20 June 2019
The closure of the Roman Catholic health centres on 12 June 2019 endangers Eritrean lives
Africa news and the BBC, amongst other news outlets, reported the closure of the health facilities run by the Catholic Church in Eritrea. The Eritrean Government is yet to respond to the stern criticism by the Roman Catholic Church protesting the forced closure of its health facilities in Eritrea.
The Catholic Church in Eritrea issued a strongly worded letter in which it accuses the government of being lawless. The letter bemoaned the forced dismissal of patients and the intimidation of health workers by the soldiers who subsequently took possession of the centres.
By closing the health centres, Isaias has yet again showed the world his total disregard for the wellbeing of the Eritrean people, the rule of law and international norms. Eritrea has become a wild west where the life and death of its citizens is in the hands of one man, Isaias.
Eritrea Focus encourages and supports a world-wide demonstration against this unwarranted and unprovoked attack by the government that endangers the wellbeing of the Eritrean people. This cowedly act proves beyond doubt that Isaias and his clique do not care for the lives of those who are most in need – children, mothers, the elderly and the sick who desperately need medical help. This irresponsible action has yet again exposed Isaias’s thuggery in a profound way.
Eritrea Focus pleads with the Vatican, the International Red Cross and the UN to take action as matter of urgency and demand the government to reverse its decision. The demand should be followed by a visit to Eritrea to ensure the government has reversed its decision. Huge number of Eritrean lives are at stake by this cowardly act. The international community has the responsibility to act and must act swiftly.
If the government of Eritrean does not reverse its flawed act, friendly countries and human rights organisations should demand the UN to impose economic sanctions on Eritrea. To achieve this, members of the diaspora need to work proactively with the Vatican, friendly countries and partner human rights organisations. We must hit the regime in Asmara where it hurts most because that’s the only thing a mafia regime understands.
It is time for Eritrean diaspora wherever they may be to rise up against this senseless act by the regime – our people’s lives are at stake, and we cannot and must not ignore it. This is the time when the powerful voices of Eritreans in diaspora should reverberate across the world. The campaigners of “enough is enough” must come out to the streets and raise their voice in solidarity with the Catholic Church.
Eritrea Focus is in contact with governments and international bodies to ensure they are kept informed of the unfolding abusive behaviour of the Eritrean regime and pleading with them (the international community) to act in order to save lives. We encourage other humanitarian organisations to do the same.
The Catholic Church has said the manner in which the health centres were closed down is illegal. Eritrea Focus will play its part in collaboration with others to take legal action against the Eritrean government in the event of any death as a result of the health centre closures. We see the government action as a crime on innocent and defenceless people. We cannot let this thuggish behaviour to continue unchallenged.
Eritreans in diaspora should seize this moment to condemn the government in the strongest terms. Time to remain silent is long gone – our people’s lives matter!
The people of Eritrea will prevail and their suffering must end soon.
Bishop’s letter in a rough translation from Tigrinya to English
ጉባኤ ካቶሊካውያን ጳጳሳት ኤርትራ
Council of Catholic Hierarchs – Eritrea
Ref. No. 12.06/085/2019
Mrs Amna Nurhussein
Minister of Health
State of Eritrea
RE: Institutions of Health Owned by the Catholic Church
God’s Peace Be Upon You!
It can be recalled, since 1995, the Catholic Church of Eritrea has informed the Government in writing clarifying its objective and mission about its spiritual and social services activities. As this Church’s life is associated to services, it has never stopped serving the people and has a duty of care to perform its spiritual and material mission. It has the obligation and the right to contribute its share towards the development and building the society of the nation, to practice duty of love and nurture human beings. Its entire work is to serve the people and it is not against the government or the state. The Church wishes neither to compete with the government nor to replace the services provided by it.
It is a fact, verified by history, that in 1982, the Derg regime nationalised by force the Catholic Church centres which provided social services. This was instigated by the spirit of hate, malice, evil-grudge and anti-faith principles that it followed. As the regime was a colonial ruler, we did not expect a good intention from the Derg. We were saddened by the action taken then but we did not lose hope as we had our brothers and sisters struggling for the liberation of our country.
After Independence, as evidenced by Church documents, we made repeated requests to the Eritrean government to return the illegally confiscated Church properties by the Derg regime.
It really saddening us that yesterday, Wednesday, 12.06.2019 government agents (military branch, administration, police, medics) demanded we handover the Catholic Church health institutions located all over our country. We could not comprehend the spirit or intent of this sudden and unexpected action by the government. In some areas, staff deployed by the Church were threatened; in-patients were forcefully dismissed, centres sealed and convents witnessed being guarded by soldiers. How could such a thing happen in a nation where law and order prevails? Is this a proper way for the government to close down Catholic Church health institutions that have served the people for many years?
It would be a different issue if the government says it does not require the Church services and asked us to close them down which would have been unacceptable but nevertheless within its powers. However, demanding the handover Church’s own properties cannot be right nor legal.
The majority of our service centres are based inside our convents. It is not possible for our convents to continue unaffected having the government taken over our service centres. Confiscating Church properties in this way is affecting the very existence of the Church. It also exposes the Church, the clergy, staff and ministers to exile.
We are saddened by the confiscation of our health institutions and wish to make it clear none of our property have been handed over to the government willingly and with our permission but taken from us by force. We fear if the situation continues in the manner it has started in violation of the Church’s rights, the outcome could be grave for all of us. The consequence of confiscating the centres by force is provocative and we wish to inform the government that the Church will not bear responsibility for what may follow.
Finally, now as ever, the Catholic Church is ready for negotiation and mutual understanding. However, everything should be done according to the rule of law and implemented in a dignified manner with respect to all concerned. We therefore appeal to the government that the Church properties are not altered or changed in any way as the legal ownership remains with us, not the government.
God Bless our Nation!
- The Most Reverend Mengisteab Tesfamariam, Archbishop of Asmara Eparchy – signed
- The Most Reverend Thomas Osman, Bishop of Barentu Eparchy –signed
- The Most Reverend Kidane Yebio, Bishop of Keren Eparchy – signed
- The Most Reverend Fikremariam Hagos, Bishop of Segheneyti Eparchy- signed
- Office of PFDJ
- Ministry of Defence
- Office of National Security
- Eritrean Regional Administrators + Sub-Regional Administrators
- Commissioner of National Eritrean Police + Regional Police
- Ministry of Religious Affairs
Note: The above is a rough translation of the Eritrean Bishops’ letter from Tigrinya to English