Sanctions are as hard to impose as they are to receive them. The UN often agonizes before punishing one of its own members even when it is a deserving regime like Eritrea. There were endless talks about sanctions and mere threats thereof for a few years now in the unlikely hope that the Asmara regime would come to its senses where it did not have any. Its direct involvement in war torn Somalia and reckless encroachment into Djibouti demanded punitive action.

The regime’s notorious leaders will now have no additional arms to play with, their travels abroad will be banned or restricted and their bank accounts are to be frozen. This disgrace is enough to convince some of the most loyal supporters to lose faith in their inept leaders.

But one should not be surprised if some diehards try to organize anti-sanction protest marches in some US cities availing themselves of the constitutional right to demonstrate. Such a move would no doubt be supported by ‘absent’ landlords and owners of land plots snatched from impoverished and hungry peasants around urban centers and in rural areas.

These are not comprehensive sanctions and do not include the economy or trade. They are rigorous targeted measures which are strong enough to persuade investors and miners such as Canada’s Nevsun that it doesn’t pay to deal with an inept, ruthless regime that tortures and imprisons citizens without due process of law and has the potential to engulf the country in a civil war and has the propensity to initiate another war with its neighbors.

The tenacious and heroic Eritrean people will survive the sanctions but the regime may not. Much will now depend on how the vast civic and political opposition uses the UN measures which are bound to make the Asmara regime weak and vulnerable.

Political Activist Yosief Ghebrehiwet brands the sanctions as a “gift” from Isaias Afewerki to his population. Here is how Yosief describes the UN action:

"This is the best Christmas gift that Eritrean masses could possibly get, and it was handed to them by none other than the tyrant Isaias Afewerki. For once, his gigantic hubris and immense stupidity came to the nation’s rescue at the nick of time. Had it not been for his quixotic adventures in Somalia and Djibouti, the AU would have not insisted on sanctioning Eritrea with such determination that the US and EU cannot but go along with it and Russia and China won’t dare oppose it. Now, it is for the opposition to own the sanctions and target all the mining companies that are lined up to do business in Eritrea. If we succeed in doing that, the Isaias regime will be finished off soon."

In an interview with this reporter earlier this month, Opposition Leader, Wolde-Yesus Ammar anticipated that the veto powers would finally agree to impose targeted sanctions whose effect could eventually dislodge Isaias Afewerki from power. Wolde-Yesus Ammar who heads up a joint leadership committee of three prominent parties, adds: “the vast majority of us in the opposition accept the imposition of targeted UN sanctions on the Eritrean regime as a small step but in the right direction. We are looking for concerted and sterner action against this regime because the situation cannot go like what it is for any longer time.” When I asked him at the beginning of this month if it was time for the regime to be worried about its survival, Wolde-Yeus stated:

“Yes, I believe it is indeed time for Isaias and his henchmen to be extremely worried about their future. I think they already know the all-round gloomy days ahead of them. …. the very bluffing of Isaias and his parrots of not being “concerned” about selective sanctions says a lot about their deeply felt fear of an “action” that Hilary Clinton voiced last August and what the UN Security Council is drafting now. This is about the ban of sales of weapons into and out of Eritrea; of freezing funds, and restriction of travel to Eritrean political and military leaderships. These selected measures can seriously harm the survival of the petty dictatorship in Eritrea.”

Suleiman Hussein is Chairman of CDRiE (Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea), which is commemorating its one year anniversary in London on January 9, 2010. Asked for his reaction on the sanctions, Suleiman says he is hopeful the action will not aggravate the current suffering of the Eritrean people under the oppressive system:

“I hope that these sanctions, which are nothing but the result of the failure of the Eritrean government in the field of diplomacy, will make it accountable of its wrong domestic and regional policies and will not increase the sufferings of the Eritrean people who are already suffering as the result of the misguided and repressive policies of this government while the international community has so far been indifferent to the gross human rights violations in Eritrea. I am not quite sure that the sanctions themselves would help in any meaningful way the ever worsening situation in neighboring Somalia, a situation that has been further complicated by the inability of the international community to resolve the border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia. We in CDRiE are committed to work with all other Eritrean pro democracy movements as well as the international community to end the suffering of our people while we remain convinced that a comprehensive approach by the international community to resolve the intertwined conflicts of the horn of Africa is the best way forward. The prevailing volatile situation across the horn of Africa can only be resolved through diplomacy and international law.”

(My full interview with Suleiman on the upcoming CDRiE conference in London will be published soon)

I also sought observations from Daniel Rezene Mekonnen (Ph.D),

“The most important message of the sanctions is political one. It comes as a big blow to the rogue PFDJ regime. The regime has continuously defied the opinion of the international community in a very unintelligent way. Apparently, it cannot get away with it for a long time. I can say this event, added with other recent important developments, has made 2009 remarkably unique in the struggle against the tyranny of PFDJ. I very much hope that 2010 will bring more good news about the end of injustice in Eritrea. One sad point is that the sanctions are not addressing the internal human rights crisis inside Eritrea but still the UN resolution comes as a very important development since it will, this way or that, put the PFDJ regime under tremendous pressure. The success in this story should lift up all peace loving and relentless compatriots who are doing their level best to see an end to the perpetration of injustice in Eritrea. Personally, I feel vindicated because two of the main components of the sanctions, namely travel ban and freezing of assets, were also two of the most important recommendations I made in some of my academic contributions: one is an academic article I co-authored with a South African professor, Loot Pretorius, in December 2008, and another one is my book published in June 2009. I repeated the same recommendations in another paper I presented at the Brussels Conference of last month. In fact, the official website of the PFDJ has once responded to the recommendations made by Professor Pretorius and myself under the name of unfamiliar author who was possibly using a pseudonym. Probably the regime had forecasted since then the danger of sanctions but sadly it did nothing to amend its irresponsible actions. The next step, as has been suggested several times, should be the commencement of prosecutorial initiatives at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Now that the regime is under tight sanctions, there is a possibility to pursue this strategy and we need to build a very strong constituency with some members of the UN Security Council to further this objective. The opposition and civil society should capitalise on this.”

Michael is a media and human rights advocate and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; Also visit web-page: