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Switzerland Treats Eritrea Unfairly: Swiss Human Rights Activist

Hans-Ulrich Stauffer, Lawyer and Human rights activist



This article was translated from German to English using online software

By OnlineReports

Switzerland treats Eritrea unfairly by representing it more badly than it actually is. This says the Basel lawyer and human rights activist Hans-Ulrich Stauffer. He traveled to Eritrea several times and recently accompanied the Swiss delegation of politicians. Now he calls for a new approach to the Northeast African State - despite its democratic deficits.

Online Reports: Mr. Stauffer, in February you accompanied Swiss parliamentarians and parliamentarians, who wanted to make themselves a picture of Eritrea as it were as “travel guides”. What was noticeable to you thereby?

Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: The stay in the capital Asmara - an architectural jewel - is easy. There is absolute freedom of movement - of a "shadow", as it exists, for example, in parts of Turkey, no trace. For traveling overland trip permit is required, which is a minor bureaucratic hurdle. Everywhere one can speak with the people, whether in coffee in the city, be it with the grain farmers in the countryside. Spontaneously addressed young people expressed themselves without inhibitions over the migration issue.

Online Reports: How has the country developed?

Stauffer: Where it has water, it is green. The land is fertile. The construction of hundreds of dams and reservoirs allows more intensive agricultural use. The huge efforts for terracing and reforestation are highly visible. Eritrea has made great efforts towards food security. Besides the yellow Sinotrucks trucks are noticeable: They bring semi-processed copper from the recently opened Bisha mine of the western lowlands of Asmara to Massawa, where it is shipped. Next year is to begin with the degradation in the world's largest potash in the Danakil desert. There is something in the making.

Online Reports: What distinguishes the Eritreans?

Stauffer: They are proud, and they feel as Eritreans, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. And they are honest.

Online Reports: How do people respond to the foreigners?

Stauffer: Friendly, sometimes cautious, sometimes with direct response. The contact with the people is easy. About Daily is often spoken, for example, about football, the prices for staple foods or the effects of power cuts. Also on the reasons for the mass exodus I could speak with various youth. About the political future but spoken only in the circle of confidants.

Online reports: Why the mass exodus of more than 3,000 monthly people especially towards Europe? Called to summary executions, disappearances and torture.

Stauffer: the accusation of mass executions I hear the first time. Even representatives of Western states or international organizations know nothing about it. If it would be what they would have been addressed in the talks with European ambassadors or international organizations. "The numbers of political prisoners are beyond me. "

Online Reports: What impression traveled the Swiss politician delegation that they accompanied, home?

Stauffer: It was clear that a few days in the country are not enough to make estimates can. It seems to me that they have traveled with another image home than they had previously. The mixture between contacts with high-ranking government officials - there were talks with several ministers held - and with representatives of European countries, the EU and the UN gave a deeper insight and led to a nuanced picture.

Online reports: Amnesty International Switzerland criticized the group had allowed himself to "throw dust in the eyes" of the dictatorship.

Stauffer: I consider it indecent to present her as an unsuspecting impressionable naive Linge. The politicians were openly and without bias. On all journeys over land, the group was traveling alone and was able to meet with people as they wanted. At the meetings with government officials tough questions were asked. At the meeting with representatives of international organizations, such as the UN Country Representative, democracy deficits were addressed.

Online Reports: But so are eliminated no maladministration.

Stauffer: According to international organizations give it in Eritrea no significant corruption. Also was Eritrea one of the few countries which has reached more of the UN Millennium Development Goals. For example, with respect to drastically reduce child mortality, polio eradication, measles and malaria, access to clean water and more. What I as a visitor also noticeable: No crime, no fear, even at night to be out on the town.

Online Reports: Nevertheless: We're talking about an estimated 500 prisons, where thousands were imprisoned under worst conditions without charge or trial.

Stauffer: Where the numbers of 500 detention facilities and 10,000 political prisoners come, is beyond me. They were - not confirmed - set years ago at some time of Amnesty International in the world and have then solidified by constant repeating an apparent truth. Eritrea has about 3.6 million inhabitants in 2,000 villages. Only in a small part of the local authorities, it has police stations with prison cells.

