Eritrea Focus Newsletter
Tuesday 18 July 2017 Eritrea Focus successfully organises an anti-slavery event outside the Chelsea Flower Show In early May, Eritrea Focus and Freedom United met with M & G Executive Officers. M & G is the largest
Tuesday 18 July 2017
Eritrea Focus successfully organises an anti-slavery event outside the Chelsea Flower Show
In early May, Eritrea Focus and Freedom United met with M & G Executive Officers. M & G is the largest stakeholder (12%) in Nevsun Resources Ltd. The meeting was to explain to the officers the current political situation in Eritrea and why companies should desist from investing in the Country. The meeting was productive and the parties agreed to engage to meet as and when necessary. M & G subsequently issued a Corporate Responsible Investment Statement which can be found here.
Following the M & G Meeting, Eritrea Focus and Freedom United organised a successful anti-slavery campaign outside the Chelsea Flower Show (which is sponsored by M & G), in London, on 23 and 27 May 2017, the opening and closing days. The event was captured by Assenna and can be found here.
On 15 May 2017, Eritrea Focus and Freedom United wrote a joint letter to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), the organisers of the Chelsea Flower Show, to draw their attention to M & G Investments’ involvement in Nevsun Resources Ltd (Nevsun) which operates the Bisha mine in Eritrea. Specifically, we asked RHS to “support our call on the Chelsea Flower Show’s sponsor, M & G Investments, to divest from Nevsun”. We also advised RHS of our plans to hand out leaflets and stickers outside the venue to raise public awareness of the endemic forced labour in Eritrea which is financed by institutions such as M & G.
Investment in Eritrea’s mining industry is an area of concern for Eritrea Focus, and we are working with War on Want are to produce an in depth report on Eritrea’s extractive sector. A brief overview of the forthcoming report can be found here.
The protest drew the public’s attention to the human rights abuses in Eritrea helped raise Eritrea Focus’ profile as a leader in campaigning for the rights of Eritreans. Eritrea Focus looks forward to organising further protests in partnership with like-minded organisations.
Human Rights Council extends mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea
On Friday 23rd June the Human Rights Council voted to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea for a period of one year. The resolution also called upon the Government of Eritrea to consider allowing the establishment of a presence of the Office of the High Commissioner in Eritrea with a holistic mandate to protect, promote and monitor human rights with unhindered access.
The resolution comes after the Eritrean Government has repeatedly refused to cooperate with the UN regrading human rights. A recent report by the Special Rapporteur, Sheila B. Keetharuth, stated:
‘I regret to report that, as of now, the Government has made no effort to end ongoing human rights violations, which the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea described as amounting to crimes against humanity.’
The refusal of any cooperation over human rights is not new. The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea faced the same restrictions and were not allowed to enter the country to observe the human rights situation. To date, the Eritrean regime has failed to implement any of the recommendations put forward by the Commission.
Sheila B. Keetharuth, who has served as the Special Rapporteur since 2012, will continue to collect evidence and provide recommendations to improve the human rights situation in Eritrea. In a recent statement made by the UK mission to the UN, the UK government expressed support for the role of the Special Rapporteur.
‘The UK shares the Special Rapporteur’s concerns about the plight of Eritrean refugees, and will continue to work with the EU and regional partners in this regard.’
With the continued reluctance of the regime to grant access to human rights observers, it is important that the role of the Special Rapporteur is maintained. Earlier this month Eritrea Focus, as part of a wider group of human rights institutions, signed a letter addressed to the Human Rights Council calling for the Special Rapporteur’s mandate to be extended. In light of the extended mandate Eritrea Focus will continue to support the work of the Special Rapporteur.
UN Security Council urges Eritrea and Djibouti to end border dispute
On 16 June, Djibouti accused neighbouring Eritrea of moving troops to occupy the Dumeira mountain area shortly after 450 Qatari peacekeepers left last month, and lodged a formal complaint with the African Union. Since the beginning of June Qatar has been caught up in a diplomatic row with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. This has led to a rapid withdrawal of Qatari troops.
Qatar has acted as a mediator in the area since 2010, after clashes broke out in 2008 over a border dispute. The dispute triggered several days of fighting in which a dozen Djiboutian troops died and dozens more were wounded. Eritrea had initially denied making any incursions, accusing Djibouti of launching unprovoked attacks.
The UN Security Council requested both sides withdraw, before the neighbours accepted a Qatari request to mediate and deploy peacekeepers. However, the hasty withdrawal of Qatari peacekeepers has demonstrated how quickly tensions can flare in the region with the movement of Eritrean troops.
In response to Djibouti’s complaint, the AU announced it would be sending a fact finding mission to the border and appealed for calm. The African Union Commission’s Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat stated “The AU Commission, in close consultations with the authorities in Djibouti and Eritrea, is in the process of deploying a fact-finding mission to the Djibouti-Eritrea border,”.
The UN Security Council has welcomed the decision by the African Union and would also welcome “the consideration of future confidence-building measures” and will continue to follow the situation closely.
The quick flare of tensions in the area has demonstrated how the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf has wider impacts on the Horn of Africa. Without a stabilising presence at the long disputed Eritrean-Djibouti border, many fear we could be moving towards a period of uncertainty in the Horn.
Who are Eritrea’s Foreign Friends?
Last month Martin Plaut published an article highlighting the foreign ‘cheerleaders’ of the Eritrean regime. The article pin points four main supporters of the regime that seek to undermine the Commission of Inquiry’s findings of crimes against humanity.
Plaut article states that there are individuals seeking to make a profit from the Eritrean government on the basis that they act as advocates abroad in an attempt to legitimise the regime. Eritrea’s mining industry has become hugely profitable and companies operating in Eritrea have sought to promote Eritrea as an acceptable place to do business.
One such company is Nevsun Resources, a mining company that part owns the Bisha mine in Eritrea. In order to publicise the work of Nevsun Resources the mining company has hired Ruby Sandhu, a British lawyer and consultant.
Ruby Sandhu has gone out of her way to argue that Eritrea is misunderstood, and that critics of the regime are misguided. In a discussion at the Overseas Development Institute – Britain’s top development think-tank – she argued that it was necessary to adopt a new approach and to “engage in a manner that is constructive.”
In 2014 Solicitors International Human Rights Group (SIHRG), of which Ms Sandhu is Vice Chair, produced a report titled “Eritrea through the lens of Business Ethics and Sustainability”. The report justified the 2% diaspora tax and the forced labour that the Eritrean government has been accused of using in the mining sector. Eritrea Focus responded in May 2015 to SIHRG’s biased and ill-informed report in a lengthy paper highlighting its inaccuracies.
In the US, Bronwyn Bruton, deputy director of the Africa Center which is run by the US think tank, the Atlantic Council – another beneficiary of Nevsun’s largess, has appeared on panels organised by the youth wing of Eritrea’s ruling party, the YPFDJ. Ms Bruton has stated her support for the Eritrean regime in her article for the New York Times entitled: ‘It’s bad in Eritrea, but not that bad’. Ms Bruton has consistently sought to undermine the findings of the COIE by denying there is a shoot to kill policy, despite the numerous testimonies gathered by the inquiry “The COIE’s claim that Eritrea maintains a “shoot to kill” policy on the border is an especially egregious example—I’ve never heard of any meaningful evidence that would support that claim,”.
These ‘friends’ are not without influence. In their professional capacities, Ruby Sandhu (in the UK) and Bronwyn Bruton (in the USA) have received funding from Nevsun Resources, a company which clearly believes they need to, and can, polish their international image. Ms Bruton has given evidence to Congress, while Ms Sandhu has spoken in the British Parliament. Ms Bruton has been referenced in the media as a serious commentator.
It is imperative that paid promoters are held to account, especially when they question the legitimate findings of the COIE. Eritrea Focus will continue to bring to light the international funding that goes into supporting the Eritrean regime’s international public relations machine.
Italy threatens to close ports to humanitarian refugee rescue ships as the number of arrivals rapidly climbs
The Italian government is considering blocking boats carrying migrants from landing at its ports after nearly 11,000 refugees arrived on its shores in five days. Italy is the first destination for migrants being smuggled out of Libya and the government has warned that refugee facilities have reached “saturation point” in the ongoing crisis.
Charities have reported that the number of arrivals is reaching unprecedented levels and the flow shows no signs of slowing down.
“In recent years, smugglers often launched a massive number of boats all at the same time, but this year we are witnessing levels never registered before in short periods of time,” said Frontex’s executive director, Fabrice Leggeri.
Italian government officials are concerned that as the peak summer season continues, arrivals will continue at an uncontrolled rate. All off those rescued of the Libya coast are brought straight to Italy, often by private charities.
There have been reports that Italy’s ambassador to the EU, Maurizio Massari, raised the issue formally with the European commission, seeking permission to revise its EU asylum procedure. Whilst Italy received over 200,000 migrants last year, its European neighbours have been tightening their borders to prevent migrants from moving north. EU partners such as Poland and Hungary have refused to host asylum-seekers to ease the burden on Italy and Greece.
In 2015, Eritrean migrants constituted the largest group of sea arrivals had therecord for sea arrivals of migrants and refugees in Italy. UNHCR estimates there were about 40,000, roughly the same number as 2014. Although numbers have reduced, Italy still remains an important gateway to Europe for many Eritreans seeking to flee their home country. The closing of Italian ports to refugees could see thousands of Eritreans stuck in Libya with no chance of reaching Europe.
The increase in arrivals has put significant strain on the political situation in Italy, leading to an intense debate over whether NGOs waiting off the coast of Libya are acting as an incentive for people-smugglers. There is now significant pressure on the EU to come up with a solution, whether it means more funding for Italy or a redirection of refugees off the coast of Libya.