Health Officials: Blast Kills Dozens in Tigray Market

A bomb blast killed dozens of people Tuesday at a market in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, as new fighting flared up in areas outside the regional capital, Mekelle.

The bomb went off in the town of Togoga west of Mekelle at about 1 p.m. local time. There were conflicting reports on whether the blast was the result of a plane dropping a bomb or artillery shells hitting the market.

Local medical officials that at least 43 people were killed, with dozens of others wounded.

Berhan Ghebrehiwet, who sells coffee for a living, said her hand was wounded during the attack.

“First they bombed the market and later they continue bombing the houses. My hand was injured from the bombing. I am suffering a lot and it is causing me great pain,” she told a reporter for VOA’s Horn of Africa Service at Hyder Hospital in Mekelle.

Health workers said Ethiopian soldiers blocked ambulances from reaching the scene of the attack.

Negasi Berhane, a Mekelle resident who suffered leg injuries in the attack, said he saw three people die in front of him, with many others left to suffer.

Ambulance driver Kahsu Tsegay told VOA he unsuccessfully tried five times to transport injured civilians to the hospital. The driver said he was barred from transporting wounded people on the grounds they had tried to help Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters.

Reuters news agency says an Ethiopian military spokesman, Colonel Getnet Adane, denied the military was blocking ambulances.

Later Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it helped the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and other parties evacuate wounded people from Togoga and transport them to a hospital in Mekelle.

“We cannot stress enough how vital it is for the medical mission to be respected and protected at all times,” ICRC official Nicolas von Arx said in a statement.

The U.S. State Department released a statement Wednesday, saying, “We strongly condemn this reprehensible act.” It said it was “gravely concerned” by the reports of the airstrike on the market.

State Department spokesman Ned Price urged Ethiopian authorities to “ensure full and unhindered medical access to the victims immediately.”

Ethiopian defense forces commander General Berhanu Jula denied the military attacked the market. The general said the attack was targeting an armed group, not civilians.

Asked if he saw armed people during the bombing, Mekelle resident Negasi said he only saw civilians.

On Tuesday, residents said new fighting had erupted elsewhere in Tigray. Residents said TPLF fighters had entered towns north of the capital, only to withdraw within hours.

Tigray has been embroiled in conflict since November, when the Ethiopian military launched an offensive to oust the ruling TPLF. Eritrea’s military has been helping Ethiopian troops battle the TPLF in the ongoing dispute.

Thousands of people have been killed and some 2 million others have fled their homes to escape the violence since fighting erupted.

Source: Voice of America

WFP: Catastrophic Hunger Descending on Southern Madagascar

The head of the World Food Program said Tuesday that more than a million people in southern Madagascar are “marching toward” starvation, and some 14,000 are already in famine-like conditions.

“You really can’t imagine how bad it is,” David Beasley told a small group of reporters about the conditions he saw during his trip last week to the East African island nation.

He said people are barely finding enough to eat, and many are dying. The WFP chief described people subsisting on mud and cactus flowers and hundreds of emaciated children with ripples of sagging skin on their limbs.

“It’s something you see in a horror movie,” Beasley said.

The country has suffered a series of successive droughts since 2014, leading to poor harvests. Last year, swarms of desert locusts swept through East Africa. Earlier this year two tropical storms appeared to bring some drought relief, but the rainfall, combined with warm temperatures, created ideal conditions for an infestation of fall armyworms, which destroy maize.

“There is no conflict driving these hunger numbers in the south,” Beasley said, referring to the main cause of severe food insecurity affecting other countries. “It is strictly climate change; it is strictly drought upon drought upon drought.”

Families have sold their land, their cattle and all their possessions to buy food.

The scope of the problem is daunting. More than a half million people in the south are one step away from starvation. Right behind them are roughly 800,000 more. Of the 14,000 already in famine-like conditions, WFP says their numbers could double in the coming months.

Beasley said his agency needs $78.6 million to get 1.3 million people through the lean season, which will begin in September and run through March. And they need the money now because it takes 3 to 4 months to move food into southern Madagascar.

“If we don’t get that money, then you are talking about at least a half a million people being in famine-like conditions,” said the WFP executive director.

That money buys essential food items, including cereals, beans, lentils and cooking oil for families.

Last week, the United States announced nearly $40 million in emergency assistance for southern Madagascar. The money will fund ongoing programs operated by WFP, UNICEF and Catholic Relief Services.

The worsening food crisis in southern Madagascar is not the only looming famine Beasley’s agency is coping with.

WFP said Tuesday that 41 million people are on the brink of famine in 43 countries, and it won’t take much to push them over the edge. That’s up from 27 million in 2019. The agency needs $6 billion to assist them.

Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan and Yemen are experiencing the severest food crises. Nigeria and Burkina Faso are also of special concern because they have in recent months had pockets of people in the highest crisis levels of hunger.

“We are in unprecedented waters right now, unlike anything we have seen since World War II,” said Beasley. “The numbers are astounding.”

Source: Voice of America

Human Rights Council Begins Interactive Discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her Annual Report and Concludes Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea

The Human Rights Council this morning began an interactive discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her annual report after concluding its dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. It also heard a statement by the Attorney General of Ethiopia.

In the discussion with the High Commissioner, speakers stressed that many pillars of democracy were being challenged today, including by countries which had ratified international treaties. All forms of intimidation and reprisals against civil society actors and human rights defenders were condemned, and countries were asked to address them. Some countries used human rights as an excuse for military intervention and unilateral coercive measures, which had brought untold sufferings to the people of other countries. The Office of the High Commissioner and the Council were commended for promoting a human rights response to COVID-19 and its recovery, as COVID-19 severely tested the potential of governments to exercise the enjoyment of all human rights globally. Speakers said that human rights must not be instrumentalised and noted that some situations were intensely scrutinised, while others were completely ignored – there was a collective crisis of solidarity that threatened the basic principles of the Council.

