HORN VON AFRIKA
Verfolgung und Folter treiben Eritreer in die Flucht nach Europa. Wenn die EU nun ihre Abschottungspolitik gegenüber dem Land öffnen will, sei Vorsicht geboten, sagt der Bundestagsabgeordnete Frank Heinrich im Interview.
Deutsche Welle: Herr Heinrich, Überwachung, Zwangsarbei und Folter - die Bilanz des Berichts, den die UN-Kommission zur Untersuchung der Menschenrechtssituation in Eritrea am Dienstag dem UN-Menschenrechtsrat vorlegt, ist erschütternd. Ist das für Sie eine Überraschung?
Frank Heinrich: Es ist keine Überraschung. Ich habe mich schon seit zwei Jahren verstärkt mit dem Thema beschäftigt und mit Personen gesprochen, die das immer wieder benennen. Selbst "Human Rights Watch" konnte nur einen Bericht schreiben mit den Zeugenaussagen derer, die das Land verlassen haben. Auch die Untersuchung, die jetzt vorgestellt wird, konnte nie vor Ort stattfinden, weil die Menschenrechtssituation so restriktiv ist.
Ist die Tatsache, dass der Bericht entgegen üblicher UN-Praxis nicht vor Ort vorbereitet werden konnte, eine Einschränkung für dessen Glaubwürdigkeit?
Natürlich muss man sich in Bezug auf Einzelinterviews fragen: Wie viel ist davon subjektiv? Man selber ist immer zu einem Maße geprägt und damit auch die Interviews. Wenn aber 550 vertrauliche Gespräche für die Untersuchung geführt wurden, konnte man für den Bericht die Schnittmenge berücksichtigen und Randaussagen herausfiltern. Die drei UN-Experten (Siehe Artikelbild, Anmerk. der Redaktion)bekamen keine Erlaubnis, im Land zu sein. Auch die 550 (Zeugen) waren zu verängstigt, um genau zu sagen, wer sie sind. Man kann das für unglaubwürdig halten, aber bei dieser Menge gibt es schon deutliche Überschneidungen, die auf gravierendste Menschenrechtsverletzungen hinweisen.
Was für Konsequenzen hat das für die internationalen Beziehungen zu so einem Land, das immerhin schon seit 24 Jahren unter der Führung von Staatschef Issaias Afewerki steht?
Beziehungen muss man haben, um überhaupt noch sagen zu können, was man über die Situation im Land denkt. Man darf sie nicht einfach abbrechen. Wenn sie sich aber auch finanziell ausdrücken sollen, ist höchste Vorsicht geboten. Wenn Eritrea eine Zwangssteuer für die eritreische Diaspora erhebt und die zum Teil auch eintreibt, muss unser Auswärtiges Amt denen sagen: Das geht auf deutschem Boden so nicht. Der Bundesentwicklungsminister Gerd Müller wird in wenigen Wochen dort hinreisen. Dann wird er diese Themen natürlich auch ansprechen. Das kann man aber nur, wenn Beziehungen bestehen. Bei Geld sieht das anders aus: Wenn dort Menschenhandel betrieben wird, wenn Korruption und Ausnutzung von Menschen immer wieder vorkommen, dann darf man keine finanziellen Beziehungen aufnehmen.
Welche Fragen würden Sie als Bundestagsabgeordneter und Mirglied des Ausschusses für Menschenrechte des Bundestags in Eritrea stellen?
Mir ist bewusst, dass ich nicht sofort auf Konfrontation gehen darf. Es gibt aber Fragen, auf die ich Antworten will. Zum Beispiel: Warum lassen Sie die drei UN-Experten nicht ins Land, wenn Sie uns mitteilen wollen, dass an den Vorwürfen nichts dran ist? Und warum haben Sie bestimmte Sachen unterschrieben, wenn Sie sich offensichtlich nicht daran halten? Diese Fragen würde ich ihnen stellen, und wenn sich vertrauenswürdige Gesprächssituationen ergeben, kann man auch mal tiefer gehen und einzelne Vorwürfe benennen.
Wie sehen Sie die Rolle der Europäischen Union, die bisher eine Politik der Isolation gefahren hat?
Es ist gut, nach so einem Bericht neu darüber nachzudenken. Damit sind wir im Ausschuss noch nicht fertig. Teilweise muss man Gesprächsebenen aufrechterhalten und zu einem gewissen Maß dem anderen erlauben, sein Gesicht zu wahren. Man darf aber damit auch keine Kompromisse eingehen, was Menschenrechte angeht, die unteilbar sind. Förderung über staatliche Stellen darf es nicht geben. Wenn sie von Nichtregierungsorganisationen geleistet werden kann - vorausgesetzt, diese dürfen frei arbeiten - dann könnte ich mir eine Unterstützung und eine verstärkte Auseinandersetzung mit dem Land sehr gut vorstellen.
