Eritrea and Human Rights: Notes on the Commission of Inquiry

Not only is the COI’s portrayal of human rights in Eritrea highly skewed, extremely inaccurate, and unreflective of realities on the ground, the COI fails to recognize that Eritrea’s considerable and ongoing efforts to combat poverty, reduce inequality, promote social justice, and improve standards of living are important and tangible steps toward the fulfillment and protection of human rights.

By Fikrejesus Amahazion (PhD),

As expected, the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COIE) declared that “widespread” human rights abuses have been committed in Eritrea over the past 25 years and should be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) as crimes against humanity. While the report and allegations, based on the work of a three-person panel, are serious, both in their content and implications, numerous aspects of the process have been fraught with extensive problems and shortcomings.

First, although the full report is to be submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in several weeks, an edited, advanced version of the report was distributed to the media, while Eritrea was left in the dark. This is problematic since it leads to an unfair “trial by media.” Furthermore, as has become customary with general coverage regarding Eritrea, the COIE’s allegations were quickly and widely disseminated across social media, accompanied by sensationalist, negative headlines. Within this context, it is impossible to have an objective, rational, constructive discussion about the report or the general situation in Eritrea.

Additionally, a clear and significant flaw with the COIE, broadly recognized, has been the research methodology and procedures it has employed. For any research, the strength and legitimacy of results and findings are intricately tied to how the research was undertaken, the kind of design utilized, the sampling techniques used to select elements for study, and how the data was collected and organized. Crucially, with the COIE plagued by an array of considerable and fundamental methodological and procedural problems, it fails to meet basic, minimal standards of objectivity, neutrality, non-selectivity, and legality, while the accuracy, reliability, and validity of its findings, results, and conclusions are called into question.

During one of his debates with Socrates, Thrasymachus alleges that “justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.” For many observers, particularly Eritreans, the current COIE is an apt reflection of his point, appearing to be only the latest instance within a long series of misguided decisions and unjust policies undertaken and implemented by the United Nations (UN) and the broader international community. Although the UN champions high-standing ideals, principles, and values, its historic relationship with and treatment of Eritrea have been fraught with injustice.

In the immediate period following World War 2, the UN was one of the co-authors of the original crime against Eritrea, overlooking Eritreans’ rightful calls for independence and instead promoting an association that led to annexation. A Four Power Commission (consisting of the US, United Kingdom [UK], Russia, and France) was unable to settle the question of “the disposal” Eritrea, a former Italian colony. Subsequently, a new Commission of Inquiry was established “to ascertain more fully the wishes and the best means of promoting the welfare of the inhabitants of Eritrea” (Haile 1988: 20-21). That process, not dissimilar to the current COIE, was beset by shadowy backroom deals, political machinations and subterfuge, and even outright terrorism, and the Commission was not unanimous.

During the later report of the Commission to the UN General Assembly, several delegations spoke in favor of Eritrean independence and criticized the US-UK plan for federating Eritrea with Ethiopia (in order to safeguard Western geostrategic interests and to appease Ethiopia, a regional ally).

Sir Zafrulla, the Pakistani representative, ominously warned:

“An independent Eritrea would obviously be better able to contribute to the maintenance of peace (and security) than an Eritrea federated with Ethiopia against the true wishes of the people. To deny the people of Eritrea their elementary right to independence would be to sow the seeds of discord and create a threat in that sensitive area of the Middle East” (GAOR 1950: 346; Haile 1988: 21).

However, these perspectives were discounted, justice and human rights were marginalized and disregarded, and Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia.

Thereafter, over a period of several decades, the UN continuously refused to listen to Eritreans’ relentless calls for self-determination during the long independence struggle. In 1981, ten years before Eritrea would ultimately gain independence, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) stated that:

Of all the people who, since the Second World War, have been the victims of Great Power rivalries and ambitions, perhaps the one with the greatest claim for consideration is the people of Eritrea. Nevertheless, no nation has yet been willing to raise the issue of the rights of this people in the United Nations. The truth is that the ‘Eritrean question’ is a source of embarrassment both to the UN itself and to almost all ‘interested parties’ (ICJ 1981 in Babu 1988: 47).