Speaking were Costa Rica on behalf of a group of countries, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Norway on behalf of a group of countries, Netherlands on behalf of a group of countries, Egypt on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Netherlands on behalf of a group of countries, United Kingdom on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Haiti on behalf of a group of countries, Timor Leste on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Russian Federation on behalf of a group of countries, Belarus on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Canada on behalf of a group of countries, Qatar, Liechtenstein, Canada, Cuba, Luxembourg, Germany, Kuwait, Ecuador, Slovenia, Switzerland, France, Viet Nam, United Nations Development Programme, Sierra Leone, Indonesia, State of Palestine, Portugal, Australia, Finland, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Republic of Korea, Fiji, Czech Republic, Senegal, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Japan, Bahrain, Estonia, Armenia, Iraq, Syria, China, Chile, Burkina Faso, India, Malta, Republic of Moldova, Maldives, Morocco, Lebanon, Norway, Algeria, Iran, Venezuela, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, United States, Jordan, Greece, Slovakia, Namibia, South Africa, Austria, Latvia, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Belarus, Ireland, Pakistan, Belgium, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Timor-Leste, Georgia, Argentina, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Turkey, Afghanistan, Cabo Verde, and Ethiopia.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

Speakers welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s report and said it pointed to a lack of political will, not a lack of capacity in addressing human rights violations. The situation in Eritrea was worsening and the Council was urged to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Rape and deliberate targeting of civilians in Tigray region was alarming. Despite the recent releases, individuals continued to be held incommunicado and detained indefinitely, some for decades.

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Babiker said that the international community could alleviate the plight of the Eritrean refugees by encouraging civil society in the diaspora to engage with the mandate as they had access to Eritrean refugees. He encouraged countries to adopt best practices on laws relating to the integration of refugees to mitigate their being exposed to human trafficking in the region. States were invited to help Eritrea to improve its human rights record and resolve the conflict in Tigray. Mr. Babiker expressed hope that Eritrea would be willing to cooperate with the mandate in the future.

The following civil society organizations took the floor: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Elizka Relief Foundation, Centre for Global Nonkilling, Human Rights Watch, and CIVICUS.

At the end of the meeting, the Council was addressed by Gedion Timothewos, Attorney General of Ethiopia. He informed the Council that the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front had rebuffed the Ethiopian Government’s repeated plea to resolve differences in a peaceful manner and had attacked the Ethiopian National Defence Force. This act of aggression and treason posed a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ethiopian State and a danger to the stability of the entire Horn of Africa region. Therefore, it was a duty upon the Government of Ethiopia to take appropriate measures against the illegal army and to restore lawful authority in the Tigray region. Mr. Timothewos said that premature and untimely resolutions in this Council’s session would constitute undue interference with ongoing investigations and would only undermine the integrity of ongoing investigations and do nothing to advance the cause of human rights.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet this afternoon at 3 p.m. to conclude the interactive discussion on the annual report of the High Commissioner. It will then hear the High Commissioner for Human Rights present the report of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Iran, followed by her oral update on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, followed by statements from the concerned countries. This will be followed by the presentation of a report by the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, taking stock of the right to adequate housing 20 years after the creation of the mandate, and on the mission of his predecessor, Leilani Farha, to New Zealand, followed by an interactive discussion.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea The interactive dialogue with Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, started on 21 June and a summary can be found here.

Discussion Speakers welcomed the report and said it pointed to a lack of political will, not a lack of capacity in addressing human rights violations. The situation in Eritrea was worsening and the Council was urged to adopt a resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. Reports of rape and deliberate targeting of civilians in Tigray region were alarming. Despite the recent releases, individuals continued to be held incommunicado and detained indefinitely, some for decades. The situation regarding arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, and religious persecution was also concerning. Grave violations of international humanitarian law by Eritrean troops were alarming and the authorities were doing nothing to address this, despite being members of the Council. The Eritrean Government continued to be one of the most repressive globally. What other avenues of international pressure could be leveraged in the continued rejection of the Eritrean Government to cooperate?

Concluding Remarks MOHAMED ABDELSALAM BABIKER, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, in his concluding remarks, said that the international community could alleviate the plight of the Eritrean refugees by encouraging civil society in the diaspora to engage with the mandate as they had access to Eritrean refugees. States in the region could also facilitate his mandate in the region, especially in host countries. He encouraged countries to adopt best practices on laws relating to the integration of refugees to mitigate refugees being exposed to human trafficking in the region. States could also adopt best practices on laws relating to the integration of refugees to mitigate their being exposed to human trafficking in the region. States were invited to help Eritrea to improve its human rights record and resolve the conflict in Tigray. It was difficult to ascertain the degree of arbitrary detention. There was a complete lack of the rule of law. It was not acceptable that people were detained without charge or being informed about the reason for their arrest. Eritrea must stop arbitrary detention and release all detained persons. Freedom of thought and religion must be respected and the recent closures of Muslim schools must stop. Before capacity building could work in Eritrea, the country must undergo significant institutional reforms. To ensure accountability for human rights violations, States should consider institutional and individual sanctions, as well as protecting the independence of any investigations. Mr. Babiker expressed hope that Eritrea would be willing to cooperate with the mandate in the future.

Interactive Discussion on the Annual Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented an oral update on her annual report on 21 June and a summary can be found here.

