De-Institutionalizing Eritrea


Rewinding back to the 1950s when the UN resolved to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia, the arguments against federating Eritrea with Ethiopia included that a conflict between Eritrea with its more advanced socio-economic and legal institutions, and Ethiopia with its feudal monarchical system would be inevitable.  It would be a marriage of irreconcilable differences.   

Eritrea, enjoying the economic investments of colonial Italy, and the growth of the socio-political institutions during the 10-year British administration, which by the way dismantled many of the Italian investments, had created a rare budding parliamentary institution in Africa, while its legal system, labour unions, and other form of institutions were growing at the same time.  Eritrea’s institutions were the envy of not only Africa but much of the developing world, which consisted the vast majority the world’s nations at that time.  Unfortunately, the federation with Ethiopia began the process of dismantling Eritrea’s institutions as Emperor Haileselassie feared that it would weaken the monarchical system in Ethiopia. Hence began the Eritrean independence movement.

The very essence of our independence movement was to rebuild and grow our national institutions, and most importantly laws, but also customs, and traditions are intricately woven into fabric of institutions. 

When we gained our independence in 1991, the one issue that kept coming up in discussions about building the future of Eritrea was to how to build institutions in Eritrea.  We thought Eritrea’s independence would resume the interrupted path of the wide institutionalization of the 1950s. Instead, twenty-four years after independence, Eritrea finds itself on unabashed path towards annihilation of all forms of institutions. 

The worst irony is it is the monarchical and feudal Ethiopia that is on a path towards building its institutions.  Its parliamentary system, albeit at its infancy, is growing at natural pace.  Its civil service, private sector, public media, legal, and other institutions are growing, albeit still a long way.  But it is a clearly defined journey, rather than an elusive destination that gives hope.  Institutions and democracy don’t grow overnight, rather they go through infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood - and may even face adolescence or middle-age crisis.  After all, the learning curve is part of life, and Ethiopian politics of the visionary late PM Meles Zenawi is on that learning curve, and is still at toddler stage.  As it stands today, its civil administration, social, economic and legal systems are now significantly more advanced than DIA’s Eritrea.  What DIA is doing is tantamount to infanticide of Eritrean institutions.  

Civilization is more than the invention and adoption technological advancements – or digging more illusionary dams.  That is “Animal Farm’s” windmill.  Rather it is primarily the adoption of advanced laws that bind a society, and it is institutions that foster wider public involvement in national matters.  Every Eritrean society has thousands of years of rich history and tradition that was built and sustained on the rock foundation of their socio-legal institutional systems.  DIA’s destructive assault on this proud and civilized behaviour is the single biggest threat to the very existence of Eritrea as a viable and cohesive nation.

It is not just laws - or worse decrees spewed out at the whims of one-man - and their enforcements that makes a nation law-abiding.  Rather, it is a legitimate government’s and people’s deep respect for law and rule-of-law that builds a law-abiding nation.  If government and people don’t respect the rule-of-law, and if the only factor that binds people together are harsh enforcement laws and cruel punishments, then that nation WILL fall apart.  When one says ‘Ziban Higi’ and the other person and you head straight to adjudicator or law enforcer, which is respect for law.  If one feels that one can violet any laws and can buy justice by bribing a policeman, a prosecutor, or a judge - which is becoming very pervasive in DIA’s Eritrea - there can NOT be harmony within a community, and by extension a country.  

When a large group of Eritrean elders followed the traditions of their prudent forefathers to ask DIA to pursue reconciliation and prudence in dealing with colleagues who had different political views from DIA, he arrested some and threatened the others of incarceration.  Moreover, they were told that if they met again that they would be arrested for illegal gathering.

The breakdown of law, rule-of-law, due process of law, and institutions has been gradual since independence but has become unbridled lawlessness since 2001. 

Although the illegal treatment of Jehovah Witnesses in the mid-90s was a tell-tale sign of the regime’s illegal behaviour, the first major departure from the proper functioning legal system was DIA’s decree of the ‘Special Courts’ in 1996.  Ostensibly, the ‘Special Courts’, a variant of Military Courts, was established to root out corruption.  The ‘Special Courts’ were presided by military officers with little or no legal background, and their decisions were ‘final and binding’, i.e. with no rights of appeal.  That is unparalleled legal travesty both in our traditional law and modern law.  The right of appeal is an inherent right designed to give the accused a recourse against possible injustice.  This decree, in essence, made the one to three presiding military judges the law of the land over civilian matters.  If this wasn’t a blatant invitation for legal chaos and unbridled corruption, nothing else is.     

‘Special Courts’ was NOT designed to root out corruption.  Rather, it was DIA’s way of buying the loyalty of military officers - and entrench lawlessness into Eritrean system.  It would be the opening salvo to de-institutionalize Eritrea in full throttle.   Lawlessness meant that if one needs to eliminate a pesky neighbour, a business competitor, or someone that insulted you - dole out some cash under the table to these judges and suddenly verdicts are guaranteed.  If this is not an utter betrayal of what over 100,000 of our precious brothers and sisters sacrificed their dear lives for, what is?

When arrested by police for unknown reasons, one should have the absolute right to file a writ of habeas corpus to regular courts.  Instead, in Eritrea, one finds that it is ‘Special Courts’ that issued the arrest and that regular courts do NOT have jurisdiction.  The arrested person doesn’t know the reasons for the arrest until appearing in ‘Special Courts’ and with no rights of representation to mount any defence, one is found guilty before one even drops a word.  One can languish in prison for months without even appearing in Special Court - just long enough to put one of business or give an advantage to a competitor, then released without any explanations.

A variation of ‘Special Courts’ is the ‘military courts’.  As all able-bodies between 18 and 40, but in reality up to 60, are prisoners of national service subject to military courts and military justice, they have no recourse to properly functioning and accountable legal system.  This is further degradation of Eritrea’s already weak institution and the entrenchment of injustice in Eritrea, which is a frontal assault on a key institution of any viable nation state.


Institution is generally defined as organizations, societies, establishments and other similar groupings brought together for promotion and advancement of particular cause or program.  Most of these groupings are established for the purpose of advancing legal, educational, religious, political, cultural, and other major causes.

Institutions have many functions such as,

  • Maintaining continuity from past, to present, to the future - especially important for tradition, religion, law/legal,

  • Maintaining stability in civil service, politics, and legal systems,

  • Distribution of power - especially important in distributing political power which is critical in forestalling dictatorships,

  • Organized, inclusive, methodical, and predictable method for bringing about change,

  • Allows the accumulation, transmittal, and leverage of knowledge and know-how - thus the very foundation of civilization.

    Institutions have tendency to resist change, might be bureaucratic, and may favor the status-quo. However, like everything in life, the challenge remains finding the middle way. Change is good, and even nature’s law, but it must be done not too fast, nor too slow. It is like fire - too far from fire and one gets cold; too close, and one gets burned.

    Very few, i.e. a drop in the bucket, examples of DIA’s de-institutionalizing Eritrea,

  • Disbanding of unions, including teachers

  • Unlawful persecutions of Jehovah Witnesses [chipping away from the edges towards the middle of all religious institutions]

  • Unethical and corrupt practices in its business ventures, weakening much of the economic institutions

  • ‘Special Courts’ and the weakening of Eritrean legal system. This not only weakened modern laws, but also traditional laws – destroying Eritrea’s traditional laws, the very foundation of its old institutions

  • Refusal to implement the 1997 Constitution, which would have been the launching pad for political institution

  • Refusal to convene EPLF/PFDJ Congress last held in 1994, and disbanding of the EPLF/PFDJ Central Committee, last held its meeting in 2000, which further weakened our launching pad for political institutions.

  • Interference in religious institutions subjecting all major religions into total servitude to a point where their religious legitimacy may be questioned.

  • Weakening the civil service through deliberate policy that forced unpaid ‘national servicemen’ serving in the civil service to engage in bribery to survive.

  • Bypassing government ministries and concentrating all power in the president’s office. All political and diplomatic decisions are made by one man, instead of spreading out decision making - which is key to building institutions. For example, Central Bank of Eritrea is in name only, with all the country’s hard currency reserves managed by DIA himself through Hong Kong accounts. All Central Bank of Eritrea’s activities should be documented and available to the public, my rights as a citizen, which would only confirm that it is an institution in name only.

    Rule by Decree

    According to Wikipedia, it is defined as a style of governance allowing quick, unchallenged creation of law by a single person or group, and is used primarily by dictators and absolute monarchs.

    In a properly functioning democratic states, and even those pretending to be one, have legislative bodies responsible for promulgating laws. A constitution may provide head of state some powers to

    New Civil and Penal Codes

    The regime recently announced a new civil and penal code. The ‘good news’ was conveyed to us through, among others, (aka and as if, i.e. insinuating, that the regime was unable to work with the old civil and penal codes and that with the new laws that our tireless and well-meaning government would start upholding laws. What a fantasy, or rather selling a fantasy!

    DIA has made a mockery of the transitional civil and penal codes that was supposed to serve Eritrea until the ‘new’ codes were promulgated. Frankly, I haven’t had an opportunity to look at the new codes, but I can assure my readers that the basic rights and working laws in the new codes can’t be any different than the transitional or now old codes.

    DIA, or Special Court judges, have not upheld any of the key provisions of the 1991 transitional penal codes. For instance,

    Title III Chapter I. – Offences Against Official Duties

    Article 410. – Principle

    1) All persons who are to any degree repositories of the power or authority of the State, such as members of the public authorities, government officials and agents and servants of the government and public administrations of any kind or members of the armed or police forces (hereafter referred to as "public servants"), are subject to the punitive provisions which follow where, in the discharge of their office, duties or employment, they commit any of the offences under this chapter.

    (2) Where the act which they have done or omitted to do in the discharge of their duties, and in respect to which they are charged, comes within the scope of ordinary criminal law, but there is aggravation due to the offenders' public position and the breach of the special responsibility resting upon them by virtue of the trust placed in them, the relevant provisions of the other titles of this Code shall apply.

    Art. 412. —Breach of Official Duties.

    Art. 414. —Abuse of Power.

    Art. 415. —Abuse of the Right of Search or Seizure.

    Art. 416. —Unlawful Arrest or Detention.

    Art. 417. —Use of Improper Methods.

    Art. 702. —Exclusion of Ordinary Criminal Penalties.

    Art. 703. —Arrest.

    Art. 704. —Ordinary or Police Arrest.

    Art. 705. —Home Arrest.

    Delving into detail, this penal code provides the most basic rights accorded to the accused,

  • Right to be brought to court judge within 48 hours after arrest and for the police to present their evidence

  • Right to bail hearing

  • Right to seek legal advice

  • Right of visit during incarceration

  • Right of appeal, and many other rights.

