The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Archive for the ‘Sudan’ Category

Letter from Kampala: Museveni’s Oil Bet

Posted by vmsalama on February 20, 2014

Letter from Kampala

Foreign Affairs
FEBRUARY 20, 2014

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 30, 2014. (Tiksa Negeri / Courtesy Reuters)

Feeble and gaunt from the illness that has eaten away at his body, Fideli Donge wobbled onto the porch of his mud-and-straw home, which is hidden by short palm trees off an isolated, craterous dirt road used mostly by barefooted pedestrians and the occasional bodaboda, an East African motorbike taxi. He’s in his 60s, he thinks, but a lifetime of hard labor and poverty has left him looking closer to 90. A few months ago, as Donge lay bedridden, and as his children and grandchildren — he has 52 altogether — worked the 20-acre farm that his family has owned for nearly half a century, men from the local municipality in his western Uganda village knocked at his door. 

“They told me that all the residents here have to leave and that they will give me a house or money,” Donge said. He and his family will have to abandon the land that they rely on for their own food and livelihood; they make pennies from the sale of maize, sugar cane, and cassava, a staple crop across Africa. “We don’t know when we will go, or where,” he said. The municipality promised Donge a new home, one large enough to accommodate his family, with soil rich enough to farm, but he hasn’t heard anything since the officials came to his door. “Until now, we are just waiting.”

Since 2008, more than 7,100 residents in surrounding villages have been given similar offers as part of the Ugandan government’s grand scheme to build an 11-square-mile oil refinery in the Lake Albert basin, along the country’s disputed border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The government hopes that the project will transform the downtrodden and war-torn nation, which just barely cracks the top 20 African economies by GDP, into the continent’s fifth-largest oil producer. The Ugandan government, in partnership with London-based Tullow Oil, discovered commercial reserves eight years ago, but production has been slowed by technical challenges and, especially, bureaucratic hang-ups. In early February, after years of protracted talks, the Ministry of Energy finally announced that it had signed deals with China’s CNOOC, France’s Total, and Tullow to build the estimated $15 billion worth of infrastructure needed to develop the oil fields. If successful, the government estimates reserves of up to 3.5 billion barrels of crude oil — enough to finally make this nation of 36 million people self-reliant for its energy needs.

The Lake Albert refinery is an ambitious venture, particularly for a government plagued by corruption allegations and with a history of empty promises. (Last year, the government’s auditor reported $100 million missing from the national budget.) But, perhaps, this time is different. The refinery is a pet project of President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country for 28 years; he has repeatedly gone on record calling the reserves “my oil.” Uprooting Ugandan farmers to make way for a refinery might seem like a surprising move for Museveni, who spends so much time out of the capital of Kampala, at his own cattle ranch in southern Uganda, that he earned the nickname the Gentleman Farmer (it’s one of many). But the refinery plan is, ultimately, the perfect way to shore up a presidency for life. (click here to read more)

Posted in Africa, Arab Spring, Central African Republic, Constitution, corruption, Coup, Debt, Democratic Republic of Congo, Development, dictatorship, Domestic Abuse, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Invisible Children, Kampala, Kenya, Kony, Labor, Lake Albert, Lake Victoria, Media, military, Museveni, North Africa, Oil, Politics, Poverty, Protests, Refugees, Somalia, South Sudan, Stop Kony, Sudan, Terrorism, Uganda | Leave a Comment »

Arab-Americans Set to Play Key Role in US Election

Posted by vmsalama on November 4, 2012

By Vivian Salama

Al-Monitor (click here for original link)

Arab-Americans are poised to play a critical role in the US presidential election.   Numbering about 4 million, they’re heavily concentrated in several battleground states — including Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia — where every vote will count in a race that many consider too close to call.

A mid-September survey of 400 voters conducted by the Arab American Institute revealed that President Barack Obama leads Republican candidate Mitt Romney among Arab-Americans, 52% to 28%, with 16 percent of Arab Americans still undecided. This compares to the 67% to 28% lead Obama held over John McCain among Arab Americans in 2008, signaling a potential loss of some 100,000 voters for Obama, according to AAI.

A substantial drop in Arab-American support for Obama, relative to 2008, accompanied by the large number of undecided voters, especially in key swing states, could be a signal to the present and future candidates.

The Arab-American political community had its challenges following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Patriot Act, arrests, detentions and deportations targeted members of the community. A New York Police Department surveillance program and opposition to building mosques and Islamic community centers, like the Park51 center near Ground Zero, preoccupied the community’s political leaders. Instead of campaigning for broader national and international issues, Arab-Americans found themselves fighting as much, or more than ever, for their civil liberties. (more…)


Posted in Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Christian, Culture, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Lobby, Media, Middle East, New York, NYPD, Palestinians, Politics, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Social Media, Sudan, Terrorism, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

STOP KONY…. and all the other bad guys doing bad things!

