By Sophia Tesfamariam:
"I served 17 years ago as Ambassador to Ethiopia. One of the things I learned in the region is that lying is a justified means to achieve greater opportunities." – Ambassador Avi Granton
These are words of a senior Israeli diplomat on Africa, Ambassador Avi Granot, who is the head of the Africa Division in Israel's foreign ministry. He was responding to the latest SEMG's (Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group) outrageous allegation that "Eritrea is in the business of trafficking weapons and persons to Sinai via the Sudan."
LYING IS JUSTIFIED
Why is the SEMG willing to throw all sorts of lies and misrepresentations to demonize Eritrea?
Ambassador Avi Granot hit the nail on the head with these words:
"I served 17 years ago as ambassador to Ethiopia. One of the things I learned in the region is that lying is a justified means to achieve greater opportunities."
Here you have it dear reader! This is exactly what Eritreans have been saying all these years. For the Ethiopian regime, "lying is a justified means" to get what it wants; in this case, the sanctioning of Eritrea in order to ensure its survival. Unfortunately, the Djiboutian, Kenyan, and Somali leaders in particular, and IGAD members in general, have been also ensnared and are now full-fledged victims of these Ethiopia-generated lies designed "to achieve greater opportunities". Leaders of these countries have now become willing partners of Ethiopia in trying to frame Eritrea. In the process they have been reduced to being actors reading a well-written script.
There is nothing more revealing than how the honour of Kenya was dragged into the mud last November when Kenya, blindly and verbatim, decided to repeat an Ethiopian-generated ghost story that claimed:
"Three planes loads from Eritrea landed in the Somalia town of Baidoa supplying arms to the Al Shabaab".
According to the latest SEMG report, the Kenyans were actually handed a lie. A lie that supposedly started with one Somali MP, nicknamed "waqa" (By the way, "waqa" is the Oromo god of the sky). The Report continues to tell us that "an intelligence report from a military source" echoed it; who that "military source" is, we are not told. Afterwards, "a security-related organisation" repeated the lie. Again the "security-related" organization is unnamed. Then the Kenyans decided to run with the story without doing any verifications of their own. Starting with the twitting Kenyan military spokesman, Major E. Chirchir, all the way up to Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula became victims. One by one they fell into the well-orchestrated snare.
Most notably, Mr. Wetangula, an intelligent and articulate Kenyan lawyer, MP and Minister of Foreign Affairs, was set up to have his own "Colin Powell Moment"1 before the Security Council on December 5, 2011. Just as General Powell is regretting that moment now, former Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula too would live to regret this moment that dishonoured his reputation. Such is the rabid Ethiopian regime's virus of lying; if you are not careful to inoculate yourself against it, it is bound to get you. Beware everybody; beware, lest you too become a victim of this virus.
THEY "LIKE TO BE LIED TO"
The Guardian quoting the leaked SEMG Report wrote of an arms smuggling apparition with its tail at Alla (about 20 km southeast of Asmara as the crow flies) and its head in Sinai. Again who is this witness? Someone
"who earns a living washing dishes at a Tel Aviv restaurant, was another of those kidnapped by Abu Mohammad. He said he spent a month in Sinai, where, as a fluent Arabic speaker, he worked as a translator for the Bedouin gang and was privy to every aspect of their business. He described the weapon's journey, starting at Aalla, a town in Eritrea's southern hills, to a warehouse in Teseney, on the Sudanese border. From here, two high-ranking Eritrean officers drove them across the border to Wadi Serifay refugee camp where they were handed over to the Rashayda."2
How is it a lad, by his own admission was only an interpreter for the Bedouin human traffickers, before that himself their victim, and staying with them only one month, "privy to every aspect of their business"? How was he able to know the minute details of the "arms smuggling" operation and its route? And how is that his account is being taken as a gospel truth to warrant the Guardian to sketch a Map of the operation starting at Alla and going all the way to Sinai? According to an account of a Journalist who spent time posing as an "African infiltrator" among people who crossed the border into Israel, the quality of evidence one can collect from the streets of Tel Aviv has a lot to be desired. It is outright forgery. Read on:
"Don't tell the whole story. The Israelis, and mostly the non-profit groups working with the infiltrators here, like to be lied to. Say you were a soldier, and that if you return to Eritrea you'll get a death sentence. Keep in mind that you must be consistent with your story. The bottom line is that everyone uses the story I'm telling you here, and this way they fool everybody. Almost none of them arrived on foot from Egypt to Israel. None of us crossed any deserts. it's all nonsense."3
Such are the sources of the SEMG; an assortment of made-up stories told by people who know well that groups like the SEMG love "to be lied to". Otherwise, the information gathering would not be this flawed, unscientific and entirely lacking any mechanism for an independent verification. This is to which extent the UN process of "fact finding" has degenerated to.
