Respecting the rights of urban refugees in East Africa through a human rights approach to urbanisationPosted: 7 September, 2015
The city is the new refugee camp…
~ International Rescue Committee
Article 1 of the 1951 United Nations (UN) Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) defines refugee as ‘a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence due to a well-founded fear of persecution base on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and is unable or unwilling to avail him or herself of the protection of that country or to return there for fear of persecution’. Due to contextual issues, article 1 of the 1969 Organisation for African Unity’s Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (1969 OAU Convention) added a second paragraph to the 1951 Convention to incorporate people that have been displaced due to liberation wars and internal upheavals.
Meanwhile, there is no internationally recognised definition for urban refugees. However, the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) defines an urban refugee as a refugee who satisfies the international requirements for obtaining a refugee status and has self-settled in a city or town. Recent decades have experienced rapid population growth with most cities witnessing urban sprawl. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in 2009 that an estimated 58 percent of the world’s 10.5 million refugees now reside in cities.
Despite it being mostly rural region, UN Habit has projected that Sub-Saharan Africa and for that matter countries in Eastern Africa will have more than half of its population residing in urban areas by 2026. Characteristically, there has been increasing flow of refugees to urban areas in this region too. According to official UNHCR 2015 statistics, four Eastern African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia) host more than 1.5 million refugees. These refugees are mostly from 9 countries (Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo).
‘Statelessness is a profound violation of an individual’s human rights. It would be deeply unethical to perpetuate the pain it causes when solutions are so clearly within reach.’
– Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Statelessness as a legal problem has far reaching political and economic challenges which have attracted rising attention from scholars, human rights activists and international organisations in recent years. Officially, statelessness means a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law. The UNHCR started collecting data on stateless persons in the world in 2006 and confirmed in 2011 that the number of stateless persons around the world is in excess of 10 million despite conceding that obtaining the actual statistics is difficult.
The most affected are regions that have suffered or are experiencing armed conflicts or economic migration. Large numbers of stateless population are largely due to policies and laws which discriminate against foreigners despite their deeper roots in the states concerned. For instance, more than 120 000 persons in Madagascar are stateless on the basis of discriminatory citizenship laws and administrative procedures. Moreover, about 170 000 Burundian refugees who fled their country in 1972 are recognised as stateless in Tanzania despite cogent attempts by international and local organisations to have the situation rectified.
On Wednesday 17 July 2013, members of the European Parliament’s Sub-committee on Human Rights visited Ethiopia and urged the government to release journalists and opposition activists imprisoned under the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation No. 652/2009 (Anti-Terror Proclamation). The visit is an important reminder that despite widely hailed progress on poverty reduction, the Ethiopian government continues to punish free expression in violation of international law.
Eskinder Nega, an outspoken journalist and blogger who was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in July 2012, is amongst those arbitrarily detained under the Anti-Terror Proclamation. In early 2011, Nega began writing and speaking publicly about the protest movements then sweeping north Africa. Although initially hesitant to draw direct parallels with Ethiopia, he was clearly supportive of the protesters abroad and critical of his government at home. He also consistently emphasised the importance of non-violence. But despite the clear protection of peaceful free expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ethiopia is a party, the government reacted by prosecuting Nega as a traitor and terrorist.
On 15 March 2013 Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the United States (US) Court of Appeals Circuit in American Civil Liberties Union Foundation v Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) dismissed the CIA’s standard Glomar response to its expanded and clandestine programme to carry out targeted killings on suspected terrorist. Barely two months later, a High Court in Peshawar, Pakistan, held that drone strikes (and their continued use) “are a blatant violation of Basic Human Rights and are against the [United Nations] (UN) Charter, the UN General Assembly Resolution …and a violation of the sovereignty [of Pakistan]”. Whereas not fully specific on the human rights instruments violated, these judicial pronouncements point to an increasing dissatisfaction by the international community on the lack of a concise and regulated use of the “CIA’s angry birds”.
This note seeks to merely highlight possible violations of various rights including the right to life, right to fair trial as well as the right to privacy, which are all enshrined in the African Charter; and call upon the African Union (AU), through its various organs, to promote more transparency on the use of drones and foster the enactment of a continental regulatory framework to govern the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles by western nations on African soil.
The use of drones in African’s airspace has been on a steep rise. The latest documented incident was on 27 May 2013 when Al-Shabaab allegedly shot down a UAS Camcopter S-100 near the town of Buulo Mareer, southern Somalia. The London based Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that over 200 persons, mostly non-combatants, have been killed by drone strikes in Somalia since 2003. American drone support bases have been reportedly set up in Arba Minch (Ethiopia), Seychelles, Camp Lemonnier (Djibouti) and recently in Somali’s shell-crated international airport in Mogadishu. A 2012 study by Stanford Law School and New York University’s School of Law indicated that there were more civilians and innocent residents killed in the drone strikes than militants throughout the period of the drone program.