Wäre es ein richtiger Schritt, die Beziehungen nun zu öffnen?
Wenn es Signale gibt, dass die Kritik auf fruchtbaren Boden fällt und das Land sich gesprächsbereit zeigt und nicht nur diplomatische Floskeln ausgetauscht werden - dann sehr gerne. Das ist meine persönliche Meinung. Dann sollte man gerne auch Schritte auf Eritrea zugehen. Bis jetzt sehe ich solche Signale nicht. Ich erhoffe mir aber, dass der Minister solche Signale aus Eritrea mitbringt, die zeigen, dass eine Bereitschaft zur konstruktiven Zusammenarbeit da ist.
Seit seiner Unabhängigkeit Anfang der 1990er Jahre entwickelt sich Eritrea nicht zum Guten. Das zeigen nicht nur die Erkenntnisse der UN-Kommission. Schon die Tatsache, dass eine Verfassung von 1997, die Hoffnungen auf eine Demokratisierung im Land weckte, bisher nicht implementiert ist, ist bezeichnend. Lassen diese Entwicklungen noch Hoffnung zu?
Die Umsetzung der Verfassung von 1997 wäre einer der Schritte, die kommen müssten, und auch die Anerkennung einiger Menschenrechtsverbrechen, die seitdem passiert sind.
Was in Eritrea passiert, betrifft Europa ganz konkret. Die Menschenrechtssituation treibt unzählige Menschen in die Flucht. Ein großer Teil der afrikanischen Flüchtlinge, die an den Küsten Europas ankommen, stammt aus Eritrea. Müsste die EU nicht noch viel stärkere Konsequenzen ziehen, um die Situation der Menschen in deren Herkunftsland mit zu beeinflussen?
Als Sprecher für humanitäre Hilfe und Mitglied von zwei Ausschüssen, sage ich ganz klar: ja. Daran müssen wir einerseits als deutscher Staat mithelfen und andererseits unsere Stimme in Europa dazu einbringen. In Deutschland werden aus keinem anderen Land Flüchtlinge zu so hohen Prozentzahlen willkommen geheißen wie aus Eritrea. Syrien versteht im Moment jeder. Bei Eritrea wird sehr deutlich, dass diese Menschen aus tiefster Not und Leiden unter ihrer eigenen Regierung kommen. Darauf müssen wir Einfluss nehmen. Dazu müssen wir Stellung beziehen. Wir können schlecht nur sagen, was andere Länder machen müssen. Die müssen das auch mit uns wollen.
Frank Heinrich ist deutscher Bundestagsabgeordneter. Er ist Mitglied im Ausschuss für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung und als Obmann für die CDU/CSU-Fraktion im Ausschuss für Menschenrechte und humanitäre Hilfe.
Das Interview führte Philipp Sandner.
DIE REDAKTION EMPFIEHLT
22 June 2015, 10:45 UTC
Ibrahim’s parents were veteran fighters in Eritrea’s long war for independence from Ethiopia. After it ended in 1991, his mother, Aster Fissehatsion, became a high-profile politician, and his father, Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo, was appointed Vice-President. In September 2001, both were arrested after criticizing the President, and never heard from again. Ibrahim tells us their story.
(Image above: A rare photograph of Ibrahim with his mother, Aster Fissehatsion, Eritrea, 28 April 1990.)
Like many children of my generation, I was born on the battlefields of Eritrea. In our camouflaged shack – a natural extension of a rocky hill – I spent happy times with my gentle, soft-spoken father and my loving mother. I knew no other life but one filled with stoicism, bravery and camaraderie.
My best friends were other children who were used to life saturated with chaos – explosions, scurrying for safe places during aerial bombardments, being herded in and out of bomb shelters, seeing combatants going to or returning from battlefields. We sang songs for Eritrea – about the history, traditions and struggles of our people.
My parents were freedom fighters, always on military missions that took them away from me. But I felt I lived in luxury because I knew other war-children never saw their parents return.
Life felt like a party
As soon as our freedom fighters liberated Eritrea in May 1991, I moved to the capital, Asmara. Life there was strikingly devoid of fear. I made new friends, attended pre-school, played in the neighbourhood playgrounds.
I was astounded by many things around me. I lived in a household with running water and electricity, wore nice clothes and proper shoes. Life in Asmara felt like a big party.
