Mesfin Hagos Holds Hearing on G15 Matters with Global Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva
EPDP Information Office
Mr. Mesfin Hagos, a Central Council member of the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), on Thursday 16 January 2014 made an extensive presentation in Geneva at the plenary meeting of the Human Rights Committee of the 180-member Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
about the G15 movement that challenged the dictatorship in Eritrea in 2001. He was one of the leading figures in the G15 movement. In opening the session, Mr. Juan Pablo Letellier of Chile, President of the IPU Human Rights Committee, welcomed the invited guest speaker for coming to give the committee a short background on the democratic demands of 15 members of the Eritrean National Assembly in 2001 before the arrest of most of them; their situation today, and what the speaker would wish the IPU do to be helpful in this case.
At the outset, Mr. Mesfin Hagos expressed profound gratitude to IPU and its bodies for their continued interest in the case of the imprisoned Eritrean National Assembly members whose present situation is totally not known outside the prison walls of Erar-Ero. He told the IPU committee that only the Eritrean president and a medical doctor that reports to him know about them. No other high official of the regime is knowledgeable about their situation. The prison staff and guards are themselves prisoners because they are not allowed to leave the area. They are encircled by a security cordon which itself is also watched by formations of army units. Farmers and nomads of the region have been evicted from the area which is now a desolate region hosting only the G11 prisoners and journalists. Some ex-guards of the prison have reported in recent years about who was dead and who was still alive. But this report and other rumours about the prisoners have not been corroborated by other sources. Mr. M. Hagos added: “I personally am pessimist about finding many of them alive by taking into consideration the utter neglect of their health by the regime; the hostile prison environment they are in; continued lack of nutrient food; accumulation of untreated illness they had during the long years of the struggle in addition to their advanced ages of above 60”.
Why were the 11 members of G15 Imprisoned?
In the hearing, Mr. M. Hagos explained that 11 of the Eritrean National Assembly members were taken to custody simply because they voiced the urgency of taking action on previously drafted laws. They demanded for a meeting of the assembly in order to approve draft laws on formation of a multiparty system, national elections and activating various committees, including congress preparatory committee, all of which were left idle since their formation.
The president’s response was outright rejection to all the repeated calls for activating government functions through a peaceful and democratic process that was attainable using National Assembly decisions. When this group of 15 members of the assembly (G15) despaired of obtaining a response from the president, they started in May 2001 to make their position clear through interviews with the local press. All exchanges on this issue between the group and the president were shared with the general Eritrean public.
At the same time, the president and his supporters were engaged in negative campaigns and Intimidations against members of G15 whom they characterize as traitors working with the CIA and the Ethiopians. The president was claiming that state sovereignty was above everything else and that convening of National Assembly or practicing democracy was not timely while part of the country is under Ethiopian occupation.
He said the exchanges between the two sides continued for several months, and the regime was sharpening its accusations against G15 until it got the cover of the 9/11 incident of New York to take its planned measure against G15 members.
The 150-member Eritrean National Assembly consisted of 75 members from the ruling party and other 75 members selected from members of local assemblies. Today, in addition to the G11 prisoners arrested September 2001, other six National Assembly members were also imprisoned in the past few years raising the number of assembly prisoners to 17. Other seven National Assembly members are currently outside Eritrea and six have died of natural causes.
To give semblance of “legitimacy” to his action, the Eritrean president convened the National Assembly on 14 February 2002 and had his action of 18 September 2001 “approved” by the rubber-stamp body. That was the last time the National Assembly met in the past 12 years.
Process of Arrest of G11
In explaining the process of their incarceration, Mr. Mesfin Hagos said that arrest of 11 of the G15 members took place in the early morning hours of 18 September 2001 in an aggressive manner carried out by members of the special security personnel from the presidential guard. Some of the G15 members were in their pajamas and others putting up their jogging outfits for morning exercise. The security personnel handled terrorized family members with extreme harshness that including beating some of them. Other members of G15 escaped arrest mainly because of their presence abroad.
The prisoners (G11) were first taken to Embatkala, about 30 kms east of Asmara, where they were kept under lock until the dungeon at Era-Ero was built for this purpose. Located some 70kms north of Asmara and 600 metres above sea level, Era-Ero is a dry and blisteringly hot zone where the temperature is nearly always above 40 degrees Celsius. He said he knew the area well because he stayed in it for quite long periods in the 1970s and in the 1990s.
What Can Eritreans Expect from IPU?
Mr. Mesfin Hagos told the IPU Human Rights Committee meeting that the IPU can appeal to its 180 member parliaments and governments to make more coordinated and effective pressure on the Eritrean regime to tell about the situation of the G11 and other prisoners in Eritrea and demand that the prisoners are given justice by bringing them before a court of law.
Secondly, the IPU is in a position to urge human rights and democracy advocacies the world over to push for visitations to Eritrea to see for themselves the situation of prisoners and try to protect their human dignity.
Thirdly, the current struggle in Eritrea being a struggle for democracy, and since the promotion of democracy is one of the fundamental principles of IPU, Eritreans have the reason to expect the IPU to help in the empowerment of G15 members alongside other resistance organizations struggling to reclaim the betrayed promises of the Eritrean liberation struggle. He added that the G15 members outside Eritrea and their colleagues in struggle have little means to counter the distortions and misinformation blackmails of the Eritrean regime against those opposed to it, including G15 members. Providing this opposition camp with radio, TV and other means of broadcast and awareness publications would be a right measure towards advancing the cause for democracy and human rights in that country.
The fourth request he listed was support for Eritrean refugees everywhere. He said the mistaken policies of the Eritrean regime have disrupted the social fabric in the country and exodus displacement of its people, especially the young generation. He said IPU can take part in designing a programme of effective assistance to Eritrean refugees in Eastern Sudan and Northern Ethiopia, for example, that could have a long-term benefit to many refugees. One of the objectives of such a programme can be to provide vocational and higher education to young refugees. Funding of this huge programme could come from the technical assistance money suspended by many countries from reaching the Asmara regime because of its human rights record. Mr. M. Hagos said IPU is in a position to help through its member parliaments in the world.
Since the IPU is committed to help settle regional conflicts which are causes of instability and insecurity and hindrances to the promotion of democracy and human rights, help to settle the border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia could be one important issue that deserves IPU’s attention. The final and binding ruling of the border arbitration commission between the two countries has not been fully accepted by one of the conflicting parties and that making pressure to have it settled is of paramount important to Eritreans because the Eritrean regime is hiding behind the unsettled border conflict. .
During the discussion session, Mr. Mesfin Hagos welcomed a number of ideas that aimed at keeping alive the demands of G15 and the situation of the imprisoned G11.
Attending the IPU Human Rights Committee Hearing were delegates from several member parliaments, and the IPU Secretary General Anders Johnsson with his Geneva office staff. Accompanying Mr. Hagos at the hearing was Mr. Wolde-Yesus Ammar, head of EPDP foreign relations office.