While work­ing, just this old man, Aboy, aboy Abdu Ahmed You­nis came into my mind… My father would have asked about him even if it means arrest. He did in the past dur­ing the Der­gue dic­ta­tor­ship and asked where is my brother; even when they threat­ened him with gun. Where is my brother? Where is our father? Where is abona?

Source: Awate​.com

[This is the entire text of the speech made by Saleh You­nis, and addressed to atten­dants of an event orga­nized by Eritrean and inter­na­tional human rights activists and was attended by Eritre­ans, friends of Eritrea, the Africa Desk of the UN, and the Ger­man Mis­sion, and the Human Rights Rap­por­teur, Sheila Bed­wan­tee Keetharuth, des­ig­nated to Eritrea. (Her man­date is to mon­i­tor human rights vio­la­tions and gather tes­ti­monies from Eritre­ans.) The ses­sion was held in New York on Thurs­day, Octo­ber 24, 2013.]

Good after​noon​.My name is Saleh You­nis, and I am an Eritrean citizen.Today, I come to speak to you about an aver­age Eritrean fam­ily, with an aver­age Eritrean story: vic­tims of the Isa­ias Afw­erki regime​.It is the story of my family.Please bear in mind that when I say that this is the story of an aver­age Eritrean fam­ily, it means that the fate of oth­ers is far worse.

My father, my brother and my niece have been in prison since Decem­ber 2012.That is three gen­er­a­tion of Eritreans.

My father, Abdu Ahmed You­nis, was born in Keren, Eritrea in 1928. He is 85, and this is his fourth arrest in the last 12 years​.An 85-​year-​old man has many health issues and, in his case, the arrest came a month after he had open heart surgery in Jor­dan. Nei­ther I, nor any of our fam­ily mem­bers, know why he is arrested. The longest term he served was in 2001 (for 3 plus years) when he, and other elders, offered to medi­ate the dis­pute between two sides of the rul­ing party. What he con­sid­ered a duty of a cit­i­zen — and elder cit­i­zen — to exer­cise the tra­di­tional role of an elder — was inter­preted by the Isa­ias Afw­erki regime as tak­ing sides in a mat­ter that should not involve a cit­i­zen: hav­ing a say in how he is governed.This time, we do not know why he is arrested: he has not been charged with any crime, he hasn’t been brought to a court of law; he hasn’t been sen­tenced. The fam­ily has no vis­i­ta­tion rights.

My brother, Has­sen Abdu Ahmed, was born in Asmara in 1975. He is 38. His story is that of the aver­age 38 year old Eritrean: exiled, returned with my father to Eritrea in 1992, and he has been with the National Ser­vice since 1995. That is 17 years of con­scrip­tion in the army, fol­lowed by one year in jail. He, too, was arrested in Decem­ber 2012.Again, we do not know why he is arrested: he has not been charged with any crime; he hasn’t been brought to a court of law; he hasn’t been sentenced.

Meaza Pet­ros, Saleh Yonus, Mezgebe Mengstu(mother of Aster Yohannes and mother-​in-​law of Pet­ros Solomon, Sheila B. Keetharuth, Sen­gal Welde­ten­sae, Eliz­a­beth Chyrum and Zerai Petros

My niece, Ciham Ali Abdu, was born on April 3, 1997 in Los Ange­les, California.She is 16 now.She was arrested when she was 15, on Decem­ber 8 (iron­i­cally, World Children’s Day) in Hash­feray and then trans­ferred to Adi Abeyto prison on Decem­ber 25 (Christ­mas Day.) A Christ­mas present for her mom. Since March 12, she has been moved out of Adi Abeyto but no fam­ily mem­ber knows where she has been transferred.Again, since there is no expla­na­tion, we the fam­ily are left to draw con­jec­tures: per­haps she is being held hostage to ensure that her father, Ali Abdu Ahmed, the for­mer min­is­ter of infor­ma­tion who aban­doned the regime and sought polit­i­cal asy­lum in the West, is daily reminded that his daughter’s fate is in their hands.

