EU mustn't ignore human rights in giving Eritrea aid

Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki and Louis Michel, former Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, at EU headquarters in Brussels, May 2007.
Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki and Louis Michel, former Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, at EU headquarters in Brussels, May 2007. Photo: Gerard Cerles/AFP

Eritrean activists visited Brussels this week to lobby the European Union over alleged human rights abuses committed by the authorities in Asmara. The campaigners are worried that the EU is ignoring violations committed by the Eritrean government and continues to provide development aid with no strings attached. The EU is expected to vote on a new 90 million euro aid package in July.


“A lot of EU states are obviously reengaging with the Eritrean government but there isn’t any change on the human rights situation,” said Helen Kidan, Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR).

Kidan and other Eritrean activists spent time in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday meeting with officials from the EU Commission as well as European lawmakers.

“Europe is trying to address its migration issue by supporting so-called development in countries like Eritrea,” said Kidan, who represents the South African-based civil society group.

The EU has finalised a package of projects and programmes worth almost 90 million euros as part of the bloc’s European Development Fund, according to a speech given by Christian Manahl, Head of the EU Delegation to Eritrea.

Eritrean activists are not alone in their concerns about EU development aid and the prevailing human rights situation.

“There is a lack of conditionality in these agreements,” MEP Lars Adaktusson told RFI in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “There is no doubt that the latest agreement between the EU Commission and Eritrea has weaknesses.”

The Swedish MEP said it is impossible for the EU to monitor human rights in the country. Adaktusson has previously travelled to Eritrea, in his former job as a journalist, and witnessed the “appalling” conditions in the country, he said.

“The regime in Eritrea doesn’t allow the EU monitors to do their work, they don’t care about this,” said the MEP, who is a member of the European People's Party. “It has been a problem for the European Union and the Commission to actually monitor what’s going on in Eritrea.”

Christian Manahl, the EU’s ambassador to Eritrea, in May described “good progress” in relations between the European bloc and Eritrea and the implementation of the last round of EU development funding. However, the Swedish MEP has a different take on the rule of President Isaias Afewerki.

“We deal with a dictatorship, it’s very cruel, not interested in good relations and contact with the European Union,” said Adaktusson.

Human rights groups have been highly critical of the situation in Eritrea and last year a UN human rights inquiry delivered a damning assessment of the country’s detention facilities and military camps.

“Crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, persecution, rape, murder and other inhumane acts have been committed as part of a campaign to instil fear in, deter opposition from and ultimately to control the Eritrean civilian population,” said the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea.

Eritrean activists say the EU is overlooking human rights in order to stem the flow of the people leaving the country, but in doing so the bloc is destroying its own democratic credibility and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms.

“The EU stands for democracy and human rights and it is turning its back on its own values,” said EMDHR activist Kidan. “The signal that it’s giving people in the Horn of Africa is the wrong message.”

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