    I can assure my readers that no law abiding citizen in Eritrea wants any of these rights taken away because they don’t to fall victims to unscrupulous and dangerous people that live amongst them.

    Invariably, those who support the regime’s illegal behaviours are those who are beyond its reach, i.e. those who live abroad and enjoy full rights accorded in well-functioning legal systems - at least, one can be assured that one doesn’t get thrown into jail incommunicado and without knowing the charges for indefinite time.

    As such the new civil and penal codes are meaningless. As some would say, it ain’t worth the paper it is written on.

    New Constitution

    It is a cruel joke! Suffice to say one would have died from laughter if it wasn’t about the tragedy of our people.

    Illegal House Destructions -- Illustration of how unaccountable governments can be the single biggest threats to people’s rights

    Recently, DIA has started destroying housing throughout Eritrea claiming that they were built illegally. The only other ‘government’ known for destroying, instead of building, is the Taliban, and now its monstrous clone, IS. The recent panel discussion by Minister of Local Government, Mr.Woldemichael Abraha,regarding the illegal use of land is yet another illustration of the twisted understanding of the functioning of a government, its policies, its laws (by decree), and remedial actions.

    This is travesty of tremendous proportions. At a time when there are severe housing shortages, it is unfathomable how a regime resorts to destroying new houses. Especially considering that the regime has banned any new housing construction since 2009, this is a deliberate policy of sowing social and legal chaos in the country - as if we don’t have zillion other issues to deal with.

    No one is above the law, i.e. in a country that is governed by the rule-of-law!

    The regime supporters excuse the regime’s illegal house destruction claiming that these houses were built illegally. This has been going on for over 15 years. However, the truth of the matter is that if the regime was truly concerned about illegal housing, adverse impact on urban planning or safety, the regime should acted sooner to prevent others from building.

    The regime supporters make excuses for the Eritrean dictatorial regime as follows:

  1. The regime has been warning for years against such behaviours

    In reality: instead of just warning, it could have destroyed the very first, or second, or tenth house built ‘illegally’ 15 years earlier which would have sent unequivocal message to future builders. This is not impossible task, or requiring a whole army to do the job; rather it just takes one bulldozer to do the job.

  2. The regime is destroying illegal houses

    In reality: in properly functioning legal system, depending on the type of violation, there is a statute limitations on bringing legal action against any violation.

    Building a house is NOT a criminal activity, it could be a violation of municipal law or other government law. In such violations, government authorities and bodies have a HIGHER legal responsibility to enforce their laws within a reasonable time - usually not more than two years after they became aware of such violations.

      1. The regime was well aware for over 18 years that such activities were taking place and chose to do nothing. In not enforcing its laws, regardless of its ‘laws’ on paper, it is implicitly condoning such activities, and abrogating the law in question.  

      2. Any competent law would ask why the regime couldn’t take such actions earlier. Did it have the resources to take such actions? The answer would have been unequivocally - ‘yes it did have the resources all these years.’ It would have taken, as it did now, one bulldozer to do the job and all others would have been discouraged from doing the same over the last 18 years.

      3. Although municipalities may have administrative rights to destroy illegal houses within a reasonable time, owners/builders do also have the right to seek legal redress or injunction to stop home destructions. Once a house is identified for destruction by a municipality, owners should have the right to seek recourse from a competent courts of law, which may find the municipality of acting illegally. Without such legal recourse, who can control the illegal actions of municipalities or other authorities?  

        CRITICAL LESSON: To reiterate, if there is anything I want my readers to take from this article is that governments are and should be held to higher standards.

  1. Relationships between individual persons and the State (or government) is inherently legal in nature

  2. This legal nature of the relationship between individuals and governments can NEVER be abrogated unilaterally by governments. Even emergency laws of their limitations. Governments or presidents are not infallible Supreme Beings or endowed with infinite wisdoms.  

  3. Where there is a dispute between a citizen and the State, only a competent court of law can adjudicate on the matter. The State or government is just like any other plaintiff in court of law - no more, no less; with one caveat - it carries the higher burden of proof. The fact it carries bigger stick doesn’t give it free hand to bully individual citizens.

  4. Any properly functioning court of law should in most cases put the burden of proof on the government because it promulgate laws and should know better, have more resources to effect and enforce laws.

    The current ongoing destruction of houses is yet another manifestation of the total breakdown of the rule-of-law in Eritrea - something unheard of in the history of our precious motherland.

    Case of the late Naizghi Kiflu (For illustration)

    Many may not have the best opinion of Mr. Naizghi Kiflu who was one of DIA’s key henchmen during the struggle for independence and later during DIA’s brutal administration. Mr. Naizghi is no less brutal than DIA, just that he wasn’t a leader of the nation.

    Regardless, refusing the repatriation of his body for burial in his homeland is yet another manifestation of DIA’s illegal acts. It shows that today’s Eritrea is being run on vindictive political acts of one man than attempting to build a nation based on a continuation of our rich traditional respect for law and rule-of-law. This is where the breakdown of law-and-order starts. If DIA refuses to abide by the rule-of-law, what message is he sending to others? We will leave this to Profs. Asmerom and Ghideon to give us their spins on this one.

    Destroying the Rule-of-Law and Institutions in General

  1. Transitional Government of Eritrea (TGE)

    TGE was proclaimed in April 2013 and was formed to govern the country until May 1997 (4 years), when a Constitution would be proclaimed and a new constitutional government was to be established soon after. It was supposed to be a transition from ‘a liberation front’ to ‘legal government’. Instead, DIA chose to ignite a destructive war with Ethiopia and freeze or even reverse the progress towards a more legally representative government.

    In doing so, DIA chose to trample on any progression towards the rule-of-law, and instead pursuing arbitrary rule based on the whims of one individual supported by corrupt officials bought to maintain their loyalties. The ever pursuit of an absolute discretionary and unconstrained power is the first cause of all the political illnesses, breakdown in rule-of-law, and all the problems afflicting the country today.

    Until such time that an accountable government ruled by a Constitution, enforced through strong and independent judicial system, prudent opposition, strong public media, and civil societies, the challenges will remain. Even Ethiopia’s benevolent dictatorship is a universe away from our destructive dictatorship.

    How can a nation that is NOT governed by publicly and legally sanctioned processes, and refuses to abide by any legal norms become the very vanguard of a national legal system? How can the wolf itself become the Sheppard of a flock of sheep?

    If we are to build a nation, we can’t allow folks with the longest stick to govern, lest we encourage outlaws to get funny ideas. The future of Eritrea - the very foundation of our values - is being erected today.

  2. PFDJ

    Regime supporters pledge their allegiance to it. Opposition blame for it for the nation illness. Foreign media label the country as a one-party, PFDJ, state.

    On a recent interview on Al Jazeera, one young interviewee even labelled PFDJ as a movement.

    In reality, PFDJ is defunct. It longer exists. PFDJ, the successor of EPLF, had decided in 1993 to hold its congress in 1997, which is now almost twenty years ago. According to PFDJ’s Constitution, the PFDJ Central Committee should hold regular meetings every six months. The last time it met was over 15 years ago. Most of its members are either in jail or in political limbo. Similarly, the executive committee is a rubber stamping body for the whims of one man.

    Even Communist China, Soviet Union - even North Korea and the Derg held regular party member meetings, albeit rubber stamping ones. The Chinese Communist party in particular was very dynamic in fact, esp. before the Cultural Revolution.

    How can a regime that refuses to uphold its own organizational laws claim to hold others accountable to the laws of the nation? Isn’t this a blatant manifestation of a separation between those who are above the law and those who are below it?

    This is in utter contrast to TPLF (Woyane) and EPRDF in Ethiopia, which has been holding regular organizational meetings throughout the last 24 years, since it took over power. The last meetings were held last month (August 2015), with affirmation of new political and economic directions, while replacing veteran members with new ones.

    Why TPLF and EPRDF are succeeding although they have significantly more challenges in managing complex socio-economic, legal and political challenges in Ethiopia. Idol worshippers try to sell us that Ethiopia is ‘about to fall’, ‘division within ranks’, and other doom and gloom and yet they seem to go from strength-to-strength? Who is smoking ganja and suffering hallucinations?

  3. Succession Law

    Like all regimes with insecure leaders, potential successors are not named for fear that they may seize power. Until 2000, the Minister of Internal Affairs was assumed the second man in command. Post-2000, this position (which has been recently filled) has been largely left doldrums. In fact, there is no formal provisions in non-existing Eritrean laws that would tell anyone is second person in charge.

    I would challenge any idol worshippers and canon fodders to pin point any specific law in Eritrea that would tell them such a succession law or provisions.

  4. Civil Service

    Governments come and go, but a stable civil service is a hall mark of a stable system of government. For instance, governments used to change every six months in Italy, but the civil service continued without much interruption. The civil service, overall the structure and most of the staff, continued largely intact from the Derg regime to the EPRDF regime.

    In Eritrea, the civil service composed of ex-Ethiopia and EPLF/PFDJ went through uneasy period in the early stages of independence as it tried to integrate both. However, by the late 1990, it had found its equilibrium and was progressing towards more efficient system under the most capable guidance of the G-15.

    Tellingly, DIA commented in the early 1990s that the root cause of corruption in Africa is that civil servants were not paid salaries commensurate with cost of living. So what does DIA do? But of course!

    Today’s civil service in Eritrea is corrupt, probably out of forced necessity at the beginning, but now becoming entrenched as accepted norm - thus assaulting, weakening and eroding our social values.

    Moreover, by refusing to give pensions to veteran ‘tegadelties’ who deserve comfortable retirements, they are tied to their jobs until they drop dead, thus unable to transfer their experiences, knowledge, and positions to younger generations. This is also a form of wilful destruction of the civil service.

  5. Military Institution

    Some may argue that the military institution is an alternative to political institution, and even possibly as a vanguard against breakdown in rule-of-law, sectarianism or internal religious conflicts. Some countries that were or are ruled by military strongmen, or civil leaders with the military two steps away, include Egypt, Turkey, Burma, and Thailand. Turkey, and probably now Burma, have seen dwindling inference of the military institution in politics. Other notable ones include, i.e. Until 1970s and even 80s, many South and Central American countries, Franco’s Spain, Portugal, and many others, were also led by military strong men.

    The fact that DIA has turned the entire country in one army base doesn’t necessarily mean that he is building military institution at the expense of all other institutions. DIA’s military institution itself has become the single biggest source of corruption and epicentre of bitter power rivalries. In addition it is being turned into a mercenary-for-hire in direct competition with Blackwater USA.

    Whereas DIA has strangled all other institutions, the military institution is being destroyed through the opposite modus operandi - through unbridled corruption, breakdown in discipline, defiling young women in national service, hopelessness among rank-and-file, and encouraging rivalries.

