Authorities in Djibouti have deported the vice-president of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), citing “security violations”, in a move condemned by watchdogs.
Mr Alexis Deswaef had arrived in the country two days earlier before officials from the Djibouti Security and Documentation Service picked him up on Monday and deported him to Ethiopia, the country he had last boarded a plane to Djibouti.
“His notes, phone and SIM cards were confiscated by the Djibouti authorities before he was forced to leave the country,” a statement from the FIDH said on Tuesday, indicating the official had a valid visa to stay in the country.
The incident followed the deportation of another FIDH official, this time a programmes officer who had arrived on Sunday. He was refused entry “without reason given,” the Paris-based rights watchdog said. “Police officers grabbed her by the arms and forced her to board a plane bound for Istanbul.”
‘Violating security laws’
A spokesperson of the Djibouti Border and Immigration Police accused the two of violating the country’s security laws, but didn’t clarify. FIDH says it had sent the officials to assess situation of human rights defenders in the country.
“It served also to show solidarity of FIDH in their denouncing of the numerous human rights violations committed by the authorities,” the watchdog said.
“This mission was organised in a particularly tense context. The legislative elections of 24 February 2023, held in general indifference and without the opposition, are evidence of the absence of democratic plurality and the political muzzling of civil society. This situation has persisted since President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh came to power over 24 years ago.”
Djibouti’s ruling coalition, the Union for the Presidential Majority, recently won most of the parliamentary seats in local elections, although opposition parties boycotted the polls.
FIDH says it has worked with the League of Djiboutian Human Rights (LDDH) to document repression of human rights defenders, journalists and members of the opposition, “who are constantly harassed by the government with complete impunity”.
Mr Deswaef had been working with Zakaria Abdillahi, the former President of LDDH, to which FIDH is a member organisation. They said an unmarked car followed them for most of their travels.
“The treatment of my colleagues is unacceptable, but not surprising,” said Alice Mogwe, President of the FIDH, accusing foreign powers from Europe, the US and China of looking the other way because they have military cooperation arrangements with Djibouti.
The Horn of Africa country is poor and lies in an arid region. But its strategic location at the Red Sea, one of the busies shipping lanes in the world, makes it an important player in geopolitics. US, China, Japan and Germany are among those with military bases in Djibouti.