(London, 14 November 2018) Today the UN Security Council lifted the sanction that was imposed on Eritrea in 2009. What were these sanctions and why were they imposed? The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1907 imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea, travel bans on its leaders, and froze the assets of some of the country’s political and military officials, after accusing the Eritrean government of aiding Al-Shabaab in Somalia and reportedly refusing to withdraw troops from its disputed border with Djibouti.
Clearly the 13 members of the Security Council who voted for the resolution believed Eritrea’s regime was actively supporting terrorism and illegally occupying territory that did not belong to it. Only one country voted against the resolution, and one abstained, so 13 out of 15 believed the sanctions to be justified—nearly 87% of the Council.
Eritrea’s Foreign Minister, Osman Saleh, calls these sanctions “unwarranted”. So, who proposed these sanctions? The Western powers? No. The sanctions were called for by the African Union, the resolution tabled by Uganda and led by Burkina Faso. Nearby countries called for them, countries which well know what the Eritrean regime is doing, and saw these sanctions as fully deserved.
Mr. Saleh says, “The people of Eritrea have not committed a crime or transgression.” Indeed, he is totally correct. It is not the people, but the undemocratic military regime which has committed a multitude of crimes against the people, as witnessed by the UN Commission of Inquiry, which provided evidence that the Eritrean government had committed crimes against humanity. The harm done to the people by its government has been so great that half a million Eritreans have fled their country in a decade. That is the glaring proof of crimes committed against its people by the regime itself.
The Foreign Minister claims the sanctions “have entailed considerable economic damage to the country and unnecessary hardships on its people.” He offers no proof of this, because there is none. Who has been harmed and how? Does the arms embargo stop ordinary Eritreans from legitimate pastimes like hunting? Or does it perhaps curb the violent actions of the military? Does freezing the assets of military leaders stop them donating their wealth to the millions of poor and starving Eritreans? Does a travel ban on members of the government stop poor Eritreans from taking luxury holidays abroad—or is it the political leaders who are missing their cruises? The bad news is that most of the sanctions did not affect the political and military leaders either, as many UN member states simply did not implement these sanctions.
Mr. Saleh says, “The people of Eritrea deserve, compensation for the damages incurred and opportunities forfeited due to the imposition of the sanction.” Wait a minute, “the damages incurred”, the “opportunities forfeited”? Arms embargoes? Assets frozen? Travel bans? Which people suffered loss of “opportunities”? The political and military leaders who alone have enough assets to be frozen. We can safely guarantee no ordinary citizen (who in any case is forbidden to leave the country) ever lost a holiday or a profitable investment opportunity. It is true that trading opportunities have been crippled in the last 16 years; but, since all trade is controlled by the government, which has stalled the economy and strangled free enterprise, the lost trading opportunities are a direct result of government policies. As to frozen assets: each citizen’s bank account has long been virtually frozen – under the government’s order, a maximum of Nakfa 5,000 may be withdrawn by citizens.
On what grounds are the sanctions being lifted? Mr. Saleh says it is “in light of the widely acclaimed peace” between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Let us look at this much vaunted peace agreement. Has it solved all border disputes? Well no, because the exact borders have not yet been discussed. Has it guaranteed freedom and human rights to the people of Eritrea? Definitely not. Nothing has been done to end all the abuses of human rights. True, the borders have been opened with Ethiopia? But . 500 Eritreans a day are fleeing into Ethiopia from their supposedly peaceful government, so desperate are they to escape its clutches and the prospect of unending National Service for the rest of their lives.
Once more the Eritrean regime has been crying foul and lying to the people of Eritrea. The sanctions have not hurt them: it is their own government which has taken hope and liberty and opportunity from all the Eritrean people. The people have suffered loss of life, loss of freedom, loss of economic prosperity and trade, loss of an entire generation and of a harmonious society through the decades of sanctions imposed on them by undemocratic military regime. No-one else. It included travel bans (within Eritrea!) for all Eritreans except for leaders themselves!
So, the regime of Isaias Afwerki has used all its media channels to complain again about the sanctions and call on the world community to reimburse it for all the damage that was inflicted on the people of Eritrea because of the “unjust, illegal” sanctions. But the truth of the matter is that it is the people of Eritrea who are calling upon Isaias Afwerki to lift the sanctions against their own people in every aspect of their daily lives. But regardless, Afwerki can never compensate this suffering people for all the outrageous damage and dramatic losses they have suffered, year after year, this whole century!
So now that the sanction is lifted, what is next for Eritrea’s brutal and unelected leader?
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)