Is Canadian mining company defending the indefensible in Eritrea?Published by MAC on 2011-12-12
Source: Bernama-Nnn-Ena, statements
On 5 December 2011, the UN Security Council (SC) passed Resolution 2023 which unequivocally condemns Eritrea's "destabilizing role" in the Horn of Africa (China and Russia abstained; there was no dissenting vote).
This followed a report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, released on 18 July 2011, which highlighted "irregular financial practices" by a relatively small number of politicians, military and intelligence officers "in Eritrea, bent on "subversion" of the government.
The Eritrean leadership was said to have "committed multiple violations" of Security Council resolutions passed in 2008 and 2009, and "conceived, planned and organised and directed a failed plot to disrupt the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa" in January 2011.
Under Resolution 2023, the Council "expressed its intention to apply targeted sanctions against individuals and entities that meet the listing criteria set out in paragraph 15 of resolution 1907 (2009) and paragraph 1 of resolution 2002 (2011)."
A pre-eminent target for such sanctions is Eritrea's minerals industry.
In response, Toronto and New York listed mining company, Nevsun Resources, which operates Eritrea's highly prospective Bisha gold, silver and zinc mining project, issued a statement.
Nevsun cited relevant paragraphs of the recent Resolution, seeking to address concerns (not least among investors) that it might be in any way be guilty of "irregular financial practices" which contribute to the massive human rights and other abuses being committed by Eritrea's leadership.
But the company's attempt at self-defence might well have mis-fired.
Not only is Nevsun proud of its "continuous support from the Eritrean government", it allowed the government to purchase a 30% interest, in addition to a legislated 10% free carried interest, in the Bisha project.
Moreover, Nevsun failed to provide any information whatsoever to confirm that it is not, or may not be about to, violate the SC Resolutions on Eritrea.
Instead it settles for the distinctly anodyne statement that "[b]y collaborating with international companies, Eritrea is developing a mining industry that provides direct economic benefits, skill enhancement and supply chain expansion."
UNSC Passes Without Dissenting Vote Resolution Condemning Eritrea
8 December 2011
ADDIS ABABA - The 15-member United Nations Security Council has passed by a 13-0 vote Resolution 2023, which condemns Eritrea's destabilizing role in the Horn of Africa. China and Russia abstained.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement here Wednesday that the Security Council expressed grave concern at the findings of the Somali-Eritrea Monitoring Group Report of July 18, 2011.
Among other things, the report underlined Eritrea's planned terrorist attack to disrupt the January 2011 African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa, according to the statement.
The report of the monitoring group also confirmed that Eritrea was providing political, financial and logistical support to terrorist groups such as the al-Shabaab, which is actively undermining efforts to bring peace and stability to Somalia.
Resolution 2023 reiterates the Security Council's call upon all states ''to ensure strict implementation of the arms embargo'' established by Resolution 1907 (of 2009) and expresses the Council's intention to increase the number of individuals and entities subject to travel ban and asset freeze.
Furthermore, Resolution 2023 condemned the Eritrean government's use of a ''Diaspora tax'' levied on individuals of Eritrean descent living overseas to finance the supply of weapons and other support to opposition groups in Somalia and other countries in the region.
The resolution also urged all states to introduce due diligence guidelines to prevent the provision of financial services which would contribute to Eritrea's violation of relevant Security Council resolutions.
The international community has been forced to take these measures given the Eritrean regime's failure to heed repeated calls for it to cease its destabilizing activities and its support for terrorist groups.
The Eritrean regime's replies to international community's exhortation's have been characterized by intransigence and prevarication.
Asmara has consistently tried to derail and evade efforts at censure by playing victim. A recurrent theme articulated by Eritrean officials is that international rebuke of its illicit activities is the result of western conspiracy against Eritrea -- this resolution unambiguously puts such fatuous claims to rest.
It is to be recalled that Resolution 2023 was initially drafted by the Inter-Governmental Authority on development (IGAD) -- a Horn of Africa grouping -- and tabled by Gabon and Nigeria, both of which have played a constructive role as members of the United nations Security Council and African Union..
IGAD and Ethiopia expressed their unreserved gratitude to Gabon and Nigeria for effectively discharging their responsibilities towards the promotion of peace and stability in our sub-region, the foreign ministry statement said.
The passage of Resolution 2023 not only highlights the increasing isolation of the Eritrean government, but demonstrates the co-operative spirit pervading IGAD and our continent as a whole.
Nevsun: Update on United Nations Actions Regarding Eritrea
Nevsun Resources statement
6 December 2011
VANCOUVER, BC - Nevsun Resources Ltd. wishes to update shareholders on the latest developments regarding the actions by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in respect to Eritrea.