"HUMAN TRAFFICKING": A BOLD LIE
One of the latest SEMG charges against Eritrea is "arms and human trafficking to Sinai." For sure we had read part of this tall tale as a prelude in the SEMG's report from July 2011. In that report, there was an attempt to link Eritrea to an arms smuggling network stretching from Eritrea all the way to the Sinai Desert. This year, the above mentioned tale has added another dimension; it is now multi-dimensional and a multimillion dollar operation. The "arms smuggling", we are told, also "goes hand-in-glove with another, much more lucrative activity: human trafficking to Sudan and Sinai. The same criminal networks smuggle Eritrean migrants and Eritrean weapons, often in the same vehicles."
Quoting the leak it received from the SEMG, The Guardian's lead sentence on its Tuesday (7/17/12) story (the morning Eritrea was about to appear before the Sanctions Committee to answer to a report it never received) read like this:
"A MULTIMILLION-dollar arms trafficking industry that is funding the Eritrean military regime is behind the kidnap, torture and ransom of thousands of Eritrean refugees, according to a leaked report to the UN Security Council. An investigation by the Somalia and Eritrea monitoring group has uncovered a trafficking highway running from the Eritrean highlands through Sudan's refugee camps into the Sinai desert, delivering arms to militant groups, and Eritrean asylum-seekers to Bedouin gangs, who use starvation, electrocution, rape and murder to extort up to $40,000 (£25,000) from relatives in the Eritrean diaspora for their release."4
When you read this kind of sweeping indictment you would expect the Group to have some facts to back its outrageous charges. However, you will be disappointed. True to the tradition of the Group there is NONE.
If we go back and read what the Group had written last year, we find the Report distorting all rules of logic to reach its conclusion. In that report we were told Eritrea was involved in the convoy that was attacked (allegedly by a joint "Egyptian-Israeli operation") at the Sudanese-Egyptian border in January/ February of 2009. How did the SEMG "prove" Eritrea's culpability in this operation? The Group deducted this from the information it got from a witness who told it that the "Rashaida tribesmen killed in the attack were compensated by the Government of Eritrea." Furthermore, the SEMG reported that "a former Eritrean military officer with current contacts within the Eritrean Defence Force" told it:
"a convoy comprising ethnic Rashaida drivers, a Palestinian individual and Lebanese passengers travelled in convoy from Aswan in Egypt towards Sinai. The convoy carried 45 anti-tank weapons and 25 surface-to-air missiles in addition to personal weapons used by the guards of the convoy. The source told the Monitoring Group that the convoy was led by an Eritrean military officer trained in the Syrian Arab Republic. Multiple sources interviewed by the Monitoring Group have independently confirmed that Eritrea retains a number of military officers either based in the Syrian Arab Republic or trained in that country."5
The footnotes of the SEMG report suggest that the detail of the load on the convoy and who was leading the convoy was obtained from an "information from Eritrea decrypted and transmitted to the Group in person in January 2011." First note of what we are being told: "the message was encrypted and out of Eritrea, thus it must be true." This is indeed absurd. It breaks every rule of inference in logic. Furthermore, if the leading "Syrian trained officer" is dead, why wouldn't the SEMG tell us his real name? What is there to protect if the guy was vaporized in the desert? It doesn't add up!