When I say this is an aver­age fam­ily, it means there are Eritrean fam­i­lies in even worse con­di­tion. Con­sider: Eritre­ans who were arrested in 1994 because they were Mus­lim fun­da­men­tal­ists. Their fam­i­lies have been suf­fer­ing for nearly 20 years. Con­sider the case of Tewelde Beyn, an Eritrean from Keren, who dis­ap­peared together with the famous poet Echet Hina and other 15 inno­cent souls with­out trace in 1977, because they were not sup­port­ive of the EPLF. Now con­sider: his grand­son, Yohannes M. Tewelde Beyn, who, like many peo­ple his age, was exiled out of his coun­try: he is one of the Lampe­dusa vic­tims of Octo­ber 3rd. His aunt, Leteab Tewelde Beyn, failed to locate him with the sur­vivors or the dead in Lampedusa.

Each of our sto­ries here, our tes­ti­monies, can be read­ily dis­missed – and the Eritrean regime is good at that. But can it dis­miss the cumu­la­tive tes­ti­monies of thou­sands and thou­sands of Eritrean families?

Abdu Younis(85), Has­sen Ahmed(38), Ciham Ali Abdu(16)

It is nor­mal, and the duty of gov­ern­ments, to imprison peo­ple con­sid­ered threats to national security.The prob­lem here is one of degrees: Eritrea’s is extreme by any measure.There are tens of thou­sands of Eritrean fam­i­lies who are in even worse shape: fam­i­lies who have lost their only chil­dren; fam­i­lies sep­a­rated for decades; fam­i­lies who do not know the where­abouts of their love­dones for decades: no charges, no trial, no court, no right to self-​defense, no right to hear­ing charges against you, no sen­tence, no fam­ily vis­i­ta­tion. Fam­i­lies who have endured longer and mor­ein­tense pain. You hear cries about injus­tice all over the world. The prob­lem in Eritrea is not just lack of jus­tice; it is lack of ver­dict. Lack of decency​.It is rule by a mob, rule by gangsters.

From where you sit, I am sure you are think­ing: “what do you want us to do about it?This is all ter­ri­ble, but the world is full of ter­ri­ble news: what can we do?” The one thing you can do is under­stand the nature of the regime — truly under­stand it — because if you did, you would know all the well-​intentioned “engage­ment” and “dis­cus­sions on the mar­gins of the con­fer­ence” and “new ini­tia­tive” that you indi­vid­u­ally or col­lec­tively dream up are all futile. All they do is legit­imize an ille­git­i­mate gov­ern­ment; extend it a life­line and tac­itly endorse its wan­ton human rights violations.You are try­ing to reform some­thing that is beyond reform.

Many of you have been hoodwinked.You have looked at the “African dic­ta­tor for dum­mies” man­ual and said there are no stat­ues of Isa­ias Afw­erki in Eritrea, so he must not be a dictator.He has not given him­self out­ra­geous titles like Field Mar­shall and doesn’t wear uni­forms and sun­glasses, so he must not be a dictator.He doesn’t dress up in $1,000 dol­lar brand suits so he must not be a dictator.He doesn’t have vil­las in Europe, so he must not be a dictator.But one can be a dic­ta­tor and still live a Spar­tan life: a dictator’s obses­sion is power, and what he does once he has the power dif­fers with each tyrant.

Let me be blunt: THERE IS NO GOV­ERN­MENT IN ERITREA.Even to call it “a regime” implies a sys­tem, a struc­ture and a hier​ar​chy​.In actual fact, Eritrea is the State of Isa­ias Afw­erki. It is a tyran­ni­cal police “state”: there was a sys­tem­atic sub­ver­sion of state power by party, and an even more intense sub­ver­sion of party power by an indi​vid​ual​.So now, the State is The Man, and The Man is the sum total of his mad con­tra­dic­tions. This was done by cre­at­ing par­al­lel infra­struc­ture: illicit and informal.Because mem­bers of this illicit and infor­mal infra­struc­ture are them­selves rotated in and out of jail, their loy­alty is to one man: the president.

