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Archive for May 6th, 2012

Legal limbo in Libya

Posted by African Press International on May 6, 2012

Somali migrants make up the majority of detainees in Ganfouda detention centre, according to the authorities

BENGHAZI,  – In one of the many rooms where detainees are held at Ganfouda detention centre in Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, Suleiman Mansour*, a young Somali from Mogadishu, spends his days locked up along with 15 other migrants. They lie on mattresses propped against the walls, which are scribbled with names and slogans: one says “I love Somalia”.

“I’ve been here for four months,” Mansour told IRIN. “I left Mogadishu in August last year and was arrested in Kufra before they brought me here. Some of us have documents, but they are still being kept in Kufra.” The desert town of Kufra, lies at a point where the borders of Egypt, Chad and Sudan meet.

In another room, 36 men, mainly Egyptians, occupy one room. “We were in Libya even before the revolution, but afterwards, people with and without documents were rounded up,” said one who used to work as a cook in Benghazi before he was detained. Benghazi was a key stronghold of the opposition forces that toppled Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2011.

During Libya’s uprising, a number of sub-Saharan African migrants were accused of working as mercenaries for Gaddafi. In the absence of any formal justice system, with militia groups in control of large areas of the country, and with anti-African sentiment pervasive in Libya, many were beaten and detained.

The authorities at Ganfouda say the migrants currently being held were not accused of being mercenaries, but were locked up for having no documents, or expired papers and fake visas. There are around 400 people in the centre, including 150 Somalis, 100 Bangladeshis and others from Sudan, Egypt, Syria, Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The conditions are harsh. Garbage lies scattered in the hallways of one of the buildings; detainees eat, sleep and use the toilet all in the same room. The food, which authorities say is provided three times a day, consists of one large bowl of spaghetti shared between groups of five people.

“The policy that they are applying is to round people up whether here in Benghazi or in Kufra and to put them in detention, sometimes even up to 1,800 people, that the centre cannot cope with it,” Yolande Ditewig, the head of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) sub-office in Benghazi told IRIN. “By putting people in detention, you create a humanitarian situation if you don’t have the funds to take care of people. Many countries put migrants in detention, but here there are no facilities to provide for them, for the food and bringing the sanitation up to standards.”

The number of detention centres before the uprising was estimated at between 18 and 24 according to Samuel Cheung, Senior Protection Officer for UNHCR. Current figures are unknown. The Ganfouda authorities complained that the government is not providing any assistance. “We have no support. These computers are from my own house. I have not been paid since October 2011, but I do this as a volunteer, because I love Libya,” said Ahmad Mansour Shekey, a guard at the centre.

''Authorities say food is provided three times a day for detainees, but it consists of just a bowl of spaghetti shared between five''

Part of the problem is that the Ministry of Interior has not been able to take control of the centres. They are managed by groups of individuals whose allegiance is often unknown. According to UNHCR, the management of Ganfouda has changed four times in the past six months and is not under any particular government unit.

Lack of Legal Framework

It also appears to work as a local labour office, with some migrants allowed out to work, despite the fact that under Article 3 of Libya’s law on illegal migration dating back to the period before the uprising, anyone who employs an illegal migrant is liable to a one thousand dinar (US$800) fine.

“People sometimes ask us to work on their farms, and we do for a few months. But then we are taken back to the detention centre,” Hassan,* an Egyptian migrant told IRIN. “I was taken to work as an agricultural labourer for about 300 dinars a month ($240). If we go out to work, why can’t we just be released? Why do we have to come back here again to the centre?”

A Somali migrant, Abdul Mahmoud,* also said he had been taken out to work on a construction site and then brought back to the centre. Another said he had worked on a farm and was paid 200 dinars a month ($160).

“We are certainly concerned about labour exploitation, and abuse,” said Cheung. “There are some unconfirmed reports of migrants not receiving their wages, or their wages used for the upkeep of the centre. But then at times, detention centres also do release people to work and give them the chance to get regularized.”

In the 1990s, Libya encouraged migration from sub-Saharan Africa to fill a need for unskilled labour in the country.  But subsequent years saw an increase in domestic anti-immigrant sentiment, leading to widespread attacks on sub-Saharan African migrants and intermittent forced repatriation to their countries of origin. Under Gadaffi there was also growing cooperation with the EU to stem migration into Europe.  

There is currently no legal framework to differentiate between economic migrants and asylum seekers. And as the country grapples with consolidating a formal government structure, there appears to be no clear plan on the issue of the migrants.

“There is no asylum framework, no legal system to deal with this problem,” said Ditewig. “If you arrest someone, you need to sort out whether he is a migrant or an asylum seeker. If it is determined that he is a refugee, then it’s better to give him documents and let him go. And if not, then you decide whether you want to give him a work permit, or deport him.”

