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Growing International Consensus On Realities In Eritrea

The October  2015 UN Security Council (UNSC) decision to extend the mandate of the Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group, hence retain existing sanctions on Eritrea’s dictatorship until December 2016 was a major victory for all who struggle for democracy and human rights in the country. Passed just six months after the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) released its damning report on the human rights situation in Eritrea, the resolution could not have come at a better time for Eritrea’s opposition movement. The decision of the world body had undoubtedly energized opposition activists as they geared up for a massive anti-regime political rally which they staged with great success in New York City a week later.

It is important to note that, between them, the two UN investigations provided a comprehensive and authoritative account of the nature of Eritrea’s dictatorship, the brutality of its domestic governance and the thuggery of its dealings with the outside world. For both investigations, reliability of findings was assured by the length of time allotted (a year for UNSC monitoring activities and three years for UNHRC inquiries), level of resources committed (sizeable funding, personnel, administrative support, international cooperation), variety and quality of sources consulted (eye witnesses, experts, organizations and governments across the globe). This is as robust and authentic as investigations could get; and it is hard to read these UN reports and not be able to see the truth in their accounts.

Despotism and its Victims in Eritrea: Facts vs. Fiction

For many a citizen, it is not pleasant to appear to be supporting imposition of international sanctions on the government of one’s own country. But one must be mindful that it was not Eritrea’s oppressed and destitute population who aided Al-Shabaab in Somalia or got into conflict with Djibouti. Not to expect a despotic regime to seek the consent of its citizenry for anything; but the regime has not, to this day, publicly admitted its interventions in neighboring countries. So, it is in fact a patriotic act for one to insist that the dictatorship be held to account for their military adventures which have ruined the country’s international relations and stinted its economic growth. As for concerns – be it genuine or otherwise – that sanctions may harm the population, the truth of the matter is self-evident: The UN sanctions resolution imposes an arms embargo on the regime and prescribes assets freeze and travel ban on some of its political and military leaders. For the vast majority of the Eritrean people, life was already miserable without sanctions; it certainly has not been made “any more” miserable by the targeted sanctions!

One would hope against hope that the foregoing may persuade some pro-regime zealots to refrain from branding as traitor anyone who chose to place their loyalties with the oppressed and not with the oppressor. All the same, the usual name calling, threats and intimidation by the regime and its supporters cannot detract from the significance of the positions that the world community has recently adopted in regards to the Eritrean government and its policies.

International rights groups and mainstream media had long established that political repression, horrific human rights violations and militarization of society have been pushing thousands of citizens to flee Eritrea each year, a phenomenon that has contributed to the stream of migrants reaching Europe. As the refugee situation in the continent approached a crisis level, destination countries scrambled to stem the inflow across their respective borders. The most dramatic effort in this regard was championed by Denmark which set out in late 2014 to bar new Eritrean refugees and deport those already in its territory. To provide justification for their anti-emigrant stance, the Danish government appointed a team of immigration officials who cobbled together a report following a 17-day mission to Eritrea.

The team essentially recycled false claims, assertions and promises made by regime officials in Asmara and concluded that most Eritrean migrants are economic, not political, refugees and are therefore not entitled to protected status in Denmark. But the report was soon proven to be nothing more than a ploy. In defiance of their leader, the other two members of the team soon challenged the mission’s methodology of information gathering, accuracy of its findings, and assertions of its conclusions. These same aspects of the so-called investigation were severely criticized by the national media, domestic and international rights groups and relevant UN agencies. The report, which also faced a parliamentary probe, was thus totally discredited forcing its eventual retraction by the government.

The strategy of denying (or glossing over) the dire human rights situation in Eritrea in order to justify limiting intake of asylum seekers from that country was pursued also by governments in Norway and Finland albeit in less controversial ways than in Denmark. It was however in the U.K. that the strategy attained its most radical form of altering policy so as to permit deporting existing refugees and denying access to new arrivals. But the report the British Home Office issued to provide a basis for its policy change was, to all intents and purposes, a duplication of the discredited Danish immigration report. Public reaction to the British report was therefore not any different than met its Danish prototype.

