A lot weaker than its first draft due to concerns by China and Russia who were supported by amendment proposals pressed from South Africa, a sanction resolution against Eritrea was approved by the United Nations Security Council on Monday.
Thirteen of the fifteen members of the Security Council approved the resolution expanding an arms embargo and other measures placed on Eritrea two years ago. Two of the five permanent members with veto powers, China and Russia, who are often skeptical of Western backed sanctions, abstained from Monday’s votes.
“Watered down” content After months of stalemate following the UN monitoring group report on Somalia which accused Eritrea of violating UN embargos and destabilizing the region, it was Gabon – one of the three African members in the Security Council – who first tabled the draft sanction resolution in October.
Gabon’s zero draft, cosponsored by Nigeria – another African member of the Security Council – proposed to outlaw the so called two percent Diaspora tax Eritreans abroad pay to Asmara. It also would ban any foreign investment or export of minerals in the country’s booming mining sector. Both moves said to be aimed at draining resources to the country’s regime which is said to be financing itself from the sectors, for its mischief in the region.
Described by the Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki as travesty of justice, the measures to impose these sanctions were fought hard by the country’s diplomats.
Passed on Monday with no objections, the resolution has put more strain on increasingly isolated Asmara. It is however much weaker than what the Eastern Africa bloc of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) demanded the country face over reports it is actively involved in efforts to create unrest in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.
The approved resolution however only demand countries employ “vigilance” when dealing with Eritrea and the two sectors so that the funds from these sectors do not go to fund terrorism and activities to destabilizing the region.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in his address to the Security Council right before the votes were casted said the content of the resolution was watered down from their first proposal.
Showdown before the votes No one was busier in New York City than the Eritrean diplomats have been since October when the sanction proposal was first tabled.
Mid October marked the end of the first campaign between Eritrea and IGAD members who fought each other to win the hearts and minds of the three African members in the Security Council who could potentially table a resolution. Only the fifteen members can table a resolution to the Council and Eritrea’s matter was left to the three African members by the rest. Eritrea’s effort was to preempt a resolution from surfacing.
After the draft was tabled, intensive lobbying followed and it led to crucial alternations to the draft. Its passage however became inevitable and IGAD members seemed satisfied with this. This is when Eritrea applied tactics to realize the second motive, to delay votes possibly until next January when two of the African members-Gabon and Nigeria- will leave the Council at the end of this month as their two-year period comes to an end.
President Isaias Afwerki asked to address the Security Council. The request was opposed by the US which said similar requests could come from the six members of IGAD and this could delay the votes. China felt indifferent about the concern of the US.
After several talks on the mater last minute negotiations on Friday December 3 resulted in an agreement to allow all interested parties to address the Security Council on Monday morning and to cast the votes on the resolution in the afternoon.
Eritrea’s Ambassador to the UN, Ambassador Araya Desta, demanded more time so that the President can make it to New York City and the votes could be casted after that. The Security Council rejected the call and Eritrea responded by saying nobody would speak if the hearing was held on Monday.
This appeared to be ironic since Eritrea first requested the hearing but only Eritrea’s accusers spoke. Djibouti, the country recently invaded by Asmara, was one. Its president spoke about his country’s land dispute with Eritrea. The President of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government spoke and the foreign minister of Kenya which has entered Somalia to fight Eritrea’s backed al-Shabaab also spoke in support of the resolution.
PM Meles also addressed the Security Council via video conference. He thanked Gabon and Nigeria for proposing the resolution though he stressed that the content was watered down.
His failure to mention South Africa who stood alone from the other African members to team up with China and Russia to propose amendments to weaken the tougher zero first draft was noticeable. The action has reportedly angered Addis Ababa.
After the address, later that Monday, the votes were cast and South Africa was among the thirteen countries who voted in favor of the resolution.