Ambassador Andebrhan of EFND (Medrek) Urges Italy To Play Catalystic Role for Democratic Change in Eritrea

2016-05-31 17:35:00 Written by  EPDP Information Office Published in EPDP News Read 5400 times

Addressing a parliamentary hearing on Eritrea in Rome on 10 May 2016, Ambassador Andebrhan Weldegiorgis, a leadership member of the Eritrean Forum for National Dialogue (EFND- Medrek), called on Eritrea's former colonial master, Italy, to play "a catalytic role in the effort to bring about democratic transition [in Eritrea] and promote regional peace, stability and security in the Horn of Africa." He also hoped that the parliamentary hearing in Rome would be "the beginning of a new relationship of solidarity between an emergent democratic Eritrea and Italy."

Dr/Ambassador Andebrhan was attending a hearing of the two chambers of the Italian parliament organized through his efforts by the Commission on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies. Also invited to the event were Eritrean human rights activists in Italy as well as the Eritrean People's Democratic Party (EPDP) whose delegation could not make it due a last minute technical hiccup. (It is to be recalled that the EPDP addressed a similar hearing in Rome in December 2013 in which it, inter alia, blamed Italy for inaction to help democracy-building in Eritrea).

Ambassador Andebrhan's address at this year's hearing focused on the nature of the Eritrean regime; the situation in Eritrea; the imperative for democratic change; and the need for international solidarity and support for democratic transition.

The Harvard graduate, who spent his entire youth in the struggle, reminded the Italian legislators that "Eritrea's freedom fighters were inspired by the progressive ideals of liberty, equality and justice" but that their lofty objectives were betrayed by their own liberation movement that ended up becoming "an instrument of repression" within three years of taking power.

He also informed the Parliamentary Hearing that the Eritrean democratic opposition are currently working to come together under a common strategy that including a building new sound "new relationship with Eritrea’s neighbours based on a strategic framework of political cooperation and economic integration that would address all outstanding bilateral issues to ensure regional peace, stability and security."

Printed below is the full text of Ambassador Andebrhan Weldegiorgis' address to the Parliamentary Hearing of 10 May 2016 in Rome.

Chamber of Deputies,

Rome, 10 May 2016

Parliamentary Hearing on the Situation in Eritrea

Thank you Mr Chairman,

Honourable Members of Parliament,

It is a pleasure and, indeed, a distinct privilege for me to address this important Parliamentary Hearing on the Situation in Eritrea. At the outset, I would like to thank the Commission on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and my good friend, the Hon. Lia Quartapelle, for making this timely exchange of views possible.

I will focus my brief opening remarks on: (1) the nature of the Eritrean regime; (2) the situation in Eritrea; (3) the imperative for democratic change; and (4) the need for international solidarity and support for democratic transition. We can then have more detailed discussion on specific issues of interest.

1. Nature of the Eritrean regime

  1. Historical  Legacy:

The long and arduous armed struggle of the Eritrean people was waged as much for national liberation as for fundamental political, economic and social transformation. In investing their youth in the struggle, Eritrea’s freedom fighters were inspired by the progressive ideals of liberty, equality and justice. We fought for freedom, democracy and prosperity. Regrettably, we ended up with the polar opposites. Why?

  1. Agency of liberation turned into a tool of oppression

The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), which built an effective military machine to win the war of independence against all odds, morphed into the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ)three years after the historic victory and turned into an instrument of repression. The EPLF thus failed to transform itself from a highly efficient politico-military organisation waging a war of national liberation into a functional political movement running the affairs of state. 

  1. Failure to build a constitutional government

It is not unique to Eritrea that a hitherto progressive national liberation movement atrophies. Once secure at the helm of power, its leadership betrays the original aims of the movement and becomes the new guardian of the privileges and inequities of the status quo. To date, no liberation movement that seized power through the force of arms has managed to establish an inclusive, participatory and accountable government. In this sense, Eritrea’s experience is no exception.

  1. A brutal dictatorship

The effort to establish a constitutional government committed to democratic principles, rule of law and respect for human rights was aborted. The non-application of the constitution, drafted with broad popular participation at home and in the Diaspora and ratified by a Constituent Assembly in 1997, deprives the Eritrean State of a legal basis and the Eritrean people of sovereignty. Eritrea does not hold elections. Eritrea has no parliament, no independent judiciary, and no functional cabinet of ministers.

The National Assembly and the Central Council of the PFDJ have been suspended since 2001, with most of their most prominent members in jail or exile. The Special Court has arrogated the powers of the High Court. There is no freedom of expression, freedom of assembly or freedom of association. The president wields absolute power and rules the country without any legal or institutional constraint.       

