Sol-Gel Technologies Announces 50% Enrollment in Pivotal Phase III TWIN Program for the Treatment of Acne Vulgaris

Patient enrollment of the pivotal Phase III TWIN clinical trials is on schedule

Top–line results expected in the fourth quarter of 2019

NESS ZIONA, Israel, April 15, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Sol–Gel Technologies Ltd. (NASDAQ: SLGL) ("Sol–Gel" or the "Company"), a clinical–stage dermatology company focused on identifying, developing and commercializing branded and generic topical drug products for the treatment of skin diseases, announced today that it has completed enrollment of half of the patients in its pivotal Phase III clinical trials of TWIN in subjects with acne vulgaris. TWIN is a once daily topical cream containing a fixed–dose combination of encapsulated benzoyl peroxide and encapsulated tretinoin using Sol–Gel's proprietary microencapsulation platform.

"We have reached another important milestone for the company as patient enrollment for the TWIN Phase III program has progressed well, reinforcing the need for a new treatment option for acne vulgaris containing a safe and efficacious combination of encapsulated benzoyl peroxide and encapsulated tretinoin," commented Dr. Alon Seri–Levy, Chief Executive Officer of Sol–Gel. "Based on the current rate of enrollment, we plan to report top–line results in the fourth quarter of 2019."

The program consists of two randomized, double–blind, vehicle–controlled Phase III clinical trials. Each pivotal trial is planned to enroll approximately 420 subjects aged 9 and above at a 2:1 ratio, with a power of 99%. The objective of the study is to evaluate the efficacy and safety of TWIN, a topical cream containing encapsulated benzoyl peroxide and encapsulated tretinoin, compared to a vehicle when applied once daily for 12 weeks in patients with moderate–to–severe acne vulgaris.

The pivotal TWIN clinical program is being executed under a Special Protocol Assessment (SPA) agreement with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The SPA reflects FDA's agreement that the protocol design, primary endpoints and statistical analysis approach for Sol–Gel's Phase III program evaluating TWIN for the treatment of patients with acne vulgaris are acceptable to support a future New Drug Application (NDA) filing for marketing approval.

About TWIN

TWIN is a novel non–antibiotic topical cream for the treatment of acne vulgaris that is designed to be tolerable and highly effective. TWIN is the first acne treatment that contains a fixed–dose combination of encapsulated benzoyl peroxide and encapsulated tretinoin, which are separately encapsulated in silica using our proprietary technology. Tretinoin and benzoyl peroxide are widely believed to be effective as a combination treatment for acne. The silica microcapsule protects tretinoin from oxidative decomposition by benzoyl peroxide, thereby enhancing the stability and shelf–life of the product. The silica shell also creates a barrier between the drug substances and the skin and, as a result, is expected to reduce irritation typically associated with topical application of benzoyl peroxide and tretinoin, thereby increasing the tolerability of TWIN on acne–affected skin.

About Acne Vulgaris

Acne vulgaris is a common multifactorial skin disease that according to the American Academy of Dermatology affects approximately 40 to 50 million people in the United States. The disease occurs most frequently during childhood and adolescence (affecting 80% to 85% of all adolescents) but it may also appear in adults. Acne patients suffer from the appearance of lesions on areas of the body with a large concentration of oil glands, such as the face, chest, neck and back. These lesions can be inflamed (papules, pustules, nodules) or non–inflamed (comedones). Acne can have a profound effect on the quality of life of those suffering from the disease. In addition to carrying a substantial risk of permanent facial scarring, the appearance of lesions may cause psychological strain, social withdrawal and lowered self–esteem.

About Sol–Gel Technologies

Sol–Gel is a clinical–stage dermatology company focused on identifying, developing and commercializing branded and generic topical drug products for the treatment of skin diseases. Sol–Gel's current product candidate pipeline consists of late–stage branded product candidates that leverage our proprietary, silica–based microencapsulation technology platform, and several generic product candidates across multiple indications. For additional information, please visit www.sol–gel.com.

Forward–Looking Statements
This press release contains "forward–looking statements" within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. All statements contained in this press release that do not relate to matters of historical fact should be considered forward–looking statements. These forward–looking statements include information about possible or assumed future results of our business, financial condition, results of operations, liquidity, plans and objectives. In some cases, you can identify forward–looking statements by terminology such as "believe," "may," "estimate," "continue," "anticipate," "intend," "should," "plan," "expect," "predict," "potential," or the negative of these terms or other similar expressions. Forward–looking statements are based on information we have when those statements are made or our management's current expectation, and are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual performance or results to differ materially from those expressed in or suggested by the forward–looking statements. Important factors that could cause such differences include, but are not limited to: (i) the adequacy of our financial and other resources, particularly in light of our history of recurring losses and the uncertainty regarding the adequacy of our liquidity to pursue our complete business objectives; (ii) our ability to complete the development of our product candidates; (iii) our ability to find suitable co–development partners; (iv) our ability to obtain and maintain regulatory approvals for our product candidates in our target markets and the possibility of adverse regulatory or legal actions relating to our product candidates even if regulatory approval is obtained; (v) our ability to commercialize our pharmaceutical product candidates; (vi) our ability to obtain and maintain adequate protection of our intellectual property; (vii) our ability to manufacture our product candidates in commercial quantities, at an adequate quality or at an acceptable cost; (viii) our ability to establish adequate sales, marketing and distribution channels; (ix) acceptance of our product candidates by healthcare professionals and patients; (x) the possibility that we may face third–party claims of intellectual property infringement; (xi) the timing and results of clinical trials that we may conduct or that our competitors and others may conduct relating to our or their products; (xii) intense competition in our industry, with competitors having substantially greater financial, technological, research and development, regulatory and clinical, manufacturing, marketing and sales, distribution and personnel resources than we do; (xiii) potential product liability claims; (xiv) potential adverse federal, state and local government regulation in the United States, Europe or Israel; and (xv) loss or retirement of key executives and research scientists. These and other important factors discussed in the Company's Annual Report on Form 20–F filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") on March 21, 2019 and our other reports filed with the SEC could cause actual results to differ materially from those indicated by the forward–looking statements made in this press release. Any such forward–looking statements represent management's estimates as of the date of this press release. Except as required by law, we undertake no obligation to update publicly any forward–looking statements after the date of this press release to conform these statements to changes in our expectations.