  6. Other Institutions

    Other institutions, from educational to legal to organized labour, local non-governmental organizations (local NGOs) and others have been systematically destroyed. All the symbols of our struggles of the 1950s, the very essence of our cry for independence from ‘backward’ Ethiopia, is now being bleach washed by DIA.  


    The utter destruction of the rule-of-law and all institutions, leaving only a corrupt military as a sole institution, is the second biggest existential threat, i.e. after the utter destruction the social fabric of the nation, to the unity, peace, and prosperity of the nation. A house divided through breakdown of the rule-of-law and intolerance can’t stand for too long.

    DIA has shown his inability, unlike the visionary and prudent (late) PM Meles in Ethiopia, to foster institutions in Eritrea and to work with international institutions, such as AU, UN, IGAD, and many others. His invariable derision of all national and international institutions, coupled with total disengagement as manifested in his absence from all international meetings from many years, is at the root of all Eritrea’s ills. Unfortunately, this disengagement coupled with angry public rhetoric has led regime cohorts to resort to violence previously unheard of for Eritreans, as manifested in the threats to the members of COI. What a shame!  

    It will take the next regime and the people Eritrea tremendous efforts to reverse the utter destruction of institutions in Eritrea.

    We shall overcome!

    Berhan Hagos

    December 7, 2015

Even before Paris, European nations were maneuvering to prematurely declare Eritrea safe for return.


Eritrean refugees wait in a hangar at Rome’s Ciampino airport in October 2015. (AP Photo / Andrew Medichini)

Aster’s one-story house in southern Eritrea was painted white and teal. Five front windows overlooked a lawn, where her four daughters could play and donkeys grazed. Her father obtained permission from the government to build in 2002; they began building in 2013. But this September, the military and city authorities came and spray-painted a giant X on the front. Aster (not her real name) gathered her children and left before a bulldozer smashed through the walls. Nothing is left of their home now but rubble.

As huge numbers of Eritreans continue to flee the country, Isaias Afwerki’s regime is increasingly retaliating against their families. The government already demands payments from families whose children have escaped—50,000 nafkas (US$3,333) per child. Families who can’t pay are jailed. Now the government is demolishing houses and seizing property, too.

“They want to punish people,” says her brother, Fikru, 31, who recently arrived in Geneva after seven years of bouncing between countries as an Eritrean refugee. Fikru, who recounted Aster’s story to me, says his other brothers had sent money from abroad to pay for the construction.

Experts say Afwerki needs a constant supply of young people to maintain his police state. A June 2015 UN Commission on Inquiry report on Eritrea documented in detail the regime’s indefinite military conscription. The military has drafted children younger than 15, tortured its own members and engaged in the systematic sexual abuse of women. But despite the report’s conclusion of possible “crimes against humanity”—and an Eritrean government official’s recent admission to a Wall Street Journal reporter that the regime engages in torture—some countries and right-wing political parties in Europe are jostling to send a signal to Eritreans: Don’t come here anymore.

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, many of Europe’s right wing parties were quick to insinuate Syrian refugees were to blame and to call for stricter immigration and border controls. But even before the attacks, some European governments were already maneuvering to prevent refugees from entering their countries. Eritreans—who represent one of the largest groups of refugees seeking safety in Europe in recent years—have been a primary target of those who would close Europe’s doors.

Efforts to exclude Eritrean refugees from Europe began over a year ago in Denmark. In mid-2014, the Danish Immigration Service embarked on a fact-finding mission to Eritrea after seeing a dramatic rise in the number of Eritreans seeking asylum. The mission report—based primarily on anonymous interviews in Asmara—declared conditions had improved enough that Eritreans would no longer be recognized as refugees in Denmark. Human rights organizations denounced the report, and two men who contributed to it resigned, saying they were pressured to ensure the report allowed Denmark to adopt stricter asylum practices. After a period of public pressure, the Danish government announced Eritreans would still receive asylum in Denmark, but the report remained public.

Then in March 2015 the UK Home Office changed their asylum guidance for Eritreans using the Danish report as its key source; the recognition rate for Eritreans subsequently dropped from 73 percent to 29 percent.

Professor Gaim Kibreab, director of refugee studies at London South Bank University, was the sole academic interviewed for the Danish report and then went on record to denounce it. “What can you do when governments don’t care about principles or rights?” said Gaim in a phone interview. “There’s a competition in the EU on who is harsher on asylum seekers.” Gaim says most Eritreans who were recently denied asylum in the UK are now appealing.

On November 6, Norway’s Ministry of Justice announced on Facebook a tightening of the country’s asylum policies. It warned Afghani asylum seekers they might be denied protection and deported to Kabul, and then mentioned efforts to “conduct dialogue with the Eritrean authorities to get diplomatic assurances from the Eritrean authorities that enable return.”

Most countries base their new willingness to work with Eritrea’s regime on unconfirmed indications that Afwerki’s government may end indeterminate national service. Yet experts say there’s no evidence to support these claims. “I have not received any information emanating from the Government of Eritrea that it will no longer carry out the practice of ‘indefinite conscription,’ ” said UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea Sheila B. Keetharuth via e-mail. “I have heard from other sources, including diplomatic sources that the Government of Eritrea has indicated that those newly enrolled will be discharged from national service duties at the end of 18 months. Yet, those concerned have not been informed that they will be released, nor have their parents been informed.”

Keetharuth also noted there has been no talk of demobilizing those currently in the military–some serving for more than 15 years. Keetharuth has requested permission at least four times to enter Eritrea, most recently in August 2015, to independently assess the situation inside the country. Each time her visa application has been denied.

The November 6 Facebook post from Norway’s Ministry of Justice is the latest in a string of moves by the ministry, which is led by a minister from the right-wing Progress Party. There are presently 13,246 Eritreans seeking asylum in Norway, and Eritreans were the largest group of asylum seekers until this year, when Syrians surpassed them. Norway’s actual asylum proceedings have not yet changed; 99 percent of Eritreans who applied for asylum so far in 2015 received protection. But in June, Jøran Kallmyr, state secretary at the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security, visited Asmara to discuss a “return agreement” after publicly commenting that Norway might alter its asylum policies for Eritreans. Kallmyr then stated that, “Eritrea has lost a large part of its youth population because of European asylum policies.” His comment echoed what Afwerki has long claimed publicly: that his regime is not to blame for the exodus.

“The government’s public statements were definitely made to send signals to Eritrean asylum seekers not to come to Norway,” said Florentina Grama, an advisor at the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers in Oslo. Grama, speaking by phone, said the majority of Eritreans apply for asylum based on the indefinite national service, and a few for religious persecution. The Eritrean government only recognizes four religions: the Orthodox Church of Eritrea; Sunni Islam; the Roman Catholic Church; and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea. Those who practice other religions have to report their activities to the government, facing torture and detention.

For over a year, the European Union has also been quietly working with the Eritrean government on stemming migration and calling for, among other things, “promoting sustainable development in countries of origin…in order to address the root causes of irregular migration.” This October, the EU Development Fund announced it was resuming aid to Eritrea with a possible $229 million package for economic development in part to give people alternatives to migration. According to official EU sources, the funding will help tackle poverty and “directly benefit the population.” Such a rationale seemingly ignores that most Eritreans indicate leaving to avoid the regime’s human rights abuses—although officials said such cooperation allows “the EU to reinforce a political dialogue to highlight the importance of human rights.”

But new research reveals aid does not stem migration from poor countries—and actually has the opposite effect. Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, D.C., found in a recent study that as people earn more, they also leave at higher rates. “The unanimous finding of half a century of research is that more economic development is associated with more migration not less, until a country surpasses middle-income status,” said Clemens on the phone. “It’s politically convenient to have an alternative narrative in which aid money will somehow make Eritrea a desirable place to live, but that runs counter to all the evidence we have.”

The recent Valletta Summit on migration made clear the EU would continue in this vein, as well as attempting to leverage development funding to force African countries like Eritrea to allow EU countries to return failed asylum seekers.

Clemens argues European countries have an alternative to their current approach to Eritrean and other refugees: flexible regulation and accommodation of the new arrivals. “When you invest in refugees, they turn into an amazing resource,” he says. “They’re an economic resource—not if one forbids them from working or confines them to camps, but if they’re given job training, language training and upfront investments. The current crisis is one of politics, not numbers.”

In October, I spoke with Hayat (name changed to protect his identity), a 16-year-old boy from Eritrea who recently arrived in Switzerland. To get here, he had traveled for days across the Sahara, crammed in the back of a truck. Two people from his group died when their truck flipped; one was a pregnant 16-year-old girl. The accident left the group stranded for four days in the blinding heat. Later, Hayat was forced to stay in underground caves in Libya while his group was bought and sold by different smugglers.

“I was very afraid,” said Hayat. “But the older people cared for me. They gave me some of their food, water and hope. I’m now missing my family, but happy to be here for my life.”

When European countries helped create the 1951 Refugee Convention in the aftermath of World War II, they realized that people fleeing persecution deserved protection. They also recognized the right not to be returned to a place where your life or freedom is threatened. Over the past few months, that right has been put in jeopardy as European countries have manipulated asylum systems so that it matters more where you flee to, rather than what you flee from.


History shows that Eritrean justice seekers living in GTA and surrounding cities have played a leading role in confronting the dictatorial regime of Eritrea and its operatives in Toronto. We have highlighted the plight of Eritreans who were forced to leave their beloved country and family but fell into the hands of human traffickers or perished in the Sahara as well as the Sinai deserts, only to drown in the ferocious Mediterranean waters trying to reach Europe. We raised the awareness of Eritreans and Canadians alike.

Friends now more than ever we have moral obligation to re-double and re-focus our efforts to highlight the plight of thousands of Eritreans fleeing the inhumane treatment they are enduring at the hands of their own government in Eritrea. We have to expose the dictatorial regime of Eritrea for what it really is.

United we shall overcome the dictatorial regime and save our people and our beloved country. To this effect and based on the understanding at the meeting of the New York rally we are here by calling General meeting inclusive of all Eritrean justice seekers who are living in the GTA and surrounding cities.

Date:          December 13, 2015

Place:        729 St. Clair Avenue west (inside St Matthew United

                           Church hall  West of Christie St, at Rushton Rd)

Time:         3:00 PM - 5:00 PM

Main Agenda: 1. Update the October 29/2015 New York Demo

                         2. Discus and plan our next move.

Thank you

Provisional Committee of Justice Seekers Toronto

November 25, 2015

Eritrea map

Eritrea map

The Bank of Eritrea recently announced that all Nakfa notes in circulation must be exchanged for new government-issued notes.

The decision by the country’s central financial institution is expected to have a major impact on the economy.

While the nationwide currency replacement program is not meant to change the value of the money, as the exchange will be on a one-to-one basis, observers nonetheless expected the effects to be wide-ranging.

