Eritrea’s efforts to lift sanctions: a mockery without changes in policy or behavior

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Eritrea has recently engaged in a heightened diplomatic spree to lift UN sanctions. Eritrean diplomats have been making high-sounding talks about their country’s desire to uphold peace in the region, and to form strong ties with other states.  They have been publicly claiming they want to rejoin the regional body IGAD. This same government that called IGAD a stooge organization only a few years ago in 2007 is now seeking to rejoin the regional body.  A government that is still bent on destabilizing the region is seeking an end to its isolation. In fact, the calculated aim of all these diplomatic efforts is to assist in their mission of bringing an end to the sanctions regime. At the same time, the entire exercise is being conducted on a purely tactical level, manifest in diplomatic niceties but without any substantive behavioral changes, or alterations in policy.

It is public knowledge that the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea for inimical acts which threatened international peace. The sanctions imposed in 2009, under UN Resolution 1907, were imposed because Eritrea was “providing support to the armed groups engaged in destabilization activities in Somalia and undermining the peace and reconciliation efforts as well as regional stability.”  The whole range of sanctions, including an arms embargo, the freezing of assets and a travel ban on selected individuals, were imposed on Eritrea for its support to the Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist organization, Al Shabaab, and other armed groups. The other major reason for sanctions was related to the border dispute with Djibouti and Eritrea’s total rejection of all calls for negotiation over its unprovoked attack and invasion of Djibouti territory. As the behaviour of the Eritrean regime worsened, as fully reported in the UN Monitoring Group successive reports on Somalia and Eritrea, the Security Council tightened the sanctions to include among other things both coverage of Eritrea's extortion of a 2% tax from members of the Eritrean Diaspora, the so-called Diaspora Tax, and introduction of due diligence reports to avert possible misuse of the resources from the country's extractive industries.

These and all other evidence make it quite clear that the Government of Eritrea has never made any behavioural changes to warrant the lifting of sanctions. It has continued to harbor, finance, and train as well as offer logistical support to rebel forces of neighboring countries. Evidence demonstrating the belligerent nature of the regime has never been in short supply. Resolution 2023 provided details of the failed plot to bomb African Union Summit in January 2011 carried out by proxies of the Eritrean government. In April 2012, the Eritrean Government abducted over 100 traditional gold miners from the north western area of Ethiopia along the border with Eritrea. It also orchestrated the killing of tourists in the Afar Regional State. Ethiopia's security apparatus has also foiled several other attempts to carry out cross-border attacks and plots. They all evidence the contempt of the Eritrean Government for any ideas of good neighbourliness or of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries.

Furthermore, Eritrea has never made any effort to stop its support for Al-Shabaab and other spoiler networks in Southern Somalia, the raison d'être for the original imposition of UN sanctions. In the striking conclusion of its July 2013 Report, the UN Monitoring Group said “the Monitoring Group has obtained evidence of Eritrea’s support for individuals within this network, in particular to agents and collaborators of Al-Shabaab. As such, Eritrea’s cultivation of these individuals as agents of influence, while purporting to be an act of support to the Federal Government of Somalia, in fact constitutes a threat to peace and security in Somalia. It is also an impediment to the normalization of relations between the Federal Government and its IGAD partners. “

Eritrea’s continued manipulative interference in Southern Somalia, aimed to take advantage of clan and ethnic divisions, is a testimony to its brazen lawlessness. There has been no evidence of any change of behaviour in the form of abiding by the accepted norms of international law. Eritrea has consistently shown its disrespect to Somalia’s peace efforts, rejecting the Djibouti process and repeatedly trying to undermine the Transitional Federal Government. The repeated calls for release of Djibouti prisoners, taken after Eritrea's aggression against Djibouti, made in the UN Security Council Resolutions 1844 and 2023, have fallen on deaf ears in Asmara. This reinforces the view that any plea for the lifting of sanctions can only be seen as a mockery of justice and international law. Equally, the UN Monitoring Group‘s reports clearly reveal that the only thing consistent in Eritrea’s behaviour is the way its destabilizing mission in the IGAD region has continued throughout the period of the sanctions' regime. Nor is it anything new to hear allegations that the Government of Eritrea's destabilizing role has gone well beyond the IGAD region, to reach into the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.

The motives behind the current diplomatic manoeuvres and efforts to lift sanctions are not hard to see. The behaviour of Asmara makes it clear to any unbiased or neutral observer that the regime's understanding of the rules of the game of international relations is both perverse and quite simply wrong. A government which has persistently created stumbling blocs to all IGAD initiatives in Somalia, in particular, cannot also claim to have any genuine interest in re-joining the organization. The aim is very different: to try to weaken IGAD which has repeatedly taken firm stand against the deliberate manipulations and sinister activities of the regime in Asmara. Its motive is quite clearly nothing else than an effort to divide and weaken the regional block coherence, to try to gain support for its own continued aim of regional destabilization. Any demand by Eritrea to rejoin IGAD must be firmly challenged. It can only be even considered if it is accompanied by a genuine change of behaviour with clear evidence of an abandonment of its mission of destabilization and an end to support for and indeed its 'marriage' with terrorist outfits.

More specifically, the recent talk of mending Ethio-Eritrean relations, the subject of discussion by some sympathizers of Eritrea, also seems detached from reality. It is based on false assumptions about the regime in Asmara which, in reality, has repeatedly made it very clear it is opposed to any form of dialogue. The call for the lifting of sanctions is out of synchronization with any reality on the ground. The suggestion for a symbolic handover of land, followed by resumption of talks a few hours later in the afternoon are no more than a simple parroting of Eritrea’s own position. Its simplistic understanding of the matter is evident from the way it ignores the belligerence of the Eritrean Government and its continued efforts to destabilize both the region and Ethiopia. In fact, as Ethiopia’s comprehensive five-point peace plan, issued in 2004, clearly indicated Ethiopia's acceptance of the Ethio-Eritrea Border Commission's ruling and underlined its calls for dialogue to its implementation and induce the normalization of relations, the settlement of compensation issues, along with cessation of hostilities. However, the call for peace has been consistently ignored by Asmara despite all attempts to persuade it to listen to sense.  All these recent efforts to call for improved relations clearly fall short of any realistic or genuine understanding of the problem, and at best do no more than make a lopsided effort to push the Eritrean agenda with no reflection of reality.

All the evidence shows that Eritrea is continuing to negate regional peace efforts, consistently making alliances with spoiler groups in Somalia and elsewhere. Its hurried efforts to try to dupe both outgoing and now the incoming members of the UN Security Council are a futile attempt to whitewash an extensive, continuing and depressing record of regional, and wider, destabilization. The Security Council needs to be wary of the deceptions of the Eritrean Government, and indeed, unless Eritrea can produce convincing evidence that it has left its dangerous activities behind, it needs to consider ways to tighten sanctions and provide more serious follow-up to the mechanisms of diligence already imposed. (MoFA)

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