Eritrean human rights violations give drop in foreign aid

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afrol News, 5 November - Reports of increasing human rights violations by the Eritrean government have caused massive protest among donors. The Eritrean - European Union relations are rapidly deteriorating, and Norway has already degraded Eritrea from its status as "main cooperating country". 

September saw a major government crackdown of leading government critics and independent journalists and the closure of all Eritrea's non-government media organisations. This followed a slow process of deteriorating conditions for the country's free media.

The European Union on 5 October reacted swiftly after Antonio Bandini, Ambassador of Italy in Eritrea, had been asked to leave the country immediately. The EU deplored the decision and at the same time "expressed the gravest concern about recent events in Eritrea which had led to the imprisonment of a number of known personalities advocating democratic reforms and to the suppression of the independent press."

In the same demarche, the EU had underlined that these events "contradicted the declared policy of the Eritrean Government and the commitments undertaken in favour of democracy, rule of law, human rights and good governance." The EU stressed that "the expulsion of the Representative of the Presidency of the European Union seriously undermines the EU relations with Eritrea and will lead to a review of such relations."

The Europeans however confirmed their commitment to support the development of Eritrea, as well as peace, stability and cooperation in the region. Sources within the Swedish development agency SIDA however claim European countries are to consider how to pull out of Eritrea as soon but smooth as possible.

More direct consequences have already been taken by Norway, a European country not belonging to the EU, and a main donor to African development programmes. Reviewing its list of "main cooperation countries", Eritrea was removed from this list, as had Zimbabwe been last year. Already started development projects are however to go on.

The Norwegian government, which actually is substantially rising development aid expenditure next year, however claims the removal of Eritrea from its highest priority list only is because of a policy of enhancing its focus on fewer countries. 

The demands to be met to be a potential "main cooperation country" for Norway however speaks for itself: "a country of low incomes, a clear desire to lead a policy targeting poverty, a relatively stable political situation and the importance for regional stability and development."

Woldai Futur, Eritrean Minister of International Cooperation, however complained on this decision to the Norwegian development agency NORAD, saying "I cannot understand anything else than that we comply to these standards" set by Norway. Woldai however admits that, regarding political stability, there was "room for improvements". Commenting that Eritrea had not been given prior notice of the Norwegian decision, Woldai stated this was "not partnership as it should be."

Other countries still have not officially shifted their development cooperation policies towards Eritrea. The human rights situation in the country has however gained much publicity in internal reports and journals. Reactions may thus be seen on next year's budgets.

Earlier this month, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) also had warned Eritrea's crackdown on dissidents would hurt its economy. In a worst-case scenario, GDP growth would be highly unlikely to reach one to two percent. According to the EIU, the crackdown largely reflects the kind of domestic turmoil, which had been expected to occur after the end of the Eritrea-Ethiopia war in December 2000. 

- Eritrea's politicians have begun to turn to issues of democracy and good governance within the country, the EIU's latest country briefing on Eritrea states. It concludes that the government crackdown on critics and the free press, although they "clearly do not bode well for democracy, the real damage may be to the economy."

Even with government-to-government funding continuing, effects will be noted. Remittances from Eritreans living abroad - which are the largest source of current transfer inflows in the balance of payments - could be affected if Eritreans living abroad began to think their government was becoming undemocratic, the EIU said.

Sources: Based on EU sources, NORAD, SIDA, EIU and afrol archives Texts and graphics may be reproduced freely, under the condition that their origin is clearly referred to, see Conditions.

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