The President and his cohorts are guilty in the court of conscience; therefore, they are the real prisoners. My parents’ conscience and ideals are roaming free within and beyond the four walls of their cells.Ibrahim Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo
The following years were by far the best of my life. But in 1998, as I was about to finish Junior High School, Eritrea went to war against Ethiopia. In 2000, as I moved on to high school, the war was ending, leaving 19,000 young Eritreans dead.
Disharmony among top government and ruling party leaders flared up over this war, which had left Eritrea badly bruised, including with major territorial loss to Ethiopia.
Never seen again
In May 2001, my parents and other government critics were suspended after they published an Open Letter calling for peaceful, democratic dialogue. It sealed my parents’ fate: on 18 September 2001 they were picked up by security agents and never seen again.
“People have the right to know what happened to Aster,” Ibrahim's family says. “They need to know what her mother is going through, as she holds on to the gradually fading images of her beloved daughter.”
I remember my parents with pride and admiration. I don’t know their physical condition, medical needs and psychological state. But they are very much alive in my heart and in my mind. And their ideals will stand the test of time.
The President and his cohorts are guilty in the court of conscience; therefore, they are the real prisoners. My parents’ conscience and ideals are roaming free within and beyond the four walls of their cells.
Aster Fissehatsion was the only woman among 11 political leaders shut away in Eritrea’s notoriously harsh prisons in September 2001. Sign our petition to free her and tweet Aster’s family a message of support using #FreeAsterNow
7 facts about Eritrea
- It is the world’s most censored country.
- Over 10,000 people have been detained without charge or trial for political reasons since 1993.
- Many are held in overcrowded underground cells or shipping containers in the desert, suffering extreme heat and cold.
- Around 3,000 people flee the country every month, often to escape indefinite, forced military service.
- Eritreans made up 10% of those risking the deadly Mediterranean Sea crossing to Europe (Jan-end April 2015).
- Ethiopia annexed Eritrea in 1962, sparking a violent independence struggle.
- The rule of Isaias Afewerki, Eritrea's only president since 1993, is highly autocratic and repressive.
A longer version of this story will appear in the July-September issue of Wire, Amnesty's global magazine.
Every year the Bay Area Eritrean democratic forces remember Martyrs Day with candle lights and prayers. This year was not different. On Saturday June 20, 2015, the Bay Area Eritreans for Democratic Change (aka DaEro) hosted Martyrs Day in a special way; members experience or memories about our Martyrs, invited former fighters to give their reflection and how do the local opposition build an energetic opposition and focus in toppling the sitting dictator.
The Board of Bay Area Eritreans for Democratic Change (BAEDC) opened the meeting with silence of prayer in memory of our Martyrs and delivering a message from the leadership. Then, the Board opened the stage for the audience to share their first hand experience with Martyrs in the battle field. Many attendees shared the bravery and selfless sacrifices our Martyrs showed on the last minute of their precious life. They fought and sacrifice their lives to better Eritrea and the Eritrean people. Memories were shared from attendees about gallant sacrifices that was given in Asmara and Massawa. One attendee shared the sacrifice that was given by civilians and most of them women from the dungeons of the enemy. A truck driver at the Badme war shared his eye-witness on masses of Martyrs by the roadside that remained engraved in his memory. An incredible eye-witness was shared by a young woman about martyrdom in the Revolutionary School in Sahel. The care takers of the children were very caring and loving and gave their lives while protecting them from Ethiopian fighter jets. The graphic story of the event was echoed into the audience’s faces and dark cloud of sadness loomed in the hall. All members who shared their firsthand eye-witness said they could not erase the graphic pictures of those moments from their memory.
The audience shared many stories of firsthand experience with martyrs. The meeting acknowledged that story of martyrs is endless, but the cause of their martyrdom didn’t materialize yet. Their sacrifice was not to hand the free land to a monster dictator, but for its children to enjoy the fruit of liberty together. The Martyrs are crying from their graves to carry their cause of martyrdom to end, and audience responded they will. With this, the first part of the meeting came to conclusion.
The second part of the meeting was to discuss about creating a healthy working relationship within the pro-democracy forces and individuals. The Board asked what they can do to better and advance the vision of the BAEDC. The audience discussed this topic with openness. They appreciated the Board’s work so far, and encouraged them to continue on the same trend. Some of the suggestions that came were; to reach out, to conduct more members engaging events, diner events every month or so, etc. Reminders also came to the attendees; not to live in past grudges, to focus on toppling the dictator, to put the horse before the cart, to say sorry to each other, to think about positive things and not consume in negative staff against each other, etc. Some mentioned of the round sitting arrangement contributed to communal effort and facing each other allowed attendees to dialogue fact to face. An approach we Eritreans would benefit from.
