The Politicization of a UN Investigative Process: The Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group

By Dr. Asgede Hagos The UN Security Council set up the Somali Monitoring Group in 2005 to collect empirically accurate data to help it make informed decisions on issues pertaining to Somalia. It was tasked with investigating possible violations of UN embargoes against Somalia, and, since 2009, Eritrea. However, the Group’s investigative process has been so politicized and its current coordinator so politically compromised that the data it submits can only mislead the UN Security Council and divert it from the principal reason it launched the monitoring process: to help find peace in the war-ravaged Horn of Africa.

Right from the start, the monitoring group pushed the political agenda of one nation or another; it didn’t seem to pay attention to the facts on the ground and, as a result, the Security Council has been making one unjust decision after another, especially against Eritrea. Right from the get-go, the Group came up with one unbelievable fabrication after another designed to serve this political agenda.

So, it is no wonder that the monitoring Group’s 2012 report, as its previous submissions, seems to be rigged to meet the political objectives of the minority regime ruling Ethiopia today and its supporters--more specifically, Ethiopia’s two principal foreign policy goals: to perpetuate the fragmentation of Somalia and to isolate and weaken its archenemy Eritrea. The balkanization agenda is to make sure there won’t be any Somali demands over the Ethiopian Somalia region of Ogaden. The isolation and weakening of Eritrea is designed to change the balance of forces in the Horn of Africa in favor of Ethiopia so the minority regime in that country can do what it wants.

In an attempt to camouflage its political objectives, the Monitoring Group has been using a variety of “investigative” methods that give the appearance of scientific research though most, if not all, of the information is invented in the fertile minds of Ethiopia’s dirty trick artists at home and abroad. It goes to great lengths to make the data it collects (or gets from Addis Ababa) look legitimate, accurate and fair.

However, to say that the methodology it has been utilizing is seriously flawed is to be charitable. Its selective use of potential sources itself renders the outcome of its investigation virtually useless for the members of the Council who have the right to expect verifiable and politically neutral information from the Group to make informed decisions about the cases that come before them with regards to this troubled region. Here are some of the deficiencies one notices at first glance:

• Using unrepresentative convenient or volunteer samples of respondents whose opinions are publicly known to substantiate the Monitoring Group’s bias.
• Using single-sourced charges as long as they serve as camouflage for the real intention of the Monitoring Group—not in search of the truth, but any thinly-veiled link to anything Eritrean.
• Throwing sweeping allegations without a scintilla of evidence to support them in an attempt to link Eritrea with one extreme group or another across the Arc of Crisis region, stretching from the Horn of Africa to the Middle East, touching such nations as Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and of course Iran, and adding such names as Al Shaabbab, Hamas and Palestine for good measure.
• Stretching “evidence” beyond recognition to tar and charge Eritrea, no matter how flimsy or unsubstantiated or even fabricated the “evidence” might be.
• Manipulating language to meet the Group’s political agenda by deliberately misrepresenting the facts. For example, in its latest report, it describes the process of “human smuggling,” but labels it “human trafficking.” Though both are acts of crime that should be punished severely, human trafficking is a crime against humanity; while human trafficking is done under coercion or false pretense, human smuggling is derived out of the consent of the one being smuggled. The Group’s report doesn’t make the distinction and who is responsible for what. The way the report reads, you can see smuggling morphing into trafficking, and Eritrea is blamed for all of it.
• Using sensational data to hype or support certain charges against Eritrea, knowing fully well it was false. For example, in 2011, it used unverified charges of Eritrea using three planes to ship arms to extremist Somali groups to hype another clamor for more sanctions against this young nation; the charges originated in Addis Ababa but came via Nairobi. However, as soon as the sanctions were imposed, the Group, in its monthly report issued in January 2012 said the information was incorrect. This is part of another pattern of information manipulation
• Utilizing unverified “cut and paste” statements gathered from Ethiopian operatives and other dubious sources who have an ax to grind to indict Eritrea.

Last year, three key members, including two of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, raised serious questions about the integrity and veracity of the Monitoring Groups 2011 report on Eritrea. The challenges from the Russian, Chinese and South African representatives questioned the veracity of the key charges by the Group against the young African nation, and all of them urged the Monitoring Group to do a better job in its future report.

