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General News of Monday, 25 January 2016

Source: GNA

AU, UN urged to act on Djibouti violence

The African Union, United Nations and other international bodies have been urged to act against the increasing violence that the government of Djibouti is unleashing on its opponents as the country prepares for a presidential election in April.

The Paris-based Collective for Solidarity with Social and Political Struggle in Africa, worried about the actions of the regime of President Omar Guelleh, who is going for a controversial fourth term, also sent its open letter to the European Union and French President Francois Hollande.

The letter was prompted by the December 21 killing by members of the government’s Special Forces of 19 people who were preparing to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, but whom the regime claimed were opposition members planning trouble.

It has now emerged that one of those killed was a six-year-old girl, which was confirmed by Djiboutian Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, who spoke to the French News Agency.

In writing to the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, and President Hollande, opponents of President Guelleh appear to have decided that the time is right to act against a leader who they have accused of taking brutal action over the years to derail the democratic process in Djibouti.

The Collective for Solidarity with Social and Political Struggle in Africa, which has provided electoral assistance in Africa since 2009, accused the Guelleh regime of electoral fraud throughout his rule.

“After 16 years in power…, after removing presidential term limits in 2010 by use of a rump parliament resulting from an election boycotted by the opposition…, a few weeks before the presidential election, President Ismail Omar Guelleh has just blocked the process of democratisation and the establishment of the rule of law in Djibouti,” the letter said.

The Collective said that at the end of last year, the government excluded members of the opposition to renew a two-month state of emergency. “The state of emergency has put a stop to political life,” the group noted.

It argued that the December 2014 Framework Agreement – signed by the government and opposition parties to end the democratic crisis resulting from the 2013 parliamentary elections – had been effectively killed.

Now President Guelleh “is heading towards another presidential election in which, if it is not boycotted, he will again have to overturn the actual result,” the Collective said

“The real results of the 2013 parliamentary elections showed that his electoral base is small. He is preparing to impose an electoral process that will operate outside international democratic standards, through repression of the opposition and the population and by the hijacking of a state of emergency decreed for personal purposes,” the open letter said.

So far, President Guelleh has relied heavily on the strategic position of Djibouti, close to the Middle East and Somalia, and on the importance of US, French and, now, Chinese foreign military bases in the country.

The Collective claimed that in 2013, “the EU compromised itself diplomatically in Djibouti by signing off on a reversal of the results of the parliamentary elections, so as not to endanger its military actions against rampant piracy off the coast of Somalia, which were vital to the initiation of its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)”.

But the EU position later changed “when faced with the disapproval of the European Parliament”.

“The implications for the international community of President Guelleh’s decision to halt the process of democratisation are that it has once again found itself a powerless witness, driven to endorse the regime.

“International actors, especially those countries with a military base or who are partners in development, are once again challenged by the need to affirm strong support for democratisation in Africa and to act to prevent a shutdown of democracy in Djibouti,” the Collective said.

It made a number of recommendations to the various international bodies on how to rein in the excesses of the Djiboutian government.

To the AU, the Collective urged the Peace and Security Council to “get involved and take responsibility for stopping violence and repression, and demand a resumption of the electoral process in accordance with the Framework Agreement of 30 December 2014”.

Referring to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, the Collective said the AU should “affirm more strongly the need to respect constitutions and the need for democratic change in countries without presidential term limits, as well as the need for democratic change obtained through the good quality of electoral processes”.

The Djiboutian government began 2016 as it ended 2015 with further repressive actions; this time against two journalists, Kadar Abdi Ibrahim, a writer, and Mohamed Ibrahim Waiss, a radio journalist, who were arrested last week, but had not been charged.

"Journalists should not be jailed for reporting or commentating on events as they see them, even if they are deemed to work for politically aligned publications," said Sue Valentine, Africa Progamme Coordinator at the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists.

"Djibouti authorities must either explain why these journalists are detained or immediately release them."

The government’s opponents appear to be rallying themselves to take on President Guelleh and to internationalise the campaign against his regime.

Last weekend members of the opposition Union pour le Salut National (USN) held demonstrations outside the White House and the embassy of Djibouti in Washington, and in Brussels, to protest against the Guelleh regime.

In Washington, Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter said: “President Guelleh’s recent announcement of his intention to seek an unprecedented fourth term followed by a violent crackdown on political opposition is just more evidence of his oppressive tactics that have continued for too long.”

Mr Hunter urged the US government to ask President Guelleh to step down after his third term expires this year and that he should “no longer obstruct Djibouti’s pro-democratic movement”.

Internationalising the anti-Guelleh campaign is in line with the call made by the Head of External Relations for the USN, Abdourahman Boreh, after the December 21 killings: “We at the USN call on international organisations and observers – United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others – to step in and actively facilitate an independent inquiry into what has happened.”