Biniam Fessehazion Gebremichael, a former Eritrean judge and legal counsel for Eritrean Airlines who now lives in Oakland, California, says the official reasons given for the exchange included introducing new banking instruments such as checking for transactions above 20,000 Nakfa, redeeming old currency and controlling illicit business.

But he also said the biggest reason for the currency replacement — hoarding of undeposited cash — was not mentioned.

“Currency hoarding ... happened because Hawala financial and business entities and individuals in Eritrea have been doing illicit foreign exchange and illicit trade with the help of some legitimate entities in Eritrea," he said. "This is the main reason.”

Despite a strictly controlled economy, Eritrea's black market is thriving. The currency has been in a state of rapid inflation in recent years, leading to a large disparity between official and unofficial exchange rates. One U.S. dollar is worth 15 Nakfa at Eritrea’s official exchange rate, but worth 50 to 58 Nakfa on the black market.

“Even the government rates its prices or other commodities ... with the black market,” Biniam said, explaining that if the exchange rates go unadjusted, it may force prices too high for the average Eritrean.

Eritreans who possess large sums of money and work outside of the formal economy have a difficult decision to make: either give up their savings or face serious penalties including confiscation, heavy taxation or imprisonment. According to Biniam, these penalties can be assessed without the accused being given right to a lawyer.

“The consequences are very, very grave,” he said.

These decisions will have to be made quickly. According to Hanibal Goitom, a foreign law specialist at the U.S. Library of Congress, the currency redemption program will occur over a six-week period, whose as-yet-unannounced start date is expected to be at the bank's discretion. The new law restricts bank withdrawals during the six-week period to 20,000 Nakfa and stipulates that all foreigners exchanging money prove that they obtained it legally.

The decision already appears to be having an impact, with reports that Eritreans are rushing to purchase commodities or property in advance of the switch. Biniam warns that the currency swap could have an impact on the value of assets as well.

“In the long run, this uncertainty will increase the price of property. People will never trust banks and will never trust currency, so people will start accumulating wealth in assets, [which] will impact the price of assets or property," he said. "The benefit is good at this time, but it will have a long impact that will be hard to eliminate at the end of the day, because if people don’t trust [their] banks, they’re not going to put cash in the banks and, as you know, governments borrow from banks to pay their debts. So in the long run it will be very unfortunate.”


The Huffington Post UK  |  By

Education, environment, human rights and peace; those are just some of the topics to be debated, discussed and mulled over at this year's international gathering of young campaigners in Bangkok.

From outing the horrors of North Korean concentration camps to deliberating how to diminish ISIS and the threat of terrorism, youths from almost every nation in the world will come together in Thailand at the One Young World conference to talk through solutions for the world's most pressing problems.

So who are the young people driving the force for change?

HuffPost UK profiles 21 of the inspirational figures who'll be at One Young World and who are fighting to make a change.

