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Eritrea: An Open Letter to Mr. Louis Mazel, Charge d’Affaires United State Embassy Asmara, Eritrea (Source Asmarino.com)

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An Open Letter to Mr. Louis Mazelelsa_101202

Charge d’Affaires

United State Embassy Asmara, Eritrea

28 March 2016

Dear Mr. Louis Mazel,

I write in response to your comments following your visit to Bisha Mine in Eritrea: http://www.eastafro.com/2015/12/10/u-s-embassy-asmara-my-visit-to-the-bisha-mine/

I understand that you and your team visited Bisha Mine on November 21 -22, 2015. According to your account, it was an “eye opener” visit. Your team consisted of your deputy, along with her husband, dignitaries from the Embassies of Canada, Germany, South Africa, the United Kingdom, and included representatives from the European Union and UN offices in Asmara.

I am glad that you had an opportunity to visit Bisha Mine. What was the scope of this visit? Who organized the team of visitors? Why was it arranged at that particular moment in time? Are there perhaps some more questions to be answered? Yes, it was most certainly an “eye opener” for you and for the rest of the delegation. But what information was not included (or conveniently omitted)? Which questions were not asked?

On December 10, 2015, your comments related to your visit to Bisha Mine were disseminated by the various media- outlets in Eritrea. EastAfro.com displayed it on its website, which was how I had the chance to read it. Mr. Mazel, you were surprised and impressed to see a “modern mining establishment” of this scale in a poor and remote Eritrea. You have given Nevsun such congratulatory tributes as “employees have western protective gear and Safety Rules equaling anything you would find in Canada and the USA”; or “all of its employees are demobilized from National Service”, and “ it is planting 20,000 seedlings (all indigenous varieties) to replace trees that were removed in the open pit mining process; the company has pledged to plant 5 trees for every one tree removed”; or “one of the most modern health clinics in the country”, and other complimentary remarks. However, we at Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE) think there are some sides of the project which have been hidden from your eyes and that you might need to be aware of.

Mr. Mazel,

Bisha Mine is indeed one of the most modern gold mines in the world. SENET, the South African company which has the contract to mastermind this process, is expert in mineral technology and specifically gold-mining technology. The experts running the process are mostly from South Africa (although some staff are from Australia or Zimbabwe). Since it is “South African” mineral technology and expertise, one can safely say it is “African”, I suppose.

Bisha Mining Company was established by Nevsun, which owns 60% of shares, whilst ENAMCO owns the other 40 %. ENAMCO is the Eritrean Government’s own mining company. Bisha Mining company sub-contracts various parts of the mining process. For instance, SENET deals with the construction of the technical mineralogy factory; SEGEN deals with the infrastructure aspect; ABM Tailings deals with the tailings dam; BENAYE Security deals with the internal security of the mine; TRANSHORN deals with transport; food and food safety issues are handled by others, possibly Arab entrepreneurs, and the Eritrean army deals with the security of the area in general. Bisha Mining Company is responsible for overseeing SENET, SEGEN, BENAYE, TRANSHORN, ABM contractors and subcontractors.

Mr Mazel,

You were told that all the workers were or are on the BMSC payroll. What about those workers under SENET, SEGEN, TRANSHORN, BENAYE and ABM? There were more than 1,400 workers mentioned in the briefing. As to the statement that all workers at the mine had been issued with a demobilization certificate from Eritrean National Service, this is a matter which would be very difficult for BMSC to ensure. This assertion simply could not be proven, since the National Security Authority controls everything that happens in Bisha Mine, by creating its own security company—BENAYE—run and managed by cadres and combatants of the Eritrean armed forces. Their offices are inside the mine, right next to the operation manager’s.