Currently, Ethiopia is among the developing countries that are hosting thousands of refugees from Eritrea, Kenya, Somali and Sudan, and that mandates refugee to reside in camps. Some of the refugees in Ethiopia live in the northern parts of the country in a camp called the Shimelba refugee camp. Refugees in this particular camp lived in Eritrea and fled to avoid military service, religious persecution and ethnic discrimination. This camp is situated is in a place widely recognised for its diverse settings and agro-ecosystems, displaying a wide array of environmental problems and vulnerabilities. To this end, the lands are fragile and vulnerable to both natural and human generated calamities, ranging from the shortage of or unpredictable rainfall to species and resource base depletion and degradation rendered more acute by the effects of drought. The location of the camp site is isolated. The environmental conditions are difficult, with temperature ranging up to 42 degree Celsius. The Ethiopian government in collaboration with the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), oversight and manages Shimelba.
Ethiopia is signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol. Regionally, Ethiopia is also a party to the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention). Besides these refugee-specific instruments, Ethiopia is also a party to most of international and regional human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the International Convention on Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, therefore reinforcing the protection for refugees.
It is often heard (from all concerned) that corruption levels in Africa and particularly in Ethiopia are of concern. Corruption is not only a violation of law and order, but a massive cause for the exacerbation of poverty already entrenched in the society. It frustrates any genuine effort exerted towards societal and economic development both by the government and the people. The ill sides of corruption are not to be undermined nor should efforts to fight it be played up as a political game just to prolong the life of a specific regime posing as the “good guy”. The fight against corruption must not be a tactical step for public attention and a ploy to win the sympathy of people. The fight against corruption by all Ethiopian stakeholders should investigate the root causes of corruption to address the problem sustainably for the following reasons: Ethiopia is cultivating tens and thousands of graduates from universities and technical colleges every year and the lack of jobs is becoming a serious concern.
According to a report by Global Financial Integrity, Ethiopia lost close to $12 billion since 2000 to illicit financial outflows. This is simply disaster in the making. The government must be serious in its fight against corruption because the government’s credibility and whatever level of legitimacy it might have been commanding is put to question. Therefore, in the government cadres’ language, “fighting corruption ought to be a survival issue”.
Every time I hear of anti-corruption efforts in my country, my pain is immense and is summed up by a phrase in the Amharic language “sedo masaded”, roughly translated as “trying to arrest after cutting lose”; the question is why “cut lose”? Why not fix the fence? Why not shut the door to thieves and the corrupt? The question for all of us is how to secure the house. The solution lies in “institutionalising the rule of law”; subsequently, if anyone subverts the system, all due processes of the law must ensue and no one should be considered or consider themselves above the law.
The African post-colonial period marked a new paradigm of triangular discourse amongst law, justice and development in the international playground. The intellectual metamorphoses of this discourse quickly gained momentum in the mid-60s and was patented the “Movement of Law and Development”. Highly alluring to professors and intellectuals from American law schools, this intellectual movement regarded “law” as an instrument to reform the society and ‘lawyers and judges” as social engineers. With this movement, the narrative was that law is central to the development processes. Then in the early 90s, the movement gave birth to the idea of the “Justice System Reform Program”, also referred to as the “Judicial Reform Program”. The emergence of this idea immediately became a serious agenda in the strategic themes of international financial institutions and bilateral states cooperation structures under the wrestling juxtaposition of “rule of law” and “poverty eradication”. The geographical focus of this idea was only limited to the developing nations of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and some Latin American countries.
There are two main rationales behind the theoretical innovation of ‘judicial reform’: a well-established and effective justice system is not only robust enough to confront corruption and violation of rights (with the assumption that courts as custodies of human rights), it can also be relied on to protect the property rights of foreign investors (the concept of development has always been viewed as capitals flowing from north to south-until very recently that the newly rising economies of BRICS- an acronym for the multi-dimensional partnership between Brazil, Russia, Indian, China and South Africa- proved otherwise that capital can also flow from south to south). The ambition of reforming judiciaries in developing countries beseeches building the practical meaning of judicial independence and professional competence that can help build an unwavering system of justice delivery. However, this initiative seems to have totally been lost in translation and taken advantage of for political purposes by the Ethiopian government.