  • Mohamed Barry, 24, The Gambia
    Mohamed is an anti-HIV/AIDS stigma activist who has received international acclaim for his passionate calls for a renewed global response to the pandemic.
    As an HIV positive young person, he is tackling the misconceptions and stigma that are commonly associated with the illness.
    He is an alumnus of the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, and executive steering committee member of the HIV Young Leaders Fund. He was on the steering committee of the 20th International Conference in Melbourne, Australia, and was part of the team that devised the Melbourne Declaration.
    He has also contributed to the development of the UNAIDS programme in Myanmar; working with the most disenfranchised communities in the AIDS epidemic to scale-up access to lifesaving HIV treatment and prevention services.
    He was selected as one of the top 25 most influential and powerful young people in the world by the Huffington Post.
  • Carlos Vargas, 22, Venezuela
    Carlos is a pro-democracy student leader from Venezuela. The country has been rocked by protests against the autocratic rule of Nicolas Madero.
    Carlos has emerged as one of the most prominent voices of the student movement with 120,000 followers on Twitter and is widely recognised as one of the leaders of the grass-roots activist movement.
    He is led peaceful demonstrations demanding a democratic transition, conducted training courses on non-violent protest and human rights, and volunteer work in low-income areas of Caracas.
  • Vanessa Berhe, 19, Eritrea/Sweden
    Vanessa is a human rights activist based in Sweden who campaigns for the release of Eritrean political prisoners.
    She has spoken in front of Pope Francis at the Vatican during an address to raise awareness of the human trafficking of Eritrean refugees.
    She is the founder of the One Day Seyoum advocacy group. Her uncle, Seyoum Tsehaye, was a journalist who was imprisoned alongside 14 anti-regime figures in 2001. Since 2013, Vanessa has been campaigning for their release.
    She is also the co-founder of the Free Eritrea Campaign which aims to raise awareness of political prisoners, end the institutionalised slavery of Eritrea’s forced conscription, and tackle the migration that sees thousands of Eritreans drowning in the Mediterranean every year.
  • Mohamed Farid, 24, Qatar
    Mohamed is the CEO of The Youth Company, founded in 2010, it offers a space where entrepreneurs, artists, students, opinion leaders and young professionals can work to improve growth and development opportunities for young people in Qatar and the MENA region.
    The Youth Company aims to empower the youth of the Middle East using educational, community engaging, volunteering, career-oriented and consulting programs.
    During the last five years, The Youth Company has created a network of over 170,000 young people, 150 organisations and businesses and 23 schools and universities in the MENA region. By working in partnerships with local governmental institutions, regional foundations, international policy-making bodies and NGOs within the region, Mohamed has created a platform to serve youth empowerment.
    Since 2012, Mohamed has worked for the Qatar Olympic and Sports Museums. It aims to preserve, store, investigate and exhibit sports and sporting paraphernalia of the Arab world.
    It also deals with the inclusion of Qatar in the international sporting community and the increasing appearance of Qatar on the international sporting stage.
  • Inoussa Baguian, 29, Burkina Faso
    Inoussa is uses his qualifications in Law and Filmmaking to defend Human Rights in Burkina Faso. In order to promote freedom of expression, he created the online platform
    It is an internet TV channel, which offers discussions and information on the topic of Human Rights violations in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in West Africa. In less than a year, the platform has over two million viewers. has become a credible media source for young people who do not trust public television.
    Inoussa has also set up the first Human Rights Film Festival in Africa. So far, they have held Festivals in four countries in West Africa and hope to grow more in the coming years. It offers a space for thousands of festival goers to discuss issues that affect youth and life in West Africa.
  • Mohammad Odai Al Hashmi, 22, Syria
    When Mohammad was forced to flee to Turkey because of the war in Syria, he found that his fellow refugees were suffering from a lack of education opportunities.
    A year after arriving in Istanbul, Mohammad became one of ten Syrian refugees enrolled in Istanbul Technical University out of 500 applicants. He realised that many refugees, some with less than a semester to go before becoming doctors, engineers and teachers, were struggling to complete their secondary education.
    With this realisation, he created the Wings University, which will start its classes in September 2015. It is an online university that is free to everyone worldwide, it will enable refugees and asylum seekers to study a programme of their choice and graduate 3-4 years later with an internationally accredited degree.
    So far, there are already 7,500 students subscribed. Mohammad wants to use education to help the refugee integration process in their host countries and give an incentive to refugees to take part in secondary education.
  • Alexandru Ionut Budisteanu, 21, Romania
    Alexandru is passionate about computers and wants to use his vast IT knowledge to improve peoples’ lives.
    He is the founder of VisionBot, a company that builds affordable Pick and Place machines that assemble Printed Circuit Boards. This means that people are able to assemble Printed Circuit Boards in their own house, which has the potential to revolutionise small-scale electronic manufacturing.
    Alexandru has also worked on projects designing self-driving cars and, in 2012, he worked on a device that used Artificial Intelligence to help blind people see with their tongues.
    He has demonstrated his passion for computers from a young age and, while he was still at school, he created his own programming language ‘AILab’, which scripted language for Artificial Intelligence.
    Coming from a town in Romania nicknamed ‘HackerVille’, has also inspired Alexandru to campaign against hacking. He uses his knowledge of computers to show how Computer Science can be used for good and raises awareness of the dangers of hacking in Romania.
  • João Rafael Brites, 24, Portugal
    João is a Co-founder of the Transformers Project, based in Portugal. The Project aims to empower the youth of Portugal to increase civic participation.
    They have talented volunteer mentors in the fields of arts, sports and hip-hop, to help teenagers find something to be passionate about. The teenagers can then use this passion to transform their own communities.
    In the last five years, the Transformers Project has mobilised over 200 mentors, specialised in over 120 different activities. They have taught more than 1800 teenagers in 50 institutions in Lisbon, Oporto and Coimbra in Portugal.
    Their most popular classes are in kickboxing, cooking, parkour, skating, football, tap dancing, music, street art, leadership, development of videogames and breakdancing.
    João’s passion is to increase the rates of civic participation among the youth of Portugal. So far, 68% of the Transformers Project participants are now volunteering their time and becoming involved in civic organisations.
  • Abeer Abu Ghaith, 30, Palestine
    Abeer is a technology entrepreneur from the West Bank. She has been branded Palestine’s first female high-tech entrepreneur and was voted number 53 on Arabian Business’ ‘100 Most Powerful Arab Women’.
    She also received the ‘Best Technology Enabler & Facilitator’ Award given by MEA Women in Technology Awards 2014.
    Abeer launched her IT business, StayLinked, in 2013. In two years of operation she has brought more than 300 jobs to 300 jobs opportunities for youth and women across the West Bank and Gaza.
    She has led the training of over 2,000 graduates and students on employment and entrepreneurship in urban and marginalised areas, published articles, held workshops, round tables with stockholders and decision makers.
  • Isaak Solissou, 26, Niger
    Isaak is the founder and Director of NGO Recup, a womens rights and community empowerment NGO based in Niamey, Niger.
    His community work revolves around the economic empowerment of homeless people. He has supported 150 people into formal employment.
    Isaak recruited a team of 20 young leaders including football players, musicians and public speakers to conduct human rights education roadshows in 62 villages across Niger. They spoke to over 1,200 people and succesfully prevented 46 forced or early marriages in 17 villages.
    In January 2015, Niger was rocked by anti-Charlie Hebdo protests when the Nigerien President joined other world leaders at a march in Paris. Civil unrest resulted in five deaths, scores of injuries and 45 churches suffered arson attacks.
    In the midst of the riots, Isaak rallied young leaders in his community and protected 23 churches from being burned down. He received special recognition and from the Municipal government for his efforts.
    He is now fundraising to support refugees who have been displaced from Nigeria to Southern Niger by the Boko Haram insurgency.
  • Aye Phoo, 22, Thailand
    Aye is an education activist in the Thailand-Mayanmar border region. She came to Thailand as an illegal migrant to study when she was a teenager, and has now dedicated her career to creating positive life outcomes for other students who arrived in Thailand illegally.
    These young people are vulnerable to exploitation as they have few labour rights. Many drop out of formal education to work in low-paid domestic jobs, garments factories and construction sites.
    Young people from migrant backgrounds also have fewer educational opportunities and many girls are married off as children in order to ensure their financial stability later in life.
    Aye now works on the Migrant Assistant Programme in the border regions. She is working on labour rights and microfinance projects to empower members of her community. She is the first Burmese migrant from her local community to be accepted into a Thai university.
  • Isabelle Kamariza, 30, Rwanda
    Isabelle is the President and Founder of Solid’Africa, a healthcare charity that provides lifesaving resources to hospital patients from low-income backgrounds.
    The organisation feeds 300 patients a day in a Rwandan hospital, supports medical expenses for those who cannot pay, tackles hygiene issues by providing sanitary products to underfunded hospitals, and promotes healthcare awareness in the wider community.
    Solid’Africa is a sustainable social enterprise that owns its own farm to provide meals for patients, selling the surplus food products for profits that are reinvested into the organisation. They also manage an outdoor recreation venue and catering company whose profits go back into Solid’Africa.
    Isabelle plans to create a new ‘pay it forward’ method by which the kitchen caters for private business and public institutions who then donate meals for low-income patients.
    Solid’Africa raised funds to install a children’s playroom in a paediatric wing used by 25 children per day. They also installed a water purification tank that provides clean water for the whole hospital.
  • Abel Williams Cheayan, 25, Liberia
    Abel is a One Young World Ambassador and the President of the Natural Resources Research Initiative. He was selected to represent his nation in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Programme, part of President Obama's Young African Leaders Initiative.
    He is the co-founder and President of the Natural Resources Research Initiative (NRRI Liberia). NRRI Liberia is leading youth participation in Natural Resources governance and environmental issues in Liberia.
    They work directly with the UN bodies and the Liberia Environmental Protection Agency.
    Abel facilitated a partnership with a US-based organisation who raised money for the NRRI during the Ebola crisis. He managed the funds raised to educate 100,000 people in five communities about Ebola and install sanitation facilities across Monrovia.
  • Lina Khalifeh, 31, Jordan
    Lina is a martial artist and women’s empowerment campaigner from Jordan. She founded the NGO SheFighter in 2010 to teach Jordanian women self defence to combat the high rates of domestic abuse in the country.
    Her organisation has trained and empowered around 10,000 women all over Jordan, and their goal is to train and empower 3 million women globally. They use a ‘training of trainers’ model to spread their impact across the world.
    Later this year, Lina will be launching a series of YouTube self-defence training classes with an app available for iPhone and Android. Lina participated in a forum at the European Parliment in May 2015 to speak about violence against women in the Middle East and feminist self-defence movements around the world.
    She also participated in the Expert Meeting at the United Nations in Geneva to promote SheFighter and the success story behind it.
  • Dr. Mazin Khalil, 26, Sudan
    Mazin (left) is the Founder and CEO of SudaMed, a multi-million dollar social business revolutionising healthcare provision in East Africa. The business model revolves around providing affordable healthcare whilst donating 70% of its profits to fund education and youth empowerment initiatives.
    Mazin has been awarded the Washington Fellowship, the MIT Arab Award and the King Abdullah Award for Youth Innovation and Achievement. McKinsey and Co. gave SudaMed a special mention in their research publication’ The future of Healthcare in Africa’ and Forbes Arab named it as the ‘African Company to Watch’ in 2014.
    SudaMed currently runs 10 health clinics and funds 8 schools. They have 700 employees and are expanding into 8 countries across East Africa.
    They are also the first private company in Africa to develop a unified patient records system that allows any licensed medical professional to easily access patient records. They have also developed a product called MediTab, a portable tablet containing all resources needed to study medicine in one tablet reader.
  • Luwam Estifanos, 26, refugee & human rights activist, Eritrea
    Luwam plays a key role in the campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking of Eritreans along the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt and the plight of Eritrean refugees in Shagarab Refugee Camp in the Sudan.
    She fled Eritrea’s forced conscription into indefinite military service, was shot at by border guards as she entered into Somalia, and was granted asylum in Norway after over 2 years of waiting.
    The campaign culminated in Geneva where Luwam raised the concerns of Eritrean youth and the diaspora with the UN special Rapporteur for human rights in Eritrea.
    She was instrumental in the coordination of a major international Eritrean conference called EYSC (Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change)- an event organized in Bologna Italy, last summer. The conference brought close to a hundred young Eritrean activists to discuss and develop an action plan for the cause of liberty and justice in Eritrea.
    She continues her campaign to end modern slavery in Eritrea and the rights of migrant fleeing the dire political situation in the country.
  • Fabian Martinez, 29, Chile
    Fabian is an education entrepreneur whose mission is to eradicate educational inequality in South America. His services have positively affected over 670,000 students.
    Fabian founded an education platform called Open Green Road, the most active platform Latin America. It has produced 8,000 educational videos, has 12 million views on YouTube and boasts 19 million minutes of content.
    More than 440,000 users have participated in their live classes, many of whom live in remote areas with few educational resources. Last year, 92% of the total number of Chilean students people who scored maximum points in the PSU entry exam for university were registered with the platform.
    Even though all of Open Green Road’s services are for free to every student , the enterprise had a turnover of over US $1.2 million in 2014, and expects to generate US $2 million in 2015. This money will be reinvested in the business to reduce the educational gap across in Latin America.
  • Mallah Tabot, 27, Cameroon
    Mallah is a sexual and reproductive rights activist who is working to ensure that women have a say in the decisions that affect their futures.
    She is a Queen’s Young Leader and was named one of the top 100 young leaders in the world by Women Deliver in 2013. She has published numerous blogs for the Gates Foundation and Thomson Reuters about her education initiatives.
    Mallah uses workshops and forum theatre as tools to combat the patriarchal attitudes that negatively affect young women’s life choices in rural Cameroon. She actively engages stakeholders including men, community leaders and women to remove the stigma of sexual and reproductive health discussions.
    Mallah’s projects have given an average of 25 women per month access to long-term contraception. Her long term goal is to roll her specialised workshops at a national level.
    She also works as a mentor for the MTV Staying Alive Foundation UK. In this role she provides general strategic development advice, support and monitoring & evaluation supervision for their 3-year funded HIV prevention project in the UK.
  • Arizza Nocum, 20, Philippines
    Arizza is the Head of the Christian-Muslim Peace Library, an innovative education project working in deprived communities in the Southern Philippines to build bridges between Muslim and Christian communities who have experienced sectarian conflict.
    The child of a mixed marriage (her father is Catholic and her mother is Muslim), Arizza took charge of the organisation in 4 years ago.
    The organisation has built 6 libraries in low-income areas and provided 400 scholarship grants for students in the past 4 years. They also sent at least 50,000 books over the years to public schools in remote communities - especially in far-flung islands of the Philippines.
    Arizza is expanding operations into other ASEAN countries who experience sectarian conflict between majority and minority religious/ethnic groups.
  • PJ Cole, 29, Sierra Leone
    PJ is a peace activist whose family helped to rehabilitate over 800 child soldiers who were involved in Sierra Leone’s bloody civil war. He is the director of Lifetime Nehemiah Projects (LNP), an organisation his late father founded to offer support to former child soldiers. 80% of the Senior Management Team of the organisation are former child soldiers.
    LNP runs four schools, a safe home for vulnerable children and a vocational training centre. They also support rural small-holders to move out of poverty caused by subsistence farming, whilst facilitating meaningful community development.
    They are also using this to get young people involved in farming, and stem the flow of urbanisation by providing job options in the sector. LNP continues to operate three social enterprises focused on providing employment and resources to the non-profit work of the organisation.
    In response to the Ebola crisis, PJ and his team opened an emergency response clinic. They partnered with Medair and Oxfam in order to complete the construction and manage the clinic. The clinic opened on 5th January and closed on 18th April, having treated over 270 patients.
  • Meron Semedar, 29, refugee & human rights activist, Eritrea
    Meron is a One Young World Ambassador from Eritrea who now lives and works in the United States. He has experienced life as a stateless refugee and now campaigns for the rights of vulnerable migrant groups across the globe.
    He founded an initiative called "Lead Eritrea " to empower diaspora youth. Lead Eritrea invites professionals to educate people on different areas and help new migrants settle into their communities. It is also a platform for older generation to pass their knowledge to the younger generation who are disproportionally affected by unemployment and poverty.
    He attended and contributed on the discussion on the Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations HQ in New York and on a live dialogue with former Secretary General of the United Nations. Meron is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and G7G20, the world’s leading source of analysis on the global agenda.
    He advocates for democratic transition in Eritrea and campaigns against the West giving aid to the regime. He was instrumental in acquiring Father Mussie Zarai’s participation in the One Young World 2015 Summit in Bangkok, Thailand.

One Young World is a global forum for young leaders aged 18-30 which gathers youths from every nation in the world to develop solutions to some of today's - and tomorrow's - most pressing issues.









Associated Press
FILE - In this Oct. 26, 2007 file photo  Helmut Schmidt, ex-chancellor of Germany, smokes a cigarette at the SPD Social Democratic Party Convention in Hamburg, northern Germany. Helmut Schmidt died Nov. 10, 2015. He was 96. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, file)

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BERLIN (AP) — Helmut Schmidt was blunt and down to earth, decisive and brimming with self-confidence.


The attributes that won him plaudits as West German chancellor — as he dealt with some of the tensest moments of the Cold War and a surge in domestic terrorism — occasionally caused offense, especially later in life. But mainly they helped make him a respected and popular elder statesman across party lines.

Schmidt died at his home in Hamburg Tuesday at age 96, according to Die Zeit newspaper, where he served as co-publisher and penned regular analyses.

"He was realistic, discerning and decisive. Yet his decisions were always preceded by extensive, in-depth deliberations and consultations," Die Zeit wrote in a tribute to Schmidt. "For him, governing was not about just getting by or political survival, it was about disciplined steps taken toward a concrete goal."

Schmidt, a center-left Social Democrat, led West Germany from 1974 to 1982. He was elected chancellor by lawmakers in May 1974 after the resignation of fellow Social Democrat Willy Brandt, triggered when a top aide to Brandt was unmasked as an East German agent.

"Helmut Schmidt was not only the German chancellor, he was a mentor for the Germans," said Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

"Helmut Schmidt was a chancellor of progress and a pioneer of globalization ... He has always seen Germany in Europe and Europe always on the world stage."

As Germany's new leader, Schmidt brought a sometimes abrasive confidence to the job, along with experience as defense minister, finance minister and economy minister. It served him well as he took over during the economic downturn that followed the 1973 oil crisis.

