The Eritrean regime has a habit of selective reading of texts to fit them into its own bizarre worldview. This approach was in full view in the latest letter written by Eritrea’s Foreign Minister to the United Nations Security Council arguing that the UN sanctions imposed on Eritrea ought to be lifted. This was based on what can only be describes as a highly selected reading of the report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.

The letter begins by claiming that “the initial and principal accusation concerning Eritrean support to al-Shabaab has now proven to be non-existent”. The implication of course is that the sanctions regime imposed on Eritrea was, in fact, unjustified. This is hardly the case. Despite Mr. Osman Saleh’s claims that such support has been proved to be non-existent, Eritrea’s long time support for extremist elements in Somalia has always been fully documented, not least by the Eritrean government’s own comments. The series of sanctions on Eritrea were always imposed on the basis of ample and detailed evidence.

In fact, the sanctions were not just imposed because of Eritrea’s support for Al-Shabaab and extremism in Somalia, undoubted though that was. They were also imposed because of Eritrea’s violent aggression against Djibouti, its subsequent denials and its refusal to respond to UN Security Council resolutions, as well as for the variety of destabilizing activities it has regularly carried out through the entire region. Again, the evidence was clear, detailed and multiple. Eritrea’s selective diplomacy, however, deliberately avoids the real issues. Indeed, it seems to take a position of total denial, even of the well-known or obvious. This is why the government of Eritrea continues to take texts out of context, distort their meaning, deny the obvious.

This is why the most recent letter of the government should be looked at very carefully. The Monitoring Group, in its most recent report, says the activities of the Eritrean regime in support of Al-Shabaab have been significantly reduced. It identifies the main reason for this as the effectiveness of the sanctions regime that had been imposed by the UN, though it also notes that this had a number of weaknesses. The Monitoring Group makes it quite clear that any suggestion that Eritrea might have voluntarily reduced its support for the Somali terrorist group out of its own freewill is simply implausible and cannot be accepted. It correctly points out that Eritrea found it extremely difficult, indeed impossible, to continue to flaunt its open support to the extremist elements in Somalia in the face of mounting pressure from the international community.

It is very clear, of course, why the regime should claim that accusations of its support to Al-Shabaab have been proved to be non-existent. For the government of Eritrea, “the absence of evidence is the evidence of absence.” To say that one has stopped support and to admit to some previous activity is one thing. To claim one should be exonerated from past crimes after stopping a dangerous game because of obvious difficulties and pressures is very different. This, however, is the pattern of reasoning that has characterized Eritrea’s diplomatic correspondence and practice over many years; and still does so.

In fact, despite all its verbal acrobatics, the regime is far from acknowledging any wrong-doing. It consistently prefers to blame everything on the international community in general and the Monitoring Group, Ethiopia and of course the US in particular. In the bizarre politics of Eritrea, the rest of the world does not have the slightest moral authority over Eritrea, which claims to be a bastion of justice and freedom. The regime in Asmara insists that it, and it alone, has a monopoly of judgment on all issues relating to what should be seen as just or unjust. Very simply, it claims all its actions are just and acceptable; all those of the rest of the world are unjust and unacceptable. Eritrea can do no wrong; the rest of the world can do nothing right when it comes to dealing with Eritrea. There has been no indication yet that the regime in Eritrea is ready to give up this illusion now or at any time in the near future.

As for the support it has provided for any and all elements trying to destabilize other governments in the region, including both Ethiopia and Sudan as well as Somalia, Eritrea has even escalated its reckless adventures. It seems quite clear, it has never had any intention of stopping. Its actions in the region remain as destructive as ever, although their magnitude have been kept rather lower recently than the regime would like, thanks to the realization that none of its behavior will be now be left unchecked. As noted, the government still refuses to acknowledge its invasion of Djibouti. The only factors that have made a difference from the open aggression displayed against Djibouti and the continued activities against other countries have been the impact of the UN sanctions regime and more recently, Ethiopia’s firm warnings that there will be distinct, though carefully calculated and proportional consequences to any further aggressive Eritrean adventures.

Eritrea, it is clear, remains as recalcitrant as ever. There is simply no reason for sanctions to be loosened or lifted, and certainly not at a time when it seems clear they have actually had some impact. If anything, indeed, there is every reason to suggest they should be strengthened in order to ensure continued compliance by the regime with the decisions of the international community. Eritrea, not for the first time, has demonstrated that it only responds to real and serious pressure. Now would appear to be an excellent time to reinforce, not abandon, the message that the UN and the international community should be delivering.


*Originally published on A Week in the Horn – Oct. 12, 2012 issue.

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