By Dawit Ghebremedhin,
On October 28 2013 the Cyrus R. Vance Center, a syndicate run by independent lawyers who want to enforce humanity notions throughout the world, held a briefing in New York City led by Ms. Sheila Keetharuth, a special rapporteur mandated by the UN Human Rights Council to report on human right issues in Eritrea.
Ms. Sheila Keetharuth was expected to give the Vance Center and its lawyers a succinct report on the information she had been gathering on Eritrea’s human right. However, It turned out she gave a vague report on what she had found on the human right shopping list: such as indefinite military service, arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, and large amounts of political asylum seekers coming to Western countries from Eritrea.
Her report was extremely irrational and taken out of historical context. To understand the whole idea of what and why she portrayed Eritrea as such, one has to look at the whole picture. Human rights are universally accepted in our modern society. It is in deed great for the Vance Center and even Ms. Shelia Keetharuth to be concerned about human rights around the world, but it is sad to choose a politically motivated case: that of Eritrea.
Ms. Keetharuth claimed that the UN has mandated her to look into the human rights issues in Eritrea because there is a common concern. But it is ironic that this same country that is being accused of “abusing its own people and denying their basic human rights” is the same country whose people has been abused and shunned for decades by the UN. The same Western powers that is trying to empower Ms. Keetharuth to accuse Eritrea is the same powers that abused, raped, tortured and murdered Eritreans using Ethiopia as a conduit. In short, the basic and fundamental human rights and principles of international law, including the right to self-determination and decolonization, were denied to Eritreans by these same powers through the UN. In other words they didn’t appoint a Special Rapporteur when they were committing, with impunity, gross human rights violations on the people of Eritrea and they are still doing it.
Now, these same countries and their puppet governments in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, all sworn enemies of Eritrea, and Nigeria, itself known for the most outrageous abuses of human rights, were paraded as countries concerned about human rights in Eritrea and thus America and its allies got an excuse to mandate Ms. Shelia Keetharuth in the name of the UN to help the Eritrean people. This is almost the same what we learned in school about the wolf in sheep’s skin. Can a wolf in a lamb’s skin help a lamb? No, it is only bidding its time to have the innocent sheep for lunch. Similarly it is absurd to think these same countries are concerned about the Eritrean people, and it is even more troubling they are using the UN at large to do their dirty job. Their motive is clear: they lost militarily on the ground first and then in the eyes of the Boundary Commission, and now they are trying in vain to use human rights issues as a cover to punish Eritrea and if they can to abuse its people and exploit its resources. It is a clear political attack on Eritrea and its people. Otherwise it is utter nonsense for the same UN that has never been concerned about the Eritrean people for five decades to claim it is now concerned. If the UN is genuinely concerned about the people of Eritrea, let it do something to end the occupation of Eritrean territory, let it lift the illegal sanctions.
In 1950 when Eritrea’s status was being addressed by the UN, the United States Secretary of State at the time, John Foster Dulles, said it all: in terms of justice the Eritrean people deserved to have an independent country and that is what they voted for, but in the interest of the United States, Eritrea will be given to our ally Ethiopia.
This seemingly simple policy statement had robbed the Eritrean people of their human right as individuals and their inalienable right for self-determination to live as a nation. This policy continues to have enormous death, chronic displacement, and gross suffering on the Eritrean people more than anywhere in Africa. This was a crime against humanity and continues to be committed on the Eritrean people. It is this cruel US policy statement that consequently brought the Eritrean people a diabolic enemy that had to wage a 30 year armed struggle for independence in which innocent lives including children like me were lost, tortured, fled their country or internally displaced.
With this policy statement inhumane environments of killing and destruction were brought to Eritreans. Where was the United Nations during these decades of sad times for the Eritrean people? During the Haile Selassie regime when many Western countries supported Ethiopia with military hardware, training and money, they were bombing Eritrean villages and killing thousands of lives. Where was the UN then?
During the Menghistu Hailemariam regime of Ethiopia where he infamously declared in order to kill the fish (the independence fighters) we need to drain the water, referring to the Eritrean people. He oversaw a reign of terror where thousands and thousands of innocent people including women and children were murdered in cold blood. Where was the United Nations organization during these cruel times, at a time when no hope was to be found for the Eritrean people?
In fact history is repeating itself; where is the United Nations as Ethiopia for a decade now is illegally occupying Eritrean land, land that was Eritrea’s and affirmed to be Eritrea’s by the Boundary Commission, where the United Nations itself was the guarantor. Countless crimes against Eritrea and its people have been committed in defiance of international law, and yet the UN had chosen to ignore it. Ms. Shelia Keetharuth presented in her report that countless are fleeing from Eritrea and she says it is the government’s fault. This is absurd. To the contrary, it is the Western countries that are openly encouraging exodus with the intent of denying Eritrea of its youth and weakening it.
Obama himself said he is working with other foundations to get women and young people out of the country (Eritrea). But when these people leave their country, he lets them down in the deserts and high seas. As they try to cross the formidable deserts and high seas many die in the dark journey.
Ms. Keetharuth tells us she got her content from Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia; refugees are being held in inhumane camps and being killed excruciatingly by Ethiopian government (Weyanes). And yet, she didn’t write a word about the abuse perpetrated by the Weyanes on Eritrean refugees in these camps. It is not a matter of content in Shelia Keetharuth’s findings because she herself did a horrible job of preparing and finding resources that actually had a neutral opinion about Eritrea but more of the fact that we, as a people, have been shunned and disrespected.
In fact during the question and answer session at her Vance Center briefing, she was totally lost when many Eritreans asked her legitimate and objective questions and comments about absence of due process in conducting her mission, clear criteria for sourcing information, rapporteur’s independence, objectivity and transparency, data collection and verifications, adverse impact of sanctions and absence of regional peace on the Eritrean people. She could not answer any of these; instead she used her lame pretext of actually not going to Eritrea, time constraint in conducting her mission, and lack of an office or assistants, working from Mauritius is difficult to conduct her mission, etc…, etc.
If she is claiming to be a professional giving a judgment on an entire nation, she should get all the resources she needs from her bosses. It’s either political immaturity or outright ignorance on her part to think any government in this world would let in its country a rapporteur mandated and sponsored by its arch enemies to assess its domestic human rights issues. It is like letting an Iran sponsored rapporteur to investigate human rights issues in the US domestic affairs. It is not going to happen in a million years. She might perhaps forget for a minute that she is actually sponsored by Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Nigeria, and all other enemies of Eritrea. It was quite an embarrassing scene to her chagrin.
I am not here to claim that Eritrea is flawless. Like all countries in the world including the West there could be human rights failures. It’s a young country that still has a long way to go through a rough road to assert its sovereignty first, and build from bottom up its democratic institutions and laws. But if the UN truly wants to help, it has to start by being honest and neutral broker to Eritrea and Ethiopia. There is a border conflict that has been hurting not only Eritrea, but also the long-term interest of the West’s friend, Ethiopia. This conflict awaits us all, young and old, to solve. Despite its importance, the conflict was not given a prominent coverage in Shelia Keetharuth’s report. The world is watching if the UN can change and make a true bold action to help resolve a problem awaiting an urgent solution.
Resolving the conflict between the countries in the Horn would be a great UN contribution to humanity and to fundamental human rights tenet and principle where neighboring countries and their people could live in peace and prosperity.
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