Monday, July 23, 2012
Eritrea, repressive African dictatorship, using Toronto consulate to bankroll military: UN report | News | National Post
Jul 22, 2012 – 11:26 AM ET | Last Updated: Jul 22, 2012 4:45 PM ET
REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir welcomes Eritrea's President Issaias Afewerki (centre L) at Khartoum Airport May 26, 2010. Afewerki was in the country to attend the swearing-in ceremony of President al-Bashir.
TORONTO — One of Africa’s most repressive dictatorships, Eritrea, has been collecting money to bankroll its military through its consulate in Toronto, according to a United Nations report obtained by the National Post.
The report said the fundraising scheme “arguably” violated a UN arms embargo on Eritrea and that government agents had also held a fundraising event in Calgary this year, falsely claiming the money was for orphans.
A small enclave between Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti, Eritrea is one of the world’s least developed countries — and yet it has a military that wars with its neighbors and has trained and armed scores of African rebel groups.
According to a leaked copy of the UN report, which was expected to be released this week, at least some of Eritrea’s military financing comes from its consulate in Toronto, which levies a dubious 2% income tax on members of the diaspora.
“According to a recent Royal Canadian Mounted Police assessment, which is consistent with the Monitoring Group’s own findings, refusal to pay the tax often results in denial of service or threats against, or harassment of, family members still residing in Eritrea, or possible arrest of the individual should they travel to Eritrea without paying the taxes alleged to be owing,” it said.
The report recounted the case of a man who had immigrated to Canada from Eritrea. Before he could become a permanent resident, Canadian immigration authorities required him to present a valid Eritrean passport.
Since he didn’t have one, he had to apply at the Eritrean consulate in Toronto. But the consulate told him he would first have to pay a tax, which included a contribution to the “Eritrean defence fund.”
‘Eritrean officials and party agents routinely resort to threats, intimidation and coercive measures in order to elicit payment’
When the man responded that he was willing to pay the 2% tax but not the money for the military budget, the consulate refused to renew his passport. He pleaded with Canadian immigration officials, arguing that he would be violating the UN arms embargo if he gave money to the Eritrean military, but they insisted he had to provide a valid passport. He “had no choice but to pay the entire sum,” the report said.
The UN Monitoring Group that wrote the report visited Canada as part of its investigation. The Nairobi-based committee, headed by Canadian Matt Bryden, investigates alleged violations of the UN Security Council arms embargo covering Somalia and Eritrea.
Eritrea has long sponsored a long list of armed groups in the region, notably Al Shabab in Somalia, which is aligned with al-Qaeda and has called for terrorist attacks in Canada. The latest report said Eritrea had backed off its support for Al Shabab in recent months due to international pressure.
The National Post revealed last November the Eritrean consulate in Toronto was collecting a 2% income tax from members of the Eritrean diaspora living in Canada — a levy some complained they had paid unwillingly and called extortion.
The UN report said the United Kingdom and Germany had told Eritrea to stop similar schemes operating in those countries. Canada has apparently launched an RCMP investigation and Eritrean-Canadians — many of whom fled repression in Eritrea — are increasingly challenging the fundraising, the report said.
“Eritrean officials and party agents routinely resort to threats, intimidation and coercive measures in order to elicit payment,” the report said. “The most common tactic is the denial of unrelated services until taxes have been paid.
“Other measures include harassment, intimidation and the threat of retribution in Eritrea: individuals who refuse to make payment may have their inheritance rights voided; their family members may be penalized; and they may be subject to detention or denial of an exit visa if they return to Eritrea.”
The report also said the ruling Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice party dominates some community centres and “may conceal their political nature in order to obtain financial assistance from their host governments. A PFDJ fundraising drive in Canada in early 2012 falsely presented itself as a campaign to assist Eritrean orphans and children, in potential violation of Canadian law.”
A PFDJ concert in Calgary on Feb. 11 was billed as a fundraiser for “orphans and children” but an RCMP report cited by the UN monitoring group said the money was actually handed to Eritrean government agents.