"Domestically, he sought - even in difficult times - to maintain rationality, which acted as a protective shield against fads and emotion. He abhorred excitability and wishful thinking," Die Zeit wrote. "'In politics, emotion and passion have no place, aside from the passion for rationality,' was his motto."

Schmidt's chancellorship coincided with a tense period in the Cold War, including the Soviet Union's 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.

He went along the following year with the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics, although he later said that it "brought nothing." Schmidt said he had disputes with the United States under President Jimmy Carter over financial and defense issues at the time and concluded "that we Germans could not afford an extra conflict with America," West Germany's protector against the Soviets.

Amid efforts to ward off a global recession, Schmidt was among the movers behind the first economic summit of leading industrial powers at Rambouillet, France, in 1975, which later turned into the annual Group of Seven meeting.

He and then-French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing also played leading roles organizing the European Monetary System, aimed at protecting European currencies from wild fluctuations, which ultimately paved the way for the common European currency, the euro.

"If the euro exists, we owe that to Helmut Schmidt," said French President Francois Hollande, adding that "it's a great European whose life has just ended.

"He always said the market economy must be allowed to live but also that it needed a social dimension."

Born Dec. 23, 1918, the son of a half-Jewish school teacher in the northern city of Hamburg, Schmidt joined the Hitler Youth when his rowing team was included in the Nazi youth organization, but was suspended at age 17 — "probably because my griping got on their nerves."

Drafted as a soldier during World War II, Schmidt's unit was deployed in the Soviet Union in 1941. He was sent to the western front at the end of the war and taken as prisoner by British forces in April 1945. He was released that August.

Schmidt later said that, as a young soldier, he had recognized the Nazi regime's lunacy but not its criminal nature at first.

Schmidt entered West Germany's parliament in 1953, where he earned the nickname "Schmidt the Lip," a tribute to his sharp-tongued debating skills. He made his name back in his native Hamburg with his decisive 1962 management of severe flooding.

As chancellor, Schmidt's confidence served him well in facing down the homegrown terrorism of the Red Army Faction, which grew out of the leftist student movement in the 1960s. In a 1977 campaign of violence that became known as the "German Autumn," the group murdered, among others, West Germany's chief federal prosecutor and the chief executive of Dresdner Bank.

Schmidt stood firm, refusing to release jailed Red Army Faction leaders even after the group kidnapped Hanns-Martin Schleyer, the head of the country's industry federation.

"The state must react with all the necessary toughness," he declared.

While Schleyer was being held in 1977, hijackers commandeered a Lufthansa plane to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, to force the release of the Red Army Faction leaders. Schmidt ordered West German anti-terrorist commandos to storm the jet, successfully rescuing 86 hostages. Shortly afterward, three of the terrorist group's leaders killed themselves in prison and Schleyer was found murdered.

Schmidt later said "I was prepared to resign" if the Mogadishu operation had gone wrong. Although convinced he had taken the right action, he also conceded he felt guilty about Schleyer's slaying.

It was not easy for Schmidt being between the world's two superpowers — the United States and the Soviet Union, and his support for NATO's 1979 "double track" deploy-and-negotiate move to counter the deployments of Soviet SS-20 missiles proved divisive at home.

NATO gave the go-ahead for the modernization of its nuclear force in West Germany and elsewhere in western Europe by deploying cruise and Pershing 2 missiles while, at the same time, seeking a joint limitation of the nuclear buildup through negotiations with the Soviet Union.

Backing the NATO policy helped estrange Schmidt from his own party. Missile deployment in West Germany was fiercely opposed by many younger, more left-wing Social Democrats, and in 1983, an upstart leftist rival, the Greens, entered parliament for the first time.

"Mr. Schmidt was an insightful leader who understood that security is the result of strong defense and dialogue," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg

"A principled leader, Mr. Schmidt stood behind his convictions even when they were unpopular."

Schmidt's chancellorship ended with his ouster in a parliamentary vote in October 1982, when his party's coalition partner, the pro-business Free Democrats, switched its allegiance to Helmut Kohl's conservative Christian Democrats due to disputes over economic policy and the squabbling within Schmidt's party.

Schmidt did not run for chancellor again, citing health concerns.

He had been fitted with a heart pacemaker and also suffered from a thyroid condition. In August 2002, he underwent an emergency bypass operation after suffering a heart attack. Two years later, he had cataract surgery.

In September he was hospitalized with a blood clot in his leg and had been released, but in the last week his health took a turn for the worse, according to his doctors.

After stepping down as a lawmaker in 1987, Schmidt devoted himself to working as co-publisher of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit.

Die Zeit said that despite his advanced age, Schmidt came to the office three or four times a week up until close to his death.

Schmidt continued to weigh in on Germany's political debates, rarely shying away from controversy — which gave him a reputation for plain speaking that won him favorable comparisons with other German politicians.

"To this day, he ranks among the personalities in our nation who can give direction to their own country and are listened to internationally," Hans-Dietrich Genscher, his former foreign minister, wrote on Schmidt's 90th birthday in 2008.

His lasting influence was underlined by the huge success of his 1987 memoir, "Menschen und Maechte" ("People and Powers") — a best-seller for more than a year.

Schmidt argued in a 2002 book that Germany had brought in too many immigrants in an idealistic attempt to overcome its Nazi past, saying his countrymen were "for the most part xenophobic deep down."

In 2003, he drew criticism for complaining about the "whininess" of people in the former East Germany, an area that struggled economically for years after Germany's 1990 reunification.

"People complain about some things that they should not complain about," he declared.

Schmidt never abandoned his politically incorrect habit of chain-smoking. That earned him and his wife, Hannelore — better known as Loki — the honor of being parodied on German television as "Loki and Smoki."

In 2008, Hamburg prosecutors threw out an anti-smoking group's complaint against the couple after they lit up in a theater, flouting a newly introduced smoking ban.

Schmidt and Loki, the childhood sweetheart he married in 1942, had one daughter, Susanne. Their first child, a son named Helmut Walter, died in 1945 when he was only a few months old. Loki Schmidt died at age 91 in 2010.

Schmidt in 2012 introduced longtime acquaintance Ruth Loah, a former employee at Die Zeit, as his new partner.


Frank Jordans in Berlin, and Sylvie Corbet in Paris, contributed to this report.



Europe’s refugee crisis and the Horn of Africa

Martin Plaut[1]

This paper is a brief summary of the some of the key issues facing EU decision makers as they prepare for Wednesday’s African Union – EU summit on migration in Valletta.

I will attempt to answer three issues:

  1. Which states in the Horn of Africa are driving migration?
  2. What marks out the Eritrean government?
  3. What is the evidence of Eritrea’s response to EU initiatives to date?

Finally I will provide some lessons learnt from past engagements with Eritrea.

Which states are driving migration?

Let me begin with a simple point: human rights abusers rule all the major nations in the Horn: Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. Their people live under dictatorships of one kind or another.

  • Sudan is led by a president who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes relating to the conflicts in Darfur.
  • Ethiopia has this year held elections which were clearly rigged; freedom of the press is strictly limited and terrible human rights abuses continue in its eastern Somali region, almost unobserved by the outside world.
  • Somalia has had no effective central government since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991 and is at war with al-Shabaab.
  • Eritrea has few human rights of any kind.

In this context one might assume that any or all of these states would be major ‘drivers of migration’. This is not the case. Consider the diagram below – from the latest Frontex report.[2]

Frontex 2

Look at the red outflows from the Horn. One fact is obvious: Eritrea is the main driver of refugees. Even Somalia does not come close.

The statistics bear this out – they come from the same Frontex publication.

Frontex 1

Eritrea is responsible for the third largest exodus of refugees (10% of the total) behind Syria and Afghanistan. By comparison just 2.1% of illegal entries into the EU are from Sudan.

If one looks at the per capita statistics the result is even more striking. Eritrea has a population of 5.1 million, while Sudan has a population of 39.4 million.[3] Yet of every 100,000 Eritreans 340 sought sanctuary in the EU in the second quarter of 2015. By comparison for every 100,000 Sudanese just 8.9 took the same route.[4]

Yet Eritrea is – at least on the surface – at peace and is currently not suffering from a natural disaster. The only logical conclusion is that there is something particularly noxious about the Eritrean regime that is driving so many of its citizens to take this difficult and frequently fatal step.

The Eritrean situation is not just bad; it is uniquely bad.

The Eritrean government says that it wishes to halt this exodus. It has been co-operating with the EU in what has been termed the ‘Khartoum Process’.[5]

Officially known as the EU-Horn of Africa Migration Route Initiative, the November 2014 conference was attended by the Eritrean government. Eritrea’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Osman Saleh, who told the gathering that:[6]

Eritrea values its partnership with the European Union and is determined to work with the EU and all European countries to tackle irregular migration and human trafficking and to address their root causes. We call for an urgent review of European migration policies towards Eritreans, as they are, to say the least, based on incorrect information, something that is being increasingly acknowledged. [emphasis in the original]

Yet since then the Eritrean regime has taken no steps to end the causes of migration and flight, which are driven by human rights abuses. The Eritrean government would welcome co-operation with Interpol, Europol, Frontex and other security agencies to prevent its citizens from escaping from the country. Offering support, training and intelligence sharing with a regime that is accused of such gross human rights abuses would be a violation of the EU’s most fundamental values.

What marks out the Eritrean government?

The UN Security Council has concluded that the Eritrean regime remains a serious threat to peace in the Horn of Africa and the region as a whole. In June 2015 the Council expressed its concern at the evidence provided by UN experts that President Isaias Afewerki was responsible for “ongoing Eritrean support for certain regional armed groups.”[7] As a result the Security Council went on to re-affirm its arms embargo against the Eritrean government.

Behind these bland phrases lies a catalogue of evidence carefully assembled by experts from the UN Monitoring Group.[8] This laid out in graphic detail just how the regime operates. It supports rebel movements in neighbouring Ethiopia and Djibouti. Eritrea is now also cynically participating in the Yemeni civil war in return for the Saudi and UAE financial support.

The UN monitors report they have: “received credible and persuasive testimony from multiple sources and independent reports indicating that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have established a military presence in Eritrea as part of the military campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen and may be offering Eritrea compensation for allowing its territory and possibly its troops to be used as part of the Arab coalition-led war effort.”

The experts say that this deal was done after Djibouti rejected a similar deal with the Saudis and their allies in the UAE. The UAE are said to have struck a separate deal to use the Eritrean port of Assab for the next 30 years. Situated just 60 km from the Yemeni coast, it has lain idle since Eritrea’s war with Ethiopia (May 1998 to June 2000) – a conflict that sealed the borders between the two countries.