This drama of sporadic, self-serving attempts at whitewashing the brutalities of a tyrannical regime occurred at a time when a UN-sponsored, three-year investigation into the human rights situation in Eritrea was in progress. That investigation culminated in a comprehensive report which negated the attribution of the exodus from the country to economic factors; hence it confirmed that the copycat reports which advanced the claim were indeed a charade. The UN report was approved by the UNHRC (Geneva) and by the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly (New York City) in June and October 2015, respectively. As such, its findings and recommendations are informing political thinking that is evolving in the international community regarding Eritrea’s governance system and its policies.

Implications of the UN Security Council Resolution

In the months leading up to the latest UNSC meeting on Somalia/Eritrea, pundits and pro-regime activists had posed scenarios that were more reflective of their wishes, biases and self-interests than of reality. Premising that 14 members of the SC were sympathetic to Eritrea, the favorite scenario envisioned the U.S. joining them for a unanimous decision in favor of lifting the sanctions. This, so went the narrative, would open the way for the U.S. to normalize relations with Eritrea which, in turn, would encourage the EU to engage the country’s authorities and provide them with substantial development assistance.

The scenario did present a valid construct of the political linkages and cause-and-effect relationships that could be activated by the outcome of the then impending SC meeting on Eritrea. But its rosy prognostications were so much at odds with the known facts of the matter that one could not avoid dismissing the scenario as nothing more than unbridled optimism or even wishful thinking. And for the most part, it was proven to be so when the SC finally convened. For one thing, the U.S. did not opt for lifting the sanctions as predicted; worse, nearly all the other members who were presumed to be in the regime’s corner ended up voting in favor of retaining the sanctions for another year. Political/diplomatic rapprochement between the U.S. and Eritrea was not made any more likely than it had been in recent years.

But there is no denying that the pundits did also score some points. They did witness the fulfillment of one of their predictions thanks to EU’s Orwellian logic that Eritrea’s brutal and belligerent dictatorship is worthy of Europe’s “largess”. The organization recently announced its decision to reward Eritrea’s dictatorship with a 200-million-euro aid package to be disbursed over the next five years.

A Truly Historic Mistake

To fully grasp the significance of the EU decision, one needs to view the event in the context

of: (i) the growing international stance regarding Eritrea’s political system and (ii) the history of EU’s own interaction with the tyrants who preside over that system. Both the UNHRC and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly have condemned the horrific human rights violations by Eritrea’s dictatorship as documented by UN-appointed Special Rapporteur and Commission of Inquiry. Thus, by granting a major aid package to the same government, the EU is propping up an authoritarian regime which is under multiple indictments by the international community. As such, its policy decision is an affront to both of these world bodies if not an outright defiance of their resolutions on Eritrea.

European Union’s relations with the dictatorial regime in Eritrea goes back twenty years and was marked by alternating periods of cooperation and confrontation. Given this history, the EU could not have failed to establish the hard facts about the regime: Justice, democracy, rule of law and human rights are concepts that have remained alien to the authoritarian instincts of its leaders. As EU leaders themselves had witnessed time and again over this long period, pledges of dialogue/ cooperation and promises of change/reform made by the regime have proven to be not genuine commitments, but mere instruments of deception and manipulation.

Strangely, this experience did not prevent EU officials from providing the regime with hundreds of millions of euros in development assistance and emergency funding over much of this period. Many observers found it inexplicable that this could happen with the regime continuing to ignore the EU’s own calls for democratic reform and respect for human rights, and while the Eritrean people continued to endure ever growing repression. The Union continued to oblige the regime with funding although its leaders showed extreme inflexibility and refused to release (or bring to trial) even a single political prisoner in the last 14 years despite widespread and repeated appeals by the world community.

