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Eritrea remains a destabilizer and a pariah

Haben Abay  11-12-15

It has been a while since the international community took note of Eritrea's role as exporter of regional instability and human rights violator.

Six years ago that the Security Council officially took notice of the role of Eritrea in undermining the peace and reconciliation efforts in Somalia, in providing support to the armed groups engaged in destabilization activities in the region and its provocative role in the border dispute with Djibouti.

Through resolution 1907/2009), the Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea, notably:

"all Member States shall immediately take the necessary measures to prevent the sale or supply to Eritrea by their nationals or from their territories or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types, including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, and technical assistance, training, financial and other assistance, related to the military activities or to the provision, manufacture, maintenance or use of these items, whether or not originating in their territories"

The Security Council did not ask much from Eritrea. All the Eritrea regime was expected to do was to cease all efforts to destabilize or overthrow Somalia government, to withdraw its forces and all their equipment from Djibouti. In general, Eritrea had to stop harboring, financing, facilitating, supporting, organizing, training, or inciting individuals or groups to perpetrate acts of violence or terrorist acts against other States or their citizens in the region.

For this purpose, it established a Monitoring Group to investigate whether Eritrea abided by the resolution. The Monitoring Group, based in Nairobi, consisting renowned and reputed experts: Christophe Trajber, Nicholas Argeros, Zeina Awad, Jay Bahadur,, Déirdre Clancy, Bogdan Chetreanu and James Smith, have been providing its report every year for the past few years.

However, the Eritrea regime has not been willing to change its behavior. Therefore, the Security Council continued to extend and expand the mandate of the Monitoring Group in the subsequent resolutions Security Council resolution 2060/2012 and resolution 2182/2014.

The findings were once more demonstrating the Eritrea regime unwillingness to change.

The Monitoring Group found that Eritrea continued to violate the general and complete arms embargo. According to the report, the Monitoring Group received credible and persuasive testimony from multiple sources and independent reports indicating that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have established a military presence in Eritrea as part of the military campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen and may be offering Eritrea compensation for allowing its territory and possibly its troops to be used as part of the Arab coalition-led war effort.

The Monitoring Group believes that Eritrea’s making available to third countries its land, territorial waters and airspace to conduct military operations in another country does not in and of itself constitute a violation of resolution 1907 (2009).

The Group also received corroborating testimony from multiple sources that Eritrea has received and may be continuing to receive compensation in exchange for allowing its land, territorial waters and airspace to be used, and possibly its troops to be deployed, as part of the Arab coalition-led war effort.

These are violations of the resolution 1907 (2009), since any compensation diverted directly or indirectly towards activities that threaten peace and security in the region or for the benefit of the Eritrean military is prohibited. Moreover, if the credible claims received by the Monitoring Group that Eritrean soldiers are indeed participating in the war effort under the leadership of the Arab coalition were confirmed, it would constitute a clear violation of resolution 1907 (2009).

These conducts also violate the Security Council prohibition that: "Eritrea shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all Member States shall prohibit the procurement of the items, training and assistance described in paragraph 5 above from Eritrea by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, whether or not originating in the territory of Eritrea".

The Monitoring Group found out that the Eritrea regime continued to violate resolutions 1907 (2009) and 2023 (2011), in which the Security Council prohibited Eritrea from "supporting armed opposition groups that aimed to destabilize the region, including harbouring, financing, facilitating, supporting, organizing, training or inciting individuals or groups to perpetrate acts of violence in the region".

According to the report, the Monitoring Group found that Eritrea was continuing to support and harbour some regional armed groups, including a newly formed unified front of armed Ethiopian opposition groups, TPDM and the military leader of Ginbot Sebat.

Even if the Monitoring Group had difficulty to ascertain the exact level and nature of Eritrean support for specific groups in the light of the lack of cooperation and transparency with the Group and, at times, the conflicting information regarding specific Eritrean-backed armed groups that the Group has received, it observed that:

The nature and extent of the support of Eritrea for regional armed groups varies. In the case of TPDM, the Monitoring Group finds Eritrea to be in violation of resolution 1907 (2009). In the case of Ginbot Sebat, the Group believes that Eritrea has violated paragraph 15 (d) of the resolution by harbouring and facilitating the work of Mr. Nega. In the light of the lack of evidence that Eritrea is supporting FRUD, the Group is unable to conclude whether Eritrea has violated the relevant resolutions. 

The Monitoring Group also has conducted investigations to determine whether revenue collected by the  Eritrea regime of Eritrea is diverted to finance violations of resolution 1907 (2009). For the past several years, the Group has reported extensively on the role of Eritrean officials and PFDJ in controlling and managing the country’s economy. 