Online Reports: especially the endless military service is mentioned as reason for migration.

Stauffer: there is still a state of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. In border conflict of 1998/2000, both states have agreed on an international arbitration court procedure. But Ethiopia does not recognize the judgment from The Hague. This has the consequence that in Eritrea still has tens of thousands under arms. This state "no war-no peace" is much more difficult for Eritrea to carry than for Ethiopia with its 80 million inhabitants.

Online Reports: You mean the indefinite in practice military service was for the defense necessary?

Stauffer: The estimated time required for the national service is 18 months. But National service means not only military service. This also includes the work in the hospital, in the civil administration or in private companies. I've met a psychologist. He works in the morning three hours in the health care under the National Service and the afternoon on his own account in his practice. Where the use lasts 18 months or shorter or longer, this is not comprehensible and seems arbitrary.

Online Reports: As it is, the Army members but received no pay, worthy of the name.

Stauffer: In early 2016 the pay - so far 500 to 700 Nakfa (30-40 dollars) - has been increased. New recruits are paid 2,500 to 3,500 Nakfa.

Online reports: Amnesty International speaks of serious human rights violations.

Stauffer: Undeniably there are political prisoners. The Eritrean foreign community is one of the best organized. It would have to give detailed knowledge of prisoners, such as names. That is not, however. From foreign members from international organizations, with whom I have spoken several times, the number of political prisoners is estimated at less than 100 persons. And then the question arises whether the incarcerated for corruption are to be regarded as political prisoners or not.

Online Reports: The UN Human Rights Council has expressed harsh criticism?

Stauffer: It has 2015 issued a report, which is based on dubious foundations. There namely more than 500 refugees in the camps in Ethiopia and in Europe were interviewed. The results of this survey seem to me so conclusive, as if the Cuban exiles were interviewed in Miami Cuba. Even Ambassador criticize this approach. Nevertheless be noted that the political margins are very small in Eritrea despite needs. A broader political discussion would rather benefit than harm the development of the country.

Online Reports: Why because the regime of State Isaias Afwerki blocks against those who demand to clarify the allegations insight - even against the International Committee of the Red Cross ICRC?

Stauffer: The ICRC under the Geneva Convention the right to visit prisoners in international conflicts. Other Caught out are based on the Geneva Convention but impossible and would have to be specially negotiated. On the other hand has Sheila Keetharuth issued the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council, a documentary about human rights violations, the occurrence does not withstand recognized scientific criteria.

Online reports: "Reporters without borders" complains that since 2001 banned all private media and are tolerated more since 2010, no foreign correspondents. Media representatives were censored, imprisoned, persecuted.

Stauffer: The prohibition of private media came at a time in which Eritrea weakened from the war with Ethiopia came out. I can not understand why the media pluralism is not restored even today the reasons. Unfortunately, Eritrea has for years even foreclosed itself. This has certainly contributed to the isolation. Now a change, however, seems to emerge in this area. Visa for media professionals have been generously granted. Dozens of journalists and TV crews have visited in recent months the country. They are, as I could even learn multiple hindered in any way.

Online Reports: Why this self-imposed isolation?

Stauffer: One problem I see is that in Eritrea's liberation movement in power. Since collide military thinking patterns and civil society approaches frontally.

Online Reports: How can Eritrea out of this isolation?

Stauffer: The "liberation movement in power" must learn that social development can not be defined by a smallest center and unset. Eritrea needs to move in order to increase its credibility. Since things are moving: The UN Human Rights Commission prisoners can first visit in January 2016th

Online Reports: Why do the boys leave?

Stauffer: young people leave the country because of the lack of prospects. Jobs in our sense hardly exists. The youth is well connected. International telephone calls can be chosen freely. Likewise, any TV channel can be received by satellite dishes. Of these it has on each house. Adolescents have a picture of how life could be elsewhere.

Online Reports: So we speak mainly of economic refugees?