In conclusion, the meeting chemistry was weighted towards new and young members. It carried very healthy spirited discussions, and members were very determined to make BAEDC work and advance it to a higher level of struggle. The Board assured members that there will be more members engaging meeting to establish more bonding and trust.
Our Martyrs Dream will Live!
Bay Area Eritrean for Democratic Change (BAEDC)
As Europe's leaders argue over the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, Paraic O'Brien travels with a family of Eritreans as it makes its way from Italy to Germany, encountering chaos on the way.
At 11 o'clock every night, two coaches on the Bolzano-bound train out of Rome are full of immigrants. They do not have travel documents, just train tickets.
The increasing numbers of immigrants arriving in Italy by boat was discussed by David Cameron and the Italian prime minister this week. As they were talking, immigrants were making their way to the Italian city of Bolzano.
The tale they told was a familiar one: held by Libyan people traffickers until their families paid up.
When they arrived at Bolzano on the Austrian border, the Italian police initially tried to stop them from travelling on to the southern German city of Munich, but they made it there eventually.
It was the moment one family had been waiting for. After leaving Eritrea as asylum seekers, they crossed the Sahara, encountering people traffickers in Libya before taking a boat across the Mediterranean.
When the immigrants arrived in Munich, the larger group was placed in a holding pen by the German police before being taken to a detention centre. But for the family, with an asylum claim, it was a different story. Another long journey beckoned - to Holland.
The United Nations refugee agency has just announced that more people are on the move – driven from their homes by conflict and human rights abuses – than at any other time in history: 59.5 million to be precise. Yet governments all over the globe contend that most of these people, who risk their lives on the high seas or trek for weeks or months across deserts with often abusive smugglers or traffickers, are just looking for a job.
Eritrea is one such government. Responding to media questions on a June 8 UN report on Eritrea’s atrocious human rights record, and the resulting mass exodus from the country since 2004, Eritrea’s ambassador to France said, “Let me tell you, all those ‘refugees’ are economic migrants.”
But the UN’s damning 500-page report on Eritrea tells a different story, one of extrajudicial killings, widespread torture and arbitrary detention in inhuman conditions, forced disappearances, and forcing men and women into decades of abusive military service for slave-like wages. The UN says some of these abuses may amount to crimes against humanity.
The report echoes dozens of human rights reports on Eritrea over the past decade. It also resonates with stories Human Rights Watch colleagues and I heard from Eritreans arriving in Italy by boat in May from Libya. An 18-year-old man called Tadesse, who tried to escape lifelong military service in Eritrea only to be caught at the border, told us, “I was thrown in a shipping container for five months. They used to tie us up and leave us in the hot sun for days on end as punishment.”
The UN report is based on hundreds of interviews with Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees across the globe but doesn’t include a single interview with Eritreans living in their own country. Why? Because repeated UN requests for its human rights experts to visit Eritrea were met with a deafening silence.
Putting aside the plethora of evidence from Eritrean refugees, the answer to this “debate” is quite simple. If Eritrea is so confident that hundreds of thousands of its citizens abroad are lying about why they left their country, why not fling open the doors and allow the UN and the rest of the world to see for itself?
With World Refugee Day coming up on June 20, as Eritrea continues to hemorrhage thousands of its citizens each month, it seems that’s the easiest way for the authorities to prove their spurious claim that Eritreans should not be part of the latest shocking global refugee statistics.
President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, who ‘rules through fear’. Photograph: Goh Chai Hin/AFP/Getty Images
Europe’s response to the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean has rightly – if belatedly – focused on saving lives. Not a week goes by now without thousands of Africans, Asians and refugees from the Middle East being rescued off the coast of Italy by European ships. That is the welcome result of a humanitarian effort decided in late April, after a series of tragedies at sea had pushed EU leaders to act at last. But it would be dangerous to suppose that the deeper problem has been addressed. Europe deals only with the symptoms of migration, not its root causes. Eritrea is a striking case in point.
This east African nation of 6 million people is now one of the biggest sources of migrants who take the perilous journey into Sudan and then across Libya before finally setting out to sea towards Europe’s shores. There is no civil war in Eritrea, nor has there been an international military intervention. What Eritreans desperately try to escape is a dictatorship that sounds close to being Africa’s equivalent of North Korea. The UN’s inquiry on human rights in Eritrea, in a damning report published earlier this week, found what it called “a pervasive control system used in absolute arbitrariness to keep the population in a state of permanent anxiety”. It describes torture, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, indefinite military conscription, forced labour. It is a comprehensive description of how President Isaias Afwerki, in power for 23 years, rules through fear.
