UNSC Should Extend, Stiffen Sanctions Against Eritrean Regime

Isaias: The Matchstick Of The Horn

On Friday, July 15, 2011, the Eritrea Somalia Monitoring Group (“Monitoring Group”) is expected to formally provide its long-awaited report to the Sanctions Committee that was authorized by UN Security Council Resolution 1907 which was passed in 2009. Passed by 13-1-1 vote, Resolution 1907 calls on imposing an arms embargo, travel restrictions and asset freezes on the political and military chiefs of Eritrea’s ruling regime because of the regime’s support for armed groups in Somalia AND for its refusal to withdraw its troops from neighboring Djibouti and to recognize and attempt to resolve its conflict with its neighboring state. The Monitoring Group has found that the Eritrean regime’s destabilization activities are much more wide-spread than suspected and it is recommending that not only should the sanctions be enforced, but they should be stiffened by additional economic restrictions: sanctioning revenues from mining companies in Eritrea as well as the 2% income tax remittances from the Eritrean diaspora, which is acknowledged to be the backbone of Eritrea’s ruling regime.

The recommendation of the Monitoring Group parallels the one outlined in the communiqué of IGAD, the Intergovernmental Agency for Development, a regional body of the nations of the Horn of Africa.  IGAD’s Heads of State and Government issued the 18th Extraordinary Summit communique July 4th, 2011.  (Isaias Afwerki, of course, did not attend.)

The 400-page plus report of the Monitoring Group is expected to be made public within two weeks.   How Isaias Afwerki got himself and, by extension, Eritrea into this mess is what will be explored here.

Isaias Trapped In A Lie: Somalia

The Isaias Afwerki regime has made the following representations at one point or another:

  • The Eritrean regime is not training, financing or arming armed groups in Somalia;
  • The Eritrean regime does not support Al-Shabab;
  • In any event, Al-Shabab is not a terrorist group: it is another stakeholder in Somalia which has a right to participate in Somali politics;

The main arguments the Eritrean regime uses to refute allegations that it supports terrorism or terrorist organizations are: (a) it is a secular party whose principles are incompatible with religion-based ideology like the one followed by extremist Islamists; and (b) it was the first victim of terrorism, which was waged at it by Al-Qaeda when it was based in neighboring Sudan in the 1990s. On at least one occasion, its supporters, like the Organization of Eritrean Americans, strongly inferred that the ruling regime is predominantly Christian and therefore could not possibly support Muslim fundamentalists.

But this misses two crucial facts.  Firstly, the Eritrean regime had no hesitation in hosting Sheik Hassan Dahar Aweys who is on the terrorist list of not just of the United States but of the United Nations. If it can host and accommodate Aweys, it does not take a big leap to believe it will work with Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, the military commander of Al-Shabab, who is also on the list of wanted terrorists.  Itself labeled a “terrorist” throughout most of its existence, Eritrea’s ruling party is so cyncial about the use of the word that it may be completely blind and unable to separate armed revolutionary groups from those, like Al Shabab, who have openly and repeatedly pledged their allegiance to Al Qaeda.   The Eritrean regime, as wikileaks show, was working with the rebels of the Tamil Tigers as recently as 2008. Secondly, as the accurate psychological profile developed by Ambassador McMullen shows, Isaias Afwerki is a very temperamental man, quick to take offense, nursing grudges forever and convinced in his own invincibility to the extent that he believes he can outsmart anybody.

It is within this context that the Monitoring Group has been compiling evidence to document the allegation that, notwithstanding all its claims, and whatever its motives, the Eritrean regime IS supporting extremists and avowed terrorists in Somalia. Three months ago, the Monitoring Group presented a verbal report to the Security Council and the Sanctions Committee is expected to get a report which demonstrates that:

  • The Eritrean regime was using Massawa and Somaliland to transport trained Somalis and arms to wreak havoc in Somalia;
  • The Eritrean regime trained and financed Al-Shabab terrorists who carried our the terror bombing in Kampala, Uganda in July 2010;
  • The Eritrean regime is heavily involved not just in arms trafficking but human trafficking in Sinai;
  • The Eritrean regime, during the years 2008, 2009 and 2010, was funneling 50,000 USD to Somalia’s Shebab and the source is most likely Libya’s Qaddaffi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarek;

The strength of the evidence (volume, corroboration from multiple sources) is reported to be overwhelming. What is telling (and typical) is the response of the Eritrean regime: the Monitoring Group presented it with an opportunity to tell its side of its story and, as usual, Isaias Afwerki peppered them with his own list of questions.  Then, the Eritrean regime used its diversionary tactics of questioning the credentials of the members of the Monitoring Group, accusing one member of being a CIA agent. Now, after it had a long opportunity to correct and/or explain its actions, it is asking for the right of rebuttal and facing its accusers.