SEGEN and BENAYE workers are actually mostly National Service recruits or non-demobilized combatants of the struggle era, or affiliated party /security members of the government. Their wages are based on that National Service military remuneration scale and are paid directly by the government. No doubt it was not even mentioned to you that there are different wage-scale systems at Bisha Mine. The wages a National Service employee gets are close to nil, and certainly no more than 3 to 5 dollars a month. BENAYE and TRANSHORN have various pay scales each of their own. The welfare system, accommodation, labour rights, etc. vary from firm to firm, with the worst being that of SEGEN and its harsh military employment situation. The employees whom you and your group saw were those who are allowed to use the Bisha cafeteria, the Bisha Clinic, the Bisha accommodation, all carefully choreographed by your host.

Mr. Mazel,

What you were not invited to see was the SEGEN camp, or at least observe the communities in Adarat village, and conditions there might have horrified you.

One of the points you raised is the tree planting. You stated that 20,000 seedlings are ready for planting and the plan is to plant at the ratio of 5:1, five trees for every tree cut down. Have you seen the planting site? Have you seen the waste rock area? The area of the diverted canal? The small hill past the present SENET camp adjacent to the canal? The roads towards Harena? Have you seen all the other areas disrupted by mining activities? Since Bisha started to implement the Social and Environmental Management Plan (SEMP) in 2011, when actual mining operations started, these areas were expected to be green with thousands of newly planted trees. It was expected to be like a forest. Have you seen it like that in real life? To our knowledge, the plan may have been like that, but the reality, the outcome, five years later, is way below expectations, perhaps at most 20% or 30% of the plan has been achieved.

In your comments you mentioned community benefits, like Bisha Mine helping to construct dams, canals, livestock watering points and even projects like women’s training, and projects creating social transformation. Which communities are you speaking about? There is a population of more than 30,000 directly affected in the surrounding villages of Mogoraib, Adarat, Jimel, Adi-Ibrihim, Tekreret, Agordat, Hambok and Takawda area.  With the short time you had, I do not think you visited all of those, except possibly the village where you drank coffee and the village which organized the dancing ceremony. The reality is that nothing significant has been done directly to benefit these communities by Bisha Mine or with Bisha Mine support. The reason for this might not be the responsibility of Bisha Mine, but the government policy. The Corporate and Social Responsibility Assessment of July 2013, and January 2014, highlights certain concepts which are of vital significance:

“Any discussion of human rights at the Bisha Mine take into account the national context of Eritrea, which present human rights challenges in terms of national security, international relations and development.”

“Nevsun also respects the philosophy of the government of Eritrea in which it believes that the entire country should benefit equally from the resources development, to ensure no one particular region is the recipient of disproportionate benefits.” [ibid.]

In response to the first point, one can safely say that the government of Eritrea uses and will use National Service recruits as the main work force in the name of “National Development”, “until a secure and peaceful environment appears in the Eritrean context”. Thus companies like SEGEN, BENAYE and TRANSHORN will keep National Service workers in their projects and prolonged National Service will remain the norm indefinitely until the government feels peace and security is attained. When might that be? No one knows.

Bisha Mine cannot be directly involved in community assistance until such security issues are resolved. Bisha Mine has to give the finance for these projects to the government and remain inactive, due to the “security” issues.

For a response to the second point, see the below document entitled “ERITREA: MINING AND HUMAN RIGHTS IMPACTS”.

Dear Mr. Mazel,

Had you made a deeper assessment or even sought independent first hand knowledge for your trip, you would easily have understood what the communities feel, if you had seen the contaminated wells of Adarat , the salty drilled wells of Mogoraib, the non-functional toilets on the roads, the shabby ‘pastoral schools’ of Adarat, the very dusty road that impacted the communities because of delayed asphalting work, the poor health issues as the records of Mogoraib Health Center, Tekreret Clinic, and Ad-Ibrihim Clinic show, you would have come to a different conclusion. The issues are varied and one can conclude that Bisha mine is responsible for many of these human rights abuses. (see the article referred to above).

