Eritrea real clear politics's Weblog

November 14, 2009

Constructive debate on disheartening Eritrea-report

Filed under: Report — eritrearealclearpolitics @ 11:07 am
Constructive debate on disheartening Eritrea-report
Monday, 26 October 2009
rapportlansering_web_205.jpgThe premises were filled to the brim when the Oslo Center released its report on the human rights situation in Eritrea. “The overwhelming human rights abuses, as this report documents, must be an eye-opener for the international community. It has not been enough attention from the outside world on Eritrea’s tragic situation, but the turnout today indicates that the interest is greater than expected”, Kjell Magne Bondevik, the President of the Oslo Center, said in his opening adress.

The Seminar started with Professor Kjetil Tronvoll, the author of the report “The Lasting Struggle for Freedom in Eritrea”, accounting for the main conclusions in the report. Thereafter, the other panelists Alf-Åge Hansen (the Oslo Center), Nils Jacob Harbitz (Human Rights House Foundation) and Axel Borchgrevink (NUPI) shared their views of what to do with the dreadful human rights situation in Eritrea.


“To understand the situation in Eritrea today, the historical and contextual relationships must be explored. The report is thus far broader in its focus than other human rights reports, said Kjetil Tronvoll.
With a starting point in Eritrea’s own commitments towards its legal system, Tronvoll accounted for the government’s involvement in the legal system, the obliterating of the civil society, the lack of democratic processes, torture, extrajudicial sentencing as well as marginalization of minorities in Eritrea.

“Their laws have no significance as long as they are not practiced by the government. The report is disheartening on all points”, concluded Tronvoll.

A need for increased knowledge
Special Advisor Alf-Åge Hansen at the Oslo Center underlined that the report is created in an attempt to influence both the country itself and central international actors.

“We must put Eritrea on the international agenda, we must improve our own knowledge of Eritrea, and we must become more conscious of what consequences Western countries’ polialf-ge_hansen_250.jpgcies have on the Horn of Africa. We must complement the strong anti-terror-focus we have used to analyze the Horn of Africa, and create a more nuanced debate in which human rights is given more attention”, Hansen said.

“At the same time, we want an increased attention towards the region as a whole. One has to understand the close links between the countries on the Horn of Africa. A knowledge based and  regional perspective must be combined with a constructive and critical dialogue. Eritrea must come out of its isolation if the situation is to improve”, said Hansen.

Laborious efforts needed
Nils Jacob Harbitz from the Human Rights House Foundation brought up several possible alternatives to contribute to a positive change in Eritrea. Especially is the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review central. Eritrea is reviewed by the Council in November. The next opportunity will not be for another four years. 
“This is a new consultative mechanism which can potentially contribute. Many international actors and the entire UN-system will pay attention. This is one arena where the Oslo Center can contribute with a lot of information to the central actors”, Harbitz said.

Harbitz also emphasized the value of commitment and patience.

“We must raise these matters carefully as well as working systematically, intensively and not backing out. Backing out will only result in a lack of trust with the local human rights workers”, he said.

Alone against the world
Axel Borchgrevink from NUPI concluded the panel discussion by accounting for how Eritrea’s history affects the Western countries’ involvement in the country.

“The feeling of being alone against the world is dominant in Eritrea. The poor treatment by other states as well as the UN in the 50s, and their own liberation war has created a strong belief that they can do things by themselves and a general skepticism to external help”, said Borchgrevink.

He finished off by underlining the importance of the Diaspora.

“In the context of such a revealing report, diplomatic efforts may seem like a waste of time. But the regime will not last forever, and the regime is starting to loose control over the Diaspora”, he said.

Enthusiastic debate
The following debate showed how the Eritreans in exile had different opinions concerning the current situation in Eritrea and the where to go. At the same time, different questions and comments contributed to several relevant approaches to the problems discussed. Amongst others was cooperation with African universities highlighted as a possible way to further promote human rights.

The documentary A Nation Held Hostage, produced in collaboration with the Oslo Center, the Strømme Foundation, Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communication and Camerapix, gave a visual and clear picture of the situation in Eritrea.

Kjell Magne Bondevik concluded the seminar by underlining the Oslo Center’s intentions with the report.

“We do not seek to work against, but with the Eritrean government. We wish all the best for Eritrea, and it is out of concern for the Eritrean people we are doing this. The country’s great potential for development is why this situation is so tragic. We want to bring Eritrea out of its isolation”, he said.

The report has been commissioned by the Oslo Center with support from the Strømme Foundation and the Norwegian Mission to the East. 


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