The regime’s demand to face its accusers and debate the issue show either a stunning level of ignorance on the workings on the UNSC—their meetings are no more that 15 minutes; most of the consultants and deliberations are long finished before the Security Council meets—or a cynical act to present itself as a victim. The regime long ago forfeited its right to face its accusers when it refused to meet with the Monitoring Group or answer, credibly, its questions.  In any event, the only argument it has left is to offer a mismash of incoherent claims: that America is punishing Eritrea because it chooses to be independent, and that the entire UN Security Council, and the whole continent of Africa is doing the bidding of the United States.   The latter claim is quite ironic: when the entire continent of Africa was rejecting American courting to be enlisted in the “Coalition of the Willing,” it was the Eritrean regime and about half a dozen others that offered to be, in the words of the dictator, “servants” of the United States.  And when it comes to being a “servant” of the United States, none courted it more aggressively than Isaias Afwerki.

Isaias Afwerki Trapped In Another Lie: IGAD

The Eritrean regime has often said that it has no problems with the Horn of Africa regional body, Inter Governmental Agency for Development (IGAD); that its problem is only with Ethiopia. Sometimes, it says it doesn’t even have a problem with the Ethiopian government—its issue is with the United States who, according to the Eritrean regime, was responsible for instigating the Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict of 1998-2000. Notwithstanding the inconsistent stands of the Eritrean regime, the Ethiopians have been consistent about Isaias Afwerki: he is a menace who should go. And they have presented to IGAD and to the Monitoring Group evidence that the Eritrean regime is still arming and training ONLF, in direct contradiction to Resolution 1907.

The Eritrean regime claims that it has no problem with Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti.   But this is another bold-faced lie—as was evidenced by the IGAD Communiqué which was unanimously—no abstention, no “no votes” —passed by all member states of IGAD.

It is not just Ethiopia which finds the Eritrean regime a nuisance. Djibouti has a problem with the Eritrean regime. Uganda has a problem with the Eritrean regime.  Kenya has a problem with the Eritrean regime. Somalia has a problem with the Eritrean regime. South Sudan has a problem with the Eritrean regime. And even North Sudan, which is supposed to have a good relationship with the Eritrean regime, voted, once again, to sanction the regime.


Djibouti has a problem with the Eritrean regime: it signed a mediation agreement that Isaias Afwerki no longer recognizes.  (refer to our notes below.) Djibouti also says that it has apprehended terrorists, which were trained by Eritrea. Djibouti also says—and presented evidence to the Monitoring Group for its claims—that the Eritrean regime is re-organizing and training some elements of FRUD, an armed group with whom the Djibouti government had signed a peace deal in 2001.


Uganda has a problem with the Eritrean regime: its peace-keeping force in Somalia is being shot at by Al-Shabab. On July 11, 2010, two terrorist attacks in Kampala for which Al-Shabab took credit—attacks at Ethiopian Village and Kyadondo Rugby Club, during the World Cup contest—resulted in 74 dead and 70 injured innocent people.   Uganda believes that Eritrean regime aids and abets Al-Shabab and is therefore indirectly responsible for the massacre.


Kenya has a problem with the Eritrean regime: thanks to some corrupt Kenyan MPs, the Eritrean embassy in Nairobi has essentially become Al-Shabab wire-transfer and intelligence headquarters. The Kenyan government has deported regime functionaries involved in arms and human trafficking and some have returned under assumed names. There is a great deal of pressure on Kenya by regional governments to close the Eritrean embassy in Nairobi and the government, so far embarrassed by a political culture that has allowed the Eritrean ruling regime to roam freely in Kenya, may do just that.


Somalia has a problem with the Eritrean regime. For good or bad, all of Africa and the rest of the world has recognized the Somali TFG as the legitimate authority in Somalia and have vested massive resources to have it stand on its feet. The Eritrean regime never misses an opportunity to denounce the TFG as illegitimate and a lackey of Ethiopia. It considers it an affront to its efforts that Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, whom it hosted when he was with the Islamic Court—the same Islamic Court that was chased out of Mogadishu  by Ethiopia in 2006—is now allied with Ethiopia. And knee-capping the TFG and ensuring that it forever remains weak and under assault have been the Al-Shabab with direct funding and financing from the Eritrean regime.


