The US Sanctions Regime Should not Worry Eritrea and Eritreans

President Biden recently signed an Executive Order (E.O.) establishing a new sanctions regime that gives the U.S. Department of the Treasury, working with the U.S. Department of State the authority to hold accountable those in the Ethiopian government, the Eritrean government, the TPLF, and the Amhara regional government who are responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict, obstructing humanitarian access, or preventing a ceasefire. The Treasury is prepared to take action under this E.O. to impose targeted sanctions against those responsible for the ongoing crisis.

Many Eritreans remember with abhorrence and disdain the woeful period between 2009 and 2018 when Eritrea endured some unjust and shameful UNSC sanctions. Some are immensely worried that we are going back to the same experience.  Let us not confuse the UN-imposed sanctions with President Biden’s Executive Order.

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1907, adopted on December 23, 2009, imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea, travel bans on its leaders, and froze the assets of some of the country’s political and military officials after accusing the Eritrean government of among other things, aiding the Al-Shabaab militia in Somalia. Those sanctions were lifted in 2018 after a long period which deprived the country of vital investment, trading opportunities and external support, and left the economy in a difficult situation.

Even though these harsh and challenging conditions were in place, the Eritrean authorities, together with the resilience and patriotism of the Eritrean People both in Eritrea and the diaspora made considerable progress on some development goals; notably in the health, agriculture and education sectors.

Just as Information Minister Yemane Meskel pointed out at the time, the continuation of sanctions were a ‘‘severe miscarriage of justice, politically motivated, and not rooted on genuine concern for regional or international peace and security”.

He took time to enumerate a number of economic consequences of the 2009 and 2011 sanctions. The arms embargo was in contravention of Article 51 of the UN Charter on the right of self-defence in the context of occupation of Eritrea’s sovereign territories & in flagrant violation of the EEBC Arbitral Award & the Algiers Agreement that the UNSC itself had guaranteed.

“The “asset freeze/travel ban” components of the sanctions regime were pure and banal instruments of harassment. They were in fact never invoked in practice,” he added.

A targeted sanction is meant to focus its “impact on leaders, political elites and segments of society believed responsible for objectionable behaviour, while reducing collateral damage to the general population.” 

Moreover, targeted sanctions involving arms embargo is meant to “bend the military and political leaders by denying them access to weapons and military equipment. The sanctions mandate that assets or properties belonging to some members of the Eritrean political and military leadership be frozen or blocked. The Eritrean leadership is not known for amassing wealth or indulging in vanities, that does not make the act justifiable. 

If the Biden EO is implemented strictly and fairly, then the TPLF elite clique, with their great amassed wealth and assets are the only side who should be worried by the Biden threat.

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