The UNSC resolution 2023 (2011), which was passed on December 5, 2011, includes three sections related to the mining industry and should have no direct impact on the Bisha operations, no direct impact on Nevsun Resources Ltd. and no direct impact to shareholders of Nevsun Resources Ltd. It is not possible to estimate any indirect impacts as the resolution suggests that future guidelines will be prepared for optional use by individual UN member states.
The mining specific sections of the resolution are reprinted below:
12. Expresses concern at the potential use of the Eritrean mining sector as a financial source to destabilize the Horn of Africa region, as outlined in the Final Report of the Monitoring Group (S/2011/433), and calls on Eritrea to show transparency in its public finances, including through cooperation with the Monitoring Group, in order to demonstrate that the proceeds of these mining activities are not being used to violate relevant resolutions, including 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009), 1907 (2009) and this resolution;
13. Decides that States, in order to prevent funds derived from the mining sector of Eritrea contributing to violations of resolutions 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009), 1907 (2009) or this resolution, shall undertake appropriate measures to promote the exercise of vigilance by their nationals, persons subject to their jurisdiction and firms incorporated in their territory or subject to their jurisdiction that are doing business in this sector in Eritrea including through the issuance of due diligence guidelines, and requests in this regard the Committee, with the assistance of the Monitoring Group, to draft guidelines for the optional use of Member States;
14. Urges all States to introduce due diligence guidelines to prevent the provision of financial services, including insurance or re-insurance, or the transfer to, through, or from their territory, or to or by their nationals or entities organized under their laws (including branches abroad), or persons or financial institutions in their territory, of any financial or other assets or resources if such services, assets or resources, including new investment in the extractives sector, would contribute to Eritrea's violation of relevant resolutions, including 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009), 1907 (2009) and this resolution;
The full text of the resolution may be found on the UNSC web site.* (see below)
Nevsun's President Cliff Davis states, "The State of Eritrea has been a strong partner and shareholder in the Bisha Mining Share Company, a subsidiary of Nevsun. The Government of Eritrea has contributed to the building of the Bisha Mine, both financially and through the Board of the Bisha Mining Share Company, as well as through the support of the Ministry of Energy & Mines and various other ministries. By collaborating with international companies, Eritrea is developing a mining industry that provides direct economic benefits, skill enhancement and supply chain expansion. Through these cooperative efforts, sustainable development from the industry can positively impact the Eritrean economy for decades to come."
UN Security Council statement
6674th Meeting (AM & PM)
5 December 2011
Security Council, by Vote of 13 in Favour, Adopts Resolution Reinforcing Sanctions
Regime against Eritrea ‘Calibrated' to Halt All Activities Destabilizing Region
Action Follows Statements by Region's Representatives, via Video-, Teleconference,
Including Ethiopia's Prime Minister Claiming Eritrea ‘Prime Source of Instability'
Concerned at the potential use of the Eritrean mining sector as a financial source to destabilize the Horn of Africa region, the Security Council today reinforced the sanctions regime on that country to prevent mining funds from contributing to its continued violations of those measures.
Adopting resolution 2023 (2011), under Chapter VII of the Charter, by a vote of 13 in favour to none against, with 2 abstentions (China, Russian Federation), the Council demanded that Eritrea cease all direct or indirect efforts to destabilize States, and decided that States shall "undertake appropriate measures to promote the exercise of vigilance" in business dealings with Eritrea's mining sector. To that end, it requested its Sanctions Committee concerning Somalia and Eritrea to draft, with the assistance of the Somalia/Eritrea Monitoring Group, due diligence guidelines for States' optional use.
The Council also condemned Eritrea's use of the "diaspora tax" on the Eritrean diaspora to destabilize the Horn of Africa region and to violate the sanctions regime, including by procuring arms and related materiel for transfer to armed opposition groups, and decided that Eritrea shall cease those practices. It further decided that Eritrea shall stop using extortion, threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea from its nationals or other individuals of Eritrean descent.
By further terms of the text, the Council expressed its intention to apply targeted sanctions against individuals and entities that meet the listing criteria set out in paragraph 15 of resolution 1907 (2009) and paragraph 1 of resolution 2002 (2011). [Together, those resolutions imposed an arms embargo, as well as a travel ban and assets freeze on Eritrea's political and military leaders, and expanded the sanctions regime to include individuals and entities recruiting or using child soldiers in Somalia's armed conflicts, and targeting civilians or committing attacks against schools and hospitals.]
