Crafted by Gabon and co-sponsored by Nigeria, a new draft resolution that would deplete the Eritrean government from key sources of income has been tabled for negotiation at the fifteen-member United Nations Security Council early this week as tougher sanctions against Asmara proves inevitable.
The new six-page draft resolution, its copy Capital obtained, aims at putting tougher sanctions against Eritrea and particularly targets at the country’s mining sector and so called Diaspora tax - two percent of their annual income that Eritreans leaving abroad pay to the Eritrean government through their embassies overseas. Eritrea’s 2.59 billion dollar economy depends heavily on mineral resources such as gold, which has been booming lately and the money sent from Eritreans living abroad.
Currently under negotiation at the Security Council since last Tuesday, the draft proposes all countries "prohibit their nationals or any person and entities within their territories from making any funds, financial assets or economic resources or financial or other related services available including taxes, directly or indirectly, to the Eritrean government or its officials, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), or any individuals or entities acting on their behalf or at their direction."
Expressing its concern about the potential use of the Eritrean mining sector as a financial source to destabilize the Horn of Africa region, the draft also proposes "all states shall prohibit investment by their nationals, persons subject to their jurisdiction and firms incorporated in their territory or subject to their jurisdiction in their extractive industries and mining sectors in Eritrea." The daft also is posed to ban the importation of gold and other raw materials from Eritrea to any UN member country. This means Asmara would have no market to send the minerals to while at the same time no company would invest in that sector there.
The draft has annexes listing Eritrean political leaders who would be subject to the existing travel ban and asset freeze.
IGAD wish list
Approved on July 4 at the heads of state meeting, the main driver for the draft resolution is the Eastern Africa bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Other than the arrest of the two vital incomes for Asmara regime -mining and Diaspora tax- the draft also seek to have any country and international financial and credit institutions not enter into new commitments for grants or assistance or loan with Eritrea unless it is only for humanitarian and development purposes. It also reiterates the call on Eritrea and members countries to observe the previously put sanctions including arms embargo.
Three month stalemate since IGAD’s call finally came to an end when Gabon-one of the three African members in the Security Council- picked up the issue and crafted the resolution as per IGAD proposals.
The draft resolution was circulated by Gabon on Friday, 14 October, and is being co-sponsored by Nigeria.
The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eretria reported that the Eritrean government planned a failed massive attack on an African Union in Addis Ababa and "if executed as planned, the operation would almost certainly have caused mass civilian casualties, damaged the Ethiopian economy and disrupted the African Union summit".
Experts say ever since the report, the Security Council members have been waiting for proposals to come from African members who apparently were initially reluctant to take up the matter. However, it appears that all three of them now support the draft that has been circulated although South Africa is not a co-sponsor.
Asmara has lately adopted a new tone towards its neighbors. President Isaias Afewerki on a rare appearance at the UN annual General Debate even praised IGAD and vowed to return to the grouping after suspending its membership since 2007. This however failed to change IGAD’s mind on the new sanctions as the bloc remains skeptical of the latest moves by Asmara regime.
According to pundits, for weeks the Eritrean Permanent Representative Araya Desta has been putting a lot of effort at the Security Council especially to convince Gabon’s Permanent Representative Nelson Messone abandon the task of preparing the draft.
Messone over the last days was speaking to Security Council member’s ambassadors one by one in preparation of the draft.
Calling it "a hostile campaign by Ethiopia" Eritrean diplomats have been trying to preempt the move and wrote to the Security Council denying any involvement in the failed plot to bomb the African Union.
"Eritrea would have no interest in disrupting a Summit of the African Union, precisely at the time that it was fruitfully engaging with its sisterly African countries and when it had just reopened its mission in Addis Ababa and was participating in the Summit for the first time after a long absence. Nor is it reckless or stupid to contemplate such a hideous attack," said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Eritrea in a 53-page document issued titled Eritrea’s Response to the Report of the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group Report.
In this document Eritrea says the "bombing plot" could be a fabrication of Ethiopia: "Eritrea does not give any credence to Ethiopia’s allegation that there was indeed any plot to bomb Addis Ababa during the AU Summit."
The reply went on quoting recently released WikiLeaks documents that claimed an Ethiopian opposition leader told US Embassy in Addis Ababa that a series of explosions that occurred in Addis Ababa in September 2006 may have been the work of the Government of Ethiopia security forces though it was blamed on the separatist group Oromo Liberation Front and Eretria.
In their reply, Eretria does not only dismiss the report that was based for the making of the tougher sanctions but also calls on the Security Council to lift the existing sanctions. It also calls the Security Council to see "an end its illegal occupation of Eritrean territory and stop its destabilization of the Horn of Africa region.’
Crucial votes at the Security Council
According to diplomats, there is consensus among the Security Council members that there is a need to put tougher sanctions against Eretria. How tough it should be however needs much wheeling and dealing.
"The draft resolution circulated by Gabon is a zero draft- it a first draft and it is basically what IGAD spearheaded by Ethiopia wants to so see adopted. It is however very likely that negotiations among the Security Council members lead to changes including substantive ones," one diplomat told Capital on Thursday.
Ethiopian diplomats have been extensively lobbying for the resolution over the past few months. Senior officials including Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and his deputy Berhane Gebrekristos made trips to New York to urge the Security Council members to ‘OK’ the resolution at its eventual arrival.
"We [as IGAD] have discussed with all the members of the Security Council and this has clearly showed us that they will support the sanctions," Hailemariam said three weeks ago in a Capital interview.
While securing a sponsor among the three African countries including from Nigeria, president of the Security Council this month, was a hard fought success for Ethiopian diplomats, experts say the journey is half complete.
"Gabon and Nigeria are clearly on board but what about South Africa? That may concern the other members. This could weaken the IGAD proposal though none of the five permanent members are expected to veto down the draft resolution even votes were to be casted today," one Western diplomat commented to Capital on Wednesday.
A source close to the Ethiopian Mission says Ethiopia is confident that South Africa will support the proposal. "South Africa actually announced in a consultation held early this week that it is in total agreement with the two other African countries. It said it expects the draft to go through changes and that is the only why it cannot be a cosponsor at this time. So generally their support is in the bag though they may demand some amendments for it."
Experts say the draft is enjoying a wider support among the Security Council members especially from the Western countries, led by the United States. The United States is currently strengthening ties with Ethiopia, including opening a military facility inside Ethiopia, to fight the Somalia based al-Shabab, which Eretria allegedly supports.
China and Russia may be reluctant to see the passage of the draft in its current entirely; the experts say. To accommodate these countries, at least not to face their objections that would kill any resolution as they are two the five permanent members with veto powers, the resolution could be watered down. However, IGAD countries are expected to fight to keep the key element of the resolution- a ban on Eretria mining sector and Diaspora tax- included in the final draft to be voted.
"After the Libya resolution whose implementation proved controversial and also the latest double vetoing of China and Russia against a Western backed resolution concerning Syria, there is tension in the Security Council and how it works is pretty difficult to read. So it is any body’s guess when a vote on the Eritrean resolution would be called," the diplomat said. --Capital