There is one thing that becomes clear, Mr. Mazel, the company and the government have succeeded in preventing you from accurately observing and assessing the mine by

  • Wholly convincing you that there is so much to admire in this technological enterprise;
  • Exploiting the impact of what was probably your first experience of a modern gold mine;
  • Planning a tight schedule with little time, keeping you occupied with sight-seeing;
  • Giving you no time for individual or private assessment or even personal contact with unselected employees (without the presence of government minders).
  • Keeping you organized and busy in restricted areas by organizing coffee and dancing ceremonies, so that you had no time even to walk around to see the villages. This is a well-rehearsed tactic of the tour guides and organizers to carefully control the experiences of visitors.

The deliberate arrangement of a group visit includes a large number of diverse nationalities and so precludes close individual questioning of staff. Generally speaking, your trip was undoubtedly closely supervised, well organized and orchestrated, so that you should have no other thoughts except to applaud what you witnessed. You were as much the victim of an institutionalized visit as those who observe captive animals in a zoo which have been trained to reproduce the required programme of activities within their cages.

Dear Mr. Mazel,

You summed up your comment with the following paragraph, “I saw a western mining company that is creating jobs, investing in local people, mining responsibly, respecting human rights, acting as a good neighbour and contributing to national development in Eritrea. I hope this will become a model for future mines operating in Eritrea.”

The aim of our short response to your comments is to kindly ask you and the other dignitaries to have an objective mind. In doing so, we believe it is important that you look at the other side of the coin. Please read our report “Eritrea: Mining and Human Rights Impacts” which we have included in this letter.

Eritrea: Mining and Human Right Impacts:

Eritrea is a mineral-rich country, with potential resources spread across almost 60% of its land area. Presently, there are 18 companies working at different blocks or concessions, and are at various stages of the mining process in general, from exploration to extraction and mining. Some sites like Bisha Company have extracted gold and are now in the process of mining copper, with production of zinc soon to be added. The Bisha Company has been profiting since 2010. Others, like Zara Gold Mine, Asmara Project Gold Mine and Cululli Potash Mine will commence mining possibly in 2016. The economic prospects are very good. The question is who will benefit from these mines? The whole country? The government? The people? The companies? The workers? Or others?

In this report, we will see whether the communities impacted or the workers involved are benefiting or not, based on first hand information gathered by HRCE up to early 2014, and not much have changed since.

The environmental impacts of major significance, which the SEIA and SEMP have clearly identified, are the impacts of dust and smoke pollution, the impact of sound and vibration, pollution of water supply and water-related problems, leaching and chemical hazards, fuel and other spillage hazards and road traffic accidents, as well as unforeseen occurrences like “vandalism” or related happenings. The intention of this report is to see the gaps in managing some of these problems, as they impact communities, workers, and the natural environment in general. Please note that this is not a total review of the SEIA and SEMP documents.

HAZARD IMPACTS:

Human health is affected by each hazard— depending on the time-length and the dose of exposure in relation to the local host community. However, impacts on the natural environment and on the biological and social environment can be highly damaging as well; affecting not only health but also well-being of the local human and biological community. For instance, if a water well is polluted by acidic waste rock or acidic dust, the health of human beings, animals, plants and the soil will all be negatively impacted with the poison and become hostile to aquatic life and plant life. If the pollution is extensive and prolonged, it can even impact the economic life and the habitants of communities at large. Such is the extent of the Bisha area if one considers the vast expanse of plane land, surrounded by mountain chains, in this windy and dusty natural environment. All the villages identified in this study (Adarat, Mogoraib, Adi-Ibrihim, Tekreret and Hambok/Takawda) are highly affected by this type of hazard (dust/smoke, leaching and chemical hazards, sound pollution and road traffic accidents).

Let us take “ADARAT VILLAGE” and “MOGORAIB VILLAGE” as examples and discuss the impacts on them.