By today's text, the Council also decided to expand the mandate of the Monitoring Group to monitor and report on the provisions of the new text, as well as its demand that Eritrea make available information regarding the Djiboutian combatants missing in action since 10 to 12 June 2008.
It called on all States to report within 120 days on steps taken to implement the current resolution and on the Secretary-General to report within 180 days on Eritrea's compliance under the sanctions regime. It affirmed that it would keep Eritrea's actions under continuous review and that it was prepared to strengthen, modify or lift those sanctions based on the country's compliance.
Speaking as Chair of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) by videoconference from Addis Ababa, hours before the Council took action, Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, said the member States of IGAD had gathered to express the same opinion, namely that "Eritrea is a prime source of instability for the whole region". IGAD had been actively involved in drafting the text, which was tabled by Gabon and Nigeria, he said, and a failure by the Council to adopt it would imply that the countries in the region were on their own, and must defend themselves. That was not a choice they wished to make. "We ask you to act, and to act decisively," he stressed.
Also speaking before action this afternoon, Gabon's representative said that in response to the urgent appeal by IGAD for new sanctions, his country had felt it was necessary to co-sponsor the resolution. Despite appeals by the international community and the African Union, Eritrea had failed to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions. Urging the text's adoption, he said it aimed to lead to peace and security in the region.
Nigeria's representative, speaking after the text's adoption, said that beyond any sanctions, the opportunity for a political solution to regional challenges should not be closed. A comprehensive and lasting peace must be the goal, and he encouraged Eritrea to comply with all of the resolution's provisions. Just as the future of the region depended on political will, international support was also needed.
Explaining his delegation's abstention, the representative of the Russian Federation said that although his Government understood the many concerns expressed by IGAD member States and was categorically opposed to terrorism, it believed the Council had not been presented with proof of the perpetrators of a reported attack on the African Union summit. Moreover, the Russian Federation opposed the inclusion in the resolution of the issue of the diaspora, as well as of phrases that could have double meanings. Diplomatic work, along with broad and multifaceted dialogue, was needed to establish peace in the region, and he called on all parties there to conduct such a dialogue to advance a settlement.
While China had actively participated in drafting the current resolution, that country's ambassador said it had abstained in the vote based on its view that sanctions could affect people's livelihoods and its assessment that the rush to vote on the text had resulted in its ultimate failure to reflect the legitimate concerns of Council members.
Germany's ambassador stressed, however, that the Council and the Sanctions Committee had discussed at length and in depth the scope of a reinforced sanctions regime. The present text was calibrated and did not impose new economic sanctions. Nor did it increase the burden on the Eritrean people. It demanded further transparency from Eritrea, which must stop all activities that destabilized the region.
Stressing that the Monitoring Group had provided evidence of the "appalling" planned attack on the African Union summit, the representative of the United States said the resolution provided further opportunity for Eritrea to show its good faith. Indeed, Eritrea must confirm through its actions that it was ready to re-emerge as a law-abiding State, and the United States hoped Eritrea would not squander that chance.
Also speaking were the representatives of the United Kingdom, South Africa, Lebanon and France.
Also addressing the Council via video- and teleconference were Ismaël Omar Guelleh, President of Djibouti; Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, President of the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia; Moses Wetangula, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kenya; and Mull Sebujja Katende, Ambassador of Uganda to the African Union.
The meeting began at 10:10 a.m. and was suspended at 10:45 a.m., reconvening at 3:07 p.m. before concluding at 3:41 p.m.
