At a recent hearing on Eritrea in Washington, DC, US Congressman Chris Smith asked a familiar question when this author stopped to chat with him on the sidelines. I wanted to tell him that the one sided presentation on Eritrea had nothing new, and that it was in fact, a verbatim regurgitation of the lies and distortions that have been floating in the various anti-Eritrea sites for the last 17 years. Although the presenters were dressed in priestly garb, they were hardly holy or pious. I told him that the hearing was a sham-another useless Eritrea bashing forum, not befitting the United States Congress, and that he, like many others that these individuals and groups have approached, was being hoodwinked and used to advance narrow political agendas. I told him that it had nothing to do with the human rights of the Eritrean people, the said focus of the hearing, held by the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights & International Organizations, which Smith chaired.
The puzzled Congressman asked, “Are you telling me that the UN, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International and other such reports are all wrong about Eritrea? No doubt, Amnesty’s campaigns and publications are widely quoted by political leaders, journalists, diplomats, and academics, but it was no time for hesitation or prevarication, the Congressman deserved a straight answer. So I responded in the affirmative. Yes they are all wrong! It was not an emotional response, but a studied one…I had ample evidence to support the assertion. Information on Eritrea had been manufactured and laundered for the last 17 years by Eritrea’s internal and external enemies. The Congressman was understandably taken aback, but I assured him that I would provide him with my dossier as soon as possible. In this sitting, the author will endeavor to illustrate, how distorted and manufactured information was laundered and used against the State and its leadership in a “regime change” agenda, by Ethiopia, its handlers and self-serving groups using human rights as pretext.
Most folks are familiar with money laundering, which is the process by which ill-gotten monies are funneled through legitimate entities, as cover of transforming the profits of crime and corruption into ostensibly “legitimate” assets, and obfuscating sources of money, either intentionally or by merely using financial systems or services that do not identify or track sources or destinations. Information laundering uses pretty much the same concept. Ill-gotten information from compromised individuals, or self-professed “human rights’ and “democracy” groups, are provided cover, forum and support, in the case of Eritrea, by international NGOs and government agencies such as the National Endowment for Democracy. That information is then reported by the media without mentioning the original sources, and that same information is subsequently used in producing the various country reports, such as the one produced by the US State Department. Ditto for reports produced by Congressional researchers, aides to lawmakers, and even immigration clerks.
Following Ethiopia’s bloody war of invasion and expansion in 1998-2000, before Eritreans buried their war dead, in October 2000, before even the peace Agreements were signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Eritrean Diaspora was introduced to a group of co-opted self-appointed, “Eritrean Academics and Professionals” followed by a sudden mushrooming of cyber “human rights” and “democracy” and “like-minded” individuals and groups.
In early 2000, Eritreans in the Diaspora saw a mushrooming of cyber groups-at one point there were 47 of them established in the United States and Europe. These “Eritrean” groups partnered with international NGOs was such as Amnesty International, Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Freedom House etc. to advance their agendas. These entities churned out articles, statements, and reports on Eritrea on an almost daily basis. Internet radio programs emerged beaming programs into Eritrea, calling for the youth to engage in civil disobedience and even flight. It was obvious from the ferocity of their activities that they were part of a well-orchestrated, and financed, anti-Eritrea campaign. In addition to the various cyber groups, there were several websites established.They were established for a reason…
The Center for Strategic and International Studies explains how information is used-and laundered, to advance political and military agendas:
“…Interference may seek to achieve various goals at once, beyond its general aim to paralyze a nation’s decision making process. In the information domain, objectives can be classified in three broad categories: harming the political or economic infrastructure; undermining social cohesion; or destroying confidence in democratic institutions. Infiltrated information must penetrate, adapt to survive, and shape perceptions in the target society for as long as possible, while the attacker might pursue more concrete tactical gains (dismissal of a public figure or raising the profile of a specific issue). [Regime Change in the case of Eritrea]… The disinformation process is mostly self-perpetuating and needs only loose guidance from instigators after the initial public push…”
As the Eritrea Ethiopia border conflict raged on, another war was on the offing. It sought to give the minority regime in Ethiopia a win that it could not get on the battlefield-or in the court of arbitration. Ethiopia and its handlers, working in tandem with bankrupt Eritrean nationals-hired mercenaries posing as “human rights” and “democracy” activists-launched an unprecedented defamation and vilification campaign against the government of Eritrea.
Over the last 17 years, Eritreans faced a vicious subterranean network of scalawags and carpetbaggers, anthropologists, legal scholars, journalists and rights activists, who networked through cyberspace, to mobilize credentials and mount an unprecedented misinformation and vilification campaign against the state of Eritrea and its leadership. The Eritrean Diaspora was inundated with “Public Forums”, “Press Releases”, “Statements” and tons of articles on newly established websites. It was an offensive that targeted almost every Eritrean institution-but most importantly, Eritrea’s nascent institutions, especially the judiciary. The role of the cyber NGOs in the psychological warfare against Eritrea is becoming clearer by the day.
