Friday, July 27, 2012
Ottawa increasing diplomatic pressure on Eritrea after consulate ‘extortion’ reports | Canada | News | National Post
Jul 26, 2012 – 10:50 AM ET | Last Updated: Jul 26, 2012 5:37 PM ET
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick // Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images/Pool-Getty Images
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, left, and Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki.
TORONTO — The government has increased diplomatic pressure on Eritrea after the United Nations reported the African dictatorship was using its consulate in Toronto to fundraise for its military in violation of international sanctions.
John Baird, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, has called in the Eritrean consul over the allegations, and the Canadian embassy in Khartoum has been instructed to express Ottawa’s concerns to the regime of president Isaias Afewerki.
A senior federal official said the government was also consulting legal experts about possible further actions. “All options are on the table,” the official said, including closing Eritrea’s Toronto consulate, its only remaining diplomatic post in Canada.
The diplomatic activity followed the release Monday of a report by the panel that investigates violations of a UN Security Council arms embargo on Eritrea and Somalia. The report said Eritrea continued to violate the sanctions.
But it singled out the Eritrean consulate in Toronto, which it said was raising money for military purposes through a dubious 2% income tax levied on members of the Eritrean diaspora. Those who refused to pay sometimes found their family members in Eritrea were being subjected to threats and harassment as a result, it said.
Canada already warned Eritrean in January that the conduct of its consulate was a violation of protocols and “could be criminal.” Under Canadian law, it has been illegal since 2010 to provide financial assistance to the Eritrean military.
The sanctions were imposed because Eritrea had been supplying weapons, training and money to armed factions such as Al Shabab, the al-Qaeda-linked Somali Islamist group that has called for terrorist attacks in Canada.
Despite the arms embargo, UN investigators who visited Canada found the consulate in Toronto was collecting taxes specifically for the Eritrean military. The report also said the Eritrean regime was raising money in Canada through cultural events, such as a concert in Calgary in February. While the organizers claimed the money was for “orphans and children” it was actually handed to Eritrean government agents.
Eritrea is one of the world’s least developed countries. A one-party state with a population of six million, it was ranked last this year for press freedom. It has no formal economy and is dependent on the taxation of the diaspora for financing.
“The Monitoring Group has confirmed that the collection of such taxes routinely involves threats, harassment and intimidation against the individual concerned or relatives in Eritrea,” wrote the Nairobi-based panel, headed by Canadian Matt Bryden.
Eritrean-Canadians have become increasingly vocal in their opposition to the taxation, complaining they are being extorted into giving money to the same repressive regime they fled. The fundraising racket is a concern for Canada not only because of the allegedly unsavory tactics used by consulate officials but also due to Eritrea’s backing of armed groups like Al-Shabab. “Our government stands firmly against terrorist organizations and those who support them,” said Mr. Baird’s press secretary, Rick Roth.
While the UN report found Eritrea had recently curbed its assistance to Al Shabab due to increased international scrutiny, it said the regime continued to “harbor, train and equip” other armed groups. Senior Eritrean military officials have also been trafficking migrants and weapons into Sudan and the Middle East, it added. “Eritrea has failed to comply with Security Council resolutions and remains a destabilizing influence throughout much of the region.”
The Eritrean consul in Toronto, Semere Ghebremariam Micael, could not be reached for comment. Members of the Eritrean community were heartened by Mr. Baird’s scolding of the regime but said there was only one way to put an end to the abuses.
“The answer is clear: Close the Eritrean consulate in Toronto. That is the sponsor of extortion, fraudulent fundraisers and violator of Canadian laws and international obligations,” said Ghezae Hagos, a Winnipeg-based Eritrean activist.
Mr. Hagos and other Eritrean-Canadian rights campaigners have written to the Canada Border Services Agency to complain that members of the Eritrean military are planning to visit Toronto and Calgary in August to raise funds.