Eritrea has come full circle, and the events during the 32nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) brought a lot of issues to a head. As I watched the proceedings, it dawned on me that words like “impartiality”, “politically motivated” and “bias” were meaningless, as each game (against the member state) had its own rules.
It was normal to be impartial in one game and ruthlessly partial in another; it was normal to decry political bias in one case, and ensure it in another; it was normal to cry foul about faulty methodology by some states in one case, but employ it to make a case against another. Truth was in the hands of the beholder, double standards and hypocrisy ruled…
Prominent “human rights organizations” played the vicious game too. Some abused their “consultative status” in order to advance certain political agendas in a twisted game of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”, exposing the malignant UN sclerosis that has undermined the confidence of states like Eritrea on the integrity and efficacy of the UN Human Rights Council.
The western press described the events at the UNHRC and its conclusions as “Eritrea escaping censure”. But the truth is that the 32nd session brought many issues to the fore. It was not, in fact, Eritrea that was under scrutiny. It was rather the UN Human Rights Council itself – its credibility, integrity and efficacy – that were put on the limelight.
UN sclerosis exposes the behind the scenes shenanigans by certain self-appointed, well-funded, international NGOs who have no presence in Eritrea, and, how they contributed to the “calcification and sclerosis” of the UNHCR system. The 32nd session exposed the system’s fault lines and made for a very nerve wrecking session, an experience that will long be remembered by generations of Eritreans.
Contrary to the media hype and NGO circus at the UNHCR, the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COIE) did not deliver any evidence to support its preposterous accusations against the State of Eritrea and its leadership. With good reason; it had none. Over 500 pages of outrageous allegations; not a single verifiable evidence. A careful reading of the Report shows that the COIE “investigated” by collecting accusations against Eritrea from known anti-Eritrea groups and individuals who have partnered with international human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reporters San Frontiers and others.
The Commission of Inquiry (COIE) may have traveled to various States and met with refugees and asylum seekers, officials in neighboring adversarial States as well as with anti-Eritrea NGOs. But it did not conduct any real and objective investigation of the allegations made against the State of Eritrea, as called for in its mandate. It chose instead to regurgitate unsubstantiated allegations made by Eritrea’s detractors.
— Amb. Sophia Tesfamariam (@stesfamariam) September 29, 2016
Appointment of the Special Rapporteur
A quick look at the chronology of events leading up to the appointment of the Special Rapporteur also raise suspicions about Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner and Susan E. Rice, the then US Ambassador to the United Nations, and, their role in this yet another blatant act against the State of Eritrea, this time using the “human rights” pretext.
Circumstantial evidence shows that the appointment of the Special Rapporteur was pushed by Susan E. Rice and her friends in Ethiopia. There is also prima facie evidence to show political bias in the mandate and the appointment of Sheila Keetharuth as the Special Rapporteur (SR) on Eritrea in 2012 and the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COIE) in 2014.
Navi Pillay, the former High Commissioner for Human Rights came to New York in April 2012 to address the Security Council. On May 2012 she traveled to South Africa and delivered an address at the annual Helen Kanzira Lecture organized by the Center for Human Rights. On 18 June 2012, Navi Pillay speaking at the UN Human Rights Council said:
“…Credible sources indicate that violations of human rights include arbitrary detention, torture, summary executions, forced labour, forced conscription, and restrictions to freedoms of movement, expression, assembly and religion…I wrote to the Government seeking to explore avenues to assist it in addressing their human rights challenges and to that end offered to send a mission. After a meeting with a Government delegation in March, and further to their request, my Office provided a list of potential areas of cooperation that the proposed mission could discuss with the Government, and asked for the mission to be facilitated before June. To date, the Government has not replied to this proposal. I call on the Eritrean authorities to cooperate fully with international and regional human rights mechanisms, and renew my call for full cooperation with OHCHR…”
But the High Commissioner did not give Eritrea that chance. Soon after, in July 2012, Sheila Keetharuth was appointed as the Special Rapporteur.
The appointment of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea was suspicious from the very beginning, but until now, little was known about her and the “network” that she was closely associated with; a network that included Navanethem Pillay, the former High Commissioner for Human Rights and the University of Pretoria, and its NGO, the Center for Human Rights, which has been contracted by the UNHCR to do several projects-including Eritrea. It made the following announcement:
“…The Centre for Human Rights is pleased to announce that Ms Sheila B. Keetharuth was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea… Ms Keetharuth is a doctoral candidate at the International Development Law Unit, based at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria…”
Several groups and individuals, including some funded by the National Endowment for Democracy took credit for the appointment of the Special Rapporteur. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) boasted of its role. In “Breakthrough resolution on Eritrea – the inside track”, Matthew Jones of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), explains the role of the CSW in the orchestrated international campaign against Eritrea:
“…Particularly we referred back to the work we had done on North Korea a number of years ago, and since that was quite pivotal, and getting a new mandate and new UN mandate on North Korea and we felt this may be possible to replicate with respect to Eritrea and certainly the situation deserved it. So we set about from that point and enacting a strategy at the UN, and raising Eritrea and that consisted of making speeches, directly at the Human Rights Council, we organized and spoke at side meetings at the Human Rights Council, myself and colleagues, have spoken to diplomats from literally with dozens of state delegations from countries…”
The continued reference to Eritrea as the “North Korea of Africa” stems from this effort.
