Memorandum to: The Heads of African States,

22 January 2006

Memorandum to:

The Heads of African States,

Fourth Regular Session of the African Union

Khartoum, Sudan.

Your Excellencies:

The Executive Committee of the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA), an umbrella of the Eritrean opposition organisations, would like to bring to your focus and noteworthy attention about the deteriorating situation existing in our country, Eritrea, which has been betrayed by its own sons. Forgotten by the rest of the world and their African brothers, our people are enduring the evils and extreme suffering caused by one of the worst dictatorships ever seen or known to our continent in recent history.

Our people fought for 30 long years, and paid heavy human and material sacrifices far in excess of their country’s geographical size or the number of the population, in the hope of finally enjoying peace, stability, and economic progress once foreign occupation has been defeated and left their country. They liberated their country in 1991 and, following a nation-wide referendum in 1993 that brought its sovereignty beyond any question, made it one of the member states of the UN and AU.

To their dismay and disappointment, and regrettably in face of rising call for peace and democratization in Africa, the PFDJ regime had swiftly gone to frustrate and abort any hope for democracy and the respect of human rights from early beginning by establishing a dictatorship run by one man and his few military henchmen whose brutality has since known no bounds. There is absolutely no freedom of speech, expression or association in the country. Condemned to the wishes and whims of one man, whose character has often proven to be unpredictable, Eritrea is one of the few countries existing today without any constitution, elected parliament and an independent judiciary.

Since it took power, the PFDJ regime established a reign of terror and intimidation to dictate its terms and cow the people into submission. It has been pursuing policies of suppression and oppression against any opposition, however real or imagined, both at home and among Eritrean communities abroad, particularly in the neighbouring countries. Anyone caught or even remotely suspected of being in opposition to its oppressive policies is thrown in prison on the blink of an eye, and without any recourse to justice or trial. In its obsession of throwing any opponent behind bars, no matter how trivial or innocent his or her case may be, it has established a chain of prison system whose number is unknown, but where thousands are known to be incarcerated. Once in prison, prisoners can neither seek lawyers for their own defence, nor are they allowed any visit from relatives and friends. People are even afraid to ask about the circumstances of close relatives in prison because anyone heard inquiring about their predicament by its pervasive security apparatus would be thrown in prison, never to be heard of again. This way, many have spent in prison for months, some even for years, without anyone knowing or asking about them.

Even Eritreans living abroad, particularly those living and working in neighbouring countries, are not safe from the long arms of its security apparatus unless they are extremely careful. Over the years, scores had been victim to a spate of assassinations in both Ethiopia and the Sudan by its security agents infiltrated into those countries for these missions. In the course of its rule, a number of others had also been secretly kidnapped from neighbouring countries and have since disappeared without a trace.

Despite its extensive abuse of human rights, none of the international humanitarian organisations, including the Amnesty International, has been able to make the regime accountable for its massive abuse and violation of human rights, which is unsurpassed by any country today. Their requests for monitoring the circumstances surrounding political prisoners in the country had been repeatedly denied by the regime. This has not only made it extremely difficult to ascertain the exact number of prison population in the country, but also know who among them may or may not be living any longer.

In the area of economy and national development, the regime has been following policies and practices that have no parallel or comparison with any of the economic systems known in the past or present. Having controlled the reign of power to the exclusion of all other Eritrean political forces, its party, the PFDJ, has solely monopolised the meagre resources of the country while denying the rest of Eritrean citizens the right to own property, or the pursuit of private business ventures. Those Eritreans with enough capital of their own and who tried to invest in their country are simply denied permission, unless they enter into partnership with one of its many exploitative business cartels, or its front men who pose as private investors, which finally left them with no choice but leave the country in droves. As consequence, far from undertaking comprehensive projects for the reconstruction of the war-torn and devastated country, the regime has turned it into a state inhabited by an army of the unemployed, beggars and the destitute that have no hope of survival other than the handouts they expect, if any, from international donation organisations.

Having usurped land collectively owned by the people since 1994 by decree, which it did without their consultation, and despite agriculture being the main stay of over 80% of the population, it has since been arbitrary selling or granting lands to its cronies inciting several flashpoints of social crisis at present, and creating an explosive situation yet to come in future. Peasants thus made landless as consequence of its mistaken policies have began to swell the ranks of the unemployed in the capital and various townships increasing the potential base for opposition. But, as way of prolonging its power, the regime has broken the unity of the people, and their will to fight and resist against its rule, by its divide-and-rule practice of sowing suspicion and discord among them on religious, regional and ethnic lines.