Posted by vmsalama on March 9, 2012

I don’t often write about Africa although it is a region near to my heart. I visited Uganda in 2004 — it is a beautiful country and anyone who visits will not soon forget the ear-to-ear smiles they receive from the people they meet. Invisible Children is a global campaign to arrest Joseph Kony and stop him from kidnapping, arming and killing children to fight his war via a militia he calls the Lord’s Resistance Army. This video is thought provoking (and stirring up a lot of controversy and debate as a result). There are bad people doing bad things around the world. Palestinian children in Gaza are dying every day. Families in Syria cannot leave their homes in Homs and Hama without fear of being killed by government contracted snipers, and hundreds continue to fall victim to attacks by the Sudanese government in the Nuba Mountains every month. Across Africa children are being used as foot soldiers in senseless wars. I wish more people would take initiative like film maker Jason Russell to bring crimes of humanity like those of Joseph Kony to light (Also, check out Ryan Boyette’s brave efforts in Sudan). I hope with all of my heart that they are successful.

Please take 30 minutes to watch this video to learn about this cause.


Posted in Africa, American, Arab Spring, Child Soldiers, Clinton, Darfur, Gaza, Invisible Children, Israel, Jason Russell, Kony, Nuba Mountains, Palestinians, Ryan Boyette, Stop Kony, Sudan, Syria, Uganda, United Nations, United States, Viral Video, YouTube | 1 Comment »

Al Bashir calls aid agencies subversive

Posted by vmsalama on March 30, 2009

Vivian Salama

March 30, 2009

DOHA // Confident and defiant in the face of an international warrant for his arrest, Omar al Bashir, the president of Sudan, addressed the 21st regular session of the Arab League in Qatar, defending his decision to expel non-governmental organisations from Sudan and his right to resist arrest.

Mr al Bashir accused aid organisations of providing sensitive information about Sudan to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, declaring it an effort to destabilise the Sudanese government. He claimed that the humanitarian problem in Darfur has been exaggerated, particularly with regard to claims of food and water shortages.

On March 4, the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of the Sudanese president on charges of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

“These organisations were providing some support, but their costs were so high [and they] have started to work outside their mandate,” Mr al Bashir said. They “signed secret agreements with the ICC to provide ICC with some reports”.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki- moon, condemned the Sudanese leader for his decision to expel key international non-profit organisations, saying it resulted in the suspension of life-sustaining services for more than one million people.

Despite the efforts of Sudanese governmental organisations, UN agencies and the remaining NGOs, Mr Ban said yesterday, “the gaps cannot be filled with existing capacities”.

A number of delegates gathered in Doha expressed concern over the ICC’s decision to arrest Mr al Bashir. Several pointed to the court’s failure to issue arrest warrants for alleged war crimes of Israeli leaders. The Arab League’s secretary general, Amr Moussa, called it a double standard.

The majority of the Arab League member states are not signatories to the Rome statute that created the ICC in 1998. 

Bashar Assad, the president of Syria and host of last year’s summit, called upon the Arab leadership to show solidarity with the embattled Sudanese leader. He predicted that Sudan would descend into chaos if Mr al Bashir were arrested.

“We are to extend our full support to Sudan in order to avoid to steps in the future that might lead to the division of Sudan,” Mr Assad said. “The pretext that Sudan has made some violations is something we can discuss.”

The issuance and reaction to the ICC warrant are among the latest events to dominate pressing issues facing the League of Arab Nations. Several leaders, including the summit’s host, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, chose to avoid the issue of Sudan all together, focusing instead on the region’s economic challenges.

Other shadows were cast this year by Libya’s president, Muammar Qadafi, who accused Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah of exercising US policies to solve Arab problems. This is not the first time an outburst by Mr Qadafi grabbed significant attention at the Arab summit. In 2003, he took a shot at King Abdullah over the US military presence in the region, calling Saudi Arabia’s ties with the United States “a pact with the devil”.

In 2004, he smoked cigars on the conference floor in a show of contempt and stormed out of the assembly after the delegation’s refusal to accept his proposed Arab-Israeli peace plan. The following year in Algeria, he returned, accusing Palestinians and Israelis of being “stupid”.