For further information, please contact:
Sol–Gel Contact:
Gilad Mamlok
Chief Financial Officer
+972–8–9313433

Investor Contact:
Patricia L. Bank
Westwicke Partners
+1–415–513–1284
patti.bank@westwicke.com

Twelve Seas Investment Company Signs Agreement to Combine with a UAE Company

NEW YORK, NY, April 15, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Twelve Seas Investment Company (“Twelve Seas”) (previously NASDAQ:TWLV and currently NASDAQ:BROG), a company formed for the purpose of entering into a business combination, and a United Arab Emirates (UAE) company in the oil storage and services business, announced they have executed today a business combination agreement (“BC Agreement”).

Pursuant to the BC Agreement, Twelve Seas will engage in a merger involving a newly formed Cayman Islands holding company and the combined company (referred to herein together as Twelve Seas) will acquire 100% of the issued and outstanding shares of the UAE company in a transaction valued at approximately $1 billion (the “Transaction”). In the Transaction, the UAE company will become a wholly–owned subsidiary of Twelve Seas, and the post–transaction business of the combined company will be that of the UAE company. Twelve Seas expects the Transaction to close at the end of the second quarter 2019 or early third quarter of 2019, subject to certain closing conditions. One significant closing condition requires that Twelve Seas will have net cash proceeds at closing (after payment of expenses and redemptions from Twelve Seas’ trust account), including any proceeds of any new equity financings (“Closing Proceeds”), in excess of $125 million. In addition, the Transaction closing is subject to the approval of the shareholders of Twelve Seas and the shareholders of the UAE company, as well as certain other third parties.

Pursuant to the BC Agreement, the shareholders of the UAE company will sell 100% of its equity interests to Twelve Seas in exchange for total consideration of 100.0 million Twelve Seas ordinary shares, provided that at the election of the UAE company, up to 40% of the Closing Proceeds may be paid as cash consideration instead of Twelve Seas shares. All cash remaining in Twelve Seas at the closing of the Transaction is expected to be used for the UAE company’s growth. If no Twelve Seas shareholders elect to redeem their shares, and there is no election by the UAE company for cash consideration in lieu of shares, then current shareholders of the UAE company will hold approximately 78% of the issued and outstanding shares, and current shareholders of Twelve Seas will hold approximately 22% of the issued and outstanding shares. A total of 20.0 million of the 100.0 million ordinary shares being issued to the UAE company shareholders will be placed into escrow and subject to release upon the UAE company satisfying certain milestones.

The UAE company, Brooge Petroleum and Gas Investment Company (“BPGIC”), was founded in 2013 to capitalize on an anticipated need for oil storage capacity at the Port of Fujairah, in the UAE, which was anticipated to become an important oil hub. Today, the Port of Fujairah is one of the most attractive storage hubs and a key strategic trading node globally. Twelve Seas’ management believes that BPGlC’s award winning state–of–the–art terminals offer the industry’s most advanced technologies, ensuring the highest level of service to clients. BPGIC is developing terminals in phases and aims to have a total capacity of 1 million m^3 following the scheduled completion of the second phase of construction by late Q2 or early Q3 in 2020.

Following the closing of the Transaction, BPGIC will continue to be led by its current management team with Mr. Nicolaas Paardenkooper as Chief Executive Officer, Miss. Lina Saheb, as Chief Strategy Officer, and Faisal El Selim as Chief Marketing Officer. BPGIC will remain headquartered in Fujairah, UAE.

Mr. Bryant Edwards, COO and Director of Twelve Seas, said, “This transaction represents an exciting opportunity for foreign public investors, and specifically those that invest in Nasdaq company stocks, to invest directly into the dynamic and growing oil and gas infrastructure sector within the UAE. Today’s announcement comes less than two months after the investment by the global investment firms of KKR and Blackrock, who purchased cash flow streams derived from national pipelines in the UAE. Through BPGIC’s NASDAQ listing, investors can have a direct ownership interest in an exciting company with exposure to the same growing oil and gas infrastructure in the UAE.”

Mr. Nicolaas Paardenkooper, CEO of BPGIC commented, “We are excited to enter into this agreement with Twelve Seas as it provides us with the ability to enter the US capital markets and provide this unique opportunity to investors globally. The US capital markets are the largest in the world and include sophisticated investors with large investments in similar public companies within our industry. We look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate our industry leading operations in the emerging global hub for oil at the Port of Fujairah in the UAE. This transaction enables BPGIC to continue its exciting growth and accelerate future opportunities.”

Key Transaction Terms and Details

Pursuant to the BC Agreement, Twelve Seas will merge with a newly formed Cayman Islands merger subsidiary of Brooge Holdings Limited, a newly formed Cayman Islands holding company (“Pubco”), pursuant to which the Twelve Seas securityholders will receive substantially identical securities of Pubco in the merger and Twelve Seas will become a wholly–owned subsidiary of Pubco, and simultaneously Pubco will acquire 100% of the issued and outstanding shares of BPGIC. It is expected that 100% of the transaction consideration will be newly issued ordinary shares of Pubco, except to the extent BPGIC exercises its right to elect for BPGIC shareholders to receive up to 40% of the Closing Proceeds in cash, in lieu of shares. All remaining Closing Proceeds are expected to be used for BPGIC’s internal growth. Upon closing of the transaction, BPGIC shareholders will receive approximately 100.0 million in shares as consideration (unless BPGIC makes the cash consideration election), with 20.0 million thereof placed into escrow and subject to achievement of certain milestones to be mutually agreed to.

Advisors

EarlyBirdCapital, Inc. is acting as exclusive financial and capital markets advisor to Twelve Seas Investment Company and Ellenoff Grossman & Schole LLP is acting as its legal advisors.

