European and American officials are joining hands with Diaspora Eritrean politicians and activists aimed at ending relentless human rights abuses under a ruthless dictatorship in Eritrea. In a two-day conference beginning tomorrow in Brussels, delegates from the three sides will, among other things, discuss the urgent need to coordinate EU and US policies on Eritrea and the Horn Region.
The meeting is being closely watched by many governments and the world media especially because of Eritrea’s alleged involvement in terror and piracy ridden Somalia. Over a dozen news outlets including Deutsche Welle, BBC and VOA are expected to cover the conference. Michael Abraha had a phone interview Saturday with Abdurahman Sayed, Executive member of Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea (CDRiE) and spokesman for the Eritrean group at the Brussels event. Excerpts:
On the main objectives of the EU Conference:
EEPA (Europe External Policy Advisors) has enumerated the aims of the conference. They include: ensuring voice for the Eritrean Diaspora in policy discussions in building alternative approaches towards democracy in Eritrea; clarifying that EU and US policies on Eritrea originate from the same objectives; and promoting understanding of the danger an illegitimate and un-accountable regime poses to the regional peace and mobilize for a joint solution of common problems in the Horn Region.
Eritrean government reaction to the conference:
There hasn’t been any direct or official Eritrean response or reference to the meeting. However, the Eritrean Ambassador has given an interview to a Belgian News Paper in which he claims that Eritrea is the “best country in Africa”.
The role of Diaspora Eritreans in making the EU conference possible
Our current group, which we refer to as the Brussels Task Force, has been working with EEPA on lobbying EU policy makers for the last year and half. In July 2008 we visited the EU, and had a hearing at EU parliament, met with EU officials where we discussed EU relations with Eritrea and emphasized the need to have effective control mechanisms in place to ensure that the Eritrean people are the real beneficiaries of any development aid, that the Eritrean government is held to account for its record on respect for human rights, and democratization. We also called for release of all prisoners of conscience, and the need to hand over power to an elected body. These demands were in line with the Cotonou Agreement, which governs EU relations with Eritrea.
Criteria used to invite Eritrean panelists to take part in the Brussels conference
Speakers were invited on individual basis depending on individual caliber and performance. This applied to all three sides including the US and EU representatives. On the Eritrean side, professionals like Professor Bereket Habte Selassie, Professor Gaim Kibreab and Dr. Daniel Mekonne were called upon as panelists because of the constitutional and other academic ideals and principles they have been articulating over the years in the service of the Eritrean cause. Woldeyessus Ammar is invited to address the gathering as a political leader, prolific writer and veteran journalist, well-versed in international affairs and diplomatic relations. Committed to the objectives of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA), Ammar is also Chairman of the Joint Leadership Committee of three major parties within EDA. Other speakers were invited because of their civic activities or human rights advocacy work. Our only motive is to make the best contribution at this crucial EU conference. This is the first Eritrea centered conference of its kind and we want to give the best performance on behalf of the Eritrean case. Nobody had the intention to promote any particular agenda or any particular individual or political or social group. EDA or any other entity or individual should feel left out.
The regime’s preconditions – such as the resolution of its border disputes – before it can allow democratization and begin to respect human rights
We believe the border issue should be seen separate from Democracy and democratization. The PFDJ regime may use the border or any other issue as a pretext to prolong their illegitimate grip on power. But we are clear as Eritrean human and political rights activists that the issue of Human and Political rights should and must not be subjected to any conditions. We are also clear that the border and other issue of conflicts should be resolved by peaceful means. The EU is obliged by the Cotonou Agreement to emphasize to the Eritrea authorities the need to respect human and political rights of the Eritrean people without any pre-conditions.