The UN Security Council voted on Wednesday 14 November to lift the 9-year-old sanctions against Eritrea following its peace deal with Ethiopia. According to Karen Pierce, UK’s ambassador to the UN, the peace played a significant role in removing sanctions. In July, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki announced that they would restore diplomatic and trade links and officially end a decades-old war.
The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea for the suspicion that they were involved in providing weapons and training to armed groups, including Al-Shabab, in Somalia. Eritrea denied the UN’s accusations, calling the claim a “fabrication” created by US intelligence officials. Eritrea refused to cooperate with the work by the UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group tasked with the investigations. The sanctions included travel bans, asset freezes and an arms embargo. Eritrea has also been accused, in a June 2016 UN Commission of Inquiry report, of committing “crimes against humanity”, targeting its own population; including human rights violations in the mandatory national service which has led to tens of thousands of young Eritreans fleeing the country.
Tibor Nagy, the U.S Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, stressed that there are issues that need to be improved by the regime in Asmara when it comes to its domestic issues, most importantly the severe human right concerns, including arbitrary detention of religious and political prisoners. In the mean time, Eritrea Hub wrote that nothing appears to have changed in Eritrea in relation to military conscription, political prisoner and refugee issues, beyond the restoration of relations with Ethiopia. Eritrea Digest further questioned whether lifting of sanctions will result in tangible changes in Eritreans lives, by quoting Tibor Nagy: “Eritrea cannot assume, by saying wonderful things and opening good relations with the neighbors, that it will automatically lead to sanctions relief. There has to be concrete actions taken.”
Meanwhile, the decision to lift the sanctions was celebrated by Amanuel Giorgio, the Eritrean Permanent Representative to the UN, who said: “…Eritrea as a nation is committed to work with all its neighbours. The peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and the tripartite agreement between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, mark the beginning of a new dawn..” Yemane Gebremeskel, the country’s minister of information, also tweeted his joy: “Congratulations to all!” and in his later tweet: “In the event, the UNSC shoulders a responsibility of effecting amends to the wrongs done; above and beyond the lifting of the sanctions. The Government and people of Eritrea will not thus abandon their efforts for truth and justice with the mere lifting of the sanctions.”
Taye Atske Selassie Made, Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the UN welcomed the adoption of the resolution, “We are supporting this resolution today at a time when a major and historic development is unfolding in the Horn of Africa”, he said. “The breakthrough arising from the rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea is already producing unprecedented and far-reaching positive consequences and is significantly changing the political landscape of the Horn of Africa and beyond.”