European Union Sued for Not Responding to Eritrea’s Rights Violations

By Robert Johnson

BRUSSELS (IDN) — The Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans, a Netherlands based organization, has decided to sue the European Union and international bodies for failing to respond to human rights abuses by the Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki and his associates.

At the press conference on May 10, the Foundation’s lawyer, Emiel Jurjens from Kennedy van der Laan made the announcement of legal action by the Foundation on the Responsibility of Eritrea for Grave Human Rights Violations, the details of which can be found here.

The Foundation compares the rapid and justified response of the European Union to Russia for the conflict in Ukraine, by way of undertaking far-reaching sanctions, and maintains that Eritrea’s grave rights violations have been documented and tantamount to committing war crimes in the neighbouring region of Tigray.

The announcement of an investigation into the legal action is very timely, says Klara Smits, a researcher at the Tilburg University, specializing in the Horn of Africa. She pointed out that since November 2020, a war has been raging in Ethiopia against the Tigray region.

Although it has been characterised as a civil war, Eritrean troops have been heavily involved. Rather than an isolated incident, this involvement constitutes a continuation of a spoiler role that Eritrea has played in the region. This fits into its strategy of exercising control beyond its borders – this includes the sending of its troops into conflicts abroad in a mercenary-like fashion; it also includes control over the Eritrean refugees abroad.

She adds: Eritrea is not doing this alone. On April 27, Foreign Minister of the State of Eritrea Osman Saleh paid a visit to Moscow. There, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed Russia’s interest to build a logistics hub along Eritrea’s coastline. Eritrea was the only African country that voted with Russia in the UN resolution to end Russia’s military action in Ukraine. “The close relations between the two countries are an established fact. Especially since 2018, Russia has cooperated with Eritrea on economic and other issues.”

In a detailed note, she goes on to say:

“Eritrea also follows Russia in other things, notably its destabilization model. Most recently, this has been clearly visible in Tigray, where Eritrean troops have been widely documented committing crimes against civilians, including execution of civilians, rape, and looting.

There are indications that the Eritreans are also taking a key role in the intelligence structure of Ethiopia. This destabilization contributes, among others, to the mass displacement of populations. Eritrean forces have particularly targeted the refugee camps for Eritrean refugees in Tigray, where nearly 100,000 refugees were housed that had fled the human rights abuses and forced indefinite conscription in Eritrea.

There are indications that thousands of those refugees may have been forcibly returned to Eritrea. In addition, many Tigrayans were forced to flee the violence caused, among others, by the Eritrean troops, which consist of Eritreans who were forcibly conscripted.

The displacement caused by destabilization leads among others to forced migratory movements. A number of those refugees move toward Europe. The routes for Eritrean refugees from the Horn are exclusively controlled by high-level human traffickers, who take people to black sites in Libya where they are tortured, and ransom is extorted from them.

Those high-level traffickers are also Eritreans, and researchers are indicating that these traffickers have ties to the highest level of the Eritrean government including President Afewerki. One person, active in opposition to the Eritrean government, even told me that in retaliation, his nephew was directly kidnapped from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to Libya, where he was tortured for ransom.

These examples show that, like Russia, Eritrea is attempting to expand its regional influence and it makes use of similar tactics—mercenaries, disinformation, and violence against civilians—to do so. This impacts Europe directly, among others through the large number of traumatized refugees that make their way across the Mediterranean. Besides, Eritrea aligns itself with other actors who particularly focus on destabilising Europe.

Against this backdrop, she believes it is of importance for the international community, and particularly the European Union, to ensure that the Eritrean government is not supported in these efforts, and that perpetrators of international crimes perpetrated under the authority of Eritrean President Isaias are brought to justice to the full extent of the law and that there is no distinction made between efforts to provide justice for victims of atrocity crimes.”

The Foundation wants the United Nations to

-. Re-instate sanctions against Eritrea, similar to or going further than the sanctions instated by the United States, against key elements of the Eritrean State such as the EDF, PFDJ and its subsidiary bodies, RSTC and the entire leadership cadre of the Eritrean State.

-. Ensure that all organs and agencies of the United Nations do not enter into collaborations with the Eritrean authorities and stop any ongoing collaborations with the Eritrean authorities.

-. Support any ongoing investigations, including any investigation into human rights violations committed in Ethiopia such as the Independent Investigation led by Ms Fatou Bensouda, to the maximum extent.

-. Facilitate the referral of the situation in Eritrea and Tigray to the International Criminal Court by the Security Council.

The International Criminal Court should urgently:

-. Commence an investigation into the situation in Tigray and Eritrea, or alternatively take all necessary steps to be able to commence such an investigation, in particular by asking for State referrals pursuant to Article 14 Rome Statute (and any other steps which may be necessary to establish jurisdiction).

-. Begin proceedings to investigate victim identification and needs pursuant to article 79 Rome Statute.

The European Union is being asked to urgently:

-. Re-instate sanctions against Eritrea, similar to or going further than the sanctions instated by the United States, against key elements of the Eritrean State such as the EDF, PFDJ and its subsidiary bodies, Red Sea Trading Corporation (RSTC) and the entire leadership cadre of the Eritrean State.

-. Stop providing any financial aid to parties in Eritrea which are linked to the Eritrean regime.

-. Stop its financing of parties in Libya and elsewhere, where such financing may lead to enabling the network of human traffickers active in Libya, which include Eritrean State officials on the highest levels. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 May 2022]

Photo: The World Food Programme (WFP) resumed its operations in the Tigray region of Ethiopia after the fighting had halted its emergency response. WFP/Rein Skullerud

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