The oral report of the High Commissioner on Eritrea presented to the 46th HRC Session attempts to portray a dark picture and essentially repeat fallacious narratives advanced by the EU and certain countries.
In a way, this is not new. Indeed, a core group of western countries have unfortunately made it a habit to sully the image and coerce Eritrea for reasons known to them.
The crisis in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia is being used conveniently at this point in time as one element in the continuum of unrelenting smear campaigns of Eritrea.
Eritrea has earnestly worked to partner with the OHCHR, and to this effect, four OHCHR technical missions were conducted so far. Furthermore, Eritrea identified its own priorities for technical assistance (relating to administration of justice, the right of persons with disabilities, and the right to water).
On the other hand, to expand the scope of cooperation and the benefits that accrue from the technical assistance offered by OHCHR, Eritrea decided, as a first step, to invite certain thematic mandates and treaty bodies. But these earnest requests fell on deaf ears.
Furthermore, the technical missions and the attendant reports of the OHCHR have never reflected the efforts and the outcomes gleaned in an adequate and balanced manner. In substance and intent, they seemed to blindly endorse or recycle the lopsided approaches and templates of the Special Rapporteur’s report.
This is another indication that the OHCHR is not prepared to work as a partner to enhance ongoing technical capacities for the promotion and protection of human rights in Eritrea.
– Opposes adoption of country-mandate without the consent of #Eritrea – Calls for the Council to terminate country-specific mechanism – Opposes using #HumanRights as political tool to exploit & interfere in the internal affairs of sovereign states pic.twitter.com/H4KsELpuC3
The allegations levelled by the EU and the OHCHR oral report of sexual violence, looting, and other “crimes by Eritrea’s armed forces” are utterly baseless. These are alien and an affront to the history and culture of Eritrea and its military establishments.
In the smear campaigns focussed on Eritrea, the grave situation that unfolded in Ethiopia in early November by the massive, pre-emptive attack by the TPLF clique on the largest contingent of the Ethiopian army continues to be routinely downplayed or totally ignored.
One wonders whether Eritrea is being deliberately targeted as a scapegoat to deflect attention from the gravity of what was in store and potential regional conflagration that would have ensued had these reckless attacks succeeded.
We have not also seen sincere attempts to re-examine the prudence of the unbridled financial and military assistance – to the tune of 40 billion US dollars – that were given to the TPLF regime in spite of policies of ethnic exclusivity and repression in Ethiopia and continued aggression and occupation of sovereign Eritrean lands in flagrant violation of international law.
These days, disinformation in the cyber domain remains the dangerous weapon left in the hands of the defunct TPLF clique. This is pursued, on a daily basis, through a frantic fabrication and recycling of fake news and photo-shopped images of events and narratives that never occurred. Certain media outlets – most of them hired by the TPLF clique in the past years – continue to be fully engaged in these unconscionable acts.
In the event, we request the OHCHR to refrain from making hasty decisions based on unaccounted and unverified allegations. Attempts to deflect attention from the high crimes perpetrated by the TPLF clique and downplaying its culpability will not, indeed, serve the cause of regional peace and stability.
Statement of the Eritrean Delegation to the 56th Session of the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States/OACPS Parliamentary Assembly,
Subcommittee on Political, Humanitarian, Social and Cultural/PHSC Affairs
Thank you for giving me the floor. Sadly, on October 8 this month, the European Parliament [EP] adopted a resolution replete with baseless allegations and insults to Eritrea. Due to the brevity of time, I will focus on the most egregious recitals and paragraphs of the resolution.
1 The title of the Resolution indicates that the EP act is prompted “notably by the case of Dawit Isaac”. However, fourteen out of the twenty recitals and 12 of its paragraphs have nothing to do with this person. This fact clearly demonstrates that “the Case of Dawit” is invoked as a mere pretext to pursue sinister agendas of portraying a very bleak picture of Eritrea and so as to demonize its Government.
2 The “Case of Dawit Isaac” itself cannot be misconstrued as an issue of human rights and freedom of expression as claimed in the Resolution. The grave offense – in which he was complicit – is related to treasonous acts perpetrated by a certain group (so-called G15) in 2000 at the height of the war of aggression by the TPLF-led Ethiopian regime and that claimed, in aggregate, more than 150,000 lives.