Although Mr Qadafi has lured the watchful eyes of the media, he was not the only one to offer a distraction from the summit. This year, the absence of Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, drew significant attention given the recent rivalry over approaches to the Palestinian crisis. Cairo continues to mediate talks aimed at Palestinian reconciliation and forging a sustainable ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Squabbles often mar the annual Arab summits and dominate coverage, with clashes growing increasingly sharp in recent years after a series of conflicts, including the second intifada, the US-led war in Iraq, political instability in Lebanon and Israeli military operations in Lebanon and Gaza. 

Many are growing increasingly sceptical of the ability of Arab leaders to find concrete solutions to the issues facing the region.

“People now look at the Arab summits as entertainment,” said Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of Al Quds Al Arabi, a pan-Arab newspaper published in London. “They aren’t looking at resolutions; they are looking at these sideshows: who is going to clash with who; who is going to boycott, who will come; who is cross with someone. It is like a soap opera.”

Last year’s summit in Damascus was held amid a boycott by Lebanese delegates and the humiliating low-level representation by some of the Arab world’s most powerful countries, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

“The Arab street increasingly sees itself as interconnected and they would like to see their leaders guide them to finding solutions, but they can’t even get together for a meeting,” said Hady Amr, director of the Brookings Doha Centre. 

“The Arab world has high hopes: they want jobs, dignity, increasing opportunities to participate in society and their governments are not delivering.”

Posted in Arab League, Middle East, Sudan | Leave a Comment »

Qatar draws scepticism over Darfur

Posted by vmsalama on March 29, 2009

Vivian Salama

March 29. 2009 

DOHA // In the past year, the tiny Arab Gulf emirate of Qatar has brokered a historic peace deal between political opponents in Lebanon and played host to a number of Arab League summits as well as to the Doha Round of world trade talks.

However, as the host of the latest Arab League summit, scheduled to begin tomorrow, Qatar has drawn scepticism as to its ability to fairly mediate one of the Arab world’s deadliest and longest-running conflicts: Darfur.

Amnesty International has called upon Qatar and members of the League of Arab States to enforce the arrest warrant against Omar al Bashir, the Sudanese president, before this week’s meeting.

The Qatari government and the Arab League have refused to arrest the Sudanese leader, wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying his arrest would further destabilise the country. Qatar, like most of the Arab League nations, is not a signatory to the ICC’s founding treaty.

The 22-nation organisation is expected to address regional issues, including the arrest warrant for Sudan’s president and Palestinian divisions.


Sudan's Al Bashir is wanted by the ICC for war crimes and crimes against humanity

Mr al Bashir is expected to attend the meeting. Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, who met the embattled Sudanese leader in Cairo last week, yesterday said he would not come to Doha.

Although some regional analysts said they believe the refusal to detain Mr al Bashir is no surprise, it could compromise Qatar’s credibility to serve as a regional arbitrator.

“I do not think it is in Qatar or any Arab country’s best interest to arrest President Bashir, but certainly some of the rebel groups in Darfur might see this as taking sides,” said Saleem Ali, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Centre.

Home to substantial oil and natural gas reserves, Qatar in recent years has cultivated a reputation as a friend to almost anyone. It plays host to one of the largest US military bases and, until the recent incursion on Gaza, to one of few Israeli commercial offices in the region.

Qatar is on amicable terms with Iran and has staunchly defended the interests of Hamas and Chechen separatists. In 2005, Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, bestowed a gift of US$100 million (Dh367m) to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina, while also investing $1.5 billion to build an oil refinery in Zimbabwe.

“Qatar is punching above its weight,” said James Reardon-Anderson, the dean of Georgetown University in Qatar. “So you see it in their foreign policy – the Lebanon deal, the Darfur deal, they are trying to be bigger than they are.”

The emergence of Qatar in recent years from a tiny and somewhat underdeveloped nation of one million – 75 per cent of whom are expatriates – into an international hub for sport, education, science, trade and culture, has been regarded as the emirate’s first step towards becoming a global political heavyweight.

“The leadership here really sees this as an opportunity to transfer this wealth of natural gas into human capacity and to use that momentum to affirm their culture and affirm their vision and transform their society,” Mr Reardon-Anderson said.

Once the exclusive domain of Saudi Arabia in the Gulf and Egypt in the broader Middle East, the role of political intermediary and conciliator has fit Qatar, which has invited everyone from Iranian and Israeli diplomats and provided a home base to US military personnel and Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi, a hardliner Sunni cleric.

“Qatar is generally well positioned to play a mediating roll because it has very good relations with the West and at the same time it is perceived in the Islamic establishment as having some sympathies with Islamist causes,” Mr Ali said. “Because of this rather unusual mix of circumstances, it is really a tight rope that they are walking on now particularly because of this US military base.”