Therefore, when the EU revealed in early 2015 that they were considering a major aid package for Eritrea, there was a general expectation that any renewed cooperation arrangements with the regime will heed the lessons of this experience. An array of public interest and advocacy groups – rights groups, civil society organizations, press freedom groups, political movements – had urged and lobbied the EU to make its future assistance to Eritrea’s dictatorship conditional on the latter’s guarantee for introducing democratic reforms and respecting human rights.

Those organizations with insight into the nature and history of the regime had pointed to the shocking track record of broken promises of its leaders and warned the EU of their deceitful and treacherous ways. They advised that any pledge of reform and cooperation by regime authorities not be taken seriously until they take concrete steps that convincingly demonstrate their readiness to change course. Such a step and one which should serve as a litmus test for the regime’s sincerity, they argued, is for the regime to immediately grant the UN commission of inquiry access to visit the country as has been requested by the international community.

It was in defiance of these overwhelming public opinion and popular political sentiment that the EU leadership decided to reward the murderous regime with millions of taxpayer euros without even exerting credible pressure to nudge the recipients towards a slightly civilized governance of their enslaved population. Indeed, the tyrants in Eritrea must be laughing themselves silly at the hypocrisy of Europe’s common practice of making deafening noises about democracy and human rights only to capitulate to the wishes of brutal dictatorships when their selfish interests demand it.

The European Union was at a historical juncture where it had to make a hard choice between upholding lofty principles and subordinating them to temporary gains of its member countries. It could take the high road and stand up to tyranny in defense of liberty and justice. Or it could instead decide to protect short-term interests by accommodating despotism. Sadly enough, the EU opted for the latter and, in so doing, allowed itself to be debased to the role of an accomplice in the brutalization and enslavement of an entire population.

About Yohannes Zerai

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Discourse on Eritrea-Tigray Through Personal Praxis

[Editor’s note: Reflections is Beyan Negash’s new column. He selected, edited and presents the following …

  • PTS

    Hello all,
    Dr Assefaw claims 72% of the Eritrean population was born after independence. Let’s assume this is true. The good thing then is the vast majority of the population is under 25 years of age and so there is no population-aging concern that is a big problem in many countries. The bad thing is firstly the population suffers from lack of higher education, since as a nation we didn’t produce a single university that is recognized outside Eritrea. This sounds surreal. Eritreans in Eritrea used to get recognized degrees during HS and Derg. Today, no Eritrean in Eritrea can graduate with a recognized degree. Secondly, most grew and are growing consuming PFDJ worldview and power-greed that subjects citizens to corruption, lawlessness, life-long servitude and spying on one another. Our revered culture/religion/custom/values are badly tainted by pfdj’s dirty hands. Since life under pfdj rule is the only life the 72 percenters have known (save for those abroad), the risk that pfdj-introduced bad habits are here to stay is great.
    The complications of growing under a highly militarized society has its own set of problems in many many ways, perhaps similar to that of the North Korean society.

    • Kokhob Selam

      Dear PTS,
      Announcing and clearly accepting the problems is half journey I think and I agree with you , now what is the solution do you think?

