Eritrea's Reply to COIE Accusations at the 29th Session of UNHRC in Geneva
Statement by Ambassador Tesfamichael Gerahtu
June 23, 2015
This august body is discussing today the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea.
Allow me, in this context, to convey to Your Excellencies the indignation of the people and Government of Eritrea whose heroic history, civilized traditions and norms, and, purposeful development efforts anchored on social justice, are sullied and denigrated with gratuitous and unprecedented irresponsibility by an entity established by this assembly.
As it may be recalled, Eritrea had protested vigorously when the Commission and its predecessor were first established. Eritrea did so because it had the premonition, for reasons that I will elaborate below, that these entities would not conduct their entrusted tasks with the requisite professionalism, objectivity and impartiality. Because Eritrea knew full well that these purported reasons were not the real purposes and objectives for which the Commission and its predecessor were formed in the first place.
We have already communicated to Your Excellencies a brief exposition on Eritrea’s views regarding the procedural flaws, factual errors, and political conclusions and recommendations contained in the Report. I shall not, therefore, repeat Eritrea’s response here. Let me focus, in the brief time allotted to me, on the most salient features of the whole undertaking and its overarching political backdrop.
- Eritrea remains under UN Sanctions that were imposed on it in 2009 and 2011, respectively. There is growing consensus these days, including in the capitals of the principal sponsors and architects of the resolutions, that the punitive measures meted against Eritrea were based on hearsay and trumped-up charges. But the fact is the sanctions have exacted huge economic and developmental costs to a small and young nation. And despite current regrets and second-thoughts, they remain in force due to procedural hurdles, diplomatic inertia and continued hostility by some principal players and powers. In the event, another grave travesty of justice; another unpardonable transgression against the people of Eritrea will be committed if this august body were to endorse at this Session the Commission’s Report in a perfunctory manner only to acknowledge, belatedly some years down the road, that the Inquiry was flawed and inappropriate in the first place.
- The evidence strongly suggests that this entire episode was conceived from the outset to serve as a substitute and fall-back option to the UNSC imposed sanctions in order to continuously harass Eritrea for ulterior political motives. The fact that the original resolutions calling for the establishment of these bodies were sponsored by countries that are either in conflict with Eritrea or that have no formal ties and presence in Eritrea but were nonetheless prodded to do the bidding of the principal, behind-the-scenes, architects is, in itself, indicative of the political and conspiratorial dimensions and attributes of the process underway.
- Notwithstanding, the impediments and ongoing violations of the Principles, an expanded paradigm encompassing cooperation with the OHCHR, consultation to initiate work with thematic mandates holders and treaty bodies, bilateral engagement with states and missions accredited to Eritrea and abroad, and cooperation with the UN Country team have been initiated and concrete steps have also been taken. In a recent visit of the OHCHR technical assistance in strengthening Justice system, access to clean water and sanitation, and assisting peoples with disabilities have been identified.
- Eritrea has reasons to believe that the Commission has deliberately short-changed its investigative mission to bolster preconceived, politically motivated, conclusions and recommendations. Indeed, the Commission acknowledges that it has culled its Report from interviews of 550 Eritrean asylum-seekers and written submission of other 160 Eritrean citizens abroad. In the first place, this cannot be an appropriate sample - Eritreans in the Diaspora are close to one million - to infer sweeping indictment of a sovereign nation and its government. More importantly, the Commission’s highly subjective standards of proof and validation – which it describes as “reasonable grounds to believe” – is ill-suited to ascertain potentially fallacious testimonies of asylum-seekers or well-known individuals who espouse different, even subversive, political agendas. In fact, the Commission routinely disregarded various reports by UN agencies in Eritrea; testimonies and submissions by reputable foreign business companies that operate in Eritrea; corporate ethical audits carried out by independent and reputable foreign agencies; as well as, testimonies and submissions by Eritrean communities. We know of courageous individuals who approached the Commission to disavow the typical, false asylum testimonies they had filed in their new country of domicile, at the risk of facing legal charges of perjury. But all these evidences were neither assessed nor cited and acknowledged in its Report.
