There’s nothing to gain for Eritrea by allowing a United Nations monitoring panel to visit the country, according to Eritrea’s envoy to the world body in New York.
The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, known by the acronym SEMG, was created by the UN Security Council in 2009 to monitor Eritrea’s alleged support to the militant group Al-Shabaab.
After Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 2006 to prop up a Somali transitional government besieged by Al-Shabaab, some UN members accused Eritrea of backing the militants in a bid to weaken Ethiopia.
For the last three years, the UN monitors have reported that they have no evidence that Eritrea continues to support Al-Shabaab. Nonetheless, the group is still tasked by the UN to track whether Eritrea has ceased “arming, training, and equipping armed groups and their members including Al-Shabaab which aim to destabilize the region.”
The UN Panel, rather than documenting evidence of Eritrean support for the Somali militant group, instead says it has found “consistent evidence of Eritrean support for armed groups operating in both Ethiopia and Djibouti,” according to its last published report in October 2016.
It offered only ‘anecdotal’ evidence for Eritrean weapons supplies and training to the Ethiopian and Djiboutian groups while citing more solid evidence of logistical support, including indications that Eritrea provided members of the Ethiopian rebel group Ginbot Sebat with travel documents.
For its part, Eritrea wants sanctions connected with the allegations of support to Al-Shabaab and other armed groups lifted, saying the charges are unfounded and unfair.
In a statement to the United Nations Security Council last Friday, the Eritrean Chargé d’Affaires Amanuel Giorgio pointed out, “For four years the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group has found no evidence of any Eritrean wrong-doing in Somalia.”
Giorgio continued, “Failing to find substantive evidence to continue the sanction, some countries have resorted to procedural pretexts, by singularly and inordinately focusing on the inability of the Monitoring Group to visit Eritrea.”
He cited two previous visits by the UN group – most recently in 2011 – but did not explain why subsequent requests to visit Asmara have been ignored. He instead pointed to contacts between the UN monitors and Eritrean officials outside the country as a sign of cooperation:
“The Monitoring Group… maintains, without any hindrance, extensive meetings and contacts with relevant Eritrean officials.”
SEMG, for its part, in its most recent report to the UN Security Council, complained of being frozen out by Asmara:
“The Monitoring Group has received no replies to its official requests for cooperation on investigative and substantive matters from the Government throughout its current mandate, including to its formal requests for an official visit to Asmara.”
“In addition, representatives of the Government have made no attempts or seized any opportunities to engage with the Group beyond responding to the initiatives of the Group for two meetings with the Permanent Representative of Eritrea to the United Nations, Girma Asmerom Tesfay… to discuss the preliminary findings of the Group,” added the UN Panel report.
Eritrea’s envoy in New York says the finding of the UN panel that it has no evidence of continuing Eritrean support to Al-Shabaab is reason enough to make the panel’s proposed visit to Eritrea irrelevant.
He told the UN Security Council, “The Monitoring Group has itself ascertained the absence of any indication of Eritrea’s support to al-Shabab. In these circumstances, Eritrea does not see any real value in a visit by the Monitoring Group to the country.”
Ambassador Giorgio urged the UN to lift the “unjust and counterproductive” sanctions that it had imposed in connection with the accusations of support to Al-Shabaab. “Eritrea’s primary preoccupation is, in fact, the public stance of certain countries who have openly stated that they will not support the lifting of the sanctions even if the Group were to visit Eritrea,” he said.
The envoy’s remarks were made last Thursday in New York and made available by the Eritrean Information Ministry on Friday.
Some members of the UN Security Council have continued to urge Eritrea to allow the UN monitoring group to visit to Asmara.
Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, Britain’s envoy to the UN, said last week that the visit is meant to help verify that Eritrea is no longer supporting the Somali militant group.
He explained, “The ongoing refusal by the Government of Eritrea to cooperate with the Monitoring Group, including by allowing them to visit Eritrea, means that we have no way of verifying the Group’s lack of evidence for Eritrea’s support for Al Shabaab, and of understanding the concerns about support for other regional armed groups.
Rycroft added, “We hope that by the time of the review of the sanctions on Eritrea, due following the mid-term report of the Monitoring Group, the Council will have some positive momentum to reflect on. To that end, we encourage Eritrea to take the opportunity for engagement, which this Council is once again offering.”