UN Human Rights Council Should Terminate Keetharuth’s Mandate & Rescind All Reports on Eritrea

Sophia Tesfamariam

As the 38th Session of the UN Human Rights Session approaches, a flurry of activities by notorious international NGOs and their highly politicized Eritrean surrogates are in full swing. The various submissions and campaigns are designed to once again hijack the UN Human Rights process and use the forum to advance their own political agendas. By calling on the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, they also seek to prolong their own campaigns in what has become a very lucrative anti-Eritrea cottage industry.

As the record will show, it is not by coincidence that Sheila Keetharuth was appointed Special Rapporteur for Eritrea… as the Government of Eritrea has been her target for quite some time, and the UN Human Right Council provided the means to achieving her goals and that of her sponsors. Her background and activities against the Government of Eritrea on behalf of known anti-Eritrea political groups and individuals is a matter of public record. Repeated calls by Eritrea upon her to be neutral, independent and impartial in undertaking her duty have been ignored. The time is overdue to redress Eritrea and its citizens, who have been betrayed and victimized for over 6 decades in order to advance geopolitical interests of various powers in the region. The UN Committees should play a role in righting the wrongs and not contribute further to the anti-Eritrea campaign.

https://i2.wp.com/www.tesfanews.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/s_keetharuth.jpg?resize=840%2C450&ssl=1Given Sheila Keetharuth’s long-standing record of animosity towards Eritrea and her history of activism, the 38th Session must rescind her mandate and ask serious questions about how she was appointed in the first place. The UN Human Rights Council should also take a close look at her anti-Eritrea activism that included appearing at several anti-Eritrea conferences and events. Sheila Keetharuth’s a priori political agenda is also reflected in her long association and close links with politicized NGOs who have burnt the midnight oil trying to bring “regime change” in Eritrea.None of her associations are mentioned in her 2012 application for mandate holder, nor are they mentioned today in her latest application for the “Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, member from African States”.

With thousands of Eritreans in the Diaspora, and despite repeated calls by Eritrean communities  in Europe and the United States, petitions and letters of testimony sent to her, the Special Rapporteur chose to ignore their views and instead fills her reports with unsubstantiated allegations, hearsay, rumors, childish innuendos and personal opinions presented to her by these individuals and groups. These groups also make up the bulk of all submissions on Eritrea to the UN Human Rights Council, which seems to be the latest venue for their regime change agendas using human rights as a pretext.

For the record, let us take a look at some of her activities, associations with anti-Eritrea groups and individuals.

A Conference took place on 17 October 2017 in Brussels. It was organized by Mirjam Van Reisen of European External Policy Advisors (EEPA) and brought together the various individuals and groups that worked closely with Sheila Keetharuth, the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and who were instrumental in the production of all her reports on Eritrea, as well as those of the Commission of Inquiry for Eritrea (COI-E). Keetharuth was the guest speaker at that Brussels event. One of the tasks given to the Task Force was to conduct extensive campaigns at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland and with European and other states to extend the SP’s mandate at the 38th Session. So it came as no surprise to see the many cyber NGOs clamoring to send their letters to the UNHRC calling for an extension of the Special Rapporteurs mandate.

The longstanding collusion between international NGOs and various UN human rights frameworks that are exploited to advance political agendas has been addressed by many in the past, but for Eritreans the last 6 years have been an eye opener. The behind the scenes shenanigans that resulted in the appointment of Sheila Keetharuth as the Special Rapporteur for Eritrea and the subsequent establishment of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COIE) exposed the double standards, and the excessive influence in the work of the UN Human Right’s Council by international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as others who hold “UN Consultative Status”. It should be recalled that Keetharuth was employed by Amnesty International, and this NGO lobbied for her appointment and mandate. AI also contributed to the reports she produced and also that of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea.

