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African Law of Coups and the Situation in Eritrea: A Test for the African Union's Commitment to Democracy

  • Simon M Weldehaimanot

Abstract

This article contends that the severely repressive manner in which Eritrea has been governed in the last ten years violates the right of the Eritrean people to democratic governance. In particular, the refusal of the transitional Government of Eritrea (GoE) to end its transitional tenure in utter defiance of its own promises, transitional laws and the Constitution of Eritrea fits the definition of unconstitutional change of government proscribed by the African Union (AU). This article calls upon the AU's Peace and Security Council to urge the GoE expeditiously to establish democratic governance in accordance with regional, international and Eritrea's own legal standards. Should this demand fall upon deaf ears, this article calls for the AU to impose sanctions on the GoE.

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1 See W Mikael “Europe and African dictators” (12 December 2007), available at: <http://www.awate.com/portal/content/view/4685/5/> (last accessed 27 December 2007).

2 For more on this see K Tronvoll The Lasting Struggle for Freedom in Eritrea: Human Rights and Political Development, 1991–2009 (2009, HBO AS).

3 For more see Weldehaimanot, SMThe case of Eritrean journalists before the African Commission” (2009) 1 Eritrean Law Society Occasional Papers 1, available at: <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1522149> (last accessed 27 December 2009).

4 For the case of the members of parliament, see: Mekonnen, DRThe reply of the Eritrean government to ACHPR's [African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights] landmark ruling on Eritrea: A critical appraisal” (2006) 31/2Journal of Juridical Science 26; and Connell, DConversation with Eritrean Political Prisoners (2005, Red Sea Press, Inc).

5 See Human Rights Watch Service for Life: State Repression and Indefinite Conscription in Eritrea (2009, Human Rights Watch).

6 Id at 63 and 64. See also the finding of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal of the United Kingdom in MA (Draft Evaders – Illegal Departures – Risk) Eritrea CG [2007] UKAIT 00059, para 445.

7 Home Office “Asylum statistics: United Kingdom 2007” (2008) 11 Home Office Statistical Bulletin 1 at 1, 3, 6 and 29. See UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Statistical Yearbook 2007 (2008, UNHCR) at 9 and 47.

8 W Mikael “Eritrea – an “open-air prison” (24 November 2007), available at: <http://www.awate.com/portal/content/view/4666/7/> (last accessed 27 December 2009).

9 Awate team “Eritrea: The network of prisons” (21 September 2009), available at: <http://www.awate.com/portal/content/view/5311/9/> (last accessed 27 December 2009).

10 See also Mekonnen, DRTransitional Justice: Framing a Model for Eritrea (2009, VDM Verlag).

11 Selassie, BConflict and Intervention in the Horn of Africa (1980, Monthly Review Press) at 4951.

12 See also Trevaskis, GEritrea: A Colony in Transition: 1941–52 (1960, Oxford University Press) at 4.

14 Id at 9.

15 For more on Eritrea's boundaries, see generally Asmerom, G and Asmerom, OA study of the evolution of the Eritrean Ethiopian boarder through treaties and official maps” (1999) 3 Eritrean Studies Review 53.

16 See generally Trevaskis Eritrea: A Colony in Transition, above at note 12.

17 Selassie, BSelf-determination in principle and practice: The Ethiopian-Eritrean Experience” (1997) 29 Columbia Human Rights Law Review 91 at 115–16.

18 Weldegiorgis, DRed Tears: War, Famine and Revolution in Ethiopia (1989, Red Sea Press, Inc) at 80.

19 For more on the Eritrean struggle, see generally Iyob, RThe Eritrean Struggle for Independence: Domination, Resistance, Nationalism 1941–1993 (1995, Cambridge University Press).

20 Since 1999 the exiled opposition parties formed an umbrella organization now called the Eritrean Democratic Alliance (EDA). For more on the EDA, see <http://www.erit-alliance.com/erit/> (last accessed 27 May 2010).

21 See Proc No 23/1992, art 1.

22 In Eritrea, a statute is called a proclamation. It is the equivalent to what is commonly called an act in many jurisdictions. Legislation issued in furtherance of a proclamation is called a legal notice and is equivalent to what in other jurisdictions is commonly known as a regulation.

23 For a detailed look at the political organization, see D Connell “Inside the EPLF: The origins of the ‘People's Party’ and its role in the liberation of Eritrea” in Connell Conversation with Eritrean Political Prisoners at 139–63, note 4.

24 Transitional Constitution of the PFDJ, adopted by the third Congress of the EPLF/PFDJ, Naqfa, 10–16 February 1994. See also the PFDJ Charter. The PFDJ Charter and the Transitional Constitution of the PFDJ are the main laws of the PFDJ, although it must be stated that they are more violated than honoured.