The attack of this convoy along the Egyptian-Sudanese border, the content of the load of the convoy, the origin of the load, and much more was a subject of a lot of discussions, reports and research by Israeli, Arab and western investigators. Among others, Andrew McGregor had an expos "Strange Days on the Red Sea Coast: A New Theater for the Israel-Iran Conflict?" in Terrorism Monitor, Volume: 7 Issue: 8 of April 3, 2009. It has to be noted Eritrean connection is hardly mentioned in any of these reports and investigations. According to one Israeli paper, the Haaretz from 29 March 2009,
"The arms shipments are apparently transferred from Iran through the Persian Gulf to Yemen, from there to Sudan and then to Egypt through Sinai and the tunnels under the Egypt Gaza border. The shipments include various types of missiles, rockets, guns and high-quality explosives."
Such being the case, the SEMG does not provide any tangible proof to link convoy to Eritrea other than the words of those who know the SEMG "likes to be lied to". This looks and smells like the SEMG's previous, now discredited, allegations. In short, it was a lousy forgery by the SEMG trying to tack Eritrea to this arms smuggling affair. It will not work.
Remarkably, the Israelis, who by all accounts have the best intelligence services in the world, think this story of the SEMG is nonsense and full of lies as well. The Guardian quoted a senior Israeli official, Avi Granot who is Head of the Africa Division in Israel's Foreign Ministry saying he had no "knowledge of Eritrean arms entering Sinai", that in fact "Eritrea was a strategic ally" and the only country with "friendly port on the Red Sea."
These are words of the highest Israeli diplomat on Africa. Can one really claim then the seven experts of the SEMG had a better intelligence gathering mechanism than that of the Israelis and know what Israel doesn't know? We don't think so!
The reason the SEMG decided to link Eritrea, Sudan, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine in the same paragraph was not the result of credible evidence it got, but deliberately written to strike a chord with the Group's sponsors waiting in New York [UN]. It was part of what has now become a well-choreographed scheme by the SEMG and its handlers trying to link Eritrea with every conceivable group the US doesn't like. To put it mildly, it is part of a diabolical scheme.
In this year's report, the arms the SEMG alleged "smuggled out of Eritrea into Sinai" have been downgraded. They are no more sophisticated missiles and rockets; they are "M14 and AK47". Again here observe the forgery. Since when have the Eritrean army begun acquiring American made M14 rifles? Were these antique rifles left over from the Haile Selassie's time? If so, they would be at least 40 years old!
Furthermore, why would Eritrea, which is now under arms embargo and is not allowed to import any light or heavy weapons, smuggle its much needed weapons out of the country? It makes no sense. The SEMG would have been more believable, if believability ever is associated with the Group, had it alleged weapons are being smuggled into Eritrea. But, as we tried to point out above, the design is not to ascertain facts or to show any logical connection, but to desperately link Eritrea to every imaginable untouchable group so as to stir emotions against Eritrea in New York.
THE CRIMINAL BUSINESS OF "HUMAN TRAFFICKING"
The SEMG, repeating its July 2011 report, accuses Eritrea of
"trafficking of weapons and people from Eritrea into Egypt (Sinai) via Sudan, en route to Israel. The trafficking of arms and people is managed by the same networks, using the same vehicles, and implicates the same Eritrean officials." It further says that "human trafficking to Sudan and Sinai" is a "lucrative activity". The report goes on to say that once these "criminal networks smuggle Eritrean migrants" into "the Sudan or the Sinai, Eritrean migrants are routinely taken hostage, tortured, raped or killed, while their kidnappers demand an average of US$30,000 – US$40,000 ransom Ðoften negotiated and paid via Eritrean mediators."
