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Eritrea: Divestment, Lawfare, Sanctions & the Human Rights Pretext

Eritrea: Divestment, Lawfare,  Sanctions & the Human Rights Pretext

By Sophia Tesfamariam 

After a lull in the news reports about the Commission of Inquiry and its report on Eritrea in the mainstream media, the scribes behind the report are emerging out of the woodwork and exalting their role in its grand production. More on that later.

The aggressive war of invasion and occupation of Eritrea ended with the signing of the Algiers Agreements in December 2000. But even before the peace agreements were inked, the Eritrean population was threatened with another assault-this time it was psychological and political. The campaign to undermine Eritrea’s development, following the aggressive Ethiopian war of invasion and occupation, was accompanied by a full-scale political campaign, aimed at isolating Eritrea internationally. The political warfare against the people of Eritrea and their leadership was conducted through a number of frameworks, and in different venues, including the media, the UN, and other diplomatic institutions. The campaigns against the State of Eritrea can be placed in three categories:

  1. Divestment- prevent any economic or other investment in Eritrea. The campaigns against the 2% Diaspora tax, the mining sector in Eritrea, the elaborate campaign against the National Service in Eritrea, the accusations of “slave labor” and “indefinite service” are all part and parcel of this effort. The minority regime in Ethiopia has also pleaded with the US and its allies to cut off remittances from the vast Eritrean Diaspora-and break the link between them.

  2. Sanctions-the US-Ethiopia engineered sanctions resolutions 1907 and 2023 are further evidence of the political campaign to isolate Eritrea and weaken its economic and political development.

  3. Lawfare- a form of asymmetric warfare, is a potent weapon designed to destroy the enemy by using, misusing, and abusing the legal system and the media in order to raise a public outcry against it. The shenanigans at the UN Human Rights Council are also part of the political warfare against the people of Eritrea and their leadership.

For those of us who have followed developments in the region, how these three events were conducted is not hard to decipher and its roots and players can easily be traced through the many archived documents produced about the State of Eritrea and its leadership in the last 25 years. For this sitting, a quick look at the overall strategy will suffice.

Even before the Eritrean people were notified of Eritrea’s losses in the invasion and occupation of Eritrea in 1998-2000, before the thousands who were displaced by the brutal war could even return to their homes, and any reconstruction of the devastated infrastructures had begun and at a time when Eritrea and the entire Horn region was being threatened with drought, in 2001, encouraged by their handlers, a group of Eritreans in the United States called on all Eritrean Americans to:

…organize and petition the US, EU, other governments as well as non-governmental organizations, including Amnesty International, as part of a sustained political, diplomatic, and economic campaign… For Eritrean-Americans, a good place to start with respect to the new struggle is the [an anti-Eritrea website] database that houses contact information of the approximately 5000 individuals …will need to build an informal and consequently formal network that is action-oriented… Through this network, letters will need to be drafted, finalized, and distributed to US government representatives, World Bank, IMF, Amnesty International and other organizations…will need to be disseminated electronically, i.e. inside popular Web-sites, as well as physically, i.e. attending forums… Diplomatic efforts should result in the total alienation of the regime, leading to the imposition of sanctions and freezing of development aid…

The sustained well-orchestrated and funded attacks on Eritrea were from the very beginning spearheaded by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI), Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Open Doors (OD), Jubilee Campaign (JC), Baptist World Alliance (BWA), Voice of the Martyrs (VoM) and their “Christian” networks. The vast resources at their disposal provided the surrogate Eritrean individuals and groups which mushroomed in cyberspace in 2001, access to the media, access to lawmakers, diplomats (including direct involvement in UN proceedings) and other public relations channels for pursuing their agendas.

As has been documented in various reports, Amnesty International and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) played a central role in the appointment of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry, and in promoting the anti-Eritrea bias. The appointment of Sheila Keetharuth, who was a member of Amnesty International’s East Africa team, which produced an inordinate amount of reports on Eritrea in the last 15 years, and has supported anti-Eritrea campaigns, reinforced this link.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) together with the Jubilee Campaign has been another key source of disinformation about Eritrea. CSW openly admits in its website, the appointment of the Special Rapporteur is due to its own hard work as seen in a video clip posted on its website:

…this is an amazing proof of our advocacy bearing fruit! The landmark UN resolution is the result of many years of work by CSW, presenting compelling evidence to persuade the UN that the way human rights are violated in Eritrea is utterly horrific, and must be investigated…