The South African Deputy Permanent Representative, Ambassador Doctor Mashabane, called on the Group “to execute its responsibilities and mandate ... with professionalism, impartiality and objectivity. The Monitoring Group should never be influenced by political considerations outside of its mandate.” Adding, he said, “It is important for the Monitoring Group to closely guard its independence and professionalism in the work it does to assist the Security Council with the implementation of those measures.” He also urged the members of the Security Council “to desist from any temptation to use the Monitoring Group for political ends.”

The Russian Permanent Representative, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, was equally troubled by unfounded allegations against Eritrea which led to Resolution 2023 (2011). This was how he put it: "The text of the resolution contains a range of provisions that lack adequate foundation, .... In that respect we refer in particular to the 'planned terrorist attack' in Addis Ababa during the African Union summit there. The Russian Federation is categorically against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. However, in this case, the Security Council was not presented with convincing proof of Eritrea’s involvement in that incident. We have not seen the results of any investigation of that incident, if indeed there was one" (emphasis added).

However, the group didn’t heed the advice or the urgency of the call.
In fact, the Monitoring Group chose to further politicize the process. In a political act of influencing public opinion to support its biased, unsubstantiated charges seeking continued sanctions against Eritrea, the Group chose to leak this year’s report to the Western media. Furthermore, the Group’s coordinator gave press interviews in which he tried to influence opinion makers to spin the charges in the media—all these before the Security Council had a chance to evaluate the report and the targeted nations, like Eritrea, had an opportunity to see and review it. The coordinator, Matt Bryden, has been using all sorts of public relations ploys—leaks, using opinion makers to spin the data, etc.—in an attempt to influence public opinion essentially against Eritrea, and undermine its request to have the unjust sanctions of 2009 and 2011 be lifted.

To show the depth and breadth of the politicization of the process, we would like to make note of the following with regards to the Somalia dimension of the problem. The current coordinator of the Monitoring Group is banned from entering Somalia because of allegations that he has been pushing for the continued fragmentation of Somalia, which is an Ethiopian agenda designed to divert Somali attention off Ogaden, the Somali region of Ethiopia over which the two countries fought two major wars. The allegations are that he is up to his neck involved in the internal politics of Somalia, especially on the issue of Somali unity. According to some web sources the coordinator “has always been a controversial figure in Somalia politics. He has been in loggerheads with Somali political groups, including businessmen, intellectuals and others."

His activities since the release of the 2012 report with regards to Eritrea are even more appalling. As an investigative arm of the UN Security Council, the monitoring group is not supposed to wage public campaigns against the objects of its investigation. As indicated above, its task is to provide empirically accurate data to the appropriate body or bodies of the United Nations. Here is one media report on his unprecedented campaign:

“Monitoring Group's coordinator, told Reuters that Eritrea was lobbying its allies at the Security Council to push for a removal of the arms embargo, but he said other Council members were reluctant to do this…"We're trying to make the case that any improvement in Eritrea's conduct is the result of sanctions, and that it's too early to lift them because of the other violations they have committed”
Eritrea has been expressing its opinion against the monitoring group for some time now. Here is an excerpt from the July 17, 2012 statement by Eritrea’s Permanent Representative to the UN Araya Desta to the Security Council:

“Eritrea had registered, on various occasions and through several communications in the past, its strong reservations on the workings of the Monitoring Group and especially in regard to its untenable reliance on testimonies of subversive groups and elements as well as other adversaries who harbor ill will to the people and Government of Eritrea. As illustrated above, the latest report only reinforces our well-founded conviction on the lack of neutrality, integrity and professionalism of this Monitoring Group. As we continue to place importance on constructive engagement with the Security Council, I wish to take this occasion to renew our earlier invitation for the Security Council Sanctions Committee to visit Eritrea for extensive

Finally, all this shows to what extent the UN process of “fact finding” has degenerated—an assortment of fabricated stories, orchestrated by Western media, blatant attempts by some to politicize the process to serve their purposes now pass for UN reports. However, there is a price to be paid here: UN credibility, or more specifically, the further erosion of the little credibility the world body has left. This happens every time the UN acts unjustly based on some twisted data collected in order to deceive rather than to reveal.

'3 Statement of Eritrea’s Permanent Representative in the United Nations, July 17, 2012.