Expected Council Actions, Key Issues and Options for Imposing Sanctions on Eritrea

A key issue for the Council is whether the Monitoring Group’s accusations against Eritrea are credible.

By Security Council Report,

In November, it is possible that the Council will adopt a resolution that would impose additional sanctions on Eritrea.

At press time, Council members were negotiating a draft resolution proposed by Gabon and co-sponsored by Nigeria that would subject a number of Eritrean entities to the targeted-sanctions provisions of resolutions 1844 and 1907 and impose restrictions on investments in the Eritrean mining industry and on certain other financial transfers that could be used by Eritrea for the purpose of destabilizing the Horn of Africa. This comes in response to the findings of the latest report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, which concluded that Eritrea had committed numerous violations of the existing sanctions regime.

Also, it appears that the Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki has requested a meeting with the Council.

KEY RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

In its June report, the Monitoring Group concluded that:

  1. Eritrea’s leadership committed multiple violations of resolutions 1844 and 1907 in the period covered by the report;
  2. Eritrea had continued to provide training, financial and logistical support to armed opposition groups throughout the region, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia (including the Islamist rebel group Al Shabaab) and Sudan;
  3. The government of Eritrea “conceived, planned, organised and directed” a failed bomb attack against the AU summit in Addis Ababa in January 2011; and
  4. Eritrea had continued to engage in arms trafficking in violation of the arms embargo.

The Monitoring Group recommended among other things that the Council should consider encouraging UN member states to establish “rigorous due-diligence guidelines” for international financial institutions handling Eritrean funds as well as for mining companies operating in the country with respect to payments made to the government of Eritrea.

On 4 July, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) issued a communiqué condemning the activities of Eritrea and its role in “destabilizing the region by supporting extremists”, calling on the Council “to take all appropriate measures” to put an end to these activities and calling on both the AU and the Council to fully implement the existing sanctions regimes and impose additional targeted sanctions.

Meanwhile, Eritrea called for the lifting of sanctions against it and requested a meeting with the Council to explain its position. In response to this request, Eritrea was invited, along with IGAD members Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Somalia, Uganda and IGAD representatives, to an informal dialogue with Council members on 19 July.  Eritrea had another opportunity to explain its position on 22 July when its foreign minister met with the Somalia/Eritrea Sanctions Committee.

On 29 July, the Council extended the mandate of the Monitoring Group for another 12 months. It made no changes to the sanctions regime for Eritrea, but requested a separate report on Eritrea from the Monitoring Group.

For its part, Eritrea continued to publicly deny the Monitoring Group’s accusations.

In a 3 August press statement, the Foreign Ministry denounced a draft Council resolution proposed by Ethiopia calling for additional sanctions against Eritrea, claiming the purpose of this resolution was “to provide cover to the illegal invasion and occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories”.

In a 4 August letter to the Council, Eritrea submitted its “preliminary remarks” on the Monitoring Group’s report. It refuted all the findings of the report and maintained that there was no conclusive evidence of any violations on its behalf.

On 15 August, Eritrea once again denied the accusations against it in another press release, drawing attention to its unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia and calling for diplomatic and political efforts to build trust and confidence among countries in the region.

In a 7 October letter to the Council, Eritrea called on the Council to “reject Ethiopia’s current hostile campaign” and immediately lift all sanctions against it. It also announced that it planned to present to the Sanctions Committee a comprehensive response to the Monitoring Group’s report. (This has since been submitted to the Committee.)

KEY ISSUES

A key issue for the Council is whether the Monitoring Group’s accusations against Eritrea are credible. If the answer is yes, the key issue becomes whether imposing additional sanctions on Eritrea is the appropriate response and in particular whether it will have a positive impact on the situation and lead to the desired change in Eritrean behavior.

Another key issue is what impact the proposed resolution will have on the already very difficult humanitarian situation in Eritrea.

A further key issue is the fact that the Sanctions Committee has yet to designate any individuals or entities for targeted measures under the current sanctions on Eritrea, in place since 2009.

A final issue is whether to address other factors exacerbating the situation in the region, such as Ethiopia’s noncompliance with the border-demarcation decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) and related Council resolutions.

OPTIONS

Main options for the Council include:

  1. Adopting a resolution imposing additional sanctions on Eritrea;
  2. Taking a more gradual approach by first adopting a statement warning Eritrea that additional sanctions would be imposed unless it changes its behaviour and calling for intensified diplomatic efforts to resolve outstanding issues in the region;
  3. Re-engaging on the issue of the unresolved border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea by explicitly addressing Ethiopia’s noncompliance with the EEBC’s border-demarcation decision;
  4. Moving in the Sanctions Committee to make the first designations for targeted sanctions under the provisions of resolutions 1844and 1907  relating to Eritrea; or
  5. Taking no action at this stage.

SECURITY COUNCIL DYNAMICS

Behind-the-scenes discussions about possible additional sanctions against Eritrea seem to have been going on since the Monitoring Group presented its report to the Council.

Among Council members, the US has been the most vocal in calling for further action. In an interview in August, Ambassador Susan Rice said the US was very concerned about Eritrea’s behaviour in the region and was “very much interested in additional pressure and sanctions being applied on Eritrea”.

It appears, however, that the US and other members have been looking to African Council members for leadership on this issue but that they initially seemed reluctant to take it up.

It was only in mid-October that Gabon circulated its draft resolution. It had Nigeria as a co-sponsor, but not South Africa. The initial rounds of negotiations have revealed substantive differences among Council members. While most members, with the exception of China and Russia, seem open to consider further steps against Eritrea, they are also cautious about any measures, such as economic sanctions, which could have a negative impact on the Eritrean population. It appears that a majority of Council members considered the initial text proposed by Gabon to be too strong, especially because of its focus on additional economic sanctions. Council members therefore made proposals to either delete or substantially weaken the sanctions provisions and put more emphasis on political processes.

Gabon circulated a revised text on 26 October, which at the time of writing was expected to be discussed by Council members on 31 October.

China abstained on resolution 1907, and it remains to be seen whether it would support any action against Eritrea at this stage.

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