1 Jan 2013 Updates

New Year's stampede in Abidjan  (Reuters)
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Libya says it will put Saif al-Islam Gaddafi and Abdallahal- Senussi on trial “within a month”

Western Sahara: Right to self-determination affirmed by UN, international consultations in 2013 to unlock conflict. The Western Sahara issue witnessed a rebound during 2012, particularly with publication of the UN Secretary General’s hard-hitting report, criticizing barriers imposed on the MINURSO mission by Moroccan authorities and by Morocco’s withdrawal of confidence in Christopher Ross, later changing position due to strong international pressure.

Al Jazeera has a new television reporter in Mauritania, our very own Baba Hourma (@bHourma). He does an excellent job in this clip about immigration

1 Jan 2012 Mauritania bans plastic bagsI hope Baba will do an item soon on the ban on plastic bags which came into force in Mauritania today, an attempt to eradicate the extreme pollution caused by an influx of almost 1 billion bags annually. The campaign includes activities to raise awareness, including flyers,  distribution of paper bags, an explanatory video and media coverage. Penalties include up to a year in prison, and fines of up to 1 million Ouguiya (Euro 2,500) for manufacturers, 500,000 for importers, and up to 10,000 for users of the illegal plastic bags or “Zazo” as they are called. This is an ambitious enterprise for a country which has failed to eradicate descendant slavery despite repeatedly criminalising it, and which recently approved a new law prohibiting coups d’etat, which are almost a national sport in Mauritania.

Kinross Gold’s drilling subcontractor, Capital Drilling Mauritania, is accused of breaking labour laws to discriminate against CGTM union members. Capital Drilling gave itself an award for ‘Commitment and Excellence in Safety’ in August 2012 for having completed 500 days without any “lost time incidents” (LTI).

Meanwhile, reports that Mauritania’s Central Bank is restricting access to significant values of both local and foreign currency raised many questions and concerns. What happened to the bumper reserves boasted of in the middle of 2012, and praised by the IMF? Is this the result of massive capital flight following the “shooting incident of October 13? These and other questions are still looking for answers.

Despite the endless reinforcement in press statements that US and European troops will be involved in any future conflict as trainers and advisers only, Mali FM told JeuneAfrique journalist @Babahmed1: “Our soldiers are already trained”. He also added that elections are unacceptable while rebels still occupy the north, and is anticipating a donor conference this month. Interim president Traoré said more or less the same thin in a New Year’s Day speech. What is the point of the UN Resolution if they have no intention of abiding by the provisions attached to it?

Stone-throwing Palestinian protesters carry an injured protester during clashes with Israeli security officers in the West Bank village of Tamoun, near the West Bank city of Jenin January 1, 2013. Clashes broke out after an Israeli military operation in the village on Tuesday. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Stone-throwing Palestinian protesters carry an injured protester during clashes with Israeli security officers in the West Bank village of Tamoun, near the West Bank city of Jenin January 1, 2013. Clashes broke out after an Israeli military operation in the village on Tuesday. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Israeli soldiers disguised as vegetable vendors raided the Palestinian village of Tammoun, north of Nablus city. The village has been repeatedly raided, leading to many arrests over several years.
Today’s clandestine operation and the subsequent arrest of Murad Bani Odeh, a member of Islamic Jihad, led to clashes with residents who threw stones. Soldiers replied with live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas. One man was hit in the eye with a tear gas canister and taken to hospital for treatment, and over 100 people suffered inhalation effects of tear gas. A state of siege is now being reported.

More than 60 people were killed in a stampede at a New Year’s Eve celebration in Ivory Coast‘s capital, Abidjan

New Year's stampede in Abidjan  (Reuters)

New Year’s stampede in Abidjan (Reuters)

Details of Tunisia‘s new government line up were published by Al Jazeera. Now they need new policies & attitudes.

Last but not least, today is a special day for the internet.

Happy 30th Anniversary, Internet and TCP/IP!

