Ladies and Gentlemen
In May last month, the Eritrean people celebrated their 26th Independence Anniversary. The celebrations were held throughout the breadth and length of the country, as well as in the Diaspora, with spectacular public events amid undiminished enthusiasm that has few parallels elsewhere. Asmara’s Liberation and Martyr’s Avenues were thronged with tens of thousands of residents during the Carnival Show on May 22nd and the overnight street party on the eve of Independence Day. This was invariably the case in all the cities, towns and villages all over the country. For a country that had to wage Africa’s longest and most difficult armed struggle for liberation, the honeymoon of independence could not but be still vibrant, still mesmerizing 26 years on.
To read, against this backdrop, Sheila’s surreal report to this august body on a country she avidly hates but knows little to nothing about, can only evoke indignation and outrage.
As it was the case in the past, Sheila B. Keetharuth has culled her latest ignominious report from several trips to Ethiopia and/or from notorious quislings who harbour malicious agendas against the country. It must be remembered that Ethiopia does not only have a belligerent stance against Eritrea but it is also a country seething under a State of Emergency and that has killed over 800 civilians while detaining over 26,000 others in the protests last year.
Sheila laments that the Government of Eritrea has “continued to refuse to cooperate with the mandate for the fifth consecutive year”. What she does not tell this house is that, last year 43,000 Eritreans in the Diaspora wrote her letters of protest at her outrageous reports; more than 1,000 others volunteered to travel to Geneva to meet her and the other COI members; over 220,000 Eritreans in the Diaspora and 32 civil society groups in Eritrea sent her petitions.
She ignored all these viewpoints and rejected all the requests for meetings. Resident Ambassadors and Asmara-based UN officials who have attempted to meet and discuss with her invariably express disquiet at her abrasive demeanor; her utter incapacity to brook or contemplate dissenting opinion to the outlandish narrative she feels she has to propagate with messianic zeal.
Prolonged National Service, which she desecrates as “forced and slave labour”, remains the hue and cry in her assiduous attempts to criminalize the government. She does not probe why National Service was introduced in the first place; why it has been prolonged and what latitudes are available to the government in the context of the war of aggression and existential threat that it continues to face. She stupidly dismisses the hefty salary increments introduced in 2015 as “mere stipends“.
A cursory examination of the announced measures – rather than wholesale recycling of the false information that Eritrea’s detractors have apparently fed her – would have revealed that this is part and parcel of a comprehensive Civil Service Salary increase that the Government has launched after 18 years of austerity and salary freeze.
The phased programme has started with National Service members with Diplomas and First Degrees. Currently a fresh 1st degree graduate in any field, employed in the public sector while in the National Service, earns bigger pay than the unadjusted salary of senior Civil Service staff, including Ministers.
Sheila foolishly ventures into complex defense issues to state:
“the failure to implement the Boundary Commission’s decision cannot serve as justification for the open-ended and arbitrary nature of the National Service… the illegal occupation of the village cannot justify …violation of human rights”.
Sheila is evidently oblivious to the fact that the border war claimed more than 120,000 lives. A book in Amharic published last year on the war quotes senior Ethiopian Military officers both on the objectives of the war and the losses that the regime suffered. And these are: 98,700 Ethiopian soldiers killed; and 194,300 wounded. Eritrea, which adopted a defensive posture in chains of well-dug trenches, lost over 19,000 lives and sustained a greater number of injuries.
Sheila is not apparently mindful of the nature and consequences of border wars in our region. More broadly, border wars are a reality between nations all over the world with devastating consequences: the Falklands War; the periodic tension between the United Kingdom and Spain on Gibraltar; the brewing tensions in South China seas remind us the menace inherent in border disputes. The panacea does not lie in ignoring or underrating them, as Sheila seems to advocate, but in resolving them fully and comprehensively on the basis of international law.
For Eritrea, past history and Ethiopia’s incessant saber rattling leave her with no other choice other than preparing for the worst so as to deter another war. If prolongation of National Service is an onerous price that must be paid, – with pragmatic and temporary adjustments on its duration if need be – this will have to be done.
The UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, stated last week in the wake of the terrorist attacks in London Bridge that Westminster will not hesitate from altering human rights laws if these undermine its capacity to fight terrorism. France has declared a State of Emergency for more than six months now in the aftermath of the heinous terrorist attacks in Paris. For Sheila to offer unsolicited advice to Eritrea on how to organize its defense architecture, when she has no credentials on the matter whatsoever, is audacious and silly, to say the least.
The Special Rapporteur devotes several paragraphs of her report into the plight of Eritrean migrants; which she dubs them “political refugees” indiscriminately and on a wholesale basis. Here again, her knowledge of the actual reality is poor; mostly constituting, as it does, a rehash of one-man/woman obscure associations that we know well and who are themselves embroiled in human trafficking.
