On 26 June 2015, more than 5000 justice-seeking Eritreans (in very conservative estimates) flocked to Geneva from all over the world –– to demonstrate their unflinching support to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE). They congregated in huge numbers in front of the UN Offices in Geneva (Place des Nations).
The number of people that showed up in support of the cause was unprecedented by all measurements. In very conservative estimates, it was twice as big as the number of people who gathered on 22 June 2015 in “support” of the certified repressive regime in Eritrea.
As noted in the message of the day read on the occasion, the demonstration of 26 June has underscored one basic reality: the voice of justice-seeking Eritreans won’t be muzzled! Indeed, the balance of power between justice-seeking Eritreans and tyranny-loving (confused) Eritreans and their repressive regime has meaningfully shifted in favour of justice-seeking Eritreans. The tyrant regime in Eritrea can no longer fool the world by coercing people into its fake rallies. On the other hand, justice-seeking Eritreans are telling the world unequivocally that it is time for the international community to end impunity in Eritrea. The message is loud and clear: enough is enough! The tyrant must go and full accountability for crimes against humanity must be ensured immediately.
The coordinating committee would like to thank all who have contributed in different ways in making the demonstration of 26 June a huge success that surpassed expectations.
Below is a Tigrinya version of the message by the Coordinating Committee read on the day of the demonstration (English and Arabic versions will follow soon).
Our voice won’t be muzzled!
Coordinating Committee of the Demonstration of Eritreans in Geneva
28 June 2015
June 19, 2015
His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon United Nations Secretary-General
United Nations Headquarters New York, N.Y.
Dear Mr. Secretary-General:
We preface our letter with our-heart-felt good wishes to you in all the very important duties you are performing as a world leader. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you and all those who collaborate with you in all the noble efforts.
We are writing you as a matter of great urgency, on behalf of hundreds of thousands of our unfortunate Eritrean compatriots. We note with great appreciation the expression of sympathy and grave concern that you voiced following the tragic drowning of hundreds of Eritreans near the Island of Lampedusa some twenty months ago. Indeed, we believe that your voice and that of His Holiness Pope Francis helped put such tragedy and its causes on national and international agendas, especially in Europe, leading to a great deal of debate and soul-searching.
While we welcome these promising developments, unfortunately, we believe that they stopped short of what needs to be done in order to find a lasting solution to such tragedies and the causes that trigger them. The flow of refugees continues unabated and more people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, despite the efforts at naval intervention to save lives. We strongly believe that the international community and Europe in particular, needs to translate the expressions of good will voiced in the wake of the Lampedusa tragedy to more concrete actions. Such actions should begin by addressing the causes of the massive migration of refugees from Africa and the Middle East.
In that spirit, and focusing on the Eritrean refugees, we urge you to bring the considerable moral weight carried by your office to bear on the specific tragedy that has befallen on our unfortunate nation—Eritrea. The cause of the massive exodus of Eritreans is the wrong policy and dangerous politics pursued by the government of Mr. Isaias Afwerki.
Of all the wrong policies of the government that have devastated a once promising nation, the most egregious is the so called National Service, which has pinned down hundreds of thousands of Eritrean youth in what can only be described as forced servitude. Eritrean youth, the cream of the nation, have wasted, and are wasting, their lives in a pointless and unending service. Thousands have chosen to escape from this servitude at huge risk to their lives, including those who perished in the Mediterranean Sea. Though this servitude is the worst policy pursued by the government, we need to understand the overall context of the nature of the state under which it is practiced.
People who expressed any criticism against the government have been severely punished; many have died in detention. It is generally known that a once promising country has been turned into a police state and the fervent hopes and aspirations of a whole generation of Eritreans have been dashed on the rock of wrong polices and dangerous politics of a government led by an unelected President. The recent U N Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea found “that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed under the authority of the Government. Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.”
In the prevailing conditions of lawlessness families of thousands of prisoners do not know where their loved ones are incarcerated, do not know if they are dead or alive, do not have the right to visit them or for doctors and lawyers to see them. The young are particularly vulnerable and many prefer risking death remaining in conditions of endless servitude wasting their precious lives. This is the condition that is forcing thousands to flee their country in search of refuge abroad. Unless and until this condition is properly and quickly addressed, the “refugee problem” will continue with more Lampedusa-like incidents. We are, therefore, appealing to you, Mr. Secretary-General, to use your good offices to help set in motion a thorough investigation on the cause that is driving refugees from their beloved homeland. Your leadership, along with that of H.H. Pope Francis, and with the support of leaders of the European Union, African Union, and individual governments, is needed to bring this tragedy to an end. We implore you to take speedy steps toward the accomplishment of this objective.
On June 19, 2015, Eritreans and friends of Eritrea are demonstrating in Washington,
D. C., in support of the people in Eritrea and against the dictatorship in Eritrea.
Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change (ENCDC)
Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP)
Eritreans for Facilitating National Dialogue (EFND)
Copy to U S Department of State
Peshawar (Pakistan) (AFP) - The United Nations refugee chief Tuesday warned the European Union about its planned military operation to target people-smugglers in the Mediterranean, saying migrants attempting the risky sea crossing must be protected.
Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, welcomed the initial intelligence-gathering phase of the new mission, which could begin as early as next week, but said rescuing migrants at sea should be the top priority.
More than 100,000 people have made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to Europe so far this year, and some 1,800 have drowned trying.
Many of them have been fleeing war or poverty in parts of Africa and the Middle East and paid huge sums to risk their lives in barely seaworthy boats for a chance of reaching Europe.
EU leaders agreed at a summit in April, overshadowed by the sinking of a rickety migrant boat with the loss of 800 lives, to formulate a plan to tackle the crisis at source on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, including a military option to go after smugglers in Libya.
On Monday EU foreign ministers approved the launch of a three-stage military strategy beginning with intelligence-gathering.
Guterres, visiting Afghan refugee facilities in Pakistan, said the lives of those attempting the crossing must come first.
"Our position has been very clear: first priority rescue at sea -- lives need to be saved, nobody should be left to die in the Mediterranean," he said.
The 28-nation EU scaled down its search and rescue operations last year, to the dismay of Italy, where the bulk of the migrants arrive.
The new military mission, dubbed "EU NAVFOR Med", will initially involve five warships, two submarines, three maritime patrol aircraft, drones and helicopters.
- 'Protect victims' -
Guterres said action to deal with those who were cashing in on the Mediterranean migrant crisis was welcome, but international law must be respected.
"Smuggling and trafficking are horrible things. People are exploited, their rights are violated, people die in unseaworthy boats," he said.
"So whatever can be done to crack down on traffickers and smugglers is positive, with one essential condition -- that the protection of the victims is guaranteed and the access to European territory is guaranteed."
Last week the UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called on the EU to open its doors wider to migrants and said the bloc could easily take in a million refugees.
The Mediterranean migration crisis has become a hugely sensitive political issue in Europe, driving gains for far-right and eurosceptic parties across the continent.
The second phase of the EU mission involves intervention to board and disable smuggler vessels and arrest the traffickers, while the third would extend these actions into Libyan waters and possibly inside the country itself.
Recognising the reluctance of some members to commit to the potentially complex and dangerous second and third stages, the April summit agreed a UN Security Council resolution would be needed before they went ahead.
The situation is complicated by the unstable picture in Libya, where rival factions are fighting for control and the internationally-recognised government has been forced to flee the capital.
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.