Eritrea Focus submission for consideration by European Union Working Group on sanctions regime against human rights abusers
Preamble This submission is intended as a case study to demonstrate how a new European Union (EU) sanctions regime against human rights abusers might operate in relation to Eritrea. The purpose is to provide an example
This submission is intended as a case study to demonstrate how a new European Union (EU) sanctions regime against human rights abusers might operate in relation to Eritrea. The purpose is to provide an example of the activities that should constitute a ‘human rights abuse’ – both in terms of state and non-state actors – and to highlight the benefit that such a regime could bring.
The example of Eritrea is particularly pertinent given the country’s recent election to the United Nations Human Rights Council, which may impede the ability of the Council to take necessary action against Eritrea in relation to human rights abuses. The UK Government stated in October 2018 that it had seen “no evidence of any human rights reforms in Eritrea” since the UN Special Rapporteur presented her findings to the 38th session of the Council in June-July 2018, and had expressed its hope for an improvement “in light of political developments in the region” (Foreign and Commonwealth Office written question, answered 18 October 2018).
The EU’s 2012 strategic framework on human rights and democracy commits the EU to “step up its efforts to promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law across all aspects of external action,” and states that when faced with human rights violations, it will “make use of the full range of instruments at its disposal, including sanctions or condemnation” (Council of the European Union, Outcome of Proceedings 25 June 2012, 11855/12). Any role that the EU can take to oppose activities that result in human rights abuses should be encouraged by all member states.
This paper will present evidence of human rights abuses, acknowledged as such by various bodies of the United Nations, perpetrated by state actors misusing their official capacity as well as individuals and organisations that are non-state actors; it will argue that these activities should be included in the EU sanctions body’s definition of human rights abuses; and it will make the case that the scale of these abuses could be reduced by the EU sanctions regime proposed.
About Eritrea Focus
Founded in 2014, Eritrea Focus is an association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), human rights organisations, exile and refugee groups and individuals concerned with the gross abuses of human rights in Eritrea.
The objective of Eritrea Focus is to draw attention to the horrific abuses and suffering of Eritreans, both within the country and as refugees living abroad. We campaign for democratic accountability in Eritrea and the establishment of the rule of law, and actively engage with the international community in our efforts to achieve this.
Eritrea Focus was involved in the formation of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Eritrea. The APPG has been created to raise awareness of the human rights abuses which are taking place in Eritrea today, to examine and debate how the situation in the country could be improved and to raise matters of concern with, and make representations to, government and other policy makers.
Eritrea Focus is run by a management committee. The management committee is comprised of individuals with extensive experience and knowledge of Eritrean history and politics, public relations and business finances.
The case of Eritrea
Human rights abuses perpetuated by state actors
Established in 2014, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COI) was set up to investigate potential human rights abuses in Eritrea. Having submitted its report in June 2015, its mandate was extended for an additional 12 months to June 2016, to investigate systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in Eritrea with a view to ensuring full accountability. The conclusions and recommendations of the first report were presented to the UN General Assembly in June 2015 (A/HRC/29/42), and the second report in June 2016 (A/HRC/32/47).
In its report of June 2015, the COI concluded that “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the government of Eritrea and that there is no accountability for them” (A/HRC/29/42, paragraph 66). The COI also found that “the violations in the areas of extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture), national service and forced labour may constitute crimes against humanity” ” (A/HRC/29/42, paragraph 66).
On the powers of the ruling party, the COI note that the PFDJ, the ruling party in Eritrea, has “held on to power by progressively dismantling or refraining from implementing reforms aimed at establishing democracy and the rule of law” (A/HRC/29/42, paragraph 67). It continues, “The PFDJ has established a system by which an extraordinary number of individuals have the power to spy on Eritreans and conduct investigations and arrests often without observing the law” (A/HRC/29/42, paragraph 67). It notes that the constitution of 1997 has never been implemented, and that the judiciary is not independent.
On specific human rights violations against Eritreans in the country, the COI found that “Eritreans are unable to move at will, to express themselves freely, to practice their religion without undue influence, to enjoy unrestricted access to information or to have the liberty to assemble and associate” (A/HRC/29/42, paragraph 71). It notes the government’s use of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions to prevent the rise of any opposing views.
