As developments toward peace and co-operation quickly unfold in the Horn of Africa, - it is important to reflect upon the series of politicised campaigns waged against Eritrea. Although the campaigns differed in terms of their approach and implementation, - they all negatively impacted the country and violated the fundamental rights of its people.
The first of these campaigns against Eritrea was the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) failure as guarantors of the Algiers Peace Treaty 2000 (“Peace Agreement”), to force Ethiopia to implement the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) decision. Eritrea frequently makes reference to the injustices it has suffered, as a result of misguided Western and American policies toward the Horn of Africa - including the unwavering support to Ethiopia, and the failure to censure Ethiopia’s flagrant violations of international law. For nearly two decades, the emboldened Ethiopia refused to withdraw its troops from sovereign Eritrean territory in compliance with the November 2007 demarcation decision of the EEBC pursuant to the Peace Agreement.
The ensuing “no war, no peace”situation and the previous Ethiopian regime’s regular military aggression against Eritrea, necessitated the prolongation of national service in Eritrea. This has been, in part, responsible for many of the youth leaving Eritrea. Compounding the matter, young migrants have been ruthlessly exploited by opportunistic human smugglers and traffickers, many with alleged ties to subversive Eritrean activists working for regime change abroad. It is also important to note here, - how the de facto policy of Western countries to grant automatic asylum to anyone from Eritrea, whether a genuine refugee or not, has served as a pull factor for migration.
The second campaign waged against Eritrea- the geopolitical agenda – was (and is) the unjust and unlawful international sanctions. The sanctions were first imposed in 2009, and then broadened in 2011. Rather than being guided by peace and security, the UNSC sanctions were political and lacked due process, being largely engineered by the former US administration and the TPLF-led regime in Ethiopia. The sanctions were aimed to undermine and isolate Eritrea, in order to cripple it economically and diplomatically. Potential economic development through the exploitation of the mining sector was specifically targeted. The goal was to choke foreign direct investment into the country and promote a divestment campaign through targeted activism of mining companies operating in Eritrea.
In economic terms, after the sanctions were first imposed in 2009, Germany lost out on intended investments. However, the vision and steadfastness of Nevsun’s former president Cliff Davis, is illustrated by comments he made in 2011, which still holds true today,
”The State of Eritrea has been a strong partner and shareholder in the Bisha Mining Share Company, a subsidiary of Nevsun. The Government of Eritrea has contributed to the building of the Bisha Mine, both financially and through the Board of the Bisha Mining Share Company, as well as through the support of the Ministry of Energy & Mines and various other ministries. By collaborating with international companies, Eritrea is developing a mining industry that provides direct economic benefits, skill enhancement and supply chain expansion. Through these cooperative efforts, sustainable development from the industry can positively impact the Eritrean economy for decades to come.”
There is an abundance of evidence supporting the fact that the sanctions were politicized. For example, the UN Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) stated that there was no credible evidence obtained or provided to substantiate the allegations or the legitimacy of the sanctions. Additionally, in numerous reports over the years, the SEMG has concluded that it found no evidence of Eritrean support for Al-Shabaab.
The Eritreans have always taken the high moral road with respect to many of the destabilizing strategies - but it is high time - that we provide a voice to the many Eritreans who are acutely aware of the negative and damaging impact that unjust sanctions have had on the country’s development. The sanctions have greatly hindered prospects for foreign investment, made the process of acquiring loans or engaging in commercial agreements considerably challenging, if not unlikely, and significantly harmed the country’s development and growth. Moreover, despite incorrectly being labelled as “merely” an asset freeze and travel embargo, the UN sanctions also include an “arms embargo” – restricting Eritrea from defending itself, which is a fundamental right enshrined within the UN Charter.
