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Libyan Newswire

Motion for a resolution on Eritrea; 2016/2568 (RSP) – B8-2016-0320

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions on Eritrea and in particular those concerning human rights in Eritrea and the case of Mr Dawit Isaak,

–  having regard to the 2015 report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea,

–  having regard to the resolution of the UN Human Rights Council of 14 July 2014 on the situation of human rights in Eritrea,

–  having regard to the statement of 18 September 2014 by the spokesperson of the European External Action Service (EEAS) on political prisoners in Eritrea,

–  having regard to UN Security Council Resolutions 1862 and 1907 of 2009 and 2244 of 2015,

–  having regard to the Cotonou Agreement of 23 June 2000 as revised,

–  having regard to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

–  having regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,

–  having regard to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights,

–  having regard to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG),

–  having regard to Rule 123(2) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas Eritrea gained its independence in 1993 following a decades-long war against Ethiopia;

B.  whereas in 1998 another war opposed Eritrea and Ethiopia over the demarcation of their border, causing more than 100 000 casualties;

C.  whereas the joint Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, issued a ruling on the demarcation of the border between the two countries in 2002; whereas this ruling was rejected by Ethiopia but accepted by Eritrea, resulting in a stalemate and persisting tensions between the two countries;

D.  whereas in March 2012, Ethiopian forces carried out attacks inside Eritrea on alleged bases of the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF); whereas Ethiopia claimed that it acted in reprisal for the kidnapping and assassination of a group of European tourists in January 2011 in the Ethiopian Afar region; whereas Eritrea declared that it would not retaliate;

E.  whereas Eritrea’s President, Isaias Afewerki, has established a draconian totalitarian regime in Eritrea with no constitution, a total lack of rule of law and media freedom, no religious freedom, no elections, arbitrary and incommunicado detentions on a massive scale, torture, and a national service which the UN defines as slavery, using the tense security situation between Eritrea and Ethiopia as a pretext;

F.  whereas the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea has found that the violations in the areas of extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture and sexual slavery), national service as a form of slavery, forced labour and the shoot-to-kill policy at the border may constitute crimes against humanity;

G.  whereas despite the gross and systematic violations by Eritrea of the essential and fundamental elements of the Cotonou Agreement regarding human rights, the EU has never initiated Article 96 consultations, despite calls to do so from the European Parliament;

H.  whereas, on the contrary, the EU has re-established its development programme in favour of Eritrea, and signed a five-year development programme worth EUR 200 million in January 2016; whereas the Member States unanimously adopted this programme despite the fact that the European Parliament had rejected it;

I.  whereas, according to the EEAS, the EU development programme in Eritrea faces several challenges in the area of budgetary control and oversight, including the lack of a national budget, statistical office or audit body, the lack of an independent central bank, the lack of capacity of Eritrea’s institutions, the lack of any economy other than what is approved by the military, the unstable exchange rate, which is controlled by the military leadership, the unstable regional situation and its repercussions on the internal situation, including restrictions on access within the country, the restricted number of development actors and the host country’s approach towards aid effectiveness;

J.  whereas Eritrea had made promises to the EU that it would shorten national service to 18 months, but has now announced that it will continue its policy of indefinite conscription while increasing the small allowance for conscripts by 700 %, a promise made just after devaluing the national currency, the nakfa;

K.  whereas the UN monitors have called for ‘due diligence, monitoring and full oversight of the dispersal of large amounts of aid to Eritrea’, since there is otherwise every risk that the aid will be used to fund rebellions across the region;

L.  whereas most aid agencies were forced to leave the country after a law was enacted by the regime to control their activities in May 2005;

M.  whereas Eritrea, one of the world’s 15 poorest nations, remains heavily dependent on foreign aid; whereas international donors other than the EU have significantly reduced their contributions owing to the catastrophic human rights record of the Eritrean regime, its perceived role as regional troublemaker and the huge difficulties involved in implementing and monitoring aid programmes;

N.  whereas over 300 000 Eritreans have fled the country since 2000, out of a population estimated at 6.3 million; whereas UNHCR estimates that some 5 000 Eritreans leave the country every month, this being explained to a large degree by the persistence of severe human rights violations; whereas in the last few years more than 30 000 Eritreans have fled each year to the EU; whereas in 2014 in 61 % of asylum cases refugee status was granted in the EU while an additional 27 % of applicants received subsidiary protection, illustrating the gravity of persecution in Eritrea;