The COI determined that the use of arbitrary detention is ubiquitous in Eritrea, and raised explicit concern about the number of officials misusing the power of arrest (A/HRC/29/42, paragraph 73). Furthermore, the conditions faced by those imprisoned are called into question. “The practice of keeping detainees in incommunicado detention or in isolation with total disregard for international standards is widespread” (A/HRC/29/42, paragraph 73) – and are “routinely subject to forms of ill-treatment that, in many cases, amount to torture” (A/HRC/29/42, paragraph 74).
Military personnel, the arm of the government on the ground, were also found to be complicit in human rights abuses. This is particularly problematic given that all Eritreans are conscripted into the military at 18 years of age. “The duration of national service is indefinite; its conditions violate international standards and conscripts are severely underpaid. As such, it is an institution where slavery-like practices take place”, reported the COI (A/HRC/29/42, paragraph 77). Of significant concern is that conscripts are routinely put to work as labourers. “The use of forced labour is so prevalent in Eritrea that all sectors of the economy rely on it, and all Eritreans are likely to be subject to it at some stage in their lives”, from which the government profits (A/HRC/29/42, paragraph 78).
In June 2016 the COI reported it had “reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity, namely: enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, other inhumane acts, persecution, rape and murder, have been committed in Eritrea since 1991 (A/HRC/32/47, paragraph 59). It concluded that, during the period under review, “the commission noted no improvement with respect to the most critical human rights violations in Eritrea documented in its first report” (A/HRC/32/47, summary).
Non-state actors involved in human rights abuses
In its report of 18 July 2011, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, known as the Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) reported receiving “credible, independent reports indicating that Eritrea has continued to procure arms and receive technical assistance since the imposition of Security Council resolution 1907 (2009) (S/2011/433, paragraph 336). At the time, the SEMG expressed its belief that arms and ammunition were being delivered to Eritrea by sea, and that “foreign technical assistance and spare parts for the maintenance of military aircraft” had also been received.
The group received information from a military source that indicated Eritrea had signed a contract for the maintenance of its military aircraft “with a branch of the Russian aircraft corporation MIG” (S/2011/433, paragraph 348), the parent company of which is United Aircraft Corporation, in which the Russian Government holds a majority stake.
The “vast and complex informal economy” operating in Eritrea led the SEMG to conclude that “covert financial activities in support of armed embargo violations” are financed principally through an “extensive, offshore and largely illicit financial apparatus” (S/2011/433, paragraph 366).
The SEMG obtained “a sample of documentation of the Ministry of Finance of Eritrea, which shows millions of dollars collected by the Eritrean embassy in Nairobi in 2010 from numerous Eritrean businessmen based in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and southern Sudan” (S/2011/433, paragraph 391), demonstrating the extent of financial contributions made by external individuals to the Eritrean government.
The 2011 report also identifies a number of individuals, including foreign businessmen, “some of whom are appointed honorary consuls”, allegedly engaged in clandestine business and banking networks and military procurement on behalf of PFDJ officials (S/2011/433, paragraph 401). The collection of revenue on behalf of party officials is often “moved through increasingly opaque financial networks, employing money transfer companies and individual couriers.” (S/2011/433, paragraph 407). The SEMG also identifies a number of individuals involved in smuggling activities, whereby goods arriving at the port of Massawa were smuggled into Sudan, and cash raised from sales was converted back into dollars and either sent to Eritrea or laundered through third parties (S/2011/433, paragraph 417).
The 2011 SEMG report recommends that the Security Council should “consider encouraging Member States to introduce rigorous due diligence guidelines for international financial institutions, including multinational banks, which handle funds or host correspondent accounts for Eritrean banks, embassies of Eritrea, PFDJ entities or affiliates” (S/2011/433, paragraph 453).
The SEMG report of 25 July 2013 identifies a number of state-affiliated and non-state actors involved in the procurement and supply of arms, goods, equipment and technical assistance to the Department of Governmental Garages, a facility located at Asha Golgol, southwest of Asmara International Airport, described by the SEMG as the “logistical heart of the Eritrean Defence Forces” (S/2013/440, paragraph 82). It also identifies cases in which civilian aircraft were exported to Eritrea for “military use or for the assistance of military activities”, which, it says, “demonstrate the use of commercial companies by the Eritrean government as cover for military activities” (S/2013/440, paragraph 84).
The report states that the Eritrean government is involved in the procurement of decommissioned military vehicles – some of which are delivered to Asha Golgol – facilitated by individuals operating as agents of the government or by private companies in other countries. These individuals or companies were identified as using business connections to attempt to seek export licenses for decommissioned military vehicles, licences which on occasion have been rejected on the grounds that the vehicles could be used by the Eritrean military. Evidence obtained by the SEMG demonstrates that such decisions may have be subverted through licensed export to a third country, from which shipments of equipment subsequently reach the Eritrean port of Massawa (S/2013/440, paragraph 100-103).