Daniel Deiss, J. Hawk, and Edwin Watson write about the role of NGOs and tools used in the global “information warfare”:
“…Many NGOs, while presenting a public image of bottom-up activism, were funded by major corporations or governments, which had the effect of depriving them of their independence and objectivity…Naturally, these entities are not setting the agenda or calling the shots. They have been assigned a number of roles by the political elites…The second function these NGOs fulfill is allowing interested governments to refrain from directly lying to the media and the public themselves, since doing so would inevitably have negative political consequences. Indeed, the practice has become so widespread that the discerning observer can readily tell whether information being presented by government representatives is true on the basis of whether the government cites and presents its own evidence, or refers the public to an NGO-run website…the use of propaganda-launderers allows government factions to pursue their own foreign policy agendas independently of the rest of the government…Fourthly, the propaganda-launderers allows a certain degree of plausible deniability, and even a reversal of policy if need be, with the NGO in question being quietly shunted aside when it ceases to be useful.
Some of the Eritrean NGOs were funded by the George Soros’ Open Society, the Albert Einstein Institute (Gene Sharpe), Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). There were many others funded by European groups and agencies. Some “activists” joined long established entities such as War Resisters, Release International etc. to take advantage of their notoriety.
The cyber Astroturf groups were there to sow distrust and confusion amongst Eritreans-especially the youth, to disrupt the unity of the tight knit Eritrean Diaspora, to undermine its confidence in Eritrea’s nascent institutions and fuel post war pessimism, exaggerate and exacerbate social and political problems etc. etc. The advent of the internet opened up new avenues for communication, but presented a formidable challenge for the Eritrean Diaspora community in the early 2000s. That vacuum gave the mushrooming NGOs a free reign in a far reaching and very fast medium, which they used to disparage Eritrea, without much challenge.
In the ever-connected world, where speed often takes precedence over truth, any disparaging statement by any Eritrean, especially a disgruntled defector or an asylum seeker became hot news. Without verification, his or her statement was used in the crafting of the narratives and headlines produced by rights groups proliferating in cyberspace. A new lie was manufactured and disseminated before the old ones could be addressed adequately. Articles, papers, and reports on Eritrea were published in scholarly journals, only accessed by its members, and in “predatory journals”, most with no peer reviews for accuracy or proper reference or sourcing. Others posted them on the various websites that have long since disappeared. The idea was to saturate cyberspace and undercut honest research on Eritrea. These reports and papers were then laundered by rights groups, such as Amnesty International with the mainstream media in tow in the vast intertwined cyber networks.
The collaboration between the various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media groups, came to a head at the UN Human Rights Council as the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COIE) presented its voluminous report on Eritrea. It was not hard to decipher the rot in the report. The production, filled with plagiarized narratives, dubious sources and unscientific research was literally a collection of laundered information on Eritrea taken directly from previous Amnesty International reports, of which Sheila Keetharuth had access and knowledge of as she served as the Director of Amnesty International’s East Africa section.
As Director and researcher at Amnesty International (AI), an organization that has been at the center of the 2001-present orchestrated campaigns against the State of Eritrea and its people, and undoubtedly the SP was exposed to the many reports and activities by AI. In July 2002, Keetharuth joined Amnesty International as a Researcher with the Africa Programme (East Africa Team), based at the organization’s Africa Regional Office in Kampala, Uganda. She was the Interim Head of Office until December 2005. As has been exposed in the past, it is not by coincidence that Sheila Keetharuth was appointed Special Rapporteur for Eritrea. Keetharuth’s association with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is also a matter of public record. It should be recalled that the ACHPR accepted and rendered on two cases brought before it by the very same groups seeking regime change in Eritrea today, and were contributors to her report on Eritrea.
The UN HRC resolution by which Sheila Keetharuth was appointed mentions the two cases and she clarified that she intended to make Eritrea to abide by its decision. In January 2012, in a meeting held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and attended by Sheila Keetharuth, the special procedures of both the Human Rights Council and the ACHPR adopted a road map to enhance their collaboration. Just a few months later, she is “appointed” as the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Eritrea. Eritreans questioned her impartiality, not because of the inherent flaws in the mandate itself, but because of her past and present entanglements with anti-Eritrea elements who are obviously influencing her judgment. Her appearance with these groups and individuals in an anti-Eritrea forum in Brussels just a week before her appearance at the Third Committee of the UN on 26 October 2017 is further evidence of her politically motivated agenda.