O.  whereas human trafficking for ransom with severe torture practices in the Sinai is the cause of numerous killings and disappearances of Eritrean refugees who had been abducted, whilst the severely traumatised survivors have received no care or support; whereas total impunity prevails whilst those responsible have not been brought to justice;

P.  whereas the regime extends its totalitarian grip to the Eritrean diaspora, extorting funds from its members via a 2 % tax on expatriate incomes, spying on them and targeting family members who have remained in Eritrea on the grounds of perceived wrongdoing; whereas in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Sweden and Germany, interpreters participating in asylum interviews were found to be linked to the Eritrean regime;

Q.  whereas in the Sinai desert traffickers were reported to be holding as hostages or abusing asylum seekers and migrants, mostly from Eritrea and other sub-Saharan countries, including children, in various locations for weeks or months until their relatives abroad paid ransom to secure their release; whereas Israel rarely grants Eritrean refugees asylum, thus denying their right to protection;

R.  whereas the Eritrean regime practises a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy at its borders against Eritreans fleeing the country, while at the same time military and border officials are implicated in human trafficking;

S.  whereas the EU-Eritrea development programme foresees capacity-building for the judiciary and awareness-raising in support of the Khartoum Process on regional cooperation in relation to migration issues;

T.  whereas the 1997 constitution has never been implemented; whereas in 2014 the President made a pledge for a new constitution to be drafted, but this has not materialised to date;

U.  whereas there is only one legal political party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ); whereas other political parties are banned; whereas according to Freedom House, the PFDJ and the military are in practice the only institutions of political significance in Eritrea, and both entities are strictly subordinate to the President;

V.  whereas President Afewerki has postponed democratic elections sine die;

W.  whereas in 2001 fifteen prominent government and party figures (now known as the G-15) challenged the increasingly repressive political environment in Eritrea, criticising the President’s leadership and demanding the implementation of the national constitution; whereas this challenge was reported and widely commented on in the – at that time – increasingly assertive independent press;

X.  whereas this resulted in the arrest of 11 of the G-15, the other four having managed to flee; whereas they have been held incommunicado since then without being charged with any offence, and with no information about their place of detention, detention conditions or health status; whereas some of the G-15 are believed to have died in custody; whereas a few days after their arrest, 10 independent journalists were arrested, including Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist, and eight independent newspapers were closed on the grounds that they represented a threat to national security; whereas this was followed by a further crackdown on dissent among the independent press and the student population; whereas since then, media freedom has been non-existent, with Eritrea ranking last in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index for the past eight years and constituting Africa’s largest prison for media personnel with 16 journalists imprisoned in 2015;

Y.  whereas the representative of the EU Council Presidency, Italy’s Ambassador Antonio Bandini, presented a letter of protest to the authorities following the 2001 crack-down and was promptly expelled;

Z.  whereas the G-15 case was brought to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, which found Eritrea’s arrest of the eleven government officials in 2001 and their continued incarceration to be in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; whereas the African Union urged Eritrea to immediately release the 11 detainees; whereas the Government of Eritrea responded to the report stating that the delay in bringing the prisoners to justice was simply a matter of routine procedure;

AA.  whereas international organisations have not been granted access to prison facilities, except for one overground prison in Asmara; whereas the other (more than 200) prison facilities across the country remain inaccessible, and reportedly prisoners, including women and children, are tortured, kept incommunicado, and held in dark underground locations or shipping containers in extremely inhumane conditions for long periods of time, having being detained following arbitrary arrests and with no access to any kind of independent court or fair trial;

AB.  whereas the Eritrean authorities have not released Dawit Isaak, despite two writs of habeas corpus, the receipt of which has not been acknowledged by the authorities;

AC.  whereas the Eritrean Parliament has not met since 2002; whereas the government rules solely by decree, and this means that important policies adopted by the government, including those severely affecting individual rights and freedoms, are not embodied in law and are simply ‘announced’ by government media or in messages passed on by local administrations, with all the ambiguities such a practice entails;

AD.  whereas civil society action is severely curtailed; whereas, for example, in 1993 the ruling party decided to suspend the activities of the Regional Centre for Human Rights and Development – the first Eritrean national NGO, created in 1992 – after it had organised a conference on ‘NGO policy, multilateral policy and rural credit in Eritrea’ and recruited hundreds of independent observers to monitor the April 1993 referendum on Eritrean independence;