In its investigation, the SEMG identified governments which had failed to provide additional information in response to “clear indications of provision by their nationals or from their territories of assistance to military activities in Eritrea” (S/2013/440, paragraph 85). It also recommends that UN Member States “exercise police powers to implement their obligations under resolution 2023 (2011)” with regard to the collection of funds by the government of Eritrea, including through the ‘diaspora tax’ or fundraising activities through “an informal network of tax collectors who then transfer cash donations directly back to Eritrea” (S/2013/440, paragraph 129).
The 2013 SEMG report also considers the extractive sector in Eritrea, and the generation of revenue by mining companies operating in the country which are required to pay taxes, royalties and equity payments on production to the government of Eritrea.
The Group recommends that certain procedures be put in place to “mitigate the risks that hard currency raised through mining revenues could be appropriated and channelled through the regime’s various financial structures, and subsequently used for activities that would constitute a violation of any of the above-mentioned resolutions [in cited document]” (S/2013/440, paragraph 147). These include the implementation of an internationally supervised control mechanism that would ensure revenues generated by the extractive sector are diverted only to earmarked projects until such time as sanctions are lifted.
Pursuant to the implementation and maintenance of sanctions on Eritrea, the SEMG recommends that the Security Council “establish a notification and five-day non-objection procedure for approving the importation into Eritrea of certain categories of civilian equipment and spare parts that could be used for military purposes” (S/2013/440 paragraph 177).
It also recommends that Member States with sizeable Eritrean diaspora populations submit “implementation reports” regarding extraterritorial revenue collection by individuals acting on behalf of the Eritrean Government or in concert with Eritrean Government officials” (S/2013/440 paragraph 177).
Inclusions in definition of human rights abuses
Based on the findings reported above, there is clear involvement by both state and non-state actors in the perpetuation of human rights abuses in Eritrea. Any viable sanctions regime against human rights abusers must include within its scope those activities identified by the UN COI in the case of Eritrea as crimes against humanity. Namely: enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, other inhumane acts, persecution, rape and murder.
For a sanctions regime to be effective in curbing these activities, it must be capable of targeting state actors abusing their official powers – as outlined above, but also those non-state actors, often operating in other states – who facilitate further abuses through financial or logistical support. It would appropriate for these sanctions to be applied in light of evidence provided by UN bodies, including the COI and SEMG.
Benefits of proposed sanctions regime in the case of Eritrea
- Based on the findings of the SEMG, the following benefits might be derived from a new EU sanctions mechanism against human rights abusers, which would in turn limit the ability of the Eritrean government to commit the abuses identified by the COI. These include, but are not limited to, the following areas:
- Had the proposed sanctions regime already been in place, it is likely that it would have been effective in supporting the current UN-imposed sanctions in relation to arms in Eritrea. SEMG determined that covert financial activities were being used to support embargo violations, and that these were based largely offshore. With the individuals and organisations identified, the proposed EU sanctions regime could have frozen assets and implemented visa restrictions that would have hindered their operations.
- In 2011, the SEMG identified businesspeople in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and southern Sudan linked with millions of dollars collected by the Eritrean embassy in Nairobi – with these illicit funds being used to support the Eritrean administration’s activities, including human rights violations. Financial and travel restrictions against those involved would likely act as a strong deterrent, thus cutting off a line of financial support to the Eritrean government.
- Similar benefits could be achieved by limiting the use of “opaque financial networks, money transfer companies and individual couriers” by individuals for military procurement on behalf of the PFDJ.
- Sanctions applied against individuals involved in the procurement of decommissioned military vehicles and their export licenses would limit the availability of these tools for use by the Eritrean government for the purposes of human rights violations.
- Individuals involved in the collection of the ‘diaspora tax’ within the EU could be prevented from operating through visa withdrawal and bloc-wide visa bans.
Eritrea Focus supports the formulation and ultimate implementation of an EU sanctions framework against human rights abusers worldwide, and believes that such a framework would be directly applicable to Eritrea, as demonstrated by the evidence presented within this submission.
Eritrea Focus stands ready to provide additional information and engage in further discussions with representatives of EU member states before and during any consultations on the proposed sanctions initiative.
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