Fathi Osman speaks on coercion of diaspora by the Eritrean Government

Fathi Osman speaks on coercion of diaspora by the Eritrean Government

A former diplomat, Mr Fathi Osman, spoke how the Eritrean Government exerted pressure on the Eritrean diaspora to collect false signatures from the diaspora community including the school children.

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At the beginning of this brief presentation, allow me to thank your august panel for availing me this opportunity to draw world community’s attention to intimidation and coercion carried out by the Eritrean Government (GoE) on Eritrean diaspora, in particular in Saudi Arabia. I have worked in the Eritrean Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as a political officer and deputy head of mission (DHM) from 2004 to 2012, in that capacity, I was the chargé d’affaires in the absence of the ambassador, and I was the political liaison officer with the Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry. In addition, During the absence of the Consul and PFDJ officer, I would assume their functions temporarily.

In his recent speech in the opening of the 23rd session of Human Rights Council, Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Mr. Osman Saleh pointed out that COI has deliberately ignored 24.000 petitions signed by Eritrean Citizens against COI process and conclusions. I firmly believe, COI had every right to ignore these petitions because they were taken from Eritreans under outright coercion.

In March 2016, pro-government activists prepared model petitions in Arabic, Tigriga and English. The Eritrean Embassy in Riyadh and the Consulate General of Eritrea in Jeddah have forced Eritrean to sign these petitions under threat of depriving them of consular services. Our sources in Saudi Arabia confirmed that the embassy and consulate staff placed tables inside the buildings to ask all Eritrean who came for passport renewal or any other consular service to sign the petition or no services would be accorded to them. Many had to sign to avoid black listing by the embassy and the consulate. The Eritrean Communities, who work under the supervision of both the embassy and the consulate were asked to gather 10.000 signatures from Eritreans residing in Saudi Arabia’s towns and cities. In order to meet the embassy’s condition, the Communities forced the 9th, 10th ,11th and 12th graders in both International Eritrean Schools in Jeddah and Riyadh to sign the petition claiming that they have left the country for economic reasons and they support the government’s policy on Military Service for national defence, despite the fact that most of the pupils who signed the petitions were born and raised in Saudi Arabia and their ages range between 10 and 12 years. The total number of those who were forced to sign in these two schools was 500 pupils.

The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) branch members in Riyadh and Jeddah took the petitions to Eritrean residents houses to force families to sign the petitions. In this case, women were asked to knock on doors and force house wives to sign the petition otherwise the embassy would punish them. Those who refused to sign were labelled as traitors and were threatened not to approach the embassy or the consulate for any consular services.
This practice has been going on for years, I witnessed it when the embassy forced all Eritreans to sign petitions to the Security Council to left the sanctions on Eritrea in 2009 and 2011. The coercion policies of the Eritrean embassy and consulate in Saudi Arabia and other countries continue without any resistance from the helpless Eritrean citizens.

At the end, I appeal to HRC and COI to ignore all petitions presented by the GoE and consider them null and void for reasons of coercion and intimidation and to draw the attention of world legal bodies toward the practice of human rights violations carried out by GoE on Eritrean diaspora.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I thank you.