AE.  whereas the University of Asmara, Eritrea’s only university, was closed down in 2006 following protests against the regime; whereas the education system is under military control;

AF.  whereas the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention has condemned Eritrean detentions for violating international law;

AG.  whereas the judiciary is not independent; whereas judges are appointed, reassigned and dismissed at the will of the President, and are subject to influence and direction of their actions;

AH.  whereas in 1996 the regime created a Special Court, a tribunal consisting of senior military officers appointed directly by the President to hear cases involving high-level officials accused of corruption, misuse of public funds and other capital offences; whereas, lacking independence from the executive, trained personnel and guarantees of fair trial, the Special Court quickly became a means for the suppression of dissent and of critics;

AI.  whereas in May 2002, the Eritrean Government introduced the ‘Warsai Yikealo Development Campaign’ extending national service indefinitely and requiring all final year school students to undertake military training and to complete their secondary education and take their final exams at a military camp; whereas young students are not allowed to communicate with parents or relatives for long periods of time; whereas apart from national defence, conscripts are forced to work in agriculture, roadbuilding or mining without adequate financial compensation and in slavery-like conditions; whereas a link between the existence of this national service and the high emigration flows out of Eritrea is very likely; whereas Eritrea does not recognise the right to conscientious objection;

AJ.  whereas the UN commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea reported numerous cases of forced labour, including for the benefit of a Canadian mining company;

AK.  whereas gas and oil findings off the coast of Eritrea have attracted further interest of companies for exploitation purposes;

AL.  whereas the practice of punishing family members for the behaviour of a relative is widespread in Eritrea;

AM.  whereas discrimination and violence against women are present in all areas of Eritrean society; whereas women are not only at extreme risk of sexual violence within the military and in military training camps, but also in society at large, where violence against women is perpetrated in an environment of impunity;

AN.  whereas an estimated 89 % of girls in Eritrea have undergone Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); whereas in March 2007 the government issued a proclamation declaring FGM a crime, prohibiting its practice and sponsoring education programmes discouraging the practice over that year;

AO.  whereas many women and girl refugees leave the country destitute, without any means to survival, as they depend in Eritrea on food vouchers which they no longer receive when their male family members are no longer present; whereas the need for protection of women and girls based on respect for the right to life is respected as a ground for international asylum;

AP.  whereas the economy consists mainly of traditional subsistence agriculture, with chronic problems of food insecurity and a PFDJ-controlled informal economy involving hard currency transactions through a non-transparent network of business entities incorporated in several jurisdictions;

AQ.  whereas Eritrea finds itself in the last place of the World Bank’s 2015 ‘Ease of Doing Business’ ranking of 189 countries;

AR.  whereas in June 2008, Eritrean forces crossed the border with Djibouti and captured the area of Ras Doumeira, killing at least nine Djiboutian soldiers; whereas Eritrea withdrew its troops only two years later;

AS.  whereas the UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea in December 2009, including an arms embargo, travel bans and the freezing of the assets of some of the country’s political and military officials, following ongoing Eritrean support for certain regional armed groups attempting to overthrow regional governments, in particular in Somalia; whereas in June 2015 the Security Council reaffirmed its arms embargo against the Eritrean government;

AT.  whereas according to UN monitors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have established a military presence in Eritrea as part of the military campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen;

AU.  whereas the PFDJ has established control and surveillance over the refugee and diaspora communities through the embassies, which are involved in extortion over diaspora taxes and ‘voluntary’ contributions in exchange for services, such as ID papers, passports, birth certificates and essential documents on which refugees may depend; whereas these practices are in breach of the Geneva Convention on Diplomatic Relations, extortion being a practice that the UN Security Council asked UN member states to stop in a resolution of 2009 and subsequent resolutions;

AV.  whereas the embassies are involved in a campaign to undermine the work of the UN Commission of Inquiry by forcing members of the Eritrean diaspora and refugee community to sign documents stating that they have voluntary performed national service and are economic refugees;

AW.  whereas the UN Commission of Inquiry, the UN Special Rapporteur and the UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia have been refused entry into Eritrea;

AX.  whereas the PFDJ has established a wide international network of informants through its wings, including the youth wings, to collect information about ‘enemies’, and is involved in illegal trade and extortion in EU Member States; whereas this led to the expulsion of an Eritrean diplomat by Sweden in 2015;

AY.  whereas leaders of the PFDJ’s youth organisation in the Netherlands have initiated legal campaigns against Dutch academics, media and government institutions, with support of the political leadership in Asmara, presumably to silence critics of the regime;

