Cynical policy behind State Secretary’s visit to Asmara
In NOAS’ view, a Norwegian return agreement with Eritrea is impossible. As long as no international independent human rights protecting institution or organization like the UN Special rapporteur on Eritrea or the International Committee of Red Cross are allowed in to the country or allowed to visit prisons and detention centers, there is strong political opposition against a return agreement between Norway and Eritrea.
In Eritrea people still disappear or are subject to imprisonment and torture. This has happened to Eritreans being returned by force from countries like Israel and Egypt. Under such conditions, NOAS does not believe the senior partner in the Norwegian government, the Conservative party, would want a return agreement with the present regime in Eritrea.
Political signals to fleeing Eritreans
The only reason why the State Secretary Jøran Kallmyr from the Ministry of Justice is visiting Asmara and giving interviews about signs of political changes in Eritrea, the possibility of a return agreement between Norway and Eritrea and the possible cessation of the right to stay in Norway for Eritrean refugees, is to send the following message to the Eritrean refugees leaving their country by the hundreds every day: If you make it to Europe; do not come to Norway. He signals that Norwegian authorities will return Eritreans to Eritrea by the first chance they see to proclaim evident political change and reduction of the national service to 18 months of military training.
If the Secretary of State believes a regime that has been repressing its own people and lying to the international community for 20 years, he is at best naïve. But this is not the case. This is a well-calculated visit to Asmara, only aiming to reduce the number of Eritrean refugees arriving in Norway. We saw the same act being played last June by Himanshu Gulati, the former State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice. After high numbers of arriving Eritrean refugees in Norway in May 2014, Gulati visited Asmara the following month and talked about signs of change and the possibility of a return agreement with Eritrea.
Put pressure on Ethiopia!
The Norwegian government has made Ethiopia one of 12 selected countries of cooperation. This in spite of the Ethiopian government’s growing political repression and blatant use of the country’s anti-terror legislation to curb independent media and political opposition. A decade of restrictive initiatives and repressive practices has left the country without a viable political opposition, without independent media, and without public challenges to the ruling party’s ideology. For many Ethiopians, the Parliamentarian election in May was just another exercise in controlled political participation.
During this spring, Norway has seen a growing number of Ethiopian refugees. By May 31 2015, 206 Ethiopian refugees had applied for protection in Norway. This is twice as much as the first five months of 2014.
Since the last war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1998-2000, Ethiopia has occupied parts of Eritrea. According to a ruling by an international commission in The Hague, Eritrea broke international law and triggered the war by invading Ethiopia. Eritrea lost the war over the disputed territory of Badme. As a result, Ethiopia held all of the disputed territory and advanced into Eritrea. After the war ended, the Eritrea–Ethiopia Boundary Commission, a body founded by the UN, established that the disputed territory at the heart of the conflict, belongs to Eritrea. 15 years later, Ethiopia still occupies the territory.
The Ethiopian occupation is the pretext for Isaias Afewerki’s regime to proclaim a state of emergency, or as described in Eritrea: “No peace and no war”. The occupation is the given reason for the militarization of Eritrea, the repression of all opposition, crack down on independent media and not the least; the indefinite national service for all men and women between 18 and 40 years of age.
Given this situation, NOAS urges the Norwegian government to address this political situation in Addis Ababa and put pressure on the Ethiopian regime to respect international law and accept the borderline demarcated by the UN initiated international boundary commission in 2005.
Norwegian-Eritrean agreement on vocational training for returnees
In December 2014, the Norwegian Ministry of Justice signed a three party “cost-sharing agreement” with the state-controlled youth movement National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students and UNDP regarding youth employment and skill development for young Eritreans who voluntary returned from Norway. In NOAS view, a totally meaningless agreement. No young people return voluntarily to Eritrea unless they:
- Have Norwegian citizenship
- Are members of the state-controlled youth movement and supports the regime
- Are originally sent to Norway on a mission to report back on regime-critical activities in the Eritrean Diaspora in Norway
By making this agreement, supporting the regime with 5,1 million NOK during 2015, the Norwegian government is on good terms with the Eritrean regime and is giving the regime legitimacy internationally. Being on good terms with the regime meant that representatives of The Norwegian Country of Origin Information Centre, Landinfo, as an independent body within the Norwegian Immigration Authorities, was allowed entry into Eritrea, whilst the UN special rapporteur and the UN Special commission on Eritrea both were denied entry.
In March and April, Landinfo published three reports on the situation in Eritrea and especially on the national service. Landinfo concludes that there is no actual proof that Eritrean authorities will restrain the service to 18 months of military service.
The Norwegian government is speaking with two voices when it comes to economic support to regimes actively violating human rights. On the one hand, the Ministry of Justice signed this agreement with the Eritrean regime, infamous for its grave violations of human rights. At the same time, in December 2014, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented its white paper on human rights in foreign policy and development policy. In this document, the Government states as a condition for economic support the recipient country’s will to rule the country in accordance with human rights, democracy and rule of law. Eritrea complies with none of these three criteria.
UN commission: Grave violations of human rights
There is no solid proof of any political or other changes in Eritrea. To the contrary, during the oral debate of the interim findings of the Commission regarding the conditions in Eritrea at The UN Committee on Human rights in Geneva on March 16, chair Mike Smith pointed out that national service was still universal and of an indefinite duration. Smith reported that the Committee found clear patterns of grave violations of human rights. The report is due later in June.
As long as the Eritrean Constitution of 1997 is still not in use, the Parliament still not seated, there is no Rule of Law and arbitrary detention, torture and disappearances still take place, NOAS sees no sign of any political improvements in Eritrea.