ADARAT VILLAGE:

Adarat is a village about 10 kms from Bisha Main Pit and 1-2 kms from Harena pit. The land is a flat plane with mountain ridges to the South East of the village. This plane or meadow is endowed with various shrubs, especially where streams flow. Besides helping human beings and animals with shade in this hot and dry area, vegetation also helps as a barrier to wind and dust. The plane is the pastoral land in which people in this community practice their traditional animal herding (with camels, donkeys and cattle). It is a semi-desert with little agriculture. The housing comprises straw-roofed huts with highly ventilated wood side-linings. Wind and dust easily penetrate inside. Thus people and materials inside the huts are exposed all the time to the effects of dust and air-borne volatile pollutants carried by the wind. The elementary school of three classes is built similarly to the local housing, has no benches and is dusty (Classified as “nomad school” — temporary). Thus students are exposed to dust and wind even when in class sessions. The four wells are not protected and are in the middle of the river bed. These are exposed to all types of pollutants. The main diseases encountered among the communities are diarrhea, respiratory infections, eye infections, skin infection and malnutrition.

What has Bisha done to avert this situation? The answer is almost nothing.

The Harena pit and the activities there are almost within their village, with consequent heavy impact.

In the area between Harena and Bisha (a distance of 8 kms) the meadow is bisected by a very dusty road for heavy transport, hampering the movement of animals and people to and from the mountains. This hampers the people’s traditional grazing practices, reducing the shade for animals and people using this road and increasing the distance to be travelled because of the road cutting. (There are plans to plant trees along this stretch of road, we are told; if this succeeds, it will be a long term solution in this semi-desert climate). Since the number of heavy trucks crisscrossing this road is very high, one can imagine the effect of accidents and dust (even if the mining authorities say “we do sprinkle water daily”, this is inadequate). Thus Adarat villagers are heavily affected by the mining activities and nothing significant has been done so far to help them.

Almost all of them are illiterate herders who lack the skills to work in the mine, so they have hardly benefitted from employment, except for a little temporary work given to some. The only local wealth of Adarat inhabitants is the gold, copper, zinc and silver in the ground, but Bisha Mining Company alone is profiting from this, whereas villagers get no benefit except the negative impact on their environment. To sum up, animal grazing, the livelihood of these villagers, has been negatively affected. Human beings, animals, and plants are all affected, with possible migration of wild animals out of the area and deterioration of the already poor health of the community. All these mining processes are altering the ecology and impacting the biodiversity of the area.

Adarat village is typical of the communities which extracting companies do visit, consult and speak with at the initial stages of the project, until they establish a strong hold and start extracting wealth. Once they reach that stage, they forget the village communities and discuss matters only with the higher authorities, as has happened in Bisha. They had a community liaison officer with a good approach, working with the local communities for the first 4 to 5 years. They even started to plough and sow sorghum (around 3 hectares) for the people, but unfortunately this failed, and was totally forgotten and direct community assistance by Bisha ceased.

There was even a big dispute and disagreement between Bisha Mine and the local communities. The issue was about the company paying money to local communities for the labour of digging up graves for more than 100 corpses and re-burying them in a site identified by the community. Bisha Mine company did not pay the community for more than 8 months, while the sub-zonal administrator continued to accuse Bisha management all this time. Intense discussion was going on, leaving anger and a negative feeling towards the administration and Bisha management. The sentiment is still strong in the hearts of the local people. This resentment is not made public simply because the local people are afraid of the government and the consequences. Ever since, Bisha Mining Company is working mainly with the government and has much less direct contact with local people. The community assistance package is nominal and is supposedly handled by the government, with the result that the directly impacted communities are spectators without significant benefit.

MOGORAIB VILLAGE:

Mogoraib is the administrative seat of the Sub-Zonal administration. It has had a well-built elementary school since 2014, a well-built Health Center with solar-powered cold chain and lighting. It started its services long before Bisha started to establish its camp, let alone its mining plant. It is a government-run service with no direct official link with the mine. The housing in Mogoraib is similar to Adarat, but the buildings have better plastic inside-lining. This is more protective from wind and dust, conducive to more moderate temperatures in the interior. There are few shops or bars. It is a road side village. People driving to Sawa military training camp stop by to rest and spend some money in the shops. The water system is a bore-hole water resource but frequent breakages and breakdowns compel people to use unsafe water from unprotected wells. The common diseases are similar to those of Adarat and the hazards are the same, from the same source. Mogoraib is 1km from Bisha Pit and a few kilometers from Bisha Camp. Again no significant community assistance was given by Bisha Mine to this village since 2014.