The Monitoring Group has received consistent information from several former government officials and independent sources with direct knowledge of Eritrean finances that the  Eritrea regime of Eritrea continues to maintain a PFDJ-controlled informal economy involving hard currency transactions through a non-transparent network of business entities incorporated in several jurisdictions.

According to the report, the complete lack of financial transparency by the  Eritrea regime of Eritrea enables it to maintain a PFDJ-controlled informal economy. Senior officials within the  Eritrea regime and PFDJ continue to exert full economic control over revenue through a clandestine network of State-owned companies. As the Monitoring Group has repeatedly concluded, most companies in Eritrea are owned by the State and managed by senior officials of the  Eritrea regime, PFDJ and the military. The network of companies linked to PFDJ continues to be the driving force of the economy.

The Eritrea regime, through PFDJ and the military, has exclusive control of all economic activity, including the agriculture, trade and production sectors. In 2006, the Eritrea regime passed Proclamation No. 159/2007 (Foreign Financed Special Investments Proclamation), which specifically limits foreign investment in financial services such as national wholesale trade, national retail trade and commission of agencies, but permits investment in other sectors. Meanwhile, in 2005, the Eritrea regime suspended all private enterprises from conducting construction in the country and effectively awarded all public contracts to businesses controlled by PFDJ.

The Monitoring Group has also investigated the most notorious practice the so-called Diaspora Tax.

Since 2011, the Security Council has condemned, the use of a “diaspora tax” by the  Eritrea regime to destabilize the region or for activities that violated relevant resolutions, including procuring arms and related materiel and supporting regional armed opposition groups or providing any services or financial transfers directly or indirectly to such groups. Therefore, the Security Council prohibited Eritrea from using extortion, threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means to collect taxes outside Eritrea from its nationals or from individuals of Eritrean descent. 

The Monitoring Group conducted detailed investigations on whether the Eritrean regime is employing illegal and illicit means to collect taxes abroad. It had met representatives of countries and conducted more than 40 interviews with members of the Eritrean diaspora based in Europe, the Middle East, East Africa and North America.

The findings confirmed that the Eritrea regime has not still respected the decisions of the Security Council. The Eritrea regime has simply altered its methods of collecting the tax. Instead of collecting through consulates and embassies, It has started ordering Eritrean diasporas to submit payment directly to Asmara. Payment of the tax is also made a prerequisite for obtaining any government service from Eritrean consular or embassy officials. A refusal to pay the tax often results in a denial of the services offered at consulates and embassies. 

As the Monitoring Group found out,

"the  Eritrea regime has created a culture of fear and intimidation among its citizens abroad. Most sources interviewed by the Group have expressed their constant fear of reporting any intimidation or coercion to the local authorities for fear of reprisal by networks of individuals sympathetic to the Eritrea regime. The Group has interviewed multiple sources who have confirmed the existence of a network of sympathizers and a culture of intimidation that it has instilled in the diaspora.

A Europe-based former government official who was a member of the Eritrean internal security forces spoke to the Group following his defection early in 2014. He informed the Group that he had been directly dispatched by the President’s Office to Italy to conduct and run operations to gather information on the Eritrean community living abroad through the Eritrean embassy in Italy. The existence of a clandestine network of informants has been further corroborated by testimony received by the Group from multiple Eritrean sources in diaspora communities in the Middle East, Africa and Western Europe."

Indeed, as the commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea, reported in June 2015, local embassies, and consulates have established a complex network of informants to collect information from and observe Eritreans living abroad. it ios also to be recalled that the Commission had found that, “to conduct spying activities on their behalf, embassies often approach individuals from within the Eritrean communities abroad, in particular those who pay the 2 per cent Rehabilitation Tax as this is perceived as a form of support to the  Eritrea regime”

The Monitoring Group has also obtained documentary evidence that the Eritrea regime continues to raise funds for the Eritrean armed forces as part of its tax collection activities in the diaspora. A receipt issued to a private citizen based in the United Kingdom dated 2014 shows a requirement by the citizen to make a payment of £200 to the Eritrean military. 

The report provides specific stories of extortion:

On 3 March 2015, a complaint was filed with the police in London against the embassy of Eritrea in the United Kingdom. The complainant alleged that he had been ordered by the embassy to pay the tax in order to receive consular services. During an interview with the Monitoring Group, he stated that he had visited the embassy several times because he was seeking to obtain a power of attorney for a family member in Eritrea in order to resolve pending financial and business issues involving the family’s business.