Interactive Discussion Speakers stressed that many pillars of democracy were being challenged today, including by countries which had ratified international treaties. All forms of intimidation and reprisals against civil society actors and human rights defenders were condemned, and countries were asked to address them. Attention was drawn to political, economic and social crises as well as human rights violations in a number of countries and regions. Some speakers noted that certain countries were using baseless accusations as a means to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, severely violating the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, while turning a blind eye to their own serious human rights problems. Also, some countries used human rights as an excuse for military intervention and unilateral coercive measures, which had brought untold suffering to the peoples of other countries. States should enhance peace and development and promote true multilateralism instead of encouraging divisions and confrontations.

There was an increased tendency by the Office of the High Commissioner and mandate holders to interpret themselves the provisions of intergovernmental decisions and to use disrespectful language in public statements and news releases. The Office of the High Commissioner and the Council were commended for promoting human rights response to COVID-19 and its recovery, as COVID-19 severely tested the potential of governments to exercise the enjoyment of all human rights globally. Recovery efforts had to focus on socio-economic and cultural rights and the vaccination process should be offered to all. All Member States were urged to pay their contributions to the United Nations. Hope was expressed that new technologies and digital space offered better means for monitoring abuses and mobilising support to human rights defenders.

The rise of nationalism, racism, Islamophobia and terrorism was concerning to speakers. Freedom of expression and freedom of the media were important components of any democratic society, speakers said, calling on States to protect journalists. Societies had the right to choose their principles and values, and must not be forced to fit into a particular template. All independent human rights mechanisms and mandates must have full access to the territories where violations were taking place. The promotion of human rights was all the more important during the period of global recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. These ongoing challenges complicated the protection of human rights around the world. The most vulnerable persons in every society must be prioritised, as many speakers outlined their national strategies and achievements in this regard. Speakers in particular welcomed the ongoing technical assistance provided to countries that requested it, but noted that there was an increase in interventions into the internal affairs of States – this was not helpful in addressing human rights situations. The High Commissioner’s call to reduce the debt burden of developing States in order to return to the path of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals was praised by speakers.

Speakers noted the recent global digital transformation, highlighting the need to promote human rights during the digital age and implement the international human rights framework in cyberspace. Human rights must not be instrumentalised, speakers said, noting that some situations were intensely scrutinised, while others were completely ignored – there was a collective crisis of solidarity that threatened the basic principles of the Council. Countries had a sovereign right to use and enforce capital punishment to ensure justice. Many speakers criticised a large number of violations in a wide variety of countries, regions and territories across the globe, including: violations committed by occupying powers in occupied territories; the assault on religious and ethnic minorities, the deteriorating situation of refugees; criminalisation of human rights defenders; deep-rooted racial discrimination that resulted in violations committed by police forces; unacceptable impunity in certain territories where alleged war crimes were committed; the ongoing arbitrary attacks on political opposition by various Governments; and the historic and current treatment of indigenous populations.

Statement by the Attorney General of Ethiopia GEDION TIMOTHEWOS, Attorney General of Ethiopia, said that reform efforts in Ethiopia had been faced with serious challenges, including the attempt by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, a terrorist group well known for committing human rights violations over the last three decades, to reclaim power through illegitimate and violent means. The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front had rebuffed the Government’s repeated plea to resolve differences in a peaceful manner and had attacked the Ethiopian National Defence Force. This act of aggression and treason posed a threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ethiopian State and a danger to the stability of the entire Horn of Africa region. Therefore, it was a duty upon the Government of Ethiopia to take appropriate measures against the illegal army and to restore lawful authority in the Tigray region. Seven months after the successful conclusion of the law enforcement operation against the terrorists, the federal Government had been working to grant unfettered humanitarian access to humanitarian workers while rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts were underway and had made progress in restoring basic social and economic services.

Following reports of alleged crimes committed in the Tigray region during the past few months, the Government of Ethiopia had committed to carrying out investigations to bring the perpetrators to justice. The investigation into the atrocities committed in the town of Mikadra had been completed and the trial of the suspects would commence in the coming weeks. Investigation into the crimes committed in the city of Axum were also being finalised. A joint investigation team composed of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had already been deployed and had commenced its work. Those who were involved in committing crimes would be brought to justice and the Council needed to let justice run its course. Mr. Timothewos said that premature and untimely resolutions in this Council’s session would constitute undue interference with ongoing investigations and would only undermine the integrity of ongoing investigations and do nothing to advance the cause of human rights. Ethiopia called on the Council to support its efforts, particularly by providing the requisite time and space for the investigations to be completed.

Source: UN Human Rights Council

Assessing the Socioeconomic Impact of COVID-19 on Forcibly Displaced Populations: Thematic Brief No. 2: The case of Nigeria, June 2021

• Microdata originating from a socioeconomic impact assessment in Nigeria shows relatively high levels of awareness of COVID-19 and its symptoms among refugee households, which may be the result of information campaigns within their living environments.

• The challenges arising due to the COVID-19 pandemic are numerous in Nigeria, including restricted movement, rampant food insecurity and reduced access to basic services such as healthcare and education.

• The loss of jobs and therefore a household’s source of income is considerable, and many face little choice but to revert to negative coping strategies including reduced food consumption.

• UNHCR’s cash plus livelihoods approach ensures immediate and basic needs are met while building greater self-reliance.

Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Vaccines against COVID-19 Must Be Considered as a Global Public Good, High Commissioner for Human Rights Tells Human Rights Council as it Opens its Forty-Seventh Regular Session

The Human Rights Council this morning opened its forty-seventh regular session, hearing from Nazhat Shameem Khan, President of the Council, and Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who presented an oral update on her annual report as well as a report on the central role of the State in responding to pandemics.