Another NGO with “Consultative Status” that lobbied for her appointment is Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Matt Jones of CSW made this announcement when a Special Rapporteur for Eritrea was appointed in 2012:

“…On Friday 6 July, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted its first resolution on Eritrea, approving the mandate for a Special Rapporteur who will report to the HRC and the UN General Assembly on the human rights situation in Eritrea. This is the result of much work by a group of NGOs led by Christian Solidarity Worldwide…The groundbreaking resolution, submitted by Somalia, Nigeria and Djibouti and supported by a number of African and other states, was adopted by consensus at the 20th session of the HRC and was greeted with applause. Elsa Chyrum, Director of Human Rights Concern-Eritrea, thanked all present on behalf of the Eritrean people. This is the first time that African states have spearheaded a resolution on another African state…”

In addition to being a member of CSW, Matt Jones is also a board member at Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRC-E). Both CSW and HRC-E have openly called for regime change in Eritrea. But they are not the only ones to do that.

Most recently, Keetharuth participated in an event in Brussels sponsored by Mirjam Van Reisen, whose NGO has colluded with groups and individuals to publish and distribute distorted reports on Eritrea, to disrupt community events such as the annual Eritrean Festivals in Holland and other European states. Most recently Van Reisen threatened with violence, and shut down a conference organized by Eritrean youth in Europe. She participated in and led the hostile and dangerous rally against Eritrean youth who were peacefully conducting their annual conference Holland, where several attendees were beaten and injured right in front of her, the Dutch media and police that showed up in droves as a result of her campaigning.

In addition to her NGO, European External Policy Advisors (EEPA) which is funded by various European States and private institutions, the  lucrative anti-Eritrea cottage industry that she has helped build include NGOs that are said to be working with Eritrean “asylum seekers and refugees”. Van Reisen has produced several anti-Eritrea reports through her agency that have been disseminated at European Parliaments on behalf of anti-Eritrea groups and individuals. She also established the “Eritrea Reference Center”, at the University of Tilburg, where Eritrean “researchers” produce anti-Eritrea reports, which are then distributed to European parliaments in order to advance the economic and political sanction campaigns against the State of Eritrea, that she has sponsored for the last decade.

Mirjam Van Reisen and individuals associated with the Special Rapporteur have a long history of anti-Eritrea activities and have formed various NGOs that receive funding from European states and others to carry out their politically motivated agendas. These NGOs have also submitted several written and oral statements and hosted numerous side events in condemnation of Eritrea before the UN Human Rights Council, at academic institutions and other forums organized by NGOs such as EEPA. Suffice it to mention the most notorious:

Elsa Chyrum- Human Rights Concern-Eritrea, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network. Her close links and association with groups seeking “regime change” in Eritrea is a matter of record. Parades as a “human rights” activist, but her activities and associations belie her political agendas.

Daniel R. Mekonnen- Eritrean Movement for Democracy & Human Rights (EMHDR) & Eritrean Law Society (ELS). His many reports and behind the scenes activities against Eritrean government institutions is well known. More on Daniel and his associations below.

Selam Kidane of Release Eritrea, is also one of the “researchers” at Eritrea Expertise Center, Tilburg University (established by Van Reisen). She is a staple at all anti-Eritrea activities, incitement of violent rallies, including the vandalism at the Eritrean Embassy in London.

Meron Estefanos- Radio Erena, has co-authored several reports with Van Reisen and is a staple at almost all of her Eritrea related conferences (So are all of the above). These four being the most notorious of Sheila Keetharuth’s association, there are many others associated with such anti-Eritrea groups and cyber NGOs that have contributed to the production of her one-sided reports on Eritrea. Estefanos and Van Reisen and others are members of the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees (ICER)

The UN Declaration on Human Rights clearly defines what is meant by “universal human rights,” explaining that “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms…without distinction of any kind.” Accordingly, it should not matter what your gender is, what color skin you have, what religion (if any) you believe in, or what country you are from—your human rights are to be protected. It is difficult to understand how someone who posts tweets that call for violent uprisings can promote the UN’s universal values.

What is most puzzling about these folks who tell us they are “human rights defenders” is that despite their frequent visits to Ethiopia and engagements with international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, they have yet to pen a single report against the regime in Ethiopia.