What are the facts:
- Migration is a global phenomenon spurred by complex and intertwined pull and push factors. It is not, also, confined to Eritrea. Indeed, over 100,000 Ethiopians take the risky sea-route to Yemen, in spite of war and turmoil in that country, annually. From 40 – 60% of those who seek asylum in Europe posing as Eritreans are reportedly Ethiopians. Ethiopian economic migrants in the Sudan are above 2 million. This is discounting the millions more that migrate to the Gulf States, South Africa etc on a seasonal basis.
- In the case of Eritrea, organized and politicized human trafficking coupled with misguided EU – UNHCR policies of granting “automatic asylum” to Eritrean economic migrants remain the most critical variables that have contributed to relatively higher numbers;
- Most of those who seek asylum actually return home for family visits and periodic vacations to the country.
What Sheila does not know or does not wish to report to this house is that, in 2016 for instance, 112,000 Eritreans visited their homeland prompting Immigration Ministers in Norway, Switzerland and other European countries to issue warnings against them of pending decisions to rescind their residence permits.
Sheila accuses Eritrea of attempts “to conceal the real food security situation in Eritrea” alluding to “drought and hidden famine“. This outrageous allegation illustrates the extent to which she is prepared to go to demonize the government.
The UNICEF generic report that she quotes for malnutrition was in fact wrongly issued by the New York Branch of the organization, not the country representative, and duly corrected in time.
FAO Asmara has equally dissociated itself from Sheila’s report although we have no information at this stage on specific steps taken to rectify it.
In any case, the harvest in Eritrea in 2015 was not bad due to positive effects of El-Nino while 2016 was a year of plentiful rains and almost bumper harvest. And in spite of ecological fragility and agriculture output that relies mainly on rains, Government policies of food security, water harvesting, preposition of food imports and other coping mechanisms have enabled the country to weather localized and cyclical droughts.
The litany of Sheila’s unsubstantiated and recycled accusations are endless indeed. She accuses the government of extra-judicial killings without tangible evidence. She disparages the Government’s clemency measures to extend consular services and full citizenship rights to those who defect from the army or leave the country illegally once they fill forms acknowledging the offenses they had committed and that are explicitly prohibited by law.
She accuses the secular government and country of exemplary religious and ethnic harmony, of perpetrating ethnic/religious persecution in a region that is woefully racked by ethnic cleavages and religious strife. And as if journalists and certain officials are saints from another planet or above the law, she wrongly indicts the government for the measures that it has taken against the ring of former politicians and some journalists who were involved in acts of treason and/or sedition.
The Special Rapporteur even attributes measures against apostasy taken by the Synod of the Eritrean Orthodox Church against the former Patriarch to whimsical Presidential wrath. The ludicrous list of allegations is long…
The Special Rapporteur has been found wanting, time and again, in terms of minimum standards of neutrality, objectivity, and professionalism in carrying out the mandate that was entrusted to her. She was an activist committed to regime change from the outset. Sadly, the misplaced mandate given to her did not temper her wayward conduct but emboldened her to pursue her crusade against Eritrea without any bounds.
As we stressed last year, she has even exceeded her mandate to unilaterally determine the cut-off date for her investigation to start in 1991; from the very year of the independence of Eritrea. This is a huge insult to the people of Eritrea who have celebrated their hard-won independence last month but will also honour, in unison, next week on June 20th, the over 80,000 martyrs who paid the ultimate price for the independence of their country.
Sheila has no inkling about the enormous pain the people of Eritrea have gone through. She has no clue about the existential threat they are facing. She has no clue about the threats to regional peace and security. Her singular mission is to indict the Government of Eritrea. Blinded by this singular mission, she has put forth in her current recommendations, various unorthodox methods to implement the witch-hunting of Eritrean officials she desperately craves for and to appropriate to herself the powers of a Viceroy over Eritrea that she apparently dreams of at this modern age.
In the event, Eritrea urges this house to end this charade once and for all. Most people in this room realize that the ‘Empress is naked; she has no closes’. Let us rectify a process that has been derailed for long.
In this context, let us also note that Eritrea has its own several shortcomings and challenges as a young nation that has gone through war and that continues to face existential threats. The pace and momentum of its nation-and-institution building processes, that it has begun in earnest immediately after independence, have been adversely affected by the second war and its sequel.
These hurdles notwithstanding, Eritrea has been willing and is engaged in the UPR process with all its development partners. It has recently conducted a fruitful mid-term review.
Eritrea firmly maintains that this is the only appropriate and constructive route. As such, Eritrea requests this assembly to end Sheila’s toxic tenure and focus on the normative procedures that will yield dividends to Eritrea and the cause of human rights.
I thank you.