Presenting an update on her annual report, Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the fifteenth anniversary of the Council coincided, sadly, with a time of grave setbacks in human rights. Navigating a clear way out of the complex COVID-19 crisis, and towards an inclusive, green, sustainable and resilient future, would be the work of this generation of world leaders – or their downfall. The Secretary-General’s Call to Action on Human Rights was a blueprint that connected, more closely than ever before, the United Nations pillars of development, peace and security, and human rights. His New Social Contract, underpinned by a New Global Deal of solidarity, which more fairly shared power, resources and opportunities, as well as his United Nations-wide Common Agenda were bold steps that placed unprecedented emphasis on the power of human rights to ensure sound and inclusive development, sustainable peace, and societies grounded in trust. The Office of the High Commissioner’s Surge Initiative, set up in September 2019, had played a key role in upgrading the economic expertise of its field teams at a crucial moment. The High Commissioner spoke about human rights developments in a number of countries.

Turning to her report on the central role of the State in responding to pandemics, the High Commissioner stated that failure to meet human rights obligations undermined the resilience of health systems as well as health emergency preparedness, response and recovery efforts – thus States should step up investment in health and social protection systems. Overall, the pandemic had either disrupted or reversed hard-won progress on achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals. If radical steps were not taken to protect economic, social and cultural rights and support low-income countries, the outlook would remain bleak. Many developing countries were trapped between a debt crisis and a development and human rights crisis; vaccines against COVID-19 must be considered as a global public good.

In the interactive discussion, speakers emphasised that COVID-19 impacted not only the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, but also civil and political rights – the pandemic must not be used as a pretence by governments to create undue restrictions on democracy or commit human rights violations. Vaccines had become a new frontier on the road to equality: developing countries had received only 0.2 per cent of doses of all administered COVID-19 vaccines, taking the world further away from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Speakers called for fair and more equitable global distribution of vaccines, technological transfer and the ramping up of local production. The elimination of the pandemic could only be achieved if the populations of all countries were vaccinated, as speakers agreed that international and regional solidarity was essential. It was important to address the impacts of climate change, keeping mitigation and adaptation as a top priority on the road towards recovery from COVID-19.

Speaking were Paraguay on behalf of a group of countries, Estonia on behalf of a group of countries, Cameroon on behalf of the Group of African States, Mauritius on behalf of a group of countries, Azerbaijan on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, European Union, Indonesia on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Côte d’Ivoire on behalf of a group of countries, Denmark on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt on behalf of the Group of Arab States, China on behalf of a group of countries, Cuba, Switzerland, Ecuador, Germany, Senegal, Indonesia, Libya, Australia, Ecuador, Fiji, Bangladesh, Montenegro, Costa Rica, China, Syria, Brazil, Japan, Bahrain, Armenia, Iraq, Libya, Togo, Chile, India, Republic of Moldova, Mexico, Maldives, Algeria, Iran, United Nations Population Fund, Egypt, United States, and Kenya.

At the beginning of the meeting, Nazhat Shameem Khan, President of the Human Rights Council, explained that the Bureau had noted that, pending a decision by the General Assembly on the representation of Myanmar in the Human Rights Council, the secretariat would not be in a position to process requests regarding the participation of anyone as part of the delegation of Myanmar in Council meetings, including during this forty-seventh session. After a discussion, the Council postponed the consideration of the report of the Universal Periodic Review of Myanmar and approved the programme of work, with the understanding that the holding of interactive dialogues with Myanmar during this session would be subject to further consideration by the Bureau and the Council.

Speaking on the discussion on Myanmar were Austria on behalf of the European Union, Indonesia, Philippines, Netherlands, France, Germany, Russian Federation, Brazil, Italy, Ukraine, Republic of Korea, Mexico, United Kingdom, Denmark, Czech Republic, China, Venezuela, Japan, and Eritrea.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Human Rights Council will next meet this afternoon at 3 p.m. to conclude its interactive discussion with the High Commissioner, and then hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

Opening Statement by the President of the Council

NAZHAT SHAMEEM KHAN, President of the Human Rights Council, opened the session by welcoming delegates and reminding them of the extraordinary modalities for the session. She explained that the Bureau had noted that, pending a decision by the General Assembly on the representation of Myanmar in the Human Rights Council, the secretariat would not be in a position to process requests regarding the participation of anyone as part of the delegation of Myanmar in Council meetings, including during this forty-seventh session. The President stated that the issue of the holding of interactive dialogues with Myanmar during this session would be subject to further consideration by the Bureau and the Council.

Speakers expressed their concern over the situation in Myanmar in the aftermath of the military coup.  Some speakers stated that there was no legal obligation for the country concerned to take part in the interactive dialogues, in contrast to the Universal Periodic Review process; therefore, the dialogues with Myanmar should go ahead.  Other speakers noted that the involvement of concerned countries was part and parcel of any constructive dialogue, and a fundamental principle of this Council, therefore the dialogues should be postponed if Myanmar was unable to participate.

Speaking in favour of holding the interactive dialogues despite Myanmar’s inability to participate were Austria on behalf of the European Union, Indonesia, Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Ukraine, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, Denmark, Czech Republic and Japan.

Speaking against were Philippines, Russian Federation, China, Venezuela, and Eritrea.  Brazil said it supported any decision taken by the Council as a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, and Mexico said it hoped that an acceptable solution was found that all delegations could agree upon.

The Council then postponed the consideration of the report of the Universal Periodic Review of Myanmar at this session and approved the programme of work, with the understanding that the holding of interactive dialogues with Myanmar during this session would be subject to further consideration by the Bureau and the Council. 

Presentation of the Oral Update on the High Commissioner’s Annual Report

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the fifteenth anniversary of the Council coincided, sadly, with a time of grave setbacks in human rights. Extreme poverty, inequalities and injustice were rising. Democratic and civic space was being eroded. Navigating a clear way out of the complex COVID-19 crisis, and towards an inclusive, green, sustainable and resilient future, would be the work of this generation of world leaders – or their downfall.