Photo: Zahra Moloo/IRIN
Authorities say food is provided three times a day for detainees, but it consists of just a bowl of spaghetti shared between five

Those manning the Ganfouda centre say the primary objective of detaining migrants is to prevent them from crossing the sea to Europe. While Libya is well known as a transit route, it has also for a long time been a destination country for economic migrants, and many in Ganfouda say they want to stay in Libya to work.

“I paid US$300 to come across the desert through Niger. Many died on the way from thirst,” Fever Okoro, a Nigerian detainee, told IRIN. “I want to stay here and practice my profession as a welder. Here there are opportunities.”

Government officials, however, do not believe that illegal migrants are coming to Libya for employment. “We want them to work, but they don’t want to. They just want a chance to get to Europe,” General Issa Hammad, head of the Security and Immigration section of the Interior Ministry told IRIN. “Even the Ghanaians and Nigerians, they often stay here for a while, but eventually they too want to go to Europe.”

As for migrants seeking refuge from political upheavals, Hammad thinks solutions must be found in their countries of origin. “For nationalities like the Somalis, a solution must be found so that they can stay in their own countries,” he said, “Otherwise, the best solution is to keep them in the centres. If not, we have to keep rescuing them from the sea.”

He appeared to be unaware that migrants in Ganfouda were being employed locally. “That is illegal. Under Libyan laws, you cannot have contracts with people who are arrested,” he said. “Maybe they are accepting to work for low wages, just to get out of the centre, and then run away.”

In all of Libya’s major cities, migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh, Egypt and other countries were employed as cleaners, construction and agricultural labourers and domestic workers, professions that Libyans are reluctant to take up. The violence and upheaval triggered by the 2011 uprising forced 790,000 home, representing what the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) describes as “one of the largest migration crises in modern history”.

A recent report by IOM concludes that “Libya may encounter serious economic and social problems if it cannot attract both skilled and low-skilled migrants to help rebuild the country.”

Libya is going through a time of redefining itself,” said Cheung. “The new government is still looking at its labour market rules. Some readjustments will certainly take place on migration policies.”

*Not their real names


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Orchestrated: Much of the post-election violence was found to have been planned in advance

Posted by African Press International on May 6, 2012

Orchestrated: Much of the post-election violence was found to have been planned in advance

NAIROBI,  – Rights groups in Kenya have warned of a potential miscarriage of justice after the government moved to have the cases of four people charged with crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) transferred to a region tribunal which has no experience in handling such crimes.

Two of the suspects, Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and former higher education minister William Ruto, are likely candidates in a forthcoming presidential election. Together with former civil service chief Francis Muthaura and radio journalist Joshua Sang, they have been charged in connection with the widespread violence that claimed 1,300 lives and displaced some 600,000 people in the wake of the last presidential election in 2007.

The cases are being handled by the ICC because Kenya has failed to establish competent domestic judicial mechanisms.

“Post-election violence victims must receive substantive justice, but the current attempts to move these cases from the ICC is all meant to protect the four suspects at the expense of the victims,” Lawrence Mute, a commissioner with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, told IRIN.

On 26 April, 2012, the East African Legislative Assembly, during its fifth session held in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, endorsed a motion urging the ICC to transfer the cases to the East Africa Court of Justice (EACJ).

The tenth extraordinary session of the East Africa Community Summit, held on 28 April, 2012 in Arusha, Tanzania, resolved to extend the mandate of the EACJ to include crimes against humanity. The court’s mandate to date was to interpret the EAC protocol.

“Setting up the mechanisms, even if the mandate of the court is extended, will take years to conclude and will delay the cases,” Mute said.

The EACJ “has never handled cases of the magnitude of the ones facing the four individual Kenyans at the ICC. I don’t think the [ICC] will be persuaded to move these cases there,” Judith Musembi, a lecturer of international law at the University of Nairobi, told IRIN.

Activists have also called for thousands of other crimes committed after the 2007 elections to be brought before the courts.

“There are thousands of suspects out there whose cases are not before the ICC, and the government, must as a matter of serving justice, set up local mechanisms to try them,” James Gondi, of the International Center for Transitional Justice, told IRIN.

“The women who were raped and people whose property were burnt want those who carried these out to face justice,” he added.

According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, “The limited success of cases in the ordinary courts shows that Kenyan authorities have been unwilling or unable to effectively prosecute post-election violence.”

“In Uasin Gishu district, for instance, an epicenter of turbulence, no one has been convicted for at least 230 killings. The fact that not a single police officer has been convicted for shootings or rapes directly related to the post-election violence, despite an estimated 962 police shootings, 405 of them fatal, and dozens of reported rapes by police, also demonstrates the extent of impunity for certain groups that appear to be protected,” added the report, entitled Turning Pebbles.

