By Sophia Tesfamariam,
IN JUST one week, it seems very cold water has been dropped on the media frenzy designed to buttress a sensationalized politically motivated report on Eritrea released by the Commission on Inquiry (COI) on 8 June 2015. The headlines bemoan the lack of action by policy makers-who seem to be having a hard time reconciling facts presented by the opposing sides of the arguments on Eritrea’s reality.
As if the pomp and charade being played out at the UN Human Rights Council was not enough, the reaction of the mainstream media is further evidence of the powers behind the grand performances in the chambers of the Palace of Nations (French: Palais des Nations) – “Where global solutions are shaped for you”.
The week began with a huge 10,000 strong #HandsOffEritrea Europe-wide Eritrean demonstration on 22 June 2015, in Geneva. Those who have visited Geneva, a small city, which boasts the presence of almost every imaginable UN agency within its city limits, will know that it is not easy to ignore a gathering of that magnitude, but with the exception of few, the hundreds of journalists of every association and caliber that scour for news around the city, for whatever reasons, probably blinded by the Eritrean colors and sounds, could not cover the event. The excuse from one of them was that he “didn’t have the time to publish something on the demonstration”. With thousands taking videos and pictures and a superb all Eritrean media team, the entire event has been recorded for posterity so all will have to rely on Eritrean media to get their feed on this one.
The main stream media participated in the international charade following the release of the Commission’s report and gave the Commission and its report a grand pre-Council blitz…but that did not hit its mark, as it was immediately met with a swift rebuttal from a very active and media savvy Eritrean Diaspora. The effective response even garnered the attention of the Commission – proof that Eritrea is not short of independent press. So why didn’t the mainstream media cover the massive protest against the Commission’s politically motivated report? Because the mainstream media could not possibly reconcile the hype and hysteria that preceded the official presentation of the report to the UN Human Right Council with the 10,000 plus Eritreans who were protesting it. They were probably as convinced as Mike Smith was and that his team represented the “real Eritreans”, implying the thousands demonstrating outside were not Insulting? Well that seems the running theme of the COIE’s report.
If they can label Eritrea’s hardworking youth who are working to develop their young nation as slaves, we should not then be surprised by anything else they say about Eritreans. There should also not be any surprise that they could dare to belittle the achievements of the Eritrean people in general, and the women of Eritrea in particular.
That they would present the Eritrean people as cruel and savage, not to mention without values and principles. The fact that they deliberately distort Eritrea’s history, misrepresent the unparalleled struggle for independence and the extraordinary role of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Front’s role in the extraordinary nation building effort, only shows the Commissions’ contempt and racist attitude towards the people of Eritrea and their leadership. This kind of attitude has been exhibited by Eritrea’s mortal enemies.
The Eritrean Diaspora watched the media spectacle associated with the Commission and its surrogates in the Eritrean quislings’ league and the self-serving condescending remarks that were passing as facts on the floor of the Human Rights Council. In addition, the #COIEritrea had a press conference following its session on the floor of the Human Rights Council. In an exchange with a journalist during the 24 June 2015 Press Conference in which the #COIEritrea was asked several questions about the contents of the report, when a journalist as if there was any “modifying of practice” or “adjustment of policy in any way” to suggest changes in the Government of Eritrea, Mike Smith had the effrontery to attribute Eritrea’s announcement of the publishing of the new Civil Procedure and Penal Procedures Codes to pressure resulting from the work of the Special Rapporteur and others in the international community. Really?
Had Mike Smith and his partners bothered to speak to others in the one million strong Eritrean Diaspora community members, or even sent a letter to the Ministry of Justice, instead of limiting their interactions to what they perceived to be “real Eritreans”, to gather information about Eritrea and its legal system, they would have found out that the recent announcement was a culmination of work done since Eritrea’s independence. According to the Minister of Justice, Ms. Fawzia Hashem, the new Codes were to replace the respective Transitional Codes that were enacted immediately after liberation.
The drafting process of these laws took several years, accompanied as it was, by profound research and examination of relevant customary laws and universally recognized legal principles and norms. The exercise did not only involve professional legal experts but involved extensive consultations with all relevant stakeholders in the country and in the Diaspora.