K&L Gates is acting as legal advisors to BPGIC.

Maples & Calder is acting as Cayman Islands legal counsel for the transaction.

About Twelve Seas Investment Company

Twelve Seas Investment Company is a blank check company formed for the purpose of entering into a merger, share exchange, asset acquisition, stock purchase, recapitalization, reorganization or other similar business combination with one or more businesses or entities.

Twelve Seas Investment Company is led by Chairman Neil Richardson, Chief Executive Officer Dimitri Elkin, Chief Operating Officer Bryant B. Edwards, President Stephen A. Vogel, and Chief Financial Officer Stephen N. Cannon.

About Brooge Petroleum and Gas Investment Company

Established in 2013, BPGIC is an independent oil storage provider, strategically located in the Emirate of Fujairah within the UAE. The Port of Fujairah is one of the most attractive storage hubs and a key strategic trading node globally. BPGlC's terminals are award winning state–of–the–art facilities and offer the industry’s most advanced technologies, ensuring the highest level of service to clients.

BPGIC’s current terminal is located at a prime location in close proximity to the Port of Fujairah’s berth connection points. BPGIC is developing terminals in phases and aims to have a total capacity of 1 million m^3 following the completion of the second phase of construction. Phase I commenced operations in January 2018 with 0.4 million m^3 of capacity. The terminals are capable of storing fuel oil and clean products. Phase II is currently under construction and expected to be operational in late Q2 or early Q3 in 2020. Upon completion of Phase II, there will be total capacity of 0.6 million m^3, and capability to store crude oil, fuel oil and clean products. The design of Phase II will enable efficient loading and unloading of VLCC vessels (very large crude carriers).

The Company also focuses on value added services to its customers including: Blending, Heating, Inter–bank transfer and throughput transfer. BPGIC is fully compliant with current environmental standards. Since commencement of operations, BPGIC has had an impeccable safety and environmental track record. BPGIC is ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001 certified and is IMO 2020 compliant.

Forward–Looking Statements

This press release contains, and certain oral statements made by representatives of Twelve Seas, BPGIC, Pubco and their respective affiliates, from time to time may contain, “forward–looking statements” within the meaning of the “safe harbor” provisions of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Twelve Seas's, BPGIC's and Pubco’s actual results may differ from their expectations, estimates and projections and consequently, you should not rely on these forward–looking statements as predictions of future events. Words such as “expect,” “estimate,” “project,” “budget,” “forecast,” “anticipate,” “intend,” “plan,” “may,” “will,” “could,” “should,” “believes,” “predicts,” “potential,” “might” and “continues,” and similar expressions are intended to identify such forward–looking statements. These forward–looking statements include, without limitation, Twelve Seas's, BPGIC's and Pubco’s expectations with respect to future performance and anticipated financial impacts of the Transaction, the satisfaction of the closing conditions to the Transaction and the timing of the completion of the Transaction. These forward–looking statements involve significant risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from expected results. Most of these factors are outside the control of Twelve Seas, BPGIC or Pubco and are difficult to predict. Factors that may cause such differences include, but are not limited to: (1) the occurrence of any event, change or other circumstances that could give rise to the termination of BC Agreement; (2) the inability to complete the BC Agreement, including due to failure to obtain approval of the shareholders of Twelve Seas or other conditions to closing in the Transaction agreement; (3) delays in obtaining or the inability to obtain any necessary regulatory approvals required to complete the transactions contemplated by the BC Agreement; (4) the inability to obtain or maintain the listing of the post–acquisition company's ordinary shares on NASDAQ following the Transaction; (5) the risk that the Transaction disrupts current plans and operations as a result of the announcement and consummation of the Transaction; (6) the ability to recognize the anticipated benefits of the Transaction, which may be affected by, among other things, competition, the ability of the combined company to grow and manage growth profitably and retain its key employees; (7) costs related to the Transaction; (8) changes in applicable laws or regulations; (9) the possibility that BPGIC, Pubco or the combined company may be adversely affected by other economic, business, and/or competitive factors; and (10) other risks and uncertainties to be identified in Twelve Seas's and Pubco’s proxy statement (when available) relating to the Transaction, including those under “Risk Factors” therein, and in other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) made by Twelve Seas, BPGIC and Pubco. Twelve Seas, BPGIC and Pubco caution that the foregoing list of factors is not exclusive. Twelve Seas, BPGIC and Pubco caution readers not to place undue reliance upon any forward–looking statements, which speak only as of the date made. None of Twelve Seas, BPGIC or Pubco undertakes or accepts any obligation or undertaking to release publicly any updates or revisions to any forward–looking statements to reflect any change in its expectations or any change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based, subject to applicable law.

No Offer or Solicitation

This press release is for informational purposes only and shall not constitute an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any securities pursuant to the proposed transactions or otherwise, nor shall there be any sale of securities in any jurisdiction in which the offer, solicitation or sale would be unlawful prior to the registration or qualification under the securities laws of any such jurisdiction. No offer of securities shall be made except by means of a prospectus meeting the requirements of Section 10 of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended.

No Assurances

There can be no assurance that the proposed Transaction will be completed, nor can there be any assurance, if the Transaction is completed, that the potential benefits of combining the companies will be realized. The description of the Transaction contained herein is only a summary and is qualified in its entirety by reference to the definitive agreements relating to the Transaction, copies of which will be filed by Twelve Seas with the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) as an exhibit to a Current Report on Form 8–K.

Additional Information and Where to Find It

In connection with the transaction described herein, Twelve Seas will file relevant materials with the SEC, including a proxy statement on Schedule 14A. Promptly after filing its definitive proxy statement with the SEC, Twelve Seas will mail the definitive proxy statement and a proxy card to each shareholder entitled to vote at the special meeting relating to the Transaction. INVESTORS AND SECURITY HOLDERS OF TWELVE SEAS ARE URGED TO READ THESE MATERIALS (INCLUDING ANY AMENDMENTS OR SUPPLEMENTS THERETO) AND ANY OTHER RELEVANT DOCUMENTS IN CONNECTION WITH THE TRANSACTION THAT TWELVE SEAS WILL FILE WITH THE SEC WHEN THEY BECOME AVAILABLE BECAUSE THEY WILL CONTAIN IMPORTANT INFORMATION ABOUT TWELVE SEAS, BPGIC AND THE TRANSACTION. The preliminary proxy statement, the definitive proxy statement and other relevant materials in connection with the transaction (when they become available), and any other documents filed by Twelve Seas with the SEC, may be obtained free of charge at the SEC’s website (www.sec.gov) or by writing to Twelve Seas Investment Company at 135 E 57th St. 18th Floor, New York, New York 10022.

Participants in Solicitation

Twelve Seas, BPGIC, Pubco and their respective directors, executive officers and employees and other persons may be deemed to be participants in the solicitation of proxies from the holders of Twelve Seas ordinary shares in respect of the proposed Transaction. Information about Twelve Seas’s directors and executive officers and their ownership of Twelve Seas’s ordinary shares is set forth in Twelve Seas Investment Company’s Annual Report on Form 10–K for the year ended December 31, 2018 filed with the SEC, as modified or supplemented by any Form 3 or Form 4 filed with the SEC since the date of such filing. Other information regarding the interests of the participants in the proxy solicitation will be included in the proxy statement pertaining to the proposed Transaction when it becomes available. These documents can be obtained free of charge from the sources indicated above.

For investor and media inquiries, please contact:

Investor Relations
The Equity Group Inc.
Fred Buonocore – (212) 836–9607 / fbuonocore@equityny.com
Kevin Towle – (212) 836–9620 / ktowle@equityny.com

Stephen N Cannon
Chief Financial Officer
Twelve Seas Investment Company
Email: info@twelveseascapital.com

SOURCE Twelve Seas Investment Company

Birds of Passage: An Instant Classic

By Jan Lundius
STOCKHOLM / ROME, Apr 15 2019 – The Academy Awards, i.e. The Oscars, may occasionly award a worthy movie as Best Picture, though it is far from sure they select films with a unique artistic vision, enduring cultural influence and/or innovative qualities. Take for example the plain family drama Kramer vs. Kramer, which in 1979 won Best Picture and Best Director, while Francis Ford Coppola´s by now classical epic Apocalypse Now was awarded for best sound.

The 2019 Academy Awards rewarded the feelgood, racial drama Green Book as Best Picture, while Spike Lee´s sophisticated onslaught on American racism, BlacKkKlansman had to settle for Best Adapted Screenplay. The Mexican Roma won several prizes, including Best Director, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Cinematography, while the Colombian Birds of Passage, suddenly and inexplicably was removed from the list of nominees for Academy Awards.

Birds of Passage may be placed beside avant-garde movies by Sergio Leone, Akira Kusosawa and the lesser known Glauber Rocha. Filmmakers who transformed the classical genres of American cinema, i.e. Westerns and Gangster movies, by refashioning and reinvigoarating them into a new artform. By providing Birds of Passage with the subtitle Once Upon a Time in Colombia, Guerra and Gallego indicated their gratitude to Sergio Leone. Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America were the titles of films by Sergio Leone, whose work came to be a crucial inspiration for auteurs like Coppola, Scorsese and Tarantino.

Leone has been called cinema´s Great Romantic Poet. In spite of intially being brushed off as a manufacturer of low budget action movies, Leone is now appreciated for his extraordinary talent of combining photo, action and music into a strong, intense unity. Being the son of a cinema pioneer and a silent film actress, Leone grew up as an admirer of Italian grand opera, an aspect perceivable in his movies, where the drama is heightened by aestethics expressed through extreme close-ups, long sweeping shots integrating the landscape with the story, and not the least his use of Ennio Morricone´s music. These qualities originated partly from Leone´s admiration of Akira Kurosawa, just like this Japanese master Leone interspersed his narratives with short, intense and often quite unexpected sequences of sudden violence and frenzy. Lately, film critics have also discovered that below the surface of Leone´s operatic Westerns and Gangster movies lurks a vision of the growth of an American society immersed in greed and corruption. A depiction of moral decline that even if it is more fantastical than realistic, nevertheless is true.

When asked why he called some of his movies Once upon a time … Leone explained that they were ”fairytales for adults”, portrayals of bygone eras seen through a lense that enchanted a harsh reality. His movies are like operas and some may even be viewed as legends with a moral message. Leone´s aesthetics may provide a hint to the imagery and narrative structure of Guerra’s and Gallego´s Birds of Passage. A film in which we are confronted with similar desolate landscapes, panoramic views, sudden oubursts of intense violence, paired with long sequences characterized by reflection and waiting. In the Colombian movie we also find intricate symbolism, expressed through the presence of birds and insects and sometimes specific coulours, like red and black. It is set within a temporary, yet mystical, landscape encapsulated by the lore and customs of the Wayúu people. As Leone´s movies where the narrative is accompanied by Morricone´s mood creating music, the Colombian movie´s score is an integrated part of the tale, with insect – and bird sounds that blend with vibrating, unfamiliar instruments it occasionally creates an almost hallucinatory effect.

Birds of Passage depicts the so called Bonanza Marimbera, when people in the Guajira region of northern Colombia during the 1960´s and 1970´s became involved in big scale drug smuggling to the US, the offset of Colombia´s notorious celebrity as a source for global drug traficking. A fame that eventually gave rise to documentaries, movies and TVseries, offering thrilling tales about mass murderers like Pablo Escobar. However, Birds of Passage is far from being what several reviewers assumed – just another movie about the rise and fall of druglords. It is a multifaceted work of art reminding us that Colombia was the birthplace of the great magical realist Gabriel García Márquez. The author´s maternal family was Wayúu, the indigenous people at the centre of Guerra’s and Gallego´s tale and just like Birds of Passage García Márquez´s masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude includes numerous influences from the mystical lore of the Wayúus.

Contrary to the Mexican Oscar winner Roma, where the maid at the centre of the tale was no more than an idealized, but strangely anonymous, indigenous woman, Birds of Passage is told from the perspective of the Wayúu, among whom spririts walk the earth and dreams carry important messages. The Wayúu are not depicted as exploited innocents, they are flawed indiviuals just like the rest of us, victims of greed and passions.

The story begins in the late 1960s. In an arid, windy area Zaida undergoes a ritual, involving a dance to attract presumptive suitors. Rapayet is bent on marrying Zaida, but her mother, the matriarch Ursula, is not happy about him, even if the orphaned Rapayet is nephew of the Word Messenger, a respected elder with important ritual tasks. Ursula demands an extravagant dowry of 50 goats, 20 cows and four precious, ceremonial necklaces. Together with his friend Moises, an alijuna, outsider, without any respect for Wayúu traditions, Rapayet makes contact with a group of American Peace Corps volunteers, who are more interested in making profitable marijuana deals than in development work. Rapayet’s cousin Aníbal, a clan leader who grows marijuana up in the sierra, becomes part of the business and Rapayet can afford to purchase his dowry and marry Zaida.

The Wayúu world where sunglasses, pickup trucks, goats, horses and Cessna planes, comingles with colourful silk dresses and traditions and beliefs of an ageold tribal society, soon becomes affected by the violence and greed of a burgoning drug trade. As fortunes grow, Rapayet becomes entangled in a web of violence, social decline and an impossible duty to uphold of Wayúu rules and morals.

Rapayat´s isolation and anguish are mirrored by his surreal, all-white, minmalist mansion in the middle of a flat desertland, where he together with his Zaida sleeps in a hammock, next to a king-size bed. Birds of Passage is a timeless tale of domestic troubles and unfulfilled duties within a declining society. It could just as well be a Shakepearean – or a classical Greek drama. Like such masterpieces it is also poetry, with its striking images and bold compositions like in movies by Tarkovsky and Kubrick. It also has the rich, sensous texture of recent Chinese movies, for example do the flow and rich colour of the womens´ dresses remind of the refined imagery of Zhang Yimou‘s House of the Flying Daggers. The ballad framing, the dreams and rituals within a violent, empty landscape invoke the work of the eccentric Brazilian director Glauber Rochas, whose Black God, White Devil premiered in 1964, the same year as Leone´s first Western, A Fistful of Dollars. Like Birds of Passage Rochas´s movie is an epic and moving work of art, staged within a rural, poor area where mysticism, religion and popular culture are blended into a powerful, bleak and cruel story, accomplished with such vision and skill that another great auteur, Michelangelo Antonioni, exclaimed that “each scene was a lesson in how modern cinema should be made.”

1. With Birds of Passage Guerra and Gallego join ranks with Leone, Kurosawa and Rochas as great innovators, creators of aesthetically pleasing, excellently composed visions of worlds far removed from mundane cliches and plagiarisms of mainstream Hollywood productions. Furthermore, they represent an invigorating voice from the South. That this powerful film may be called an instant classic is that it deserves to be revisited and analysed several times. Its beauty and multifarious craftmanship make it a sequel to other impressive masterpieces.

Jan Lundius holds a PhD. on History of Religion from Lund University and has served as a development expert, researcher and advisor at SIDA, UNESCO, FAO and other international organisations.

From Empowerment During War, Eritrean Women Must Fight Gender Discrimination in a New Peace

By Helen Kidan
LONDON, Apr 15 2019 – As the first anniversary of the swearing on Ethiopia’s Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed rolled around last week, Ethiopians – and observers worldwide – marvelled at the pace and scale of radical reform he has brought to the formerly repressed country in the past year.

Abiy has released hundreds of political prisoners, overturned or revised repressive laws and allowed countless political exiles to return, among a number of changes.

But perhaps, one of the most significant moves for the region, has been his ending of the decades-long armed conflict with neighbouring Eritrea with the initiation of a historic peace deal.

The two countries have begun restoring diplomatic relations as part of that peace process. Abiy’s acclaimed reforms have served to brighten the spotlight of criticism on Eritrea for its notoriously brutal repression of citizens’ fundamental freedoms and dissent, which has prompted hundreds of thousands to flee their homeland.

And Eritrea’s long-running crackdown continues to have a particular cost for Eritrean women. While Abiy Ahmed has won wide praise for his appointment of a record number of women cabinet ministers along with Africa’s only female head of state, women in Eritrea struggle to reconcile the gender disparity they face since their own struggle for independence.

There was a time in the country’s history when the role of women occupied a higher status than it does now. Eritrean women played a crucial role during their country’s 30-year war of independence from Ethiopia. They comprised a third of Eritrea’s fighting force and were active across all levels of the military.

But their recruitment to the army’s ranks alongside men had far less to do gender equality than for the need for able-bodied soldiers. Whilst many women found greater gender equality on the war fronts, the cultural gender inequalities persisted.

In these circumstances, they became masculinised. They played the roles of freedom fighters as well as mothers, wives and daughters, and this is what distinguished them from their male comrades.

After independence, when combatants returned to their families, these war hardened fighters were ostracised, looked at as unfeminine and not marriage material.

Many marriages that women fighters had entered into during the war were rejected by their families and many were forced to separate from their husbands. The collapse of their marriages and their stigmatisation had a detrimental effect on them, leading to depression and even suicide.

Whatever rights female combatants gained on the frontline before independence, were slowly eroded after. They received no support for post-war rehabilitation and reintegration back to civilian life where they had to care for their families. With the objective achieved, the government expected them to go home and fit back in.

Many had spent their entire youth on the front in the 30-year war and found it very difficult to adapt to civilian life and earn a living without employable skills.

The two-year border military conflict with Ethiopia that erupted in 1998 led to increased repression inside Eritrea. The war and growing state restrictions impacted all Eritreans but women had it especially hard.

This war and the independence struggle bore a heavy human cost. By official accounts, at least 19,000 Eritrean soldiers were killed in the border conflict. As a result, some 53% of households are headed by women, who in many cases, raised children without fathers.

The many men that were disappeared by the state for expressing dissent also contributed to this hardship. The state’s clampdown on dissent and fundamental freedoms, hurt families and communities and more women were targeted.

Young Eritrean women also suffered and continue to suffer in the military camps – Eritrea has maintained a policy of compulsory conscription – and in detention centres, where they face all forms of gender-based violence.

Since the government has barred any independent NGOs from operating inside Eritrea, it is extremely difficult for women to get the support they need. Existing laws do not help women and as government officials are often responsible for these abuses, most cases go unreported.

Eritrea’s notorious repressive state policies have caused people to flee their homeland en mass as asylum seekers. According to the United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Eritreans comprise the ninth largest refugee group in the world, with almost half a million displaced across numerous countries.

When Eritrean girls and women become refugees in neighbouring countries, many are abused by traffickers, raped and tortured and go on to suffer further human rights abuses.

But at home, they face a blatant gender bias that has increasingly taken root since the independence struggle. The current peace process with Ethiopia is a clear example: there was not a single woman in the high-level delegation that Eritrea sent to Ethiopia for landmark peace talks in June last year.

This illustrates the extent to which women have disappeared from the social, economic and political scene of Eritrean society. There cannot be effective peace if half the population is not allowed to participate in the process at a political and governmental level – not as mere tokens but as effectual politicians, negotiators and mediators.

Eritrean women need to be part of any peace process if it is to be sustainable and ensuring that women have the skills to negotiate for their interests is key in this respect. This will not only have an impact for Eritrean women or Eritrea but also for the region.

The other aspect that holds women back is the fact that they are educationally disadvantaged and economically marginalised and cannot compete for leadership positions. Moreover, they lack the confidence and skills needed to compete meaningfully in the workplace.

This situation is perpetuated when these women leave Eritrea. And we see a much lower participation of women in civil society organisations now compared with the period during the independence war, when participation of women at the grassroots level was far greater.

The last 27 years have really left women side-lined, with no voice and representation and inactive at the grassroots. But many are prepared to change that.

The Network of Eritrean Women (NEW) is an independent organisation established in the Eritrean diaspora with the aim of empowering women and fighting all forms of discrimination. NEW works with different Eritrean women’s groups across Europe and has members in Africa, the United States and the Middle East.

Women’s empowerment is crucial to ensure their voices are heard and needs met. In the face of repression, it is imperative that a space is opened for the feminist perspective in Eritrea and for women to be engaged in the dynamics of their society.

Civil Society Under Attack in Name of Counterterrorism

More than 200 civil society leaders and human rights activists from some 100 countries took to the streets of Belgrade, Serbia in solidarity with those whose basic freedoms are at risk. They participated in the International Civil Society Week (ICSW), sponsored by CIVICUS, which took place in Belgrade, April 8-12. Courtesy: CIVICUS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 15 2019 – Counterterrorism measures are not only affecting extremist groups, but are also impacting a crucial sector for peace and security in the world: civil society.

Civil society has long played a crucial role in society, providing life-saving assistance and upholding human rights for all.

However, counterterrorism measures, which are meant to protect civilians, are directly, and often intentionally, undermining such critical work.

“Civil society is under increased assault in the name of countering terrorism,” Human Rights Watch’s senior counterterrorism researcher Letta Tayler told IPS, pointing to a number of United Nations Security Council resolutions as among the culprits.

“Nearly two decades after the September 11 attacks, we are seeing a very clear pattern of overly broad counterterrorism resolutions. We are seeing a clear pattern of violations on the ground that are being carried out in the name of complying with binding Security Council counterterrorism resolutions,” she added.

Just two weeks after September 11, 2001, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1373 which called states to adopt and implement measures to prevent and combat terrorism.

Since then, more than 140 countries have adopted counterterrorism laws.

The newly approved Resolution 2462, passed at the end of March, requires member states to criminalise financial assistance to terrorist individuals or groups “for any purpose” even if the aid is indirect and provided “in the absence of a link to a specific terrorist act.”

While the resolution does include some language on human rights protections, Tayler noted that it is not sufficient.

“It is not sufficiently spelled out to make very clear to member states what they can and cannot do that might violate human rights on the ground,” she said.

Blurred Lines

Among the major issues concerning these resolutions is that there is no universal, legal definition of terrorism, allowing states to craft their own, usually broad, definitions. This has put civil society organisations and human rights defenders (HRDs) alike at risk of detention and left vulnerable populations without essential life-saving assistance.

“I think it is irresponsible of the Security Council to pass binding resolutions that leave up to States to craft their own definitions of terrorism…that’s how you end up with counterterrorism laws that criminalise peaceful protest or criticising the state,” Tayler said.

Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Lead Paul Scott echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “The Security Council, by being overly broad, is just giving [governments] the tools to restrict civil society.”

According to Front Line Defenders, an Irish-based human rights organisation, 58 percent of its cases in 2018 saw HRDs charged under national security legislation.

Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin found that 67 percent of her mandate’s communications regarding civil society were related to the use of counter-terrorism, and noted that country’s counterterrorism laws are being used as a “shortcut to targeting democratic protest and dissent.”

In April 2018, thousands of people took to the streets in Nicaragua to protest controversial reforms to the country’s social security system.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, over 300 people have been killed, more than 2,000 injured, and 2,000 arrested—some of whom were reportedly subject to torture and sexual violence when detained.

Many of those arrested will also be tried as terrorists due to a new law that expanded the definition of terrorism to include a range of crimes such as damage to public and private property.

At least 300 people, including human rights defenders, face charges of terrorism.

The Central American country said that the law was passed to comply with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental body that works alongside the Security Council to combat terrorist financing.

A Civil Society Facing Uncivility

Tayler also pointed to the lack of consequences for States that pass counterterrorism laws that do not abide by their obligations under international law.

In Resolution 2462, member states are told to comply with international humanitarian law when cracking down on terrorist financing but does not require countries to consider the effect of such measures on humanitarian activities such as providing food and medical care.

“In the zeal to be as tough looking as they can possibly can, governments have overlooked very very easy ways to protect those of us who are providing life-saving aid,” Paul told IPS.

The lack of protections for civil society and its impacts was most visible during the 2011 famine in Somalia.

In an effort to restrict “material support” to terrorist groups, countries such as the United States enacted counterterrorism legislation which blocked aid into areas controlled by Al-Shabab.

This not only impeded local and international organisations from doing their job, but one report noted that the constraints contributed to the deaths of over 250,000 people in the East African nation.

The problem has only gotten worse since then, Paul noted.

“The measures imposed by governments are unnecessarily broad and they prevent us from working in areas that are controlled by designated terrorist entities. What they have essentially done is criminalise humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Tunisia has used its terrorism financing laws to shut down a number of civil society organisations.

According to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, approximately 200 organisations were dissolved and almost 950 others were delivered notices, referring them to courts on charges of “financial irregularities” or “receiving foreign funds to support terrorism” despite the lack of substantive evidence.

Many of the dissolved organisations provided aid and relief for orphans and the disabled.

All Eyes on Deck

Tayler highlighted the importance of the UN and civil society to monitor how counterterrorism resolutions such as Resolution 2462 are used on the ground.

“While we would love to see amendments to this resolution, pragmatically the next best step is for all eyes—the eyes of civil society, the UN, regional organisations—to focus on just how states implement this resolution to make sure that overly broad language is not used by states to become a tool of repression,” she said.

“The UN and leaders of countries around the world should use International Civil Society Week as an opportunity to take stock of the risk that this trend has posed on both to life-saving aid organisations and human rights defenders and to reverse this dangerous trend,” Tayler added.

Paul pointed to the need to educate both the public and policymakers on counterterrorism and its spillover effects as well as the importance of civil society in the global system.

“Civil society is a key part of effective governance. We don’t get effective public services, we don’t get peace, we don’t get to move forward with the anti-poverty agenda if civil society actors aren’t strong and empowered,” he said.

“If governments aren’t careful about protecting our right to stand up for marginalised and vulnerable populations, everyone will hurt. Not just those populations. It will have an effect broadly on our societies,” Paul added.

When Youth Take on The Fight to Defend Rights

Youth activist Abraham M. Keita is the founder of the Liberia-based Giving Hope to Children Foundation and is among a growing movement of youth activists who are fighting for the defence of civil liberties and demanding that government act on important issues. Credit: A D McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
BELGRADE, Apr 15 2019 – Abraham M. Keita says he was nine years old when a girl of thirteen was sexually assaulted and strangled in his home community in Liberia.

The anger, outrage and sadness he felt would lead him to start advocating for children’s rights – participating in marches, organising protests and going up against the powerful, in a country where sexual abuse of children is among the worst in the world, according to United Nations figures.

Keita will turn 20 years old later this month, and he says he has already spent half of his life as an activist for change.

“I’ve been marching since I was 10,” he told IPS with a quiet smile.

A tall, slim young man, with a thoughtful air, Keita was among the strong representation of youth activists at the annual International Civil Society Week (ICSW) meeting, held this year in Belgrade Apr. 8-12.

Co-hosted by the Johannesburg-based global civil society alliance CIVICUS and Serbian association Civic Initiatives, the event brought together more than 850 delegates from around the world. Keita and other activists, such as 17-year-old Gabriel dos Santos of Brazil, were invited by the organisers to join the discussion on how to build movements for change.

Keita, the 2015 winner of the International Children’s Peace Prize (an annual award from the Amsterdam-based Kids Right Foundation to a child who “fights courageously for children’s rights” – winners include Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai), is also the founder of the Liberia-based Giving Hope to Children Foundation.

He is among a growing movement of youth activists who are fighting for the defence of civil liberties and demanding that government act on important issues such as protecting children from violence, ensuring sustainable development, and reducing global warming, according to ICSW organisers.

“The youth engagement in ICSW in general is always extremely important to achieve the creation of partnerships among diverse groups and to continue raising awareness of the contributions young people offer to civil society spaces,” said Elisa Novoa, CIVICUS’ youth engagement coordinator.

During the event, youth activists sent out a message calling for civil society to “open up the space” to diverse groups.

“Civil society should understand the importance of sharing power and enabling inclusion in a meaningful and uplifting manner,” their statement said. “We as young people of diversity acknowledge and recognise the importance of having voices of vulnerability at the forefront of change. We need to redefine how we provide solutions and build togetherness.”

Activists also requested trust from donors, encouraging sponsors to be bold in funding organisations that are truly youth led.

For many such groups, a central theme is protecting the vulnerable, a position that Keita has taken. He told IPS that he grew up among vulnerable children, living in poverty in a slum in the Liberian capital Monrovia with his mother and siblings – his father was killed before he was five years old, during Liberia’s brutal and long-lasting civil war.

Different sides in the conflict used children as child soldiers and sexually abused many of them, as reports by the UN and other organisations have shown. That legacy continues, with a high number of girls and women being assaulted, while most of the rapists go unpunished.

According to Liberian government figures, from January to September 2018, nearly 900 sexual and gender-based cases of violence were reported, including 500 rape cases of which 475 involved children.

The statistics provide “alarming evidence that we are still not dealing with this problem in an effective manner”, said Liberia’s President George Weah last October, as quoted in local media.

Keita points out that since many incidents of sexual violence go unreported, the number of children affected is much higher than in official data. Furthermore, cases of sexual violence are not prosecuted quickly enough.

“Hundreds of cases are still in the courts, and the perpetrators are roaming freely,” he said.
The problem is rooted in all levels of society and includes civil society as well as government representatives, with individuals responsible for protecting children being charged with sexual abuses.

In 2017, a Liberian lawmaker allegedly raped a 13-year-old girl, making her pregnant. Keita organised protests against the powerful individual and was himself arrested and charged with “criminal coercion”, he said.

