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The London Nevsun & Ruby Drama: An open letter to Professor Asmarom Legesse

By Petros Tesfaghiorighis The agenda which is spearheaded by Ruby Sandhu and Nevsun mining company officials in Bisha Eritrea    who came all the way from Canada to the United Kingdom - is to advocate that there

By Petros Tesfaghiorighis

The agenda which is spearheaded by Ruby Sandhu and Nevsun mining company officials in Bisha Eritrea    who came all the way from Canada to the United Kingdom – is to advocate that there is no human rights violations in Eritrea.

The meetings was cancelled after it was exposed of being propaganda ploy dressed in captivating title that says:

Eritrea building bridges for a sustainable future hosted by Baroness Oona King on Thursday 18th June 2015 at 5.30pm until 730pm at the House of Lords – British Parliament

There are many friends of the people of Eritrea in the UK who expressed their concern about the meeting and saw that it is cancelled. Among them is Baroness Kinnock of the House of Lords and   “Eritrea-Focus” which has an electronic newsletters distributed to high level British institutions MP, lawyers etc. It posts in It is serving like “Eritrean Support Committees “during the armed struggle. In fact it has members such as Andy Gregg who has been supporting Eritrea throughout the time of armed struggle. His father Medical Doctor Gregg used to visit the field to share his expertise with the brave Eritrean doctors operating wounded fighters in an underground hospitals. “Support committees composed” mostly of foreigners are essential because more often than not Eritreans find it difficult to reach out to the main stream British Society. They fill   the campaign gap for justice and International support.

The woman behind all these series of meeting on Eritrea is Ruby Sandhu – Vice Chairman of Solicitors International Human Rights Group (SIHRG).   The first meeting she organised took place on 12 December 2014, 18:00 – 19.30. At the institute of advanced Legal Studies -The title was “Eritrea, through the lens of Business Ethics and Sustainability”.   On the flyer was “A nation that is keen to forge its own narrative and one of nation building through its Rehabilitation and Diaspora Tax, National Service and emerging Natural Resources.”  In this she has come to support the degrading indefinite national service and the 2% Diaspora tax and made the development of Eritrea dependent on multinational mining corporations not on the labour power of its people.  Ruby seems to have low opinion of Eritreans. I think she needs to go back and study the history of the armed struggle.  Leaving aside  her ambitious  prescription,  it  is the people of Eritrea who are   getting active inside and outside Eritrea  to  define the destiny of Eritrea themselves.

Ruby went to Eritrea and came out with 47 pages report saying there is no human rights violation in Eritrea. She is in bed with Nevsun- the Canadian mining corporation to launch propaganda in UK.   It was not easy ride for her though, right from the beginning she has been challenged by Habte Hagos & co of “Focus Eritrea” (1) who prepared 27 pages response pinpointing her blunders. For her “Focus Eritrea” has been a night mare exposing her opportunism and ego.

The speakers on this session were: Todd Romaine is the VP for CSR at Nevsun Resources Limited: Lloyd Lipsett is an international human rights lawyer: Professor Asmarom Legesse, renowned lawyer, sociologist and anthropologist: discusses the title premised on Eritrean culture history and its journey.

Seble Ephrem is a member of the Eritrean diaspora and Chairperson of the Eritrean Relief Association (UK) will present on the role and experiences of the Eritrean diaspora around the world.

I am concerned about the good name of professor Asmarom.  As the Director of Research of Citizens for Peace in Eritrea (CPE) (2) he carried out an in-depth   researches of Eritreans and Ethiopian of Eritrean origin deported from Ethiopia and    those internally displaced (IDPs) and advocated for humanitarian help such as shelter, food, cooking material internationally visiting many countries in person.  Those uprooted from Ethiopia were completely destitute they had nothing. They had to be accommodated in UN tents in different places in Eritrea, until they identify places – their roots- to go to.  (See picture).3

Professor’s  scientific survey was critical to CPE work -working with his as a founding member and chairman of CPE I saw in him the care and love of people in need.  There were other CPE  committed  members such as Tewolde Estifanos (the pioneer who opened the first Internet café in Asmara) – moved to Eritrea from California) and now back in USA like the hundreds of disillusioned professional Eritreans who came back from exile in order to participate in the economic and social rehabilitation of Eritrea after 30 years of devastating war.  There were 2 professional women one from USA and the other from UK who resigned soon after CPE started to cross the red line looking into human rights violation in Eritrea e.g. the case of Asmara University students.    I have seen Asmarom’s commitment and good heart as both of us travelled extensively abroad including the United Kingdom and inside Eritrea in the IDP’s camps to learn their situation first hand.  I feel my duty to give a comment on the failed talk in UK.

