Is the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea Reliable?

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Why the COI report and its entire mechanism are fundamentally flawed, one-sided, full of inaccuracies that lacks reliable and verifiable accounts
A bird’s eye view into the Commission’s report shows reasons why the report and its entire mechanism are fundamentally flawed, one-sided, full of inaccuracies that lacks reliable and verifiable accounts. Let’s help analyze the flaws and fallacies in the report based on the authors own words and statements.

By Yacob Zecharias,

MUCH has been said about the recent UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on Eritrea. The legitimacy and other issues have been eloquently raised by others more versed in these matters than I.

However, on reading the report’s methodology and sections of the report, it became quite evident that the report was staggering on very shaky ground. ,I therefore, felt a more thorough examination of the methods or lack of methods, as the case may be, employed by the Commission was warranted.

Seeing that the members of the Commission have little or no appetite for any information that contradicts their version of events, I set out to show the flaws and fallacies of the report based on their own words and statements.

Most main stream media and those that wish to inflict a deadly blow on the Government of Eritrea seem not too have gone beyond the summary of the report. Rather than choose to look at the report in depth, they have rather conveniently opted to refer to selective unfounded sensational claims,  much in the same way of the courtiers of the Emperor who had commissioned new clothes and who ended up walking down the street stark naked. His nakedness was only exposed when a child questioned the status quo and lifted the mass mental blindness.

The lengthy report makes numerous outlandish claims with no real evidence presented. The lack of evidence is attributed to the fact that the Commission was not allowed to visit Eritrea and the lack of engagement of the Government of Eritrea.

These things on their own should not really be held as reasons for not presenting evidence. Recent convictions in what have come to be referred to as Historical child abuse cases, have shown that by employing recognized and proper methodologies, the truth can be found out despite the passage of time.

The main method employed in these matters is to ensure that the witness that are coming forward have had no prior communication beforehand and the information they give is not in the public domain. For example if a person in Leeds makes an accusation against a certain person and another person makes a more or less identical accusation in London against the same person, and the accusations are very similar in detail, then the chances are the accusations are true as two or more people who do not know each other supplying similar details is very remote. It is, therefore, imperative that witnesses are kept apart and not given a chance to ‘compare notes’.

Coming back to the report we are told that 160 submissions were made relating to 254 individual cases. As the number of submissions is considerably less than the individual cases, it can only mean that some of submissions were group submissions. Bearing in mind that some Eritreans prided themselves in helping compile these written submissions; it is quite easy to see that there was a possibility of ensuring that the stories matched. This in my view meant that any conclusion drawn from these submissions could not be relied upon.

What is somewhat extraordinary about the report is the lack of meaningful statistics, its one thing blaming the Government of Eritrea denying entry and accesses, another to deliberately withhold statistics that should have been gathered by the Commission. Instead of providing meaningful statistics, the report resorts to saying “many” where ‘many’ has not been defined. In some instances, they say one person said this and that and based on the testimony of one person they then go on to make sensational unfounded claims.

On its website, the UN #COIEritrea claimed that due to a high number of submissions, the deadline date for submitting was extended by a month to the end of February 2015, by the end of which only 160 submissions were made. We are not told how many submissions were made before the initial deadline. In what is a common theme throughout the report, the authors tend to be vague with their numbers. On the one hand we are told many submissions were made and on the other we are told only 160 submissions were made. Perhaps 160 is many for some but in the context of the number of Eritreans we are told are fleeing, this is a miniscule figure. It is the authors of this very report that have been telling us that up to 2,000, 3,000 and even 5,000 have been leaving Eritrea per month for the last few years. So, if this figure of thousands is to be believed, how come there are only 160 submissions, even this after the deadline was extended by no less than a month.

Sticking on the subject of statistics, we are told that 550 confidential interviews were conducted. What we are not told is whether this meant that 550 individuals were interviewed or 250 were interviewed two or more times or some other combination. As the commission is ‘investigating’ a complex subject, one would imagine that some people would require more than one interview, especially when the alleged harrowing tales of abuse are taken into consideration.

The main flaw of the report is its sample size. The report’s ambitious aim was to investigate twenty odd years of ‘abuse’. With this in mind, it would be hard to imagine that abuses over such a prolonged period could be thoroughly investigated by way of 550 interviews of an unspecified number of individuals. As it turns out these 550 interviews were with three groups of people: victims, witnesses and sources. The latter two groups’ evidence is merely conjecture and hearsay. Characteristically the report does not give a breakdown of the number of interviews conducted with each group. As the sample size was not sufficient and the makeup of the sample is not disclosed, it is reasonable to assume that the Commission’s conclusion can not be substantiated and seem simply to be drawn from thin air or most likely from the poisoned minds of the detractors of Eritrea.