In 2003, the United States announced it would pull out virtually all of its troops from its military base in Saudi Arabia, long deemed a symbol of Washington’s influence in the region. The US Central headquarters in Qatar and the Fifth Fleet naval base in Bahrain drew a sea of controversy for the two Gulf nations, particularly after US military operations began in Iraq in 2003.

It is, some argue, Qatar’s role as a media hub since the launch of its home-based network, Al Jazeera, in 1996 that has brought it the greatest praises and criticism. Various regional governments have condemned the Qatari government for allowing Al Jazeera to boldly criticise Arab regimes while protecting the image of Qatar. In 2002 Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic ties with Qatar over the issue, but resumed them in 2007 when Qatar promised to rein in coverage.

Posted in Arab League, Darfur, Hosni Mubarak, Middle East, Politics, Qatar, Sudan | Leave a Comment »

Counting the rising cost

Posted by vmsalama on July 30, 2008

Vivian Salama

The National: July 29. 2008

The world’s insatiable appetite for oil has hit UAE shoppers in their stomachs as well as their wallets with spiralling food costs. And the problem appears to be growing.

Consumers are paying more for everything from a bag of rice to a carton of eggs, simply because it takes oil to run farm machines, power the processing and packaging factories and fuel all modes of transport. 

“Food prices are directly correlated to oil prices,” explains Marios Maratheftis, the head of research for Standard Chartered Bank. “We can’t sell US$140 barrels of oil then expect food prices to go lower.”

In recent months higher oil prices have manifested themselves locally in the form of higher commodities prices, the pain of which is passed on to consumers. 

As the most demanded staple food, rice has soared to unprecedented levels, with global prices up from $650 (Dh2,386) per tonne to a 25-year high of $1,000 in just the first three months of this year. A decision by India’s government to halt exports of non-basmati rice – in an effort to curb prices and avoid domestic shortages – has exacerbated the situation here, driving prices even higher. India’s move has been widely criticised by UAE retailers whose businesses thrive on sales of the grain.

“We have a lot of Indian people here who want to eat their rice, even if the price of basmati rice keeps getting more expensive,” says Burham Turkmani, the general manager of Al Rabiah Trading in Dubai. 

Khaled Zanul Abid, the manager of Talal Supermarket in Jebel Ali, agrees. “I am Indian, so I know how my customers feel. They like to eat certain kinds of rice from India. But they have to eat, even if the price gets very high,” he says. “Everything is becoming so expensive for the people now.”

Food inflation is foremost among concerns of the federal government, which reported a 11.1 per cent jump in inflation last year. Although inflation has largely been driven upwards by rents, food, beverages and tobacco accounted for 11 per cent of the rise and are believed to contribute as much as 30 per cent to overall GCC inflationary pressures. According to the Emirates Consumer Protection Society, domestic food inflation could rise as high as 40 per cent this year.

Experts say cheap ingredients are being passed off as 

“Inflation will not go away,” warns Andy Barnett, a professor of economics at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). 

“Problems will continue indefinitely until people give up and let the underlying adjustment that’s taking place take hold.”

Various measures – some more controversial than others – have been taken to ensure that the situation does not spiral out of control. The initial response was price caps. Earlier this year the Government signed agreements with various domestic retailers including Baniyas Co-operative Society, Carrefour, Union Co-operative Society and LuLu hypermarkets for implementing price caps on items such as chicken, rice, flour and eggs in an effort to combat rising prices set by suppliers. In April, the Government announced it was stockpiling more than a dozen “essential” food items to reduce the likelihood of food shortages, often a backlash after price caps. One month later, officials with the Economy Ministry announced that 15 items – including dry and condensed milk, frozen and canned vegetables, baby food, chicken, edible oil, rice, flour, fish, meat and tea – were to be placed on a free import list in a bid to contain inflation.

“Price caps should be on the suppliers, not the retailers,” says David Berrick, the retail general manager of Abela Supermarkets, which has a domestic headquarters in Abu Dhabi. “They’re implementing these policies on just 16 or 20 commodities. What about the other 20,000 products in our supermarket? We can lower our prices and use the marketing tool of ‘everyday low prices’, but if supplier costs go up, we have no choice but to raise prices.”

Click here to read more….

Posted in Grain, Middle East, Oil, Pakistan, Price Caps, Retail, Rice, Sudan, United Arab Emirates | Leave a Comment »

UAE reaps farmland in Sudan

Posted by vmsalama on June 10, 2008

by Vivian Salama

The National

ABU DHABI // A scheme has been sealed to buy farmland in Sudan and grow crops that will be used to build up the UAE’s strategic food reserves, with the first fields cultivated towards the end of the year, officials from both countries say.

