Member of the European Parliament Ana Gomez blamed London for being soft on Ethiopia and, in particular, for the extradition of British national Andargachew Tsege.Ana Gomez - European parliament

The MP made the remarks in an EU Parliament subcommittee hearing that focused on Andargachew Tsege, who was second-in-command of the rebel group Ginbot 7. The man was detained on June 23 at Sana’a international airport, Yemen, when he was transiting to Eritrea, and subsequently extradited to Ethiopia.

Andargachew’s detention became public knowledge after a week, when his group issued a statement. Another week passed before Ethiopia confirmed that the Yemenis extradited him, while the Yemeni are silent to date.

During the two weeks of information black-out the British claimed that they were “press[ing] the Yemeni authorities at senior levels to establish [Andargachew’s] whereabouts”.

It was on July 8, the same day that Ethiopia confirmed to have the man in custody, Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed the extradition.

Ms. Gomez, however, is of the opinion that the British had been feigning ignorance in those two weeks.

In a meeting of EU Parliament’s subcommittee on Human Rights, on Sept. 24, Gomez said:

“I can’t imagine that this rendition could have taken place without the British authorities knowing it full well.”

To corroborate her accusation, Gomez claimed “I know that the British Foreign Affairs is well-informed in Ethiopia, it has advisors placed in the Ethiopian gov’t, I know some of them”. Apparently, a reference to British nationals, like Patrick Gilkes, who work as consultants in Ethiopian government offices.

Questioning the sincerity of London on the matter, Gomez added:

“….because there was a reaction of the international community, the British Foreign Office was forced to come out.”

Ms. Gomez, who believes more had to be done on Andargachew’s case, attributed the “softness” to “some member countries” of the EU, saying that:

“[Andargachew Tsege’s].situation is untenable British government and EU have the obligation to do much more than they are doing. It’s not just about issuing statements.

And I know that actually even in the discussions in Ethiopia the attitude is extremely extremely reluctant to act, despite the fact that Ethiopia is….a major recipient of EU development assistance. [We can] make a difference if we want to make a difference.

Unfortunately, some member states don’t want to make a difference. They want business as usual. They are probably even supplying the filters for blocking [internet]”.

The remark resonates the claim made by Human Rights Watch in 2010 that Britain’s official development agency, DFID, was engaged in “persuading other development partners to [have] favorable view of the [the ruling party] EPRDF, sometimes undermining collective positions on human rights.”

Gomez’s musing about supply of internet tools cold be in reference to recent media reports alleging that Ethiopian intelligence agencies purchased a spyware produced by FinFisher, a German firm that used to be part of a London based company.

A British member of the Subcommittee, Richard Howitt, did not respond to the criticisms. He instead directed them to a copy of the July 2014 statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – distributed in the meeting hall – which states:

“We have made clear that we expect immediate consular access and requested reassurances that the death penalty imposed in absentia will not be carried out. We will continue to raise this urgently with the Ethiopian authorities.

The British Government has separately raised the completely unacceptable actions of the Yemeni government who disregarded their obligations under the Vienna Convention and Convention Against Torture and is following up further with them.”

Asked why the British government is not demanding for an immediate and unconditional release, Richard Howitt said:

“….we can call for his release because if he is there illegally in the first place and there is no legal reason for him to be held – if the president [of the subcommittee] – agrees with that argument I hope that we may write a letter both to the Ethiopians and to the British authorities”.

The chairwoman, however, closed the meeting indicating that a follow-up will be held “in a couple of months”.

A representative from an Ethiopian Embassy, who kept silent the entire session, read a statement indicating that:

“Andargachew Tsige is on a public records stating that he has been  training and arming group in Eritrea” and that “his organization[Ginbot 7] has recently declared to disrupt all government activities inside and outside the country”.

Human Rights Watch’s recent statement pointed out that “Ginbot 7 has advocated the armed overthrow of the Ethiopian government”, in a surprising departure from the trend in other Western media and activists.

*********

Daniel Berhane

Daniel Berhane