One sim­ple exam­ple: Eritrea has a min­istry of finance, defense, fish­eries, energy, min­ing, trans­porta­tion, trade and indus­try, agri​cul​ture​.It has author­i­ties: air­lines, ports, ship­ping lines.If you were to ask the min­is­ters and direc­tors to speak about the pol­icy of their min­istries, they couldn’t say much. I have said before — in an inter­view with Expressen — that if you were to take all the min­is­ters and water-​board them, they would not be able to give you any­thing of sub­stance of how the regime runs. Because all the power and author­ity that should reside in their min­istries belongs to the “gov­ern­ment garages” led by a colonel who is nowhere in the gov­ern­ment structure.Those who work in the “gov­ern­ment garages” call their insti­tu­tion Soma­liland — just like Soma­liland is autonomous of Soma­lia, the gov­ern­ment garages are autonomous of the gov­ern­ment structure.When you read the Soma­lia Eritrea Mon­i­tor­ing Group (SEMG) report, which talks about how much time Isa­ias Afw­erki spends in meet­ings with “gov­ern­ment garages”, here’s the con­text: that is his real meet­ing with his real min­is­ters, as opposed to the rub­ber stamp “Min­is­te­r­ial Cab­i­net” that is often tele­vised, show­ing images but no voices.More recently, Isa­ias Afw­erki has cre­ated a “people’s army” that has no report­ing struc­ture within the Eritrean Min­istry of Defense or its Eritrean Defense Forces.

The rule of Isa­ias Afw­erki is absolute.He con­trols the state media, the secu­rity appa­ra­tus, its army, its finance, its hous­ing, its fuel sup­ply, its land dis­tri­b­u­tion, its potable water dis­tri­b­u­tion. Let me give you an exam­ple: when Forto 2013 occurred (mutiny of Eritrean army in Jan­u­ary 20, 2013), I was dis­cussing it with some­one who has bet­ter infor­ma­tion than me and I was talk­ing about reports that tanks moved from Tsorona (bor­der­ing Ethiopia) to Asmara and he stopped me cold and said, “Impos­si­ble! Fuel is per­son­ally rationed by Isa­ias Afw­erki: that couldn’t have hap­pened with­out his knowledge.”

Isa­ias Afw­erki decides which singers should go on which tours, which pave­ment should be patched, what crop should the farm­ers sow this year, how far they should plough, which pri­vate hos­pi­tal should be closed, which shop keeper should be licensed, what cur­ricu­lum should be taught; who should be sen­tenced for years and who for life sentence…whose wife should be abused so that the hus­band will be humil­i­ated: the ulti­mate insult in Eritrean cul­ture. He is the one who declares war and peace; at the same time he is the one who decides what color should be painted a cer­tain house.

A mad man is in charge of a country.A para­noid, anti­so­cial, nar­cis­sis­tic, and sadis­tic man with schiz­o­phrenic ten­den­cies, includ­ing exces­sive grandios­ity. How do you deal with a mad man? Study his behav­ior: there is a pattern.Step One: he pre­tends big earth-​shaking events — like 360 cit­i­zens drown­ing in the Mediter­ranean — are not happening.Step Two: when he begins to feel the impact, his reac­tion is to ridicule it.Invent new words of insult and mock­ery. A lul­laby for his devo­tees. Step Three:when he is really cor­nered and there is no way out, he has absolutely no shame in mak­ing 180-​degree turn and to yield to it.He will accept things he was begged to accept: but only if he is pres­sured and cornered.

Change in Eritrea will come, and it will stick, when enough Eritre­ans inside and out­side the coun­try believe it’s nec­es­sary and timely and exe­cute it​.It is OUR responsibility.But the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity has its share of responsibility.If you keep this well-​intentioned cam­paign of “engage­ment” — a door half ajar — you will keep get­ting the same things you have been get­ting for 12 long years.Remember, you are deal­ing with a man who accused the United States of being respon­si­ble for tens of thou­sands of his own cit­i­zens using smug­glers and traf­fick­ers to leave their coun­try. He is beyond reform: you can’t reform a mad man; you can only insti­tu­tion­al­ize him.All your well-​intentioned cam­paigns of engage­ment and seek­ing reform have yielded you noth­ing, but you keep on per­sist­ing: it is your ego attempt­ing the impos­si­ble. You need to reach a long over due deci­sion: the same one that was reached about Sad­dam Hus­sein, Moam­mer Kaddaffi, and Bashar Assad: this man hap­pens to be head of state but he is men­tally unbal­anced and we need to rec­og­nize and legit­imize alter­na­tives to his sadis­tic rule.

Thank you

Saleh You­nis

Oct 24, 2013