  • AMAN

    I know that every Eritrean citizen’s human right is abused by the ” government ” not only you
    We are all in the same basket in that. But that is not my question. My question was which
    subgroup or affiliation with in the Eritrean opposition sphere are you ? since you yourself
    brought up “them & us” issue we wanted to know your affiliation, subgroup or standing.
    The reason is because there are so many infiltrators from the enemy camp, many who
    think they are opposition but actually are against opposition ( knowingly & unknowingly).
    And all this had and still might have ( if not checked at the right time) detrimental effect
    on our collective struggle by those who always dream to sabotage and hijack the steering
    wheels of our movement . So then you are an activist follower of our movement ! Thank you
    for the response.
    Because the statement you made the problem with
    ” The supporters of the DIA /PFDJ……” is the one that raised
    a red flag on you.
    1. There is no supporter of DIA/PFDJ
    2. Those who had been categorized as such by the erratic so called ” opposition ” of then
    was unfair and mistaken. It is they themselves they corrected their stand not the ones they
    labeled by that name.
    3.The most important one to know also is
    ” The proplem with ………”
    We ( the Eritrean people ) have equal if not more problem in our opposition struggle
    due to or from the SUPPORTERS OF TPLF/WOYANE that makes the problem of
    ” THE SUPPORTERS OF DIA/PFDJ (again if it were a true categorization ?) look
    so insignificant comparing the two.
    Thank you again ,

  • ‘Gheteb

    Eritrea’s Growing Diplomatic Engagements


    Eritrea’s constructive engagements with international and regional bodies is incrementally growing and gaining momentum. Yes, one may not see the results of these diplomatic activities immediately and fast enough. However, if one takes the seemingly insuperable hurdles that Eritrea had to surmount, well, Eritrea’s diplomatic activities and achievements are growing slowly, but surely.

    Some may wish to see the day when Eritrea is totally isolated and its government to be nothing more than a pariah state. If recent developments are any indications and if they are followed through to their logical conclusions, then Eritrea will not only ‘escape’ diplomatic isolations, but it will literally ‘break’ it.

    Here is what The United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Kyung-wha Kang :

    “Programs that provide supplementary feeding, immunization and nutrition surveillance are vital to reducing malnutrition and building resilience,” she said. “Eritrea has made significant progress in improving child and maternal health, and I urge partners to continue supporting national and international efforts,” she added.
    Here is the link to the UN’s Assistant Secretary General Recent Visit To Eritrea:

    • Fnote Selam

      Hi Gheteb,

      I believe the less Eritrea is isolated from the international body, the less painful any transition after IA will be (probably even can facilitate our efforts to get rid off him).

      Having said that, I think the main the reason for the isolation of Eritrea is the gov and i would say that is by design, i.e., it is part of their plan to have absolute control on every thing that happens in the country. The lousy and erratic way the gov of Eritrea handles international relations and diplomacy is well documented….

      Sure, there are people out there who wish to cripple and have the country pariah image, but lets face it, the gov of eritrea is doing most of the hard work for them…


      • ‘Gheteb

        Selam Fnote Selam,

        Thank you very much for your thoughtful and interesting response. I have to admit that even when I don’t see eye to eye with you on certain issues, I can’t help but admire and respect your takes on issues relating or pertaining to Eritrea. I wish you could write or comment more and please do so as often as you can.

        Again, I concur with you that the plan that aims in isolating Eritrea diplomatically is detrimental to Eritrea and Eritreans. As you pointed out in your response, it makes eminent sense not to support and work day in and day out to see Eritrea turned into an outcast or pariah state, if you believe that the current Eritrean government should be replaced. Sometimes I wonder if those who oppose the Eritrean government and claim that they are struggling to bring about change in Eritrea understand what a ‘boomerang effect’ is all about.

        You think that “…..the main the reason for the isolation of Eritrea is the gov and i would say that is by design” and you ascribe it to “have absolute control on every thing that happens in the country”. Well, if that was the case, one can raise the following counterpoint(s):

        (A) What is the need ,then, for Eritrea to have resident ambassadors in Eritrea? I mean there are legions of ambassadors from around the world representing their countries in Eritrea.

        (B) Eritrea has its ambassadors all over the world

        (C) The UN and other regional bodies have some sort of representation in Eritrea

        I think the above mentioned counterpoints don’t comport with or jive with your assertion.
        I am with you that the Eritrean government diplomatic acumen leaves much to be desired for as it sometimes comes across as being “erratic”. Having said that, let us also not ignore or overlook Eritrea’s history, its geostrategic locations and the views and policies of the leader(s) of the unipolar world.

