Vienna, Austria—About 100 guests attended a panel discussion on human rights in the Horn of Africa in relation to the recent phenomenon of migration.
UPF-Austria organized the discussion in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the United Nations in Vienna; the United Nations Correspondents Association Vienna (UNCAV); and the Horn of Africa Peace Initiative. The event took place on November 3, 2017, in the UPF-Austria offices.
The panel discussion had the theme “Beyond the Refugee Crisis and Human Trafficking—Perspectives for the Youth in the Horn of Africa with a Special Focus on Eritrea.”
The guests included diplomats, UN staff, investors, members of civil society, interested Austrian nationals, friends of the Horn and in particular Eritrea. People from Africa were among the audience, mainly from the Horn of Africa states: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.
The president of the hosting organization, Mr. Peter Haider, welcomed the guests and gave a brief introduction of the general objectives of the event. His organization has hosted a number of events, he said, but the present one was unique in its content and focus. He thanked Mr. Abdelkadir Hamdan, counselor of the Eritrean Embassy in Germany and representative of the Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the UN in Vienna, for his efforts to make this event happen.
After the opening remarks, a short video on the achievements of the government of Eritrea in laying down the fundamental infrastructure was shown.
The moderator of the event, Mr. Yared Tesfay, the communications officer of the Embassy of Eritrea to the United Kingdom, thanked the guests for their interest in the Horn of Africa and said he hoped that the forum would bring some light to the issue of migration and youth. He also expressed his confidence that the event would contribute to an alternative perspective on the issue of the European refugee crisis and migration.
The keynote speaker, Mr. Adem Osman, the chargé d’affaires of the Embassy and Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the UN and other international organizations in Geneva, based his presentation on the general application of human rights law, the mechanisms put in place to promote and protect human rights with a particular focus on the conduct of business of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and the mandates of the special procedure.
Mr. Osman stated that one must look at the history of the Horn in order to accurately analyze the present and the future opportunities and challenges. He emphasized that the coastal states of the Horn have become victim of their own location, as it gives them full control over one of the world’s main maritime trade routes. The fact that the two diametrically opposite views of the West and East blocs were compelled to be served by one agent—Mengistu Haile Mariam, the ruler of Ethiopia from 1977 to 1991—proves nothing but the magnitude of the interests that the superpowers have, he said.
According to Mr. Osman, the strong interests of the superpowers that benefited from a regime derived from a blind desire to get access to the Red Sea in return for any demand have negated the right to self-determination that was restored to the people of Eritrea in 1993 by a popular UN-backed referendum. The price of negation of the self-determination was 65,000 martyrs, 10,000 persons with permanent disabilities, and unimaginable lost opportunities.
He underscored that Eritrea is the product of such a struggle and will continue to put the necessary infrastructure in its social-justice-driven developmental programs. However, he said, the full enjoyment of human rights needs robust economic development and stability. Whenever these are threatened, states tend to introduce varying degree of security measures, he said. The real measurement is, therefore, whether a state is heading in the right direction or not.
On the issue of trafficking and smuggling the keynote speaker said that there exists no human trafficking inside Eritrea, as there is a strong and effective government. However, he said, smuggled people may end up being trafficked in the course of their dangerous journey in countries of transit.
Speaking on the migration issue, he said that Eritreans were driven by a strong pull factor facilitated by a network operating mostly from the camps in Ethiopia and some from the destination countries. The number of Eritreans fleeing the country is at its lowest now, he said. He called upon the world community to pressure Ethiopia to evacuate the territories of Eritrea in accordance with the binding ruling that ultimately could help the countries toward a better harmonized Horn. He also highlighted the economic growth and the possibilities for investors. He then responded to a range of questions posed by participants.
Dr. Walter Lichem, a former Austrian ambassador to Chile and Canada who also served as head of the Department of International Organizations in the Austrian Foreign Ministry, spoke on his decades-long interests in Eritrea, touching on many issues of geopolitics. He focused on the cohesiveness of the Eritrean society and its resources. He advised Eritrea to benefit from its cohesiveness and proposed that it establish human rights cities to combat accusations. He offered his view that Eritrea is on the right path, which needs time and space. He also spoke on the failure of the international community to enforce the binding ruling of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC).
DI Abdallah Sharief, president of the United Nations Correspondents Association Vienna (UNCAV) and co-founder of the Horn of Africa Peace Initiative, related his personal experience of migration in the early 1970s when he came from his native country, Sudan, to Europe—first to Hungary, then to Germany and Austria. He also gave some facts and figures on migration and youth.
A young university student, Ms. Fartun Osman from Somalia, described her personal experience and told the audience that the situation in her country is improving a lot and seems promising.
Finally, participants were given a time to offer questions and comments. Many said that the forum had enlightened them on the situation and challenges that the Horn continues to face, and they requested that such events be repeated in the future.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Peter Haider stressed the importance of the forum in bringing together the stakeholders from all fields to speak of their experiences, reflect on the reality in Eritrea and the Horn of Africa and explore further opportunities.
The event was followed by a dinner, prepared by the Eritrean community in Vienna, which also created an opportunity for further informal discussions.