The Secretary-General’s Call to Action on Human Rights was a blueprint that connected, more closely than ever before, the United Nations pillars of development, peace and security, and human rights. His New Social Contract, underpinned by a New Global Deal of solidarity, which more fairly shared power, resources and opportunities, as well as his United Nations-wide Common Agenda were bold steps that placed unprecedented emphasis on the power of human rights to ensure sound and inclusive development, sustainable peace, and societies grounded in trust. The Call to Action would be an unprecedentedly powerful human rights mainstreaming instrument, particularly at country level. The Office of the High Commissioner’s Surge Initiative, set up in September 2019, had played a key role in upgrading the economic expertise of its field teams at a crucial moment.

Turning to country situations, Ms. Bachelet said that, in Afghanistan, she was alarmed by the sharp increase in violence and civilian harm. She urged all parties to resume the stalled peace talks and to urgently implement a ceasefire to protect civilians.

The situation in Belarus also continued to deteriorate, with severe restrictions on civic space, including the rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association; raids against civil society and independent media; and the judicial persecution of human rights activists and journalists.

In both Chad and Mali, she had been deeply concerned by recent non-democratic and unconstitutional changes in government, which inevitably represented a significant challenge to human rights, and which had weakened the institutional protection of democratic freedoms.

Regarding China, it had now been a year since the adoption of the National Security Law in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, on which her Office had expressed serious concerns. It had been closely monitoring its application and the chilling impact it had had on the civic and democratic space, as well as independent media. Separately, she continued to discuss with China modalities for a visit, including meaningful access, to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and hoped this could be achieved this year, particularly as reports of serious human rights violations continued to emerge.

In Colombia, nationwide protests had been ongoing since 28 April, against a background of a pre-existing economic crisis and deep social inequalities aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her Office condemned all forms of violence, called for full respect for the right to peaceful assembly, and encouraged dialogue to resolve the crisis.

In the Tigray region of Ethiopia, Ms. Bachelet was deeply disturbed by continued reports of serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations and abuses against civilians by all parties to the conflict, including extrajudicial executions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; sexual violence against children as well as adults; and forced displacement. In many other parts of Ethiopia, alarming incidents of deadly ethnic and inter-communal violence and displacement were linked to increasing polarisation about longstanding grievances.

In Haiti, political turmoil continued, linked in part to disagreement about the organization of a referendum on a new Constitution, and the organization of elections in September. The authorities should guarantee the right to vote under secure conditions.

Mexico had held its largest ever elections earlier this month amid numerous challenges. She was alarmed by the high level of political violence in the electoral context.

In Mozambique, the High Commissioner was alarmed by the growing conflict in the north, with grave abuses of human rights by armed groups including the brutal killing of civilians, sexual and gender-based violence, trafficking, child abductions and exploitation. Women and girls were reportedly particularly targeted.

In the Russian Federation, the High Commissioner was dismayed by recent measures that further undermined people’s right to express critical views, and their ability to take part in the parliamentary elections scheduled in September. The High Commissioner called on Russia to uphold civil and political rights. She further urged the authorities to end the arbitrary practice of labelling ordinary individuals, journalists, and non-governmental organizations as “extremists”, “foreign agents” or “undesirable organizations”.

In Sri Lanka, she was concerned by further Government measures perceived as targeting Muslims, and by the harassment of Tamils, including in the context of commemoration events for those who died at the end of the war. Noting a continuing series of deaths in police custody and in the context of police encounters with alleged criminal gangs, Ms. Bachelet said a thorough, prompt and independent investigation should be conducted.

Her Office was close to finalising the United Nations Joint Programme on human rights with the Government of the Philippines. She emphasised the importance of protecting and ensuring the full participation of civil society and the independent national human rights institution.

Presentation of the Report of the High Commissioner on the Central Role of the State in Responding to Pandemics

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that as of last week, there had been over 176 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported globally to the World Health Organization, with over 3.8 million deaths. The report highlighted that the central role of the State during pandemics and other health emergencies was to mount a robust health response while upholding human rights. Failure to meet human rights obligations undermined the resilience of health systems as well as health emergency preparedness, response and recovery efforts – thus States should step up investment in health and social protection systems. The economic cost of the pandemic had been catastrophic: around 255 million jobs were estimated to have been lost during 2020, nearly four times the figures of the global economic crisis in 2008. The pandemic may have pushed up to 150 million people into extreme poverty by the beginning of 2021, and global hunger was on the rise with over 130 million people becoming more vulnerable to undernourishment last year.

Overall, the pandemic had either disrupted or reversed hard-won progress on achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals. If radical steps were not taken to protect economic, social and cultural rights and support low-income countries, the outlook would remain bleak. Respecting, protecting and fulfilling economic, social and cultural rights, and prioritising universal health coverage and universal social protection, were required. Many developing countries were trapped between a debt crisis and a development and human rights crisis; vaccines against COVID-19 must be considered as a global public good. The exclusion of women from COVID-19-related policymaking and decision-making, was egregious, leading to a failure to adequately address the gendered social and economic consequences of the pandemic. A human rights economy that upheld dignity and rights of all and promoted sustainable development that left no one behind was needed. States had to step up investment in health and social protection systems, while policies that discriminated against women and marginalised populations and groups had to be repealed, rescinded or amended.