Moreover, since independence, the UN and international community have ignored an illegal military occupation by Ethiopia, which is politically, militarily, and economically supported by the US, and upheld sanctions that are increasingly recognized as illegitimate, unfounded, and counterproductive. The illegal occupation has only served to stunt development and further destabilize the Horn of Africa through contributing to unnecessary rivalry, conflict, and regional insecurity while, according to Herman J. Cohen, former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and member of the US Foreign Service for over 38 years, international sanctions are the result of “pure bullying” against Eritrea since they have “no basis in fact,” and “there is every indication that Eritrea has absolutely no contact with al-Shebab [sic], much less provide any sort of assistance to them.”

It is important to note that the COIE, through refusing to acknowledge Eritrea’s continued constructive engagement with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) and failing to genuinely consider Eritrea’s commendable progress within social, health, and education sectors, and its success upon several of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), completely ignores the fact that human rights, as outlined within numerous declarations and international instruments, are interrelated, interdependent, indivisible, and complementary (Donnelly 1999; Laplante 2007; Nelson and Dorsey 2003).

Not only is the COIE’s portrayal of rights within Eritrea highly skewed, extremely inaccurate, and unreflective of realities on the ground, the COIE fails to recognize that Eritrea’s considerable and ongoing efforts to combat poverty, reduce inequality, promote social justice, and improve standards of living are important and tangible steps toward the fulfillment and protection of human rights.

For example, the UN and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have claimed that, “…poverty is the gravest human rights challenge in the world…” and that “…the impact of poverty far surpasses other scourges…” (UN Report n.d.). Furthermore, poverty and inequality, present real challenges to the overall universality of human rights, particularly in terms of being realizable or accorded to all. A concrete example of the close association between human rights and poverty is that individuals afflicted with poverty are unlikely to be capable of having adequate housing, food, water, or sanitation; will likely be unable to access education or health care; and will probably be socially excluded and marginalized from political power and societal processes (Van Bueren 1999). Moreover, individuals living in a state that is itself undeveloped or economically weak must come to terms with the reality that the state will be unable to provide these securities for them.

As a result of its various flaws, shortcomings and apparent political motivations, the COIE illustrates how, even though human rights have gradually proliferated and diffused to touch all regions of the globe, the process has been plagued by persistent claims of cultural imperialism, rampant moralism, western paternalism, and political selectivity. Often, the process assumes western standards as the benchmark against which everything is to be measured, reflects a paternalistic attitude, and perpetuates the hegemonic idea of the west’s superiority. Increasingly, then, human rights have both been regularly characterized and sometimes utilized as a powerful legitimizing instrument for subjugation, control, and neo-colonialism. Since formal, direct politico-military control is no longer viewed as legitimate or becoming, global powers have turned to other effective means of manipulation and control.

Among the most rewarding things about living in Eritrea is the time I get to spend with youths. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with an enthusiastic group of youths in a small town in Eritrea. During our conversation, which touched upon a range of topics, including human rights, one articulate young male stated, “You know, forcefully breaking an egg from the outside destroys any chance for life. But, if the content of the egg is able to grow and develop, it will naturally emerge from the inside, full of life.” How perceptive.

Ultimately, to borrow from Eric Hobsbawm, the diffusion of values and institutions cannot be simply brought about by a sudden, forceful imposition by external entities or forces. Complex, multidimensional concepts like democracy and human rights are not like imported goods or technologies whose benefits are plainly and immediately obvious and will be adopted in the same manner by all.

Yes, Eritrea is confronted by a myriad of significant issues, challenges, and pressing concerns. However, what the COIE totally misses is that the best way to address these is not through confrontational, adversarial approaches, sensationalist allegations and imprecations, paternalistic preaching, or meting out unjust punishments, but through constructive engagement, tangible support, cooperation, and dialogue.

