This post is a response to a posting on “The American Spectator,” by a fellow at the Cato Institute (pardon the pun). Let’s go point by point to ensure that this article gets the free treatment it deserves.
Paragraph 1: Independent Eritrea is just shy of two decades old however has existed in its current form for over a century and has had a long history stretching back long before the days of Christ. To be a source of something implies that it flows from that source. Repression cannot flow and thus the characterization is fundamentally inaccurate. Contrary to the claim that it is a source of instability, I would argue that it is a source for stability. Consider that the number of peace agreements signed in its capital by warring militants in nearby countries is growing while its capacity to mediate those conflicts, whether internal (Sudanese rebels against the Government of Sudan) or external (between the Governments of Chad and Sudan) is growing. As far as I can tell, from conversations there and research in the United States, the “religious persecution” that is discussed in this article is done within a legal framework and thus should be argued on that as opposed to the religious argument because Eritrea has been a uniquely peaceful place for relations between Islam and Christianity.
Paragraph 2: This cursory look at recent Eritrean history does a disservice to the reader because it trivializes what many Eritreans see as a consistent bias against the land and its people. Emblematic of this is the following quote by John Foster Dulles, one time secretary of State of the US: “From the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless, the strategic interests of the United States in the Red Sea Basin and considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country [Eritrea] be linked with our ally, Ethiopia.” This policy continued through many US presidents even as the Ethiopian Emperor dismantled the Eritrean government at gunpoint, assassinated its political leaders and tried to cleave the society on religious boundaries. Throughout all of this we (Americans) continued to support him, after his assassination we continued to funnel money to the communist government via our client states in the middle east. Eritreans suffered from war crimes while the world watched silently1
Paragraph 3: Eritrea’s conflict with Yemen concluded with a resounding defeat of Yemen on the battlefield (the combat lasted for but weeks) and then Eritrea agreed that violence was not the answer and suggested arbitration at the Hague. As a result of the legal proceedings Eritrea was asked to leave the Hanish Islands while it was able to maintain sovereignty over fishing waters. Eritrea abided by this agreement strictly. This is actually awfully important when considering the Ethiopia conflict because similarly Eritrea was forced into a border conflict when Ethiopia redrew its maps to include parts of Eritrea. After bloody battles for three years seeing some of the largest land battles since World War II Eritrea was eventually occupied. When this conflict too went to the Hague to be ultimately decided, Eritrea’s territorial claims were upheld and it was expected that Ethiopia would leave the territories under occupation. Nearly a decade later they have not, Eritrea’s most fertile agricultural areas remain under occupation by Ethiopian soldiers. Further, under the Bush Administration Ethiopia was seen as a central ally with billions funneled into Ethiopia for arms and military training and general government support. In Eritrea this is seen as complicity as the United States has made only one overture to Ethiopia to leave Eritrean territories. Even more insidious though is another well-regarded former US Ambassador to the UN suggesting that the United States attempted to reverse the Hague Court decision.2
Paragraph 4: Contrary to the State Department document referenced, the United Nations suggests that our (America’s) patrons in the region are the primary sources of arms in the region via “Ethiopia, Yemen … ” and Djibouti3. Ironically Eritrea, two years ago, called for a peace conference of Somalia, including every facet of society. Although the Conference itself was very successful, the effort was ultimately unsuccessful in consolidating all the forces in Somalia, at the very least however it did not add to the military dispositions in Somalia as did Ethiopia’s invasion in 2006 which we supported. Similarly to complain that Eritrea’s effect on its neighbors is much poorer than theirs on it is inaccurate, particularly when you consider that Islamic terrorists have moved from the Sudan where they were expelled to the Ethiopian capital in an attempt to gain help in turning Eritrea into an Islamic state.
I will skip the paragraphs dealing with domestic religious laws as I would argue they are outside my scope. I would argue that Eritrea’s human rights situation should be viewed in a context that makes it objective. To this end I would use the HDI to rate its improvements. This indicator I feel gives an accurate presentation of what should be expected of any developing country. By this indicator we see a consistent growth in Eritrea’s situation, that has significantly improved access to communications technology (internet, mobile phones, etc.), education (primary school, secondary school and 6 new colleges, etc.) and one of the most significant human rights in my opinion is the right to health care and Eritrea has made great strides in its provision of care.
Of course no government and country is perfect and Eritrea has plenty of space for improvement but with some time, peace, and maybe a little luck, Eritrea will overcome the challenges before it and succeed!