The full text of resolution 2023 (2011) reads as follows:
"The Security Council,
"Recalling its previous resolutions and statements of its President concerning the situation in Somalia and the border dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea, in particular its resolutions 751 (1992), 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009), 1907 (2009), 1916 (2009), 1998 (2011) and 2002 (2011), and its statements of 18 May 2009 (S/PRST/2009/15), 9 July 2009 (S/PRST/2009/19), and 12 June 2008 (S/PRST/2008/20),
"Reaffirming its respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence and unity of Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea, respectively, as well as that of all other States of the region,
"Reiterating its full support for the Djibouti Peace Process and the Transitional Federal Charter which provide the framework for reaching a lasting political solution in Somalia, and welcoming the Kampala Accord of 9 June 2011 and the road map agreed on 6 September 2011,
"Calling upon all States in the region to peacefully resolve their disputes and normalize their relations in order to lay the foundation for durable peace and lasting security in the Horn of Africa, and encouraging these States to provide the necessary cooperation to the African Union in its efforts to resolve these disputes,
"Reiterating its grave concern about the border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti and the importance of resolving it, calling upon Eritrea to pursue with Djibouti, in good faith, the scrupulous implementation of the 6 June 2010 Agreement, concluded under the auspices of Qatar, in order to resolve their border dispute and consolidate the normalization of their relations, and welcoming the mediation efforts of Qatar, and the continued engagement of regional actors, the African Union, and the United Nations,
"Noting the letter of the Permanent Representative of Djibouti to the United Nations of 6 October 2011 (S/2011/617) which informs the Secretary-General of the escape of two Djiboutian prisoners of war from an Eritrean prison, while noting that the Government of Eritrea has to this date denied detaining any Djiboutian prisoners of war,
"Expressing grave concern at the findings of the Somalia/Eritrea Monitoring Group report of 18 July 2011 (S/2011/433), that Eritrea has continued providing political, financial, training and logistical support to armed opposition groups, including Al-Shabaab, engaged in undermining peace, security and stability in Somalia and the region,
"Condemning the planned terrorist attack of January 2011 to disrupt the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, as expressed by the findings of the Somalia/Eritrea Monitoring Group report,
"Taking note of the Decision of the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government held in January 2010 and the Communiqué of the AU Peace and Security Council held on 8 January 2010, welcoming the adoption, by the United Nations (UN) Security Council on 23 December 2009 of resolution 1907 (2009), which imposes sanctions on Eritrea, for, among other things, providing political, financial and logistical support to armed groups engaged in undermining peace and reconciliation in Somalia and regional stability; stressing the need to pursue vigorously the effective implementation of resolution 1907 (2009), and expressing its intention to apply targeted sanctions against individuals and entities if they meet the listing criteria set out in paragraph 15 of resolution 1907 (2009) and paragraph 8 of resolution 1844 (2008),
"Noting the decision by the 18th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), calling on the Security Council to take measures to ensure that Eritrea desists from its destabilization activities in the Horn of Africa,
"Noting the letter from Eritrea (S/2011/652), containing a document responding to the report of Somalia/Eritrea Monitoring Group,
"Strongly condemning any acts by Eritrea that undermine peace, security and stability in the region and calling on all Member States to comply fully with the terms of the arms embargo imposed by paragraph 5 of resolution 733 (1992), as elaborated and amended by subsequent resolutions,
"Determining that Eritrea's failure to fully comply with resolutions 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009) and 1907 (2009) and its actions undermining peace and reconciliation in Somalia and the Horn of Africa region, as well as the dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea constitute a threat to international peace and security,
"Mindful of its primary responsibility under the Charter of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security,
"Acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations,
"1. Condemns the violations by Eritrea of Security Council resolutions 1907 (2009), 1862 (2009) and 1844 (2008) by providing continued support to armed opposition groups, including Al-Shabaab, engaged in undermining peace and reconciliation in Somalia and the region;
"2. Supports the call by the African Union for Eritrea to resolve its border disputes with its neighbours and calls on the parties to peacefully resolve their disputes, normalize their relations and to promote durable peace and lasting security in the Horn of Africa, and encourages the parties to provide the necessary cooperation to the African Union in its efforts to resolve these disputes;
"3. Reiterates that all Member States, including Eritrea, shall comply fully with the terms of the arms embargo imposed by paragraph 5 of resolution 733 (1992), as elaborated and amended by subsequent resolutions;
"4. Reiterates that Eritrea shall fully comply with resolution 1907 (2009) without any further delay and stresses the obligation of all States to comply with the measures imposed by resolution 1907 (2009);
"5. Notes Eritrea's withdrawal of its forces following the stationing of Qatari observers in the disputed areas along the border with Djibouti, calls upon Eritrea to engage constructively with Djibouti to resolve the border dispute, and reaffirms its intention to take further targeted measures against those who obstruct implementation of resolution 1862 (2009);
"6. Demands that Eritrea shall make available information pertaining to Djiboutian combatants missing in action since the clashes of 10 to 12 June 2008 so that those concerned may ascertain the presence and condition of Djiboutian prisoners of war;
"7. Demands Eritrea to cease all direct or indirect efforts to destabilize States, including through financial, military, intelligence and non-military assistance, such as the provision of training centres, camps and other similar facilities for armed groups, passports, living expenses, or travel facilitation;
