Response to Sophia Tesfamariam: 10 Reasons Why She Is Wrong

On 28 October 2014, the Special Rapporteur (SR) on the situation of Human Rights in Eritrea, Ms. Sheila Keetharuth had  an interactive dialogue with the UN General Assembly, third Committee in New York. She presented her second report, and her findings include damning indictments of the Eritrean regime on human rights violations:

The regime is frantically trying to defend its indefensible crimes and abuses of human rights directly via its ambassadors and its unofficial spokespersons. A day before the Special Rapporteur’s interactive dialogue, on 27 October 2014, Ms Sophia Tesfamariam, an employee and the unofficial spokesperson of the dictatorial regime in Eritrea, in response to the SR’ s report wrote an article titled: “10 Reasons Why the UN Should Reject the Special Rapporteur’s Report”

We decided this time to address Ms Tesfamariam’s erroneousassertions and desperate attempt to discredit the SR’s report on the Eritrean regime’s systematic and widespread abuses of human rights. We have also obtained credible information from inside Eritrea that Ms Tesfamariam is  a paid employee of the Eritrean regime, and receives privileges, especially when she visits Eritrea. So, her fulltime engagement is to lobby for the dictatorial regime, to defame and disgracefully attack Eritrean or non-Eritrean activists and academics who criticise the brutal regime in Eritrea.  She does it while she and her family  live in a democratic country, the United States, raises her children withcomfort, educates them in the best schools and universities, and uses her democratic rights in her host country to protect and promote an evil dictator who kills, tortures, starves, and oppresses, its own people. The merciless dictator is in in the process of destroying Eritrea and its people. Ms Tesfamariam shamelessly has sold her soul and chose to become an accomplice to the crimes perpetrated against her own country and people.

Due to the continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights committed by the Eritrean regime,  the Special Rapporteur was appointed in July  2012 and her mandate was to document the gross human rights violations and present her findings to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Her mandate requires her to go to Eritrea; however, the Eritrean regime has refused her entry to the country, she has not, as Ms Tesfamariam states, chosen not to visit and talk to the people in Eritrea – on the contrary, she has been expressly forbidden to do so by the Eritrean regime, a regime that limits the movements of anyone who might criticise it in any way whatsoever, and therefore her report was based on the testimonies of victims, victim’s families and witnesses in diaspora. The findings confirmed what Eritrean human rights advocates and international human rights groups had already reported which is the systematic repression and violation of fundamental rights of Eritrean citizens, and the denial of justice by the regime.

It is perhaps apposite that the writer opens with a paraphrase of something written by the Montreal lawyer John Philpot, who represented Jean-Paul Akayesu and other defendants accused of genocide and crimes against humanity at the trials conducted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

The UNHRC has not stopped with appointing the SP, but in September 2014, it decided to broaden its investigation of the regime’s crimes against humanity by establishing a Commission of Inquiry (COI), a three person committee which includes the SR herself. This has become a persistent headache to the regime and it is trying, desperately, to discredit  the UNHRC, the SR, and the COI, through its missions and unofficial spokespersons such as the disingenuous Ms Tesfamariam. In her  recent article, she gave ten reasons why the UN should reject the SR’s report without stating specific sources whenever she disguised a lie by making an unsubstantiated  generalisation.

Below is our response to her ten reasons:

1. Border issue:

Mrs Tesfamariam is completely off the track here. What does the border ruling and the border issue have to do with human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime she defends, unless she is  deluding herself or trying to do so to others. The SR’s report does not deal with historical causes but with current conditions. Her argument here is hollow. In any case the SR acknowledges the issue in her report.

2. UN Sanctions on Eritrea:

Again, neither the SR nor the COI has the mandate to deal with the UN sanctions against Eritrea. The source of the sanctions is the regime she vehemently defends and it is her work as an employee and lobbyist of the regime to challenge the UN Security Council or she should recommend the dismissal of the regime’s mission to the UN for not persuading the world. The UN sanction on Eritrea is not for the human rights abuses the Eritrean people are subjected to by the brutal regime in Eritrea. It is for its destabilizing role in the region.  Her argument on this issue is irrational and irrelevant.

3. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):

Regardless of the credibility of their aegis’s  claims, achieving MDGs does not give anyone a license to violate the rights of citizens and commit crimes against humanity. In any case, while the SR acknowledges the claims of achieving goals 4. 5, and 6, those claims are not verified by an independent source. How did  the writer arrive at those  conclusions? When/where/how did they carry out surveys?  Has the data collection method and the findings  been verified or tested? The regime frequently makes unsubstantiated  claims, as is evidenced here.

4. Omission:

Ms Tesfamariam accused the SR for not talking to PFDJ organizations in the diaspora. But Ms. Keetharuth went further than that, she requested Ms Tesfamariam’s government to allow her to go to Eritrea to meet the Eritrean people , the authorities, the government affiliated organisations, to visit prisons and talk to prisoners. Why did Ms Tesfamariam choose to selectively omit this truth?  And why has her government refused  the SR permission to visit Eritrea? What kind of country is it where the truth can only be discovered by subterfuge and spying? Not being able to visit would certainly spare her from talking to those residing outside Eritrea and whom Ms Tesfamariam is referring to as “politically motivated” and  “anti-Eritrea groups”?. The SR and the organisations that support her attempted visit to Eritrea is anti human rights abuses in Eritrea and pro-Eritrean people. The government that Ms Tesfamariam distorts information for while pretending that it is others who are doing so is anti-Eritrean, not the SR or UNHRC or any human rights organisation. ,

5. Refugees and asylum seekers:

The SR mandate is to document the alleged systematic and widespread human rights violations of Eritreans in Eritrea by the brutal regime in Eritrea.  She is not required to balance it by reporting on the comfortable life style of those who support the dictator while residing in the West (democratic countries).