It is not hard to imagine what Eritrea might do with the funds from its new Arab allies, since the regime has been keen to purchase weapons. The UN monitors report that a ship – the Shaker 1 – secretly docked at the Eritrean port of Massawa in January 2015. On board were Sudanese heavy weapons, apparently en route to an armaments fair in Abu Dhabi.

Whether they ever reached their destination is a moot point. What were described as eight ‘empty containers’ were offloaded at Massawa. The monitors say they have evidence that the containers were full, not empty, as claimed. It is likely that the howitzers and rocket launchers provided by the Military Industry Corporation of the Sudan were offloaded at this time. If so, this was in clear violation of the UN’s arms embargo against Eritrea.

Serious as these violations are, they pale into insignificance beside the evidence of the ongoing Eritrean backing of armed groups attempting to overthrow neighboring governments. These operations are co-ordinated by the head of Eritrean intelligence, Brigadier General Abraha Kassa, “a long-time associate of the President” – as the UN report puts it.

These movements include a newly formed front of Ethiopian rebel organisations, whose unity was “facilitated” by the Eritrean government. The Eritreans are also said to provide support to Afar rebels operating in Djibouti. This allegation, from Djibouti itself, was put to Eritrean officials, but they failed to respond. These are exactly the kind of operations the Security Council has repeatedly demanded that Eritrea brings to an end.

One of the roles of the monitors is to try to ensure that finances are not diverted by the regime to destabilise the region. This has been difficult to achieve, since the Eritrean government refused all access to the country by the experts.

Even when senior Eritrean officials, including the senior political adviser to the President of Eritrea, Yemane Gebreab, meet with the UN’s appointed monitors, their promises of assistance have proved to be worthless. The report notes that they have yet to receive the government accounts for the past three years, promised at a meeting in Cairo in February 2014.

Given what they termed this “lack of financial transparency” the UN experts explained their concerns about reports that the European Union is considering substantially increasing aid to Eritrea. The monitors call for “due diligence, monitoring and full oversight of the dispersal of large amounts of aid to Eritrea” since there is otherwise every risk that they will be used to fund rebellions across the region.

What is the evidence of Eritrea’s response to EU initiatives to date?

The European response to Eritrea has developed over many years. It should not be forgotten that Europe supported the Eritrean people even before the de-facto independence of the country in 1991: especially during the 1984 – 85 famine, when European countries were major donors. Cross-border operations fed millions who would otherwise have starved.

Since de-jure independence in 1993 was ratified by the United Nations, Europe has attempted to build a relationship with the Eritrean government. This has not proved easy. Under President Isaias Afewerki, Eritrea has become one of the most inward looking, repressive of states. The EU has attempted to build a relationship with the Eritrean regime, but this has proved next to impossible.

Mishandling the 2001 government crackdown

In 2001 there was a generalised clampdown on all forms of opposition. Independent media were closed and senior government officials and journalists – the “G-15” – were arrested and disappeared from public view. They have never been formally charged, much less tried, and have been held inceeommunicado. Among those in detention is Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist, arrested in the 2001 round-up. The EU has repeatedly called for his release and for EU representatives to actively take up his case.[9]

When the arrests took place the Italian Ambassador to Eritrea, Antonio Bandini, presented a letter of protest to the authorities. He was promptly expelled and other European ambassadors were withdrawn in response. The EU presidency said relations between the EU and Eritrea had been “seriously undermined” by the government’s action.[10]

An internal EU document explained just how poorly the EU responded to the situation.[11] The report said that it had been decided at the time that European ambassadors would be: “conditioning their return on the willingness of President Isaias to engage on human rights dialogue. This request was never satisfied, but EU Ambassadors nevertheless returned to Eritrea, in a non-coordinated way.”

Even when it is not beset by these problems, providing aid to Eritrea has proved notoriously difficult. Most aid agencies were forced to leave after a law was enacted by the regime to control their activities in May 2005. [12] This required NGO’s to pay taxes on all goods imported into the country and prohibited international agencies from engaging in ‘development,’ surely among their core activities.

As time passed the EU re-assessed its relations with Asmara.[13] Although there had been no sign of movement on human rights by the regime it was decided to attempt to try to have a ‘new beginning’ with Eritrea. In May 2007 President Isaias visited Brussels and was “warmly welcomed” by the Development Commissioner, Louis Michel.[14] In the light of the talks that were held the European Commission altered its stance towards Eritrea, as the internal report made clear.

“In June 2007 the European Commission changed its strategy and initiated a process of political re-engagement with Eritrea. The main reason for Commissioner Louis Michel’s change of approach was his determination to ignite a positive regional agenda for the Horn of Africa, where Eritrea has a major role to play in view of its presence in the conflicts in Sudan and Somalia.”

The document concluded that for this “political re-engagement” to work both sides would be required to show that they were serious about it. Concrete evidence was required:

“Both sides need political dialogue to bring some results: the European Commission needs a visible sign of cooperation from Eritrea in order to continue to justify its soft diplomacy, while the increasingly isolated Eritrean regime might need to keep a credible interlocutor and a generous donor. The liberation of Dawit Isaak based on humanitarian grounds could be such a sign but, although welcome, it would only be a drop in the ocean.”

Instead of the making improvements to human rights, the Eritrean government ensured that Dawit Isaak remained in jail, as did the other political prisoners. There was no softening in President Isaias’s stance, despite the aid that the EU was delivering. Despite this the EU pressed ahead with its ‘renewed engagement’ strategy. Brussels had learnt nothing from the mistakes made following the 2001 withdrawal of its ambassadors. Asmara, on the other hand, believes that if it remains obdurate European politicians and civil servants will, in time, give in to its demands. President Isaias determines the agenda and has no intention of softening his stance on his people’s democratic rights.

On 2nd September 2009 the EU and Eritrea signed a Country Strategy for 2009 – 2013.[15] This acknowledged the impact of Eritrea’s 2001 crackdown on dissent, albeit in diplomatic language. “From 2001 to 2003, there was a slowdown in EU-Eritrea development cooperation, and the Political Dialogue process witnessed the emergence of substantially divergent views on developments in Eritrea and the Region.” The report talked about “limited” political dialogue, but said that regular meetings were planned.

A mission by the Development Committee of the European Parliament in late 2008 painted a more gloomy, but more accurate, picture.[16] The fact-finding mission by a delegation from the EU Development Committee to the Horn found that:

“Since the interruption of the democratisation process in 2001, EC cooperation with Eritrea has been confronted with major political and technical difficulties. Cooperation was frozen for several years in reaction to the expulsion of the Italian Ambassador, which led to a certain backlog with the 9th EDF funds.”

At the same time the delegation was able to report that relations had improved in recent years and funds had begun to flow once more.

Buoyed up by an apparently more positive situation the EU Development Commissioner, Louis Michel, re-opened talks with Eritrea. By August 2009 he was sufficiently encouraged by his discussions to visit Asmara, after receiving assurances from an Eritrean diplomat that Dawit Isaak, would be released into his care.[17] Having booked a ticket for Dawit to return with him to Europe, Louis Michel left for Asmara. But once he met President Isaias it became immediately apparent that the President had no intention of allowing Dawit to go free. Indeed, Mr Michel was not even permitted to visit the prisoner, and had to return to Europe without Dawit – a humiliation for such a senior EU representative.

A ‘useless’ engagement

Despite these setbacks the EU has remained wedded to attempting to secure its relationship with Eritrea. It is noteworthy that in October 2009, despite the fiasco surrounding the Louis Michel visit, European foreign ministries were prepared to take a considerably softer line towards Eritrea than their American counterparts. A US diplomatic cable, released by Wikileaks, reported how one European representative after another called for restraint, while opposing extending sanctions against the Afeworki regime.[18]

“Italy described Eritrea as governed by a ‘brutal dictator,’ and noted that Italy had not gotten results from its efforts at engagement. He cautioned, however, against ‘creating another Afghanistan’ by applying Eritrea-focused sanctions. The Italian representative questioned whether the sanctions should be focused on spoilers in general and include others beyond Eritrea. The French said that while engagement was ‘useless,’ France would continue on this track as there was no other option.”

Speaking at the same day-long meeting the British official, Jonathan Allen, said: “London has already made clear to Asmara that the UK was aware Eritrea was supporting anti-Western groups that threatened British security.” In reply the American senior representative, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Karl Wycoff pointed out what were described as: “the inconsistency between the private acknowledgement that Asmara was not only playing a spoiler role with regard to Somalia but also supporting violent, anti-West elements and the provision by some countries provided assistance packages to Asmara. He also noted that strong actions, including sanctions, were needed to have a chance of changing Isaias’s behaviour.”

Despite the American concerns the EU pressed ahead with its strategy: a strategy in which it had little faith and which its representatives described as ‘useless’. It remains a strategy that has seldom been publicly acknowledged or openly discussed.

The situation was reviewed once more in 2011, when the EU drew up a ‘Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa.[19] This laid out Europe’s relationship with the region as a whole: “The EU is heavily engaged in the region, with involvement focused around five main areas: the development partnership, the political dialogue, the response to crises, the management of crises and the trade relationship.”

The document then elaborates on how this would be achieved.

“The development of democratic processes and institutions that contribute to human security and empowerment will be supported through:

  • promoting respect for constitutional norms, the rule of law, human rights, and gender equality through cooperation and dialogue with Horn partners;
  • support to security sector reform and the establishment of civilian oversight bodies for accountable security institutions in the Horn countries;
  • implementing the EU human rights policy in the region;”

The Framework also declared that it was committed to involving what it describes as the “large Horn diaspora living in Europe” in the achievement of these goals. In line with these policies it was decided to provide Eritrea with aid worth €122 million between 2009 and 2013.[20]

Since the Strategic Framework was drawn up the situation inside Eritrea has gone from bad to worse. This has driven Eritreans into exile in record numbers. Although the EU continued to raise the human rights situation in Eritrea under its Article 8 dialogue, there has been no progress on the release of political prisoners, the implementation of the Constitution or on freedom of expression.[21] The country remains a one-party state, locked into permanent repression.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, made it clear in her 2014 report that there was no improvement in the situation and that: “The violations described in the present report are committed with impunity.” As Ms Keetharuth made plain, she received no co-operation from the Eritrean authorities in carrying out her mission and was repeatedly denied access to the country.[22]

So concerned has the international community become at the situation inside Eritrea that in June 2014 it took the rare step of establishing a Commission of Inquiry into the country’s human rights.[23] This initiative received the support of all EU member states.[24]

The Commission published its report in June 2015. Its key finding was that: “The Government of Eritrea is responsible for systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have created a climate of fear in which dissent is stifled, a large proportion of the population is subjected to forced labour and imprisonment, and hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled the country, according to a UN report released Monday. Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.”[25]

Lessons learnt

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s senior diplomat, warned Eritrea recently that it had to respect human rights and urged the country to engage in deep reforms.[26] This is the background against which any consideration of a “re-engagement” with Eritrea must be judged. The following lessons can be drawn from the EU’s previous attempts to build a relationship with the regime.

