On April 15, 2015, HRCE sends a letter to the EU stating the concern over the Commission’s current plans to hand significant development aid to the Eritrean government without sufficient oversight as to how the money is being spent. This decision both undermines the European Union’s commitments to human rights and democracy and effectively rewards a tyrant. Please read on for the content of the full letter.
Mr Jean-Claude Juncker
President of the European Commission
Rue de la Loi, 200
15 April 2015
Re: EU’s Development aid to the Eritrean Government
I am writing on behalf of Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE) to state our concern over the Commission’s current plans to hand significant development aid to the Eritrean government without sufficient oversight as to how the money is being spent. This decision both undermines the European Union’s commitments to human rights and democracy and effectively rewards a tyrant.
The final amounts have not yet been set; however, it appears that the European Commission will distribute the aid to the Eritrean regime through the local delegation in Asmara. The hope is that this aid will stem a growing exodus of Eritreans attempting the dangerous journey to Europe to claim asylum. It would seem that the Commission, as a major international donor, is thus endeavouring to assist processes that would benefit the overall advancement of the EU’s human rights and democracy strategy in Eritrea.
As the EU’s decision has been made soon after the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in Eritrea (COI) disclosed in its interim report that it found a very clear pattern of human rights violations, we can only express our bewilderment, which is shared by other human rights advocates, at the decision to provide assistance to the Eritrean government.
Our confusion is compounded by H.E Peter Sorensen’s (the EU’s delegate to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC)) remarks on 16 March 2015, regarding the excellent work of the COI and regretting the government of Eritrea’s refusal to cooperate and grant it access to the country. Mr Soreensen also expressed his deep concern about the persistent serious violations of human rights such as arbitrary arrest including political, and indefinite detention in inhumane prison conditions, extra-judicial killings, and torture, to name but a few of the many human rights violations that are carried out in a systematic basis by the very same officials to whom this money will be entrusted.
Establishment of the COI emboldened human rights advocates to once again believe that change is possible and it cemented our strong belief that the EU is on the side of those fighting for democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights. This latest decision, however, may appear to offer a short-term solution, but there are serious, negative long-term consequences attached.
The Eritrean authorities are extremely corrupt. As in many failing states, there is an elite, which uses international money to strengthen and perpetuate its control and violence over the rest of society.
The root causes of the corruption are a lack of democracy and rule of law, lack of an independent judiciary system, lack of an implemented constitution, or of any collective decision-making by parliament. How can a country whose government is under investigation for crimes against humanity at this very moment also be granted millions of euros in development aid (which is not food aid)? Indeed, Afewerki and his cronies eat well whilst the majority of the population goes hungry and is urged by the government to eat even less of the less-than appetising dry sorghum bread, which is their daily fare. Now, it appears that the EU wants to put hundreds of millions of euros of European taxpayers’ money in its safekeeping. The risk is that millions will suffer in the country just to curb the exodus of thousands.
The Eritrean government has refused to cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteur and the COI on the situation of human rights in Eritrea; and it has refused to cooperate with the UN Monitoring Group. The country is under a mythical siege of ’no war, no peace’ – a pretext for the indefinite militarisation of the able-bodied youth (and even senior citizens). It has been mooted that the period of military national service may be reduced to 18 months, but this remains to be seen. And who will monitor it?
The EU with its presence in Eritrea knows well that the regime is difficult to work with as a development partner, that it is the most secretive and repressive regime with no transparent and accountable institutions in place. The government never makes public its budgeting planning. Donors cannot monitor and evaluate the implementation and outcomes of the programmes and projects that they fund.
Does the EU plan to introduce independent monitoring, given the general lack of cooperation from, and restrictions by, the government of Eritrea? If so, is it aware that there is an instilled suspicion and fear amongst the Eritrean society towards foreign agencies? Such distrust vis-à-vis the EU is unlikely to decrease if it is known to give money directly to the oppressors. Moreover, is it aware that the general public may feel too afraid to share information without an authorization from, and under the close supervision of, government representatives?
In light of the facts, we urge the EU to reconsider its decision to give development aid to the leaders of Eritrea. Would this development aid not be better spent assisting the thousands of Eritreans that are already in southern Europe, or expanding the Frontex force in the Mediterranean to better rescue migrants and asylum seekers?
Mr Martin Shultz, President of the European Parliament
Mr Donald Tusk, President of the European Council
Mr Neven Mimica, The European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development
Ms Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
Mr Stavros Lambrindis, The European Union’s Special Representative for Human Rights
Mr Engelbert Theuermann, Chair of COHOM
Mr Elmar Brok MEP Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee
Ms Elena Valenciano, MEP, Chair – Human Rights Sub Committee
Ms Barbara LOCHBIHLER, Vice-Chair of the Sub Committee of Human Rights
Mr Cristian Dan Preda, MEP, Vice-Chair – Human Rights Sub Committee
Mr Louis Michel MEP, Chair Delegation to the ACP-EU JPA
Mr Ignazio Corrao, MEP,
Ms Marie-Christine Vergiat, MEP,
Ms Ana Maria GOMES, MEP
Ms Judith Sargentini, MEP
Ms Jean Lambert, MEP
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead
The Lord Bishop of Derby,
Baroness Morgan of Ely
Additional Information provided with the letter:
The Eritrean government’s lack of political will, its dictatorial leader with total control over people’s lives and deliberate suffocation is what resulted thousands to flee their country.