In February 2012, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) set up a task force to expedite the prosecution of some 5,000 suspects.

“We are doing what we can, but we can’t charge people outside the law. We must gather evidence before we can haul people to court,” a senior legal officer in the DPP’s office who sought anonymity, told IRIN.

ko/am source

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The myth and mystique

Posted by African Press International on May 6, 2012

Food distribution organized by WFP in Mogadishu, Somalia

LONDON,  – The phenomenon of ‘shrinking humanitarian space’ is earnestly debated by aid workers. The often-heard complaint is that neutrality and independence is increasingly compromised by donors, peacekeepers and warring parties seeking to co-opt them, and they blame the growing toll of attacks on agency staff on the perception that they are no longer impartial.

Now two researchers from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in London have waded into the debate, challenging the whole idea of ‘humanitarian space’ as the agencies define it, and criticising the lack of historical perspective of those who believe there was ever a humanitarian golden age, when neutrality was respected and agencies could work in conflict zones free of political considerations.

In their paper, Humanitarian Space: a Review of Trends and Issues, Sarah Collinson and Samir Elhawary do not deny that the total number of attacks on aid workers has increased. But they argue that the number of aid workers, and the scale of their operations have also increased – massively – in recent years. More than 200,000 field-based aid workers are now estimated to be employed by the UN and international NGOs, and it is not clear that they are proportionately more at risk than their far less numerous predecessors.

Agencies also now consider it normal to expect to be able to work in areas of conflict and have their neutrality respected. That was not always the case. In the 1950s and 60s, respect for national sovereignty kept UN agencies out of countries affected by war, and the refugee agency UNHCR only worked with people who had already left their homeland. In the 1970s, idealistic new NGOs defied sovereign governments and worked with rebel groups to help the oppressed.

In the 1990s international peacekeeping efforts became more assertive and interventionist, but, say Collinson and Elhawary, “many aid agencies accepted the need for ‘coherence’ between humanitarian and diplomatic and security agendas as long as they trusted the basic humanitarian intent of the main donor governments.” It was only after the 9/11 attacks in the US, little more than 10 years ago, that agencies got concerned about being co-opted into the much more explicit security agenda of the so-called Global War on Terror.

“Humanitarian space is generally understood as a space that exists separate from politics,” Elhawary told an audience at the ODI this week, “and that to reverse politicisation we need to return to a clear, solid and predictable model, namely that by upholding these principles, and remaining outside of politics, an agency’s access will be guaranteed. But all access is essentially based on political compromise and results from the interplay of a range of actors’ interests and actions…We undertook a brief historical review since the cold war, and we found no past golden age for humanitarian action.”

The authors also criticise the way major international agencies use the term ‘humanitarian space’, when what they are actually talking about is agency space, space in which they – the UN and major NGOs – can operate as they wish, disregarding the fact that the situation may be very different for other actors doing humanitarian work, or for local people at risk.

In the audience at the launch of the report were people from the very agencies in its firing line.

Marc Dubois, executive director of Medecins Sans Frontieres-UK, conceded there could be merit in looking at humanitarian space in more realpolitik terms, where you negotiate, buy or elbow your way to get what you need. “It’s about understanding interests; it’s about understanding the power play on the ground. And it’s about understanding that while the principles do have meaning, they only have meaning within a given context.”

How that might work in practice was indicated by Brian Martin, until recently the country manager in Sri Lanka for Christian Aid. “In each case you need to look at the contextual side of it,” he told the meeting, “and you’ve got to look at ‘what can I do and what can’t I do.’ I was amazed at some of my colleagues’ arrogance in the way they wanted to do things, and the reluctance they would have to speak to the authorities or to the military…There is a great need to engage and talk with the authorities and get them to agree. Some things you are not going to get. But in Sri Lanka we worked with the military, and the further we were away from Colombo, up in the north, the military were actually doing quite a lot of good things to help the population.”

Participants with longer memories welcomed the report’s historical perspective. “I think we need to understand how we got into this discourse in the first place,” said Jeff Crisp, the Head of Policy, Development and Evaluation at UNHCR. “And I think it says something about humanitarian policy research in that it has always been totally a-historical…We have to get away from the situation where we are only concerned with what’s happening today and tomorrow.”

But there was a word of warning from Dubois. The neutrality of humanitarian space and ideal of the aid worker standing apart from politics might be a myth, but he said: “I think that this notion of agency space as humanitarian space has a lot to do with our identity and the myths that we have about ourselves that are very, very important to the way we run, our culture, our drive and dedication. And I worry about an organisation where everyone is a political animal.”

eb/oa source

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