London, 24 April 2019 Ambassador Haile Menkerios, who served as the United Nations Special Representative to the African Union, and Eritrea’s ambassador to Ethiopia from 1991 to 2000, is calling for a “national conference of representatives of the Eritrean people that would decide on a transitional arrangement to ensure an inclusive process of building participatory democracy in the country.”

Ambassador Menkerios will make his remarks to Building Democracy in Eritrea, a two-day conference held at Senate House, University of London, from 24-25 April.

The landmark conference will hear from Ambassador Menkerios that only the formation of a new national body of representatives “can prevent violence” following the end of the current dictatorship.

President Isaias Afwerki has ruled Eritrea since independence in 1993. He has suppressed all opposition parties, crushed the independent media and imprisoned his opponents indefinitely.

Eritrea has “the notoriety of being perhaps the only country in Africa that does not have a functioning constitution, a legitimate elected government, nor legitimate and functioning governance institutions that ensure accountability,” Ambassador Menkerios will say.

Conference objective

The two-day conference is being organised by Eritrea Focus, in partnership with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the School of Advanced Study. It brings together more than 70 delegates from the USA, Europe and Africa, including academics, campaigners, members of the Eritrean diaspora, and international experts.

“The objective of Building Democracy in Eritrea is to bring together Eritreans and international supporters to begin thinking about tangible, realistic objectives for the establishment of democracy and the administration of justice in the country”, said Habte Hagos, Chairman of Eritrea Focus. “The time for this is now.”

The lessons from Sudan and Algeria

The London conference meets as the Sudanese and Algerian uprisings are unfolding, and which serve as examples of how regime change can come about. The aim of the conference is to look beyond Eritrea’s current dictatorship and to explore how democratic renewal can be assisted and encouraged.

Among those participating are:

  • Dr Bereket Habte Selassie, the author of the Eritrean Constitution
  • Ambassador Andebrhan Weldegiorgis, former Eritrean Ambassador to the European Union
  • Abraham Zere, head of PEN Eritrea
  • Dan Connell, eminent author and scholar
  • Prof Kjetil Tronvoll, of Norway’s International Law and Policy Institute, expert on the Horn of Africa
  • Prominent humanitarians working with the US Congress, the European Union and the British Parliament.

While the rapprochement between Eritrea and Ethiopia last year brought an end to the state of “no war, no peace” that persisted for 20 years, there are no signs that any reforms have been enacted to address the drastic situation of human rights within the country, which last month the UK Government said remained of “significant concern”.

“The almost absolute concentration of power in the hands of the President is both unstable and unsustainable”, says Habte Hagos. “The British Government acknowledges that we have seen no improvement in the situation of Eritreans following the peace deal with Ethiopia, and people continue to flee the brutal regime of indefinite conscription and the suppression of their most basic human rights. We must learn the lessons of dictatorships that fell but did not give way to democracy, and act quickly to set out the conditions that must be met for a future free from the tyranny of the past three decades.”

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