The fact that this person has Swedish dual nationality does not, evidently, exempt him from legal accountability. The offense was committed on Eritrean soil where he was working under a local license. Meddling in this case is a clear violation of Article 2 of the UN Charter which clearly stresses non-interference in the internal affairs of States under any pretext whatsoever.
3 The Resolution under paragraph 8 requests the “Commission to ascertain whether the conditionality of EU aid is respected …and to evaluate tangible outcomes regarding human rights that have resulted from the EU strategy of “dual-track approach”.
Eritrea is not a party to an agreement with the EU predicated on “dual-track approach” and that stipulates conditionalities that corrode its sovereign political choices and decisions. Eritrea understands that the multilateral development cooperation with the EU is governed by the Cotonou Agreement. In this respect, Eritrea rejects any extraneous conditionalities in breach of the Cotonou Agreement and will never be a party to such an arrangement.
4 The Resolution further accuses Eritrea of the seizure of “Catholic-affiliated schools and health facilities, thus negatively affecting the health and education rights of the population”. Again, this is another false narrative that distorts the policies and delivery of health and education programs in Eritrea.
In the first place, the law that restricts religious institutions in developmental work was enacted in 1995. The Government held extensive consultations – at the highest levels – with all the religious institutions prior to the announcement and implementation of the Proclamation. The law was implemented fully – with few discrepancies here and there – by the Orthodox, Protestant, and Islamic faiths.
The principal reason behind the policy is to ensure the integrity of the secularism of the State in a multi-religious society. Religious groups can donate funds – and this has to be generated locally – to development projects under implementation by the various Regional Administrations. But they cannot be involved in direct implementation because that is fraught with catering for their own followers to create asymmetry and societal polarization. These are, indeed, basic social serves that the Government equitably provides to all the population.
As to the claim that the two basic services of health and education have been negatively affected by the policy, this is simply false that cannot stand the scrutiny of statistical figures available in the public domain. The services provided by the Catholic wards or schools were a drop in the ocean compared to what is done by the public sector (or non-sectarian private sector) on a national level.
Eritrea has achieved most of the Millennium Development Goals prior to the deadline and is fully prepared and committed to the implementation of the goals and targets of 2030 on Sustainable Development Goals.
The provision of equitable quality education is one of the top priorities of the Government. Education is free from pre-school to tertiary level. This includes the provision of free boarding at the tertiary level as well as in more than 50 secondary and middle schools to enhance equity of access in relatively deprived rural areas.
5 The Resolution alludes to the dividend of the Peace Agreement signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2018, to audaciously point an accusing finger on Eritrea for not availing of the new climate. These are stipulated in recitals N, O, and P. This is appalling.
The European Parliament has no moral high ground to talk about the peace agreement signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2018.
The European Union was one of the guarantors of the Algiers Peace Agreement. But the EP and EU shrugged their legal responsibilities when the previous Ethiopian regime flouted international law, continued to occupy sovereign Eritrean territories, and pursued a reckless polity of continued war and aggression against Eritrea.
Throughout these years, the TPLF regime continued to receive substantial financial, diplomatic, and political support from the EU without regard to its flagrant breaches of international law.
The European Parliament did not adopt a single resolution to deter war and promote peace during these long dark years.
6 The EP Resolution recycles, almost as-is, the fallacious reports of the UNHRC Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. These are included in recitals H, J, K, and in paragraphs 2, 6, 7, and 10 of the Resolution to constitute almost one-fourth of the entire document. This fact alone demonstrates that the content and spirit of the Resolution is to use the “human rights agenda” pursued at the level of the UNHRC at the European Parliament platform.
As we have elucidated on previous occasions, the UNHRC format was invoked in 2012 when certain countries were actively pursuing a “regime change” agenda against Eritrea. The remnant of this deplorable agenda is still entertained by some EU countries.
Be that as it may, the relevant issue here is that certain EU Member States must not be allowed to leverage the European Parliament and other EU platforms to vilify a single ACP State. Bilateral disagreements or adversarial relations between some EU Member States and an ACP State should be contained within that ambit.
In conclusion, let me stress that international partnership in addressing issues of human rights is best served by constructive dialogue; not through politicization, double standards, and stigmatization.
Thousands of Eritrean youth, who make up the 33rd round of National Service, completed the last year of high school and military training, and added to the large pool of their compatriots who graduated before them.
