Home > Uncategorized > Ongoing Eritrean Internal Suffering and External Destabilization Demands Strong International Response

Ongoing Eritrean Internal Suffering and External Destabilization Demands Strong International Response

The General Assembly of the African Union (AU) today passed a resolution in strong support of resolutions against Eritrea imposed by the UN Security Council last year.

UNSC 1907 calls for an arms embargo, travel sanctions, and a freeze on the assets of political and military leaders who were involved in instigating action and violence in Somalia. Eritrea had provided support to armed groups undermining peace and reconciliation in Somalia. Eritrea has a history of being a troublemaker in the region, especially if it will harm Ethiopia.

Eritrea has been supplying arms to Islamist militants intent on toppling Somalia’s government. While Eritrea rejects accusations that it sends weapons to the al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants fighting Somalia’s government, Somalia’s government has demonstrated evidence that Asmara continues to support al Shabaab militants with planeloads of AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.

There is also evidence that Eritrea has been housing weapons from and for Iran. It was reported in December 2008 by opposition groups, foreign diplomats, and NGOs that Iranian ships and submarines have deployed an undisclosed number of Iranian troops and weapons at the Eritrean port town of Assab. The city of Assab sits at the Horn of Africa in the Arabian Sea. As such, Assab offers a strategic position as the world nervously eyes the precarious routes through which a seaborne oil traverses daily.

Local sources have reported that Iran recently sent soldiers and a large number of long-range and ballistic missiles. The military basing came after Iran signed an accord with Eritrea to revamp the Russian-built refinery used by the Eritrean Oil Company, also known as Assab Oil Company.

On top of its external destabilization, Eritrea has a reputation internally as one of the world’s worst persecutors of religious minorities. In less than two decades of independence, President Isaias Afewerki has established a totalitarian grip on Eritrea, forcing increasing numbers of citizens to flee to neighboring countries and beyond.

The government permits members of only Orthodox Christian, Catholic, and Lutheran churches and traditional Islam. Over 3,000 members of unregistered churches are incarcerated. Many are beaten and otherwise abused to compel them to renounce their faiths.

But even the “recognized” religious groups have not been spared. In 2006 the government removed the 81-year-old patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church after he refused to interfere with a renewal movement within the church. He has been in solitary confinement since May 2007. In 2008 the regime revoked the exemption from military service of most Orthodox priests.

The government has also interfered with the Catholic Church, taking over church schools, health clinics, and other social service facilities. Since November 2007 it has expelled at least 14 foreign Catholic missionaries by refusing to extend their residency permits.

Just recently, Open Doors reported that yet another Christian has died in one of Eritrea’s detention centers. On Jan. 24, 2010, Hana Hagos Asgedom, 41, became the eleventh person to die in these detention centers. Asgedom suffered a heart attack while being held in solitary confinement at Alla Military Camp.

Open Doors said:

Shortly before her death, she apparently endured beatings with an iron rod for refusing to ‘make the chief commander in the camp a cup of coffee.’ When Asgedom resisted this order, which Christians interpret as sexual advances, she was apparently sent back to her cell where she endured punishment and later succumbed to the heart attack.

Asgedom was originally arrested and held in Wi’a Military Camp for three years. However, when the camp shut down, she and the other prisoners were moved to Alla, where she was given a final
chance to renounce her faith. When she refused, she spent the rest of her life in solitary confinement.

Eritrea has been the subject of sanctions for years, with little to no change in Afewerki’s grip on the nation. The latest round of UN sanctions endorse by the AU is a strong step, but a serious response must be given by the international security to improve the situation on the ground in Eritrea and to stop Eritrea’s ongoing interference in Somalia and elsewhere.

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