Whilst the Commission set out what would outwardly seem to be an impressive stall, on closer examination it would appear that it had overextended itself. The mandate of the Commission was a year. In this year, it was expected to investigate all instances of alleged abuse as identified by the UN Representative, committed over a period of 20 odd years. In this solitary year, the commission had to identify the victims, travel to where the victims and other stakeholders were, investigate the accounts, and compile a report to be presented all in one short year. It seems to be a far fetched idea and an over ambitious aim, unless of course it is a case of ‘here is one I prepared earlier’ as they say on TV. It is also worthy of note that according to the report the members of the Commission received no remuneration for their work, it would be interesting to see if they can actually show that they received no payment from any organisation during this period for the work they have done, that would include travel allowances etc.

The interviews were carried out in several countries. The countries were chosen according to the report, by the size of the Eritrean population and the time they left Eritrea. One would think judging by recent reports that there would be a considerable number of Eritreans in Ethiopia and Sudan. The report states that it had requested to visit Sudan but does not say whether or not the Sudanese government was willing to accommodate them. What is quite clear though is that the Ethiopians were more than willing to accommodate the members of the commission.

What is strange is that whereas the commission spent 9 days in Switzerland it only spent 3 days in Ethiopia. These 3 days were taken up with presentations, interviews and the mundane tasks associated with travelling. So when did the commission find time to investigate the alleged abuses? The interviews were conducted with all probability with the help of an interpreter, which would naturally lengthen the interview. It would therefore be highly improbable for the commission to carry out any meaningful investigation into any allegation. The commission travelled to several countries spending a maximum of 9 days in Switzerland. I can only presume it went to the USA to investigate historic allegations. How it managed to do so in just 4 days is truly astounding.

Another aspect of the report which casts doubt on its validity is the manner in which alleged victims and witnesses were identified. The reports states “The Commission has benefited from the invaluable support of a number of individuals and non-governmental organizations who have helped to identify and contact Eritrean victims and witnesses of alleged human rights violations.”

In typical fashion, these organisations and individuals are not identified, without any form of identification how can their objectivity be ascertained? Do these groups and individuals have an ulterior motive? Are they ones that have stated their desire to oust the Government of Eritrea? None of these questions can be answered as their identity is shrouded in mystery.

Information on who conducted the translation (both verbal and written) is absent. There is no description as to how the commission ensured that the translation was accurate and in fact if the story being told was actually of the person being interviewed and not one prepared earlier by the translator. This is especially poignant in Ethiopia, where the government there has a vested interest in portraying Eritrea in a negative light. There is also no information as to how the Commission knew those that it was presented with were actually Eritrean, especially those who claimed that they did not have identification papers for whatever reason.

For a report that claims to be uncovering the secrets of the Government of Eritrea it is surprisingly vague about its claims.  In the report it is claimed that the Commission actually witnessed the Government of Eritrea spying on participants. Unsurprisingly details were not given about this incident that is supposed to have happened right under the nose of members of the Commission.

At times the report taxes our intelligence. In the section where it outlines the issues it faced with regards to women participants, the report states When communicating to men the Commission’s desire to speak with their wives or other female family members, the Commission was often told that it would be possible, but that the women would be unable to travel or leave their homes as they could not navigate their new surroundings. Are we to believe that women who navigated deserts and other difficult terrain to reach their new ‘home’ found it difficult to reach the commission in the very city they now lived in? If the men can do it, why not the women, or are women inferior in someway?

The commission claimed to have referred to a wide range of publications when gathering information. On checking Appendix VIII, it becomes apparent that the selection is not as wide as it was made out, with one author, Dan Connell citied five times. A check of the twitter profile of those who have been citied will reveal that this was not a collection of scholars on Eritrea but a roll call of those who wish to see the removal of the Government of Eritrea; however, in their infinite wisdom and unabashed bias, we are told that the report was objective. What is auspicious through its absence is the Danish Report of November 2014. It would seem that the Commission had no use for it, further undermining their claim to be objective and impartial.

This is by far not a comprehensive list of reasons as to why the report is fundamentally flawed. It is quite clear that this report was written and complied by those who wish to see the destruction of Eritrea.

Those ‘Eritreans’ that think that by collaborating with the enemies of Eritrea will somehow fulfil their ambition and in some cases lust for power and vengeance, should think twice and learn from history as collaboration has a bad habit of coming back to bite.

If our history has taught us anything, it is that there were, are and there will be Eritreans who will fight against Eritrea for motives of their own. The fate of those who helped in dissolving the Eritrean parliament and the annulment of the Federation should be a stark reminder to those who wish to fill their shoes.

My fellow Eritreans, let us not be down hearted but steadfast and let us fight the good fight.