The Eritrean regime transferred weapons to the Darfuri rebels (West Sudan) and the Eastern Front (Eastern Sudan).  In 2006, facing insurrection from three fronts, Sudan’s besieged Omar Al Bashir made his peace with Isaias Afwerki—mostly on terms dictated by Isaias Afwerki. A peace treaty was brokered with the Eastern Front (by Isaias Afwerki) and with one of the splinter groups in Darfur, the Liberty and Justice Movement (by Qatar’s emir.) But Sudan twice voted to sanction the Eritrean regime (in 2009 and 2011)—something that enraged Isaias Afwerki. In December 2010, Kuwait’s Fund for Arab Economic Development hosted a donor and investor conference for East Sudan.  Mustapha Osman Ismail, a close confidant of Omar Al Bashir and co-organizer of the event, did not invite Isaias Afwerki to the conference.

Those who underestimate the pettiness and grudge-holding of Isaias Afwerki need to re-acquaint themselves with new information courtesy of wikileaks:

Isaias asked to be named the patron of the World Bank-funded Cultural Rehabilitation Project (CARP). When individuals involved with CARP published the book “Asmara: Africa’s Secret Modernist City,” it failed to include a note of thanks to CARP’s patron. Isaias was miffed and shut down CARP.

South SudanSouth Sudan has a problem with the Eritrean regime. The government of the new republic is facing dual challenges: from North Sudan (on land, oil) and from Southern armed groups (on power, resource distribution.)  And the Eritrean regime is using the same model it used in Darfur and Easter Sudan: arming and training rebels for use as leverage to get its parastatal Red Sea Trading Corporation and its crony businessmen a share of the lucrative national development contracts.

The new Republic of South Sudan is still a frontier state, ripe for Isaias’ gangster capitalism. The Eritrean regime has established business connections, with protection from corrupt SPLA officers.

This explains why African government who are, by tradition, loathe to discipline one of their own (consider the deference they have shown to Qaddaffi and Mugabe) openly, and unanimously, calling for punishing the Isaias Afwerki regime.  The man has quite literally isolated himself from everybody he comes in contact with.


Beyond the immediate neighbor of the Horn of Africa, and one sure to raise the ire of the West, is information the Monitoring Group has gathered on the Eritrean regime’s involvement in human trafficking in Sinai; arms transfer to Hammas via Sinai as well as frequent and unexplained visits by Iranian intelligence to Asmara.

Isaias Afwerki Trapped In A Lie: Djibouti

For all the headlines about Somalia and Isaias’ considerable act of destruction there, the Eritrean dictator probably would have been able to delay sanctions by continuously challenging the international body for “evidences [sic]” of his involvement and by arguing that every country in the world attempts to protect its national interest by involving itself in the business of neighboring countries. He would also have been able to play to the international community’s cynicism when it comes to US claims of “slam dunk” and “smoking gun” evidence—as ambassador McMullen’s wikileaked memos show.

Isaias’ undoing is Djibouti and, more precisely, his persistent and pointless lies about Djibouti. In June 2008, Eritrea and Djibouti had a brief military skirmish along their common border in the Ras Doumeira area. For a year and half, the United Nations asked him to recognize that there is a problem and to agree to resolve it peacefully and, for a year and half, he continued to claim there was no problem with Djibouti and any claims to the contrary are fabrications.   This (Isaias’ defiance of UN resolution 1862) is part of what led to UN Resolution 1907 in December 2009.

In June 2010, Isaias Afwerki signed a Qatar-brokered mediation agreement with Djibouti.  The terms of the mediation agreement called for exchange of prisoners of war and demarcation of the border.   This news was welcomed by the United Nations and the Isaias Afwerki administration was praised for recognizing its problem with Djibouti and seeking ways to remedy them—precisely what UN Resolution 1862 had called for. Precisely what UN Resolution 1862 had called for.

Since Isaias Afwerki had claimed for two years (June 1998-June 2010) that there was no conflict with Djibouti and those who claim there is are just fabricating the news, he now had to make a choice: he could say, “yes there is a problem and we are resolving it” and share the terms of the mediation agreement with his people or “no there is no problem and everybody is fabricating the news.” Astoundingly, even AFTER he had signed the mediation agreement, he continued to claim publicly that there is no problem with Djibouti.