Though the regime has not spared anyone in its vent and growing madness of oppressing the people, the youth in the country are among those who really fared the worst after the country’s liberation and suffered the most under its dictatorship. They could neither attend school in peace when they should have during their formative years, nor find employment later both to assist themselves and their aging parents. Under the pretext of playing role in the reconstruction of the country, the regime early began to mastermind the National Service Programme, driving waves after waves of students each year out of school to do nothing but menial tasks which had no relation with national reconstruction.  To the surprise of many, they ended up mostly serving as daily workers either building houses, or working in projects, belonging to its cronies under slavery conditions, without any pay or compensation, in the name of national reconstruction.

As its aggressive and belligerent foreign policies became increasingly apparent, this was followed by mass recruitment of the youth into the army turning the country virtually into an armed camp. Once again, the youth continued to be gang-recruited to fight in wars incited by the regime against our neighbours one after another without any cause or justifications. Among them, the war fought against Ethiopia for almost 21/2 years was one of the most devastating in the annals of conflicts ever fought in the region, both in terms of the loss of human lives and the untold material destruction it had caused. Despite leading among the poorest countries in the world, both governments had wasted hard-earned resources that could otherwise have been used in much needed development and in the fight against poverty in their respective countries.

Despite their delicate age and the need for careful upbringing to make them responsible citizens, the regime has not shown any mercy to any youth who stood against its military recruitment policy regardless of whether he or she has been initiated, or was otherwise made aware of his rights and responsibilities in regard to the real or imagined transgression he or she is accused of committing. Instead, anyone caught dodging the draft, or found trying to desert the army, is arbitrary shot on the spot even when he could have been captured and brought to prison or justice. Despite its vicious control of the borders for escaping youngsters, however, thousands have since managed to slip out of the cordon put in place by the regime to escape persecution and fled the country to neighbouring countries and far beyond. Regrettably, those who have lost their lives buried in sandstorms while trying to cross the inhospitable Libyan Desert on foot, or attempting to cross the sea in boats that are not seaworthy to their final destination, are not few. Unable to seal the flow of migration, the evil regime is now holding parents in bondage whose sons and daughters are known to have left the country “illegally”. They are given with choice of either paying the fine of 50,000 Nakfas for a son or daughter who left anywhere out of the country, or condemned to prison even in their declining years until the sum has been paid.

Unless the trend of mass migration of the youth is reversed by swiftly bringing the downfall of the regime, we have good reason to fear that the country might not only end up losing the cream of its future labour force, but there is equally the probability that no one may be around to takeover the responsibility of running the country after the old generation has gone. The Eritrean people did not fight for their independence and paid heavy sacrifices to deserve this fate. The PFDJ regime has to simply hand over power to the people before it is too late and has caused any more damage than it had done already.

Finally, the real dangers hovering over the hard-won independence and sovereignty of the country and its people at present are the consequences of the war the regime instigated against Ethiopia and the unsettled border situation which, despite the final ruling served by the International Border Commission, has been brought to a halt before it proceeded to its final phase of demarcation. Though  both countries had pledged to be legally bound and abide by the ruling of the commission, to which they had sworn to uphold whatever the verdict, we believe strongly that any dispute that may arise in its practical application on the ground should be resolved through dialogue and peaceful negotiation. Another war as an option must be avoided at any and all costs. Whoever may finally come to be the winner in the field of battle, both countries are bound to be losers in the end should they choose to fight another devastating war. We call on the esteemed Head of States of African countries and the rest of the international community to put pressure to bear upon leaders of both countries, particularly the recalcitrant, unreliable and unpredictable Eritrean leader, to come to his senses and participate in solving the problem peacefully.

In conclusion, the clique in power in Eritrea has, ever since its long inception in the field, repeatedly proven to have no wish of defending its friends, or respecting the interest of others other than its own. It has always followed its unique modus operandi which is based on the notorious belief that its today’s friends are tomorrow’s potential enemies. In the art and practice of negotiation, which is based on the principle of compromises involving give and take from both sides, it has never been known to give other than selfishly taking everything that belongs to the other side. As we have known it for years, and the neighbouring countries have lately learned to their own detriment, it doesn’t hesitate to call for negotiation whenever its feels its position is at its weakest. Yet, it has never been known to waste any time from provoking surprise attacks against its erstwhile friends when it feels its position is at its strongest, and believes it is time when its adversaries least expect it. Such an ugly and traitorous regime has been the main cause of instability in the region. We strongly believe that both the Eritrean people and their neighbours could neither feel at ease, nor rest at peace, as long as such a regime continues to cause havoc and destruction in their midst. Any hope of the regime changing for the better is utterly hopeless and out of question. It has been long at this practice of deceit and betrayal that it cannot learn to live out of conflict situations in which it hopes to survive.

Lastly, we call upon all African Head of states and the rest of the international community to help the Eritrean opposition in its struggle of bringing the downfall of the dictatorial regime and establish a democratic government accountable to its own people, as well as assist us building and moulding a country that will be at peace with itself and its neighbours at long last.

With best regards

The Executive Committee

Eritrean Democratic Alliance

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