As well as a large number of countries and international organizations that have expressed concern on the sanctions. The politicised nature of the sanctions is also revealed by the complete lack of will on the part of the UNSC to implement the “sanction” provisions and the SEMG’s failure to produce due diligence guidelines and/or a targeted list of entities pertaining to the sanctions. It is also hard to overlook the basic impossibility of Eritrea smuggling weapons into Somalia because of the heightened international military operations and security presence in the Red Sea and Horn of Africa region.
Less than two months ago, on the 14 September 2018, Eritrea’s Minister of Information, Mr. Yemane Ghebremeskel, tweeted the following message:
“Let us reiterate Eritrea’s position for the umpteenth time: the sanctions were not based on fact & law and they were unwarranted in the first place. ‘Arguments’ for their continued maintenance has no rationale whatsoever and can only be seen as a travesty of justice and law.”
The simple fact of the matter is that there is no legal standing for the imposition or maintenance of sanctions against Eritrea. Moreover, Eritrea has authoritative and legal grounds to maintain this stand and seek to expose the sanctions’ negative impact on the country’s economic development, which violates the collective rights of the Eritrean people.
Notably, last year, former US Ambassador and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Herman Cohen stated,
“Ethiopia should have proposed the lifting of sanctions as [head of the UNSC]…as a first step…and that the lifting of the close to ten years arms sanctions on Eritrea was ‘long overdue’”.
Months ago, in the midst of peace agreements being signed by Eritrea and Ethiopia, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres commented that fast-moving developments in the region would render the sanctions obsolete, while Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed has made repeated calls for the removal of the sanctions.
It appears that the UNSC has been divided as between those member states who request reconsideration of the sanctions as against Eritrea and those who ask for the sanctions removal. Previously, the USA and the UK, required the “no evidence” to be corroborated with visits by the SEMG to Eritrea. Of course, this would mean further requests and the proverbial shifting of goalposts.
And on the 12th September 2018, during the US House Foreign Affairs subcommittee Hearing on Human Rights and Governance in Ethiopia, the recently appointed Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Tibor Peter Nagy Jr. provided testimony on recent developments in Ethiopia and the efforts of the country’s prime minister. In that testimony he made reference to Eritrea and said that,
“Eritrea cannot assume that by saying wonderful things and opening good relations with its neighbors..that this will lead to sanction relief..”
Although this was an incredulous statement especially since the sanctions on Eritrea were imposed because of unsubstantiated allegations of destabilization efforts by Eritrea. Thus making the Ambassador’s statement all the more out of context and misguided.
The sanctions are unjust and counterproductive. They complicate any chance for regional peace and security. This new era in the Horn of Africa offers the US a great opportunity to change its approach and reset relations with Eritrea, underpinned by peace, cooperation, respect, and constructive engagement. To continue with its decades-long failed policy the US would be illustrating a widely-known quote: “insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
That said, it is heartening to hear that the US position has shifted markedly since that statement and there is now support for the lifting of the sanctions which is long overdue. And because there has been a marked shift further to the recent rapprochement and ensuing peace declaration.
Ethiopia and Somalia have further advocated the lifting of the sanctions, with requests that Eritrea continue to improve relations with Djibouti.
Earlier this month in November 2018, Britain circulated a draft resolution calling for the lifting of the arms embargo, travel bans, assets freezes and targeted sanctions.
The third of these campaigns is the media’s unethical approach toward and distorted narrative on Eritrea. The campaign of defamation, disinformation, and misinformation, - failing to consider context, politicizing human rights, and completely falsifying on the ground realities. Thus seeking to destabilize the country, harm prospects for regional or global engagement, and promote regime change. This destructive approach and narrative fails to take into account the significant work conducted in Eritrea towards improving the standard of living of its people and protecting and promoting the entire gamut of human rights. A country that had fought so long and lost so much to first win and then maintain its independence and sovereignty- was once again under an unjust attack.
It is obvious that this post-peace era will involve considerable attention to initiate postponed reforms and developments. As the Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has referred to, much work has to be done to make up for the years of lost opportunities.
Ruby Sandhu (firstname.lastname@example.org) - November 2018.