5 Key Things to Understand about the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea
5 Key Things to Understand about the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea
By: Ray Ja Fraser
Days ago, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI), created to investigate alleged human rights abuses in Eritrea, produced its final report. This article outlines several of the key items to understand regarding the COI and its final report.
1. The UN’s Commission of Inquiry (COI) report is methodologically flawed, plagued by shortcomings, and it is hamstrung by a range of conflicts of interest.
These were covered in detail in a recent post (available here) by @RedSeaFisher, an active blogger. To summarize several points:
- Data was fielded from asylum-seekers in two countries in ongoing conflict with Eritrea: Ethiopia and Djibouti. Asylum-seeking migrants have an inherent conflict of interest as they must maintain stories of persecution to gain asylum, compounded by the fact that they are situated in states hostile to Eritrea.
- The COI failed to collect (let alone include) data and information from 1000s of other Eritreans, thus failing to “ensure the participation of all relevant stakeholders.” Furthermore, the COI also fielded information from officials of a state government (Ethiopia) that still has yet to lift its 1998 declaration of war against Eritrea.
- The COI manipulates its methodologies such that it fits its inquisitional wishes and it has basically non-existent evidentiary standards. Additionally, no transcripts of interviews are available, and there is no way to substantiate the claims made.
- The UN commission never visited Eritrea.
- Evidence shows that members of the COI are neither independent, impartial, or objective. For example, Sheila Keetharuth, who served as the lone Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea, is also a former employee of Amnesty International (AI), which has had a long and troubled relationship with the State of Eritrea, particularly since it was expelled in 2006 for failing to make public its finances. A leaked 2011 AI memo instructed its employees in nearby capitals in Africa, like Keetharuth, to “bring about change [in Eritrea] as has happened in other African and Arab countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.”
2. The establishment of the commission and its data informants include a collection of foreign-funded regime-change activists.
The COI itself was lobbied for by groups who have openly called for regime change in Eritrea, while the rapporteur for the commission was nominated by Elsa Chyrum, a regime-change activist who has repeatedly called for sanctions against Eritrea. These individuals and groups, along with others that served as informants, experts, or consultants for the report, have received funding, training, and other support from an array of hostile foreign sources (including the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy) – many of which have been have been actively engaged in dozens of regime change operations globally.
3. The report has been quickly, widely, and uncritically disseminated and accepted as “truth.”
The report was quickly spread across social media, accompanied with sensationalist or negative headlines. Much of the early dissemination was conducted by fake online accounts, generally referred to as “sock puppets.” This strategy focuses on artificially stimulating online buzz, while trying to make it appear to be a spontaneous, grassroots trend. Mass tweeting and retweeting of messages not only helps generate attention and spread (mis)information, it also cycles the information to a wider audience (e.g. as a “top tweet”). Increasingly, sock puppets and fake accounts have been utilized for political, marketing, propaganda, and military purposes. Notably, the employment of fake accounts using negative headlines or false rumors has been used against Eritrea in the past, most (in)famously during the January 2013 “Forto” incident (covered in detail here).
Beyond its quick, broad dissemination, the report is discussed uncritically. As a basic example, allegations of 5,000 Eritreans fleeing per month are made alongside claims of an active shoot-to-kill policy at the border. Yet, consider that, even if border guards were only moderately accurate, thousands of Eritreans would be dead or wounded at the border – something for which there is no evidence.
Additionally, the astronomical number of migrants allegedly fleeing must be more closely explored. The COI overlooks the fact that by having designated Eritrean refugees as political refugees who are deserving of asylum, the U.S., Europe, and the UN have placed a “premium” on being Eritrean. Consider Ethiopia, which has nearly 100 million people, is even poorer than Eritrea, has several counter-insurgency wars, and a long, undisputed record of torture, mass arrests, and executions. Or alternatively, consider Somalia, with twice the population of Eritrea, and which has been devastated by wars and poverty for decades. Both these countries are supposedly positioned well-behind Eritrea in terms of refugees; however, it is an open secret that in many areas, many non-Eritrean refugees try to assume Eritrean identities since doing so strengthens their chances of remaining in receiving countries. The COI overlooks this key factor (and others, such as economic) that fuel migration, instead focusing on a narrow cause.
Last, many outlets discussed the report alongside sensationalist headlines, referring to Eritrea as “hell” and “the North Korea of Africa.” Such practice lacks due diligence, is quite irresponsible, and is rather inaccurate, as reflected by a spate of international delegates, foreign workers, tourists, and visitors who have consistently claimed otherwise. Just days prior to the release of the report, Norway’s Minister of Justice, visiting Eritrea, even claimed such descriptions were quite inaccurate.
4. The report is only the latest effort to destabilize Eritrea.
Over the years, there have been a variety of efforts to destabilize the country. For example, Eritrea has remained under sanctions for alleged support for terror, even while Wikileaks cables suggest sanctions were politically motivated and based on false evidence. Recently, Herman Cohen, a former U.S. ambassador, noted that “everyone agreed there was nothing going on between Eritrea and al Shabaab. But the U.S. didn’t want to lift sanctions.”
At other times, anti-Eritrean propaganda has included unsubstantiated allegations linking the government to human trafficking and the funding of rebels in Sri Lanka, and illogical claims Eritrea hosts both Iranian and Israeli military bases. The various and repeated attempts at destabilization and utilization of anti-government propaganda are quite similar to those against Cuba, Honduras, Venezuela, and Ecuador in recent years.
5. While the overall desire is regime change, the immediate target is ending international cooperation and development partnerships with Eritrea.
After decades of war and destruction, the government of Eritrea has invested massively in social programs, food security, infrastructure, healthcare, and education, raising the living standards of millions, while reducing inequality and poverty. The country’s record on the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has received praise from various organizations and observers. Recently, Eritrea has experienced economic growth, eliciting the interest of an increasing number of international partners, while the country has negotiated several important development and infrastructure agreements. Opponents of Eritrea and regime-change activists seek to use the COI report as “evidence” towards pressuring the international community to end economic and development cooperation with Eritrea.
With Eritrea’s continued economic growth and tangible, positive development outcomes, the country’s opponents and regime-change proponents know that the government will maintain the support of the vast majority of the population. Thus, in such a case, opponents’ only recourse is to attempt to destabilize (e.g. through economic and development hardship) the government in order to prompt foreign intervention, unrest, or a coup d'état.
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