Denying the existence of thousands of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in Ethiopia, Djibouti, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, Yemen, Israel, Europe, Canada, North America, Australia, and perhaps anywhere else, Ms Tesfamariam has dismally failed in her attempt to cover the gravity of the situation and exposed herself. A minimum, 4,000 Eritreans are leaving Eritrea monthly to all directions because Eritrea has become a living hell to its citizens.

No doubt  Ms Tesfamariam  will claim that the long article published in The Sunday Times and republished in The Week (Issue 996 8th Nov 2014) for example, in which Robiel Habtom, a 24-year-old Eritrean, is just one of the thousands of young men whose struggle to leave Eritrea involves terrvible life-threatening hardship is some kind of anti-Eritrean conspiracy invented by the West. “Thousands of men and woment make the same journey from Eritrea every year to escape opperession, conscription, servitude – and the corruption and poverty that afflicts their homeland.” (from the article ‘Alex Hannaford tells the story of one man’s epic journey from Eritrea to France) Nobody believes anymore that Russia was a nice place to live in while the murderous Stalin was in charge. How many people still believe that Eritrea is not a dictatorship? Only those who are prepared to take their ‘facts’ from a country that doesn’t have a free press.

6. Information from disgruntled individuals:

Those whom Ms Tesfamariam is calling disgruntled individuals are Eritreans who were treated like slaves, tortured, imprisoned, starved, subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, and their families. Those are the people the SR is getting information from. They are telling her  about their shocking stories, their sufferings, their nightmares, their torture, and the brutality they were subjected to.

7. Unaccompanied minors:

Ms Tesfamariam begrudgingly  admits that it is a “tragic issue”. Indeed, it is. Why does she think the child migrants and perhaps their parents take such a risk? What are the push factors or is

it only pull factors? The children have given up on Eritrea, they do not want to grow up in Eritrea to become slaves and servants of her masters. They have nothing to lose in Eritrea today. Their dreams and aspirations of becoming anything good are  quashed by the same regime she is trying to defend.

8. Militarization of education:

Ms Tesfamariam is attempting to defend the indefensible. For the record:  all high school students finish their schooling years in Sawa (military training camp) in between military training and that is the typical child soldier case, and all college students are effectively under  military administration and treated as soldiers (e.g. they are denied  ownership of a  cell phone) and hopefully she recalls that Colonel Ezra, in charge of Sawa military training camp also heads the Mai Nefhi “College”. The majority of teachers within the age range of 18 to 50 are technically soldiers and are called up at any time as needed by the military. So, yes the education system is for all intents and purposes militarized by the regime. If the information on militarization of higher education appears to be regurgitation to Ms Tesfamariam, it is because they are repeated again and again by those who went through the system.  Her ability to visit Eritrea for a few days and leave whenever she wants does not give her the right to deny the experiences of those who lived there all their lives.

9. Discrimination and marginalization:

The SR is blameless here. If minority groups feel or are discriminated against or marginalised, it would normally be the problem of a national government to address it. It is within her mandate to include the grievances of Eritrean citizens or groups such as the Kunamas and the Afars. Ms Tesfamariam is trying to deflect blame when she certainly knows who is responsible for discrimination and maginalization in Eritrea. It seems that any citizen who does not agree with the regime’s policy is deemed to be used by Ethiopia, its handlers, Djibouti etc.  According to Ms. Tesfamariam, Eritreans are not capable of forming an opinion that contradicts the regime in Eritrea.

10. Gender based violence and abuses:

Ms Tesfamariam cannot fool the thousands of women who have been raped, tortured, molested, harassed, and killed by military officers in Sawa and in the rest of the country while in the service of the army, often with no consequence for the perpetrators. Her insinuation that anything good the regime does can be used as a license to commit crimes against humanity is outrageous. Let’s leave this to those who suffered at the hands of her friends who constitute the regime. As a woman, she should be ashamed of herself to defend the perpetrators instead of the victims or her fellow Eritrean women.

This is to just highlight the fact that Ms Tesfamariam has miserably failed in her attempt to discredit the SR and her report by writing her article. It is clear that she is unable to defend the regime which is exposed by the two reports from the SR, Ms. Sheila Keetharuth. Adding insult to injury, the UNHRC has rightly come with more teeth, the Commission of Inquiry, which is expected to confirm the findings of the SR and more. Hopefully she will  find a hiding place for herself  (not just bury her head in the sand). If she is accusing others of “selectivity”, then hers is the selectivity of the highest hypocrisy. Her argument is little more than an agitation wrapped up in ill-used language, a show of unjustified anger to hide the fear her regime is surely beginning to feel as the clock ticks towards the day of reckoning.

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea
London, UK