Justice Habteab Y. Ogubazghi, a judge at the Court of Final Appeal of Eritrea and an adjunct lecturer of penal law and criminal procedure at the School of Law of the College of Arts and Social Sciences in Eritrea and Mr. Senai W. Andemariam, a former judge and a Fulbright scholar, and lecturer of criminal procedure and evidence law at the School of Law, are just two examples of those who have been doing tremendous work in revising and finalizing the draft penal code and draft criminal procedure code of Eritrea and in adopting some of the sentencing characters of indigenous Eritrean laws into the draft penal code. In their 2013 publication, “Eritrean Customary Laws: ‘Old-Modern’ Treasures For Introducing an Effective Sentencing Regime – the “Just Desert” System”, they explain:
“…There is a general principle that laws, especially public laws like criminal law, should reflect the norms, values and traditions of the society for which they are enacted. The experience with many penal codes of decolonized countries has been that since most of the laws (notably the basic laws such as civil, penal, criminal, commercial as well as civil and criminal procedure laws) are copies or slight modifications of the laws of their ex-colonizers, they usually collide with the indigenous norms and values of the inhabitants. Now that the developed world is realizing the ineffectiveness, in part, of its criminal justice system and that the just desert system has championed the reform process, discovery of a traditional, just desert criminal justice system leads to the conclusion that the developing world does not necessarily have to look up to the developed world to improve the sentencing regime because the solution may be found in the indigenous criminal justice system…”
Ignorance about Eritrea’s legal institutions is one thing, but to label them “dated laws” exposes the Commission’s contempt for the people of Eritrea and their institutions of governance, not to mention their civilized customs and values.
During the same Press Conference, Mike Smith told the journalists gathered that the Commission was looking for “substantive” evidence from the Government of Eritrea beyond “rhetoric”. Here is the Commission of Inquiry and the Special Rapporteur making accusations without any evidence and then asking Eritrea to prove that the allegations leveled against them were untrue. Not only that, neither the Commission or the Rapporteur has ever produced evidence to substantiate the many allegations against the Government and people of Eritrea, yet they want Eritrea to show them who has been punished for crimes that only the Commission and its informants know about.
Does that sound somehow familiar? Is that not what the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group did to Eritrea? There was never ever any evidence presented to show Eritrea’s violation of the arms embargo on Somalia, but because the SEMG and its handlers were able to weave a net of deception that included the manufacture of evidence, elaborate fake media reports (hired journalists) and the dissemination of outright lies, they managed to divert attention from the real issue, Ethiopia’s invasion and occupation of Somalia and Eritrea became their scapegoat. Eritrea was placed in the position of being presumed guilty and was being asked to disprove erroneous and unsubstantiated allegations made by Ethiopia and its handlers. Eritrea was asked to prove that it did not support terrorism, that it did not arm groups-specifically Al Shabbab in Somalia, that it did not have Eritrean forces “fighting alongside the ICU” etc. etc.
Ethiopia and the US, with the media in tow, created a very difficult, if not impossible situation. How does one go about producing evidence that will refute an imaginary crime? Disproving a negative is a logical impossibility, but since 2006, it has been the blunt reality of Eritrea, its people and its government. Ditto for the Commission of Inquiry today, and its accusations made by faceless, nameless people. Speaking of the SEMG, reminds me of a relevant fact that seems to have been omitted in the discussions about the #COIEritrea.
Whilst Sheila Keetharuth’s past employment with Amnesty International and her association with anti-Eritrea groups and individuals prior to her appointed as the Special Rapporteur are now a matter of public record, what about her team mates? Who are they? How were they appointed to the Commission?
Mike Smith, the Chairman of the Commission, was the Executive Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED). So he was associated with the sanctions committee, which was associated with the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group and the enforcement of the Resolution 1907 and 2023 against Eritrea. But that was not all. Mike Smith was also the Chairman of the UN Commission for Human Rights (UNCHR), the predecessor to the now UN Human Rights Council in 2004. He was the Chair of UNCHR when an NGO called War Resisters International presented on 14 March 2004. What struck me was the similarity between what was presented then by Eritreans seeking asylum in Germany, and the testimonies provided in the current Commission’s report on Eritrea. At that time, the War Resisters International presented their statements, with names, pictures etc. Amnesty International also reported their testimonies in its 2004 report. As a matter of fact, the very same pictures that are being circulated by the Commission in the media about “torture methods” were presented back then. For further details see: https://www.wri-irg.org/system/files/eritrea-en.pdf
Now if we were to use the same standard of proof, “reasonable grounds to believe”, that the Commission based its findings on, and to make their conclusions about Eritrea, there is reasonable ground to believe that Mike Smith, like Sheila Keetharuth and Victor Dankwa, has had prior dealings with groups that were against the Government of Eritrea.
