How Truth Can Be Twisted to Reveal a Glossy and Idealised Image

A Reply to the Statement by Eritrea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Osman Salih, on Human Rights Day 2016

Whatever his ultimate purpose, Eritrean Foreign Minister, Osman Salih, did at least reveal the true nature of the ground-breaking 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), “to set out common (Human Rights) standards which every country should strive to achieve”

It is strange that a high-profile minister from a regime renowned for its abuse of most of the human rights in the Declaration should want to remind us of what his government flagrantly ignores, but it gives us a key to understand his intentions: to gloss over the ugly truth by pretending his own regime shares these internationally proclaimed high ideals.

He pretends that in Eritrea “equal rights and opportunities are promoted, sanctioned by national laws,” and “the rule of law is instituted”; but these assertions bear no relation to the truth, for the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea found that there is no Rule of Law, and no independent judiciary system to administer such laws fairly or to promote equality of all citizens before the law.

The Minister pretends that Eritrean citizens have opportunities for “responsible participation of the people”, but in the same breath he has to admit that the country has been governed without a constitution for 25 years, claiming merely that “writing a new constitution is on course”, a strange assertion when none of the citizens of Eritrea have been consulted or seen any draft in progress so far.

It is odd that the Minister should claim that in Eritrea “Peace and stability prevail”, when 60,000 Eritreans flee from their own country every year. Who ever heard of such a flood of refugees from a peaceful and harmonious state? In a similar vein, Mr. Salih proclaims the Eritrean Government’s “commitment and responsibility to advance human rights for its people”. This assertion flatly contradicts the UN Commission of Inquiry’s findings that human rights abuses are not just unfortunate incidents by criminals which the government has failed to prevent, but that “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea in a climate of generalized impunity.”

The abuses for which this government was found by the UN Inquiry Commission to be responsible include “extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture, arbitrary and incommunicado detentions, indefinite national service, forced labour, forced military conscription of children and sexual violence”. It is these very government officials (of whom Mr. Salih is one) whom the Commission of Inquiry finds to have committed “a widespread and systematic campaigns against the civilian population since 1991. The campaign has been aimed at maintaining a total control of the population and perpetuating the Eritrean leadership role.”

So how does Mr Salih’s glossy optimistic portrayal of his country’s human rights explain away the appalling findings of the Commission of Inquiry? It is in his version all a plot:

Eritrea “has been targeted under the politically motivated, country specific resolutions and mechanisms of the Human Rights Council”.

He proposes that this respected UN body is to blame for getting its priorities all wrong and placing its “focus on political and civil rights” rather than on humanitarian concerns. Eritrea is apparently a victim of skewed political priorities! Never mind the actual crimes against humanity reported by the Commission of Inquiry.

In the idealised version of his country, the Eritrean Foreign Minister portrays it as very willing to co-operate with others: “Eritrea continues to strengthen its bilateral, regional and international level engagement and cooperation, including on human rights. The UPR in particular serves as a vital entry point and the evolving cooperation partnerships with the UN and EU are considered important.” The falsity of this claim is revealed by the fact that no UN Special Rapporteur or Committee of the Human Rights Council has ever been allowed to enter Eritrea to research or take evidence inside the country. And as for the Recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Eritrea has largely ignored or failed to comply with the majority of the UPR Recommendations from its previous UPR cycle, in 2009.

So, the picture painted by Mr. Osman Salih of his country’s human rights is about as accurate as a glossy travel brochure produced for holiday visitors to a country which is in fact a cruel dictatorship which exploits and terrifies its citizens.


Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
17 December 2016