Eritrea: Deconstructing the Commission of Inquiry’s Report (Part – 2)

Opinions News Sophia Tesfamariam

(… continued from part 1)

Why the UN Human Rights Council must restore the integrity and impartiality of the council by terminating the politically motivated mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea.

By Sophia Tesfamariam,

Authorship of the Commission of Inquiry Report on Eritrea

A careful reading of the Report shows that the COIE “investigated” by collecting accusations against Eritrea from known anti-Eritrea groups and individuals. The Report dismissed contrary physical, photographic, documentary, and testimonial evidence as unreliable, then rewrote the accusations in narrative form and “concluded” that they were true. Where necessary, the Report made up additional facts in place of missing evidence.

The UN Human Rights Council’s Manual of Operations asserts that the independent status of UN Rapporteurs “is crucial in order to enable them to fulfill their functions in all impartiality”. It called on Rapporteurs to:

“…Act in an independent capacity, and exercise their functions . . . free from any kind of extraneous influence, incitement, pressure, threat or interference, either direct or indirect, on the part of any party, whether stakeholder or not, for any reason whatsoever, the notion of independence being linked to the status of mandate holders, and to their freedom to assess the human rights questions that they are called upon to examine under their mandate…”

There is ample evidence to support allegations made by this author about the Special Rapporteur’s background and long held bias against the Government of Eritrea, and how her relationship over the last decade with anti-Eritrea individuals and groups, has irreversibly compromised her impartiality and independence – not to mention her reputation and that of the institutions that she is involved with, and especially her work for the UN Human Rights Council.

The UN Rapporteur on Eritrea and the Commission of Inquiry were established to purportedly ascertain the relevant facts relating to and elucidating a situation of human rights in Eritrea, but both missions have been transformed into a “regime change” agenda. Anecdotal evidence also shows that Sheila Keetharuth’s relationship with the individuals and groups that contributed to the report spans over a decade, and the COIE report they collaborated on is just another variation of the very same unsubstantiated allegations made in articles, and “research” papers written by these individuals and groups over the last decade.

In addition to a one-sided mandate and composition, all of the witnesses chosen by the Commission of Inquiry to provide testimony at the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and testimonies collected from asylum seekers interviewed in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Libya and Switzerland were prepared by dubious individuals and NGOs with long histories of anti-Eritrea campaigning. Any impartial observer would have serious reservations about the primary and secondary sources she chose to use in compiling her reports.

The COI’s report reflect a predetermined conclusion about the situation in Eritrea and the information gathered was designed to fit this pre-conceived agenda. The “information gathered” was not gathered independently, is not objective, or even lawful and ethical as it violated the rights of asylum seekers and refugees by coercing them into providing political opinions and statements under difficult situations in Ethiopia, Libya and the Sinai.

The NGO submissions to the Commission of Inquiry, including from a notorious anti-GoE individuals associated with US and European funded NGOs, and international NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). These submissions by such individuals and groups consisted largely of emotive and anecdotal remarks, pseudo-legal and technical rhetoric, and tendentious conclusions.

Anyone who has followed the Eritrean political landscape can spot the stench of deceit from afar. But it is always preceded by false bravado and self-aggrandizement from the usual culprits, the Eritrean Quislings League (EQL) members and the many cyber NGOs that they have established since 2001. Despite the moniker of human rights in their names, they are individuals and groups who have an ax to grind, and are seeking to overthrow the government of Eritrea, using human rights as a pretext. As evidenced by their many “conferences” and “forums” organized in Ethiopia, they have served as the minority regime’s surrogates in its anti-Eritrea agendas for the last 15 years.

Submissions in the COIE Report included statements provided by these politically motivated individuals and groups, funded by European and US government entities. These individuals and groups partnered early in 2001 with international NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Christian Solidarity Worldwide that have no presence in Eritrea, but who have partnered with, and provided access and forum to regime change activists in the mutually beneficial opportunistic manipulation of the international human rights movement.

Sheila Keetharuth’s relationship today with members of the group known as Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMHDR), an NGO established in South Africa exemplifies the political nature of her appointment and mandate.

coie-contributorsMembers of the EMDHR served as “researchers” at the Center for Human Rights, at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Keetharuth’s relationship with the individuals and groups, members of EMDHR who contributed to the compilation of the COIE report goes back to the days when Keetharuth served as Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA).

The Center for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria is where Keetharuth and the EMDHR cross paths once again.