Eritrea rejected the resolution that called for the establishment of the Special Rapporteur saying the UNHRC was flouting “the Council’s impartiality and admissibility criteria” as the outcome was not a result of “impartial process of fact gathering and ascertaining”.
Eritrea was not given the opportunity to provide essential information and evidence, and what it had been able to present in the very limited time was “ignored”. The whole process was “carried in a hasty manner” and was “based on a biased approach of swallowing the charges by Eritrea’s detractors and ignoring Eritrea’s replies and evidence”.
Turns out, the Center for Human Rights also played a central role in the production of the COIE report on Eritrea. According to the Center, there is an “Eritrea Clinic” established at the Center for Human Rights whose function is to:
“…strengthen the capacity of the Centre for Human Rights in contributing to the academic discourse and concrete action regarding the situation of human rights in Eritrea, with a view to bringing about better enjoyment of human rights in the country. In this regard, the Centre provides some support to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea (Special Rapporteur) as she delivers independently on her mandate. This involves primarily monitoring human rights developments in Eritrea, including maintaining an overview of human rights and political developments in the Horn of Africa, through daily desktop research… The main implementer being the senior researcher appointed to support the Special Rapporteur… Some students on the LLM/ MPhil (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) programme participated in the Eritrea Human Rights Clinic and provided some support to the Special Rapporteur, mainly in the form of research on the situation of human rights in Eritrea…”
Some of the students mentioned above are notorious individuals and groups with backgrounds in anti-Eritrea activism, who have expressed highly trenchant and polemical sentiments regarding Eritrea, the Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), other Eritrean institutions, and Eritrea’s leadership, both privately and publicly. Closer scrutiny of the “researchers” and Sheila Keetharuth’s association with these, also explains, not just the contents of the COIE report, but also its hateful tone.
A cursory look at some of the allegations is quite disturbing and brings to question the “research” conducted by the Center of Human Rights and its Eritrea Clinic. Suffice it to mention a few:
The COIE report is replete with allegations “cut and paste” from unsubstantiated reports produced by Amnesty International (2004) and Human Rights Watch (2008), based on unverified testimonies. There were some sections on the report that seemed to be taken from Amnesty International’s 1991 report on Ethiopia. While some were exaggerations, there were some testimonies that seemed to be flat out fabrications. Some testimonies left the reader wondering if they were indeed talking about Eritrea. Suffice it to mention a few examples:
The COIE said that a former inmate detained in Adi Abeito in 2013 recounted the following:
“…The people who torture … wear masks. They hit … with square metal sticks. It hurts a lot. It can break your bones. They wear black masks, black gloves, kind of black boots so that you cannot recognize the trousers…”
A quick Google search by the writer reveals a similar account found in the book, “Ghost Plane, the True Story of the CIA Torture Program”. On page 27 the writer found this:
“…In Gambia, West Africa, a British citizen was loaded on the same plane the following year and saw big people wearing black balaclavas. In Pakistan, another Londoner was put on a plane to Morrocco by operatives “dressed in black, with masks, wearing what looked like Timberlake boots”. In Macedonia, a German was handed over to a CIA team that consisted on seven men all dressed in black, with black gloves and wearing black masks…”
Since there are no CIA torture sites in Eritrea, unlike those found in Ethiopia (extraordinary rendition programs), where did the COIE get this allegation from? Or are we to believe Eritrean officers are suited with the same gear as the CIA operatives mentioned in the book?
Another example is the similarity in the contents found on Page 123, of the book, “Revolution in Ethiopia and Cambodia”, by Edward Kissi and the allegations of torture found in the COIE’s Report.
These illustrate the shoddy work of the COIE and its informants. This “work” cannot withstand academic or legal scrutiny. It is simply a shameful continuation of the 15-year futile effort to inflict reputational damage to the State of Eritrea, its leadership and people by the minority regime in Ethiopia, its handlers and surrogates. Pity that the UN Human Rights Council and its Commissioner chose to be party to it.
Anecdotal evidence also shows that Sheila Keetharuth’s relationship with the individuals and groups that contributed to the Report spans over a decade, and the COIE report they collaborated on is just another variation of the very same unsubstantiated allegations made in articles, and “research” papers written by these individuals and groups over the last decade.
To add insult to injury, while the COIE ignored 45,000 letters of testimony from Eritrean in the Diaspora, it chose to use few hundred “testimonies” collected by anti-Eritrea groups and individuals, some from asylum seekers and refugees found in camps found in Ethiopia and Djibouti.
In the end, the COIE’s charges turned out to be unproven partisan allegations masquerading as investigative conclusions…the outside staff recruited by the COIE included some of the most radical anti-Eritrea activists in the world.
The US representative in Geneva was disappointed with the COIE’s report. According to Reuters, Eric Richardson, Deputy Director of the US Delegation to the UN Human Rights Council said that the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea did not have “the same level of sophistication and precision” as the work of the Commission of Inquiry on North Korea…
Another case of UN Sclerosis?
— Amb. Sophia Tesfamariam (@stesfamariam) September 29, 2016
— Amb. Sophia Tesfamariam (@stesfamariam) September 29, 2016