Professor,   why are you willing to share a platform with those who condone gross violation of human rights in Eritrea?  The world saw the tragedies of the loss of many lives in the Mediterranean, the beheading of refugees by ISIA? And learned the underlines causes in their homes on their TV. Today nothing is secret in the most secretive country in the world.

Don’t you remember when we were participating in the meeting at Selam Hotel Asmara- of EREC, UNDP, Embassies and NGO’s series of   Meetings to coordinate urgently the provision of shelter and food for IDPs.  It is in such meeting that I met the great friend of the people of Eritrea the Italian Ambassador Sig Antonio Bandini – and his wife  who was a  volunteer tending  the wounded at hospital only to be given 48 hours persona non-grata to leave Eritrea for asking the reasons why the G-15 are imprisoned. Most of the tents flown to Eritrea were solicited by him.

Due to ongoing shelling along the border with Ethiopia many IDPs (Internally displaced people) have been displaced several times. I remember professor and me visited the camp of Adi Keshi near Tessenei   where there were 40,000 people – in an empty land- and there was very little shelter, what a human catastrophe. All in all there was a large need of shelter in all parts of the country due to the fact that many people were living in temporary residents such as caves, valleys or with other families.   Do you remember when we entered the town of Tzeron, a border down with Ethiopia, we couldn’t believe our eyes. It was a shocking sight, it looked a ghost town all doors closed except few dogs roaming around.  It was like sci-fi Hollywood film.  Amid silence and no sound of people you hear the sound of the winds like I never paid attention before.  What came to my mind was “where are these people?  We have to find them in the caves of Mai Wurai, under a mountain, so no shelling will reach them.  Yes they were destitute and we have assessed their needs and professor conducted interviews with some people.

Strange, what are you, Pro Asmarom, going to speak about Eritrean culture which is out of context of the meeting? The culture of yesterday where communities where running their life without any government coercion, where they have village assembly (baito) run by democratically elected elders. At that time there was rule of law. The most cherished value is the value of self-help and extended family values.  In the rural areas where the majority of the people live, when people reach adulthood and get married they have to leave their parents’ home. It is the villagers who collectively erect houses for the newly wed using stone walls and wood materials for the roof. Homelessness was unknown.

Obviously the Eritrean culture and ethos under the repressive rule of EPLF has been transformed. President Isaias’s legacy includes a ghetto political system – that view the people with deep seated suspicion.  They have to be denied freedom of expression, worship and freedom of association in order to be controlled.  There is no independent civil society in Eritrea. Probably there was one Citizens for Peace in Eritrea CPE until it was left crippled under your control.   Many times I and you were used to be called by the Director of the President’s office and get reprimanded for crossing some red lines. Then you stood your ground.  I liked it and indeed we were tolerated by the authorities until we crossed the line by   Condemning the Government – in an open letter posted in the independent newspapers for violating the rights of the Asmara University students, deporting them to the coastal village of Wia where the temperature was 40+ degree centigrade. 2 University students died of sun stroke.  Many of the students were picked up in front of the High Court- next to the Commercial Bank of Eritrea where I was working. I saw by my own eyes when commandos came from nowhere, started rounding up the students, beat them up and force them into Lorries and drove to WIA. The students had no crime they happened to be there to attend the trial of the   president of Asmara Students Union who was arrested by the security forces in the middle of the night. Of course there was no trial.  Isaias knew in a country where there is no freedom of expression the challenges may come from University students – he experienced it in Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia when he was an engineering student there.

Another crossing  of the redline is when CPE demanded  that the  “Government  of Eritrea observe the right of Ethiopians when deporting them to the border with Ethiopia- we said all their properties must be registered and it has to be in the presence of the Red Cross. You remember the head of the International Red Cross – expressed her happiness and we started to work in cooperation with her. PFDJ managed to get rid of her.  These were your humane credential which is historic and very dear to you.

By the way What can you  talk of a culture under the rule of PFDJ  where there is a   wide spread penchant for rumourmongering (the 03 – phenomena) that undercut   sober  public discourse- long held tendencies towards mutual ignorance, distrust, and disdain.  Asmara University, the only university in Eritrea is closed, education after 11 grade is militarized. 12 grade is given in the military camp   in “Sawa “under the watchful eye of vindictive colonels. All in all there is no academic freedom and conducive environment for creative studies – Free thinking is the casualty. The students are tortured for daring to ask simple questions like improving their food and other non-political questions etc. Some of the methods are drawn in sketches by an artist, an ex-inmate in one of the detentions centres in the long UN Inquiry Commission report.