  1. There is no evidence that President Isaias and his government has any intention of moving away from its current policies, which involve the systematic denial of human rights. As the EU representatives acknowledged privately in 2009, attempts at engagement are ‘useless.’[27] It would be a grave error to believe the vague promises of powerless ministers and diplomats.
  2. Repeated attempts to win over the regime have ended in failure. Past promises of reform, made by Eritrean diplomats, carry no weight. The political prisoners remain in detention, democratic rights are denied and there is no freedom of conscience or religious expression. Rather, as the EU’s experiences in 2001 and 2009 indicate, any softening of pressure is regarded by President Isaias as a sign of the weakness of international resolve. The regime believes it can out-last any external criticism.
  3. Promises of aid and international assistance have not resulted in any softening of this stance. Attempting to establish a ‘new engagement’ with Eritrea without seeing concrete, verifiable changes in the policies and practices of the regime would require abandoning the human rights agenda that is an integral part of European development policy.
  4. The EU’s initiative termed “the Khartoum process” aims to identify sources of economic support in order to stem migration. Treating the problem as economic misses the point in relation to Eritrea. As Baroness Kinnock has said: ‘The regime in Eritrea is, in short, a secretive, reclusive, authoritarian tyranny which is ruthlessly controlled by President Afewerki.’ The root cause of the Eritrean refugee crisis is the absence of the rule of law and the repression of its citizens; unless these underlying causes are addressed nothing else will work.
  5. From the above it is clear that the Eritrean government cannot be regarded as a suitable partner for the EU: its repression is worse than almost any other in Africa, its word cannot be trusted and any concessions will be regarded as signs of weakness. There is every likelihood that aid will be diverted (directly or indirectly) into the Eritrea’s military, thereby further destabilising the Horn of Africa. Given the lack of transparency of Eritrean public finances the EU will not be in a position to prevent this diversion from taking place.[28]
  6. Any proposals for co-operation between EU and international security forces and their Eritrean counterparts must be resisted. To assist the Eritrean regime in its stated goal of halting the flight of its citizens under the guise of curtailing the activities of people smugglers and traffickers would be unconscionable.
  7. In the light of the above, and given the EU’s public commitment to human rights as an integral part of the development process, Eritrea cannot be regarded as a suitable or legitimate partner in the forthcoming Africa – EU summit in Valletta.[29]

[1] Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and former Africa Editor, BBC World Service News

[2] Frontex report, Fran Quarterly, April-June 2015

[3] World Bank data

[4] Put another way, in this quarter 0.34% of Eritreans arrived in Europe, 0.0089% Sudanese arrived in Europe


[6] Official Eritrean government website.





[11] Background Note on Eritrea, October 2008, Directorate-General for external policies of the Union, Directorate B, Policy Department.,%20Caribbean,%20Pacific%29/2.%20Country%20Notes/Eritrea/Eritrea%20country%20note%202008.pdf

[12] Dan Connell and Tom Killion, Historical Directory of Eritrea, Second Edition, Scarecrow Press, Toronto, 2011, p. 399

[13] Background Note on Eritrea, October 2008, Directorate-General for external policies of the Union, Directorate B, Policy Department.,%20Caribbean,%20Pacific%29/2.%20Country%20Notes/Eritrea/Eritrea%20country%20note%202008.pdf



[16] Report of the fact-finding mission of a Delegation of the Development Committee of the European Parliament to the Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia) (25 October-2 November 2008)



[19] A Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa, EU 14 November 2011



[22] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, 13 May 2014, A/HRC/26/45




[emphasis added]



[28] The UN has repeatedly made this clear, and it is important that this lesson is not ignored. This is what the UN Monitors had to say about this:

“During its mandate, the Monitoring Group has received consistent information from several former government officials and independent sources with direct knowledge of Eritrean finances that the Government of Eritrea continues to maintain a PFDJ-controlled informal economy involving hard currency transactions through a non-transparent network of business entities incorporated in several jurisdictions.[28] The complete lack of financial transparency by the Government of Eritrea enables it to maintain a PFDJ-controlled informal economy. Senior officials within the Government and PFDJ continue to exert full economic control over revenue through a clandestine network of State-owned companies.33 The Group has documented extensively in its previous reports (S/2014/727 and S/2011/433) how Eritrea manages an offshore financial system controlled by elements of the Government and PFDJ to generate revenue streams.

As the Monitoring Group has repeatedly concluded, most companies in Eritrea are owned by the State and managed by senior officials of the Government, PFDJ and the military. The network of companies linked to PFDJ continues to be the driving force of the economy. The Government, through PFDJ and the military, has exclusive control of all economic activity, including the agriculture, trade and production sectors. In 2006, the Government passed Proclamation No. 159/2007 (Foreign Financed Special Investments Proclamation), which specifically limits foreign investment in financial services such as national wholesale trade, national retail trade and commission of agencies, but permits investment in other sectors.[28] Meanwhile, in 2005, the Government suspended all private enterprises from conducting construction in the country and effectively awarded all public contracts to businesses controlled by PFDJ.”


Eritrea Liberty Magazine Issue No. 35

Thursday, 05 November 2015 13:34 Written by

Attorney general overrules National Insurance Institute's decision in case of man killed when mistaken for terrorist, stating that he was a victim of terror and qualifies for benefits.
Tova Zimuki
Published:  10.28.15, 18:39 / Israel News

The family of the Eritrean man who was killed after being mistaken as an assailant during a terror attack will receive compensation, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein announced on Wednesday.
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Habtom Zerhom was shot six times by a policeman in Be'er Sheva's central bus station after a terrorist stole a soldier's weapon and opened fire, and as rumors spread during the chaotic moments of the attack that there was a second gunman.

Memorial service for Zerhom at Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park (Photo: Motti Kimchi)
Memorial service for Zerhom at Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park (Photo: Motti Kimchi)

Zerhom sustained a fatal wound from the gunfire. A few angry civilians kicked and hit him as he lay dying, whom police said were being identified.
The National Insurance Institute had decided that compensation for the incident would not be provided, but Weinstein ruled that Zerhom was a victim of terror and thus his family should receive the associated benefits.

Memorial service at the bus station where Zerhom was killed (Photo: Herzl Yosef)
Memorial service at the bus station where Zerhom was killed (Photo: Herzl Yosef)
The attorney general was briefed on the details of the investigation earlier this week and instructed that findings be prepared as soon as possible.
Police examined security camera footage and video taken by witnesses in order to identify individuals who attacked Zerhom. According to investigators, members of the Israel Prison Service (IPS) were among those participating in the violence. An officer and warden from the IPS were arrested along with two other people suspected of involvement.
Habtom Zerhom
Habtom Zerhom

Israel paid for the flight bringing Zerhom's body to Eritrea. The National Insurance Institute initially opposed the funding out of concern that it would be interpreted as recognition of his status as a terror victim, but ultimately changed its position and split the costs with the Foreign Ministry.


Public Call for Support

Friday, 30 October 2015 10:07 Written by


Public Call for Support

The Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) is calling up on all Eritreans to share the burden of legal fees and admin expenses related to the Eritrean players.Now the players have been granted political asylum and are safe. This success came about as a result of collective effort of Eritreans and their friends across the world. However, it is the EMDHR that mandated and signed a contract with Bayford and Associates attorneys who professionally represented and defended the rights of our ten youngsters. The legal fee for the nearly three weeks exclusive handling of the case has amounted P301,200.00 (three hundred and one thousand two hundred Botswana Pula) which is equivalent to $30,000.00. On top of that the EMDHR has incurred $3000.00 for administrative fees that include transportation, phone bills, notarizing and sending documents via DHL and etc.

The EMDHR is grateful for any contribution towards settling the outstanding fees. Below is the banking details if you would like to contribute to this cause. The EMDHR thank you for your generosity beforehand.

መጸዋዕታ ንደገፍ ኤርትራውያን ተጻወቲ ኩዕሶ

ኤርትራዊ ምንቅስቓስ ንዲሞክራስን ሰብኣዊ መሰላትን (ኤምዲሰመ) ምስቲ ናይቶም ኣብ ሃገረ ቦትስዋና ዑቕባ ዝሓተቱ 10 ተጻወትቲ ሃገራዊት ጋንታ ኩዕሶ እግሪ ኤርትራ ዝተሓሓዝ ንጠበቓታት ዝኽፈል ገንዘብ ነዋጽእ ስለዘሎና፡ ኩሉ ኤርትራዊ ዓቕሙ ዘፍቀዶ መጠን ሓገዝ ክገብር ብትሕትና ንጽውዕ። መንግስቲ ቦትስዋና ነቶም ተጻወትቲ ናይ ፖለቲካ ዑቕባ ስለዝሃቦም፡ ህይወቶም ኣብ ውሑስ ኩነታት ይርከብ። እዚ ዓወት ግና ብኸምኡ ዝተረኸበ ዘይኮነ ብናይ ሓባር ጻዕሪ ናይ ብዙሓት ኤርትራውያንን መሓዛ ኤርትራውያንን እዩ። የግዳስ ኤምዲሰመ እዩ ነቶም ተጻወትቲ ክውክሉዎም ነቶም ጠበቓታታ ሓላፍነት ብምሃብ ውዕል ዝተፈራረመ። እቲ ነቶም ጠበቓታት ዝኽፈል ገንዘብ ድማ P301,200.00 (ሰለስተ ሚእትን ሓደን ሽሕን ክልተ ሚእትን ናይ ቦትስዋና ፑላ) እዚ ማለት $30,000 (ሰላሳ ሽሕ ዶላር) ኣቢሉ እዩ። ብተወሳኺ ኤምዲሰመ ከባቢ $3000 (ሰለስተ ሽሕ ዶላር) ዝኣክል ገንዘብ ንመጎዓዝያ፡ መቁነን፡ ተሌፎን፡ መልኣኺ ዶክመንት ተመሳሳሊን ወጻኢታ ከምዝገበረ የዘኸኻር።

በዚ ኣጋጣሚ ኤምዲሰመ ዓቕሚ ዘለዎ ኤርትራዊ ነዚ ዝተጠቕሰ ወጻኢታት ንምሽፋን ዓቕሙ ከበርክት ብትሕትና ይጽውዕ። ንኹሉ ሓገዝኩምን ልግስኹም ድማ ኣቐዲምና ምስጋናና ነቕርብ።




Banking Details

Bank: ABSA Bank

Account Name: EMDHR

Account Number: 928 419 2880

Branch Code: 632 005

Reference: Football

Swift code: ABSAZAJJ

Kind Regards,