The Center, where Keetharuth is doing her doctoral studies, also just happens to be where several members of Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) studied. As a matter of fact, they not only studied there, but some of its members also were amongst the students that conducted “research” for Sheila Keetharuth at the Center’s Eritrea Clinic. According to the Center:

“…The project aims to strengthen the capacity of the Centre for Human Rights in contributing to the academic discourse and concrete action regarding the situation of human rights in Eritrea, with a view to bringing about better enjoyment of human rights in the country. In this regard, the Centre provides some support to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea (Special Rapporteur) as she delivers independently on her mandate. This involves primarily monitoring human rights developments in Eritrea, including maintaining an overview of human rights and political developments in the Horn of Africa, through daily desktop research…”

Its members have been given forum and support by the US State Department, the US Mission in Geneva and in New York, are funded by National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Grassroots International (GI), and Reporters San Frontiers (RSF). Its members are also supported by Freedom House and Gene Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institute.

The Center for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria also says:

“…The main implementer being the senior researcher appointed to support the Special Rapporteur. As information within Eritrea is very controlled and limited, it is necessary to keep abreast of other online news resources to keep abreast of the situation of human rights in Eritrea…Some students on the LLM/MPhil (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) programme participated in the Eritrea Human Rights Clinic and provided some support to the Special Rapporteur, mainly in the form of research on the situation of human rights in Eritrea…”

The tasks of the Eritrea Clinic at the Center for Human Rights included the following:

“…Provide research support to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea for her report that she will deliver to the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) in June 2014. This will include drafting a legal opinion on national service and detention conditions in Eritrea…Develop a research document on the situation of children in Eritrea, this will provide support to the SR Eritrea’s submission to the UN Committee on the rights of the Child…The Centre will host an event at the 55th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, were it will launch a report on Freedom of Expression in Eritrea. The group will provide support for this event by developing a flyer to launch the event and invitation letter to be sent to various stakeholders…”

Those who participated in the “research” were members of EMDHR…and the “flyer” was authored by another EMDHR member who has played a central role in the trafficking or Eritrea’s youth. A self-professed “journalist” with the Reporters Sans Frontier funded Radio Erena, Meron Estefanos has established NGOs to serve “Eritrean Refugees” and authored reports presented at various forums including the Tana Forum in Ethiopia.

EMDHR boasts amongst its “achievements”, the translation of Gene Sharpe’s book into Tigrinya, the Eritrean language. Funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has a long history of collaborating with the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA in destabilizing governments considered to be “unfriendly” to US interests, they have been courted, financed and provided platform through Dan Connell, an American journalist turned Eritrea expert, who infiltrated Eritrean student groups in the late 1970s.

Dan Connell hailed the group. He said that EMDHR was:

“…really important” and that “it is playing a constructive role in promoting that set of values…via a radio, putting materials on the website, smuggling materials into the country…”…certainly not Eritrean values…”

These and other individuals and groups recruited by Dan Connell have made Robocalls to Eritrea to incite the youth, call for civil disobedience and refuse to participate in the National Service Program, in order to destabilize Eritrea. They have also actively engaged in the trafficking of Eritrea’s youth from Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya. They have also authored volumes to disparage Eritrea’s educational, political and legal institutions-allegations which are found in Keetharuth’s reports. They have also co-authored books with anti-Eritrea American and European social scientists.

Simon Weldehaimanot, is one of the founding members of the EMHDR, was hired as an intern at Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) while Sheila Keetharuth served as its Executive Director. According to their site:

“…With the generous support of the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) IHRDA hosted in 2008 Simon M Weldehaimanot [Eritrea], who developed and filed the following case…349/07 Simon Weldehaimanot / Eritrea; on the right to free movement, and right of citizens to leave their own country…”

Reminiscent of the African liberation movements such as the ANC, FRELIMO, SWAPO, featured in the book “Patriotic Betrayal” who were infiltrated by using the various African Student Associations that were established in Europe and the United States, Ronald McMullen, the former US Ambassador to Eritrea had recommended that the US provide support to “anti-regime” Eritrean youth. According to the American Embassy Cable[3]

“…Despite the condemnation of their peers, the silent, yet dissatisfied, contingent of expat youth is increasing. Semere Kesete, the former president of the Asmara University student union, and several other young expat Eritreans are part of a new wave of youth diaspora attempting to break the silence. Providing opportunities for young expats to engage in political dialogue is an important focus area for diaspora outreach…Post recommends three ways for NGOs applying for DRL or other USG funds to successfully engage the diaspora and encourage critical analysis of the GSE: – Focus on non-political groups.