Crops would be planted on a farm of about 70,000 feddans (29,400 hectares) in Northern Sudan. While the deal will undoubtedly provide a much-needed boost to Sudan’s economy, Abu Dhabi officials say their strategy is to shield UAE residents against record high commodity prices, crippling export bans by supplier nations and potential food shortages.

“Within a short time, it will be very hard to secure these kinds of crops worldwide,” said Mohammed al Suwaidi, the acting director general of the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), the government branch heading the project. “Even if you have the money to buy it, you won’t be able to find it.” 

Officials said it was too early to disclose the value of the deal. Only 16 per cent of the nearly 100 million hectares of land in Sudan has been used for farming, according to Sudanese officials. Crippled by poor infrastructure and technology, the government of Africa’s largest country is hoping to exploit this resource as a means of attracting investment.

“Sudan is looking for investors because we are lacking in infrastructure and proper financing, so we give the land at a very low price to attract investors,” said Nurel Huda Fath al Aliem sid Ahmed, the economic adviser at the Sudanese Embassy in Abu Dhabi. “Sudan will give free water, cheap land, exemptions from customs duties and from all the fees that might restrict investment.”

The farm, located in the town of Abu Hamed in the northern Sudanese state of Nahr an Nil, will be used primarily for the cultivation of alfalfa. According to Mr Suwaidi, the price of alfalfa has increased by almost 50 per cent since last year. Officials say that soil studies are under way to determine whether the land will also yield substantial amounts of corn, rice, peanuts and potatoes.

The UAE imports nearly 85 per cent of its food, worth an estimated Dh11.01 billion (US$40bn) annually.

Escalating inflation has driven the Ministry of Economy to consider alternative sources of food to boost supplies, while cutting costs. Co-operative societies have been urged to form partnerships with food producing countries, enabling them to buy produce at source. 

The Ministry of Social Affairs has also recommended that local co-operatives lease farms from similar organisations in countries such as India and Brazil, which would significantly reduce the chain between farmer and retailer.

The Ministry of Economy is considering the purchase of farmland in Pakistan worth US$500 million (Dh1.8bn), as part of a strategy to lower food import costs. Similar farming schemes are under consideration by the ADFD, although no other deals have been finalised. 

A number of GCC states had expressed interest in cultivating Sudanese land, however only the UAE had finalised negotiations, said Dr Ahmed, adding that the Saudi Arabian private sector is also pursuing farmland investments.

“About 300,000 feddans have been bought by Saudi companies but they have not begun to cultivate,” he said. Feddans are the unit of measurement used in Sudan and some other Arab speaking countries.

The Sudanese official said that while talks with the GCC have got off to a good start, his government hopes that these investments will grow in time.

“Seventy thousand feddans is really nothing when you think of how much land we can offer and how much money these governments can spend,” Dr Ahmed said. “We hope to receive investments for one million feddans, not only 70,000.”

The Abu Hamed farm is one of several investment projects headed by the ADFD in Sudan. The Government recently pledged Dh275m to finance dams in the African nation. Mr Suwaidi said the first Dh184m loan would be used to complete the Marawi Dam in Northern Sudan, which the ADFD had previously helped finance with a Dh551m extension.

Dr Ahmed said that such projects were vital to Sudan’s prosperity. “We are really depending on governments here to help us to build our infrastructure, whether paving the roads, or greater construction or better electricity,” he said.


Posted in Abu Dhabi, Inflation, Sudan, United Arab Emirates | Leave a Comment »

Call for new inquiry into Sudanese protest assaults

Posted by vmsalama on December 30, 2007

Thanks to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights for sending this along.  This story only continues to get sadder.  I photographed this protest extensively in the days leading up to its violent breakup exactly two years ago.  To view the photos, click here.