25 thoughts on “Eritrea and Human Rights: Notes on the Commission of Inquiry

  1. go to BALTMORE INVESTGATE white officer shooting black men go to ETHIOPIA investgate WEYANE killing OROMO OGADEN GAMBELA dont talk abaout ERITREA

    1. It is called double standard, my friend. The US is actually behaving like a little spoiled child when he throws in some temper tantrums in an effort to get what he/she wants! Shame on the US, not worthy of a big country!

  2. In 1952 the UN violated the fundamental human rights of the Eritrean people and silently watched Eritreans getting slaughtered in thier homes in Onna, Halal, Masawa, Ad Abrhim etc.

    In 1990/1994 in the face of a looming genocide, the UN evacuated its peace keeping force from Rwanda and 800,000 innocent civilians were brutally murdered.

    In 2003 the UN rubber stamped the flaglarnt invasion of Iraq under the fabricated charges of weapons of “mass destruction” resulting in the death, destruction and displacement of millions of innocent civilians

    In 2011 the UN again rubber stamped the invasion of Libya resulting in the death of thousands of civilians and creating a power vacuum and empowering one of the most criminal human smuggling gangs.

    The covert operation in Yemen, Syria and the outright invasion of Afghanistan has also the bloody hands of the UN and its sponsors.

    Without a meaningful radical reform, the UN will continue to be a tool for those who want to rape, murder, pillage and control the world. The UN is a shameful organization.

  3. Selam Doc:
    All what you said is correct and right but the basic dilemma/question is:
    -That Eritreans have been victims of kidnapping, disappearance and killings
    -That Eritreans prisoners have never had a chance to defend themselves in the Court of law; and worst, their families have no clue about the whereabouts of their loved ones let alone to see them(their loved ones).
    -that the National Service has been quite a bit intolerable for/to the Youth giving them no chance but to escape
    -the indefinite National Military Service has messed up the entire family System and Family values and dynamics for the worst
    -That there have been proven victims of shooting at the border while attempting to flee(justifiable?)
    -That there is no Constitution and by default, No Institutions to run the nation that has contributed to over all mess.
    Make no mistake that I am fully aware of the destructive roles of the external interference. But have we tried to do our home work to minimize all the mess we are in?
    The COIE,irrespective of its bias,weaknesses,motive,etc—has brought up the above issues and don’t we believe that we these issues should be addressed?

    1. ዬቄንዬልና ክብሬት ይሃቤልና።ዜጊኔትካ ቃልካ ይምስክሬልካ፡ናይ ብሓቂ ኤርትራዊ ።

      1. This is for Hope, Peace and Segid. There is a proverb which says “yefukekre bet sayzega yadrale.” All the justifications you mentioned above have no substance for me personally for it is at the expense of Eritrean people’s peace and security. Hope, if you understand what has happened to the others, like Iraq, Libya etc those have happened to us also in the past I strongly feel no need to repeat it again! What you mentioned is on the process very systematically and in a good ground. It is only 25 years since Eritrea its independence. I remember when there was surplace of a given material in the market we were forced to buy another material. Your justification stated above is just like that i.e unless the GOE do this and that ….. There would be full peace in the world if ever there is genuinity! POWER is GOD’s is not an individual’s or gov’t ! The underline cause is the effect of killing innocents and poor people.

    2. I agree with you on same numbers you take up here.Can we do our home work by ourselves and I Believe it was we that give them a chance to paly more game over Eritrea.They are our people whom want flee from home back ok ofcourse it is a meaningless to keep folk inside without any triel .They have family.I am a EPLF and a proud HGDF so no make mix me.We love our country and people with the leadres but when we see the damage of our people we must give them our voice.