Additional information on why Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE) thinks that the EU Development Aid should not be given to the Regime in Eritrea:
1. Use of Forced Labour
It could be said that the entire population is being used as forced labour, but especially the conscripts, many of whom are being forced to work in slave-like conditions in the government owned Construction Campaniles, including mining projects and various ministries.
On 20 November 2014, three plaintiffs (former conscripts) filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court of British Columbia against Nevsun Resources Ltd., a Vancouver-based international mining company whose primary operation is its Bisha mine in western Eritrea (“Bisha Mine”)
The plaintiffs allege that they and other Eritreans were forced to work against their will on the construction of the mine, and that Nevsun’s Eritrean subsidiary BMSC and its contractors used forced labour, a modern form of slavery, paid $10 per month, for six days work up to 12 hours per day, in the construction of the Bisha mine from 2008 onwards. Mine construction work was performed at the Bisha mine and other mine sites by companies, including Segen, a main construction company owned by Eritrea’s ruling party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).
2. Demolishing Citizens’ Houses
Since January 2015, the regime in Asmara, has demolished over 1,000 occupied newly-built and older houses, in good condition, of its citizens in Arbaete Asmara, Xelot, Daero Paulos, Adi Keyeh, and Dekemehare, and left thousands on the street homeless. The operation of demolishing citizens’ houses continues unabated. Those who lost their houses and their families were not given temporary shelter, and they are exposed to risks and danger. Why are they doing this? The claim that they were ‘illegally’ built surely doesn’t justify their destruction? Where was the government, and what was it doing, while the houses were being built? Is this the kind of government that can be trusted with development aid money? How petty and sinisterly malicious is this kind of action? There is no temporary shelter, no social security system, in Eritrea. These people are destitute now.
3) Expenditure on White Elephant Projects and Businesses to satisfy the self-aggrandisement of the President.
Under the pretext of strategic importance, while the entire nation was put on food rations, the government spent a record 50m USD between July 2011 and December 2012 (just in a span of 16 months) on Eritrean Airlines. The Airline lost all this money. Had this amount been used for the well being of the people of Eritrea, it would have had some positive impact and it could have contributed to stemming the exodus of the youth.
In 2011 the government gave the management of the Airline to Aviation Management Consultants (AMC), a company owned by Mr. Shakil Aftab Kashmirwala, a Pakistani national, an Honarary Council General of the State of Eritrea in Pakistan, http://consularcorpssindh.org/Allmembers.aspx , and who is implicated by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea as one of the individuals that the Eritrean government deals with in illegal business.
The government dismantled the Eritrean Airline’s Board of Directors and gave AMC unwarranted access to public funds that could have otherwise been used in other sectors.
Prior to this period, from 2003 to 2014 (excluding July 2011 to December 2012) the government spent around 33m USD on the Eritrean Airline that has never made a profit.
These losses should have been enough to deter the regime from squandering public funds. However, in 2012, the government signed an agreement with the People’s Republic of China for the purchase of three MA60 passenger aircraft worth 40m USD for a start-up airline, Massawa Airways.
In total, the government has spent and lost around 83m USD to establish an airline that is a luxury to a small country with many social, economic and other problems. It has also tried to spend another 40m USD for the purchase of small aircraft. The regime has spent around 130m USD just for Eritrean Airlines. Despite spending millions of USD, Eritrean Airlines has been banned by the European Commission from flying into countries in the European Union since December 2012.
Nobody knows how much more has been misspent on other white elephant projects in Eritrea.
Had there been democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights in Eritrea, would these projects be priorities while the majority of the population lives without electricity? While most Eritreans don’t have enough water? Could the government not have spent these resources for the overall advancing of the human rights and democracy framework that would address the long-term development needs, on energy and other sectors?
4) Stakes in Mining Projects
The government has so far paid around 300m USD to exercise its interest to purchase stakes in three mining companies. Although we are aware of the long-term advantages of these investments, for a government that boasts of “prioritizing resources”, these expenses are tremendous and at least the regime should have been engaged itself in the same endeavour to alleviate the social and economic problems of the country.
Moreover, the government has refused to disclose the revenues that it is getting from the mineral exports. The mining dealings and revenues are under direct control of party officials rather than government institutions.
The Eritrean National Bank and The Ministry of Mines and Energy have no official role to play in these financial dealings. The Eritrean National Mining Corporation (ENAMCO), the main stakeholder in the government’s stakes in mining, is a three-person company, which was set up by Isaias Afewerki a few years ago. Those three people are Hagos Gebrehiwot (the Head of Economic Affairs of PFDJ), Yemane Gebremeskel (Information Minister) and Berhane Habtemariam (the current Minister of Finance).
Would the EU allow the same things in the management of the aid?
Is the EU aware that the Head of ENAMCO and the Minister of Finance are one and the same person? In such an unorthodox modus operandi, how would the EU expect the aid to be managed?
5) Shelved Constitution
While the President of the State arrogantly said that the people-approved constitution was dead, funding a regime for human rights and democracy framework is perplexing. In fact, although the original constitution was never implemented, the Eritrean government has now announced that a new constitution will be drafted. This is nothing more than a tactic to prolong its reign of oppression and stall the UN and other international communities who have expressed criticism of the regime. . The regime should have been held accountable for having shelved a constitution for close to two decades.
How would the EU, whose pillars of foreign aid are based on democracy and respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law, fund a regime whose pillars of existence are the exact opposite of these principles?