Direct engagement with Eritrean opposition groups, such as the EDA, will likely be dismissed by moderate diaspora Eritreans as an attempt to overthrow a peaceful government. Working with non-political groups, such as Eritrean student associations, will provide credibility and will not immediately be dismissed as having a political motive… Give the youth an alternate voice. As of now, the YPFDJ is the primary outlet for young Eritreans in the diaspora to express pride in their culture. Currently, there is no non-EDA aligned counter to the YPFDJ…”

Semere Kesete was the head of the Asmara University Students Association who left Eritrea for Ethiopia where he established the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was provided scholarship to the University of Arizona, where today, he is co-authoring a book with none other than Sheila Keetahruth, the Special Rapporteur for Eritrea. He was amongst the individuals that were brought to Geneva in 2016 to support the COIE.

Daniel Rezene Mekonnen is another member of the EMHDR that has worked closely with Sheila Keetharuth and has boasted in his Facebook entries of his role in the compilation of the COIE report. Sheila Keetharuth is reported to have attended his wedding, bringing further concerns about her inability to draw the line between her personal entanglements in the Eritrean political landscape and her duties as the UN Special Rapporteur.

Daniel Mekonnen wrote:

“…Diaspora-based Eritrean activists and grassroots movements have played a very prominent role with tremendous levels of achievement, starting from the appointment of the Special Rapporteur in July 2012, up to the establishment of the COI in June 2015 and the production of the reports of both processes…. The efforts of Eritrean activists were supported by prominent international rights groups, such as Amnesty International, Article 19, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Human Rights Watch, to mention a few. Their activities included presenting oral statements in numerous sessions of the Human Rights Council… Collection of testimonies from diaspora-based Eritreans required high level of involvement on the part of Eritrean diaspora activists and grassroots movements without which the task of the Special Rapporteur and the COI would have proven difficult…”

Daniel Mekonnen also says, “Representing ELS, this author was a member of the joint task force” and that he “served as chairperson of the seven-member coordinating committee mandated to organize the Geneva Mass Rally” (June 2016). Daniel also writes:

“…Eritrean diaspora activists and grassroots movements have also actively contributed in the submission of relevant information to the Special Rapporteur and the COI. One pertinent example in this regard, among others, is a certain joint task force that was established in November 2014 with the sole of objective of collecting testimonies and submissions to the COI. The joint fast force was established by three exiled grassroots movements, namely: the Eritrean Solidarity Movement for National Salvation (ESMNS), the Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change – North America (EYSC-NA), and the Eritrean Law Society (ELS). The joint task force submitted numerous written testimonies and submissions to the COI, including from countries (such as Israel), to which the COI was unable to travel…”

Daniel Mekonnen was widely interviewed after the COIE report was presented in June 2016, and one news report[4] said:

“…The case wasn’t political, but Mekonnen is. A 42-year-old human rights lawyer now based in Europe, he recently helped amass more than half of the 160 submissions to the UN that led to a damning report released this week that accused Eritrea of widespread human rights abuses…”

Daniel Mekonnen’s curriculum vitae lists this amongst his professional accomplishment:

“…The Legitimacy of the Government and the de facto State of Emergency in Eritrea” (briefing paper prepared on a pro bono basis to supplement the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea)…”

Daniel Mekonnen in the 8 June 2016 Facebook entry also boasts:

“…Reading some paragraphs of the 2nd COI report, I felt I was reading very familiar passages from my own doctoral thesis of 2008… In my entire experience as a human rights lawyer and activist, I have never felt vindicated as I do now, reading the 2nd report of the COI… It is gratifying to see that these horrendous violations were ultimately confirmed by the commission’s own fact-finding mechanism…”

The only reason he finds the statement “corroborated” by the COIE is because he either provided the sections himself, or members of his group, the researchers at the Center for Human Rights did. Sheila Keetharuth provided no evidence to support the allegations contained in her “collection”. Repeating allegations is not the same as conducting an investigation…

Daniel Mekonnen also wrote on June 8:

“…The world is wondering by the response of the Eritrean regime to the report of the UN inquiry commission, release today…[The government of Eritrea] has the audacity to tell the inquiry commission to “adduce proof” of the regime’s criminality, a fact that was well-known for many years, long before the establishment of the commission….is never expected to plead guilty even if one piles up all sorts of irrefutable evidence the whole world can offer…”

As a lawyer, Daniel Mekonnen must know that repeating lies and accusations do not create evidence. It just means the “network” of NGOs with the media in tow have been able to disseminate widely erroneous reports about the State of Eritrea, its government and people. It means that un-elected anti-government groups can attempt to use the pretext of “human rights” to advance their political agendas against the people of Eritrea. It is the responsibility of the UN Human Rights Council to stop them from doing so. It is the responsibility and the right of the accused government to ask for verifiable evidence to support the serious allegations logged against it.