In Smith’s case he also had dealings with the SEMG and Sanctions Committee where Eritrea, then, like today is being asked to produce evidence that to refute an imaginary crime, as told by faceless and nameless individuals and groups. So do we have a tainted jury? Can this group of persons deliver a credible, independent and impartial report on Eritrea? Would any country sitting in that UN Human Rights Council agree to be investigated by such a biased group? I leave it to their conscience…
Anyway, let us get back to the media and its coverage of the Commission and its report. Al Jazeera in its 25th June piece wrote about the #COIEritrea team being intimidated and harassed on the same day that the massive demonstration was taking place in Geneva – but somehow missed reporting about the massive demonstration. Once again, using the same standard of proof that the #COIEritrea is using in its report, knowing that Kjetil Tronvoll is associated with Al Jazeera English, and since it is a fact that he has co-authored many of the reports and articles references by the #COIEritrea, could we then infer that he was behind Al Jazeera’s snub of the 10,000 #HandsOffEritrea demonstrations that rocked Geneva on 22 June 2015? Je ne sais pas…
In the 25th June Al Jazeera reported also divulged this bit of information:
“…Eritrea’s neighbours Djibouti and Somalia are backing a Human Rights Council resolution to extend the team’s mandate for a year to enable it to say if crimes against humanity were committed…”
In other words, the #COIEritrea had not established beyond reasonable doubt, Eritrea’s guilt, but wanted more time to go on yet another fishing expedition, in search of the phantom evidence to indict Eritrea.
Looks like the architects behind the 5-year shenanigan are having a hard time coming up with another “African Initiative” to strengthen the illegal sanctions regime against the state of Eritrea. So they are willing to compromise the integrity of the UN Human Rights Council and use Djibouti and Somalia again-of course Ethiopia and the United States being the key architects behind the scene, to table the resolution they need. Does that not ring of a conflict of interest? After all, Djibouti has an ax to grind and has an active conflict situation with Eritrea, ditto for Ethiopia. So what do we make of the impartiality, neutrality, fairness etc. etc. of the UN Human Right Council, when it is clear that the resolutions are all politically motivated and anything borne out of those resolutions will also be tainted? Guess nobody cares…the end justifies the means.
The conflict of interests mentioned above resigns the legitimacy of the report, which is based almost entirely on anonymous informants – and brings to question the credibility, integrity and efficacy of the UN Human Rights Council in the protection and promotion of human rights. Like its predecessor, it is fast becoming a political tool for advancing political agendas against member states. The #COIEritrea’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, was biased and not objective, or even lawful and ethical as it violated the rights of asylum seekers and refugees by making them provide political opinions and statements under difficult situations in Ethiopia, Libya and the Sinai.
Screed stringing together every imaginable cliché and trope from every anti-Eritrea individual and group, the #COIEritrea produced a 500-page document hoping to shock morals and force the international community into taking action against Eritrea and its government without ever producing an iota of evidence. Who is behind the #COIEritrea? Who appointed it? From where I sit, it seems to be an extension of the failed SEMG and since there are no grounds to sanction Eritrea on anything relating to terrorism or Somalia, the architects of the Sanctions, Ethiopia and its patrons, are now hoping to use the UN Human Rights Council to embroil Eritrea and its leadership and subject it into another vicious political slandering in order to force it to relinquish its sovereign rights, and forget about the 15-year long Ethiopian occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories. That will not happen!
So the week comes to an end and as predicted, the #COIEritrea is now marred in controversy of its own creation. Those who were paraded like herd goats in front of the Human Rights Council to spew insults and denigrate the people and government of Eritrea will wake up and find out that they have been had. That they have served their purpose-served as the Eritrean faces needed for the agenda, that they are now dispensable or is it disposable…
Allow me to end using the words of Al Jazeera’s Kjetil Tronvoll, words taken from a 2013 article about the Eritrean system, which by the way Mike Smith is also eager to see abolished. For those who are waiting in the wings to see the Eritrean system collapse, don’t hold your breath, it “has so far proven to be surprisingly resilient”.
As for the mainstream media…it has long lost its luster. The fad today is, progressive media and citizen journalism.