International Commission on Eritrean Refugees
MARC H 4, 2013 Volume 1, Number 1
STATEMENT FROM ICER
The President of Eritrea’s Letter on Human Trafficking to The Secretary General of the UN
We note that a letter signed by the President of Eritrea addressed to the Mr. Ban Ki-Moon informing the Secretary-General that “For the past ten years or so, Eritrea has remained to be a target of malicious and concerted practices of “human trafficking” and requested “the UN to launch an independent and transparent investigation of this abominable affair so as to bring to justice the culpable parties.” Since the letter has not been published in the official websites of the Government, we cannot fully establish its authenticity. However, since it was published in one of the pro-Government websites, and since it has not been contested by the Government we can assume it is authentic.
First we would like to acknowledge that this letter is progress towards finding a solution and a definitive stand from the President. Although, Response to the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group and statements made by Ambassador Araya Desta on the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group Reports, confirmed that Eritrea was a target of human trafficking while denying its senior military officers have any involvement. And despite a press release on United Nations Human Rights Session held in Geneva implying the departure of youth was orchestrated by the US Government. The President had on several occasions denied that the youth were fleeing the country en mass or when pressed mocked the youth for their naïve expectations for a better future in Western Countries.
In an interview he had with Aljazeera in 2010, the President was in absolute denial to the interviewer’s assertion that the United Nations had reported an increasing number of refugees coming out of Eritrean and that in 2009 alone 60,000 Eritrean refugees were registered in neighboring countries. In an interview he gave with local media from 27 to 30 December 2011, he discussed the flight of the youth. He stated that there was conspiracy to weaken the country. He intimated that the number of youth fleeing the country was negligible, that they left due to their ambitious nature, and due to outside influences that made them lose direction. He opined that it was not possible to establish emotionally stable life in a foreign country and concluded by stating that those who have now made it to the foreign countries should educate themselves and save their money so that they can invest it back home. We are pleased to see that finally in 2013, the President admits that the flight has been there for the past ten years and that the numbers are cause for serious concern, even if the cause attributed to the activity of human traffickers.
That Eritrea has been the highest producer of refugees per capita is a documented fact. The reason as to why so many refugees would come out of a country that is neither at war nor under any natural disaster can be debated. However, now that the Government has singled out human trafficking as the reason for this disaster, we would like to focus on this aspect of the problem and discuss what should be done.
ICER with its limited and entirely voluntary resources has issued several alerts, the latest with list of names of individuals involved in human trafficking and operating in Eritrea, Sudan Egypt and Ethiopia on its report dated 20 February 2012. An alert with names of individuals operating in Yemen was issued on 1 November 2012.
This information was painstakingly gathered after interviewing several victims and their families. Most of whom were discouraged from cooperating due to their belief that no action was going to be taken by any of the Governments. Their concern in particular was that in Eritrea those who have been reported as traffickers are punished for their crime of assisting citizens in illegal border crossing and nothing else. To our knowledge, no penal code dealing with this crime exists, however, the practice in the ground seems that those accused of assisting with illegal border crossing are kept in prison until they pay ERN 100,000 per person assisted. Considering the amount those who eventually end up being trafficked pay to be helped to cross the border and the amount families eventually pay as ransom to free them is around $25,000, the punishment of ERN 100,000 (or its US$ equivalent of $5,000 using legal rates or US$2,500 using black market rates) is negligible. The traffickers are soon out on the street ready to continue with their activities and to take revenge on those who got them arrested in the first place.
While we will wait to see as to how the Secretary General would respond to the request from the Eritrean Government, we believe there are some actions that the Eritrean Government should consider in line with its request to the United Nations.
Eritrean government might consider signing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, adopted by General Assembly resolution 55/25 of 15 November 2000, which is the main international instrument in the fight against transnational organized crime. The convention went into force on 29 Sept 2003. The Convention is further supplemented by three Protocols, which target specific areas and manifestations of organized crime, the Protocol relevant to this issue being: the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. Countries must become parties to the Convention itself before they can become parties to any of the Protocols.
Once Eritrea signs the Convention, it will be a party to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, which was adopted by General Assembly resolution 55/25 and entered into force on 25 December 2003. It is the first global legally binding instrument with an agreed definition on trafficking in persons. The intention behind this definition is to facilitate convergence in national approaches with regard to the establishment of domestic criminal offences that would support efficient international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting trafficking in persons cases. An additional objective of the Protocol is to protect and assist the victims of trafficking in persons with full respect for their human rights.
Eritrea did not sign the Convention, when it was open for signature from 12 to 15 Dec 2000. This is understandable since it may not have been a priority for the country at that time. However, to date, it has not yet indicated Ratification, Acceptance, Approval, Accession, or Succession per UN data of the Convention and the Protocol. To our knowledge Eritrea hasn't promulgated any criminal law to address the issue of human trafficking. Should the Eritrean Government due to its own action or with the UN assistance apprehend the perpetrators of these crimes, there are no penal codes that can be used to punish those proven guilty. To our knowledge, the rule of the land is that anyone who assists with illegal border crossing outside Eritrea is imprisoned until he/she pays ERN 100,000 per person smuggled out of the country. This doesn't address the crime of human trafficking at all.
Should Eritrea sign the Convention and become a party to the Protocol, it could get assistance from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and their model laws. UNODC's model laws were elaborated as tools of technical assistance, to assist governments translate their obligations under international treaties into national legislative provisions. The model laws aim to facilitate the review and amendment of existing legislation as well as the adoption of new legislation. Although some model laws were intended for application in particular legal systems, this is not the case for all model laws, and they rather focus on the substantive obligations arising from the international treaties than on the form, which ought to be tailor-made to the needs of each State. The model provisions are meant to help with, but not to substitute the meticulous process of drafting a law. To the extent permitted by the relevant international conventions, individual States will need to make adjustments to the text to more accurately reflect the fundamental principles of their legal systems and constitutions.
In conclusion, we urge the Eritrean Government just as it “emphatically requests the UN to launch an independent and transparent investigation of this abominable affair so as to bring to justice the culpable parties”, it should “emphatically” start working on the Convention which has now 154 parties and start promulgating the necessary laws to bring the “culpable parties to justice.” Without proper legal tools, you cannot bring anyone to justice. Nor would independent investigators or cooperating Governments be able to hand over the criminals to the Eritrean Government.
I. Letter from President Isayas Afwerki to Mr. Ban Ki-Moon. 5 Feb 2013. Web. 26 Feb 2013 <<http://www.alenalki.com/images/stories/2013/February/PIA%20letter%20to%20Banki%20Moon%20Human%20Traficking%20Feb%202013ee.jpg> 26 Feb 2013 at 10:31 PM.>
II. Statement by Ambassador Araya Desta. (date not found yet). Web. 1 Mar 2013
III. Press Release. Date not indicated. Web. 1 Mar 2013.
IV. The Eritrean president in a rare interview with al Jazeera’s Jane Dutton. 22 Feb 2010. Web. 26 Feb 2013 <http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/talktojazeera/2010/02/201021921059338201.html)> (at 10:14:50 minutes)
V. Interview of President Isaias with local media (part IX) and final. 17 Feb 2012. Web. 2 Mar 2013.