        • Fnote Selam

          Hi Gheteb,

          A) First, really the number of resident ambassadors is small. Also, the general impression is that they dont spent as much time in Eritrea (except may the the south african ambassador). And there is almost always long time gap between when existing ambassadors leave and the new ones come in. More concerning, however, is that even those who reside in Eri for long time, they are not allowed to do their job. Like and foreigner they are not allowed to leave asmara without permission which they have to request 10days ahead. Even inside asmara they are not allowed to interact freely with different gov agencies, the community, businesses etc….most of them are there just nominally, and that is probably why many countries dont feel the urgency to have full time, active ambassadors in eri. Now, why is the gov making it very hard for the ambassadors to do their job? Granted, it is not inconceivable that some embassy staff would be involved in activities that endanger the security of the country. In my opinion, the main reason is ia and co dont want to give up any control on any interaction the people inside the country and gov agencies and foreigners to a level that they came up with the draconian limitations on embassy staff regardless of the hard it cause the diplomatic relation of the Eritrea (the people and the gov) with other countries. In short, yes there a few ambassadors in eri (who reside inside eri, intermittently) and they are there nominally, and that is because the gov wants to control every thing.

          C) ditto (A).

          B) we really dont have ambassadors all over the country (to certain extent it is understandable, it is expensive to main an embassy and we are poor…). Importantly though, our ambassadors are there to again assert as much control as possible in diaspora eris….we rarely see our ambassadors trying to woo businesses into investing in eri, interact with the local communities to raise awareness about eri, or even do the basic function of an ambassador (i.e., engage with the officials of the countries they are assigned to). again the reason for that is control control control…

          And to your last sentence, I agree historically and geopoloitcally eri is kind of in precarious situation, but that should give us more reason to be diplomatically more active, robust and nimble….

          BTW, thanks for your kind comments. I also admire your passion about our country. It is just sometimes bad decisions by gov has consequences to the country and we (you, me, others..) kind of struggle to defend the interest of our country while making the gov pay for their mistakes and it is kind of hard to do that…and a source of much disagreement….

          Anyway, best wishes!


  • dawit

    Selam Mr, Zerai,
    I am sorry you are disappointed with EU decision to extend help to Eritrean government and people despite the coordinated campaign by UN agencies and enemies of Eritrea. Contrary to your assertion of isolation of Eritrea, PFDJ is moving forward establishing solid diplomatic and economic relationship in the region and beyond, Sudan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Republic, China, Japan, Finland etc. You also tried to whitewash UNSC crime against Eritrea by claiming that the Sanction was based on Eritrean support for Al Shabab and border conflict with Djibouti but non of those were proven. They are allegations and UNSC punished Eritrea instead of implementing the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Eritrean occupied land, As the PIA indicated in his New Year message to Eritrean people, ‘The Camel is moving forward as the dogs barking’. Keep on barking hiding behind Shiela’s skirt.

  • L.T

    UN,US and EU know that we Eritreans are a people who work hard and self busy people and havea proud history behind us.They know what they do and know with whom they will work,and do you think they will listen to you only that you shout on the street?

  • sara

    Dear Mr zerai- “For the vast majority of the Eritrean people, life was already miserable without sanctions; it certainly has not been made “any more” miserable by the targeted sanctions”
    —they are hungry people let us starve them… what is the moral of this logic?

  • Hope

    Good reading but you spoiled it by being biased and one sided!

    U miserably failed to mention the fact that the West in general and the EU in particular ,along with your UN and its Master,the USA, are part of the Root Causes of the problems we are in!

    At least Ni kal’alem,you could have touched it partially that the same entities you listed as “pioneers” and “advocates “of “Human Rights” are,in fact,the main root causes of the problems in Eritrea in particular and in the world in general,not to mention the specific horrors in the Horn by your same ” Angels” of Justice ” and ” Human Rights”!