First the report, on purpose, tries to mix "human smuggling" with "human trafficking." However, the SEMG's experts know, better than anyone, that "human smuggling" is a distinct and different criminal activity from "human trafficking". The Report seems to imply Eritrea is involved in both. According to accepted legal and other definitions, the two terms are not interchangeable.
While "Human Trafficking is a crime against humanity. It involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them."
Human smuggling is "the facilitation, transportation, attempted transportation or illegal entry of a person or persons across an international border, in violation of one or more countries laws, either clandestinely or through deception, such as the use of fraudulent documents."
Unlike human trafficking, human smuggling "is characterized by the consent between a customer and the smuggler – a contractual agreement that typically terminates upon arrival in the destination location." The real distinction between the two is thus, while human trafficking is done under coercion or false pretense, human smuggling is derived out of the consent of the one being smuggled. The SEMG report however doesn't care to make the distinction and who is responsible for what. The way the report reads, you can see smuggling morphing into trafficking, and Eritrea is apportioned both criminal activities.
The SEMG, quoting UNHCR statistics, reported that 59,969 Eritreans had entered "Israel via Egypt between 2009 and 2011." However, the Report also admits that this UNHCR figure is way too high compared to the official Government of Israel numbers. According to the Israelis, only 32,082 "Eritreans" had entered Israel-via the Egyptian border between 2006 and February 2012. Note that unlike the UNHCR's, this Israeli figure is over six years. Small or big numbers, how many of those who claim they are "Eritrean" are actually Eritreans? It is obvious many East Africans are now claiming to be "Eritrean" in order to get an easy asylum case.
Anecdotal account from those arriving in the US is that, only 3 in 25 or only 12% are bona fide Eritreans. The majority of the rest are Ethiopian Tigreans trying to pass as Eritreans. All these know that their only ticket to getting their asylum case approved is to claim they are Eritreans. They too know all those who process asylum cases "like to be lied to". In any case, while Israel is claiming there were only 32,082 "Eritreans" entering via Sinai between 2006 and 2012, why is the UNHCR figure exaggerated by a four-fold (i.e., factoring the time span the figures cover)?
Even if one assumes only half of those "Eritreans" that have crossed the border into Israel through Sinai have paid the average running ransom the Group quotes of $35,000, then this is indeed a "lucrative" business netting the traffickers over one billion USD. The Group doesn't say how much this huge some the GoE is getting as a cut, but the SEMG had done an elementary arithmetic to conclude that "General Tekle Kifle Ôanjus'" (the Eritrean official allegedly behind the human trafficking), receives "at least US$3.6 million per year" in weapons sales. This was based on the assumption that an arms smuggler in Sinai receives 1200 weapons per month, for a total of 14,400 weapons per year, and at $250 a piece gives the figure comes out to $3.6 million per year. This is only 1% of the estimate we had being netted in Sinai. If the Eritrean general is not getting any more cut than this, he must have no business sense at all. He is risking his career, more than that his reputation, to only get 1% of the business he started and operates, it doesn't make sense at all.
However, it is worth noting that the same senior Israeli diplomat, Avi Granot, quoted above dismissing the arms smuggling starting in Eritrea, is also quoted as having said that he also believes "reports of human trafficking and torture in the Sinai were grossly exaggerated." There you have it.
There is no question there is intricate and sophisticated smuggling network out of Eritrea to Israel, Europe, the US-Mexico border, for that matter to everywhere else money can be made out of smuggling. However, the SEMG doesn't present any credible evidence linking Eritrea with these criminal networks. To the contrary, Eritrea is a victim of this elaborate criminal network.
Make no mistake, the suffering of even a single Eritrean, is one suffering too many. We strongly and unequivocally condemn all those involved in this criminal activity, directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly and we call on everybody to do whatever they can to expose these criminals who are profiting from the untold suffering of innocent youth.