CAIRO — Five Egyptian and international human rights organizations today called on President Hosni Mubarak to authorize an independent judicial inquiry into the December 30, 2005 police assault on Sudanese protestors – refugees, asylum seekers and migrants – in Cairo that resulted in the deaths of 27 persons and injured scores more.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hisham Mubarak Law Center and the Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence said that an independent judicial inquiry should also examine the conduct of  the initial investigation into the incident by the Dokki Prosecution Office, which found no evidence of police or official misconduct. The groups reviewed a copy of that initial investigation and found a concerted effort to absolve the police of any wrongdoing.   
“President Mubarak should use the second anniversary of the police action against Sudanese protestors to initiate a complete and transparent investigation of what really took place,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. “The public prosecutor’s total exoneration of the police lacks any semblance of credibility.”
In the early hours of December 30, 2005, a force of nearly 4,000 Egyptian police and security officers surrounded a makeshift camp in Mustafa Mahmoud Square in Cairo’s Mohandisin neighborhood, near the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, where for three months hundreds of Sudanese refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants had engaged in a peaceful sit-in protest. According to media accounts at the time, police fired from water cannons into the crowd and then entered in force, beating people indiscriminately. The episode resulted in the deaths of at least 27 of the Sudanese, including 11 children and eight women. An investigation by the public prosecutor’s office in Dokki concluded in May 2006 that all the deaths “resulted from a stampede,” and found no wrongdoing on the part of the police.
The government never made public the written decision to close the investigation, but the five groups recently obtained a copy of the decision ( http://hrw.org/pub/2007/mena/dokkiNyabaDecisionMustafaMahmud.pdf ). 
The government’s initial “no fault” conclusion appears in a 16-page memorandum dated May 20, 2006 and signed by Wael Hussein, chief of the Dokki Prosecution Office. The memorandum reveals serious failures in the official investigation into the killings, and shows how the public prosecutors and state forensic doctors collaborated to absolve the police from any responsibility for the 27 deaths.

For example, the memorandum states that none of the police officers and security officials interviewed by public prosecutors was able to name the official who issued the order to launch the operation or the security official who led the anti-riot force responsible for carrying it out. Among the 127 police and security officers interviewed, the public prosecutors directly asked 28 police officers, two State Security Intelligence officers, the district chief of criminal investigations, and the top security official for the northern Giza district if they could identify the officers in charge. According to the memorandum, all 28 claimed they did not know the names of the officers, with one of them citing “the presence of numerous police leaders representing different sectors at the site of the incident.” The memorandum shows that public prosecutors made no serious effort to investigate this apparent attempt to protect those responsible for ordering the attack on the protestors.
Prosecutors also interviewed four eyewitnesses who all claimed that the protestors initiated the violence by attacking the police. The government put the total number of protestors at 1,107, and at least 650 protestors were in state custody for several weeks following the assault, but prosecutors managed to interview only one Sudanese woman who was injured in the attacks.
“Prosecutors were clearly more interested in protecting the police and vilifying the victims than in establishing the truth of what really happened on December 30,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa program.
The memorandum also shows how Justice Ministry forensic experts endeavored to obscure any criminal responsibility for the deaths. The autopsy reports cite marks of “injuries resulting from crashing against solid, rough-surfaced objects,” a death resulting from “bruises in the head and neck leading to a brain concussion and a failure of higher vital brain centers,” and another death “resulting from a head injury leading to nerve fiber injuries.” The forensic experts nonetheless concluded that all the deaths resulted from a “stampede” leading to asphyxia, and claimed there was “a lack of any signs indicating the use of excessive force in assaulting them.”
Chief Prosecutor Wael Hussein relied on these forensic reports and on the statements of police officers to conclude that there was “absolutely no relation between the deaths and the conduct of police forces in dispersing the protestors.” Citing “lack of evidence,” Hussein decided to exclude the charge of premeditated murder. No one has alleged that the killings were premeditated, but the prosecutor failed to indict any police officer with manslaughter or unintended injury, or even with the misdemeanor offense of carrying out his duties with cruelty or brutality, as per article 129 of the Penal Code.
Instead, the chief prosecutor charged the protestors en masse with committing crimes of manslaughter, unintended injury, resisting authorities, and the deliberate destruction of property. Citing the inability to identify the perpetrators of these crimes, the Public Prosecutor’s Office then decided to suspend the investigations into possible police misconduct and instructed the police to continue the search for perpetrators.  
“Charging the protestors with serious crimes and exonerating the police of any wrongdoing is the absurd but inevitable outcome of a sham investigation,” said Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “Two years after their deaths, the victims of police brutality in Mustafa Mahmoud Square still await justice.”
The five organizations called on the Egyptian government to open an independent judicial inquiry into the killings in order to identify those who ordered, led, and implemented the attacks, and to hold them responsible for any unnecessary or excessive use of force that resulted in the large number of deaths. In April 2007, the UN Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers requested that the investigation into the killings “be reopened in order to clarify the circumstances leading to the deaths of the Sudanese migrants. Whatever those circumstances, [the committee] also recommends that measures be adopted to prevent the occurrence of similar events in the future.” The inquiry should also look into the serious, and apparently deliberate, failures of the earlier investigation into the killings, and make the results of this inquiry public.  