ECOSOC Resolution 1296 (XLIV) specified that NGOs:
“…should have a general international concern with this matter, not restricted to the interests of a particular group of persons, a single nationality or the situation in a single State…”
It is a matter of public record that NGOs such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), European External Policy Advisors (EEPA), Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have advanced the interests of a select group of Eritreans and their sponsor, the minority regime in Ethiopia. Their conspicuous silence on the protests and massacres taking place in Ethiopia today shows that their “human rights” concerns center on a single state-Eritrea. These individuals and groups have also benefited from their efforts against the people of Eritrea as evidenced by the many resume padding activities listed, books written, not to mention the monetary compensations (NED and other grants), travel and other perks received.
The Government of Eritrea has been Keetharuth’s target for quite some time, and the UN HRC is a means to achieving the goals 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 and will be briefly mentioned below. Keetharuth’s report presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2013 was based entirely on material submitted by Amnesty International and other international non-governmental organizations known for their anti-Eritrea agenda. It is well known that Amnesty helps set agendas and influence governments and other international bodies including the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), so it came as no surprise that the Resolution on Eritrea adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, was also drafted by Amnesty International.
A number of researchers and individuals associated with Amnesty have clear histories as anti-Eritrea activists. In turn, they produced analyses of Eritrea that are both inaccurate and blatantly prejudiced, as evidenced by the contents in the COIE report in which AI reports on Eritrea are extensively used. In addition, the “researchers” at the University of Pretoria, where Keetharuth attends, and where the “Eritrea Clinic” is found, are also members of known anti-Eritrea groups. The researchers literally copied materials from torture manuals and books to populate the COIE report with ugly narratives that insulted the cultures and traditions of the Eritrean people. Vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers in Djibouti and Ethiopia, or those found in detention camps in Libya were used as props in the extravagant COIE production.
As long as these individuals were involved in producing research publications, analyses, and other materials relating to Eritrea, Amnesty and Sheila Keethauth by extension, cannot be considered credible or impartial. Despite their self-identification as human rights organizations, these NGOs are in reality ideological and political opposition groups, and almost all reports on Eritrea include a commentary by one of the political advocacy NGOs and the media reports on Eritrea are likewise informed by the same NGO narrative. The Special Rapporteur sought to cement the erroneous narratives on Eritrea, but more importantly, she sought to have it endorsed by the UN Human Rights Council…to give it further legitimization.
Amnesty International in its previous reports stated the following about its reports on Eritrea:
“…most of the rights group’s research is conducted through refugees…”
“… we don’t communicate with people inside the country…”
“…Allegations of detentions and extrajudicial executions of political opponents were difficult to verify…”
“…It was impossible to verify allegations by these groups of killings, torture and detentions of their supporters by government forces…”
Yet the Special Rapporteur used information found in previous Amnesty Reports verbatim.
Despite the media hoopla, and the appearance of the Special Rapporteur and her hirelings at various forums to maximize dissemination before the Report was ever presented to the UN Human Rights Council… in the end… the truth prevailed and today, the COIE report has been relegated to the dustbins of history…the information launderers had failed to impress the world…despite the cuddling and funding.
Amnesty International writes about Eritrean civil society groups including students and academics, youth, women and workers “formed in world-wide refugee communities since the 1980s”, yet Sheila Keetharuth, while her report is based entirely on information collected outside of Eritrea, as she has never visited the country, refused to meet with Diasporan groups or take into account the hundreds of letters written to her by over 300 Eritrean Communities or testimonies sent to her by those who had completed their national service programs before emigrating. She considered them to be “government loyalists”. She also ignored the over 200000 who signed the petition presented to the UN Human Rights Council. The Special Rapporteur also dismissed two huge demonstrations conducted in Geneva, but she could not prevent the world from hearing the other side.
The above mentioned groups engaged in, and continue to engage in, virulent campaigns of hate and violence. One only needs to listen to their radio programs and chatroom programs to realize the moral bankruptcy of their messages-hardly what one would expect from self-professed “human rights” and “democracy” activists. Adam Klein, assistant professor of communication studies in the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences at Pace University explained the appeal and utility of the internet for such groups:
“…It brings together disparate individuals with opinions that are not widely accepted…In addition to being a cheap vehicle for spreading propaganda directly to a mass audience, enabling connections between like-minded individuals and providing a cost-effective organizational infrastructure for such fledgling groups, social media and the Internet also enable a variety of information sources that hate groups can rely on to achieve legitimacy…”
While the internet was able to amplify the voices of these anti-Eritrea groups with a regime change agenda, and while they may have had the limelight for a bit, and may have even managed to temporarily muddy the waters, and even confuse and misinform some… they have not been able to bury the truth. The wayward groups and individuals controlled the narrative in cyberspace -but not on the ground…where it counted. The vicious cycle of deceit and deliberate and calculated misinformation on Eritrea still continues…but with time the truth is emerging and soon, the launderers will find themselves defunded and discarded.
As they say…he who laughs last, laughs best!