The Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans, sends letter urging (further) application of the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime against various Eritrean State actors to EU High Representative Josep Borrell. On Monday the EU Foreign Affairs Council will meet to discuss the situation in Horn.
Application Global Human Rights Sanctions regime to Eritrea State actors
Dear High Representative Borrell,
On behalf of my client, the Foundation Human Rights For Eritreans, I am writing to urge the European Commission to take action in the war in Tigray, in particular vis-à-vis the role of the State of Eritrea in this conflict. The Foundation is particularly concerned given the grave violations of human rights committed by the Eritrean military forces (the Eritrean Defence Force or “EDF”) in the war in Tigray, and given the deep and far-reaching impact of this war on the human rights of Eritreans both in Eritrea and in the extensive diaspora.
The war in Tigray has been ongoing since 3 November 2020. From the very first moment, the EDF was deeply involved in this war. The EDF wholly consists of conscripts who have been forced to serve under the so-called Eritrean ‘national service’, which has been qualified by the UN Commission of lnquiry as “enslavement” and a “crime against humanity”. The EDF force includes minors. Currently, Eritrea is understood to be operating in a united Íront on the border with Tigray and in Western Tigray.
From the early stages of the war in Tigray, there arose clear and credible evidence that the EDF committed grave violations of human rights in Tigray, including the perpetration of massacres, the systematic use of rape and starvation as weapons of war, the deliberate destruction of refugee camps in Tigray and forced return of Eritrean refugees to Eritrea, as well as the deliberate destruction of health facilities in Tigray.
This evidence was confirmed by the first report of the EHRC/OHCHR Joint lnvestigation into the war in Tigray. The Joint lnvestigation noted that the abuses were marked by “extreme brutality” that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and emphasized that “the big numbers of violations’ could be linked to Ethiopian and Eritrean forces.
As such, the State of Eritrea has exported its long-standing violations of human rights with impunity. A few months ago, the Special Rapporteur for Eritrea observed that the EDF “continued to be involved in serious human rights and humanitarian law violations in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia”. While there was a short lull in the hostilities in Tigray over the past summer during the humanitarian cease-fire, at the end of August the war resumed in full force.
Eritrea is a key player in this war, which fact was condemned by the White House on 2 September 20223 and underlined by the European Parliament on 6 October 2022.4 The European Parliament established that Eritrea played “a very destructive role'” in the war in Tigray “and has contributed to escalating it'”
The war in Tigray also leads to continued grave human rights violations in Eritrea, as the Special Rapporteur for Eritrea concluded: “The involvement of Eritrea in the war in Ethiopia has also compounded the severe human rights challenges Eritrea faces and reinforced pre-existing patterns of violations.”
The Special Rapporteur for instance mentions a sharp increase since the war in Tigray of so called ‘giffa’s‘ in Eritrea, meaning “ft]he round-up of individuals for the purpose of military conscription’. Anyone, including children “as young as 14 year old’, may be subject to such forced round-up and be sent to fight in the war in Tigray. The Foundation notes that over the past weeks there have been reliable reports of the Eritrean regime again rounding up minors in Eritrea for the latest round of fighting in Tigray. All in all, it is clear that Eritrea has committed and is committing widespread and grave violations of human rights, both in the war in Tigray and in Eritrea.
Furthermore, there has been a sharp increase of activity of the Eritrean regime (the political party PFDJ) in Europe. The PFDJ has attempted to organize events in various European countries, which were mostly prevented from taking place by the authorities (police or local authorities).
These events were designed to spread pro-Eritrea regime propaganda, incite hate and violence and support the war efforts by Awel Seid, who is working closely with the top of the PFDJ on generating support for the war. The festivals were intended to collect resources for the war from the diaspora. Members of the Eritrean diaspora feel threatened by the festivals, which have been prohibited in seven countries. The Eritrean regime, speaking through its spokesperson families in Eritrea. ln a telling example, the Eritrean embassy in Germany was found to force Eritrean refugees to admit to committing criminal offenses before providing a passport (along with demanding a 2″/”‘diaspora tax’ payment). Earlier this week, the German Federal Administrative Court ordered the German State to provide such a refugee with travel documentation (a lower court had found the refugee should request a passport from the Eritrean State), finding that that no one should be forced to admit to crimes as a condition for receiving identification documentation. As such, the actions of the Eritrean regime have concrete consequences throughout all EU Member States where the Eritrean diaspora is present.