"8. Calls upon all States, in particular States of the region, in order to ensure strict implementation of the arms embargo established by paragraphs 5 and 6 of resolution 1907 (2009), to inspect in their territory, including seaports and airports, in accordance with the national authorities and legislation and consistent with international law, all cargo bound to or from Eritrea, if the State concerned has information that provides reasonable grounds to believe that the cargo contains items the supply, sale, transfer or export of which is prohibited by paragraphs 5 or 6 of resolution 1907 (2009), and recalls the obligations contained in paragraphs 8 and 9 of resolution 1907 (2009) with respect to the discovery of items prohibited by paragraphs 5 or 6 of resolution 1907 (2009) and paragraph 5 of resolution 733 (1992) as elaborated and amended by subsequent resolutions;
"9. Expresses its intention to apply targeted sanctions against individuals and entities if they meet the listing criteria set out in paragraph 15 of resolution 1907 (2009) and paragraph 1 of resolution 2002 (2011) and requests the Committee to review, as a matter of urgency, listing proposals from Member States;
"10. Condemns the use of the ‘Diaspora tax' on Eritrean diaspora by the Eritrean Government to destabilize the Horn of Africa region or violate relevant resolutions, including 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009) and 1907 (2009), including for purposes such as procuring arms and related materiel for transfer to armed opposition groups or providing any services or financial transfers provided directly or indirectly to such groups, as outlined in the findings of the Somalia/Eritrea Monitoring Group in its 18 July 2011 report (S/2011/433), and decides that Eritrea shall cease these practices;
"11. Decides that Eritrea shall cease using extortion, threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea from its nationals or other individuals of Eritrean descent, decides further that States shall undertake appropriate measures to hold accountable, consistent with international law, those individuals on their territory who are acting, officially or unofficially, on behalf of the Eritrean Government or the PFDJ contrary to the prohibitions imposed in this paragraph and the laws of the States concerned, and calls upon States to take such action as may be appropriate consistent with their domestic law and international relevant instruments, including the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, to prevent such individuals from facilitating further violations;
"12. Expresses concern at the potential use of the Eritrean mining sector as a financial source to destabilize the Horn of Africa region, as outlined in the Final Report of the Monitoring Group (S/2011/433), and calls on Eritrea to show transparency in its public finances, including through cooperation with the Monitoring Group, in order to demonstrate that the proceeds of these mining activities are not being used to violate relevant resolutions, including 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009), 1907 (2009) and this resolution;
"13. Decides that States, in order to prevent funds derived from the mining sector of Eritrea contributing to violations of resolutions 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009), 1907 (2009) or this resolution, shall undertake appropriate measures to promote the exercise of vigilance by their nationals, persons subject to their jurisdiction and firms incorporated in their territory or subject to their jurisdiction that are doing business in this sector in Eritrea including through the issuance of due diligence guidelines, and requests in this regard the Committee, with the assistance of the Monitoring Group, to draft guidelines for the optional use of Member States;
"14. Urges all States to introduce due diligence guidelines to prevent the provision of financial services, including insurance or re-insurance, or the transfer to, through, or from their territory, or to or by their nationals or entities organized under their laws (including branches abroad), or persons or financial institutions in their territory, of any financial or other assets or resources if such services, assets or resources, including new investment in the extractives sector, would contribute to Eritrea's violation of relevant resolutions, including 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009), 1907 (2009) and this resolution;
"15. Calls upon all States to report to the Security Council within 120 days on steps taken to implement the provisions of this resolution;
"16. Decides to further expand the mandate of the Monitoring Group re‑established by resolution 2002 (2011) to monitor and report on implementation of the measures imposed in this resolution and undertake the tasks outlined below:
(a) Assist the Committee in monitoring the implementation of the measures imposed in paragraphs 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 above, including by reporting any information on violations;
(b) Consider any information relevant to paragraph 6 above that should be brought to the attention of the Committee;
"17. Urges all States, relevant United Nations bodies and other interested parties to cooperate fully with the Committee and the Monitoring Group, including by supplying any information at their disposal on the implementation of the measures decided in resolution 1844 (2008), resolution 1907 (2009) and this resolution, in particular incidents of non-compliance;
"18. Affirms that it shall keep Eritrea's actions under continuous review and that it shall be prepared to adjust the measures, including through their strengthening, modification or lifting, in light of Eritrea's compliance with the provisions of resolutions 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009), 1907 (2009) and this resolution;
"19. Requests the Secretary-General to report within 180 days on Eritrea's compliance with the provisions of resolutions 1844 (2008), 1862 (2009), 1907 (2009) and this resolution;
"20. Decides to remain seized of the matter."
Appalling Work Conditions at Bisha-Nevsun Mining Project, Eritrea
17 July 2011
A few months ago, a number of workers from Bisha-Nevsun Project (owned by the Eritrean government and Canada's Nevsun Resources Ltd.) have managed to escape to Ethiopia, and they are now living in one of the refugee camps located in Tigray. Two of them, Abadi Ghebremeskel and Legesse Berhe, have been extensively interviewed so far. HRCE (Human Rights Concern Eritrea) has kindly provided us with the audio version of those interviews. In due time, we will provide the video version of the interview. Since the interviews are about three hours long and conducted in Tigrigna language, below we are summarizing them in English in a categorical manner, supplemented with our interpretation of what is going on the ground based on the data extracted from the interviews. The content of this summary depends on the interviews in the audios and follow-ups.
