On 24 November 2016, Eritrean human rights lawyer Daniel Mekonnen gave a speech at a panel discussion on Eritrea, organized by Amnesty International, in Basel, Switzerland. The speech was aimed at two recent pronouncements by the Swiss government that suggest that positive political change is taking place in Eritrea. According to Mekonnen, this completely ignores the reality in the country.
The background notes of the speech can be found here: Deconstructing the Myth of a “Promising” Political Change in Eritrea, by Daniel R. Mekonnen
On 22 June 2016, the Swiss government released a reference report on Eritrean asylum seekers, followed by the announcement on 2 November 2016 that development cooperation with Eritrea would be launched again. The renewed interest in development cooperation and dialogue with the Eritrean regime, according to Mr. Mekonnen, is based on the objective of the European Union to stop migration at any cost. Therefore, European politicians claim that there is substantive political change in Eritrea, where in fact the country is currently in a situation of ongoing crimes against humanity. Mr. Mekonnen cites the UN report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, which described at length the crimes against humanity and other human rights violations in its two reports from 2015 and 2016.
Engagement with the Eritrean regime will not yield any positive outcome, nor put a stop to the flow of refugees from Eritrea, warns Mr. Mekonnen.
Furthermore, Mr. Mekonnen notes that the new report on refugees from Eritrea by the Swiss government has negative consequences for Eritrean refugees in the country. It is outrageous, he says, that Eritrean asylum seekers who are deserters or draft evaders are expected to “regularize” their relations with the Eritrean government, in order to prevent persecution in case they are deported back to Eritrea. The report from the Swiss government claims that exemption from punishment for returned Eritrean refugees can be given, but the report later admits that “There is hardly any information available regarding the treatment of forcibly returned persons.” In fact, says Mr. Mekonnen, information from Eritrea indicates that returned persons are indeed persecuted.
According to Mr. Mekonnen, the report shows that the Swiss government is prioritizing the stemming of the refugee flows over their obligations under international refugee laws. Therefore, he asks the Swiss government to rectify the report.
In conclusion, Mr. Mekonnen says that the Eritrean government is not poor; in fact, it earns large revenues from its natural resource extraction. However, where this money ends up is unknown. The only remedy for Eritrea is accountability for the ongoing crimes against humanity and the pervasive impunity, concludes Mr. Mekonnen.
“Ultimately we will be judged not by the stand we take in times of comfort and convenience but by those we take in times of challenge and controversy.”