Response to Matina Stevis (@MatinaStevis) on Eritrean Views of UN's COI report
Dear Matina (@MatinaStevis),
Thank you for doing your due diligence on the issue of the recent UN report on Eritrea implicating the Eritrean government in "crimes against humanity." Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. As such, the Commission of Inquiry (COI), which published the report, has little support for their claims. In fact, strong evidence suggests that the COI itself was appointed outside of legal UN procedures, exhibiting bias, partiality and non-independence, and human rights is being used for the purposes of regime change. I have sizeable evidence to support this.
Below you will find a list of informative links to provide you some context but, in the meantime, here is a snippet and preview of my blog article on this issue soon to be posted to my blog (https://redseafisher.wordpress.com/):
It may come as a surprise to some to learn that the inquisitional UN commission never visited Eritrea. According to the COI, the "Chair of the Commission sent a letter to the President of Eritrea, His Excellency Isaias Afwerki, to express the wish of the Commission to visit Eritrea" but "received no answer." After two more failed attempts they gave up and deemed this as "lack of cooperation of the State of Eritrea."
No reasons are given as to why Eritrea would chose not to cooperate if it were, in fact, the case. However, the reasons are obvious. According to Resolution 5/1, Annex, the Commission was appointed outside of the legal procedures of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). Section II(A) on the "Selection and appointment of mandate-holders" states:
"The following general criteria will be of paramount importance while nominating, selecting and appointing mandate-holders: (a) expertise; (b) experience in the field of the mandate; (c) independence; (d) impartiality; (e) personal integrity; and (f) objectivity."
Evidence shows that members of the COI are neither independent, impartial, or objective. The most obvious example of this is the member Sheila Keetharuth. Alone, she served as the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea. She was nominated for the position by the lobbying of Elsa Chyrum, a regime-change activist who openly calls for sanctions against Eritrea.
Keetharuth is also a former employee of Amnesty International (AI), which has had a long and troubled relationship with the State of Eritrea since it was expelled in 2006 for failing to make public its finances. This troubled relationship is perhaps best highlighted by one of AI's leaked 2011 memos that instructed its employees in nearby capitals in Africa, like Keetharuth, to “bring about change [in Eritrea] as has happened in other African and Arab countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain.”
Notably, the memo goes on to state that AI and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have “received a reasonable grant from the US State Department” and should “work with the oppressed Eritrean people” as a “combined force of human rights defenders.”
Following her appointment in 2012 by the HRC, Eritrea immediately "rejected the decision of the Council because it was politically motivated and did not accept the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea."
Keetharuth's conduct as Special Rapporteur seems to corroborate the Eritrean government claims. Unable to enter Eritrea, she fielded data for a first report to the HRC from asylum-seekers in the only two countries in ongoing conflict with Eritrea: Ethiopia and Djibouti. Asylum-seeking migrants have an inherent conflict of interest as they must maintain stories of persecution to gain asylum, which is compounded by the fact that they are situated in states hostile to Eritrea. Fielding data from Ethiopia and Djibouti is not necessarily the problem. The problem is that she fielded data from only these two countries and did so in a manner beyond her mandate.
Keetharuth, upon return to Geneva from Ethiopia for her 2013 report, admitted that, instead of meeting with UN counterparts in Ethiopia, she "met with representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), and representatives of the African Union" and also "visited the ARRA Reception Centre in Endabaguna, as well as the Adi-Harush and Mai-Aini refugee camps in the Tigray region." Note that the camps are called "ARRA" camps as opposed to UNHCR camps. How can she field information on Eritrea free from bias by meeting with officials of a state government that still as yet to lift its 1998 declaration of war against Eritrea?
Other Eritreans were excluded from her investigation. Nearly 200 Eritrean organizations in the diaspora attempted to engage the Special Rapporteur in the year following her appointment, asking her to give them time to talk to her. This has been thoroughly documented in the exhaustive 2013 report "Human Rights and Eritrea's Reality: Context is Everything" published by the organization E-SMART, which stands for Eritreans Sanctions Must be Annulled and Repealed Today.
The annex of the report shows 25 emails to her (firstname.lastname@example.org) by community members that were ignored and given generic responses explaining why she failed to engage them in time. Most email replies, sent after the report's publication, state, "I apologise for the delay in getting back to you."
Keetharuth's actions and emails suggest that she failed to meet her mandate requirements to "ensure the participation of all relevant stakeholders."
During the 26th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council at the Palais des Nations, Keetharuth also attended a side event sponsored by Human Rights Watch and organized by a campaign group called Stop National Service Slavery. Therefore, early on before the COI's supposed "findings" of "slavery" in Eritrea, we already saw preset campaigning around slavery pushing for the very existence of the COI. This very same group demonstrated outside the HRC, calling for a COI on Eritrea. Alleged human traffickers posing as human rights activists were also in attendance (Link on these alleged human traffickers: https://redseafisher.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/the-traffic-racket-the-eritrean-activists-part-1/).