Interactive Discussion

Speakers emphasised that COVID-19 impacted not only the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, but also civil and political rights – the pandemic must not be used as a pretence by governments to create undue restrictions on democracy or commit human rights violations. Vaccines had become a new frontier on the road to equality: developing countries had received only 0.2 per cent of doses of all administered COVID-19 vaccines, taking the world further away from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Speakers called for the fair and more equitable global distribution of vaccines, technological transfer and the ramping up of local production. The elimination of the pandemic could only be achieved if the populations of all countries were vaccinated, said speakers, adding that international and regional solidarity was essential in this regard. It was important to address the impacts of climate change, keeping mitigation and adaptation as a top priority on the road towards recovery from COVID-19.

Speakers agreed that the pandemic had exacerbated existing inequalities and had disproportionately affected persons in vulnerable situations, especially women and children. Freedoms of expression, speech or assembly must not be harmed as a result of the pandemic, with some speakers expressing concern over backsliding in several countries. Other speakers highlighted that the risks faced by healthcare workers made them human rights defenders. Urging international solidarity, speakers said the international community should redouble efforts to achieve economic recovery, notably in developing countries, lest progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 3 be slowed down. Speakers welcomed the High Commissioner’s recommendation to ensure that the recovery was gender-sensitive, and asked if she could share best practices on the involvement of women and girls in recovery efforts.

Some speakers touted measures taken by their governments to respond to the pandemic, such as granting pardons to prisoners. Stressing that COVID-19 had shown that no nation could succeed alone in the face of a pandemic, speakers spotlighted the G7+ efforts in a global COVID-19 vaccination campaign, which provided vaccine doses to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, for distribution through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX). They called on States to continue donating vaccines. High-income earning countries had stockpiled vaccines largely for their populations in ways that undermined universal and equitable access to safe and effective vaccines, some speakers pointed out. And yet, other countries had played a critical role in the development of these vaccines during the trial stage.

Source: UN Human Rights Council

UN Refugee Chief Encouraged by Changes in US Resettlement Program

WASHINGTON – U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi says the asylum system in the United States has become “unmanageable” and that his agency supports “a gradual improvement towards a more effective and humane migration system.”

In an interview with VOA, Grandi said such reform is a complex operation that will take years to achieve, but that he is encouraged by what he has seen from the Biden administration after a big cut in resettlements during the Trump administration.

“We support that because that is the indispensable piece in a broader exercise to handle human mobility in Central America, which includes the movement of people that are refugees because they flee from violence, from persecution, from discrimination,” he said. “That work has to be done at every level, has to be done in the countries of origin — mostly Honduras, El Salvador, to an extent Guatemala — has to be done in the countries of transit, including Guatemala itself and Mexico, and has to be done at the border.”

The maximum number of refugees allowed into the United States fell from 85,000 in 2016 to 18,000 in 2020. The Biden administration has boosted the cap to 62,500 refugee admissions this year, with plans to boost it further to 125,000.

Grandi said in addition to the decline in U.S. capacity, the coronavirus pandemic also helped to drastically affect refugee resettlement throughout the world during 2020. He said the total number of resettlements fell from about 100,000 in 2019 to 34,000 last year.

“We had to suspend resettlement travel simply because there were no more flights,” he told VOA. “We couldn’t use the routes because they were not operating. These are realities that are now being slowly overcome, but it will take some time.”

Grandi said the coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that countries “can’t cope alone” and that governments sometimes need help explaining to their citizens the value of programs to help refugees.

“They need international support, especially when they embark on policies that may be difficult, even controversial, for their own domestic audiences,” Grandi said. “International support helps explain to their populations the importance of these very good policies.”

He highlighted progress in Colombia, which in February announced 10-year protective status for 1.7 million displaced Venezuelans.

“Already more than one million Venezuelans have entered the first phase of the registration. This is amazing,” Grandi said. “And also, in a situation in which Colombia itself has difficult challenges — the pandemic, the social and political unrest, residual displacement from the conflict, the peace process. So, in the middle of all this, I think that for Colombia to embrace a very forward-looking inclusive refugee and migration policy is very important.”

However, Grandi said Colombia’s action represents “one of the bright spots in this very negative picture.”

He cited the continuing challenge of spike in the number of people being forced to leave their homes, a number that rose by 3 million people last year to reach 82.4 million at the end of 2020, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency UNHCR.

“It means that wars, discrimination, bad governance, often combined with other factors like climate change, inequality and poverty, demographic imbalances, all of this has not stopped human mobility, especially the forced aspects of human mobility,” Grandi said. “The secretary general issued many calls for a global cease-fire. Frankly, it was not really heeded.”

Despite the ongoing challenges, when asked what message he has for refugees, Grandi said, “Don’t lose courage.”

“We draw ourselves encouragement from your resilience. Don’t give up and we will be there with you to help you move on,” he said.

Source: Voice of America

Special Rapporteur Tells Human Rights Council that Serious Human Rights Issues Persist in Eritrea

Council Concludes Interactive Dialogue with High Commissioner for Human Rights on her Report on the Central Role of the State in Responding to Pandemics

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. It also concluded its interactive discussion on the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the central role of the State in responding to pandemics.

Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said that since he started his mandate in November 2020, there were no tangible signs of progress or concrete evidence of improvement in the internal human rights situation in Eritrea. In addition, Eritrea had extended its human rights violations extra-territorially or beyond its borders during this period and committed heinous human rights violations in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Eritrea had not yet put in place a minimum institutional and legal framework to uphold human rights standards.  Serious human rights issues persisted, including the use of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, inhumane prison conditions, and lack of freedoms of expression, opinion, association, freedom of the media and the right to participate in political and public affairs.  He welcomed the release of over 100 Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses over the reporting period.  This was a step in the right direction.  However, faith groups, were still detained without being informed of the reasons for their arrest, without charges and trial.  It was difficult to speak of progress on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, while the authorities continued their policy of arbitrarily detaining persons without any regard to due process or the right to a fair trial. 