Elsa Chyrum is one of the founders of East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, yet, there has not been a single call from her or her tentacle networks on the killings in Ethiopia, the massive 2 year long nationwide protests there, or the genocides committed in Gambela, Oromia, and the Ogaden. A frequent visitor to Ethiopia, her relationship with groups working closely with the TPLF regime in Ethiopia is also a matter of record.

Elsa Chyrum’s NGO Human Rights Concern-Eritrea received $326,191 in the years 2014-2017 and no doubt is receiving NED funding for year 2018 too. NED also organized a forum in Washington, DC for HRC-E. Chyrum has used such forums to conduct her anti-Eritrea  political activities. Her frequent visits to teh United States and activities with such groups attest to the political agendas that she is closely associated with. Eritrean American taxpayers are wondering why their hard earned monies are spent on groups that are undermining Eritrea’s development, peace and security.

Why is the US government funding groups that are causing havoc in the otherwise stable and productive Eritrean Communities across the United States? Why is it supporting groups that are vandalizing Eritrean Community Centers, conducting violent rallies that are endangering the lives of innocent children and women?

In the article[1], “Wanted Arab Spring 2.0 in Eritrea” for IDN-InDepthNews, Van Reisen, who is also a member of the International Commission on Eritrean Refugees (ICER) wrote the following:

“…The Arab Spring should not stop in Egypt, Yemen or Syria. An even more powerful movement, or an Arab Spring 2.0, is needed for one of the most brutally governed nations in Africa: Eritrea. The people there suffer from the regime more than the people in Libya, Tunisia or Egypt ever have… The EU had reserved dozens of millions of euros for Eritrea, but – I am happy to note – that this money was never paid out. I had written to EU Development Cooperation Commissioner Andris Piebalgs in October 2011 to pledge him not to transfer the funds to the dictator…”

In a 2013 article she hailed and promoted anti-Eritrea regime change activists in the Diaspora:

“…Arab Spring has arrived in the Horn of Africa. Young people have been campaigning for the last year, inspired by events in Tunisia and Egypt, phoning households in the country that has been in the grip of its leader Isaias Afewerki since independence from neighbouring Ethiopia in 1991.…The coup seems to meet little resistance; local diplomats reported that shops were open and that everything was quiet in the streets. Telephone lines were open. So far it looks like a smooth transition… The population has become increasingly desperate. It is therefore not a surprise that a transition is now being forced. Afewerki spent most of his time abroad as he is reportedly ill. His archenemy Meles, President of Ethiopia, died in 2012 in a hospital in Brussels…”

Notwithstanding the fact that President Isaias Afwerki has not been out of the country for any length of time, and considering the misrepresentation of a small incident as a “coup”, Van Reisen has shown that her agendas for Eritrea are not benign. Van Reisen goes on with this:

“…The question is, will the coup succeed? It is likely that it will… Afewerki has no friends among its neighbours, who are in fact likely to quietly support a transition…In the unlikely event that the claim for a transition is contested by factions of the military the international community will demand that Eritrea implements the constitution, frees political prisoners and establishes a transitional government with broad representation. And hence our view that the Arab Spring has finally reached the Horn of Africa, throwing its shadow further into the African continent…”

Her many conferences in which politicized NGOs have been provided access and forum attest to her political agendas vis a vis Eritrea.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, is one of the NGOs with Consultative Status at the UN that has campaigned with Eritrean groups against the State of Eritrea. It too participated in the regime change agendas, as evidenced by these series of Tweets by Matt Jones of CSW who is also board member at Human Rights Concern –Eritrea.  (@mattbjones) tweeted the following in 2001 in support of an anti-Eritrea political campaign:

https://sophietm7.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/matt-jones-isaias-must-go.png?w=1000

13 Apr 2011

“…RT @khatazagondwe: Over 300 Eritreans presumed dead after massacre on boat near Tripoli. They fled Eritrea because of Isaias #IsaiasMustGo…”

Both Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Elsa Chyrum of Human Rights Concern-Eritrea joined the campaign and posted messages on their respective sites.