2      Situation in Eritrea

Eritrea today is suffering under a brutal dictatorship. For a quarter century now, as we celebrate the Silver Jubilee, our people have been denied the right to constitute a government of their choice and to live in peace, freedom, dignity and justice. Under tight regimentation, Eritrean society endures brutal repression and the privations of a coupon economy, which has failed to deliver even the most basic needs of the people.

The youth endure the scourge of open-ended active national military service; Eritreans from the age of 18 to70s are obliged by an endless national service or forced to bear arms to fight in the regime’s unending wars.

Arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killing of suspected dissidents abound. The unbearable condition created by severe political repression and pervasive control, aggravated by economic hardship, has pushed the youth to flee the country in the tens of thousands at tremendous risk to their lives.

Some pay their way through human traffickers; others cross the border on foot risking their lives; and many perish from sunstroke in the harsh Sahara trek to North Africa, drowning in the Mediterranean Sea in transit to Europe, or organ harvest in the Sinai. We all remember the tragedy of Lampedusa, not very far from here!

The substitution of the rule of law by the rule of man has allowed the perpetration of arbitrary arrests of senior public officials and military officers for demanding democratic reform, of journalists for covering dissenting opinion, and of elders for advocating dialogue and reconciliation.

The regime perpetrates indefinite detention under solitary confinement; physical and mental torture of political detainees and prisoners of conscience; enforced disappearances; and extrajudicial killings.

Freedom of expression, assembly and association is absent; autonomous political and civic organisations are banned; independent opinion is suppressed and dissent is equated with treason. Political repression and the crackdown on the private press have closed the political space in the country.

The state owns the media and controls the message, banishes diversity and criminalises dissent. State control and censorship have crushed freedom of expression, facilitated dictatorship and closed the society. Eritrea ranks the worst country for press freedom and detention of journalists and political dissenters, making it “the world’s biggest prison”. Jails of shipping containers, subterranean cells, and detention centres dot the country and, according to Human Rights Watch, the regime holds “at least 10,000 political prisoners” in “unimaginably atrocious conditions”.

The damage done by the closure of the political,economic and social space and the centralisation of every aspect of national life is manifest in the alienation of the people and the isolation of the regime.

3      Imperative for change

The people of Eritrea, like all peoples the world over, aspire for and have an inalienable right to liberty, dignity and justice; and they are determined to secure them. Indeed, absolute repression has provoked growing organised resistance to the regime at home and abroad, making change inevitable.

Banned and suppressed inside, active political opposition has mushroomed in exile.The diaspora has historically played a pivotal role in Eritrean affairs. Despite its historical role and significant resources incumbent in its relative size, affluence, latitude of freedom, and scope for action, however, the diaspora has been unable to punch on par with its weight as a national actor.

Marked divisions, divergent objectives and sharp polarisation have fomented multiple political, civic and media groups and denied it the synergy to play an effective advocacy role for democratic reform and the defense of human rights in Eritrea.        

The lack of freedom of expression, assembly or association has made organized peaceful opposition in the country impossible. The absence of an institutional mechanism for democratic transition has rendered the situation very precarious and, thus, vulnerable to the danger of political implosion.

This has made timely engagement necessary to manage change and avert the risk of chaos and wanton bloodshed. A concerted effort is underway to provide an inclusive forum for pro-democracy Eritreans inside and outside the country to work for a common agenda and an orderly and peaceful transition to democratic governance.

This effort has produced the convening of an inclusive National Consultative Conference (NCC) in Nairobi, Kenya, in November 2015. Eleven opposition political organizations agreed to work together to channel efforts towards the pursuit of a common purpose. To this end, they established an Ad-Hoc Contact Organ (AHCO) to coordinate preparations for a much wider national conference.

The AHCO is busy drafting, in close consultation with the eleven political organizations, a common vision and programme of action towards an orderly transition to democratic governance. It is also preparing for the convening of an all-inclusive meeting of opposition organizations to discuss ways and means to accelerate democratic transition.

At the same time, we are working to construct a political bridge linking the open external opposition and the clandestine internal resistance in order to build the critical mass necessary to crystallise an Eritrean owned and home driven change from within.

4      International solidarity and support for democratic transition

Needles to stress, the effort to bring about an orderly democratic transition in Eritrea needs international support and regional solidarity. We, in the democratic opposition, are working to build a new relationship with Eritrea’s neighbours based on a strategic framework of political cooperation and economic integration that would address all outstanding bilateral issues to ensure regional peace, stability and security.

Due to its historical engagement and the residual cultural links in Eritrea and the region at large, Italy can play a catalytic role in the effort to bring about democratic transition and promote regional peace, stability and security in the Horn of Africa. I hope that this hearing would be the beginning of a new relationship of solidarity between an emergent democratic Eritrea and Italy that serves the interests of the two peoples.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Last modified on Tuesday, 31 May 2016 20:07