As recently as last month, Isaias Afwerki had this to say to Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper:

Q: What are the results of the Qatari mediation between Djibouti and Eritrea?

A: There is no Qatari mediation. The emir of Qatar had offered to mediate, but it wasn’t necessary because the situation between Djibouti and Eritrea returned to normal. We hope we have put that problem behind us.

Isaias could have said, “I don’t want to comment on it; it is in the hands of Qatar.” He could have said, “it is going well.” But he is trapped in a lie—that there is no problem, therefore no mediation—he had to say what he did. But whether the issue of the relationship between Djibouti and Eritrea is normal or abnormal is not decided solely by him; Djibouti has a say in it and Djibouti is saying the relationship is not normal.  Moreover, from the perspective of the UN Security Council, the issue is in the hands of Qatar—it was introduced to the UN by Qatar’s representative to the UN and Isaias cannot unilaterally claim that the mediation “wasn’t necessary.”

Next Step: Security Council

What the Monitoring Group recommends is likely to be endorsed by the Sanctions Committee.  The next step is a vote by the Security Council, probably within the next few weeks.  The question is, what will the Security Council do?

As is well-known, the 15-member Security Council is made up of the 5 permanent members (US, Russia, China, UK and France), and 10 member states with rotating memberships. For 2011, the 10 member states are: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Colombia, Gabon, Germany, India, Lebanon, Nigeria, Portugal and South Africa.  The Eritrean regime does not have any clout or diplomatic relationship with any of these nations and, once again, its sole salvation will be mercy votes from Russia and China.

In reviewing the behavior of the Eritrean dictator, the Security Council may be genuinely conflicted on how such a bumbling, incompetent, regime like that of Isaias Afwerki, who is interested in nothing but power and self-preservation, could simultaneously be involved in activities that endanger his power and his mortality.  Beyond that, there are the national interests of the members of the Security Council which are not always in synchronicity even on matters where the whole world is supposed to be of one heart—bringing about lasting peace—and for that, the votes on Resolution 1907 are instructive.

On December 23, 2009, the United Nations Security Council, by a 13-1-1 vote, passed a resolution (1907) to impose arms embargo, travel restrictions and asset freezes on the political and military chiefs of Eritrea’s ruling regime because of the regime’s support for armed groups in Somalia AND for its refusal to withdraw its troops from Djibouti and to recognize and attempt to resolve its conflict with Djibouti. What was remarkable was not only that 13 of the 15 members of the Security Council voted affirmatively, but that the one which abstained (China) and the one which voted against (Libya) were not defending the innocence of the Eritrean regime. China is generally opposed to any sanction against any nation, period.  And Libya (or more accurately Qaddaffi) feels that those decisions should be made by the African Union (or whatever version of the African Union he was trying to mold it into with his financing.)


The Security Council will most assuredly extend the mandate of the Monitoring Group. This will be based on the strength of the evidence gathered thus far by the Monitoring Group on the Isaias Afwerki administration’s wide spread activity of trying to destabilize Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Uganda and Kenya. It will also be based on the communiqué of IGAD which called for even stronger economic sanctions. If the UNSC does not endorse the IGAD Communiqué, it won’t be because the UNSC does not believe the allegations against the Eritrean regime, but because some nations believe that all sanctions, targeted or untargeted, are unwise or because they believe the issue should be handled at the local level.

The entire Horn of Africa, as represented by IGAD, agrees that the Isaias Afwerki administration has a destructive role in the region. The Eritrean dictator boycotted the AU summit in July 1 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea despite the fact that he appointed Girma Asmerom for such duties in January 2011. When the AU summit was calling for Eritrea and Djibouti to “to pursue, in good faith, the scrupulous implementation of the 6 June 2010 Agreement, concluded under the auspices of Qatar,” Isaias, in the above quoted interview with Egypt’s Al-Ahram, claimed that there was no agreement to implement. Isaias was not represented to IGAD where the entire Horn of Africa (including the new Republic of South Sudan) as well as representatives of the AU were present. Most ironically, the UNSC decision to extend the mandate may not even be based on the activities of the regime in Somalia, but by dictator Isaias Afwerki’s continued public statements that there is no problem with Djibouti and the Qatar-sponsored mediation agreement he signed is aborted. And for that, Isaias Afwerki has, once again, nobody to blame but his addiction to making stupid statements, pursuing reckless policies, and being a slave to his temper.

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