Some Eritrean Ministries, like Health and Education, run their respective services, such as installing and repairing solar power sources, etc. Bisha Mine did not do these. Bisha management says they established a training centre for skills development in early 2014, but it hasn’t trained or developed skilled workers from the villages, and apparently did not do so until the company ended gold extraction. Around 150 unskilled workers were hired temporarily by the tailings sub-contractor (ABM of Great Britain) to collect wood, stone etc. and help the levelling of the dam bed lining for a short period. There are some local people who are hired as cleaners, washers, gardeners, etc. But this hiring’s are not significant enough to claim that Bisha Mining company is really implementing community assistance programmes, as outlined in the SEMP.

The communities directly impacted by the mine have not received any significant benefit so far. The hazards the population are exposed to and the risks sustained are such that closer monitoring for long term effects should be considered. At present these communities are sustaining all the negative impacts and are watching from a distance as their ancestral land and its mineral wealth is extracted and loaded and removed, without any tangible benefit to themselves. Bisha is a typical and saddening example of a local community’s rights being violated, yet nobody is present to speak out or be the voice for these voiceless village communities. Similar or worse deteriorations of environmental and social conditions will no doubt occur at the projected three mines that will start soon. Action is urgently needed to prevent such abuses from the start.

WORKERS:

These workers are hired by different companies and under different terms.

  1. Workers hired by Bisha Share Company (both permanent professionals and temporary unskilled labourers mostly).
  2. Workers hired by SENET (a South African specialized sub-contracting company.)
  3. Other sub-contractors taking care of some projects. They are mostly sub- contracting from SENET, but some are sub-contracting directly from Bisha Mining Company. (e.g. SEGEN Company, BENAYE Security Company, TRANSHORN). The main human rights issue is with the workers in group (c), managed by various companies.

The first two groups of workers mentioned above (a & b) are either skilled professionals, including more than 78 expatriates, or local people mostly from other areas, including the bulk of Eritrean professionals. There are a few non-skilled workers in such areas as cleaning or gardening, who are hired from the local villages, but most are from towns like Agordat. The management, welfare, wages and safety conditions do vary dramatically. These workers total around 900.

The employment conditions for groups (a) and (b) conform to the standards set by the international labour laws for foreign-owned companies. Thus their terms and contract agreements adhere to the international standards. Most of the workers are expatriate professionals. They live in the well-furnished settlements in the camp; they have good cafeterias and are provided with nutritious foods daily, with laundry and ironing services. Transport and safety regulations are well established. Their salaries are paid in dollars for the expatriates, and in Nakfa (Erietrea’s currency) for the locals, and the company has its own scale too.

They have health care benefits, insurance for injury and other safety related issues and well formulated working hours, rest periods and transport services to Asmara when on leave. The difference between the expatriates and the locals is in the salary. The expatriates are paid in dollars and the locals in NaKfa. Since there was a high degree of inflation for the last 6 or more years, the market exchange value or buying power of Nakfa is very low, making it very poor in terms of satisfying the workers (e.g. 1 USD=50-54 Nakfa in the exchange rate on the black market, the dominant situation determining the price of commodities in Eritrea at present). Thus, with the accommodation, camp life, 24-hour electricity, 24-hour safety, clean drinking water, adequate washing, laundry and ironing services, health and welfare provision, transport and other benefits, standard labour rights, etc., these workers are well off and conditions compare well with the competitive international standards.

