Facts in the Face of Fiction: No. 3

Here below is some of the fiction flowing from Addis Ababa, along with the facts to help you through the smoke screen to get to the truth.

On Violation of Human Rights

• FICTION: "Eritreans have stoned POWs and paraded them in the public."

• FACT 1: "We have said these were our comrades in arms. We have fought together with them for so many years. We do not want to boast about killing TPLF or EPRDF soldiers because these are the people we fought together. And we want to, not just our own principles and our own morality, but we also want to take the feelings of the Ethiopian population into account. And so we have totally refrained from talking about causalities. And because of that I do not even want to talk about causalities, including prisoners of war. But any journalist who has been here, any international community, embassy, organizations will confirm that we have not paraded any prisoners of war. In fact, so many journalists have approached us saying that they would like to take pictures of prisoners of war. They have asked to talk to POWs. We have said it is not our policy." Yemane Ghebreab in an interview with Journalist Elsa Musa, Dehai archives 21 Jul 1998.

• FACT 2: "Heads of mission can confirm that allegations of mistreatment of Ethiopians in Eritrea have not come to their knowledge. Neither true is information of parading of prisoners of war in Asmara, except briefly for Ethiopian Air Force officer Bezabih Petros after the downing of his plane. Through intensive interviews with Ethiopian citizens in Asmara and elsewhere it can be confirmed that they are treated mostly in no way other then before the conflict between the two states. Eritreans have even been warned by the government not to harass Ethiopians and to treat them in a respectful manner." European ambassadors in Asmara's Report to the EU, July 29, 1998.

• FICTION: "We cannot expel a citizen of Ethiopia from Ethiopia.IThe Ethiopian government said Friday that its policy toward 550,000 Eritreans now residing in Ethiopia "remains intact" and the Eritreans "can continue to live and work peacefully in Ethiopia." XINHUA: quoting Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. "Ethiopia Announces Policy Toward Eritreans Living in Ethiopia", June 12, 1998.

• FACT: " 'Look, I can guarantee you every ambassador in this city has a horror story to tell' a senior Western diplomatic source in Addis Ababa said in reference to Ethiopia's expulsion of Eritreans. 'It has become absolutely clear that Ethiopia is responsible for serious human rights violations.' " Christian Science Article Tuesday, July 7, 1998.

• FICTION: "This aggression unleashed by Eritrea on Ethiopia's sovereignty and territorial integrity reflects Eritrea's absolute disregard for international law and for civilized behavior." Seyoum Mesfin, 68th Ordinary Session of the Council of Ministers of the OAU.

• FACT: "I am deeply concerned by the violation of human rights of Eritrean nationals being expelled from Ethiopia, and particularly by the fact that their passports are being stamped 'expelled, never to return'. Others, who had been trying to leave, have had their identity cards confiscated. These are serious violations of the rights and freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ethiopia is a party." HR/98/44, 1 July 1998, Mary Robinson , High Commissioner for Human Rights.

ETHIOPIAN REACTION 1: "Ethiopia on Thursday blasted U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson for alleging rights violations against Eritreans and demanded an immediate amendment to what it called a baseless statement." Ethiopia blasts UN rights commissioner over report, Reuters, Jul 02, 1998 .

ETHIOPIAN REACTION 2: "Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia said yesterday that his government 'has the unrestricted right to expel any foreigner from the country for any reason whatsoever.' In an interview on Ethiopian television, the Ethiopian Prime Minister said, 'Any foreigner, whether Eritrean, Japanese, etc., lives in Ethiopia because of the goodwill of the Ethiopian government. If the Ethiopian government says 'Go, because we don't like the colour of your eyes,' they have to leave." Eritrean News Agency, ERINA Update Friday, July 10, 1998.

ETHIOPIAN REACTION 3: The Ethiopian government says it has arrested more than a-thousand Eritreans living in the country on suspicion of spying. A government spokesman said that those held will be deported, although they would be allowed to appoint agents to manage their businesses and property. Correspondents say many of them are well-known businessmen who run transport companies and retail shops." BBC World Service July 11, 1998.

• FACT 1: "As regards the situation of Eritreans in Ethiopia, the Committee met the deported Eritreans in Asmara, and the detainees in EthiopiaI. The conditions in which those deportations were carried out, the decision to extend those measures to the families of the deported persons and the fate of their properties are a source of deep concern." OAU Ministerial Committee, Ouagadougou, Aug. 1, 1998.

• FACT 2: "The United States views with deep concern the detention and expulsion of ethnic Eritreans in and from Ethiopia. … [T]here are fundamental humanitarian and human rights concerns raised by the forcible separation of families, the undue hardships of those detained or expelled to Eritrea, and the financial losses caused by sudden expulsions. We urge the Government of Ethiopia to respect international human rights norms and standards and follow appropriate due process in handling its security concerns. We further urge the Government of Ethiopia to allow all those who were wrongfully expelled to return and to establish a compensation commission to investigate and recommend compensation for the claims resulting from undue financial loss and hardship as a result of rapid, forced expulsions." U.S. Department of State: Office of the Spokesman, Aug. 6, 1998.

ETHIOPIAN REACTION : The total number of Eritreans deported from Ethiopia has now reached over 17,000 with another 800 Eritreans deported from Ethiopia arriving Tuesday at the border town of Badme. The Eritrean deportees include many children and pregnant women as well as disabled and elderly people who had to be carried on makeshift stretchers on a trip which took four days by foot. The Eritreans had lived in the Tigray region of Ethiopia for decades. On their arrival at the border town of Badme, they told ERINA reporters that after the border conflict had begun, they were denied freedom of movement in Tigray and had their properties taken away by Ethiopian officials." ERINA Update, Eritrean News Agency, Aug 13, 1998.

• FICTION: "Since June 9, the Eritrean regime has brutally expelled well over 4,000 Ethiopian civilians after confiscating their property including personal belongings and after inflicting severe injuries on them. Many of them were deported through a hostile territory across the common border in an inhuman manner, while more than 3,000 Ethiopians were deported from Assab and 180 were from other parts of Eritrea." MINELIK ALEMU GETAHUN, Statement to the UNCHR, Geneva. Aug. 6, 1998.

• FACT 1: The ICRC and UN agencies reported that only 125 Ethiopians (80 teachers from Assab and 45 students from Asmara) left on their own will after receiving full assistance from the Eritrean government and with the collaboration of the ICRC. The UN representative in Eritrea and journalists in Eritrea also reported that none of these have happened. UNDP-Eritrea report to the UN, July 22, 1998.

• FACT 2: "To the best knowledge of the heads of mission there have not been mass deportations, arbitrary arrests or anything else regarding the Ethiopians. Those who wanted to leave Eritrea were not hindered with the exception of 177 Ethiopians who were sent back for no obvious reasons to their embassy in Asmara a few days ago. The Eritrean government has openly declared that these people are free to leave. The ICRC is allowed to look into this matter." European ambassadors in Asmara's Report to the EU, July 29, 1998.

• FICTION: "Asked about her recent statement that a number of Ethiopians from a group of 380 attempting to cross from Eritrea last week had been killed and the remainder sent back to Asmara, she[Salome] said: ``This is fact. We have the information and witnesses.''[Reuters] Aug 01, 1998.

• FACT 1: "But a Reuters correspondent in Asmara spoke to the group -- now camped in the Ethiopian embassy grounds -- who said nothing of any killings and said they were being well-treated by Eritrean authorities." David Fox [Reuters] Aug 01, 1998.

• FACT 2: Martyn Ngwenya, the resident coordinator of the United Nations in Eritrea, investigated allegations of harassment of Ethiopians and told Reuters "As far as I know there has been no orchestrated violence or harassment of Ethiopians in Eritrea, you can challenge me on that.'' David Fox [Reuters] Aug 01, 1998.

• FACT 3: "The heads of mission are not aware of detentions of Ethiopians for the only reason of being Ethiopians. There might have been arrests of few Ethiopians but--as the government declares--for reasons of criminal acts, etc. The ICRC will also look into this matter next week." European ambassadors in Asmara's Report to the EU, July 29, 1998.

• FICTION: "The Eritrean government has refused the Red Cross access to Ethiopian detainees stating: I Eritrea is one of very few countries in the world that have not signed up to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of 1977 - the Principal instruments of international humanitarian law." Ethiopian Foreign Ministry, Aug. 1998.

• FACT: "The international community is free to come to Eritrea and investigate these allegations for themselves. We have already extended an invitation to the UN Commission for Human Rights which, I am happy to report, has been accepted. Do not judge Eritrea by my words alone: the facts are there for the world to seeI. The international community and the UN are free to come to Eritrea to investigate the record of the Eritrean Government for themselves. We are committed to transparency and pursue an open door policy. Unlike Ethiopia, Eritrea is actively co-operating on these matters with the ICRC and the United Nations agencies in Eritrea as well as the diplomatic community." Eritrean Statement to the UN Human Rights Commission, Geneva, 4 August 1998.

• FICTION: "Over 600 Ethiopian civilians are detained in different detention centers." Ethiopian Statement to the UNCHR, Geneva, Aug 6, 1998.

• FACT 1: The OAU and UN missions were told by the Ethiopian Charge d'Affairs that there were only 57 Ethiopians and admitted that even this number was exaggeration. The truth is that there are only 17 Ethiopians in custody.

• FACT 2: "The UN Team also met with Ethiopians who reside in Assab. Teachers want to go home (Ethiopia) since the Ethiopian Community School is now closed. These are Ethiopian teachers employed by the Ethiopian Government to teach at an Ethiopian School in Assab. The other Ethiopians complained of lack of employment opportunities since their livelihoods depended on arrival of ships. "When ships arrive, Assab is our new York city" recalled one sad casual worker with a wishful smile. As to the Ethiopians with permanent employment, they confirmed that they have been receiving their salaries as usual. The people we met did not cite violations of human rights." UNDP-Eritrea report to the UN, July 22, 1998

• FACT 3: "The Ethiopian Charge d'Affairs in Asmara told UN agencies and the OAU committee of Ambassadors who visited Asmara at the end of June that the alleged 'number of (Ethiopian) detainees was 57.' Even this figure was inflated by his own admission as he said that some of those detainees 'had been long released, while many others were petty traders arrested long before the crisis, for ordinary criminal and civil offenses'." ERREC report to the UN, July 27, 1998.