The first part deals with the stark difference in the way the foreign workers (mainly from South Africa and Zimbabwe) and native Eritrean workers are treated by the companies in the mining project: from the food they eat and lodgings they live to the salaries they get and the type of insurances they are covered with. The second part will further look at this difference, but will entirely focus on the safety factor; given the hazardous nature of the work, this is a vast subject matter on its own. The third part will deal with the security apparatus of the PFDJ (the ruling party in Eritrea - the one and only), with its tentacles clandestinely spread throughout the workforce.
In conclusion (the fourth part), after briefly touching other points not covered in the three parts mentioned above, we will see how the government's effort to maximize its profit at the expense of native workers has created a hazardous work environment and poor quality of life to the workers. At the end, we will propose that, based on the interviews, sanctioning the mining sector could only be to the benefit of Eritreans, in particular, and the region, in general.
(I) The tale of two groups of workers: one native, the other foreign
So far, what the informants have to say has corroborated much of what have been suspected for a long time - and more. The story that is emerging is a story of two different groups of workers : one mostly foreign, well-fed, well-quartered, well paid, well insured and working in a safe environment; and the other group: natives, poorly fed, poorly quartered, poorly paid, overworked, nominally insured and working in an unsafe environment. But this, by itself, doesn't say much. It is only by categorizing the workers in the different strata that they have been put that we see how the regime is exploiting the workers in every way imaginable to maximize its profit. In this exploitative stratification created by the PFDJ, in collaboration with the mining company, are four categories that we have to look at:
(a) Foreign workers
There are about 400 South African and Zimbabwean workers hired by Senet (a South African company), the General Contractor. These are the well treated ones. They have their own compound with their cafeteria and living quarters. They are well fed, their food comes from outside. Their lodging quarters are well built and comfortable. They have buses to transport them from their working to lodging places. And when it comes to their safety, it matches the international standards. The workers are provided with all the necessary safety equipments: industrial gloves, hard hats, goggles, steel-toed boots, safety belts, etc. And, besides, in case of accidents and illnesses, they are well-insured.
And in what matters most, the salaries, they are well paid. It is not easy to get the exact figure from the interview, but it is easy to find out. One interviewee mentions $4,000 and $7,000 as salaries per month paid to some of the foreign workers, but the source seem to be the foreign workers themselves and cannot be taken as reliable source. Besides, even if there are some paid this much, we don't know how much the average worker is paid. A better source would be the mining industry itself - the one in South Africa, given that both the General Contractor (Senet) and the workers are from South Africa.
The minimum that we should expect is that the foreign workers are being paid in South African standard. Usually, people who are willing to go to work outside their country are paid higher salaries; they get extra stipend for working outside their country. And if the nation that they are sent to happens to be to be of high risk - due to extreme temperatures, poor health conditions, unsafe environment, etc, the payment goes higher. In addition, we should expect that they are specialized in their profession. I we stick with the South African standard payment, the payment, depending on the specialty of the worker goes from 120, 000 rands to 800,000 rands per year ($17,385 and $115,900 respectively) [ CLICK HERE TO VIEW SALARY SCALE]. For comparative reasons, we will take only the barest minimum so as to remain on the safe side.
(b) Privileged Eritreans
There are some Eritreans who hired directly by Nevsun (and not by the subcontracted government companies) who are considered to be part of the workforce that includes the foreign workers, and as such are treated in the same manner as the South African workers (food, lodging, etc.) except in what matters most - payment.
Although they receive much higher salary than their Eritrean counterparts working for the subcontracted companies, they are paid in Nakfa (the local currency). Since the official exchange rate is much lower than what it fetches in the black market, almost 65% of their salary directly goes to the government this way. The black market exchange rate system is about 45 Nakfa for one dollar, compared to the official 15 Nakfa for one dollar; and it is the former that reflects the real market value of Nakfa. Thus, the regime pockets two thirds of the workers' salaries through this single banking scheme.
Abadi Ghebremeskel talks about Eritrean welders, machinists and Bulldozer drivers being paid 3,000, 6,0000 and 10,000 Nakfa respectively. This would roughly be the equivalent of $80, $160 and $250 respectively. And then he mentions that about half of that is further cut by the government for various reasons. In the end - after the exchange rate robbery and all the other cuts - they get about $40, $80 and $120 respectively. So the picture that is emerging is clear: for the same job, a South African worker is paid ten to twenty times more than his Eritrean counterpart! And these are supposed to be the lucky ones.