It further admitted that:

…This resolution is the culmination of years of raising religious freedom and human rights at the UN, campaigning and prayer. It finally came after a roller-coaster two weeks of intense lobbying and negotiations in Geneva earlier this month and means that a Special Rapporteur will be appointed to investigate and monitor human rights in the country and help hold the Eritrean government to account…

The NGO allegations and labels equating Eritrea with “North Korea” originate with the western NGO networks, a “Christian” network no less, and were developed for propaganda purposes. In its “Breakthrough resolution on Eritrea – the inside track” video that is available on YouTube, CSW’s Matthew Jones admits to a carefully choreographed campaign using the UN and its agencies. He says:

…Particularly we referred back to the work we had done on North Korea a number of years ago, and since that was quite pivotal, and getting a new mandate and new UN mandate on North Korea and we felt this may be possible to replicate with respect to Eritrea … So we set about from that point and enacting a strategy at the UN, and raising Eritrea and that consisted of, making speeches, directly at the Human Rights Council, we organized and spoke at side meetings at the Human Rights Council, myself and colleagues, have spoken to diplomats from literally with dozens of state delegations from countries…

Not to be outdone, the Baptist World Alliance announced that it too had provided information that was used by the Commission of Inquiry in compiling its report on Eritrea. The Standard reported the following:

…Two years ago, Patty Lane, director of intercultural ministries with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, approached the BWA Commission on Religious Freedom, bringing a request for help from Eritrean refugees in Texas Baptist churches…BWA subsequently published on its website a report, Eritrea: Twenty Years of Ongoing Repression, drafted by Elijah Brown, then a professor at East Texas Baptist University. Brown, a member of the BWA commission, now is chief of staff at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, a Christian human rights group…

Once again, the report written by a “Christian” NGO was never questioned, and its sources are never identified. Considering the fact that there are no Eritrean Baptists in Eritrea as has been documented by religious historians in various books, why did the BWA not try to verify the information with Eritreans in Texas who number in the thousands? But let us see what else this NGO did in its campaign against Eritrea. The article continues:

…Raimundo Barreto, then director of the BWA Division on Freedom and Justice, presented the report in abbreviated form to the International Religious Freedom Roundtable in Washington, D.C., in December 2013. The following month, the interfaith group sent a letter about the situation in Eritrea to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief… The following February, Brown—acting in his role at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative—submitted 19 firsthand testimonies to the U.N. commission of inquiry…BWA commissioners subsequently presented the report to high-ranking officials in the United Kingdom and Germany. In February 2014, BWA partnered with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in presenting its report to the Eritrean Universal Periodic Review, conducted by the United Nations in Geneva…

But that is not all.

Elijah Brown wrote the following in a 3 November 2014 article, “Goodwill Baptists and a Narrative of Global Engagement”:

….In March 2014, Sheila B. Keetharuth, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea contacted the BWA and requested a conference call to further discuss the reality facing Eritreans. Raimundo Barreto, Karen Bullock, the Chair of the BWA Commission on Religious Freedom, Patty Lane, several Eritrean refugee leaders and I participated in a conference call…

For Sheila Keetharuth and her cohorts, it’s another day in the neighborhood and a chance to collect more nameless and faceless accusations to fit her predetermined conclusions on Eritrea. The Rapporteur is ready to listen to these individuals and groups who have no presence in Eritrea, yet refuses to listen to the thousands of Eritreans in the Diaspora who tried to contact her as she conducted her research-or witch-hunt….

As I read these reports and gloats about Eritrea by these “Christian” groups, I am left wondering if Eritreans are so special that they evoke such sympathies of these Christians, Baptists at that, while the shootings and killings of Baptist ministers and burnings of churches across the Southern USA have gotten little or no notice from their “global alliances”.The fatal shooting of a black and unarmed Cincinnati man by a white college police officer, or Michael Brown, who was also black, and was shot six times and killed by Darren Wilson, a white policeman, on August 9th, the death of Eric Garner, who died after a police officer put him in what has been described as a "chokehold" for about 15 to 19 seconds during an arrest, Freddie Gray who died in the hands of Baltimore police, and the death of Sandra Bland who was found hanging from her cell in a Texas jail, a death deemed to be an assassination” by activists in the “BlackLivesMatter movement, don’t seem to nudge their Christian consciences in anyway…but hearsay and unsubstantiated allegations of “Christian persecution” in Eritrea do…

Charity begins at home!