• FACT 4: "The Committee could not establish the reality of a systematic or official action directed against Ethiopians in Eritrea." Chairman of the OAU Ministerial Committee, Ouagadougou, Aug. 1, 1998.

• FACT 5: "Seventy two Ethiopian citizens living in Eritrea are detained arbitrarily by the Eritrean Government." Ethiopian Embassy in Asmara in a letter to the ICRC, 10 July 1998.

• FACT 6 "By the beginning of September Eritrea claimed Ethiopia had expelled some 20,000 Eritreans; Ethiopia said Eritrea had thrown out more than 6,000 Ethiopians, though Africa Confidential has interviewed Ethiopian returnees on both sides of the border and found no evidence of deportation. In the last resort, both Ethiopia and Eritrea appear to want a test of strength and are building up ammunition stocks and troop numbers for the end of the rainy season, due by October." "ETHIOPIA/ERITREA: Brothers at war" Africa Confidential, Volume 39 Number 18 - 11 Sept. 1998.

• FACT 7: August 14, 1998: Even the figure given by the Ethiopian Embassy in Asmara is not correct. The Eritrean Government had sent a letter to the (International Committee of the Red Cross); regarding Ethiopians "detained" in Eritrea. This letter states that out of the 72 names of people the Ethiopian Embassy in Asmara gave the ICRC; "32 were released after the taking of the necessary investigation, that is before the Embassy notified of their detention; 22 of them have never been detained anywhere in the country;" and that the Eritrean Government does "not have any kind of information on the first twelve listed"; five (5) "are still living peacefully in Eritrea, while six have left to Ethiopia; 12 are still under the custody of the police, and their case is under investigation. (All of them were visited by your office recently.)" Furthermore, "six (6) were tried for the crime they had committed and are sentenced to be imprisoned." "All this shows that the allegations made by the Ethiopian Embassy are pure fabrication and the Ministry calls the ICRC to react against the false allegations that the Ethiopian Government is conducting continuously."

• FICTION: "There are now about 30,000 Ethiopians in Assab. According to eye-witnesses, they are not allowed to leave Assab and they are not allowed to work. Two women have committed suicide because they were unable to feed their families. Some have to report to the EPLF office everyday. The Eritrean authorities have refused to allow families of Ethiopian prisoners to visit them. They have also denied access to the ICRC and other international organizations. More than 30,000 Ethiopians in Eritrea have been denied the right to work." Salome Tadesse, 14th July 1998.

• FACT: UN agencies that visited Assab confirmed that all salaried Ethiopian workers in Assab are receiving their full pay." Those who were permanent port staff reported having been put on paid annual leave in late May. I They[Ethiopian teachers] reported that there were 50 teachers stranded in Assab since the border closed. They are Ethiopian government employees and had not been paid in four months. I The teachers did not report any problems of harassment by either the authorities or the local people." UNDP-Eritrea report to the UN, July 22, 1998.

• FICTION: " Ethiopians peacefully residing in Eritrea have no freedom to move from one area to another and most importantly to return to their homeland without any hindrance. They are being held as hostages against their will by the Eritrean Government." FDRE Office of the Government Spokesperson 12/08/98.

• FACT: "When asked if they would like to go to Ethiopia, the people in the group declined, saying that Assab was their home and that they had no place in Ethiopia to return to. None of the group reported having been mistreated by others and they told the delegation that they had other problem than of getting work to feed their families." UNDP-Eritrea report to the UN, July 22, 1998.

• FICTION: "Zala Anbessa has been razed and the population terrorized."

• FACT: Voice of Germany reported the Ethiopians in Zala Anbessa praised the way the Eritrean army was treating them. They admitted that they were allowed to do their own business and to even cross the border into Ethiopia and back. Goitom Bihon, VoG Amharic Service.

• FICTION: "Tsehay, a young Ethiopian girl, speaks tearfully, of the dehumanizing experience she went through at the hands of Eritrean soldiers: "I worked as a house maid for three years in Eritrea. Suddenly, I was told to leave the country immediately by Shabiya members. On my way out of Eritrea, I was intercepted by members of the Eritrean army at checkpoint No. 57. They dragged me, threw me to the ground, tore off my clothes, beat me wildly, then four of them took it in turns to rape me." FDRE Office of the Government Spokesperson, August 5, 1998.

• FACT: Tsehai was not a house maid but an owner of a Bar in Assab. This person had left Eritrea, on her own free will, not last week, not last month, but long, almost a year ago. She had left way before the current crisis came and had never been to Assab since then. According to a signed confession she gave to the police at Assab more than a year ago she is a person who had admitted to have tried to torch her own house by pouring kerosene in the verandah and lighting it with a match in order to collect insurance money. Haddas Eritrea #139 of Tue, July 21, 1998.