These charges were eventually dropped. The lawmaker meanwhile appeared in court, spent two days in jail, and since 2017, activists have not been able to locate the girl or her family, Keita told IPS. He and other advocates are still pushing for prosecution of the case, even if that may lead to their own detention, he added.

Arrests and smears are among the official tactics used to suppress youth advocates, similar to those used against human rights defenders in general, said ICSW delegates. Members of the public, too, sometimes think that youth activists are misguided and can tend to dismiss their work.

But as youth around the world join forces, their campaigns for rights and environmental action are becoming a growing force.

In Belgrade, youth volunteers assisted with the organisation of ICSW, including being monitors for the closing event – a symbolic “run for freedom” around the meeting’s venue, through a few of the city’s streets, as part of new initiative Freedom Runner.

Dušanka, a 20-year-old Serbian university student studying international affairs and political science, told IPS she had volunteered because she intended to work in civil society, was interested in diversity and wished to make a difference.

“I want to help all people,” she said. “People are different but we’re all equal. That’s a message to the world.”

Along with their idealism, youth activists are aware of the risks they run. Keita told IPS that he sometimes felt a “little afraid”, and that his mother and family members worry too.

“But whatever happens to me, I want to act so things will change, [and] not continue being the same,” he said.

Brunei’s Shariah Code & the New Stone Age

By Sivananthi Thanenthiran
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Apr 15 2019 – Over a week ago – on April 3 – Brunei, the tiny South East Asian kingdom on the island of Borneo, announced its citizens would face the full force of the Shariah law.

The kingdom has decided to implement the death penalty by stoning as a punishment for homosexuality and extramarital relations, despite global outcry from the LGBT community and human rights advocates against this specific barbaric punishment.

Brunei’s adoption of the Sharia law has been in stages. The first phase began on May 1, 2014. Initial phases dealt with misdemeanours such as indecent behaviour, and then moved to meting out punishments of flogging and amputation of limbs for crimes such as theft and robbery.

However, there has been a deathly silence around the other crimes enumerated within the Sharia laws. This may have been largely due to the fact that the monarchy lacks a vibrant civil society tracking – for obvious reasons, analysing and generating data on government laws and policies, and holding the government accountable.

Sivananthi Thanenthiran

The Sharia penal code was instituted to bolster the Islamic identity of this autocracy of around 430,000 subjects, of which two-thirds are Muslim. The introduction of Sharia at the national level sends chills across the Southeast Asian region.

Already in the autonomous province of Aceh, Indonesia, Sharia laws are fully implemented limiting the dress and mobility of women, and ensuring flogging for a variety of offences is carried out. In May 2017, two gay men were sentenced to be flogged 85 times each for homosexuality, after being filmed by vigilantes.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao also hopes to follow suit in instituting some form of Sharia. Some states in Malaysia have already enacted the Sharia code, and in Kelantan, caning was introduced in 2017.

Brunei’s Sharia laws – akin to several Middle Eastern countries, notably Saudi Arabia – cover a variety of crimes, many of which in modern day parlance fall within the personal realm.

These include consensual sex outside of marriage (both premarital and extramarital sex, termed as adultery), consensual sex between people of the same sex (including women, who show signs of sexual conduct though without penetration), attempting to commit adultery (example given as lying on the bed together), close proximity with a person of the opposite sex, causing a miscarriage, pregnancy out of wedlock, as well as variety of non-crimes such as consuming alcohol and eating during the fasting month.

The state obsession with sex, and legislating sex, has been perennial. In the development of modern thought, most of these activities (deemed criminal by the kingdom of Brunei), are considered as private behaviours of citizens.

The Sharia laws infringe on citizens’ rights to privacy – that sexuality and sexual behaviour is a private matter. One’s sexual activities and sexual orientation should be determined by the individual and not the State.

The Sharia laws then serve not only to enforce compulsory heterosexuality, but only marital sexuality – signalling the state’s refusal to recognise citizens’ rights to privacy and self-determination on matters of sexuality.

The burden on women and girls is also exacerbated by such laws. For example, a Muslim woman who is pregnant or who gives birth to a child out of wedlock is guilty of an offence, and can be fined not more than BND $8,000 (1BND = 0.74USD approx) and/or imprisoned for a maximum of two years.

In most of the countries of the world, pregnancy out of wedlock is not a crime in anyway, and harsh punishments on a new mother do not speak of justice tempered with mercy. And should a woman find herself with an unwanted pregnancy, regardless of marital status, she cannot procure an abortion easily.

Both first trimester and second trimester abortion (characterised in the Sharia laws as miscarriage of pregnancy and ‘miscarriage of a foetus’), voluntary and involuntary, are considered as crimes.

A woman who ‘attempts to miscarry’ a pregnancy can be fined up to BND$12,000 and/or be imprisoned for a maximum of three years. A woman who attempts to ‘miscarry a foetus’, can be fined up to $20,000-40,000 and/or imprisoned for a maximum of five to 10 years, depending on whether the foetus temporarily survives.

These are extremely harsh measures which do not take into consideration women’s lived realities and choices they have to navigate, especially in light of equally harsh punishments for carrying pregnancies to term, if those pregnancies are out of wedlock.

A number of these Sharia laws are applicable to both Muslims and non-Muslims, and in this violates freedom of religion and belief by imposing the laws, beliefs and punishments, of one particular religion on non-practitioners of that religion, to the extent that they can lose their lives for these beliefs.

Theocratic states insidiously apply the machineries of the state to force the state’s religious beliefs on all citizens irrespective of religious affiliation. Freedom of religion must also necessarily include freedom from religion.

The inhuman and archaic punishments enumerated in these Sharia laws – amputation, caning and whipping, stoning in no way demonstrate the golden ideal of justice tempered with mercy. The quality of mercy in meting out punishment is crucial to any society as it means “forbearance to inflict harm, under circumstances of provocation, when one has the power to inflict it.”

Harsh laws hurt people. These Sharia laws then do not testify to puritanical moral rigour: rather they demonstrate the moral failure of the state.