Inner city Press | By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, July — For weeks there has been talk of two UN reports on Eritria. The first, shorter one was put online and then taken off, as exclusively reported and published by Inner City Press.
The second one was and is the report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, said to be over 400 pages in length and watermarked to discourage any leaking.
Still, even before the Security Council's sanctions committee met Tuesday about the report, the Monitoring Group's coordinator Matthew Bryden came out and was quoted that "We're trying to make the case that any improvement in Eritrea's conduct is the result of sanctions, and that it's too early to lift them because of the other violations they have committed."
Eritrea, which says it hadn't yet been given a copy of the report as the country concerned, was critical of the procedure and of Bryden's quote. Eritrea also called out US Ambassador Susan Rice, if not by name then by position. (Inner City Press covered Rice's involvement back in December 2011 and would be happy to run any response or comment, even en passant the Council.)
For now, Inner City Press is publishing pertinent portions of Eritrea's presentation to Tuesday's closed door meeting:
… Eritrea has not as yet received a copy of the report. This contravenes the fundamental legal principle of the 'equality of arms.' As a country of concern, Eritrea has an inalienable right of respond to the allegations made by the Group; and for this to occur Eritrea must be provided with all the relevant documents that purport to establish its culpability. But in the case of the 'Monitoring Group' reports, which are almost always leaked to the press before the Security Council considers them-including the present one, the pattern has invariably been to bloc Eritrea’s access to the accusations leveled against it, while it has granted access to others. It is worth recalling, last year the Monitoring Group report was presented by an international civil servant to the meeting of IGAD Heads of State in an attempt to sway their opinion towards calling additional sanction against Eritrea. Similarly, this year, a news agency was granted access to the report as well as an interview with the coordinator of the Monitoring Group… To recap the salient points:
1. The 2% recovery and rehabilitation tax is levied in accordance with the legislative act of the National Assembly that was passed in 1994. One wonders why the Monitoring Group persists in its misnomer to dub it “Diaspora tax”, and in this particular report as “extraterritorial tax”… the presumed evidences on “coercive measures” of collection are based on interviews with “42 Eritreans living abroad”. But, is this a representative sample? Who are those interviewed? How can the SEMG ascertain whether the testimonies are not lies peddled for political purposes? And, how can denial of services to those who fail to pay their tax obligations be misconstrued as harassment and intimidation?
Furthermore, it must be noted that Eritrea’s detractors, particularly certain US and Ethiopian officials, have always been obsessed with finding ways and means of stopping both remittance to individual households and the recovery tax. Indeed, during Ethiopia’s third offensive against Eritrea in May 2000, some senior US officials – the current US Permanent Representative to the UN [Susan Rice] chief among them – were mulling over taking these precise unilateral measures…
The “Monitoring Group” computes the presumed maiden earnings to the Government of Eritrea that may have accrued from the Bisha Mining Plant in 2011, and jumps the gun to recommend various intrusive measures ostensibly to ensure that “these revenues are not spent in violation to UNSC resolutions”. The “Monitoring Group” does not provide a shred of evidence that the Government of Eritrea has in the past diverted revenues from mining to “acts of regional destabilization”. It does not even care to know how the capital expenditure of the investment was financed. In any case, sheer speculation and groundless presumptions cannot surely be standards for imposing financial restrictions that impinge on a country’s sovereign budgetary rights. And why single out the mining sector? Or are these unwarranted intrusive measures designed for creeping application to other prospective sectors in the Eritrean economy?
3. The “Monitoring Group” finally admits that “it has no evidence to support the allegation of direct Eritrean support to Al-Shabaab during the current mandate”. The admission is acknowledged with obvious resentment and uncalled-for caveats, omissions and “rationalizations”. But it remains a very critical piece of information. We must indeed recall that the principal reason why Resolution 1907 was imposed against Eritrea in December 2009 was its presumed support to this group. The bogus accusation of Eritrea’s “delivery of three plane loads of arms to Al-Shabaab through the town of Baidowa” was also deliberately peddled in November/December last year just weeks before the imposition of Resolution 2023. In effect, the “Monitoring Group” does not have a case against Eritrea. ..
We now proceed to address the new additions in the Report.
The Monitoring Group falsely accuses Eritrea of “violating the arms embargo through the smuggling of weapons and ammunition for commercial sale via Sudan”. As usual, it heaps insult on General Teklay Kifle and alleges that he “receives at least US$ 3.6 million per year in proceeds”. The arms smuggling that the Monitoring Group attributes to this General is then mingled with “the more lucrative activity of human trafficking”. As we explained in detail in our response last year, Eritrea is the victim of organized and targeted human trafficking that has been pursued deliberately by its adversaries to weaken its human resources. There are also individual criminals and fugitives from the law who are embroiled in this act.
The “Monitoring Group” gives away its game when it tries to associate Eritrea, albeit indirectly, with the killings of the tourists in Ethiopia on 17 January 2012. This is despite its earlier assertion which reads: “The SEMG has seen no evidence to suggest that the Government of Eritrea bears direct responsibility for the killings of Erta’Ale with respect to the planning or conduct of the operation”. But then, it speculates that since “Eritrea continues to host, train and support ARDUF, some recent ARDUF trainees may have been involved in the incident”. How the “Monitoring Group” can deduce Eritrea’s “indirect responsibility” from these flimsy circumstantial and speculative considerations is difficult to understand. The critical question is: does this emanate from professional ineptness and very low standards, or, does it betray ulterior political motivations?
…what is curious in the MG report is the total omission of any reference of the repeated and publicly announced attacks that Ethiopia has unleashed against Eritrea in the past six months. But as its unfounded but principal case on “Eritrea’s role in destabilizing Somalia” has evaporated in thin air, it has changed tack to fabricate new allegations focused on Ethiopia. The problem with this narrative is Ethiopia’s well-known practices and publicly stated agendas. Ethiopia is arming and supporting Eritrean armed groups; it pursues a policy of regime change; and, it continues to occupy sovereign Eritrean territories in flagrant violation of international law.
8. The Monitoring Group asserts that the arms embargo has severely “affected the operational readiness of the Eritrean Air Force”. On the one hand, this is not consonant with its accusations of Eritrea for violating the arms embargo through organized smuggling. But more importantly, one wonders why and for whom this information is proffered. Does assessment of Eritrea’s Air Force and inclusion in its report of aerial photographic analysis of the ERAF really fall within its purview? Especially when we recall that in the original accusations of Eritrean destabilization of Somalia, the Air Force was not implicated in any way. And when sovereign Eritrean territories remain occupied by a belligerent Ethiopia which may be contemplating additional acts of aggression, is the SEMG oblivious to Eritrea’s legitimate rights of defense as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter?
.. I wish to take this occasion to renew our earlier invitation for the Security Council Sanctions Committee to visit Eritrea for extensive discussions with the Government.
Let me also renew our consistent call on the Security Council to lift the unjust and unfair sanctions imposed on Eritrea as i) the initial and principal accusation of Eritrean support to Al-Shabaab has now been proven to be non-existent; ii) Eritrea remains committed to the facilitation by the State of Qatar to overcome its differences with the Republic of Djibouti; iii) the events over the past year have clearly shown that it is in fact Ethiopia that is actively engaged in destabilizing Eritrea in addition to its continued occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory in violation of the UN Charter; and iv) Eritrea enhances its positive contributions to regional peace and security. I thank you, Mr. Chairman.