 

Denied! Yet These Refugees Exist

19 June 2012 - Mauritanian refugees in Senegal [photo: Ferloo.com]
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At this moment, there are thousands of Mauritanian refugees waiting to return to their country. These innocents appear to have been marginalised because their existence is inconvenient for the political agenda of the illegitimate Mauritanian regime, which clings to power under the protection of president Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz, with the full support of major international governments and agencies.

Marginalised in Mali

In October 2011, a group of 15 Mauritanian NGOs, called for a tripartite agreement between the governments of Mauritania and Mali and the UNHCR for the repatriation of Mauritanian refugees in Mali. Their demand was provoked by the Interior Minister Mohamed Ould Boilil, who had denied the existence of this group a few days previously in the National Assembly. It is to be expected that the UNHCR census in Mali might have been perturbed by recent instability, but in its 2012 Operations Report for North Africa, UNHCR states that there are more than 12,000 Mauritanian refugees registered in Mali, of whom some 9,000 have expressed the wish to return. The report adds that voluntary repatriation from Mali would be considered once repatriation from Senegal was completed. Since then: nothing.

Aziz has surrounded himself with tribal and family loyalists. One such is Colonel Ely Ould Mohamed Vall, who is currently stirring the racial division pot for his cousin the president with some media spin. First, he allegedly denied that black Africans who were expelled were citizens, later claimed to have been misquoted (on the radio!) and now he’s trying to whitewash his involvement in the historic events. Anti-slavery and anti-racist movements are predictably outraged. Aziz and his cousin know exactly what buttons to press to ensure the disharmony that was sown last year prevents any united opposition movement gaining momentum.

Frustrated in Senegal

19 June 2012 – Mauritanian refugees in Senegal [photo: Ferloo.com]

On the eve of World Refugees Day 2012 in Senegal, Mauritanian refugees staged a peaceful marchto draw attention to their situation, which they say is being neglected by the National Commission for Refugee Protection. On the sidelines of the mass protest, a group of refugees began an indefinite hunger strike outside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office.

Sy Abdourahmane, spokesman for over 20,000 Mauritanian refugees in Senegal, told reporters that people have reached the end of their patience, the situation is too much to bear any longer, and the hunger strike is their last resort. He explained that the group face legal and social problems and are unable to establish their national identity.

In January 2012, a hundred former Mauritanian refugees, repatriated from Senegal, staged a protest outside the National Assembly, demanding that their agricultural land, confiscated after their expulsion in 1989, be returned to them.

In March, the UNHCR and Mauritanian authorities declared that the voluntary repatriation process for Mauritanian refugees was complete, and held a ceremony in Rosso to mark the occasion. This was followed by a flying visit on Monday 26 March by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres to Mbere camp in the remote eastern basin.

Reports at the time gave the impression that everyone who wished to return to Mauritania was now back in their homeland and being cared for, while all others had chosen to remain in Senegal and were being given financial assistance and plots of land. If the protests and other reports of returnees citizens in Mauritania being stuck in limbo are any indication, the repatriation process remains woefully incomplete.

Not all Nomads

CityMag June 2012

Stories of Malian refugees flooding into isolated border camps like Fassala and Mbere get much publicity and attention. Yet in the capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott, an estimated 3,000 unregistered Malian refugees exist in difficult circumstances, according to the June 2012 edition of independent magazine CityMag. This situation began with Tuareg who fled when civil unrest erupted in Mali at the end of January, making their escape by car. Members of the first groups to arrive, crossing via Nioro and Ayoun, told cridem reporters in February that they fled in fear of their lives after attacks against “light skinned” people in Bamako. Many left everything behind, their flight fuelled by memories of previous periods of brutal unrest as much as by current events.

They also explained how, on presenting themselves at the Nouakchott office, they were told UNHCR was not aware of any “urban refugees” and the new arrivals must ask the host country to transport them to the border camps. The alternative is to remain unregistered – a non-status equivalent to being classed as vagrants or even illegal immigrants. Even so, many chose this option rather than surrender to the terrible conditions of the isolated and overcrowded camps, where 1500 – 2000 were reportedly arriving almost daily in May. What is the meaning of such banality? That Tuareg can’t be urbanised, or that refugees are not welcome in Mauritania unless they are hidden away in the furthest recesses of the desert? Is the price of “refuge” to be half-starved and subject to extremes of every condition, ready to be photographed at their worst by the swarm of “freelance” photographers and reporters being flown in from far afield? On that point, I feel obliged to point out that there is no shortage of  highly skilled and capable freelance photographers and journalists available for work in Mauritania.

