Eritrea’s response to the UN Monitoring Group’s Report

[From: A Week in the Horn of Africa, Nov. 4, 2011 issue.]

The Government of Eritrea is currently involved in a considerable campaign to try to distract attention from its long-term behaviour and avoid the imposition of further sanctions by the United Nations Security Council. President Isaias has been on a diplomatic offensive for several months now, even asking to address the UN Security Council which he normally excoriates as a US puppet.

One of the latest chapters in this effort is the more than fifty pages described as Eritrea’s Response to the Report of the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group. That report, of course, detailed Eritrea’s involvement in a wide array of activities aimed at destabilizing the Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu and in support of terrorists and extremists in Somalia, as well as other actions aimed against Ethiopia and Djibouti. However, the Eritrean response is not just an attempt to rebut the UN report point by point, as the Eritrean regime’s foreign ministry promises; it is also an attempt to produce an image of Eritrea entirely different from the one of which most people are aware. It is not a picture that other states in the region can easily recognize.

Indeed, in this document the Government of Eritrea portrays itself as the only power in the Horn of Africa (and indeed more widely) that has been working for peace and stability in the region, consistently prepared “to go against the international current to publicly pronounce its views and opinions with honesty and candour”. Its regional policy has been “squarely and firmly rooted on promoting a conducive environment of good neighbourliness and cooperation.” It identifies Eritrea’s politics as the envy of the world. Its economic system is the most effective and efficient, lifting Eritreans out of poverty and setting them on the path to development and prosperity. The claimed policy of self-reliance has more than proved its value, but it has also brought about the antagonism of the world’s major powers towards the government and people of Eritrea.

All this is detailed without any sign of irony or cynicism, and at the same time the Eritrean penchant for the superlative is given full rein in the part of the response defining what the statement calls the fundamental pillars of Eritrea’s foreign policy. Without even the faintest satirical indication these are defined as the cultivation of peaceful relations with all its neighbors; the promotion of development at home; and the pursuit of peace and stability throughout the region. It seems the government in Asmara is seriously trying to pretend that it hasn’t heard any of the numerous, and factually accurate,  reports that have been levelled against it in the last few years, and against which this response is supposed to be directed. This is, after all, a regime that has literally gone to war with all its neighbors at various times and which has consistently armed, trained and supported opposition forces in Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia. It suggests a quite extraordinary degree of self-delusion from a regime that has embroiled itself in conflict throughout the region.

It also underlines the point that this Response to the Report of the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group is less an attempt to provide a detailed critique of the report than in detailing its own claims about the right paths and choices taken and made in apparently trying to bring about peace throughout the region despite the contrary efforts of all the other countries around. It becomes rather a game of trading allegations and recriminations.

The response does also make some effort to address some of the specific charges made by the UN Monitoring Group, but one example is essentially sufficient to demonstrate the style of the replies. Addressing the Monitoring Group’s detailed evidence for the plot to bomb Addis Ababa during the AU Summit in January, the statement claims, correctly, that one of the officers identified as Eritrean was in fact a member of the Oromo Liberation Front. It then adds that this was ample proof that the plot could not be the work of the Eritrean regime. In fact, it hardly proves anything of the kind if only because that officer was feted in Asmara for his efforts to destabilize the government of Ethiopia. Nor does the point address the fact that the Monitoring Group also produced specific details of training in Eritrea and of direct phone links between those involved in the plot and Eritrean intelligence officers. These same intelligence officers were also involved in training of other opposition groups in Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti.  

The technique involved in this response is the one usually employed by the Eritrean government. It concentrates on minor possible inconsistencies or exaggerations to try to create the impression that the report as a whole should be dismissed as implausible. It did this of course with an earlier Monitoring Group Report, picking up on the claim that there were 2,000 Eritrean troops in Somalia in 2006. These, in fact, included several hundred OLF and over a thousand ONLF fighters who had been trained in Eritrea and who had been sent down to Somalia during the year. There they joined numbers of Eritrean military involved in training of the ICU. The intention was that they should be infiltrated into Ethiopia by arrangement with the Islamic Courts Union. 

Being able to pick up on a minor error or two doesn’t, of course, negate the details of all the numerous other charges nor does it weaken the details of the convincing evidence provided or the overall conclusions. The other approach that the Eritrean regime adopts, and has again done so here, is either to simply ignore anything to which it cannot find a response or alternatively just repeatedly deny the evidence. Neither actually amounts to a credible response. The evidence, as we have noted before, is quite simply so irrefutable that no acrobatic semantics can detract from its veracity.

One other point might be made. The Response claims that if December 2009, when the Security Council Resolution 1907 was adopted, is taken as the reference, then “the conclusion that Eritrea is not in any violation of Resolution 1907 is starkly clear.” By this it means that much of the evidence produced by the Monitoring Group pre-dates December 2009 and therefore Eritrea should not be classified as violating 1907. Given that some of these details actually involve payments made through the Eritrean embassy in Nairobi to people affiliated to Al-Shabaab, this appears to be somewhat specious. More relevant, of course, is the fact that much of the Monitoring Group evidence does actually post-date December 2009.

In one seemingly innocuous remark, the Response claims that Eritrea is not in violation of Resolution 1907, and adds that “much that is positive has taken place since then”, including Eritrea’s acceptance of Qatar mediation for its problem with Djibouti and Eritrea’s agreement to redeploy its troops. One might add that for most of the last two years Eritrea has resolutely denied it has had any problem with Djibouti or that its troops ever crossed the Djibouti border. Now, it seems that there was a problem and that Eritrea has acknowledged it. Equally, one might note that if there has been significant and positive progress since Resolution 1907 was passed, then logically it appears there had been earlier problems. It would be rash to assume that this is an admission though it certainly appears to be one. Equally, it underlines the fact that the Government of Eritrea does appear to respond to firmness when action is finally taken. We would suggest that is a lesson of which the international community should take note.


Re-Publishing items from A Weeks in the Horn, the weekly press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, do not necessarily imply an endorsement of the the claims and arguments therein by this blog.

Check Eritrea archive and Eritrean terrorism archive for related posts.