It is within this context that Keetharuth was again appointed as one of the three member on the COI, with the other two members being Victor Dankwa and Mike Smith, the Chair of the Commission.
Allowing either the Special Rapporteur or COI into Eritrea would legitimate their illegitimate appointments and would open Eritrea up to a "fishing expedition," which, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as "an investigation that does not stick to a stated objective but hopes to uncover incriminating or newsworthy evidence."
Given the extra-procedural appointment and, thus, the lack of a legal mandate for the SR or COI, Eritrea's consent for their entry would be purely voluntary in nature. Just as one would never expect any firm--amidst other competing firms--to voluntarily consent to a its own exclusive audit and investigation by a state investigator in the absence of a legal warrant, one also cannot expect Eritrea to voluntarily allow entry to the SR or COI absent a legal mandate.
Such a move, though a seeming display of goodwill, would invite a fishing expedition and expose the party under investigation to unnecessary legal and financial risk, especially when the investigator is a former employee of a hostile firm. As such, one cannot reasonably expect Eritrea to tie the noose around its own neck regardless of the number and intensity of demands made by the so-called "international community" or UN Member States.
Despite this legal rationale and right to deny entry, the COI makes the claim of Eritrea's "lack of cooperation" and uses it to justify extraordinary measures taken beyond the scope of its mandate.
Notably, the COI manipulates its methodologies such that it fits its inquisitional wishes. If the devil is in the details, then Satan is most certainly buried in the COI's "Method of Work" section of its almost 500-page report. In the section, the COI states that it will lower its standard of proof to “reasonable grounds to believe” since it is "consistent with the practice of other United Nations fact-finding bodies, especially those which have not been granted access to the territory where the alleged violations have occurred."
No such claim is supported by any UN HRC resolution that covers the work of "special mandate holders" like the COI. In addition to having no legal basis, justifying any action on the grounds that everyone is taking that same action does not actually justify that action--an obvious ad populum fallacy.
Nonetheless, the report indicates how the standard of evidence is met:
"Fact-finding bodies consider that the standard is met when in assessing all the information gathered – including open sources – they can conclude that it is reasonable to believe that the incident or event occurred as reported."
In other words, they are essentially saying, 'the standard is met when they look at it and say the standard is met.'
In addition to non-existent evidentiary standards on account of non-entry into Eritrea, the COI states that it sought to collect its data by conducting "interviews with Eritrean refugees, migrants and other members of the diaspora" and fielded "550 confidential interviews" in 8 countries.
The interviews were said to be "confidential" because the COI was supposedly "convinced that the Eritrean authorities were in a position to monitor their conduct through a network of spies and informants within the Eritrean diaspora." Therefore, there is no way to substantiate even the most ridiculous or extraordinary claims. We simply have to believe Keetharuth and the COI.
A number of the claims from the supposed interviews are quite absurd. According to one, “When I am in Eritrea, I feel that I cannot even think because I am afraid that people can read my thoughts and I am scared.” By any assessment other than the COI's, this interviewee would likely be considered potentially mentally ill and would be excluded from the report. In referring to the citation, the reference "TFM038" is given, ending any further investigation into claim. This same sort of thing goes on for almost 500 pages.
Additionally, no transcripts are given, which does not allow any independent analyst to judge whether the words were taken out of context and if the seemingly mentally ill were simply misquoted.
That's it for now. I will post the rest to my blog shortly. Here are some links that will help provide background on the COI, Special Rapporteur (now a member of the COI), and Eritrean migration/trafficking:
1) Report on the Special Rapporteur (published by ESMART, an excellent website for context on the crimes against and misrepresentations of Eritrea):
2) Evidence-Based Review: International Crisis Group’s Eritrean “Exodus” Report (looks at the claims of Exodus in Eritrea by ICG and others; provides background):
3) Human Trafficking and the Human Rights Agenda Against Eritrea (Looks into a 2013 article penned by your collegue Joel Millman; extensive background behind claims of migration and trafficking in Eritrea; shows how and why the Special Rapporteur was appointed):
4) Human Rights and Eritrea’s Reality: Context is Everything
5) 3 Part series on the "Traffic Racket" (Looks at how human rights activism is used to forward a regime change agenda in Eritrea and has led to confused policy in the EU and the worsening of the Eritrea refugee issue)
Part 1: https://redseafisher.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/the-traffic-racket-the-eritrean-activists-part-1/
Part 2: https://redseafisher.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/the-traffic-racket-the-activist-syndicate-and-the-eu-part-2/
Part 3: https://redseafisher.wordpress.com/2015/05/19/the-traffic-racket-the-pied-pipers-in-tigray-part-3/
Hope this helps!