Elsa Chyrum wrote in the 29 February 2011 Press Release, “YOU ARE NEXT, ISAIAS!” :

“…Now that the eyes of the world are on those who wish, as we Eritreans do, to depose the dictator, there has never been a better moment to demonstrate and protest publicly. With this in mind, and ignoring freezing weather, a 20-strong group of mainly Eritrean protesters gathered outside the Eritrean Embassy in Islington yesterday, the 28th February. Unfortunately, this will not go down as a historic day in Eritrea, but it is a new beginning at a time when we should really seize the moment that the spirit of the times seems to be offering us. Isaias Afewerki is a dictator every bit as bad as Mubarak and Gaddaffi, the main difference being that he has a much lower media profile and this is our opportunity to raise that profile by protesting in public and letting the world know at this time when it seems to be watching that we have the worst tyrant in Africa and he must go, and he must go NOW!…”

For its part Christian Solidarity Worldwide posted the following:

“…The “Isaias Must Go” protest was inspired by the popular uprisings that led to the departure of the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt…CSW Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, “CSW endorses the sentiments and aspirations of yesterday’s protest and commends the organizers. The international community cannot continue to stand by as the Eritrean regime under President Isaias Afewerki perpetrates appalling human rights abuses against its own people.  We are committed to working with all Eritrean citizens who are striving to see an end to this flagrant injustice, and to stand with them until all of Eritrea’s citizens enjoy the rights and freedoms enshrined in the nation’s constitution…”

The Consultative Status confers an NGO with significant power and influence including the ability to recommend agenda items and participate at UN meetings, submit written statements to official UN bodies. Resolution 1996/31, Consultative relationship between the United Nations and non-governmental organizations says:

“…If an organization, either directly or through its affiliates or representatives acting on its behalf, clearly abuses its status by engaging in a pattern of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations including unsubstantiated or politically motivated acts against Member States of the United Nations incompatible with those purposes and principles…”

Since CSW is promoting ‘regime change”, why has its consultative status not been revoked despite several complaints by Eritreans? Highly politicized Eritrean NGOs have been provided access to the UN Human Rights Council and its Committees by CSW, UN Watch, CIVICUS, Center for Global Non-Killing, Conscience and Peace Tax International, and the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. These Eritrean NGOs have been around for quite a while, why do they not have UN Consultative Statuses of their own? Could it be that they are political organizations parading as human rights defenders?

Daniel R. Mekonnen who has established several NGOs that he now uses in disseminating reports on Eritrea at various UN and other agencies worked closely with Sheila Keetharuth. Members of EMDHR have been employed by Keetharuth as researchers at the University of Pretoria and the Eritrean Clinic which she established. These “researchers” contributed to the COIE Report which was filled with plagiarized material from CIA torture magazines, past reports on crimes committed by Ethiopia’s Derg regime. As his CV shows, almost all of his articles, papers, reports, and even book shed a very negative light on all aspect of Eritrean life.

Daniel R. Mekonnen is also the founding member and executive director of the Eritrean Law Society (ELS) established in Washington, DC. This outfit has submitted several anti-Eritrea reports to the UN Human Rights Council. They are also involved in the lucrative anti-Eritrea cottage industry created by their peers in the human rights networks.

Daniel Mekonnen and his peers are also members of a youth group- Eritrean Youth Solidarity for Change (EYSC) which is part of the so-called Eritrean Global Solidarity Network. EGSN and its offshoot-EGSND-which claims to be an independent, nonprofit civic organization dedicated to the protection of Human rights and strengthening democratic institutions in Eritrea. This outfit has changed its name so many times that it is hard to keep up with all its activities. According to the National Endowment for Democracy, it is now called Eritrean Global Solidarity LLC.

But as Daniel Mekonnen’s articles, reports and even a book on Eritrea show, his agenda remains “regime change”. As a matter of fact, the very first project that EMHDR and Daniel Mekonnen undertook (funded by the National Endowment for Democracy) was to translate into Tigrinya, Gene Sharp’s book, “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, the blue print for the various colored revolutions in Europe and the “Arab Spring” in the Middle East and North Africa.