Sadly the Eritrean youth are emerging into adulthood riding the wave of despair.  It is the despair that made them take the life threatening journey.  Today the whole world have learned about it and no matter how Ruby and Nevsun mining company wants to paint PFDJ with humane face they are only taken as people who condones repression and thus morally bankrupt. Which they are.

I suspect you are  manipulated by your close relative Seble Efrem to join the speakers from Nevsun mining company who are accused in court in Canada of complicity for using forced/slave labour. As a result of this and the Commission of Inquiry report their share value is dwindling.

Seble has become the forefront advocate for PFDJ. I have no problem any one has the right to support or oppose the Government.  But I question her support is genuine. She is best placed to call upon President Isaias to give them amnesty to prisoners of conscience during the anniversary of independence or New Years? In order to rescue some of his inhumane reputation.  At least as a woman she could plead with him to be magnanimous to free   the women (mothers)   who are cruelly snatched from their children and are languishing in prison for years. They are not charged because they did no crime.  It is simply man made tragedy.  They are Aster Fitzehazion – whom Baroness Kinnock – in one of the International women’s day pleaded with Isaias to free her including the others. Baroness   Glennys Kinnock knows Aster (as one of the most senior women in EPLF)   personally during her visit to the field. On her return she wrote a book – “Eritrea- Images of War and peace”.  Baroness Kinnock has a soft heart and love for the people of Eritrea.  The others are Aster Yohannes- who is the wife of Petros Solomon – the architect of EPLF Military intelligence. Their children lost both parents,   Miriam Hagos – who joined EPLF in the field from living good like as a student in the United States of America- she was a role model for fighters in the way she was raising her daughter – now her daughter is in the States.  Senait Debesai – Senait was – a member of the cultural troupe of EPLF- an actress and a singer.  At the time of her arrest she was getting divorced from her husband, Beyene Russom.  She was about to   win the custody of their children in court when Beyene was alleged to have her imprisoned to get custody of their children. He got his way.  She never saw her children again.  Today he is the Ambassador in Kenya and was interviewed by Kenyan TV. Obviously he opposed the UN inquiry commission report. In reality he should be the first to be charged with crime against humanity – of what he did to his wife.   Senait is languishing in prison for 14 years along with her older    brother Ermias Debessai (Papayo) who was an Ambassador in China at the time of his arrest –   his title was H. E. Mr Ermias Debessai – Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary. In mid-eighties he was the head of Foreign Mission of EPLF in the European Union – based in London.  I worked with him. He was a visionary He managed to convince many Eritreans investors to come to Eritrea in the Diaspora, he is one of the best skilled PR I ever witnessed.  He was a member of EPLF central committee.  Imprisoned without due process of law are the G-15 members of the Government one of them Mahmood Sherifo is the vice president of Eritrea. It was Isaias’s coup d’état against the EPLF central committee and Government. That was the final death of EPLF as we know it. Their incarceration   ushered in a PFDJ’s reign of terror that brought the country and the people to their knees.    As of recent Sanai Kiflesus the head of the EPLF Central Pharmacy and the pharmaceutical factory in the field that produces more than 300 kind of drug is imprisoned. A hard working skilled professional – who was freezed (laid off work)   in the middle of working on the project of a rebuilding a modern pharmaceutical factory. After that he has managed to go private into the production of succceful marble factory business. The life style of Sanai was exemplary, he is a sports man, a good tennis players, involved his two girls in the game. He is good natured, very friendly.  Senai   was well dressed, handsome gentleman and a role model for modernity.  My heart bleeds when I heard about his imprisonment and remembered the good time we all his close friends had spending time in the beach of Red Sea Massawa.  I hope his Minister wife   – Askalu Menkerious   pleads with the president for amnesty.  Seble used to stay in the house of Senai, and Askalu during her visit in Eritrea.  It is an ugly situation, where are all the Eritrean flowers gone? What Ruby failed to understand is that gross human rights violations is incompatible with economic and social progress. The Eritrean business men – the middle classes – the engine of economic growth are in exile as well, in South Sudan, Angola, Uganda and Middle East etc. Exploiting minerals by foreign work force is no panacea to solve all Eritrea’s ills.   What Ruby and those mining corporations should know is that those who are in prison 10,000 plus and those dying in the Mediterranean are not numbers they are human beings.

ERA_1980sI am also concerned of Sebles’s presented as a chairman of Eritrean Relief Association –UK. Do Eritreans in the UK know about this? Have they ever conducted street collection (4) like what we used to do during the struggle?   I am a founding member of ERA-UK and worked for more than 10 years. ERA-UK was established in 1977 to help civilians displaced by the war either in the liberated areas of Eritrea or in the Sudan and also help refugees in the United Kingdom. Today ERA-UK is kept hostage in Kilburn by Seble and the Secretary Yohanes Fasil unable to provide help to the Eritrean refugees languishing in the camps in Sudan and Ethiopia and also in the United Kingdom where ERA-UK is based and registered as a charity.   ERA-UK is meant to help destitute refugees and there are many in UK.   Dr Alganesh Fesseha (director of Ghandi NGO)   is running a feeding programme for about 2000 unaccompanied children in refugee camps in Ethiopia.   ERA-UK should have been the organisation to raise money to help feeding this children because it is meant to do so. They have politicized ERA-UK and rendered it inaccessible to the needs of the Eritrean refugees including the UK.  Cry my beloved Eritrea.

“MAGNA CARTA -1215 FOUNDATION OF LIBERTY “SAYS “NO MAN SHALL BE SEIZED OR IMPRISONED EXCEPT BY THE LAWFUL JUDGMENT OF HIS EQUALS OR BY THE LAW OF THE LAND”. June 2015 saw big events in London commemorating Magna Carta   and issued stamps so every citizens has it in his postal correspondence. Why do the Eritreans supporters living in the land of freedom maintain double standard?

Some Eritreans in UK started to spread lies that Asmarom Legesse is not Eritrean, he is an Oromo.  The people of Oromo comprises the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. It is by invading the South largely inhabited by the Oromo’s that the Shoan Amhara Emperor Menelik (1889-1913) built a strong feudal Empire.    Oromo intellectuals talk of millions of their people being killed and their culture and tradition undermined.  It is by researching, studying the authentic suppressed culture and tradition of Governments – the Gada system – the Oromo democracy – that the professor had become the true friend of the Oromo people. Deservedly he is honoured and respected by the Oromo people. This is the greatest achievement the Eritreans and Oromo’s feel proud about.   In general we Eritreans have to acknowledge that we are not enemies with the people of Ethiopia. The Opposition Political organisation have to have a clear stand on this and come out into the open. The making of peace and contribution to good neighbourliness of the region must be one of the vision of Eritreans.

But I would say to Professor Asmarom be yourself and refuse to be an instrument of PFDJ propaganda and leave an honourable legacy to your children, your friends and the Eritrean people in general.

The end:

  1. Eritrea Focus is an association of Non-Governmental organisations (NG0s), human rights organisations, exile and refugee groups and individuals concerned with the gross human rights in Eritrea.
  1. Citizens for Peace in Eritrea (CPE) is a voluntary association of concerned Eritrean citizens who have come together as a committee for the purpose of studying and disseminating information about the (1998-2000) Ethio-Eritrean conflict and its human consequences.
  1. The Eritreans who are being deported in huge numbers are live in tents until they get settled. The photograph is of those who were camped in Mendefera – Seraye province.
  1. ERA-UK used to launch campaing of collecting money for people displaced by the war. About 600 Eritreans and British friends used to participate –. Up to £8000.00 are used to be collected in a single day from the City of London alone.

Review overview
  • Dave June 26, 2015

    Hmmm, another story of Prof.Legesse.

    While he was lecturing in US he used to brag about Eritreans being smarter than Ethiopians.
    In one of these sessions he ridiculed Ethiopians calling CACIA VITAE(screw driver) – TEBMENJA MEFCHA!
    One participant asked “And what do you call it in Tigrigna ?” He was embarrassed and laughed at!. I dont know what has happened for our aging so called intellectuals. We are ashamed of Dr. Gideon Abay, Dr.Woldeab Issac and now Prof. Legesse is added being an advocate of the most ruthless regime Eritrea had ever saw. I wish to see the time these people held accountable.
    Many thanks to Petros T. and an appreciation from heart

  • Dr zack June 26, 2015

    Nice work. It needs courage for someone to tell the truth. First of all I am glad that you made it out of Eritrea before the paranoid dictator put you in prison for just being sane and speaking your mind. All the people under the dictator have sold their soul and suffer from identity crisis and you cannot expect anything good from them. Under the totalitarian dictator of our country despotism, nepotism and cronyism with a culture that is totally immoral have flourished and replaced the good old distinguished conservative culture of Eritrea. However we will one day get rid of the insane dictator and we need to be positive.

    Thank you

  • Goitom Kuflom July 9, 2015

    It is time now people to take up distance from the crime against humanity. I am so disapointed with our scolars , thanks wedi baatay your solid contrubition non stop for our people.
    Goitom kuflom

  • Berhane Kidane July 9, 2015

    What an interesting article Peter.

    Thank you for remembering some of our Prisoners of Conscience. We should continue to demand freedom and justice for them and for all, tirelessly. You mentioned also the good and honorable works of Prof. Asmerom Legesse. You walked me thru them. Those were huge. It is sad now that he has to become a ghost to them.