  4. since the report brought into the public domain a few scholars sadly ignore the pain of ERITREAN people and being an advocator to this regime. Does it mean Shaebia camp is in panic?
    Perhaps this report may exaggerate, somehow biased and presumptive BUT we can’t written off the whole report as a lie and fabricated. The obvious reason is that youth population’s mind and body have been occupied in the army against the ‘law’ for indefinite. Contrary, their parents who left with out any support or care are being denied access by the regime to feed themselves by selling fruit & vegi in their respective front yard. What do you call this? It’s like you through someone into the ocean but telling him not allowed to swim.

    Citizens are ill-treated, Prisoner of conscience simply for exercising their Gad given right i.e freedom of religious, speech, movement etc… Our sisters have been used so badly by army commander as a personal toy. Gov is taking advantage of labour force for free and utilizing them in the production industry. got to a refugee camps – full of tens as young as 7 years old in his/her own fear of undefined conscription for year to come. There are so many issues that have been prevalent & can be raised against this gov. who could we continue with the persistence of govt wrong doing? I believe western solution can only entertain their own interest and bringing our country into chaos so it’s up to us now to find a away for a solution before being left out and falling apart this country.

        1. The don’t care about our suffering, all they care about is the rotten regime and the decaying psychopath liar wediberad.

  5. Confirmed:


    TPLF Regime launches an attack

    The TPLF regime has today, Sunday 12 June 2016,
    unleashed an attack against Eritrea on the Tsorona Central Front. The purpose
    and ramifications of this attack are not clear. The Government of Eritrea will
    issue further statements on the unfolding situation.

    Ministry of Information


    12 June 2016
    Who is doing what and why and for what purpose?

  6. Source radio Erena:
    ኣምባሳደር መንግስቲ ኤርትራ ኣብ ስዑዲ ዓረብ ኣቶ መሓመድ ዑመር ማሕመድ፣ ካብ ፕረዚደንት ኢሳይያስ ኣፈወርቂ ዝተላእከ ደብዳቤ ናብ ፕረዚደንት ኣልጀርያ ዓብደልዓዚ ቡተፍሊቓ ኣብጺሑ።

    እቲ ኣምባሳደር ብ11 ሰነ ኣብ ሰዓታት ድሕሪ ቀትሪ፣ ነቲ ደብዳቤ ንሚኒስተር ጉዳያት ወጻኢ እታ ሃገር ከምዘረከበ ዝሓበሩ ዲፕሎማስያዊ ምንጭታት ትዝሕቶ’ቲ ደብዳቤ፣ ኣብ ህሉው ኩነታት ኤርትራን ኢትዮጵያን ጸጸኒሑ ዝርአ ዘሎ ግጭታት ዝምልከት ምዃኑ ጠቒሶም።

    ኣምባሳደር ማሓመድ ዑመር ማሕሙድ፣ ከም ፍሉይ ልኡኽ መንግስቲ ኤርትራ ኮይኑ መልእኽቲ ፕረዚደንት ኢሳይያስ ናብ ፕረዚደንት ቡተፍልቓ ንምብጻሕ ኣብ ኣልጀርያ ኣብ ዝኣተወሉ፣ ሚኒስተር ጉዳያት ወጻኢ እታ ሃገር ‘ዩ ተቐቢልዎ።

    ፕረዚደንት ኣልጀርያ ዓብደልዓዚዝ ቡተፍሊቓ፣ ኵናት ኤርትራን ኢትዮጵያን ንኸብቅዕ፣ ንመራሕቲ ኤርትራን ኢትዮጵያን ኣብ ታሕሳስ 2000 ኣብ ኣልጀርስ ስምምዕ ሰላም ዘኸተመ’ዩ።

    ይኹን’ምበር ድሕሪ ስምምዕ ኣልጀርስ ኣብ 2000 ከምኡ ድማ ውሳኔ ኮሚሽን ዶብ ኤርትራን ኢትዮጵያን ኣብ 2002፣ ብሰንኪ ናይ ስለያ ስልኳታትን ምድግጋፍ ተቓወምትን ኣብ መንጎ ክልትኤን ሃገራት ጸጸኒሑ ንኣሽቱ ግጭታት ከምዝካየድ ይፍለጥ።