Posted in Egypt, Middle East, Mubarak, Politics, Refugees, Sudan | Leave a Comment »

Toddler latest to die in Sudanese refugee protest in Cairo

Posted by vmsalama on December 13, 2005

Demonstrators say 4-year-old died of cold temperatures, poor nutrition

By Vivian Salama
Special to The Daily Star
Tuesday, December 13, 2005


(to see more of my photos from the Sudanese refugee protest, click here)

CAIRO: Alongside the grassy park which lies in front of the Mustafa Mahmoud Mosque in Mohandiseen, children ages 5 through 10 stood shoulder to shoulder, each holding up a photo of a dead toddler – underneath the photos were messages calling him a martyr. Deng Kual, 4, is the latest person to die as the peaceful protest against the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) enters its third month.

Demonstrators say he died from the combination of cold temperatures and poor nutrition.

The number of protesters has more than doubled since the group decided to stage their demonstration on September 30 near the regional office of UNHCR.

Fed-up from being what they call “victims of mismanagement,” some 4,000 people of varying refugee status have come together, each carting a suitcase holding their sole possessions.

The group insists that UNHCR assist in their relocation, saying they can no longer endure the discrimination, inopportunity and abuse they experience in Egypt.

However, with the death of Kual and two others before him, the group is now coming under fire, even by activists who are dedicated to defending their rights.

“I’m a strong critic of UNHCR, but I’m also a strong critic of this kind of protest because people are being manipulated to be there,” said Barbara Harrell-Bond, a professor of Forced Migration and Refugee Studies at the American University in Cairo.

New rumors have circulated that group leaders told the Sudanese community that the protest was mandatory. Meanwhile, UNHCR has made efforts to find solutions with the group, but spokesmen for the group say their offers are not good enough.

“UNHCR says it will get them houses,” added Bond, who had been a harsh critic of the organization in the early days of the protest. “They’ve made a lot of concessions for them. If they had a closed file, they could send over information. They brought people here from Geneva because it’s a big enough deal.”

“I’m a refugee – how can I possibly have a house?” asked Mohammad Matar, a spokesman for the group, in response to some of the offers made by UNHCR. “They suggest local integration – if I accept local integration, will the Egyptian government give me nationality? Never! Will they give me a chance to vote? Will my children have the chance to attend good public schools? Never!”

Having originally approached the organization with 20 demands, they say they have compromised, limiting their demands to only 11. A priority, Matar insists, is to reopen any closed files of all the Sudanese refugees living in Egypt.

Those with closed files lose virtually all hope of obtaining official refugee status, but the group feels the criteria must be re-evaluated.

Another demand by leaders of the Sudanese protest is for a re-evaluation of all those possessing a “yellow card,” the identification card for those granted asylum. While full refugee status does not offer many more privileges than those receiving asylum benefits, the Sudanese feel it will make a major difference in the lives of those people.

Finally, representatives of the protestors say there are 540 missing Sudanese nationals that neither UNHCR nor the Egyptian police have acknowledged. UNHCR staunchly denied this, insisting that each of those cases was investigated and the organization found that in many cases, they had been relocated or that their status had changed.

“It is not a refugee problem,” Damtew Dessalegne, assistant regional representative of UNHCR Egypt told The Daily Star Egypt in an earlier interview. “It is a mix of economic migration, development, and poverty, whatever. They are not political refugees. The majority are not even refugees recognized by UNHCR under the legal procedures.”

“We realize that our children are suffering, but the people here say this place is better than other places,” insisted Matar. “This place is more safe. This is the closest thing we have to a family. This is the only real home we have.”

Posted in Arab, Daily Star Lebanon, Egypt, Refugees, Sudan | Leave a Comment »

Protesters Cry for Help

Posted by vmsalama on October 23, 2005

Sudanese demonstrators desperate for relocation

(To view my photos from the Sudanese refugee protest, click here)


By Vivian Salama

Daily Star Staff

Sudanese Protest 

CAIRO:  “We want to be far, far, far away from Cairo,” reads one of many signs enclosing a makeshift camp outside the entrance of Moustafa Mahmoud Mosque in Mohendaseen.  

It’s been exactly 25 days now since an estimated 1,000 Sudanese refugees took the decision to launch a peaceful protest nearby the regional office of the UN Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  Fed-up from being, what they call “victims of mismanagement,” families have come together, each carting a suitcase holding their sole possessions.  The group insists that UNHCR assist in their relocation, saying they can no longer endure the discrimination, inopportunity and abuse they experience in Egypt.   

Demonstrators say conditions are growing more horrid by the day.  Since they assembled, protestors allege a 28-year old man died of influenza, a pregnant woman miscarried and an infant died of untreated diarrhea.  Many more are falling ill as they spend their days and nights in the open-air.