- The Commission has wickedly tried to justify its lop-sided approach under the pretext that it was not allowed to visit the country. The Government of Eritrea has declined to interact with the Commission not because it has something to hide but because of deeply-held convictions of principle. Because it has consistently objected to the whole, politicized, and unwarranted process of creating a Commission of Inquiry as yet another instrument in the tool box of harassment that Eritrea’s arch-enemies have woven. In any case, this cannot be reason enough for the Commission to work in cahoots with Ethiopia and Djibouti and recycle, wholesale, worn-out disinformation routinely disseminated by entities that bear ill-will against Eritrea.
- The Commission’s unabashed bias is too transparent for sensible people not to notice. June 20th, commemorated on the weekend, is Martyr’s Day in Eritrea. Eritrea’s relatively small population have paid more than 60,000 precious lives of freedom fighters in the 30-year war of liberation. Eritrea was also compelled to pay 20,000 more lives in the border war. Yet the Commission callously dismisses the existential threats that Eritrea has and is still facing. It recommends, with amazing imprudence and insensitivity, for the international community and the United Nations to “assist Eritrea and Ethiopia to solve the border issue through diplomatic means”. Obviously, the Commission is either ignorant, or does not care to note, that the border issue has long been settled through an international arbitral process on the basis of a UN-guaranteed Algiers Peace Agreement. The Commission does not apparently know, or it wishes to ignore, that the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission had deposited, in November 2007, the exact coordinates of the boundary at the UN Cartographic Office. The Commission does not know, or deliberately wishes to gloss over, that the United Nations itself is keenly aware that Ethiopia remains in flagrant violation of international law although it has not taken appropriate steps of enforcement due to US blockade.
- The Commission’s Report on the GOE’s purported human rights violations is simply astounding. An ancient and civilized people with expansive Customary Laws encoded as early as 1492 are dubbed as a country “without laws and ruled by fear”. A secular country whose every village is dotted with churches and mosques, and, a pious people who have been Christians and Moslems since the 4th and the 7th century respectively are dubbed as “religiously persecuted” simply because the laws of the country regulate new, foreign-funded, faiths. A country which has relatively few, mostly one-diplomat staffed, foreign embassies is dubbed as an “intrusive State with ubiquitous presence to spy on and threaten” its almost one million citizens in the Diaspora. The Commission is oblivious that mass migration in Eritrea started in the 1960s and that the Diaspora were and are the backbone of the liberation struggle and post-independence development drive. I could go on and on….
- To draw another parallel with the Somalia-Eritrea Monitoring Group, a crucial drawback that crippled the SEMG’s objective work was the compromising political association of some of its members with some countries. As you may know, one of the SEMG’s officials was dismissed recently when it was ascertained that he was openly advocating “regime change” in a confidential letter he had written to a former official of the GOE. Unfortunately. Eritrea has reasons to believe that some officials of the Commission belong to the same league. The personal political persuasions and affiliations of Commission members are not of interest to Eritrea. But it is another matter if this has to do with the way domestic politics and governance are conducted in Eritrea. In the event, Eritrea wishes to draw attention to this august body that the Commission has members within its ranks that espouse sinister political agendas against Eritrea due to their close and unorthodox association with subversive groups.
- In conclusion, let me emphasize the following. The bleak narrative on human rights in Eritrea that the Commission has portrayed is widely at variance with the prevailing reality in the country. Yes there are shortcomings and I have no intention to claim that everything is rosy in my country. In any case, these have been and are being addressed within the UPR process. Eritrea is indeed a young nation that is facing numerous problems; a big part of which has to do with externally-induced, existential, challenges. The statutory, 18-month duration, of National Service had been extended because of Ethiopia’s belligerent appetites, postures and designs. But Eritrea has reverted to expansive demobilization when and if conditions permit and is currently exerting efforts to ensure educational and employment opportunities for those who fulfill their national service obligations. The fact is, in spite of all these challenges, Eritrea’s institutions are evolving at a reasonable and healthy pace. Its economy is progressing steadily and ready for take-off after much hard work. Along this note, the Government has promulgated new Civil, Penal, Civil Procedure, and Criminal Procedure Codes. To ignore all these realities and falsely indict Eritrea to advance the political agenda of certain powers will thus constitute a huge travesty of justice that cannot be excused under any pretext. And this would constitute a third injustice for the people of Eritrea whose decolonization rights were, we must recall, compromised in 1947 by a politically biased UN Commission.
I thank you