The war in Tigray, in which Eritrea is playing a key role, is devastating the entire region. Human trafficking rings are preying on those desperate to find a safer place. ln 2018, the UN Security Council listed two Eritrean and four Libyan traffickers on the Libya Sanctions List. Since then, at least three Eritrean traffickers have been arrested and many more have been identified operating in the region, which leads to its further destabilization. The war in Tigray has resulted in a significant uptick in human trafficking both through Libya and Kenya.
There is concrete evidence linking Eritrean State actors to this human trafficking, and at the very least human traffickers are operating with tacit consent from the State of Eritrea. These bad actors are running trafficking rings from Africa to EU Member States, which fact was recently underscored by the arrest and extradition of Mr. Tewelde Goitom oÍ Eritrea to the Netherlands, where he will be tried for alleged large-scale human trafficking during which extortion and gruesome abuses are alleged to have taken place. There is still a warrant out for the arrest of Mr. Kidane Zekarias Habtemariam of Eritrea, who worked in conjunction with Mr. Goitom and who is according to the Dutch authorities “one of the most cruel and most infamous human traffickers in the world”. A third alleged human trafficker, Mr. Ghebremehdhin Temesghen Ghebru of Eritrea, has been extradited to ltaly earlier this week to face human trafficking charges. Through the operation of these human trafficking networks, grave violations of human rights occur within EU Member States.
Unfortunately, the gravity and staggering human cost of the war in Tigray – both in Tigray and in Eritrea – has not resulted in an equally grave response from the international community. As Lord Alton pointedly remarked in the House of Lords: “The War in Ukraine has overshadowed a conflict which has been every bit as devastating as Putin’s War. Often shockingly under reported, Tigray’s War has led to a catastrophic series of brutal attacks and to war crimes which have left millions of people displaced, starving, desperately seeking humanitarian relief.”
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence showing the Eritrean regime has perpetrated or has been complicit in grave violations of human rights, not only against its own citizens but also against the people of Tigray. This threatens international peace and security. As a result, the Eritrean regime has been subjected to sanctions by the United States, which considered the war in Tigray an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” The EU has already instituted sanctions against the National Security OíÍice oÍ the Government oÍ Eritrea under Major General Abraha Kassa, considering this organization Iinked to “serious violations of human rights”. This is highly appropriate, as underlined by the
Special Rapporteur Íor Eritrea: “The Special Rapporteur welcomes the issuance of targeted sanctions against specific individuals and institutions for their involvement in human rights violations, including for their role in the ongoing human rights crisis and military conflict in northern Ethiopia.”
The Foundation now considers it appropriate that more Eritrean actors should be subject to sanctions under the Global Human Rights Sanctions regime. There is a significant amount of evidence available showing that the actors listed below are involved in numerous grave human rights violations as intended in Article 2(1) Regulation 202011998. Various authoritative international bodies, experts and NGO’s have documented these grave human rights violations, which deeply impact the human rights of persons in Tigray, Eritrea, the Horn of Africa region, Libya, Kenya and in Member States of the European Union.
The Foundation notes that in its Resolution of 6 October 2022, the European Parliament has requested the EU and its Member States “to adopt measures to protect human rights and to adopt sanctions against perpetrators of human rights violations through the Global Human Hights Sanctions regime” (under 25). The United States has already taken decisive action, as set out above. Unfortunately, due to political considerations the UN Security Council has failed
to take any effective action relating to the situation in Tigray and Eritrea (as also noted by the Parliament, under 28). As such, the Foundation considers the EU to realize its aspirations to take an internationally leading role on combating human rights violations, using the clear and obvious legal avenues available to it.
The Foundation therefore respectfully requests that sanctions should urgently be instated against in any case the following parties:
- Eritrean DeÍense Force (EDF);
- People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ);
- Yemane Gebreab;
- Hidri Trust;
- Hagos Ghebrehiwot W Kidan;
- Red Sea Trading Corporation;
- Any other parties which fulfill the criteria listed in the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime.
The Foundation is looking forward to seeing decisive action on this matter by the EU. lt is more than willing to provide further information relating to the parties listed above.