By Petros Tesfagiorgis
When the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea signed their peace agreement the people of Eritrea were over the moon.
Many Eritreans took Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as a peace messenger sent by God. Indeed for the people of Eritrea peace is priceless.
They hoped that President Isaias would end the indefinite national service and other forms of human rights violations, so that they can build their shattered lives and escape from poverty and degradation.
To understand the fundamentals of peace in the Eritrean the context does matter a great deal. It means not only ending hostility with Ethiopia but also ending the gross human right violations that is destroying the fabric of the Eritrean society.
When Prime Minister Abiy launched his campaign for peace he released all political prisoners, invited the opposition political organisations operating from abroad (mostly from Eritrea) to come home and participate in the social, political and economic life of the country peacefully. On the other hand the president of Eritrea is using the peace with Ethiopia to consolidate his repressive regime and escape international isolation. The UN Human Rights Commission has voted for Eritrea to sit on the Commission. It is shameful that the Commission has effectively rewarded oppression.
Because of the peace with Ethiopia, Eritrean fears of the threat of a “Weyane” Ethiopian Government’s Invasion, which was used to intimidate the Eritrean population into submission has been removed. It was used as an scapegoat to hold the youth hostage in the national service indefinitely, so that they could not rise up and demand an end to the gross human rights violation in Eritrea. It is expected that the youth will be demobilized. My concern is that they may be used as cannon fodder (mercenaries) in Yemen’s devastating civil war instead.
Continuing human rights violations
In Eritrea, the human rights violations continue unabated. Arbitrary arrest are still taking place. Recently the ex-Finance Minister Berhane Abrehe – was arrested for writing a book critical of the President. President Isaias squandered the momentum generated by reconciliation with Ethiopia by failing to make peace with the Eritrean people. To add insult to injury, Isaias Afeworki did not bother to brief the people of all the agreements he did with Prime Minister Abiy. The population has effectively been side-lined. Even his colleagues in the government are ignored.
It is sad to observe that at this critical moment Prime Minister Abiy appears unconcerned by the gross human rights violations perpetrated by Isaias. One could argue that to take up these issues would amount to interfering in the internal affairs of Eritrea. But he is already involved in so many ways: this includes the extent to which he is allowing Ethiopians to invest in Eritrea (something denied to Eritrean investors.) This is scandalous.
Eritreans finding their voice
In fact, it looks as if the peace is just between two political leaders who are now friends. What happens if they quarrel? This has become a common concern among some Ethiopian intellectuals, and they are beginning to say so. Eritreans have realized that if they are going to be listened and take seriously they have to unite to fight for this. They can do it: Eritreans have a long history of sacrifice and commitment to justice. In fact, we are witnessing the Diaspora Eritreans organising conferences, seminars to that end. They are organising so that they will have the powerful voice they have hitherto lacked.
They should not expect any sympathy of their ordeal and pain from Ethiopians. This has become crystal clear. When Prime Minister Abiy started his peace campaign, Ethiopians from all walks of life were calling Eritreans “our brothers” and expressing their solidarity and love with passion. But as soon as they found out that Isaias would not end the brutal repression they became silent.
An important history
I am not surprised of their silence. The history of Eritrea is always told by Ethiopian politicians without its historical context: saying Eritrea was part of Ethiopia. This gave them the justification for the use force to maintain their occupation until they were defeated and forced to leave Eritrea in 1991.
This belief is particularly strong among the Amhara ruling elite who happen to be the main beneficiaries of feudal rule over 100 years. (More on that on part 2). My only consolation is to see the genuine enthusiasm and joy of the people of Eritrea and Tigray/Ethiopia as they greet each other in Zalambessa and Rama celebrating the Ethiopian New Year and the feast of Kudus. It was uplifting. After all, Tigray is the bridge between Eritrea and the rest of Ethiopia. Isaias’s “game over” carries no weight.
An important exhibition
In order to put Eritrea in its true historical context ERITREA FOCUS – organised a photo exhibition of the history in pictures in London. It was in display for 25 days from 4 to 30 September. It is divided into 4 panels. 1. Italian colonialism 1882 to 1941 2. British Administration 1941-1952. 3. Federation and annexation 1952 – 1991. 4. Armed struggle 1961-1991, Independence, human rights violation and the present peace with Ethiopia.
The exhibition was educational for the British citizens and particularly for Ethiopians and Eritreans who grew up in the West. Some young Eritreans said that they have seen the picture of Emperor Haile Selassie signing the agreement of the federation (above) for the first time. They had not seen another photograph of when the Emperor crossed the Mereb River cutting a ribbon as he steps his foot from Tigray/Ethiopia to Eritrea.
In Its flyer pamphlet Eritrea Focus wrote: Today there is a glimmer of hope. Ethiopia reached out to Eritrea. Their leaders have met and there is the prospect of reconciliation. Yet Eritreans still long for true freedom. This timely exhibition traces how the years of devastating conflict came about and includes rare photographs – some shown for the first time. The exhibition was opened by Lord Aston of Liverpool and there were about 80 people in the opening and it stayed for 25 days.
The price of ignoring suffering
It is not wise for Ethiopians to ignore the pains and suffering of the Eritrean people and put all their eggs in Isaias’s basket. The trust the people of Eritrea put on Abiy is wearing out. Abiy doesn’t need to sacrifice the people of Eritrea in order to serve the interest of Ethiopia, win-win is the answer. It could be done and is sustainable. History won’t judge Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Ethiopian people kindly.
At least Prime Minister Abiy could have shown some concern towards the people of Eritrea by raising his voice to help rescue the Eritrean refugees trapped in Libya in this moment in time. There are voices such as Giulia Tranchina, Meron Estefanos and Elizabeth Blunt appealing for help persistently (1) reminding UNHCR, IOM to register and rescue the Eritrean refugee trapped in Libya. They are making a difference. To PM Abiy Ahmed the tragedy of Eritrean refuges in Libya presents a chance to show he is concerned about the pains and suffering of the Eritrean people as well and taking advantage of his reputation as a peace maker he is well positioned to ask UNHCR or IOM to move the refugees out of Libya to a third country. His peace campaign has given him powerful voice and he can be heard.
Demonstrate outside the Italian Embassy
Sham Gabriel from the London based organisation Eritrean Youth has called on You Tube for a demonstration outside the Italian Embassy – in London in order to put pressure on the Libyan Government to give protection to the refugees and treat them humanely. After all it is the Italian Government that is funding the Libyans in order to prevent refugees going to Italy but what they did is to put them in detention camps worse than concentration camps. They are being enslaved, starved and in danger of their life.
Date of the demonstration is 31 October 2018
- ERITREA FOCUS (EF) Founded in 2014 is an association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) human rights organisations, exile and refugee groups and individuals concerned with the gross abuses of human rights of Eritrea. In addition to various activities it has solicited a study and came out with a report titled MINING AND REPRESSION IN ERITREA: CORPORATE COMPLICITY IN HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES Presented to the All-Party Parliamentary group on Eritrea. Can be downloaded from its website :www.eritrea-focus.org
- The Urgent Appeal: Please help us to try to contact these numbers for the 300 refugees including about 150 women and children in Qaser Bin Ghashir detention centre, 27 km from Tripoli. They need to be registered by UNHCR and evacuated most urgently! Below are UNHCR hotline numbers to call: Community Service lines: 1. Tripoli: 00218917127644.2. Benghazi: 00218910007218.Registration line: 00218919897937.Sea Rescue line: 8916998580.
General Protection and Detention line: 00218919897936