25 See Proc No 1/1991.

26 Mekonnen “The reply of the Eritrean government”, above at note 4 at 26 and 35, referring to Proc No 37/1993 as an interim constitution. The president of Eritrea also considers this proclamation to be the “basic law” of Eritrea; see para 3 of the preamble of Proc No 57 /1994.

27 See art 4(4) together with paras 3, 4 and 5 of the preamble.

28 Interim constitution, art 4(6)(a).

29 Id, arts 4(6)(b), (c) and (d).

30 Rosen, RConstitutional process, constitutionalism, and the Eritrean experience” (1999) 24 North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation 263 at 290.

31 V Hart “Democratic constitution making” (2003) 7 Special Report 107 of the United States Institute for Peace, available at: <http://www.usip.org/pubs/specialreports/sr107.pdf> (last accessed 25 March 2007).

32 Connell Conversation with Eritrean Political Prisoners, above at note 4 at 7.

33 McCord, MRThe challenges of constitution-making in Eritrea” (1997) 6(3) African Voices: Newsletter on Democracy and Governance in Africa 3 at 3.

34 For more on this issue, see Weldehaimanot, SThe status and fate of the Eritrean Constitution” (2008) 8/1African Human Rights Law Journal 108.

35 S Younis “Constitutions as a door stop” (paper presented to a conference organized by the African and Afro-American Studies Department of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill entitled Islam, Politics and Law in Africa, 12–14 April 2007), available at: <http://www.awate.com/portal/content/view/4515/9/> (last accessed 27 December 2009); and T Medhanie “Constitution-making, legitimacy and regional integration: An approach to Eritrea's predicament and relations with Ethiopia” (Development, Innovation and International Political Economy Research working paper, 2008 no 9), available at: <http://www.mekaleh-eritra.org/images/Werbung/Books/DrTefazionMedhanie.pdf> (last accessed 20 August 2009).

36 Weldehaimanot “The status and fate of the Eritrean Constitution”, above at note 34.

37 Rosen “Constitutional process, constitutionalism, and the Eritrean experience” above at note 30 at 275.

38 For more on this point, see SM Weldehaimanot “Government in exile and its legitimacy: Insight to EDA” (27 March 2008), available at: <http://www.awate.com/portal/content/view/4807/5/> (last accessed 27 December 2009).

39 EDA “EDA concluding statement” (11 May 2008), available at: <http://www.awate.com/portal/content/view/4847/18/> (last accessed 27 December 2009).

40 Selassie, BHThe Making of the Eritrean Constitution: The Dialectic of Process and Substance (2003, Red Sea Press, Inc) at 312 and 313, lamenting that the omission of an implementation date “was based on trust: trust that the government would honor the people's will as expressed in the ratified Constitution”: “[I]t was a mistake based on trust”.

41 Eritrea and Ethiopia signed the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in June 2000 and the Framework for Comprehensive Peace Agreement (Algiers Peace Agreement) in December 2000. The main case (delimitation of their common boundary) was decided on 13 April 2002.

42 See PFDJ “Interview with President Issaias Afewerki” (December 2003) Hidri (PFDJ's quarterly official magazine) at 16–17 (in Tigrinya).

43 Interview with Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times staff writer (2 October 2009), available at: <http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/africa/la-fg-eritreaweb2oct02,1,7946352.story?coll=la-africa&ctrack=1&cset=true> (last accessed 27 December 2009).

44 See interview of the Eritrean president, Isaias Afwerki, with Riz Khan of Aljazeera, conducted in English on 22 May 2008, audio-visual recording available at: <http://cs.asmarino.com/index.php?itemid=999> (last accessed 29 May 2008).

45 Proclamation for Regional Assembly Election: Proc No 140/2004.

46 See arts 32(8) and 41(2)(3) of the Constitution, reprinted in “Constitution of Eritrea” (1999) 24 North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation 521.

47 B Selassie The disappearance of the Eritrean Constitution and its impact on current politics in Eritrea” (20 January 2001), available at: <http://news.asmarino.com/Articles/2001/01/bhs-20.asp> (last accessed 5 December 2005).

48 Comm 275/2003: Article 19 v Eritrea (ACHPR, 22nd activity report, 2007) at para 75.

49 E Chyrum “Why there is no human rights organization in Eritrea?” (speech delivered at the Human Rights Defenders Conference for East and Horn of Africa, Entebbe, Uganda, 30 October–4 November 2005), available at: <http://emdhr.civiblog.org/blog/_archives/2005/11/8/1361133.html> (last accessed 26 September 2006).

50 Awate team “The chronology of the reform movement” (18 September 2004), available at: <http://www.awate.com/artman/publish/article_3629.shtml> (last accessed 27 December 2009).