AZ.  whereas the refugee communities in neighbouring countries and elsewhere are controlled by and under constant surveillance of the Eritrean regime; whereas refugees are abducted by the Eritrean military from neighbouring or friendly countries and returned to Eritrea, and the number of unaccompanied minors fleeing the country is increasing whilst refugees face lack of safety, security and support in a number of countries once they have fled and live in constant fear of reprisals;

BA.  whereas Eritrean refugees from Israel are voluntarily deported to Rwanda and Uganda, but do not receive asylum in these countries, and are trafficked to South Sudan, where they are imprisoned for illegal border crossings, or to Sudan and Libya, where many fall in the hands of terrorist organisations;

1.  Is shocked at the catastrophic human rights situation in Eritrea and the complete absence of rule of law and media freedom;

2.  Recalls Eritrea’s obligations under the Cotonou Agreement to respect human rights, democratic values and the rule of law;

3.  Strongly condemns Eritrea’s ongoing violations of these principles, including torture, extrajudicial killings, incommunicado detentions without trial or charges, a shoot-to-kill policy at its borders, and a slavery-like system of conscription;

4.  Calls on Eritrea to respect and protect the fundamental rights of all Eritreans, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, to open up the media without delay, to allow opposition leaders in exile to return to the country, to free all political prisoners unconditionally and end the curtailment of civil society organisations, and to implement the other recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Council in the Universal Periodic Review of the State of Eritrea in 2014;

5.  Is particularly concerned at the continued detention without charge, trial or legal counsel – since 18 September 2001 – of a group of 11 prominent members of the Eritrean Parliament and of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, and also – since 23 September 2001 – of ten independent journalists, including the Eritrean/EU citizen Dawit Isaak;

6.  Strongly urges the Government of Eritrea to release these prisoners immediately and unconditionally, along with other prisoners detained for their political views, and requests that all information on the whereabouts of these prisoners be made public and that they be given access to their families and lawyers, not least on humanitarian grounds;

7.  Calls on the Government of Eritrea to ensure free and fair access to an independent judicial system for those detained, and to improve prison conditions, including by prohibiting the use of underground cells and shipping containers to hold prisoners, ending the use of secret detention centres and secret courts and the practice of incommunicado detention, and allowing regular access to prisoners for relatives, lawyers, medical personnel, and other competent and legally authorised authorities and institutions;

8.  Urges the Government of Eritrea to put an end to the system of indefinite national service by demobilising the conscripts who have completed their mandatory 18 months’ service and effectively ending the practice of engaging conscripts in forced labour after that period, to provide for conscientious objection, and to end the compulsory practice of all school students spending their final year of schooling in a military training camp;

9.  Takes note of the findings of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea on forced labour for the benefit of international corporations; considers that this shows yet again the need for a legally binding international instrument on transnational corporations and other business enterprises with respect to human rights;

10.  Asks for human rights and humanitarian organisations to be allowed to operate in Eritrea without fear or intimidation, and calls for facilitation of the full implementation of the Strategic Partnership Cooperation Framework for 2013-2016 signed by the Government of Eritrea and the UN on 28 January 2013;

11.  Urges President Afewerki to implement the Constitution, which was drafted in full consultation of all stakeholders and civil society and has been adopted;

12.  Welcomes the measures taken by the Eritrean government to fight FGM; calls on the government to enhance in general the promotion and protection of women’s rights, including by taking further measures to combat harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage, and to end impunity in cases of sexual violence;

13.  Urges the government to end the ‘guilt-by-association’ policies that target family members of those who evade national service, seek to flee Eritrea or fail to pay the 2 % income tax imposed by the government on Eritrean expatriates;

14.  Questions the effectiveness of the ‘renewed engagement’ policy that the EU has adopted towards Eritrea; notes that this policy has produced no results, since not a single political prisoner has been released, not even Dawit Isaak, and no progress has been made on any other human rights issue; deplores the fact that Parliament’s concerns regarding the recently concluded ‘National Indicative Programme’ between the EU and Eritrea have been completely ignored by the Commission and Council; stresses that these concerns relate mainly to the scale and seriousness of the human rights violations committed by the Eritrean regime, the many signs that it cares little about the welfare of its citizens, the lack of reliability of the regime as a development cooperation partner, the pervasive corruption and virtually total absence of transparency in public financial management in the country, and the risk of EDF funds being misused for purposes of migration management; demands that cooperation be immediately suspended in the light of Eritrea’s most recent announcement that it will continue with the practice of indefinite slave-like conscription;