In the face of the systematic inhumanity of his regime, Europe has turned a blind eye. Even worse, the EU has in recent months decided on a new development aid package to Eritrea, worth over €300m. The argument is that financial support will help stem the flow of asylum seekers pouring out of the country. But it is not likely to work like that. Rather, the aid will first feed the cynicism of a dictatorial system only too happy to feel vindicated in its twisted assertion that Eritreans are migrating for predominantly economic reasons, not political ones. Second, such a policy does nothing to relieve those who so desperately need urgent help. Europe is not only compromising its own values by turning a blind eye to tyranny, it is rewarding a regime with aid instead of thinking strategically.
Any reading of the UN report should tear down this convenient myth. The EU must base its action not on wishful thinking but on the report’s core conclusion, which is that crimes against humanity may be being committed in Eritrea. This means that European governments, including the UK’s, that have tried to cast Eritreans as economic migrants, must seriously consider changing course. If Eritreans are fleeing persecution, Europe’s obligation is to be open to them, not to retreat behind false representations. If aid is to be delivered, it must come with strict obligations attached. There may be no easy solution to Eritrea’s domestic situation, but the very least one should expect from Europe is to recognise the facts: it is a totalitarian state whose refugees are not, or not only, in search of work but who are fleeing a very real terror.
Eritrean migrants, pictured in Calais, are the second largest African group fleeing to Europe. Photograph: Pascal Rossignol/REUTERS
Norwegian state secretary Jøran Kellmyr is under fire for travelling to Eritrea – often called “Africa’s North Korea” because of the repressive and murderous regime of President Isaias Afwerki – to forge a “return” agreement enabling Norway to send back Eritrean refugees.
Eritreans are the second largest group, behind the Syrians, of those migrating to Europe. About 200 leave each day and the money sent home by the diaspora is almost exclusively responsible for supporting those who remain.
A UN report last week issued a damning picture of a “culture of fear” within Eritrea, citing random arrests, torture and systematic rape, military service that equated to slave labour, political persecution and executions.
But Kallmyr stressed it had been written without access to the country, relying on accounts of Eritreans who have fled. Norway and the UK toughened their stance on asylum requests from Eritrea earlier this year, controversially citing a Danish report, Eritrea – Drivers and Root Causes of Emigration, which suggested many Eritreans were fleeing for economic reasons. The report caused outrage and was widely discredited; two of its authors resigned. Leslie Lefkow of Human Rights Watch attacked it as “a political effort to stem migration”.
But the UK issued new guidance on Eritrea, citing the Danish report, and since then the refusal rate for asylum applications from Eritreans has risen from 13% in 2014 to 23% so far this year.
“Key European figures have been heading to Asmara and it’s clear there is a real political will to solve the migrant crisis by getting the borders shut from the Eritrean side – it’s a very dangerous tactic,” said one UN insider. There are fears the Eritreans could re-impose a shoot-to-kill border operation. At present, there is a UN and EU arms embargo on Eritrea, a travel ban and an asset freeze on listed individuals.
A Home Office spokesperson said there were no immediate plans to change policy towards Eritrea but added: “We will carefully consider the findings of the United Nations report.”
That was the conclusion of a yearlong investigation by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, which released its report this week. The report lays out in horrifying detail the mass surveillance, torture, enslavement and disappearances under Eritrea’s totalitarian regime since that country gained independence from Ethiopia in the early 1990s. The U.N. investigators said systemic human rights abuses in Eritrea are on a scale rarely seen anywhere else in the world and may constitute crimes against humanity.
The U.N. panel, which was established in June 2014, was not able to enter Eritrea, so investigators based their 484-page report on 550 interviews and 160 written statements from people who had fled the country. Many witnesses were still terrified to provide information to the commission, fearing the reach of Eritrean surveillance and consequences for their families back home, the report said.
Among those willing to tell their stories was an Eritrean who sketched out some of the gruesome torture methods being used and provided the drawings to the commission. A human rights investigator for the commission who helped draft the report said the artist’s identity was being kept strictly confidential for his or her protection.
“The drawings were very useful to help us portray more vividly the suffering and humiliation described to us by many witnesses,” she told The WorldPost. “The 'tying methods' are common forms of torture inflicted on both detainees and conscripts in Eritrea,” she said.