The issue in this mining company is with the workers in group (c). This group of workers are “owned” and managed by the Government since most are of National Service recruits or temporary workers, such as those unskilled laborers dispatched when the Tailings dam was being constructed— short term work or security workers selected, deployed and managed by “BENAYE”, a government security company that hires and pays in its own way.

Group C’s wages are nominal, about 3 to 10 dollars a month, based on the above exchange rate. Their service is endless, or for unlimited years. Their conditions of employment are exactly the opposite of the first group. They “live the lives of gorillas”, as others in the EPLF (military service) are compelled to.

This segregated group C, predominantly National Service recruits, is the one with the harsh and abusive working conditions, compared to the first two groups. Their wages are nominal, about 3 to 10 dollars a month, based on the above exchange rate. Their service is endless, or for unlimited years. Their conditions of employment are exactly the opposite of the first group.  They “live the lives of gorillas”, as others in the EPLF (military service) are compelled to.

They cannot use the Bisha Health services; their water supply is trucked-in from distant wells which are not subject to the same regulations as the water for those in the 1st group. They travel by open mining truck for transport (whereas the 1st group use air-conditioned buses). No food is supplied for them except sorghum flour delivered in short supply which they have to bake themselves in the traditional fashion reminiscent of the liberation war years (war with Ethiopia). In 2011, a heavy epidemic of diarrhea occurred among these National Service workers employed by SEGEN. The Public Health Center of Mogoribe was responsible at that time. In total more than 100 cases were handled by the bare-foot doctor in their camp and some by the Health Centre in Mogoribe and Agordat Hospital.

The SEGEN camp is very poorly equipped, without adequate facilities, even no utilities. The equipment for female workers is even worse. Yet it is a few meters’ distance from the well-established professionals/expatriates camp of Bisha Mine workers’ residence. Such an incomprehensible contrast within a very short distance between workers for the same mining process! The food for National Service recruits is so poor in nutrients that it compounds and aggravates the incidence of diarrhea. Why is there such a difference within a 300-400-metre distance between these two camps? Such negligent, military-type handling of unpaid workers with poor and segregated services and punishments is one of the worst types of abuse of human rights being practiced in Bisha Mine.

The above two conditions are typical examples of contrasts to be found in the mining culture in the present-day Eritrea. Besides these, there are grave concerns about long-term effects on certain specific categories of workers which need to be seriously monitored from the start of their work at the mine. These are workers who spend long working hours in the mine pits exposed to chemicals and possibly radio- active matter, workers exposed to extended periods of running the 24 power generators, exposed to fuel exhaust, chemical handling and high volume sound vibrations for long hours daily, even if they are provided with the necessary safety equipment according to international guidelines. Thus there is always the need for in-depth follow-up and study as these specified workers spend more time in high-risk work environment. According to observations, many quit after working for short periods at the mine, a statistic which has to be assessed by independent studies. So far, nobody is considering this endangered target group and the need for action now.

The above two conditions are typical examples of contrasts to be found in the mining culture in the present-day Eritrea. Besides these, there are grave concerns about long-term effects on certain specific categories of workers which need to be seriously monitored from the start of their work at the mine. These are workers who spend long working hours in the mine pits exposed to chemicals and possibly radioactive matter, workers exposed to extended periods of running the 24 power generators, exposed to fuel exhaust, chemical handling and high volume sound vibrations for long hours daily, even if they are provided with the necessary safety equipment according to international guidelines. Thus there is always the need for in-depth follow-up and study as these specified workers spend more time in a high-risk work environment. According to observations, many quit after working for short periods at the mine, a statistic which has to be assessed by independent studies. So far, nobody is considering this endangered target group and the need for action now.

