Dawit Giorgis, Executive Director; Institute for strategic and Security Studies
The Saudi Arabia and Eritrean stories on human rights violations exhibit graphically the anomalies and inconsistencies of positions being taken by the United Nations on issues related to Human Rights.
In 2013 European Union declared Wahabism as the main source of global terrorism. In 2001 the Pentagon labeled Saudi Arabia as the “kernel of evil.” Fifteen of the nineteen, 9/11 terrorists are from Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaida and it’s affiliates, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Shabab, Al Nusra front in the Middle East, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQUAP), Boko Haram and ISIS are the products of Wahhabi radicalization and Saudi Arabia funding. It is now generally acknowledged that the root of violent extremism is the Wahhabi ideology. The former CIA Director James Woolsey told Congress: “One analogue for Wahhabis’ political influence today might be the extremely angry form taken by much of German nationalism in the period after World War I…. Just as angry and extreme German nationalism of that period was the soil in which Nazism grew, Wahhabi Islamist extremism today is the soil in which al Qaeda and its sister terrorist organizations are growing.” Internally, Saudi Arabia is the most oppressive government in the world violating every letter in the International Human Rights Law, by enslaving its people, torturing and abusing immigrants and implementing the most primitive system of justice. And yet for decades the US and Europe have supported Saudi Arabia and condoned the expansion of its version of Islam, Wahabism.
Saudi Arabia bribes and blackmails its way out of condemnation for its human rights abuses in its own country and fomenting trouble in other countries. Recently Saudi Arabia blackmailed the UN Secretary General who, in unprecedented move, was forced to take the name Saudi Arabia out of the UN report, which accused Saudi Arabia of committing war crimes against children in Yemen. UN Investigators had found that the Saudi coalition was to blame for the deaths of more than half of the 510 children killed in the conflict in Yemen last year. Ban Ki-Moon said the removal of Saudi Arabia from the list was “one of the most painful and difficult decisions” he has had to make as Secretary General. He described the pressure exerted as “unacceptable.” But he had the power to say no and exercise other options. Sajjad Mohammad Sajid, Oxfam Director in Yemen stated: “ It appears that political power and diplomatic clout have been allowed to trump the UN’s duty to expose those responsible for the killing and maiming of more than 1,000 of Yemen’s children.” Amnesty International wrote: “The credibility of the United Nations is on the line after it shamefully caved in to pressure to remove the Saudi Arab military coalition from the UN’s list of states and armed groups that violate children’s rights in conflict,”
In it’s 2015/2016 report Amnesty International reports that Saudi Arabia “continued to severely restrict freedoms of expression, association and assembly. The authorities arrested, prosecuted and imprisoned human rights defenders and government critics, including under the 2014 anti-terror law, often after unfair trials. Some of those detained were prisoners of conscience. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common.”
Here is a government that has violated every letter of the human rights law and has waged war, not only on its people, but on all humanity and yet being forgiven by the highest institute of international justice and law. Does this not make the UN complicit in crimes against humanity?
During the same week we witnessed a small poor country, Eritrea, condemned by the experts of the UN Human Rights Council and accused of crimes against humanity. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Eritrea is not swimming in oil, rather struggling to come out of poverty. It has its own political and governance issues like many other African countries and a stressed relationship with its neighbor, Ethiopia. It has serious problems which it needs to address so that it becomes an active and equal participant in global and regional affairs and in the affairs of African Union. But whatever problem it has cannot warrant such a grossly misguided and biased report and recommendation. It is so easy for the UN and the most powerful governments to accuse and punish small poor countries who do not have leverage in the international system and cannot exert “pressures “ like Saudi Arabia which continues to oppress its people and create international havoc with impunity.
If the Human Rights Council goes ahead and accepts the recommendation of the committee of experts it will indeed be seen as a classic action to destabilize a nation. And this will not be in the interest of Ethiopia, the neighboring countries, its other neighbors, the region and the world as a whole. Eritrea’s strategic location is too critical to be ignored. The only way forward is meaningful engagement with Eritrean government and its neighbors to bring about regional stability. Eritrea is in-between several unstable states including Yemen across the Red Sea, which separates Africa from the Arabian Peninsula. The Gulf of Aden is one of the most important shipping routes, and the second most dangerous maritime zone in the world, next to the Gulf of Guinea.
Instability in Eritrea will invite proxy wars in the region with several players (US, Ethiopia, North and South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt), the kind of war that can only be compared to what we see in Syria. The stakes are high and the interests of each of these countries vary significantly. The horn of Africa is one security complex and the most explosive region in the world with numerous interstate and intrastate problems. Paramount concern should be regional security and stability. Africa Union, and US policies in the horn are geared towards engagement and regional stability. The UN Human Rights Council should be supporting this effort not undermine it by approving this report and recommendation which is unfair and founded on double standard. Taking punitive measures based on this report will obviously offend the sense of justice of Africans and further isolate Eritrea, breed belligerence and create obstacles for peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues through constructive dialogue.
Executive Director; Institute for strategic and Security Studies