that will live with us forever.”

Source: Voice of America

Groups in Spain, Morocco Push for Border Deaths Inquiry

MADRID — Human rights organizations in Spain and Morocco called on both countries to investigate the deaths of at least 18 Africans and injuries suffered by dozens more who attempted to scale the border fence that surrounds Melilla, a Spanish enclave in North Africa.

Moroccan authorities said the casualties occurred when a stampede of people tried to climb the iron fence that separates Melilla and Morocco. In a statement released Friday, Morocco’s Interior Ministry said 76 civilians were injured along with 140 Moroccan security officers.

Local authorities cited by Morocco’s official MAP news agency said the death toll increased to 18 after several migrants died in the hospital. The Moroccan Human Rights Association reported 27 dead, but the figure could not immediately be confirmed.

Two members of Morocco’s security forces and 33 migrants who were injured during the border breach were being treated at hospitals in the Moroccan cities of Nador and Oujda, MAP said.

Traffickers blamed

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Saturday condemned what he described as a “violent assault” and an “attack on the territorial integrity” of Spain. Spanish officials said 49 Civil Guards sustained minor injuries.

“If there is anyone responsible for everything that appears to have taken place at that border, it is the mafias that traffic in human beings,” Sánchez said.

His remarks came as the Moroccan Human Rights Association shared videos on social media that appeared to show dozens of migrants lying on the ground, many of them motionless and a few bleeding, as Moroccan security forces stood over them.

“They were left there without help for hours, which increased the number of deaths,” the human rights group said on Twitter. It called for a comprehensive investigation.

In another of the association’s videos, a Moroccan security officer appeared to use a baton to strike a person lying on the ground.

Rights groups protest

In a statement released late Friday, Amnesty International expressed its “deep concern” over the events at the border.

“Although the migrants may have acted violently in their attempt to enter Melilla, when it comes to border control, not everything goes,” said Esteban Beltrán, the director of Amnesty International Spain. “The human rights of migrants and refugees must be respected and situations like that seen cannot happen again.”

Five rights organizations in Morocco and APDHA, a human rights group based in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, also called for inquiries.

The International Organization for Migration and U.N. refugee agency UNHCR also weighed in with a statement that expressed “profound sadness and concern” over what happened at the Morocco-Mellila border.

“IOM and UNHCR urge all authorities to prioritize the safety of migrants and refugees, refrain from the excessive use of force and uphold their human rights,” the organizations said.

In a statement published Saturday, the Spanish Commission for Refugees, CEAR, decried what it described as “the indiscriminate use of violence to manage migration and control borders” and expressed concerns that the violence had prevented people who were eligible for international protection from reaching Spanish soil.

The Catholic Church in the southern Spanish city of Malaga also expressed its dismay over the events.

“Both Morocco and Spain have chosen to eliminate human dignity on our borders, maintaining that the arrival of migrants must be avoided at all costs and forgetting the lives that are torn apart along the way,” it said in a statement penned by a delegation of the diocese that focuses on migration in Malaga and Melilla.

Thousands tried, hundreds succeeded

A spokesperson for the Spanish government’s office in Melilla said that around 2,000 people had attempted to make it across the border fence but were stopped by Spanish Civil Guard Police and Moroccan forces on either side of the border fence. A total of 133 migrants made it across the border.

The mass crossing attempt was the first since Spain and Morocco mended relations after a year-long dispute related to Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony annexed by Morocco in 1976. The thaw in relations came after Spain backed Morocco’s plan to grant more autonomy to the territory, a reversal of its previous support for a U.N.-backed referendum on the status of Western Sahara.

Source: Voice of America