The COIE report is replete with allegations “cut and paste” from unsubstantiated reports produced by Amnesty International (2004) and Human Rights Watch (2008), based on unverified testimonies. There were some sections on the report that seemed to be taken from Amnesty International’s 1991 report on Ethiopia. While some were exaggerations, there were some testimonies that seemed to be flat out fabrications. Reading the report and the testimonies presented, one would think they were taken straight out of the many books on torture techniques-especially the ones used by the CIA.

Some testimonies left the reader wondering if they were indeed talking about Eritrea. Suffice it to mention a few examples:

The COIE said that a former inmate detained in Adi Abeito in 2013 recounted the following:

…The people who torture … wear masks. They hit … with square metal sticks. It hurts a lot. It can break your bones. They wear black masks, black gloves, kind of black boots so that you cannot recognize the trousers…

A quick Google search by the writer reveals a similar account found in the book, “Ghost Plane, the True Story of the CIA Torture Program”. On page 27 the writer found this:

“…In Gambia, West Africa, a British citizen was loaded on the same plane the following year and saw big people wearing black balaclavas. In Pakistan, another Londoner was put on a plane to Morrocco by operatives “dressed in black, with masks, wearing what looked like Timberlake boots”. In Macedonia, a German was handed over to a CIA team that consisted on seven men all dressed in black, with black gloves and wearing black masks…”

Since there are no CIA torture sites in Eritrea, unlike those found in Ethiopia (extraordinary rendition programs), where did the COIE get this allegation from? Or are we to believe Eritrean officers are suited with the same gear as the CIA operatives mentioned in the book?

Another example is the similarity in the contents, torture methods used by Derg officials in Eritrea (during the 30yr occupation) found on Page 123, of the book, “Revolution in Ethiopia and Cambodia”, by Edward Kissi and the allegations of torture found in the COIE’s Report. The COIE presents outrageous testimonies-collected by the Eritrean NGOs in its employ. For example, this testimony taken from the COIE report:

“…During the torture, all of them said that they do not want someone like me to have children, as children of persons like me are not welcomed. They said that they will make sure that I cannot reproduce. […] My left testicle is seriously harmed from the torture and I cannot produce sperm. They used the device applying electricity against my genitals as well as against the palms of my hands and under my feet. […] I have liquid in my testicles. I cannot reproduce. […] In Eritrea, they do not want educated men to reproduce; they want to break the heredity. This is why they torture men like they did with me. This is what they said to me when they tortured me…”

Break the heredity? Where is the scientific proof that children from educated persons produced educated children…? Only a self-centered “educated” person with evil thoughts could come up with such a statement. What is even more disgusting is the fact that the COIE was willing to believe it-without any further investigation.

The population of Eritrea is so large that Eritrean men are tortured so that they do not produce children…go figure!

In another “cut and paste” story, the COIE wrote:

“…Testimonies reveal that milk or sugared water is sometimes poured over the body of the victims to attract insects so that they are bitten but cannot relieve their itch…”

Eritrea, a country that is working hard to harness water and develop its agricultural sector in order to ensure food security, and its nascent livestock industry is still not producing enough milk to provide for its people, let alone throw away milk in order to “torture” detainees. This is not something that will take place in Eritrea-pure fabrication!

These illustrate the shoddy work of the COIE and its informants.

The COIE report cannot withstand academic or legal scrutiny. It is simply a shameful continuation of the 15-year futile effort to inflict reputational damage to the State of Eritrea, its leadership and people by the minority regime in Ethiopia, its handlers and surrogates. Pity that the UN Human Rights Council and its Commissioner chose to be party to it.

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[1] Accessed 07/20/2016

[2] Accessed 07/30/2016

[3] Accessed 07/25/2016

[4] Accessed 07/20/2016