July 18, Nelson Mandela Day: Assessing Prisoners’ Mistreatments
A country’s respect for human dignity is judged by how it treats its prisoners. Like they say, two wrongs don’t make a right, so also wrong-doing to a law-breaker doesn’t make any right. Even if
A country’s respect for human dignity is judged by how it treats its prisoners. Like they say, two wrongs don’t make a right, so also wrong-doing to a law-breaker doesn’t make any right. Even if the prisoners were animals, it doesn’t give the captor any right to abuse at will. The prisoners, as human beings, are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity.
July 18 is Nelson Mandela’s day. The day is about stopping abuse of power and enforcing rule of law to do the right thing in treating well all the prisoners. There is no good governance without improving the living conditions of the prisoners. Indeed, the cries and the screams of the prisoners are calls for attention to their pains and sufferings from the prison’s overcrowding and solitary confinements.
July 18, as a day of assessing the prisoners’ living conditions, all countries are called upon to discard cruel and inhuman treatment methods and tools that are detrimental to the wellbeing of the prisoners. Without attention to details of the prisoners’ cries and screams there cannot be a focused improvement of the way the prison is run and mistreatment of prisoners is prevented. Countries that lack resources to provide humane treatment of their prisoners should be helped with the needed resources in order for them to treat their prisoners with dignity and respect, which include the rights to medical treatment, family visitation and all forms of communication with friends, lawyers, and reporters.
In observance of the day, all countries should ensure that all prison-mechanisms are in place. Prisoners should be held only in officially recognized and known prisons to the people. If there is no valid reason or order to hold an individual, the person should let go free because s/he does not meet the required elements of correction houses to be imprisoned. And, if the individual is charged with an offence, family members should have the right to know the date, place and reason of imprisonment. Systematic mistreatment and disappearance should not be allowed. Prisoners should have the right to keep in touch and keep their family members informed about their whereabouts.
The prisoners’ basic human rights include adequate accommodation, decent food, continuation of education, access to healthcare, and fundamental freedom with the right to express feelings and pains. Basic rights, as rights to self-respect and inherent human dignity, include access to sanitation, water supplies and clean toilets.
The day is about remembrance of the brutal prison life of the late Nelson Mandela who was released from prison in February of 1990. He came out of the prison without conditions after 27 years, dignified and respected despite the mistreatment and the slight damage he suffered to one of his eyes due to excessive lights and not darkness. He did not die behind the apartheid prison bars in an island where he spent 18 years out of the 27 prison years, confined to a small cell. However, in the island, he was allowed one visitor a year for 30 minutes with rights to write and receive letter(s) every six months during the 18 years of his prison term.
The day, July 18, as the birth day of the late Nelson Mandela was declared by the UN in 2009 as the Nelson Mandela day. And, in honor of him, the UN on October 7, 2015, declared its revised Standard Rules for the treatment of prisoners as the “Nelson Mandela Rules” on treating prisoners. In line with the UN revised Standard Rules for the treatment of prisoners, many countries assess their treatment of prisoners in an effort to avoid mistreatments. Prisons that subject prisoners to minimum equal or worse mistreatments than that of the apartheid mistreatment are said to be savage prisons and savage treatments. The lower a country goes in the scale of improving prison conditions the more it suffers from world isolation bitterly and comes under increasing scrutiny of UN for its grave human rights violations.
Mistreatment of Prisoners in Eritrea Gives the UN’s COIE More Ammunitions
Either out of fear or shame the tyrant does not want to open his prisons to the UN investigations. The roar of fear here is not that the tyrant is unwilling to comply. The tyrant is indeed shocked by shame to allow the world to know how he is mistreating his life-long comrades G-15 and other ex-fighters in his underground prisons.
Many think it is easier to admit the shame, learn and move on rather than letting the unhealthy shame destroy the whole country by the UN’s embargo. Others sense that the shame that goes along with admitting the horrible mistreatment of the prisoners may lead to unforeseeable consequences and that is what the tyrant afraid from. Those pro-tyrant Eritrean Diasporas with criminal minds are in support of the tyrant to remain silenced by shame because they know there is no pride from the shame of falsely imprisoning comrades, the elderly, mothers, fathers, the youth and exposing them to cruel prison punishments and mistreatments.
Nothing can be more disgraceful to the liberated Eritrea than seeing many of the founding fathers and veteran freedom fighters languishing in underground prisons without any reason. The tyrant disarmed Eritreans to bring them under his control. Imprisonments of the Eritrean people take many forms including restriction of movements, deprivation of all basic rights, emptying their wealth and exposing them to starvation besides mass incarceration of veteran fighters and the youth.
No one expected such ugly fate after independence, earning the country the North Korea of Africa. Eritreans fought to found a nation free from injustice suffocation. The late Dr. Petros Habtemikael of Asmara University is remembered for clearly explaining that the black or African colonization was worse than the white or European colonization. For saying that in a class to his students, he was the first person to be killed in 1975 by the Derg AffaN with electric wire. He was murdered by electron-cutting using electric wire around his neck just for daring to compare the black (Ethiopian) colonization to the European colonization. Although the late professor believed that he could speak his mind without the fear of retribution under the right of free speech on campus, the Derg AffaN decided to silence him by electron-cutting death.
All Eritreans like the late Dr. Petros never expected their liberators to turn into oppressors becoming the new conquerors of the land and its people. Let’s look at how Eritreans inside and outside the tyrant’s prisons are mistreated equally. Parents even aged 60-69, with entry visas from embassies to attend their children’s weddings, are angered by the regime’s refusal to grant them exist visa. The most unacceptable is that many a young mother with advanced cancer incurable locally are seen to easily obtain from embassies entry visas for medical/surgical treatment abroad fully paid by relatives living abroad, while the regime refuses to grant them the needed exit visa. As a result, the sick mother suffers from the fast spreading cancer while the family members are forced to watch the mother in continuous pain giving up her battle with the spreading cancer.
By comparison the political prisoners are in a better position. Unquestionably, in a land where there is no written law, the Eritrean political prisoners are dragged into prisons not because they violated any known law but because their silence is a threat to the tyrant. Popularity is also considered a threat and accordingly, people with wide popularities are arrested to become incommunicado political prisoners. However, the political prisoners appear to be better souled within the prison walls than live humiliated under the tyrant’s rule outside the prisons.
Just like in the western world, many a one becomes homeless in order to avoid paying rents and taxes. So also, in Eritrea most of the political prisoners like to remain in prison because they feel unfollowed inside the prison and enjoy their free speech inside their cells of prison. The unfortunate thing about a day when they would walk out of prison free is that unlike the independence struggle days there is no a force that could liberate them free from the prisons of the tyrant. Neither the tyrant will release them free so long he is imprisoned by his political ignorance in that he believes that any political prisoner released is a threat to him because that is how the late Nelson Mandela was freed to become the president.
Mistreatments Denial or Refusal to Screening Mistreatments
By now the tyrant knows what triggers the UN’s COIE screening. Prevention of the conflict with the UN and the International Community in the event of the warning signs necessitates compliance with the COIE’s provided mechanism to resolve the conflict by stopping mistreatment of the prisoners. As the other accused countries did in the past, sometimes it is necessary to disclose the weaknesses in prison management and the missing tools needed to implement the required UN mechanisms.
The UN will not back-off so long there is no compliance. The tyrant’s finger pointing at some nations as the ones behind the demand for the compliance is also compounding the case to the level of regime change by force. The USA and its allies are just concerned about the wellbeing of the people who are daily abused and forced to flee. And, the neighboring countries that are under heavy pressure from the Eritrean-refugee flow are saying they failed to understand the regime but came to know from the refugees that the excessive abuse of power by the regime to adjust the people to his tyranny totally killed the people’s desire to fight back for their rights and dignities.
The UN’s tyranny-control model includes screening to eliminate prisoners’ mistreatment and to stop conscription at gunpoint. If there is a forced conscription at gunpoint, the UN believes there must be conscripts patrols to control, return and punish the runaway conscripts. The UN’s COIE infers that the combined abuse of prison mistreatment and the endless conscription are the cause for ‘no peace, no tranquility’ defeating the regime’s claim of ‘no peace, no war’ as the cause for the daily flow of the Eritrean refugees.
Lately, the regime’s rigid monetary policy and stricter banking regulations to control the people through starvation besides the pre-existing means of depriving the people of dignified life, children, and property are considered as more recipes for more UN intervention. The regime cannot deny the clear signs of abuse of power. The UN’s COIE with more engagement has come to know that the regime was founded in secrecy and continued to be deep-rooted in tyranny to protect its secrets.
What the tyrant is missing is that like he punishes his subjects if they don’t comply, so also the UN will not back-off if he does not comply. The tyrant’s government has the choice of withdrawing and leaving the UN if it doesn’t want to comply as the case with what his subjects in they if they don’t want to comply; they just have to leave and flee the country. Otherwise, so long the membership is retained; the UN will keep escalating its demands to hasten the intentional delay to comply.
The tyrant is trying to escape compliance by using his Diaspora supporters to attack the credibility of the refugees and those in the tyrant’s prisons. The UN and the tyrant’s standoff are thus based on both sides’ claims that there is exaggeration in the accusation and counter-accusation. The UN responded by expressing its willingness to conduct open and clean screening, while the tyrant has kept trying to escape accountability by using the silence of the Eritreans inside Eritrea as his defense.
What the tyrant is missing that the UN believes that the silence of the people is as a result of unequal relationship between the master and the slaves. In this regard, the prisoners’ mistreatment and conscription at gunpoint are considered as measures of cowing the local people into silence.
The tyrant, in turn, invited in some friendly journalists to reinforce his claim that Eritrea is one of the most peaceful and stable countries in the world. The UN appears to hint that many countries that used Draconian Laws were also able to silence their people by torturing and curbing their rights until they agreed to investigation and screening. As the result of the investigation and screening those countries were helped to improve their governance. Therefore, why not the Eritrean tyrant opens the country to UN’s COIE investigation and get the needed help rather than be isolated and condemned to various embargoes?
Neither side wants to pull the trigger first, given the tyrant has ammunitions of choice to comply and the UN has ammunitions to demand immediate screening. After the cases against the tyrant were reported, the collected material-evidences and testimonies were used to develop theories on how to identify and track down crimes committed and mistreatment in prisons. Now, it is up to the tyrant to be accessible and allow the investigations. Otherwise, there is no reason for the tyrant to complain that the world is converging on the side of Ethiopia or Djibouti against him because the west hates him.
The only way out is conformity with the human rights obligations as a member state of the UN by agreeing to implement the UN’s suggested measures to improve the country’s human rights performance. The continued non-compliance will obligate the International community to intervene to save the people from the excessive abuse of power. Lesson learned can help to discern where the standoffish is heading to. The world saw the outcome of the late Gadhafi’s tendencies to underestimate the ability of his people and how that forced some countries to feel obligated to save Libyans from the Gadhafi’s tyranny. Gadhafi’s standoffishness boiled down to transferring Libya from the most peaceful and stable country in the world to the most dangerous and unstable country in the world. The Eritrean tyrant, knowing what he already knows from Gadhafi’s adventurous approaches, should remove the blinders on his eyes, wake up and stop acts of defiance, daring the International Community to come and get him. The tyrant by now should know that when the powers of the International Community come in, they first destroy the country and kill many innocents “under collateral damage” before letting the victims of the tyranny eat their tyrant alive.
In Celebration of Nelson Mandela Day