The annual graduation activities that take place at the Sawa Training Center keep both young and old, those both in the country and in the Diaspora who are unable to participate in person, glued to the television screen to watch the ceremonies. The fact that the much-maligned training center was not interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic engulfing the globe, and was able to complete its programs with even greater results, added yet another example of its significance, as a source of the resilience of the society at large.
The two events, graduation from the technical school and completion of the specific round of national service, are important national celebrations, the magnitude of which is annually evidenced by the presence of President Isaias Afwerki, and other senior Government and Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and the public at large although the format was somewhat adjusted this year for obvious reasons.
While the people of Eritrea celebrate the national service, it has become the target of intense vilification and misinformation and remains the most maligned institution. At the UN Human Rights Council hearing on 16 July 2020, the national service program seemed to be the issue mentioned the most by those who insist on misrepresenting Eritrea. The statement read by Ms. Nathalie Olijslager, the representative of the Netherlands was very telling.
“…On behalf of the core group consisting of Australia, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, I have the pleasure to introduce Resolution L8 on the human rights situation in Eritrea…last year the original sponsors were no longer in a position to present this initiative, the core group stepped in…we are worried about the continued practice of indefinite national service…”
That sentiment was echoed by the representative of Germany, speaking on behalf of the European Union, who also feigned concern for the “indefinite national service”. As for the original sponsors, acting on behalf of the TPLF regime in Ethiopia were Somalia, Djibouti, and Nigeria – the “African faces”.
With the TPLF regime removed, the dynamics in the region have changed, hence the change in the stance of the original sponsors. It was clear from the very beginning that it was a politically motivated ill-gotten mandate.
As the representative of the Philippines accurately stated:
“…no matter how we frame this resolution, it is a still a resolution that does not enjoy the consent of the country concerned, we must examine the rationale of sustaining this mandate…we call on the Council to avoid being ossified in agendas that have taken a life of their own, out of tune with developments on the ground…we call attention to the fact that mandates on Eritrea have cost nearly 5 million US dollars from 2015-2020 alone…”
She then went on to say that half a million dollars were needed for 2021 for salary and travel, and conference services. These costs do not include the millions spent on the various groups and individuals hired to produce the various reports on Eritrea. A cursory look at the NGOs and individuals that are referenced in the Special Rapporteurs reports and which received funding from western agencies will suffice. Labeling them “human rights defenders” will not hide their true agendas.
Unfortunately, the Special Rapporteurs have not been able to maintain their independence from the pipers, and their reports remain a compilation of unsubstantiated allegations made by the pipers and their anonymous informants.
Eritreans have witnessed these conferences, wherein groups and individuals opposed to the Eritrean government are given a platform to disseminate unsubstantiated allegations. Eritreans know about the various campaigns, demonstrations, and petitions organized by these individuals and groups, who do not enjoy the support of the majority of Eritreans in the country, or in the Diaspora, where their regime change agenda, using human rights as a pretext, was dead on arrival.
As the popular adage says, “he who pays the piper picks the tune”, so it is no wonder that their reports do not reflect the truth about Eritrea – they are and remain out of tune with developments on the ground. So the chances of the Council receiving accurate and substantiated reports on Eritrea remains a pipe dream – pun intended.
National Service did not begin with Eritrea, and there are many countries that have such programs and each with its own historical background. As in Eritrea, programs like the National Youth Service (NYS) in Kenya, National Youth Service Corps in Nigeria, and Umuganda in Rwanda, are meant to help foster national unity, promote development in neglected areas, and foster understanding in ethnically and religiously diverse populations. But each has its own unique history and its programs vary. Some have a military component, and some do not. Eritrea believes that in addition to basic skills, academics, technical, discipline, and citizenship, it is the values and principles instilled in the youth that will help them the most in their development.
It is interesting that, in all the 20 years since the signing of the Algiers Agreements between Eritrea and Ethiopia in December 2000, agreements which were witnessed and guaranteed by the European Union, the “core group” voiced little concern for its implementation. Indeed, until 2018, they instead provided the minority regime in Ethiopia the diplomatic, economic, and political support and shield as it flouted international law and the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s final and binding delimitation and demarcation decisions.
For all their repetitive feigns of concern for Eritrea’s youth, they omit the root cause for the “indefinite service”, the belligerence and lawlessness of the TPLF regime that they propped up for 20 years. The damage caused by TPLF and its handlers cost the lives of thousands in the region. It will take time to assess the exact toll and redress the wrongs perpetrated on Eritrea’s youth.
