- The African Commission on Human Rights in March this year handed down a landmark ruling against the government of Eritrea, which has left the Asmara regime "in a diplomatic disorder." This is the conclusion in a new book, documenting the human rights ruling against Eritrea.
Mussie Ephrem, who almost single-handedly led the case against the Eritrean government at the African Commission, has authored a new book, 'The Ruling', describing and documenting the long process behind the Commission's landmark decision. Co-author Semere Kesete, a prominent Eritrean exiled ex-student leader, contributes with a description of Eritrea's steadily deteriorating human rights situation.
The book - which is partly a collection of documents from Mr Ephrem's lawyer, the African Commission and the Asmara government - is mostly a historic documentation of how the case was led. It turns out a valuable recipe collection for individuals and organisations wanting to prove their case in the African Commission.
'The Ruling' refers to the case initiated after the September 2001 imprisonment without charges of the so-called Asmara-11, a group of former ruling party members urging for democratisation. The leading party members had asked non-elected President Issayas Afewerki to convene an overdue meeting in the ruling PDFJ party's Central and National Councils with an aim of starting "a democratic transition".
The book also documents the interesting communication between the party reformists and President Afewerki at the time when the Eritrean leader started showing growing signs of paranoia. "Again today you have sent me another letter. I have seen it. I repeat, you are making a mistake." This was the entire 13 March 2001 answer from the authoritarian President.
After a second request for a party meeting, President Afewerki on 29 March 2001 writes his top aides: "Because I have chosen to be tolerant, I will patiently avoid any invitation to an argument. But if by continuous provocation, you want to escalate problems by exaggerating non-existent issues, it is your choice." A party meeting was never convened.
The disappointed party functionaries went on writing an open letter to all PDFJ members, calling for a discussion on the overdue transition to democracy. This letter finally sparked their detention and a sharp increase in the regime's paranoia. All independent media have since been banned, Mr Kesete and other student leaders were jailed, religious minorities are tortured into converting, the foreign press is expelled, Ethiopians were mass-expelled and conflicts were started with all neighbour countries.
Mr Ephrem in November 2001 hired a Dutch lawyer to test these massive human rights violations in the newly established African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. It took them two and a half years to reach their goal; a Commission ruling finding the Eritrean government to be in violation of the African Charter on four accounts.
After the unique March 2004 ruling, according to the authors, "the regime in Eritrea is in a diplomatic disorder." The paranoid Asmara ruler increasingly has been driven into diplomatic isolation, claiming the African Commission had "malicious intents", saying UN peacekeepers were a "grave danger" to the regional peace and claiming its US ally "lacks moral and legal high grounds."
Consequently, the US government last year expelled the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), effectively from 1 January this year, due to grave human rights violations. This week, Eritrea was put on a US government blacklist of "countries of particular concern" regarding the situation of religious freedom; Asmara thus risking further US sanctions.
Most European countries meanwhile have cut all aid to Eritrea, except food aid to drought victims. Also within Africa, the Eritrean leadership has reason to be paranoid, as its Ethiopian foes are gaining increased sympathy. "The ruling" thus in many ways seems to signal the beginning of the end of Eritrea's unconstitutional regime, as described in the book with the same title.
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