These “urban Tuareg” in Nouakchott do not receive any support or recognition from Mauritanian authorities or international aid agencies. They live on their wits and whatever the local community can provide, perhaps supplemented by donations from compatriots in town for recent MNLA discussions. Mauritania’s famed culture of offering hospitality to visitors goes far beyond the polite offer of a cup of mint tea: one might almost call it a national obsession.  True to tradition, the community tries to rally round, but there are signs that even their best efforts are falling short. Times are hard in Mauritania, with spiralling food and fuel prices, high unemployment, and low wages pushing more people towards the poverty trap. A reporter for Latest Network News, who went to investigate current conditions on 17 June, told how he found some of the Tuareg reduced to begging on the street. He said they live in fear of being arrested by the police, and were too scared to talk on camera or allow their photograph to be taken.

An Invisible Population

The Tuareg are not the only refugee community in Nouakchott; for example, there is a group of Ivorians who have been campaigning for assistance for months. A cursory search will reveal similar stories worldwide – Iranian refugees trapped in Turkey, Burmese marooned in Thailand, Africans stuck on the Italian island of Lampedusa, and thousands of stateless in Kuwait and other gulf states. Al Jazeera reports more than 120,000 Syrians fleeing the violence in their homeland have taken refuge in Jordan, according to the Amman government. The United Nations has registered 20,000 of them. International aid agencies seem ill-equipped to cater for these “niche” groups, yet together they represent the population of a small country.

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Note: Following ethnic clashes in late April 1989, hundreds of victims on both sides of the Senegal River and tens of thousands of Mauritanians were forced to leave their country and take refuge in neighbouring states. All countries of North Africa have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, with the exception of Libya, which is, however, party to the Organisation of African Unity’s 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.

Gallery: Azawad Interim Council President Inauguration

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Supporters of an independent Azawad gathered in Mali on Friday, 15 June 2012 for the official inauguration of an interim president, MNLA Secretary-General, Bilal Ag Acherif.

Ag Cherif reiterated [fr] the aims of the council as listed in the Azawadi Declaration of Independence and announced initiatives to establish state institutions, and to develop a charter that defines the fundamental principles of a new constitution for Azawad. He again called on the international community to recognise the 28-member Transitional Council of the State of Azawad (Conseil de Transition de l’Etat de l’Azawad, CTEA).

A concerted lobbying effort for military intervention by members of ECOWAS and the African Union is still in progress, notably with the United Nations Security Council. Old enmities between key north African countries impact discussions, and force interested parties to perform an elaborate diplomatic dance of meetings followed by visits to share developments with estranged ones. A little like friends and family trying to maintain relationships with both sides of an acrimonious divorce, it all slows and complicates the process, while creating a breeding ground for intrigue. Countries that under normal circumstances might be expected to have a say – Libya, Egypt, Yemen – are to be excused, as they have enough on their respective domestic plates. Beyond Africa, France (its Foreign Minister more specifically) is still bullish, while the US is relying on “media diplomacy” for now. I’ve not noticed any official statements from Gulf states. Perhaps Iran will weigh in with an opinion on Azawad, and then the rhetoric can really begin to fly.

One thing all sides agree on is the worrying humanitarian situation of tens of thousands of refugees and internally displaced people as the “lean period” approaches. There is ample space at the borders with Algeria and Mauritania to create humanitarian corridors under an agreement not to resume hostilities. I am interested to see if anyone raises this idea, and whether this possibility also exists at the borders with Niger, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast. I assume this would conflict with the agenda of the rebel groups, as they now enjoy relatively unrestricted access to and from neighbouring countries, and the pro-invasion crowd aren’t canvassing for suggestions. Therefore I don’t hold out much hope for a logical solution.