51 D Mekonnen “Transitional justice: Framing a model for Eritrea” (doctoral thesis submitted at the University of the Free State, 30 May 2008) at 101–63.

52 Amnesty International “‘You have no right to ask’ – Government resists scrutiny on human rights” (19 May 2004) AI index: AFR 64/003/2004.

53 “Eritrean leader blames CIA plot for youth exodus” (13 May 2008) Reuters, available at: <http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/L13745161.htm> (last accessed 14 May 2008).

54 UNHCR Statistical Yearbook 2006 (2007, UNCHR) at 46.

55 Brown, N, Riordan, S and Sharpe, MThe insecurity of Eritreans and Ethiopians in Cairo” (2004) 16 International Journal of Refugee Law 661 at 699.

56 See, for example, the tribunal findings in MA (Draft evaders – illegal departures – risk) Eritrea CG, above at note 6, para 1.

57 See, for example, Franck, TThe emerging right to democratic governance” (1992) 86 American Journal of International Law 46.

58 Ezetah, RThe right to democracy: A qualitative inquiry” (1997) 22 Brooklyn Journal of International Law 493 at 529–34.

59 For more, see Udombana, NJArticulating the right to democratic governance in Africa” (2003) 24 Michigan Journal of International Law 1209.

60 Levitt, JPro-democratic intervention in Africa” (2006) 24 Wisconsin International Law Journal 785. See also Schabacker, EThe use of force to restore democracy: International legal implications of the ECOWAS intervention in Sierra Leone” (1998) 14 American University International Law Review 321.

61 Udombana, NJCan the leopard change its spots? The African Union Treaty and human rights” (2002) 17 American University Law Review 1177.

62 Id at 1212.

63 Ibid. See also Corchado, LComplying with international law: A call for free and fair elections” (2005) 30 Brooklyn Journal of International Law 1029 at 1029.

64 Udombana id at 1270.

66 Declaration on the Framework for an OAU Response to Unconstitutional Changes of Government: AHG/Decl.5 (xxxvi) 2000 (Lomé Declaration).

67 Adopted by the eighth ordinary session of the Assembly of Heads of States and Governments, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 30 January 2007.

68 Eritrea became the 183rd member of the United Nations.

69 Udombana “Can the leopard change its spots?” above at note 61 at 1248.

70 Coleman, A and Maogoto, JDemocracy's global quest: A noble crusade wrapped in dirty reality?” (2005) 28 Suffolk Transnational Law Review 175 at 186.

71 Hannum, HThe status of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in national and international law” (1995/96) 25 Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law 287.

72 Adopted 16 December 1966; entered into force 23 March 1976.

73 Adopted 16 December 1966; entered into force 3 January 1976.

74 African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights; adopted 27 June 1981: OAU doc CAB/LEG/67/3 rev 5, (1982) 21 ILM 58, entered into force 21 October 1986.

75 Comm 102/93: Constitutional Rights Project and Civil Liberties Organisation v Nigeria (ACHPR, 12th annual activity report, 1998/99) at para 52.

76 Udombana “Can the leopard change its spots?”, above at note 61 at 1254.

77 See: Nmehielle, VThe African Union and African renaissance: A new era for human rights protection in Africa?” (2003) 7 Singapore Journal of International and Comparative Law 412; and Baimu, EThe African Union: Hope for better protection of human rights in Africa?” (2001) 2 African Human Rights Law Journal 299.

78 For a ratification table for AU treaties, see <http://www.africa-union.org/root/au/Documents/Treaties/treaties.htm> (last accessed 27 December 2009).

79 Udombana “Can the leopard change its spots?”, above at note 61 at 1264.

80 Levitt “Pro-democratic intervention in Africa”, above at note 60 at 787.

81 Id at 789.

82 Id at 790–91. For the AU's recent reaction to the resurgence of coups on the continent, see “Resurgence of coups d'état in Africa” (UN Security Council report no 3, 15 April 2009), available at: <http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/site/c.glKWLeMTIsG/b.5106497/k.50F7/Update_Report_No_3BRThe_Resurgence_of_Coups_d201tat_in_AfricaBR15_April_2009.htm> (last accessed 20 August 2009).

83 Levitt “Pro-democratic intervention in Africa”, above at note 60 at 788.

84 Id at 790–91.

86 See for example Ezetah “The right to democracy”, above at note 58 at 529–34, codifying the right to democratic governance into nine articles.

87 See, for example, UN doc E/CN.4/RES/1999/57 (1999).

88 Comms no 147/95 and 149/96: Dawda Jawara v The Gambia (ACHPR 13th annual activity report, 2000).

89 The last two paras of the preamble of the Charter on Democracy, adopted by the eighth ordinary session of the AU Assembly, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 30 January 2007.

90 Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the PSC of the AU, adopted by the first ordinary session of the AU Assembly, Durban, 9 July 2002; entered into force 26 December 2003.

91 For more on the structures of the AU, see generally Udombana, NThe institutional structure of the African Union: A legal analysis” (2002) 33 California Western International Law Journal 69.

92 For more discussion on this issue, see generally Hickey, JChallenges to Security Council monopoly power over the use of force in enforcement actions: The case of regional organizations” (2004) 10 IUS Gentium 77.

93 For more on the PSC, see generally Levitt, JThe Peace and Security Council of the African Union: The known unknowns” (2003) 13 Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems 109; and Udombana, NThe unfinished business: Conflicts, the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa's Development” (2003) 35 George Washington International Law Review 55.

94 Lomé Declaration, above at note 66.

95 For an overview of how the OAU handled African coups in the past, see generally K Kufuor “The OAU and the recognition of governments in Africa: Analyzing its practice and proposals for the future” (2002) 17 American University International Law Review 369.

96 See comms 25/89, 47/90, 56/91, 100/93 (joined) Free Legal Assistance Group & Others v Zaire (ACHPR 9th annual activity report, 1995–96) for situations amounting to serious and massive human rights violations.

97 Protocol on Amendments to the Constitutive Act of the AU, adopted by the first extraordinary session of the AU Assembly in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 3 February 2003 and by the second ordinary session of the AU Assembly in Maputo, Mozambique on 11 July 2003.

98 S Tesfaye “Horn of Africa's number one agenda should be engineering the removal of the brutal regime in Asmara” (9 May 2008), available at: <http://zete9.asmarino.com/?itemid=1423> (last accessed 9 May 2008).

99 Lomé Declaration, above at note 66.

100 O Schachter “International law: The right of states to use armed force” (1984) 82 Michigan Law Review 1620 at 1641. For more on the right to rebel, see generally Paust, JThe human right to participate in armed revolution and related forms of social violence: Testing the limits of permissibility” (1983) 32 Emory Law Journal 545.

101 For more on the application of the PSC Protocol on non-members states to the protocol, see SM Weldehaimanot “The PSC Protocol and third party African states” (22 November 2009) Social Science Research Network Working Papers, available at: <http://ssrn.com/abstract=1511222> (last accessed 27 December 2009).

102 From the 32 main AU treaties listed on the AU website, Eritrea has ratified only five.

103 Done at Vienna on 23 May 1969; entered into force 27 January 1980.

104 See art 2(1) of the Vienna Convention for a definition of terms.

105 Id, art 36 (emphasis added).

106 See communiqué of the 140th meeting of the PSC: PSC/HSG/Comm (CXL).

107 Id, para 2.

108 “Sanctions put on Mauritania junta” (6 February 2009) BBC News, available at: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7874066.stm> (last accessed 27 December 2009).

109 “African Union defies Gaddafi, maintains sanctions on Mauritania” (25 March 2009) International News 24/7, available at: <http://www.france24.com/en/20090325-african-union-defies-gaddafi-maintains-sanctions-mauritania-> (last accessed 27 December 2009).

110 Lomé Declaration, above at note 66.

111 Above at note 44.

112 Lomé Declaration, above at note 66, preamble and para 3.

113 See NEPAD “The New Partnership for Africa's Development” (NEPAD framework document), para 71, available at: <http://www.nepad.org/home/lang/en> (last accessed 18 June 2010).

114 Udombana “Can the leopard change its spots?”, above at note 61 at 1217.

115 See the decisions and declarations adopted by the AU Assembly at the 13th ordinary session held on 1–3 July 2009, Sirte, Libya: Assembly/AU/Dec. 243–267 (XIII) rev1 and Assembly/AU/Decl.1–5(XIII).

116 UN Security Council res 1907 (2009): S/RES/1907 (2009), adopted by the Security Council at its 6,254th meeting on 23 December 2009.

117 Awate team “UNSC sanctions: Targeted and well deserved” (26 December 2009), available at: <http://www.awate.com/portal/content/view/5422/2/> (last accessed 27 December 2009).

118 UN Security Council res 1907, above at note 116, paras 10 and 13.

* LLB (2003, University of Asmara), LLM (2006, University of Pretoria), currently JSD candidate at the Center for Civil and Human Rights, Notre Dame Law School, Indiana, USA. The author thanks Dr Daniel R Mekonnen and Mrs Libby Walker for their editorial assistance.

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African Law of Coups and the Situation in Eritrea: A Test for the African Union's Commitment to Democracy

  • Simon M Weldehaimanot

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