By Yasmin Nasrudin,
SINCE the release of the “Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea” in early June, the coverage on the acute stream of Eritrean refugees is closely entangled in critiquing the Eritrean government. Thus, resulting in a partial representation of truth. This piece should be read as an analysis on how the media is presenting the subsequent events following the release of the UN report.
Western media organizations did not reach out to Eritrean government officials to get a statement on the allegations of gross human rights violations in the country. The serious accusations made by an institution such as the United Nations can be hardly dismissed, yet it is important (think journalistic integrity/media ethics) to provide the public with information that is nuanced, balanced, and neutral.
As far as I know, CCTV Africa was the sole news network who got a statement by a government official.
Now, here we have a clear statement (obviously prepped before going on-air) that could be used in an article that shows different reactions on the UN report: by the Eritrean government, the opposition that resides in the diaspora, human rights organizations, etc.
There is a lack of context on why the Eritrean government did not cooperate on the UN report, thus the commission relying on sources that fled the country. I don’t want to legitimize the actions of the government nor do I want to discredit any part of the report. This is not the goal of this piece, and it needs a certain degree of expertise to analyze the credibility of any source regarding Eritrea.
Historically speaking, Eritrea was repeatedly betrayed, ignored, and instrumentalized by the UN. The federation with Ethiopia was favored by the institution, which ultimately led to the forced annexation to its neighboring country, and was the cause of the War of Independence (1961–1991). Naturally, the Eritrean people have an aversion for the United Nations. During the border dispute (1998–2000), the UN aggravated the situation leading to a war and a subsequent Ethiopian occupation on Eritrean soil. While a commission in 2002 decided that Ethiopia has no right in the area, they did not remove any Ethiopian military, thus essentially tolerating the occupation. This fueled the hostility against the United Nations by Eritreans all over the world.
I would argue that these developments certainly contributed to a diplomatic disassociation with the West by President Afewerki. A distrust in any governmental institution led to a breach between all parties. The recent UN report adds another layer on the complex relationship between the UN, Eritrea, and everyone else involved (esp. the US government).
Many Eritreans decided to let some steam off by protesting against the report and the practices of the UN.
“COIE Report Doesn’t Reflect Eritrea’s Reality,” says one of the posters.
Again, Western media organizations seem not too eager in covering the protest in a nuanced narrative. There is a huge discrepancy in covering the aftermath of the UN report.
There is obviously a division in the opinion about the validity of the allegations made by the Human Rights Commission. I would argue that this is pretty normal in a democratic environment. While Eritrean identity and Eritrean nationalism is a colonial construction, it is deeply ingrained in the reality of these people. Keeping that in mind, it’s important to contextualize these protests.
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MUST READ : Mainstream Media Ignores Europe-wide Eritrean Demonstration
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Based on closely monitoring my own social media channels on this issue, there were supporters for both (regardless of age, class, or gender), which was interesting to observe as someone, who desperately tries to stay neutral and hears out every argument.
In order to get a grip on why people are arguing against the accusations, journalists should talk to these people. They rarely do, thus creating dangerously one-sided media pieces. As an aspiring journalist, I’m not sure if that is what you would call “reliable” or “credible.”
Some Eritrean supporters of the government are arguing that they are purposefully silenced, and objectively speaking I can understand their sentiment. It really seems like media organizations are ignoring people who firmly believe that the UN report is exaggerated or even completely fake.
I believe it is important to draw attention on the human rights violations and find ways to effectively and efficiently improve the democratic process in Eritrea. It is problematic that Western media is superficially reporting on current constraints of governmental actions. Yes, there are huge problems in the country, and yes it is important to challenge and critique any wrong-doing (I do it too, and get a lot of heat for it). But, it is not effective in creating narratives that are partial and not reflective of the social realities within the country. There are alternative sources, who compile material and contextualize reasons for the economic downfall of Eritrea. It is possible and there are media organizations that do tremendous work in doing so (looking at you Al Jazeera!)
As a young and aspiring journalist, who researches and writes about the Horn of Africa, it would make my own work easier. Further, I would argue that Eritreans in the diaspora who read articles about their country would react with less hostility, if the work would provide more substance and reflect positions of government and opposition.
I had to learn that myself the hard way.
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Yasmin Nasrudin is an Eritrean-German. Student of Tufts University and University of Tübingen, majoring in American Studies. Aspiring Journalist.