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President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea addresses the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, New York, NY, Sept. 23, 2011 (AP photo by Jason DeCrow).

Singled Out? Eritrea and the Politics of the Horn of Africa

Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015

On July 22, thousands of diaspora Eritreans from across Europe protested in front of the Palais des Nations, the United Nations’ office in Geneva, against a recently released report by the U.N. Human Rights Commission (HRC). The report details grave human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest, torture and forced labor, which could represent crimes against humanity. If confirmed, this would result in Eritrea being referred to the International Criminal Court. In the view of the demonstrators who protested against this characterization of their country, Eritrea is being demonized by an international system that never wanted Eritrea to be an independent state in the first place. The current government, as these protesters see it, is trying its best to develop the country with limited resources and under the constant threat of its biggest neighbor and former occupying power, Ethiopia.

Four days later, on July 26, a rather different scene could be observed in Geneva, again in front of the Palais des Nations: Thousands of diaspora Eritreans from all over Europe protested in favor of the same U.N. HRC report. The report, the protesters at the second demonstration contended, would bring the details of grave human rights violations out into the open for everybody to see; some protesters mimicked positions in which prison inmates had been tortured in Eritrea. In the eyes of these demonstrators, Eritrea was indeed Africa’s North Korea, a hell on earth, and its dictator Isaias Afwerki and his regime needed to be toppled. ...

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