(c) Workers hired by PFDJ companies
The case of the Eritrean workers hired by the subcontracted companies like Segen, Mereb and 74 - all government owned companies - is much worse. It matters a lot how these workers are treated because these PFDJ companies hire the most: about 3,000 of them. These are the poor souls who built the entire infrastructure, and are now involved in doing all that needs intensive labor.
The average payment is as low as it could possibly get: about 1,500 Nakfa per month. Put in dollar, it doesn't even amount $40. Out of that, they are forced to spend 500 for food. And the food, as the interviewees remind us, is terrible. Given that they are the ones who are mercilessly overworked, often 16 hours long, with little or no pay for their overtime, it is important that they eat well. But all that the interview mentions is measly bread and lentils (Kitcha and shiro).
Their lodging quarters also happen to be dismal. They are lodged 4 kms away in a make shift camp made of flimsy materials (Kantcha), vulnerable to the kamsin (sand winds) of the desert. Besides, these kinds of houses happen to be susceptible to the extreme temperatures of the desert - very hot during the day and very cold during the night.
Poorly fed and overworked, they are also supposed to weather the harshness of the elements. And if anything happens to them, there is no safety net they could depend on. Working in such a hazardous environment, they happen to be only nominally insured [more on that below].
(d) Slave laborers
In the caste system that has emerged in the Bisha-Nevsun project, national service army conscripts find themselves at the bottom: as slave laborers, they are paid only 400 Nakfa ($9) per month. All of the slave laborers work for the subcontracted companies - all owned by the regime. The story of how this is done gives us a good synopsis of how the PFDJ tries to outsmart foreign companies (such as Nevsun and Senet) in its crude ways. One interviewee, Abadi Ghebremeskel, tells us how this is done:
Battalions of conscripted soldiers from the national service are brought to the workplace clandestinely. The reason is obvious: both Senet and Nevsum would be hard pressed to explain to the world why they let their subcontracted companies use slave labor; and for that matter, so extensively. As one of the Senet managers once told the workers, their company will find it hard to get contracts anywhere else if doesn't do its job according to internal guidelines. And the strictest of those guidelines is: never to use slave labor. So, to say the least, Nevsun and Senet would be uncomfortable if they are made to know what is going on. The PFDJ is well aware of this, and tries to spare them from the knowledge of it. But it would be hard to believe that these companies don't know what is going on; by now, they must be resigned to it. So far as the dirty secret remains inconspicuous, they are willing to give a blind eye to what is going on right below their nose.
Even though there are two brigades stationed around the mining area for security reasons, soldiers are not allowed into the camp. What Segen and the other subcontracted companies do is, they provide the soldiers (be it from these brigades or others) with their work uniforms and mingle them with the rest of their workforce and then drive them into the camp. Abadi talks about how these conscripts bitterly complain, often comparing their meager salaries with the rest. The rest of the workforce is warned that if they let this secret out to any of the foreigners, they will be severely dealt with.
(II) Hazards of the workplace
One of the most important stories that are emerging out of these interviews is the safety factor. The environment under which these laborers are working is appalling. The single threat to their safety has turned out to be the government owned companies drive to maximize their profits at whatever cost. This is to be seen not only in the meager salaries they pay their workers, but in their reluctance to meet all the safety requirements. Three examples will do:
The foreign workers have buses that transport them from their living quarters to their work place. On the other hand, the natives are transported by the same trucks that have been hauling soil and rocks in the workplace, exposed to all the hazardous elements that frequent that mining area.
If by any chance these tracks happen to meet any of the foreign workers on their way out to the lodging quarters of the "natives", Abadi tells us the Segen supervisors shout at their workers to hide. As usual, it is the crude ways of the PFDJ at work; this organization believes that it can outsmart any organization, be it local or foreign.
(b) Safety equipments:
We have seen above how the foreign workers are well equipped when it comes to safety equipments like industrial gloves, hard hats, goggles, steel-toed boots, safety belts, etc. This happens to be just the opposite in the case of the workers under government owned companies. One of the most frequent themes that the main interviewee, Abadi, turns back again and again is the safety factor. He mentions how Senet wants to do it by the book, and how Segen keeps subverting it. Segen doesn't want "extra expenses" on these safety equipments. When the exacerbated Senet begins to provide Segen's workers with such equipments, Segen supervisors get mad at the workers because Senet eventually bills the expenses to Segen. To the poor workers who are caught in the middle, Segen supervisors have the old-and-tried Shaebia excuse to give: "Nihna natna asseraha alenna." ("We have our own unique way of doing things.")