Eritrea, speaking as a country concerned, said the report relied on unacceptable benchmarks and was full of presumptions. Questioning its methodology, Eritrea rejected the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, which was politicised. Eritrea had put together a development roadmap which was being implemented despite the pandemic. The Special Rapporteur’s observations on the national service were unacceptable; this service was making an effective contribution to development. Pointing out that its Government was the victim of a media defamation campaign, Eritrea urged the Council not to make decisions based on unacceptable recommendations outlined in the report. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur should be abolished.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, some speakers welcomed Eritrean cooperation with the Council and encouraged further cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The March agreement on the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray was welcomed by speakers, who called for its full implementation. Other speakers said that violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by the Eritrean army in Tigray were of utmost concern, and called for in-depth and independent inquiries. Universal Periodic Review recommendations should be implemented, and the benchmarks developed by the previous Special Rapporteur remained relevant, speakers stated. Some speakers said that as it did not enjoy the assent of the country concerned, this dialogue went against the principles that underpinned the Council’s work.

Speaking were European Union, Norway on behalf of Nordic-Baltic countries, Liechtenstein, France, Switzerland, Germany, Cuba, Australia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China, Netherlands, Venezuela, United States, Saudi Arabia, Austria, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Belarus, Ireland, Belgium, Somalia, United, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Russian Federation, Philippines, Cameroon, and Nicaragua.

The following civil society organization also took the floor: Jubilee Campaign.

Eritrea spoke in a point of order.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her report on the central role of the State in responding to pandemics.

Speakers reiterated that vaccines were powerful tools in addressing the pandemic and should become a global public good; access, availability and affordability of vaccines had become a widespread problem. Vaccine nationalism remained a worrying trend as the enjoyment of all human rights across the globe had been deeply impacted by the pandemic. States must ensure access to health to all; uphold labour rights and put in place adequate welfare systems; and implement participatory, rights-based public health measures, rather than policies that suppressed freedoms.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, said the world needed urgent debt relief and access to affordable credit. Sanctions must be eased to allow all States to deal with the effects of COVID-19 and all citizens to enjoy their human rights. The vaccine must be treated as a global public good – everyone must be able to benefit from technological progress, and States must ensure universal and equitable access to vaccines in all countries.

Speaking were China, Jordan, Nepal, Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Ireland, Pakistan, Bolivia, Timor-Leste, Belarus, Georgia, Mali, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Ukraine, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Croatia, Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, Guyana, Mauritania, Thailand, UN Women, Kazakhstan, Mozambique, Russian Federation, Niger, Philippines, Uganda, International Development Law Organization, Mauritius, Colombia, Tunisia, Albania, Cambodia, Barbados, and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

The following civil society organizations and national human rights institutions also took the floor: National Human Rights Institute of Morocco, National Human Rights Commission of India, International Commission of Jurists, Medical Aid for Palestinians, World Evangelical Alliance, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, Instituto de Desenvolvimento e Direitos Humanos, Minority Rights Group, Universal Rights Group, Civicus, COC Nederland, and iuventum.

Speaking in right of reply were Armenia, Brazil, and Ethiopia.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet on Tuesday, 22 June, at 10 a.m. to conclude the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, followed by an interactive discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her update on her annual report.

Interactive Discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her Report on the Central Role of the State in Responding to Pandemics

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented her report on the central role of the State in responding to pandemics in the morning meeting and a summary can be found here.

Speakers reiterated that vaccines were powerful tools in addressing the pandemic and should become a global public good; access, availability and affordability of vaccines had become a widespread problem. Vaccine nationalism remained a worrying trend as the enjoyment of all human rights across the globe had been deeply impacted by the pandemic. Low income and least developed countries must be prioritised in the recovery effort, as some speakers agreed with the report’s call to cancel the debt burdening them. It was the duty of each State to lead and save lives in cooperation with other partners. Some speakers called for a temporary waiver of certain World Trade Organization intellectual property rights obligations to increase the technical capacity of States to respond to the pandemic. Women’s rights and the protection of persons in vulnerable situations were particularly concerning to speakers – States had to ensure that pre-existing inequalities were not entrenched during the recovery process.

Online commerce had concentrated wealth in fewer hands. Speakers emphasised that the right to life should prevail over the rights of patent holders. Pharmaceutical companies imposed far-reaching non-disclosure agreements on governments which restricted access to health information necessary to combat corruption and ensure accountability. Some speakers criticised the failure of occupying powers to ensure that populations under their control had an equitable access to vaccines, a situation that had deepened inequalities. In many countries, governments’ health responses lacked dialogue with and furthered stigmatisation and discrimination of religious minorities, speakers regretted. Much of the inequity the pandemic had rendered evident was endemic before the outbreak. Accordingly, States must ensure access to health to all; uphold labour rights and put in place adequate welfare systems; and implement participatory, rights-based public health measures, rather than policies that suppressed freedoms.

Concluding Remarks by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed in her concluding remarks the calls for global solidarity and cooperation from the delegations. The world needed urgent debt relief and access to affordable credit. Sanctions must be eased to allow all States to deal with the effects of COVID-19 and all citizens to enjoy their human rights. The vaccine must be treated as a global public good – everyone must be able to benefit from technological progress, and States must ensure universal and equitable access to vaccines in all countries. Democratic principles must be upheld as some countries took advantage of the pandemic to restrict human rights unnecessarily.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea

Report

The Council has before it the report A/HRC/47/21 of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea

Presentation of the Report

MOHAMED ABDELSALAM BABIKER, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, presenting his first report to the Council since taking up the role of Special Rapporteur last November 2020, said the report covered the period from 5 May 2020 to 28 April 2021 and provided an assessment of the human rights situation in light of the five benchmarks for progress set out in the report of his predecessor Daniela Kravetz. Since he started his mandate in November 2020, there were no tangible signs of progress or concrete evidence of improvement in the internal human rights situation in Eritrea. In addition, Eritrea had extended its human rights violations extra-territorially or beyond its borders during this period and committed heinous human rights violations in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. In his report he also addressed the role of Eritrean troops in perpetrating serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law and the situation of Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees in Tigray.