The Tailings Dam collects chemical wastes which are the by-products of the gold, copper and zinc extraction processes. With the gold it is mostly cyanide poison as a waste. With the copper flotation work, some more chemicals which are toxic to human, animal and plant life and soil pollutants, like sulfuric acid, nitric acid etc.. have been deposited. Presently some reptiles (lizards), birds and rarely some other animals are the victims (the area is fenced off). There is an urgent need to assess the very high risk to which the workers and the communities and the Mogoribe environment will be exposed. The dam was supposed to be extended to handle copper and zinc extraction process wastes. Its size was to be greatly increased to accommodate all the work. Hence, the need for SEGEN to build the infrastructure using National Service recruits. Here again the issue of quality, strength and design of the structure is of paramount importance to cope with any natural occurrence, as well as “vandalism”. The risks will be great. Bisha Mine has learnt its lesson with safety risks which it later called acts of “vandalism”. Excuses for ignoring these risks must not be tolerated.

In conclusion, the likely effects on the communities directly impacted by the mine can be fairly well assessed by looking at the experiences of Adarat and Mogoribe villages. Even though the SEIA and SEMP documents were written and approved by the government, the practical implementation, especially in regard to community assistance, community health, community development issues, is lagging behind the planned procedures, reflecting the lack of seriousness of all the state actors and mining authorities in implementing plans to benefit these communities.

The issue of employment of workers, especially of National Service (SEGEN) workers, temporary unskilled local people and BENAYE (Security Company) workers, remains a matter of grave concern. The human rights abuses are so obvious that this needs urgent action or else one will see slavery permanently nurtured in the mining culture of Eritrea. What will be the situation in the next generation of mines, such as Culluli, Zara and Asmara mines?

Nevsun is reputed to be one of the richest gold mining companies in the world, with a working capital of more than $498.6m as of July 2015, plus its other assets. A substantial part of these profits come from Bisha Mine. Yet it is nurturing HUMAN SLAVERY in Bisha.

As you are based in Asmara, Eritrea, you yourself know that currently the Eritrean people do not have an adequate electricity supply, water, food, medicine, and other basic necessities.

Based on our assessment, and all the facts on the ground, the two beneficiaries of the Bisha Mine Project are the Eritrean regime and Nevsun Resources Ltd. Except President Isaias Afewerki and his trusted financial handlers no one knows where the revenue from Bisha Mine goes to and how it is spent. There is no transparency and no accountability.

Anybody daring to express resentment at their working conditions, conditions in effect overseen by a government that routinely imprisons, tortures and executes anyone who dares to dissent against the dictatorial rule of Isaias Afewerki, would have been punished in the usual manner. This same government imposes military service which is nominally 18 months but is just as likely to be for indefinite period. Most who are in the military service, able-bodied or otherwise, are no better off than prisoners. A cursory examination of the many United Nations Human Rights reports on Eritrea will confirm that Eritrea’s human rights record is only better than North Korea’s. Yes, the world’s second-worst human rights abusers are the government that oversees the working conditions of mining workers who in reality are treated little better than slaves. The government will pay lip service to SEMP and SEIA conditions but will not seriously intend to implement them.

Why should such a government care for anything other than getting as much profit as possible out of the mines, for the government itself, not for the people? The country is riddled with agricultural plans that have come to nothing and been abandoned, overseen by the inexperienced hands of Afewerki himself, an expert in nothing but repression and torture and filling his own coffers. The plans outlined in the 2011 SEMP have been largely abandoned just as human rights have been abandoned in the rest of the country. But let’s continue with the cosmetic process of imaging what they allow you to see is anything but a choreographed fantasy for visitors whose good opinion they might seek for financial purposes.

What is the future outlook? More mines leading to more abuse and more slavery. More migrants attempting to leave the country (which is not an option, the government ordering its soldiers to shoot Eritreans trying to leave Eritrea on sight) leading to more abuse from people smugglers, and from unwelcoming countries, even if harsh travelling conditions are survived. The mining is producing more migrants and more unrest. More money for Nevsun and Afewerki, and an even bleaker future for the average Eritrean citizen.

Is this what you saw, Mr. Mazel? Or did you believe the smokescreen?

Yours sincerely

Elizabeth Chyrum

Director

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea

[email protected]

www.hrc-eritrea.org

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