In this respect, the ‘core group’, neither have the moral authority, nor the legal mandate to point fingers at Eritrea, the victim of their wrong policies for the region. Eritrea’s right to self-determination, defense, development, and preservation of cultural rights are all enshrined in the UN Charter, as well as the UN Declaration on Human Rights.
Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Right (UDHR) says the following:
“…Everyone has the right to freely participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. Creation draws on the roots of cultural traditions but flourishes in contact with other cultures. For this reason, heritage in all its forms must be preserved, enhanced and handed on to future generations as a record of human experience and aspirations, so as to foster creativity in all its diversity and to inspire genuine dialogue among cultures…”
And UNESCO says:
“…Cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects. It also includes traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants, such as oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge, and practices concerning nature and the universe or the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts…The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next…The importance of intangible cultural heritage is not the cultural manifestation itself but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills that is transmitted through it from one generation to the next. The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups and for mainstream social groups within a State, and is as important for developing States as for developed ones…”
The national service program in Eritrea is an intangible cultural asset that should be respected by all. Nobody can define for Eritrea which cultural rites are of importance to the Eritrean society, or how they should be practiced.
In Eritrea, it is a birthright, a rite of passage, a cultural heritage that needs nurturing and development, not denigration and mal-information. For the few that decide to dodge service, there are thousands more participating with pride and valor. As for results, the world took notice recently.
When the COVID-19 pandemic reared its ugly head, Eritrea’s response for containing and preventing its spread was to pursue a raft of necessary measures including “stay-at-home” guidelines in the entire country. The successful implementation of these measures depended fully on Eritrea’s impressive social capital; on the readiness of the citizens to adhere and respect the guidelines on their volition. There were no rifle slinging, gun trotting law enforcement forces patrolling the streets, nor were people seen defying calls by the government and health officials.
The UNDP Resident Coordinator in Eritrea in his May 2020 article explained:
“…COVID-19 has so far defied logic by voraciously impacting poor and rich countries with equal measure. But in Eritrea only 39 infections and zero deaths have been reported so far, this may be largely due to the country harnessing its social capital… In the African context, social capital – also called ‘Ubuntu’, ‘Undugu’, or ‘Ujamaa’ – means the interpersonal relationships and network that give people a sense of identity, shared responsibility, and collective accountability…”
Social capital in Eritrea is a result of the cultivation and preservation of time tested values and principles engrained in the hearts and minds of all in Eritrean society. It is about expectations and obligations and most of all, it is about trust.
Much has been said about Eritrea’s harmonious culture of ethnic and religious tolerance and respect, but how is this culture nurtured and passed on from generation to generation? How are these values and principles transferred from one generation to another? Social scientists tell us that it is through education, information, and social norms that cultures and traditions are passed on from one generation to another.
The National Service Program is one way of transferring these national values – intangible national assets, inherited from our forefathers. Indeed, while certain values and principles were refined during the 30-year long struggle for independence, they find historical roots in Eritrean society. But cultural values cannot be preserved and transferred to the next generation without sustained education and nurturing.
In neighboring Ethiopia, UNESCO placed the Gada System in its list of intangible cultural assets. For those who do not know of the Gada system, here is a brief description:
“…Gada is a traditional system of governance used by the Oromo people in Ethiopia developed from knowledge gained by community experience over generations. The system regulates political, economic, social and religious activities of the community dealing with issues such as conflict resolution, reparation and protecting women’s rights. It serves as a mechanism for enforcing moral conduct, building social cohesion, and expressing forms of community culture… Knowledge about the Gada system is transmitted to children in the home and at school…”
Cultural heritage is a representation of our history and our identity; our bond to the past, to our present, and the future, and it is not only limited to material objects that we can see and touch, like the UNESCO World Heritage structures found in Asmara, the Eritrean capital, but also consists of immaterial things like Eritrea’s harmonious culture of ethnic and religious respect and tolerance, and the knowledge and skills transmitted from generation to generation; and, preserved.
Nobody has the right to dictate what is important or beneficial for Eritrea’s development or the development of its people. The people of Eritrea recognize the National Service Program as a birthright, a rite of passage, and a cultural heritage and nobody can decide for them whether or not such practice is part of their heritage, no more than they can decide for them what constitutes as their culture, religion, history, etc.
High time the world respected the aspirations and wishes of the Eritrean people… and not that of the pipers and their sponsors.