On 1 May 2014, the Embassy had requested him to pay £350, an amount that he owed from 2009. At that time, he had been exempt from paying the tax because he had presented documents attesting that he was attending post-secondary education in the United Kingdom. Officials had instructed him to submit the payment, in pounds, directly in Eritrea. He had had to find someone from the Eritrean community who would travel to Eritrea so that the tax could be paid in Asmara. Officials had also advised him that, unless the payment were received in full, his business affairs and the services requested from the embassy would not be completed.

Indeed, there have been endeavors by European countries to stop the extortion. In 2014, a former parliamentarian in the United Kingdom requested the  Eritrea regime of the United Kingdom to explain what measures were being taken regarding compliance with resolution 2023 (2011). In a written response, the former Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government and Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated that the United Kingdom supported the resolution and called upon Eritrea to cease using illicit means to collect the tax. Furthermore, she stated that, on 8 November 2013, officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the National Crime Agency and police in West Yorkshire had met members of the Eritrean diaspora to discuss the tax. At that meeting, Eritreans had been urged to report any use of coercion or other illicit means of collecting the tax to the police.

Again, in June 2015, the parliament of Germany debated the issue of the tax as part of a larger discussion of the report of the commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea. The parliament agreed that Germany should scrutinize the collection of the tax and stressed that the activity of collecting tax in ways prohibited under paragraph 11 of resolution 2023 (2011) should cease. In the past, the Office had communicated to the Eritrean side that it could not utilize its bank accounts or diplomatic or consular missions to collect taxes from its citizens and transfer the revenue.

The Eritrea regime's conduct in the mining sector has not improved. The Monitoring Group has previously reported on the opacity of Eritrean financial management and lack of budget appropriations. As a result, the Monitoring Group faced difficulty to determine whether the mining sector is used as a financial resource to destabilize the region. 

The report described that the complete lack of transparency is especially notable because mining is one of the most successful economic sectors in Eritrea and payments derived from mining activities are an important source of revenue for the Eritrea regime. For example, in its response of 4 September 2015 to the Group’s letter, the  Eritrea regime stated that it had earned $200 million from its mining sector in 2014. Currently, there are several multinational companies in Eritrea conducting exploration projects for potash, silver, copper and other minerals.

The Eritrea regime refuses to admit its violations. However, the evidentiary standards and verification processes used by the Monitoring Group are pursuant to international standards used in similar cases.

The methodology used for the latest report was: (a) Collecting information on events and topics from multiple sources, where possible; (b) Collecting information from sources with first-hand knowledge of events, where possible; (c) Identifying consistency in patterns of information and comparing existing knowledge with new information and emerging trends;  (d) Continuously factoring in the expertise and judgment of the relevant expert of the Monitoring Group and the collective assessment of the Group with regard to the credibility of information and the reliability of sources; (e) Obtaining physical, photographic, audio, video and/or documentary evidence in support of the information collected.

The Monitoring Group has also made a deliberate and systematic effort to gain access to those involved in potential violations by way of individuals who have direct knowledge or who know people who have direct knowledge about details of potential violations.

In its investigations, it conducted more than 150 meetings with a broad range of sources, including regional countries, non-governmental organizations, the Eritrean diaspora and former officials of the Eritrea regime of Eritrea. It also received confidential briefings and met with diplomats, former military personnel and officials, members of armed groups and businesspeople involved in the natural resources sector, the import/export sector and traders, especially in locations in which Eritrean business interests are predominant.

As usual, the Eritrea regime was not willing to provide any cooperation. Despite the expert's efforts and repeated requests to visit Asmara, the Group was not permitted to enter Eritrea. However, this didn't affect the acceptance of the report by the Security Council.

Indeed, last week, through resolution 2244 (2015), the Security Council extended the sanctions and ordered the Eritrea regime "to facilitate the entry of the Monitoring Group to Eritrea, to discharge fully its mandate".

 The Security Council also underlined that:

Calls on Eritrea to cooperate with the Monitoring Group, including on public finance issues, in accordance with the SEMG’s mandate, in order to demonstrate that Eritrea is not violating the terms of relevant Security Council resolutions;

Urges the Government of Eritrea to allow access or provide information, including to the Monitoring Group, on the Djiboutian prisoners of war missing in action since the clashes of 10 to 12 June 2008, and expresses its hope that the mediation efforts led by the State of Qatar helps lead to the resolution of this issue and the dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti;

Until Eritrea complies with this and previous resolutions, the sanctions and its status as a pariah will remain in place.


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