Eritrea had not yet put in place a minimum institutional and legal framework to uphold human rights standards. Serious human rights issues persisted, including the use of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, inhumane prison conditions, and lack of freedoms of expression, opinion, and association, freedom of the media, and the right to participate in political and public affairs. He welcomed the release of over 100 Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses over the reporting period. This was a step in the right direction. However, faith groups, were still detained without being informed of the reasons for their arrest, without charges and trial. It was difficult to speak of progress on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, while the authorities continued their policy of arbitrarily detaining persons without any regard to due process or the right to a fair trial. Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience were held incommunicado for indefinite periods, and in inhumane conditions.

Noting that the Government continued to conscript young Eritreans for prolonged periods of time, the Special Rapporteur called on the authorities to urgently reform the national service, which truncated the aspirations of Eritrean youth and pushed them to leave their country. Addressing allegations of grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the Eritrean troops in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, he expressed particular concern about allegations of attacks by Eritrean troops targeting Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers, in particular the destruction of the two refugee camps hosting more than 25,000 Eritrean refugees in Hitsats and Shimelba. While the Ethiopian authorities stated in March 2021, and again in June, that the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray was underway, he had received no verifiable information to suggest progress in this regard.

Statement by the Country Concerned

Eritrea, speaking as the country concerned, said the Special Rapporteur’s report relied on unacceptable benchmarks and was full of presumptions. Questioning its methodology, Eritrea rejected the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, which was politicised. Eritrea had put together a development roadmap which was being implemented despite the pandemic. The Special Rapporteur’s observations on the national service were unacceptable; this service was making an effective contribution to development. Pointing out that the Government was the victim of a media defamation campaign, Eritrea urged the Council not to make decisions based on unacceptable recommendations outlined in the report. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur should be abolished.

Discussion

Speakers called on the Eritrean Government to release all prisoners held for arbitrary reasons. As speakers welcomed Eritrea’s cooperation with the Council, they encouraged further cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The March agreement on the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray was welcomed by speakers, who called for its full implementation. Some speakers said that violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by the Eritrean army in Tigray were of utmost concern, and called for in-depth and independent inquiries. Universal Periodic Review recommendations should be implemented, and the benchmarks developed by the previous Special Rapporteur remained relevant, speakers stated. As it did not enjoy the assent of the country concerned, this dialogue went against the principles that underpinned the Council’s work. The mandate should be discontinued accordingly, according to some speakers. Failing to do so amounted to a waste of the Council’s scarce resources.

Speakers asked the Special Rapporteur about the ways that States and the international community could ensure accountability for human rights violations in Eritrea. The use of rape as a weapon of war during the conflict was highly concerning, and all allegations of war crimes must be investigated. Some speakers noted that the report contained false narratives that had negative real-life consequences, applauding Eritrea’s engagement with human rights bodies and mechanisms. The task of the international community was to assist Eritrea based on mutual respect, made all the more important by the dire economic situation in the country, yet the examination of the situation at the Council was biased. Speakers noted that the Government’s attitude had not changed: it continued to take no action to remedy multiple violations, the military service was not reformed as conscripts were not demobilised and thousands were held indefinitely in national service, while children under 18 continued to be sent to Tigray, violating international law.

Source: UN Human Rights Council

UNHCR Applauds Somalia’s Open-door Refugee Policy

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA – Three decades of violence have left 2.9 million of Somalia’s citizens internally displaced, but the country is also home to 25,000 refugees, including 6,800 Yemenis and over 700 Syrians.

Faith Kasina of the U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has praised Somalia’s open-door policy for refugees, which allows them to move freely and work, using their skills without the need of a permit.

“Somalia had its own challenges over the years, but we must applaud this country and government because they have maintained an open-door policy for refugees for the past 30 years despite challenges they have been facing,” Kasina said. “We know that refugees are now able to live among local communities in urban areas and that they can also move around freely in the country.”

Ifrah Salah Abdalla is among millions of Yemenis who have been displaced from their homes following the war between the Houthis and the Saudi-backed government. She arrived in Mogadishu six years ago and balances her time as an information technology student and a part-time cashier to support her family.

She said that when she arrived in Somalia, she didn’t face many challenges because Somali citizens stood by the Yemenis and openly welcomed them, both young and old, with the help of the UNHCR.

She added that the relevant government refugee agencies had been very supportive in business initiatives, such as opening restaurants and clinics equally to refugees and locals.

Ishak Abdullahi Elmi lived in Syria as a Somali refugee from 1996 to 2000. He is now among candidates vying for a seat as a member of federal parliament in upcoming Somali elections.

He said he thought refugees from Syria in particular should be welcomed in his country.

He said Syrians have skills and knowledge in such fields as business, education and medicine that will benefit local communities recovering from conflict.

Saed Abdullahi Alasow, director general at the Ministry of Interior and Federal Affairs, said the Somali government has pledged to improve the lives of refugees in the country as per U.N. conventions.

He said the ministry had established a national refugee department and had put in place an asylum-seekers bill aimed at safeguarding the rights of refugees in the country.

Analysts say that as other nations close their camps, Somalia is becoming a role model in implementing U.N. conventions by welcoming refugees.

Source: Voice of America