Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Human rights in Eritrea

Delivered in Plenary - November 18th 2004

Mr President

Eritrea is a small country in Eastern Africa with four and a half million people, which only secured its independence in 1993 from Ethiopia after a bitter 30-year struggle. It then, foolishly, rapidly went on to fight another conflict, first with Yemen over fishing grounds around the Hanish Islands, and then in 1998, with Ethiopia again over disputed border territory. The latter dispute was only resolved in June 2000 after the loss of some 70 000 lives.

To date, Ethiopia refuses to accept the award of the village of Badme to Eritrea by the International Border Commission, and there is a 4 200-strong UN peace mission at the border, although their work is made difficult by Ethiopia's failure to permit demarcation and Eritrea's restrictions on UN actions.

Eritrea is a very poor country and alone in Africa the other exception being the Democratic Republic of Congo in postponing indefinitely the elections promised by President Afeworki's so-called transitional government under the 1997 Constitution and originally scheduled for December 2001. With this has come press censorship and imprisonment of journalists, including recently a Swedish citizen. The ruling People's Front for Democracy a bit of a misnomer, I must say remains the only legal party. However, a new party formed by exiles is the People's Liberation Front Democratic Party and this was established in 2002.

Amnesty International describes the human rights abuses as appalling and catalogues the regular torture of political prisoners, including the Asmara-11 group of former parliamentarians. Recently, prisoners have been allegedly executed at the Adi Abeto military prison and the government of Sudan itself a government not known for respect for human rights now accuses Eritrea of aiding the Darfur rebels and their groupings.

This country is in a tragic mess and my Group, the PPE-DE, calls upon the new Barroso Commission, confirmed in office today, to demonstrate its commitment to democracy and human rights in Africa by invoking the procedures under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement and to see what further actions need to be taken to restore the rule of law and freedom to this country.