“My two kids are coughing because the wind gets so strong at night” says Lisa Simon, 29.  “I came here with my bags and my kids because I want a solution to our problems.  The streets are not safe for us here.  People hit us with stones, this is normal for us.  Our men cannot work.  This can’t continue.”

“We have demands and the UNHCR knows our demands,” says Jack Pam, one of the spokesmen for the demonstrators.  “Finding jobs is difficult.  Our children are abused.  Our women are raped.  We will meet anyone at any hour of any day to solve our problems.”  

There are approximately two to three million Sudanese nationals living in Egypt today, according to recent statistics by the UNHCR.  Of those, more than 14,400 have refugee status, another 10,000 are seeking asylum.  The regional office stands some 30 meters away from the blanket-covered camp; the neighborhood, swarming with security and precautionary riot police – many of whom have no idea why they are there and who they are protecting.

The issue, UNHCR officials maintain, is that the people gathered along one side of Gamaat El Dowal Street are not under the jurisdiction of their organization.  Nonetheless, its officials insist that they have offered to meet with the group’s decision-making committee to see if a resolution is possible, but that only yesterday, they received word that the group was not interested to negotiate. 

            “We have absolutely nothing to defend ourselves against,” insists Damtew Dessalegne, Assistant Regional Representative for UNHCR.  “The situation in Egypt, for Sudanese nationals – including Sudanese refugees – is not as awful as it’s being described by some of the demonstrators and their advocates.  The economic difficulties that these refugees are facing are not any different than the difficulties millions of Egyptians are facing.”

            Through groups such as UNHCR, individuals are evaluated and investigated, and then granted legal refugee status with the final stamp of approval from the Egyptian government.  Those who are granted status receive a blue card – and now a yellow card given to asylum seekers, a different category in itself.  It is only with these cards that they can legally pursue any work opportunities. 

            “Here, they are not allowed to work without a permit and I’ve only met two (people) who have permits and that’s because they work for a radio station and they needed their languages,” explains Barbara Harrell-Bond, a professor of Forced Migration and Refugee Studies at the American University in Cairo (AUC).  “There are 24,000 registered refugees in Egypt.  What donor is going to be worried about such a small number in such a huge country?  The reality is there are many, many more.”

            Refugee activists site several “rumors” casting doubt over the position of UNHCR.  First, Harrell-Bond notes that the high salaries of United Nations and UNHCR officials is a cause for concern, as displaced individuals like those gathered in Mohendaseen grow desperate for attention.  Dessalegne denounces such accusations, insisting that the salaries of his staff meet international guidelines set by the UN.  Word also circulates the camp that the Sudanese nationals would be granted $25 per day by UNHCR if they agree to gather at the park.    

            “We don’t give money if people stay; we don’t give money if people leave,” says Dessalegne.  “It’s up to them to decide when to leave and what to do next.  These people can stay there as long as they want.”

            The problem activists insist, is a lack of communication between UNHCR and the refugees.  Many of those gathered in Mohendaseen are not clear on their status.  In many cases, they do not know who qualifies for refugee status.  Many of the demonstrators remain optimistic that they will be relocated, be it to America, Australia, Canada or Finland.  Others have sought to convince demonstrators to withdraw their children from church schools in an effort to force UNHCR to make the Ministry of Education provide the children with equivalency exams.  False hopes, says Harrell-Bond.

            Further complicating the matter is the stance of the Sudanese government on the issue.  Demonstrators allege that late one night last week, a car from the Sudanese Embassy in Egypt circled the park, tempting people with alcohol as a way to provoke trouble.  Demonstrators allegedly retaliated, stealing the license plate from the vehicle.  Harrell-Bond possessed a photo of the plate in question, beside it, a recent copy of Al-Ahram Newspaper to verify it was current.         

            “You came here to get resettled, you didn’t come here for protection, so you’re not a refugee?  Resettlement is not a right,” insists Harrell-Bond.  “Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, they have not signed the [1951] Convention, so every refugee UNHCR gives status to has to be gotten out of the country, yet all the places for resettlement are centered in Cairo – why?  There’s no equity to the system – it has to be a political interest.” 

“This is not a refugee problem,” Dessalegne says.  “It is a mix of economic migration, development, poverty, and whatever.  They are not political refugees.  The majority are not even refugees recognized by UNHCR under the legal procedures.  Even if it is a refugee problem, it is not entirely a UNHCR problem, it is a problem of the government of Egypt.”


Also see Toddler Latest to Die in Sudanese Refugee Protest in Cairo

Posted in Daily Star Egypt, Egypt, Politics, Refugees, Sudan | Leave a Comment »