Perpetual turbulence in ever-widening flashpoints of conflict has become the New Normal in our contemporary times. What is sometimes cynically referred to, or termed as, “the arc of crisis” is ensnaring ever wider regions and populations in Central Europe, the Middle East as well as North and Eastern Africa in avoidable and catastrophic wars. The human and economic costs are staggering. Millions of people remain displaced internally. Yet millions of people are taking extreme risks and seeking refuge in Europe and elsewhere at a time when cultural retrenchment and anti-immigrant sentiments are on the rise fuelled, as they are, by financial and other crises in the host countries.
The spiraling global crises and the proliferation of wars have, surely, local dimensions and causes. But more than often, the multiple and incessant wars that are raging in these preoccupying times are fueled and exacerbated by over-arching external agendas and interests.
In a period whose hallmark is the acute lack of global leadership and in which established pillars and principles of international security architecture have and continue to be recklessly eroded and compromised, imperial hubris has assumed a paramount and unassailable position with all its perilous consequences to enduring international peace and stability.
International law is subordinated and misconstrued to serve the dictates and predilections of certain powers. It can no longer serve as a deterrent against willful wars of aggression and domination under various pretexts and labels.
The gross violation of international law, the denial of justice and the lack of guarantees to human rights and security are not only perpetrated callously and with impunity, but they are also on the increase.
Established norms and principles of international law on the sovereignty of peoples and nations are no longer the inalienable standards that govern and regulate the conduct and behavior of States in their international and bilateral ties. This trend is contrary to cardinal principles “on the maintenance of international peace; the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples; the sovereign equality of all Member States; and, the obligation of Member States to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State” enshrined in Articles 1.1., 1.2., as well as 2.1. and 2.4 of the UN Charter. These principles are also enunciated in other continental/regional associations. Yet, as amply corroborated by several events in our contemporary times, certain powers have long arrogated the authority to themselves to tamper with and circumvent these inalienable principles and rights.
International law is squarely anchored on the sovereignty of peoples and States. Independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity are sacrosanct rights of peoples. Wanton violation of these norms and principles can only be a recipe for and lead to destructive and avoidable wars. Unfortunately, these perplexing trends are on the ascent in these turbulent times.
Another related and controversial question pertains to the choice of a country’s political system. Who are the real stakeholders; who has the fundamental right or authority to decide and determine these matters? This is not, of course, a matter of simple philosophical or academic discourse. Indeed, the manner in which this pivotal question is perceived and advocated has serious implications on the international security architecture, on the conduct of global and regional actors and on the matrix of Intra-State ties and relations.
The central theme here is that there are no universal models and golden standards for political systems, no one-size-fits-all generic prescriptions, that can be dictated to all nations and peoples at all times.
This is a matter of sovereign rights and independent political choices for the people concerned. No external power or institution has the moral high ground, right or mandate to select and impose a certain type of political system on another nation and people. Indeed the conjecture is better amplified if we digress somewhat from a purely abstract and theoretical discourse to scrutinize the diversity of the political landscape that prevails in our world today.
In this regard, would it be appropriate to question the rationality and functionality of Royal structures in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and a host of other post-industrial western nations? And what about the Kingdoms in Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, Jordan and Morocco? Who condones the appropriateness of these political systems? Likewise, who signs the bill of constitutional health for the political structure of a Sultanate in Oman, and for Emirates in Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE? Are there universal criteria to categorize and baptize nations in Republican, Federal or Confederal configurations? Who prescribes a “socialist” or “capitalist” political-economic system in a given country? How are one-party or multi-party States determined? Why is plurality confined to a two-party structure in the United States? And who has certified the People’s Republic of China to be a one-party State? The list is long.
But the central message is the same. These are matters of sovereign right and choice for the people concerned. External partners do not have the prerogative to prescribe political structures for big or small, wealthy or poor nations. Whether the intention is benign or sinister is in fact immaterial and irrelevant. Digression from this practice will only compromise principles of peaceful coexistence and stoke perpetual chaos and conflict.
