A chat with Mike Smith former Chair of the Commission of Inquiry for Eritrea

Adjunct Professor Mike Smith, from Macquarie University's Department of Policing, Intelligence & Counter Terrorism was appointed as Chair of a new commission to investigate alleged human rights violations in Eritrea. Appointed by the President of

Adjunct Professor Mike Smith, from Macquarie University’s Department of Policing, Intelligence & Counter Terrorism was appointed as Chair of a new commission to investigate alleged human rights violations in Eritrea. Appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella, Smith joined a three person commission to investigate all alleged violations of human rights in Eritrea as outlined in the reports of the Special Rapporteur.
Among the violations investigated are those pertaining to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and prison conditions, freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of association and assembly, freedom of religious belief, freedom of movement and forced military conscription

Professor Mike Smith is no longer the chair of the commission, however one of our supporter in Sydney Australia, was able to meet/chat with Mike smith and ask him some questions about the status of the report, the inquiry and other related issues.

Question.

Currently, you are not the chair of the commission of inquiry; at what stage did you leave the inquiry? What do we expect from the commission of inquiry?

 

 Ans. (Mike Smith) 

The Commission of Inquiry (COI) was dissolved as soon as it completed its work by presenting its second report to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in June 2016.  So I have no status anymore in that respect.  However, our reports are documents of the Council that have been endorsed and forwarded to the UN General Assembly so they still have as much relevance today as they did when we published them.

 

Question.

Is there hope for the current human rights rapporteurs to visit Eritrea or have some hopes to get access to observe the human rights situation inside Eritrea?

 

Ans. (Mike Smith) 

There is a Special Rapporteur who continues the work on analysing the human rights situation in Eritrea and reporting periodically to the HRC.  Neither her predecessor, nor the COI were ever permitted to visit Eritrea by the Government in Asmara so I doubt the current Rapporteur has been able to visit.  But you would need to check with her.

 

Question.

Do you believe the human rights violations on Eritreans is reported and documented?

 

Ans. (Mike Smith) 

In its report the COI was only able to record a small sample of the human rights violations occurring in Eritrea, because we were unable to visit the country, interview people in the prisons, review conditions at Sawa and other camps and so on.  So no, I do not think more than a fraction of the abuses that are happening there are being reported.

 

Question.

What is the relevance of the report published on 2016 in the current climate in Eritrea and the region?

 

Ans. (Mike Smith) 

As I said in my reply to question 1, the reports of the COI are as relevant today as they were in 2015 and 2016 and the recommendations should be implemented, particularly those directed to the Government of Eritrea.

 

Question.

How was the confidence and openness of the victims when they were telling their story? Were they afraid of retribution from the ruling party?

 

Ans. (Mike Smith) 

The witnesses we interviewed for our report were almost all quite concerned about possible retribution against them or their families still in Eritrea.  So in many cases we were careful to conceal their specific identities.  But at the same time they were determined to tell their stories so that people outside the country could understand how bad things were there.  Many showed a lot of courage in speaking so openly of their experiences.

 

Question.

From your experience how grieve do you see the situation in Eritrea as compared to other countries?

 

Ans. (Mike Smith) 

It is hard to make comparisons between countries.  But the situation in Eritrea, particularly the complete absence of rule of law; the system of sometimes unending national service; the widespread use of arbitrary arrest and torture to intimidate opponents; the serious limitations on people’s right to worship as they wish; and the total absence of a free press or a right to speak freely, is particularly grave.

 

Question.

Do you think UN and AU will refer the case to International Criminal Court (ICC)? I mean send the leader Isayas Afewrki and his colleagues to face International criminal Court. Are there issues need to be sorted out for this to happen?

 

Ans. (Mike Smith) 

In the absence of a country’s acceptance of the International Criminal Court Statute, it would require a referral by the UN Security Council to get the leadership of Eritrea before the Court.  At this stage, this has not happened but theoretically, it could in the future.

 

Question.

If those who committed all those crimes are not referred to criminal court(s), can we say, the report or the document is wasted?

 

Ans. (Mike Smith) 

Even in the absence of referrals to the ICC, the COI report is not wasted.  Firstly it is a public document that informs the world about what is happening in Eritrea.  Secondly it records the testaments of many victims so they can feel that at least their stories have been told.  And the detailed evidence of crimes committed by particular individuals, is held securely by the UN and would be available in the future for any court or tribunal that was in a position to re-open the cases.  That could even be a court of law in Eritrea some time in the future.

 

Question.

You may have heard that recently the UN human rights council appointed Eritrean government to the UN human rights counsel. How can they appoint governments like Eritrea, with record of serious human rights abuse, allowed to be a member of the counsel?

 

Ans. (Mike Smith) 

Eritrea was recently elected as a member of the HRC as a result of being on the ‘slate’ of candidates from Africa.  That group shares candidacies for UN bodies between its members and apparently, it was Eritrea’s turn.  The optics of this are not good but it is a result of the electoral system operating in some UN bodies.

 

Question.

As you know, (heard) Ethiopia and Eritrea signed a peace agreement; though it is not clear what they signed, at least the border issue is mentioned. This issue was one of the pretext of the ruling party in Eritrea to continue the prolonged national service, for not implementing the constitution and for not opening the country and freeing the people to live, as they should be. Do you see any hope the ruling party will change its ways and implement reforms?

 

Ans. (Mike Smith) 

Like all people interested in Eritrea, I was delighted to hear of the peace treaty being finally signed between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  This put an end to the ‘no war, no peace’ situation that the Eritrean government has used as a justification for its use of indefinite national service as a cornerstone of its national security policy, as well as to excuse its other human rights abuses.  I have been deeply disappointed that notwithstanding the re-establishment of positive relations between the two neighbouring countries, there has been no discernible change to the core policies that are at the root of the institutionalized violation of individual rights in Eritrea.  I sincerely hope however, that the Government will see the light and begin the process of legal and social reform that would see Eritrea return to a more normal path.

 

Question.

What do you advice the people inside as well as outside Eritrea to do, to tackle the human rights violations by the ruling party and to prevent from similar thing happening in the future?

 

 Ans. (Mike Smith) 

I am not in a position to offer advice to Eritreans about what to do. That is for them to consider and decide.

 

Finally, I like to thank you on behalf all the victims and the Eritrean people for giving us your valuable time and answering our questions.

aseye.asena@gmail.com

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6 COMMENTS
  • Gedamu May 21, 2019

    Mr M.Smith may have improved his retirement pension a bit better but didn’t harm the Eritrean regime at all.

    • Michael Tesfamariam May 21, 2019

      Right, in fact this man and his colleagues who seeved to write a report about Human Rights situation in Eritrea back in 2015/2016 were part of the European political project who have been using a dirty trick to fool the so called justice seekers and decriminalise the regime of Issais and his henchmen.
      The very institution that spent millions of dollars to this men and their useless report has now. completely vindicated Isaais and his regime, changed its.perception and attitude about the previously documented human rights abuses in Eritrea just because Taff and GeSeo began to flow to the economically desperate people in Eritrea. The.EU is prepared to conduct a lavish and expensive conference empower Isaais and this.little neo Derg Shek Aby Ahmed. This is disgrace!

      • Dawit May 22, 2019

        Brother Michael, well said and great observation.
        But, can’t we grow our own quality and in big quantity of Taff and Geso? As you know we can always import foreign labour from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Fillipions! And are you by any chance invited to the lavish and expensive conference conducted by EU?

  • rezen May 21, 2019

    QUOTE: “Question. “What do you advice the people inside as well as outside Eritrea to do, to tackle the human rights violations by the ruling party and to prevent from similar thing happening in the future?
    Ans. (Mike Smith)
    I am not in a position to offer advice to Eritreans about what to do. That is for them to consider and decide.” UNQUOTE.

    That is the most truthful answer — a credit to Professor Mike Smith. And at the end of the DAY, we Eritreans are left on our own to save our Eritrea by our selves. There is no any other way. We have to face at ourselves ; recognize our weakness; accept our faults with dignity; and be bold enough to say A SPADE is A SPADE. Eighty to Ninety ‘liberation groups’ will NEVER make Eritrea FREE.

  • Hailu May 22, 2019

    We Eritreans need to see a big picture and understand how the world politics is
    We should respect people liek Mike Smith.

    He is appointed by UN and he can not make much favor to the victims and do more damage to the abusers. It is not his task or mandate.

    His mandate is to collect and report as they are and suggest a way forward.

    So Eritreans need to be wise in handling the sistuations.

    What we Eritreans are missing is

    instead of educating our families, wives, children we prefer to blame others
    like UN, UNHRC, US, EU etc.

    Let us come to our senses and accuse ourselves for not educating our fellow Eritreans to have strong values and stand on the right path.

    While more people in the diaspora are supporting the regime in Asmara, we cannot expect the outside world to understand our situation.

    • Dawit May 22, 2019

      Mr Hailu, what solutions do you offer then? We hope you are NOT considering of joining the more people in the diaspora who support the regime in Asmara!
      And please enlighten us on how we educate our families, wives and children?
      Furthermore, Eritreans back home can’t see your big pictures or any lights at the end of tunnel.

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