On December 23, 2009, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1907, imposing a sanctions regime against Eritrea. The pretexts for the sanctions were Eritrea’s alleged support for Al-Shabaab, a Somali terrorist group, and its dispute with neighbouring Djibouti. Shortly thereafter, in 2011, the sanctions were expanded through Resolution 2023 (2011), adopted by the Security Council during its 6674th meeting, held on December 5, 2011.
Setting aside the considerable issue of the dubious legitimacy or basis for the original adoption of sanctions against Eritrea, it is starkly apparent that their continued imposition is essentially illegitimate. Simply, the pretexts for them are non-existent. In a statement made at the United Nations (UN) on September 27, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for Somalia, Michael Keating, stated that “I have seen no evidence of Eritrea supporting Al-Shabaab.”
This came only days after a public statement by Qatar’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs H.E. Sultan bin Saad Al Muraikhi explaining how efforts by Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani led to the “resolution of the border conflict between Djibouti and Eritrea, achieving a fair and peaceful settlement based on principles of good neighborliness and mutual respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty within the internationally recognized borders and the release of all Djiboutian prisoners of war.”
Importantly, these are not breaking developments. Over several years, a long series of UN Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (UN SEMG) reports have consistently concluded that they have found “no evidence of Eritrea’s support for Al-Shabaab,” while in 2010 Eritrea and Djibouti signed a comprehensive agreement entrusting Qatar to play a mediating role, quickly followed by a process of implementation. According to Herman Cohen, former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, the sanctions on Eritrea have “no basis in fact,” are a case of “bullying,” and while 14 Security Council members wanted to lift the sanctions in 2014, the US vetoed the move.
It is quite telling that although the US recently appointed a new Charge d’Affaires in Eritrea, accompanied by a series of platitudes, on September 29, mere days after the arrival of the new Charge d’Affaires in Asmara, the US updated unilateral sanctions against Eritrea in the US Federal Register.
The continued illegitimate sanctions against Eritrea, largely due to pressure from the US and several partners, add to the long list of general criticisms and troubling questions often raised about the use, legitimacy, poor execution, and overall effectiveness of international sanctions. In fact, many studies have found the success rate of sanctions to be poor (Pape 1997; Baldwin and Pape 1998; Allen 2005; CFR 2006; Spadoni 2010).
In a 2012 interview with Al-Jazeera Eritrean officials disclosed that they had now reduced the training and funding they had previously provided to Al-Shabaab the Somalian affiliate of Al-Qaeeda.