15.  Deplores the absence of any kind of political dialogue within the Cotonou framework between Eritrea and the EU; does not understand why the EU has never opened Article 96 consultations with Eritrea, and urges it to do so immediately;

16.  Deplores the EU’s attempts to cooperate with Eritrea in the area of migration; recalls that Eritrean security forces are themselves involved in trafficking activities, and demands an independent investigation of the chain of command in the perpetration of human trafficking of Eritrean migrants; recalls that the Eritrean military practises a ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy at the border against people attempting to flee the country, and demands an immediate stop to such practices; reminds the Government of Eritrea of its obligation to protect its own citizens; recalls furthermore that the Government of Eritrea is considered to be the perpetrator of serious and continuous human rights violations against its citizens; calls, therefore, on the Commission and the Member States to immediately suspend cooperation on preventing irregular migration and improving border controls with Eritrea; highlights the very high rates observed when it comes to the granting of asylum or subsidiary protection by EU Member States to Eritreans, and consequently urges Member States not to return Eritreans seeking asylum in Europe; is especially concerned that the announcement by the Eritrean government that it will limit national service to 18 months, whose implementation has not been verified, has led some EU Member States to toughen their stance towards Eritrean asylum applicants;

17.  Urges the EU to ensure that its delegations in the countries surrounding Eritrea facilitate Eritrean asylum seekers access to UNHCR and application services; requests all international organisations to ensure that the procedures concerning refugees are transparent and swift; calls for prioritisation of the international protection needs of victims of torture and human trafficking;

18.  Recognises that Egypt has the right to regulate entry and exit across its borders, but urges the Egyptian authorities and security forces to avoid the use of lethal force against illegal migrants crossing the borders of the country, to fully respect international human rights law provisions and standards regarding their treatment, to protect their dignity and their physical and psychological integrity, to respect their right to due process and fair trial, and to guarantee detained migrants the possibility of contacting the UNHCR, also allowing the UNHCR access to all asylum seekers and refugees in state custody; urges the Egyptian authorities to take all necessary measures to secure the release of Eritreans held hostage;

19.  Urges the Israeli authorities to acknowledge the right to protection of Eritrean refugees and to grant asylum where required;

20.  Requests the EU to adopt a much tougher stance towards the Eritrean regime in case no progress is made on human rights, and to consider targeted restrictive measures such as travel bans and freezing of assets against those whose actions might have led, or may lead, to acts of violence and repression and serious human rights violations; recalls that only sanctions such as those adopted by the UN have until now produced any kind of result in Eritrea;

21.  Requests EU Member States to investigate the operations of Eritrean embassies and to ensure that applications for asylum are no way linked to the cooperation of the Eritrean embassies;

22.  Demands that Eritrea offers its full collaboration with the UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea and the UN Special Rapporteur, and allows them entry into the country;

23.  Requests the UN, the African Union, the EU and bilateral partners of Ethiopia to put pressure on Ethiopia to accept the proposed border demarcation, which would result in a decrease in tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which would in turn increase stability in the entire Horn of Africa region and delegitimise the continuation of the ‘exceptional measures’ of the Eritrean regime;

24.  Urges all international companies investing in Eritrea to act in respect of the full realisation of human rights and to do no harm;

25.  Urges the EU Member States to investigate the embassies and the role of the PFDJ and its various wings, including the youth wing, and to prohibit all forms of association and activity that directly support control and surveillance exercises in Europe, undermine democratic principles and the rule of law, and create patterns of intimidation and extortion; urges the Member States to act to end the diaspora tax and to investigate the financial transactions related to any other ‘contributions’ raised by Eritrean government-linked associations abroad ,and to fully protect the asylum rights of all Eritrean refugees in Europe;

26.  Urges Eritrea to make available information pertaining to the Djiboutian combatants missing in action since the clashes of 10 to 12 June 2008, so that those concerned may ascertain the presence and condition of Djiboutian prisoners of war;

27.  Reiterates its demand for an inter-Eritrean national conference to be held, bringing together the various party leaders and representatives of civil society with a view to finding a solution to the current crisis and setting the country on the path to democracy, political pluralism and sustainable development;

28.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Co-Presidents of the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly, the Governments of Eritrea, Egypt and Israel, the African Union and the United Nations Secretary-General.