ERITREA'S ZERO TOLERANCE FOR "HUMAN SMUGGLING"
The US State Department in its 2012 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report justifies why Eritrea was placed in Tier 3 ("Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and are not making significant efforts to do so") using this explanation:
"The Eritrean government does not operate with transparency and did not publish data or statistics regarding any effort to combat human trafficking; it did not respond to requests to provide information for this report. Though the penalties are sufficiently stringent, the government has never used these statutes to prosecute cases of human trafficking. The government did not publish information on its investigations or prosecutions, if any, of human trafficking offenses during the reporting period. The government made no known efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. Eritrean media, all of which is state-owned, made neither public announcements nor media presentations regarding human trafficking during the reporting period. There were no anti-trafficking public awareness or other education campaigns."
We of course know, thanks to the leaked cables, the State Department is fully aware of the fact that Eritrea has zero tolerance for human smuggling or human trafficking. The truth in Eritrea is far from what was reported in the TIP 2012 Report above. For instance read this US cable out of Asmara:
"Those who must leave illegally, however, face potential capture by Eritrean police and military from the early planning stages up to when they cross the border. The GSE [Government of Eritrea] is very keen to break these human smuggling rings and dispatches agents to pose as potential customers. Other agents pose as facilitators, making all of the supposed smuggling arrangements prior to having the unsuspecting person arrested." CDA Matthew Smith7
Keep in your mind the name of the author of this cable; we are going to meet him again. In any case, this cable is admitting that the Eritrean government is not in the business of human smuggling, let alone the more serious crime of human trafficking. The diplomat who originated the cable is admitting that Eritrea does all what it can to break up smuggling ring at every stage. Where the State Department charge of Eritrea is "not making significant efforts" to eliminate human trafficking, is a puzzle. In fact here is another cable that alleges "public execution" of those who smuggle people out of the country:
"Sometime in the middle of March, two individuals were reportedly executed in the public square in a village near Teseney in western Eritrea. Poloff spoke with a third country national who had received information that two individuals from the region were apprehended allegedly by military personnel near the border with Sudan. They were brought to a village near Teseney and in front of the village elders accused of smuggling an estimated forty people into Sudan. Immediately following the public accusation, the alleged military personnel forced the two individuals into the nearby public square and shot them." Ambassador Scott H. DeLisi.8
This cable is claiming the penalty for those caught in the act of smuggling or trafficking is extremely severe. However, in this very same cable we also read an outrageous speculation, leading one to believe this is the seed that germinated into the SEMG's accusation against Eritrea, as well as to an equally laughable Somalia-initiated, US-backed, and Djibouti-amended resolution against Eritrea that we saw at the UN Human Council in Geneva early July.
Here is the cable:
"The motivation for the execution of the two alleged smugglers remains unclear. Were the alleged smugglers denied due process and killed because they were breaking Eritrean law or was it because they were in competition with the military's alleged smuggling business or did not pay a cut to the military? Or were they not smugglers at all, just two young men attempting to leave Eritrea illegally and caught at the border?" 9
This is the absurdity of it all; first the US State Department, and now the SEMG are purposely misrepresenting the reality on the ground and accusing Eritrea, the victim of a well coordinating campaign to drain its youth, of profiting from trafficking its youth across its borders.
"HUMAN SMUGGLING" BY OTHER MEANS
But, it would be interesting to ask: who are those in the real business of smuggling Eritrean youth out of Eritrea, for commercial or political gain? Who are those endangering Eritrean lives so that they can exploit them monetarily and/or politically? For now, let's look at the track record of some of those who are usually quick to point fingers at Eritrea.