Stauffer: A friend of mine was asked by a shoeshine, if it was true, what his colleague tell him from Switzerland. He lived free in a three-room apartment and receive per month $ 800 - 800 francs - by the state. $ 800! That's about the income of the shoeshiner in three to four months. That someone does not come far with 800 francs in Switzerland, the shoeshine boy can not imagine. But why should he not follow this lure?

Online Reports: The migration to Switzerland on the Mediterranean route costs between 5,000 to 8,000 dollars, most of which are scraped from the family clan. Why do so many in Switzerland?

Stauffer: The migration movement from Eritrea to Europe has two factors: the push factor is the difficult living conditions and lack of economic prospects. The pull factor is - with respect to Switzerland - where in the assurance of the right of residence. As long as the official Switzerland asylum or temporary admission granted because it assumes all Eritreans were political refugees who had escaped military service and beyond even belong to a religious community is not registered, Switzerland is a magnet.

Online Reports: How then official Switzerland should behave towards the incoming Eritreans?

Stauffer: The majority of Eritrean emigrants looking for a better life in Switzerland. They not find if they have no career opportunities. Keeps Switzerland its position firmly that these people either asylum or temporary admission to be given, it must also be incorporated professionally. Worst of course is the situation of minors, which often lack any training and are completely traumatized by the run. Then should Switzerland but also the question of whether these people really asylum or temporary admission may be granted.

Online Reports: Could Switzerland not create incentives for returnees?

Stauffer: But. Israel is practicing this recently by voluntarily obtained Returning Eritreans 3,500 dollars. Approximately 1,200 Eritreans have made to date of use. I spoke with a group of twenty returnees. They all state that the return was not a problem. A few of the early immigrants could earn money that they now want to do for their own business in Israel.

Online Reports: Newly you have written a book on Eritrea. What motivated you?

Stauffer: I was repeatedly asked to assess what was going on in Eritrea. So I have the beginning of 2014 decided to make my own picture and traveled to Eritrea. Rasch have opened many doors for me and I got a lot of interesting information. I became convinced that Eritrea is being treated unfairly.

Online Reports: Unfair treatment - how?

Stauffer: Why does the official Switzerland that Eritrea can make no approach, as long as the dictatorship there? At the same time high-level delegations to travel Saudi Arabia, where is hung regularly on Fridays, or China, where 500 human rights lawyers have been detained after a raid. The Switzerland fails to recognize the benefits of governance.

Online Reports: Can you still call us other examples?

Stauffer: The regime has terms food security, health and education tremendously done a lot. Next notice that great progress has been made in the infrastructure. The intercity roads are in good condition, three quarters of all villages have connection to the electricity grid and more have access to clean water. These are achievements that have remained in many other African countries dreams. Interesting is also the way how the state deals with the vast resource deposits. Because is not simply a concession to a multi-issued, but tries to keep through joint ventures a reasonable share of the proceeds in the country.

Online Reports: What are the economic front, the biggest problems in the country?

Stauffer: Eritrea subject UN sanctions for alleged support of Somali al Shabaab militia. However, it is - in turn of the Uno - confirmed that Eritrea does not support this. In addition, the private sector is modest. The obstacles for the development of their own business are high. Here the bureaucratic challenges would have to be dismantled.

Online Reports: Why still sanctions?

Stauffer: If I knew that! The UN representative in Eritrea, the Rwandan diplomat Christine Umotoni, told me in an interview: Sanctions are easily resolved, but difficult repealed. I only know: The sanctions have contributed to the current isolation of Eritrea, politically and economically. In Eritrea there is a lack of investment, at workplaces.

Online Reports: And what need there of international side?

Stauffer: More fairness! Eritrea has repeatedly encountered by the international community on the head: the first time with the forced merger with Ethiopia, the last time at the drooping after the arbitration ruling of The Hague, which does not recognize Ethiopia. This feeling of always being plaything overriding interests and being betrayed, characterizes the thinking of the leaders. It should be recognized that Eritrea has with its two religions, Christianity and Islam, a stable factor in a highly unstable region.

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