No to harp on these wayward Christian cartels, because much can be said about the others who make up the networks. We should not also forget the western academics, anthropologists and other researchers who were involved with Eritrea in the early days of independence and whose relationships with Eritrea have been defined by those who facilitated their entry and work in Eritrea-those very same individuals who are now aligned with them in the anti-Eritrea campaigns. These academics also provided access and forum to the many Eritrean cyber NGOs (Astroturf) established since 2001. It is also not hard to find their footprints in the 500-page report of the COI. These “academics” took offense for being called out by this author but admitted their affiliation with the political campaign when they wrote:

… it is true that some of us have interfaced with international human rights organizations, stated positions on sanctions and arms embargoes on Eritrea from a critical human rights perspective, or have engaged with officials in various governments about the problems in Eritrea…

These academics and self-professed “intellectuals” have carried the political campaign for the last 15 years and some of them are found today bragging in social media about playing a role in the compilation of the Commission of Inquiry Report on Eritrea.

Although the various individuals and NGOs and their patrons generally use the rhetoric of “human rights”, “democracy”, and “religious freedom”, their actions remain primarily political. In contrast to the universality of these norms, in practice the language is exploited to promote their stated goals to bring about “total alienation of the regime, leading to the imposition of sanctions and freezing of development aid”. The accuracy of the reports and analysis issued by officials of the major international NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (AI), and from NED sponsored groups and individuals and known anti-Government of Eritrea operatives, are never questioned and have been used to supplement the Commission of Inquiries report on Eritrea.

Reports and statements made by the international NGOs are routinely accepted at face value by journalists, diplomats, academics and others,who act as force multipliers for their agendas. These anti-Eritrea NGOs,
who have repeatedly called for regime change, have enjoyed unprecedented protection from external analysis and accountability due to the ‘halo effect’ and the facade of civil society that uniquely shields NGO officials and their organizations from criticism or investigation. The individuals hiding behind the NGO cloak are using the universal human rights rhetoric to demonize and isolate Eritrea and its leadership and give Ethiopia what it did not achieve through its aggressive war of invasion and occupation. They often preach about transparency and accountability to others, but have never practiced it themselves.

Despite the pretentious narratives on human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion etc. etc. the political campaign revolves around Badme, the sovereign Eritrean territory that Ethiopia continues to occupy to this day. With the failure of its many gimmicks and ploys to amend, revise and revisit the final and binding decision of the EEBC, the regime in Ethiopia was hoping that this political campaign would deliver what its aggressive war of invasion and occupation did not…a political win. So it comes as no surprise then to see the very same individuals and groups who had proposed to:

…establishing the border town of Badme as a neutral zone recognized by both Eritrea and Ethiopia to be run by faith groups…

A proposal advanced by the minority regime and its cadres once they realized that the independent Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission had awarded Badme to Eritrea in 2002, being paraded in front of the Human Rights Council to advance Ethiopia’s political agenda.

The Eritrean Diaspora watched the repeat offenders in the Eritrean political landscape, academics (westerners and Eritreans), journalists and non-governmental organizations, including religious groups (western and Eritrean) abuse the system to advance Ethiopia’s political agenda using the UN Human Rights Council. Of course Ethiopia received, as it did in orchestrating the illegal sanctions against Eritrea, lots of help from its friends in Washington and London, not to mention some mercenary African states and regional organizations that served as the “African faces” for initiatives orchestrated by Washington and its “staunch ally”, Ethiopia.

In conclusion, although many Christian sayings come to mind, such as “Thou shalt not bear false witness against their neighbor”, the following seems apropos…taken from the Holy Bible (Jubilee 2000), Jeremiah 13:23:

…Can an Ethiopian change his skin, or a leopard his spots… Likewise ye also cannot do good, being taught to do evil…

By parading anti-Eritrea elements carrying the “human rights” mantra, the minority regime in Ethiopia and its handlers believed they could fool the astute and political conscious Eritrean populace… It is high time that the UN shoulders its moral and legal obligations and stop the political campaign of divestment, sanctions and lawfare against the people and government of Eritrea using “human rights” as a pretext. The UN Security Council should end Ethiopia’s 15 yearlong occupation of Badme and all other sovereign Eritrean territories and restore the people of Eritrea’s right to live in peace….

The rule of law will prevail over the law of the jungle!

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