Yemane Gebreab's Interview with German Media
H.E. Yemane Gebreab
Software translation from German
ZEIT ONLINE: Mr. Gebreab, every month 5,000 people flee from Eritrea and risking their lives - why?
Yemane Gebreab: refugees, that's all you want to talk in the West with us. As if there were nothing else in Eritrea. We have a beautiful country, we have a civil, peaceful population, a stable government ...
ZEIT ONLINE: The UN Human Rights Council has just a damning report published about your country. We are talking about torture, brutal interrogations, total surveillance.
Gebreab: The UN report is completely implausible. The authors were not in Eritrea, they have only heard what they wanted to hear.
ZEIT ONLINE: The UN says you didn't let them it in the country..
Gebreab: That is correct. Since the report has been drawn up with political intention of harming the Government of Eritrea. Many countries sitting in the Council are human rights violators themselves . Since the procedure was biased and unprofessional. We do not accept such a Commission. But we have nothing to hide. We are in constant dialog with the European Union on human rights issues.
ZEIT ONLINE: Eritrea is called the North Korea of Africa. Why do you shut themselves off?
Gebreab: The comparison is utter nonsense. We are a young country, but an ancient civilization. There were Christians with us before Constantinople. There has been Islam with us since the days of the Prophet in Mecca. The first mosque in the world is with us, it is so old that it still looks towards Jerusalem, not towards Mecca. When the Italians colonized Eritrea, 1890-1936, they invested a lot in railways, in ports infrastructure, in the capital Asmara. In doing so, they brought together a nation of four million. But then the British expelled the Italians and merged Eritrea to its 30 times larger neighbor Ethiopia. Our independence, which we have fought for in 1991, is still in danger.
ZEIT ONLINE: Why is there only one party in Eritrea, what are you afraid of?
Gebreab: You have to look at it non-ideological. You can not just say: Democracy is good and everything else is bad. In underdeveloped countries the parties are often ethnic, religious or tribal organizations. Who want to create as much aside for their own communities. Just look at Kenya! South Sudan! The rich tribes there control the policy. We ministers have no great houses, there is no corruption. Our president has nothing. When the traffic light turns to red, his car stops!
ZEIT ONLINE: Your government collects from each Eritreans living abroad, a compulsory tax of two per cent of their income. Operate with the refugees a lucrative business?
Gebreab: This tax was introduced in 1992, one year after independence. The country was bled dry by 30 years of war. The state could not pay its employees. The war victims should be supported.
ZEIT ONLINE: But why do you raise the tax still?
Gebreab: This is perfectly legal, other countries do the same, such as the United States. If you are an American citizen and do not pay taxes, you go to jail. Abroad, you will receive a passport at the embassy can not help you. Similarly, we also make it.
ZEIT ONLINE: The United States require their citizens abroad no compulsory levies. Your government is also accused of defaulting taxpayers would threaten abroad with reprisals against family members.
Gebreab: This is wrong, there are no reprisals against family members.
ZEIT ONLINE: If you deny all allegations, why do not you leave for checking journalists into the country?
Gebreab: We are doing it, though perhaps not as often as it could be. We recently invited the BBC. But their coverage of us was disappointing.
ZEIT ONLINE: The result will not fit well. Many men and women fleeing because they can be pulled between their 18th and 50th year of life at any time. Military service may take up to ten years, there have dominion forced labor and brutal repression there. Is not that reason enough escape?
Gebreab: We are a small, not so rich country. Who is doing his military service, is part of the family. Clearly, if a soldier wounded his duty, he will be punished, as in any other army in the world.
ZEIT ONLINE: soldiers to be tortured, suspended from the arms and legs, packed into containers and beaten.
Gebreab: There is no torture here. There may be cases of ill-treatment and abuse of power. But whoever does that will be punished.
ZEIT ONLINE: Nevertheless, soldiers flee in droves. Why do you forbid them to leave Eritrea?
Gebreab: Yes, during military service, the exit is prohibited.
ZEIT ONLINE: Are these refugees for you betrayer of Eritrean independence?
Gebreab: Many Eritreans accuse us to treat those better, who leave the country and pay two percent tax. But they also send much money home, there is hardly a family that does not have relatives abroad.
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