Nevsun is a Canadian gold mining company operating in Eritrea – a country that has been ruled through fear and terror for the last 25 years. And recent investigations by a UN Commission of Inquiry (COI), confirmed the ruling junta has been committing “crimes against humanity” against its own people (10).
In reaction to this UN report, Ms. Bronwyn Bruton from the Atlantic Council, downplayed the severity of these crimes in a piece titled “It's Bad in Eritrea, but Not That Bad” (9). She criticizes the COI of “selection bias” for not interviewing “Western diplomats or UN staff based in Eritrea”.
Money is the only reason Ms. Bruton is defending the regime. Here is why.
Nevsun’s contribution to Atlantic Council (Ms. Bruton’s employer) in 2015: $100,000 to $249,000 (1), (2)
Contribution by Eritrean victims to Atlantic Council: $0
Not surprisingly, Nevsun’s VP of Social Responsibility (a terrible misnomer), also says the UN report is “biased and selective” because “it only included people from outside the country” (6).
This almost identical language is not coincidental and one should be forgiven to assume Nevsun’s money is talking through Ms. Bruton’s mouth. Additionally, both Nevsun and Ms. Bruton are not being honest because COI’s numerous requests to visit Eritrea were repeatedly denied. Eritrea’s foreign minister says “we will not give them” visas (3).
To be fair, Ms. Bruton also says Eritrea’s indefinite military service does include “digging ditches for a mining company” (7) – which appears to be a direct reference to Nevsun and the nature of her “research trips” to Eritrea. In spite of that admirable admission, however, her attempts to whitewash the criminal role Nevsun’s money is playing in the continued subjugation of the Eritrean people is very cruel indeed.
To be clear, Nevsun is driven by profit motive -- which is perfectly fine. But when it’s CEO, Cliff Davis, falsely claims “we are bringing an awful lot of good to this country” with “significant tangible benefits to the people of Eritrea” (6), he steps into a very important moral space he has willfully excluded himself from. Is Nevsun's presence benefiting the junta? No doubt. But there is also absolutely no doubt that Nevsun’s leaders have been and continue to be very prominent enablers of crimes against humanity the COI’s findings have finally exposed.
In her VOA interview of April 27, 2015 (7), Ms. Bruton says her sources of information are high government officials. She admits being “very impressed” by the president – the very criminal who is directly responsible for the disappearance of thousands. And, like Nevsun’s leadership, she continues to parrot the regime’s propaganda – falsely saying only 5% of the people in the indefinite national service have been there for more than 18 months -- for example.
Why accuse the COI of “selection bias” then – a lapse Nevsun and Ms. Bruton so abundantly exhibit themselves?
In continuing to defend the regime, Ms. Bruton says the COI “discarded tens of thousands of testimonials from Eritreans defending the Isaias regime, claiming these were irrelevant or inauthentic”.
But the COI has very good reasons to discard these. First, there are tens of thousands of Eritreans in the Middle East and Africa who are at the mercy of the regime to have their passports renewed in order to continue working in those countries. These Eritreans are routinely blackmailed into doing whatever the regime wants them to do – hardly a case of free will. Secondly, Ginbot 7, an Ethiopian opposition group operating in Eritrea and financed by Eritrea’s junta has openly participated in signing petitions against the COI (4). These Ethiopians have absolutely no right to submit pro-regime petitions for COI’s consideration. Third, the COI did do its due diligence by calling a representative sample only to find out they were of boiler plate variety where, in some cases, the so called "submitter" was not even something was submitted in their name.
In spite of these, Ms. Bruton says the U.N. Human Rights Council “should vote against” COI’s recommendations for “otherwise, it will only help prolong the repression it was set up to prevent.” And that is after saying “No doubt, the human rights situation there is frightful, and hundreds or thousands of cases of torture, rape or unjust imprisonment probably escaped the commission’s attention. “
This is like saying let’s not make an attempt to stop Hitler because we may anger him into committing more crimes. Luckily, reason prevailed and the U.N. Human Rights Council accepted COI’s recommendations.
In future trips, one hopes Ms. Bruton and others who enjoy full personal freedoms in their own countries – freedoms Eritreans also cherish and aspire for -- will conduct their “research” with a bit more respect for the truth and for the victims of criminal regimes. Here are a couple of suggestions.
a) Be curious and expand the scope of your “research” beyond the junta’s inner circles. This is one of the most vicious criminal gangs on earth and its entire existence is based on covering up the truth. Just listen to its foreign minister’s interview (3). Such a brutal massacre of truth in a 7 minute interview is quite amazing. On your next visit, ask this foreign minister (or any other official) to allow you to visit his former colleagues who have not been heard from for 15 long years. After all, he does say “they are in good hands”. Incidentally, one of those victims is a former foreign minister like himself.
b) Explore why people are terrified of their own government (8). Why, in spite of severe housing shortages, does the regime bulldoze homes again and again? Consult with Eritrean civic leaders (5) before your trip to shake off residues of conscious or unconscious “selection bias” you might be harboring.
Over the last 25 years, just about every Eritrean family has experienced the regime’s excesses in one form or another. COI’s validation, although belated, is a welcome development for the victims and their families. But hired hands in the West – Ms.Bruton among them -- are also out in full force to mute the voices of justice and reason. Listen to Ms. Bruton and Nevsun’s leadership falsely painting a positive image of the criminal regime -- all at the expense of the Eritrean people (6,7,9).
The good news is the COI did a thorough job.To show their support and gratitude over ten thousand Eritreans marched in the streets of Geneva. There was a massive turnout in Israel as well. Using this new momentum, the hundreds of thousands of Eritreans around the globe, in collaboration with good people in our host countries, can raise our voices jointly to drown out the dwindling number of regime operatives and their highly paid lobbyists. Doing so, will in turn, boost the morale of justice seekers inside Eritrea -- where it matters most -- to stand up to bring the criminals to justice. Stronger together!
Eritreans for Facilitating National Dialog (EFND)
Eritrean Global Solidarity (EGS)
(5) Kubrom Dafla, Elsa Chyrum, Selam Kidane, Dr. Daniel Rezene, EFND, EGS, Dr. Alganesh Fessaha, Meron Estifanos, Arbi Harnet, Father Mussie Zerai who was nominated for 2015 Nobel Peace Prize …..