- World parliamentarians have expressed their solidarity with their 11 colleagues in Eritrea, imprisoned without charges since September 2001. "Deeply regretting the lack of cooperation from the Eritrean authorities," the Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians urged for increased international pressure against Asmara.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union, uniting 450 members of parliament from 112 countries, on its three last sessions has looked into the case of 11 imprisoned Eritrean former MPs. At the Union's April, July and October meetings, authorities in Asmara were urged to immediately "release the former members of parliament."
The MPs and highly placed officials of Eritrea's only legal party, the PDFJ, in an open letter to party members in 2001 called for the initiation of a democratisation process that had been promised by President Issayas Afewerki since independence in 1993. Instead, they were thrown to jail without any charges and have yet to see a courtroom.
This radical move by President Afewerki's government - in addition to the closure of the country's entire independent press in the same month - already has caused Asmara significant international consequences. In March 2004, the African Union (AU) ruled against Eritrea, saying the imprisonment was illegal. The slip into dictatorship has also cost Eritrea severe cuts in aid programmes from the US and European countries.
At its July session, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) decided to increase its pressure against Eritrea as Asmara authorities still had not replied to several requests for information. The IPU expressed its "dismay" and deeply regretted "the lack of cooperation from the Eritrean authorities." The MPs' union had requested its Secretary-General to carry out an on-site mission to "make progress towards a satisfactory settlement," but had not been given permission by Asmara.
The cases of the 11 Eritrean former MPs were again brought up on IPU's last assembly in Geneva last week. The IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians again "examined" their cases and the Committee could ascertain that no developments had occurred, three years after the arrest of the PDFJ officials.
Ingeborg Schwarz, in charge for questions relating to human rights at the IPU, in a recent letter commenting on the case of the 11 Eritrean MPs, says that the IPU's work so far had "not resulted in any positive developments and the authorities have remained silent." The MP union however was to remain dedicated to the case, she wrote.
Ms Schwarz also expressed disappointment with the UN and its Secretary-General Kofi Annan regarding repression in Eritrea. "We unaware of whether Kofi Annan, during his [recent] visit, has raised their case with President Afewerki," she writes, adding: "One can doubt it."
The IPU is currently examining 58 cases of violations of the human rights of MPs in 27 countries, including public cases concerning 126 parliamentarians in 17 countries. In Africa, this includes Burundi, Eritrea, Rwanda and Zimbabwe. The IPU's 450 MPs usually use their influence in their 112 respective parliaments when returning home from an assembly of what is often termed the "world parliament".
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