Two of the incidents that Abadi mentions for comparative purposes give us a glimpse on how far the Eritrean government is willing to go to maximize its profit in the mining projects at the expense of the poor workers. These two incidents have to do with the insurances the workers are covered with; one real, the other nominal.
When one foreign worker died of accident, Abadi tells us that his family was well compensated. Simply put, all the insurance money meant for such occasions went to his family. But when an Eritrean worker working for Segen Company died of accident in the workplace, his family was not given any compensation. And this is not because Segen was not insured in doing this task; Senet wouldn't subcontract Segen had it not qualified in insuring its workers. So what the government-owned company has done in this case is horrifying: it simply pocketed the compensation money meant for the family of the deceased. This is a regime that has no qualms even in robbing the dead.
This insurance scheme that the regime uses to enrich itself is similar to the other schemes it uses, in that it is not only systematic, but can be done at one-go. We have seen how it uses the exchange rate system in its banks to rob two thirds of their salaries to those who are supposedly paid by hard currency. This also true in its subcontracting scheme in general: the government owned companies are paid tens of millions of dollars, in lump sum, to do certain assigned jobs. Little of that money trickles down to the workers.
(III) The security apparatus
Given the totalitarian nature of the regime, that the security apparatus used in the camp is meant to primarily intimidate the workers is not surprising. The two brigades stationed nearby to protect the camp have nothing to do with this security apparatus. That job is given to the most trusted section of the overall security network spread throughout the nation: Dihnet Hizbi (People's Safety). In one revealing moment, Abadi says that even the soldiers dread them.
Dihnet Hizbi has its presence both at the entrance gate of the camp and in an office inside the camp. But this is only the officially visible part of the department. Its main presence lies among the workers themselves. Abadi Ghebremeskel talks about the environment of fear and suspicion that prevails among the workforce because of the many workers among them that double as minders and spies. Anyone who has been seen talking to the foreigners frequently or for an extended time is a prime suspect. And the list of the subject matter that they are not supposed to talk is long: the use of slave labor, safety issues, sabotage that occurred outside the camp, etc. Reprisals include expulsion and imprisonment.
In one instance, the excuse given for the imprisonment of two fellow workers was "corruption" - an old and tried accusation that the PFDJ uses to implicate undesirable elements.
(IV) Conclusion: sanctioning the mining sector
In this summary, we tried to confine the analysis to the workplace. But the interviewees go beyond the workplace to give us the full picture of the adverse effects the mining industry is having in the nation.
The interviewees talk the adverse effects the mining industry is having on the indigenous population and the country at large. They tell us that the former are victimized trice over: their grazing land has been confiscated without any compensation; in case of sabotage (the mention two such sabotages: one undertaken by the Kunama movement another by a Jihad movement), the reprisals primarily fall on them; and they are the least to be hired. And when it comes to the benefit the country might get out of these mining endeavors, none of the interviewees believe there is any. The only beneficiaries seem to be the party (the PFDJ) and the generals and colonels. Those who are getting employed in the mining projects are those who are well connected; and those in power happen to be the generals and colonels.
One of the arguments used against sanctioning the mining sector in Eritrea is that it will have a trickle down effect in the economy, and that eventually the poor will profit. But what we have actually seen in these interviews is that not only are all the profits directly flowing to the PFDJ's coffers, but that it is done by preying on the poor workers. The regime wants to maximize its profit not only through legitimate means, but also by exploiting its workers in the most inhumane way - poor salaries for the fortunate ones; slave labor for the army conscripted; little safety in a hazardous workplace; and poor food and dismal lodging. Neither the indigenous people in the surrounding area nor the country at large is also benefiting. Both interviewees point to the fact that Isaias, in his interviews, has often underplayed the role the mining boom will have in the nation's economy is meant to lower expectations among the public, so that the revenues could be safely used for his priorities: tightening the totalitarian grip on his subjects and sponsoring terror in the neighborhood.
If the mining revenues are mainly to be used for further oppressing the Eritrean people and for destabilizing the region, then it makes perfect sense for the international community to sanction the mining companies that are providing a lifeline to the most brutal regime on this earth. Thus, asmarino wholeheartedly supports IGAD's call to further sanction Eritrea, and hopes that the UNSC follows up on this proposal and imposes a stiff sanction on this brutal regime.
At the end, we would like to tell our readers that another interview with the former employees of Bisha-Nevsun is scheduled to take place soon. Things that have been left unexplored, unexplicated, unclear and ambiguous will be covered. As soon as we get the audio/video, we will make it public and at the same time provide a summary and analysis in English.