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Members of the British-Eritrean community meet with the FCO (AGE Press Release – June 2011)

posted 29 Jan 2012, 06:48 by D Woldeab

The Action Group for Eritrea ( AGE ) arranged a meeting on 20th June 2011, Martyr’s Day, for a group comprising of five members of the British-Eritrean community to meet with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London with a view to follow up and discuss the nullification of UN Security Council Resolution 1907 (2009).

The meeting, which lasted from 3:00 pm until 5.30 pm, was cordial and everyone was given adequate time to express their views freely.   It is to be recalled that AGE had arranged a meeting with the FCO on 23rd December 2009, the same day and time that the UN Security Council was unfairly imposing sanctions on Eritrea.  Members of the Eritrean community in the UK had expressed at the time their strong disapproval on the passing of the sanctions without any evidence.  It was proved beyond doubt at the time that the Monitoring group report contained inconsistent and factually wrong information.  Whilst many countries were accused of the breach of UN resolutions, only Eritrea was targeted for sanctions and this made it clear that the decision was politically motivated.  The FCO confirmed that they were using evidence gathered through their own intelligence, but were not in a position to share it with anyone including Members of Parliament representing British Eritreans.

Whilst the main topic for the discussion at this meeting was the forthcoming UN Somali Monitoring Group Report, issues such as the unimplemented EEBC final and binding border decision was of high importance to the Eritrean group.  The FCO raised the detention of PVI staff in Eritrea, human rights issues and the collection of 2% development tax by the Eritrean Embassy in London as their concerns.

Members indicated that the UK would only gain by the existence of a stable and prosperous Eritrea and that they would like to see improved relationship between Eritrea and the UK.  Members expressed their willingness to play their part in bridging real or perceived gaps and misunderstandings.  They stressed that the Sanctions of December 2009 will only gear towards destabilizing and impoverishing Eritrea.  Members impressed on the FCO for Britain to play a role towards ensuring a level playing field in the Horn of Africa rather than creating an imbalance of power in the region.  The imposition of the sanctions was unjust and intended to weaken Eritrea’s economy and military strength.  Members reminded the FCO that the accusations made against Eritrea had not been factually evidenced and neither had the Security Council members been given any evidence at the time that they agreed to sanction Eritrea.  The evidence continues to be classified information.  It was stated that no British or any other respected court of law would find Eritrea guilty of the accusations without the accusers presenting their evidence. 

Members wanted to know where the UK Government stood in relation to the Monitoring Group Report due to come out in July.  The FCO noted that the conflict with Djibouti is being addressed, and this is viewed as a positive point, but that the support of Al-Shebab by Eritrea was undergoing continued monitoring and that the UK Government, like everyone else, is waiting to hear the outcome of their investigation around mid-July.  Members expressed their frustration and stated that it would be a travesty of justice if the Monitoring Group involved any assessment based on any kind of allegation prompted by Ethiopia.  Members also expressed their concern the fact that Ethiopia’s declared intention to change the Eritrean government by supporting groups that include extremists is totally ignored while focus and attention is being put on Eritrea’s relationship with Ethiopian opposition forces and the false accusations made by Ethiopia.

Members were further dissatisfied with the response they were given in relation to the EEBC decision which remains in limbo.  The FCO was reminded on how Eritrea abides at all times by legal decisions, even when the outcomes are not in her favour.  To this end, a colonial era Daily Telegraph map of the Horn of Africa was presented, clearly showing all of the Hanish Islands as belonging to Eritrea.  Yet Eritrea accepted the hybrid resolution meted out by the UN commission.  Members reminded the FCO that the British government is in breach of the responsibility they were bestowed upon as a member of the European Union and a permanent member of the UN Security Council to ensure that the Algiers Agreement is fully respected.

The FCO confirmed their support of the implementation of the decision of the Boundary Commission to resolve the conflict and have recently raised the issue with the authorities in Ethiopia.

Members highlighted that at a time when the British government is cutting public spending and the country is bracing itself for strikes in protest against the planned austerity measures, taxpayers money is being used to indirectly subsidize Ethiopia’s expenditure on armaments.   This will only lead to more wars which in turn will create the never ending vicious cycle of Ethiopia needing more aid.  They stated that they did not begrudge Ethiopia for receiving development aid from the UK, but are concerned that there is no safeguard to ensure that the money will be used for the intended purpose.

Members further confirmed that as dual citizens they are within their rights to pay the required 2% on income to the State of Eritrea in the same way as British citizens are required to pay income tax when working abroad as residents. There is no law that prohibits Eritrean citizens paying 2% to the Eritrean government.

Members recommended for the UK Government to endeavor in establishing an honest, impartial and fair approach in order for the Eritrean Government to begin to trust and engage in mutually meaningful ways.  

The UK Government, despite being dissatisfied that four UK citizens had been denied consular access while in detention, it is pleased to note that they have now returned in good physical health and that they reported for having been well looked after while undergoing investigations further to their being caught illegally in Eritrean territory with a cache of military equipment. 

Members may not have come out fully satisfied with the position of the UK Government towards Eritrea, but felt it was important to keep engaged.

Following this extended meeting, which members saw as being part of their duty to lobby and raise issues of concern with the UK Government, all five members of the Eritrean community rushed in pouring rain to the commemoration at Hyde Park of the Martyrs for Eritrean Independence.  It is only through their definitive sacrifices that the independent sovereign State of Eritrea exists today.