EYSC and EGSN members have terrorized Eritrean Diaspora communities and individuals deemed to be “pro regime”, disturbed community events, vandalized community centers and filed false claims against Eritrean communities to prevent them from holding their Festivals and other national celebrations.  This group has also openly called for regime change in Eritrea and is working towards achieving that goal. A goal shared by Daniel R. Mekonnen as his and their many social media postings illustrate, Suffice it to mention a few:

On 9 March 2011 Daniel R. Mekonnen tweeted the following:

“…@EGSN #IsaiasMustGo…”

On 8 March 2011, EGS Network tweeted the following:

“…Let’s Fight to the Finish – Join Eritrean Global Solidarity, Eritrean Youth Global Movement, Eritrean Youth For Change. #IsaiasMustGo…”

It was not long before others in this closely knit network joined in with their own postings, including Matt Jones of CSW.

In 2016 in a Facebook entry, “Preliminary reflections on the HRC resolution on Eritrea

“…Pro-democracy Eritrean forces and their allies are now expected to double their efforts in the months to come. We have already achieved a lot over the past four years (since the appointment of the Special Rapporteur in 2012) but there is also a lot to be done….As we have witnessed in the fierce diplomatic battle of the last three weeks, there are still some worrying signals on the part of some diplomatic circles: emanating from their perceived or real concerns on the reliability of the diaspora-based opposition groups. As we have done in the latest mass rallies of Geneva, Tel Aviv, Addis Ababa, New York and other places, we need to show the international community unequivocally that there is indeed a viable and dependable alternative to PFDJ hooliganism…”

In his June entry on Facebook, this lawyer was incensed because Eritrea asked for evidence to support the outrageous accusations labeled against it by Sheila Keetharuth and her “researchers” which include Daniel Mekonnen. He wrote:

“… A regime that murders, tortures, imprisons, abuses, etc. thousands of innocent citizens wantonly, without any proof of guilt, has the audacity to tell the inquiry commission to “adduce proof” of the regime’s criminality, a fact that was well-known for many years, long before the establishment of the commission. Matter-of-factly, a recidivist criminal or a habitual offender, like the Eritrean regime, is never expected to plead guilty even if one piles up all sorts of irrefutable evidence the whole world can offer. That is the unalterable behaviour of a criminal regime!…”

The law says, you are innocent until proven guilty…but not in Daniel Mekonnen’s law book…

But he is not the only one that seeks double standards. His patron, Mirjam Van Reisen of EEPA, with whom he has established a very lucrative long term partnership, was upset with the newly released Country Report on Eritrea. Here is what she wrote:

“…Van Reisen questions these anonymous sources and the transparency of the report. She does not know who these sources are and it is not mentioned in the report…Van Reisen also questions why state officials would want to stay anonymous when following the official government line on such matters… Van Reisen argues that a country report should be based on verifiable facts and not on anonymous sources who give an opinion – which seems to be the case for several statements in the 2017 report – as the future of people depends on the content…”

But Van Reisen and her cohorts had no qualms about disseminating the COIE Report that relied exclusively on anonymous victims. So why not hold Sheila Keetharuth to the same standards…after all, do her reports not affect the future of the Eritrean people to?

Sheila Keetharuth’s association with Van Reisen and other politically motivated NGOs that are promoting regime change agendas in Eritrea, that are promoting sanctions and other violation of Eritrea’s right to self-determination and sovereign equality, is grounds for immediate termination of her mandate. Her actions violate the principles of impartiality, non-selectivity and objectivity that govern the work of Special Rapporteurs and also constitute a breach of the equality principles of the UN Charter.

Instead of renewing her mandate, the UN Human Rights Council should conduct an independent investigation into Sheila Keetharuth’s associations and connections with highly politicized NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRC-E), and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMHDR) and European External Policy Advisors (EEPA)? They should also question her reliance on these politicized NGOs in the production of her reports, as well as that of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COI-E). Who in the HRC leadership and/or at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights selected Sheila Keetharuth for the position and why?

The answers to these questions will illustrate clearly why her politically motivated mandate should be revoked and all her reports on Eritrea rescinded.


[1] http://www.socialwatch.org/node/14193 Accessed 06/01/2018