    ኮሚሽን ዶብ ኤርትራን ኢትዮጵያን ድሕሪ ዝሃቦ ብይን፣ ኢትዮጵያ ካብቲ ናይ ኤርትራ ምዃኑ ዝተወሰነ ባድመ ዝርከቦ ከባቢታት ሰራዊታ ክትሕብ ፍቓደኛ ብዘይምዃና ክልትኤን ሃገራት ነዚ ዝሓለፈ 14 ዓመታት ኣብ ምፍኽኻር’የን ኣሕሊፈንኦ።


  7. Breaking News

    Jun 12/2016

    Source; Eri Gazzette:

    ካብ ከባቢ ሰሜን እዝ ወያኔ። ሕሹኽ ካብ ርጡብ ምንጪ
    06/12/2016 (3፡17 PM EST)
    ምኽንያቱ ብዘይተፈልጠ
    ኢትዮጵያ ብከቢድ ብረት ተኵሲ ጀሚራ፡፡ መራሕቲ ሰራዊት ግብጺ ኣብ ድፋዓት ኤርትራ ተራእዮም ቀንዮም።

    ሕጂ አብዚ ሰዓት እዚ ካብ ሰሜናዊ እዝ ከበድ ብረት ይትኮስ አሎ።

    ብወገን ኤርትራ ዝተዋህበ ግብረ ምላሽ የሎን።

    አስመራ ስቅ ኢሎም አለው።

    ሰራዊቶም ግን አብቲ ከባቢ ይእከቡ አለው።

    ኩነታት አብ በዓል ሽረ ሑሞራ የስክፍ አሎ።

    አብ ኤውሮፖርት ሽረ 10 ነፈርቲ ኢትዮጰያ ሎሚ ድሕሪ ቀትሪ ካብ ደብረ ዘይቲ አትየን አለዋ።

    ሐደ አዝዩ ዘገርም ጉዳይ አሎ። ብወገን ኤርትራ አብቲ ዶባት ናይ ግብጺ ጀነራላት አብቲ ከባቢ ድፋዓት አብ ዝሐለፈ ወርሒ
    ተራእዮም ዝብል ጭቡጥ ናይ ስለላ ሐበሬታ ኢትዮጰያ ተቀቢላ አላ።

    እንታይ እዩ ዝግበር ዘሎ ብወገን ኤርትራ ርዱእ የለን።

    አሳያስ ወተሃደራዊ ዓቅሙ ግን ድኹም እዩ ዝብል ገምጋም ብወገን ኢትዮጵያ ይለን። እዚ ዕንድራ ሴሜናዊ እዚ ብሰንኪ ናይ
    ተማል ውሳኔ ሰብአዊ መሰል ዝብል አይኮነን። አብቲ ከባቢ ብዘሎ ኩነታት እዩ።

    1. “መራሕቲ ሰራዊት ግብጺ ኣብ ድፋዓት ኤርትራ ተራእዮም ቀንዮም” You must be a jackass dog-breath Woyane reporter:)) What do you Woyanay on the clear Eritrean night skies.
      Stupid komal Wayne beggar, so you know Haileslasie was armed to the teeth by his UN masters, Mengistu was armed to his nuts by his USSR handlers, and your beggar Wayne regime is armed to their eyeballs by your US masters. Where is Hailessilasie and where is Mengistu. How bout where do you think your tribal Wayne regime will be? This is a chance for Ethiopians to open multiple fronts and you will be back begging on the street again.
      Nasty Komal Woyane beggar

  8. Breaking News: Ethiopian armies are marching straight to Asmara to free thousands of innocent prisoners who remain locked behind PFDJ cells for years. Wish them Success!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. A very well written article. I concur with the author’s premises, the concerns he raises and the messages he conveys. An educated outlook of what is at issue.
    In essence: Look before you leap; Be careful what you wish for.

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