The truth is the very same people who are sitting in judgment against Eritrea are the ones involved in luring young Eritreans to leave their country. They almost seem to tell them "if you make it to the Sudan or Ethiopia, then the roads to Europe, North America and the Middle East is paved with gold"? Furthermore, they are willing to bend, even break US laws, to achieve this. Check this 2009 cable out of Asmara:
"Post plans to restart visa services (completely suspended in 2007) for student visa applicants; we intend to give opportunities to study in the United States to those who oppose the regime. Thus, Post requests that CA seek to establish a limited category-specific exemption to the passport requirement for Eritreans found eligible for student visas."10– Ambassador Ronald K. McMullen
The standard US requirement to acquire a visa is that an applicant's passport must be "valid for six months beyond the intended date of return from the United States." But what this cable is saying is: the US Embassy in Asmara wants to issue visas to all those who say they "oppose the government of Eritrea". Take note, this does not seem is designed to help Eritreans come to the US to study (we wish that was true), but to serve as a bait to lure the youth out of Eritrea. No credible US Immigration officer is going to honour a visa stamped on a piece of paper. Let alone in a post 9/11 US, this one was even unimaginable before 9/11.
What we read from the above cable is that young people are being deceived by a false promise to take them out of their country for a gain. This is exactly what the definition of human trafficking is. Those who want to deprive Eritrea of its capable children, and in hopes of getting a political millage out of it, are doing everything they can to lead young people into the "Sinai trap". Only those who have a sophisticated network all over the world are capable of pulling off this kind of migration of youth out of East Africa and are labelling everyone from the region as an Eritrean.
Read what the New York Times had reported about two years ago:
"A big reason why he [Awet] has gotten this far [smuggled all the way to Jordan] is Matthew Smith, a gregarious, athletic American diplomat who befriended Mr. Awet a couple years ago on a basketball court in Asmara, Eritrea's capital, where Mr. Smith was working. By Eritrean standards, he had an enviable life, with a wealthy merchant father, good grades and a touch of fame" 11
Mathew Smith, the person mentioned in the NYT article as having assisted in the smuggling of the young Eritrean is in fact the diplomat whose cable we read above. The very diplomat who told his bosses in Washington that the Government of Eritrea is doing its best to break up smuggling rings. And yet, here he is in the middle of another smuggling network. And the poor Eritrean young man, who was lied to that he was an "NBA material," is left to languish, of all places, in Jordan. We don't want to even speculate what he is expected to do in return for the "favor" of being smuggled out.
We want to point out however, that Ethiopia is also part of this criminal network; some Ethiopian sponsored agents and quislings are also part of this evil scheme designed to deprive Eritrea its precious and priceless resource; and without a question smuggling gangs are also in it for the business. Yet, the SEMG, true to character, repeating the lies written by these different actors, is not embarrassed to point its bloody fingers at Eritrea. What a shame!
As Eritrea's Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Araya Desta, said it well in his statement to the Sanctions Committee on 17 July 2012:
"Eritrea is the victim of organized and targeted human trafficking that has been pursued deliberately by its adversaries to weaken its human resources. There are also individual criminals and fugitives from the law who are embroiled in this act. The Monitoring Group clearly lacks ingenuity when it tries to accuse the Government of Eritrea for a violation of the arms embargo and simultaneously claims that it is also an accessory to human trafficking." 12
NO EVIDENCE, YET MORE CHARGES
The SEMG has finally admitted that it found "no evidence to support allegations of direct Eritrean support to Al-Shabaab", "no evidence to substantiate the allegations that one or more aircraft landed at Baidoa International Airport between 29 October and 3 November 2011, or that Eritrea supplied Al-Shabaab in Baidoa by air with arms and ammunition during the same period," and "no evidence of direct Eritrean involvement in the Erta Ale [Afar] European tourist attack]operation".
Furthermore it is also admitting that it now finds Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys to be "a more pragmatic, politically oriented" leader. But when it finds no evidence to link Eritrea to Somali Al Shabaab, it has to try everything possible to link Eritrea to another "Islamist group", this time Hamas. How low can this be? But we are talking of the [UN] SEMG and taking its record into consideration, it doesn't surprise us.
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http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/17/eritrea-people-trafficking-arms-sinai (accessed 7/20/12)
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http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4239481,00.html (accessed 7/22/12)
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http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/17/eritrean-regime-arms-human-trafficking (Accessed 7/20/12)
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