The struggle of the Eritrean people in the context of peoples’ rights
The people of Eritrea have a long history of defiance against colonial rule and ardent patriotism. This proud history of fighting for their inalienable right spans several centuries and pre-dates the formation of States in our region with their current boundaries and political configurations. The checkered and documented history of challenging external forces of occupation and domination includes epic battles against marauding armies of feudal chieftains in the region as well as resistance against Egyptian and Ottoman incursions from the 15th until the 19th centuries.
This fine tradition of resistance and heroism continued in the period of Italian colonialism, when the latter occupied and set the boundaries of present-day Eritrea. Many Eritrean heroes who challenged colonial rule were summarily executed or imprisoned for life in desolate dungeons.
Eritrean heroes, such as Zerai Derres, who unsheathed his sword in Rome against the racist desecration of his native land, and other heroes who threw bombs at and wounded Italian General Graziani in Addis Abeba under similar circumstances are some of the instances of unparalleled determination and sacrifice that Eritrea’s best sons and daughters were prepared to pay for the dignity of their nation and people.
Italian colonialism in Eritrea came to an end in 1941 after the defeat of Italy by the Allied Forces. At the time, the people of Eritrea demonstrated, in unequivocal terms, their desire for full independence and the restoration of their sovereignty. The sacrosanct rights of the Eritrean people to regain their birth rights was how¬ever flagrantly violated and compromised by the United States.
The US Administration felt that “its strategic interests were not compatible with the independence of Eritrea”. In the event, it employed its diplomatic and political clout to stifle the fundamental rights of the Eritrean people.
This crime stands out as one of the most blatant violations of international law and the wanton trampling of peoples’ rights in the 20th century as well as in modern Eritrean history. In this respect, the United States bears primary responsibility for the turmoil that ensued in our region for the next 50 years and for all the depredations suffered by this small nation.
The people of Eritrea did not succumb to the machinations of the United States and the denial of their rights. For twenty years after the imposition of a bogus federal arrangement with Ethiopia against their expressed wishes, the people of Eritrea carried out exemplary and peaceful resistance against international injustices and for the full restoration of their inalienable rights.
This patient peaceful struggle was conducted in spite of intense repression and concerted subterfuges to undermine their national unity, sow dispersion among their ranks, and, silence their moral voice.
Finally, when all their legitimate and peaceful protests to regain their national rights were sup¬pressed with brute force, the people of Eritrea had no option but to take up arms. Thus two decades after the egregious denial of their independence, the people of Eritrea launched the war for national liberation and independence on September 1st 1961.
The long decades of armed struggle were again extremely difficult years when the people of Eritrea had to face, virtually single-handedly, the onslaught of the occupying proxy power that was supported, in turns, by the two super-powers.
At it happened, the United States and its allies extended extensive military, diplomatic and political support to Ethiopia from 1961 until 1974. The former USSR and its allies followed suit to extend similar and all-rounded succor to Ethiopia thereafter until the demise of colonial rule in Eritrea in 1991.
In brief, huge war machineries were deployed and marshaled against a small people and its inalienable birth rights for thirty long years without moral qualms and with global and regional institutions that purportedly uphold peoples’ and individual human rights raising no voice of opposition to the unconscionable acts of the super powers and their allies.
But the people of Eritrea did not succumb to superior and over¬whelming force. They persisted in conducting their legitimate and just struggle for their national and human rights with unparalleled dedication and determination.
And finally, they achieved a historic victory that will remain always engraved in the annals of popular resistance by vanquishing the forces of occupation and domination.
Although the people of Eritrea had liberated all their land through their indomitable armed struggle, they still chose a judicious path of strict adherence to due processes of international law.
Thus, instead of promptly announcing a unilateral declaration of independence, they waited patiently for two years to assert in 1993 their rights to full independence and sovereignty through a legal referendum.
This was again another illustrious landmark of impeccable political culture in the exercise of fundamental principles of international law on peoples’ rights.
The people of Eritrea soon set out to build, in all earnestness, a truly independent, cohesive, and, sovereign nation that does not brook domination, exploitation, slavery, external interference and subversion. These strong convictions and ideals did not emanate only from the huge and precious sacrifices that the people of Eritrea had paid in half a century of struggle.
They also reflected and were deeply anchored on the rich political traditions that were nurtured throughout their long history of struggle spanning for two generations.
Broad perspective from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs