Eritrea: The Need to Monitor the Work of UN Monitors

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UN SEMG: Known for its highly unprofessional and politicized work
UN SEMG: Known for its highly unprofessional and politicized work

By Afrah Negash,

The publication of the annual report of the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) has once again ignited furious, but legitimate, reactions from many members of the international community.

The Governments of Norway, Italy, Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea and some others have expressed their strong objections to the concocted allegations and unsubstantiated conclusions presented in the report.

Russia, who more than once has aired out its concerns over the “biased and groundless” reports of the Group, has publicly showed its dissatisfaction by putting on hold the publication of the report on Eritrea.

During the closed Security Council meeting on the report, similar sentiments were expressed by other members of the UN Security Council including China, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Togo and Rwanda. Even the champions of the Group had to admit that the report on Eritrea was “not brilliant”. 

The reports of the SEMG didn’t always elicit this much attention. The group stayed inert after its establishment in 2002 up to the time of Eritrea’s inclusion in its mandate. Its reports were not much publicized and its recommendations were entirely ignored. Nevertheless, following the unjust sanction on Eritrea, the Group suddenly gained relevance. It became central to the attempts aimed at justifying the maintenance of sanctions on Eritrea by peddling ludicrous allegations, with no effort at substantiating them with evidence. As the initial and subsequent allegations on Eritrea failed to pass the test of time, the Group resorted to fabricating new ones.

For far too long, the Group’s unprofessional, non-objective and highly politicized work has been left unchecked. But now there is a glimmer of hope. The Russian and Chinese delegations have reportedly requested a special session of the Sanctions Committee to address the methodological pitfalls of the SEMG that are resulting in contentious and unreliable reports. It is to be expected that such request will not get traction among some members of the Council, yet it must be enthusiastically pursued in the interest of the maintenance of international peace and security and restoration of the Council’s integrity.

Discussions on revitalizing the work of the Group should be informed by Resolution S/2006/997 titled “Working Group on General Issues of Sanctions” whose relevant provisions have been mentioned in resolution S/RES/2111 (2013) adopted this July to renew the mandate of the SEMG. Resolution S/2006/997 correctly stresses that “any perception of less than rigorous standards in the conduct of any aspect of their work can call into question the integrity of their entire reports.”

To ensure the integrity of the reports, the Working Groups, stressed that Expert Groups should:

A) “Identify the sources of information contained in their reports, ensure that such information is as transparent and verifiable as possible to protect the credibility of findings and the integrity of the process; and check and corroborate all citations and facts.”
B) “Rely on verified documents”
C) “Endeavour to ensure that their assertions are corroborated by solid information and that their findings are substantiated by credible sources”

It goes without saying that the methodological standards adopted by the SEMG have not only fallen short of legal standards, but do not even meet the minimum requirements set by the Security Council. The Group relies on phantom sources—“defectors”, “authorities in east African countries”, “active government contacts” etc. The over-reliance on such potentially non-existent sources can only be explained by the failure of the Group to present valid evidence to substantiate the allegations its makes on Eritrea.

The work of the SEMG is acutely short of transparency which is central to any investigative process. Eritrea, a Member State directly affected by the work of the SEMG is left in the dark. Resolution S/2006/997 mentioned above requires the Groups to “make available to relevant parties (State authorities, entities or individuals), if appropriate, any evidence of wrongdoing for their review, comment and response” in order to ensure impartiality and fairness.

In direct contravention to this, the Monitoring Group denies Eritrea access to the ‘evidences’ that it claims to base its allegations on. More strange is the Group’s refusal to provide a copy of the report to Eritrea after it is distributed to the Members of the Council, while its contents were routinely leaked to the media by the Group itself.

The highly unprofessional and politicized work of the SEMG, beyond subjugating Eritrea to unfair and unjust treatment, is undermining the credibility of the Security Council and the UN in general. Therefore, it is high time, for the UNSC to take serious and immediate measures to revamp the work of the Group.