Eritrean diplomat asks: ‘Why is the Sudan conflict not an important issue’ for the UN?

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Updated 29 September 2023
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Eritrean diplomat asks: ‘Why is the Sudan conflict not an important issue’ for the UN?

  • Permanent Representative to UN Sophia Tesfamariam urges Africans to strengthen institutions, find own solutions in interview with Arab News
  • Discussed challenges facing continent, underscores need for reforms to make UN more effectual organization

NEW YORK CITY: Even as the 78th session of the UN General Assembly came to an end on Tuesday, it was clear that the curtain was not about to come down on the conversations about the tensions between the Global North and the Global South, the UN’s role in an emerging multipolar world order, and the stubborn persistence of conflicts and inequalities worldwide.

In a candid interview on the sidelines of the event in New York, Sophia Tesfamariam, the permanent representative of Eritrea to the UN, shared with Arab News her insights on the current state of affairs in the world, with a particular emphasis on the situation in violence-torn Sudan and the dynamics of African diplomacy.




Sophia Tesfamariam, Eritrea's ambassador to the UN, believes the internecine conflict in Sudan is not just due to the big egos of rival warlords but also a result of "external interventions, historical and more recent, often driven by military and economic interests." (Arab News photo)

A seasoned diplomat, she pulled no punches in discussing the myriad challenges facing her region and the wider world, while underscoring the need for reforms to make the UN a more effectual institution, for the forging of true partnerships that respect African voices, and for African nations to take charge of their own destinies.

Tesfamariam also offered her perspective on the origins and consequences of the conflict in Sudan, Eritrea’s neighbor to the west, which continues to escalate and shows no sign of abating amid continual reports of atrocities and human rights violations, including sexual violence and the disposal of corpses in mass graves.

FASTFACTS

Eritrea, which gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, occupies a strategically important area in the Horn of Africa.

The country’s representative to the UN, Sophia Tesfamariam, wants UN chief Antonio Guterres to be vocal about African issues.

The conflict in the country between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces has so far killed more than 4,000 people and wounded at least 12,000. It has displaced 5.3 million within Sudan and sent a human tide of refugees into neighboring countries, including Eritrea. In the western Darfur region, the scene of a genocidal campaign in the early 2000s, the conflict has morphed into ethnic violence, with the UN and rights groups reporting that the RSF and allied Arab militias are attacking African tribes and clans.




This picture taken on September 1, 2023 shows a view of destruction in a livestock market area in al-Fasher, the capital of Sudan's North Darfur state, amid the war between the Sudan Armed Forces and the paramilitary Rapid Security Forces. (AFP)

Tesfamariam described the shock that was felt in the region as Sudan descended into turmoil, saying it was something “that should have never happened” because it goes contrary to “the culture of the Sudanese people, their history, their background.”

She added: “For Sudanese people to have warring in the middle of their towns, the middle of the cities, this urban warfare is new. It’s not something that anybody can get used to.”




A handout picture taken on April 19, 2023 and obtained from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on April 21 shows a crowded ward at a hospital in El Fasher in Sudan's North Darfur region, where multiple people have been wounded in ongoing battles there. (Photo by Ali Shukur/MSF/AFP)

The crisis cannot be attributed solely to a battle of egos between the leaders of the two military forces, Tesfamariam said. Rather, she believes “this final act” is the result of the external interventions, historical and more recent, often driven by military and economic interests, that have hindered the ability of the Sudanese people to take charge of their own destiny and development since gaining independence.

Although the Sudanese people initiated the revolution that led to the overthrow of President Omar Bashir in April 2019, their aspirations were seemingly hijacked by various external interests, regional and international, which contributed to the ongoing clashes between factions within the country, according to Tesfamariam.




This picture taken on September 17, 2023 shows a raging fire at the Greater Nile Petroleum Oil Company Tower in Khartoum amid fighting between the regular army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. (AFP)

“And this, to me, looks like what triggered these two sides (the SAF and RSF) to finally see who gains an upper hand,” she said.

“If you’re going to peel back the pieces like an onion to see where the source of this conflict is, at the source of all this you will find intervention to be the culprit.”

The conflict, which began on April 15, came on top of an already dire humanitarian crisis that has been ravaging Sudan for decades. Things have become so desperate that about 25 million people need aid just to survive, but humanitarian agencies are hamstrung by lack of access, precarious conditions on the ground, and bureaucratic restrictions on their movement both into Sudan and then to the places where the needs are most acute.

Tesfamariam highlighted the historical relationship between her country and Sudan. There was a time, for example, when Sudan was a welcoming host of refugees from Eritrea, during the latter’s struggle for independence from Ethiopia, which lasted for decades and ended in 1991.




An Ethiopian woman walks carrying packages on her back in the border town of Metema in northwestern Ethiopia on August 1, 2023. (AFP/File Photo)

“We don’t do refugee camps,” she said. “These are Sudanese. This is their home. They can come any time. And if they need to take refuge in Eritrea today, the communities of Eritrea will welcome them as one of their own as they welcomed us when we were going to Sudan.

“So, the humanitarian situation for us is something of a historical necessity, almost, an opportunity to pay back the Sudanese people for what they did for us and are continuing to do for us all these years.”

As for the international community, Tesfamariam voiced disappointment about its failure to force the feuding factions to agree to a lasting truce, despite many attempts.

“24-hour ceasefire, 48-hour ceasefire — what do these mean?” she said. “How does it give you hope as a person living in a city to know that the guns are going to stop for 24 hours? And then what happens after 24 hours?

“So, these meaningless, endless ceasefire negotiations that go nowhere tell me the international community is not serious about bringing an end to the conflict in Sudan, and the warring parties are not serious in their commitments to their people.”




A convoy of the World Food Programme (WFP) are seen in the village of Erebti, Ethiopia, on June 9, 2022, on their way to Tigray, where hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes by war. (AFP/File Photo)

Tesfamariam reflected on what she described as “the total ineptitude and total failure” of the UN system, including the Security Council, where, in her view, double standards are now the order of the day.

“Where is the interest?” she asked. “There are people dying on the streets of Sudan. But you have spent many, many meetings, and even many General Assembly meetings, on Ukraine. Why is Sudan not an important issue for you?

“I think this total lack of interest says a lot about the UN and its structures, and the way it works and its failures and its inadequacies to resolve issues for which it has been created.

“(The total lack) of any credible action by the (Security) Council tells me that it may not be what we think it is — this governing body that can bring peace and security to all of us — and maybe they’re leaving us to our own devices. And that’s a dangerous way to go.

“What exactly is the UN here for? It makes me wonder. So this continuous call for reform of the Security Council, reform of the General Assembly and what it can do and what is viable to do, I think, will continue. And these will be the examples that we will raise in the future to say, ‘Where was the UN?’ And I am sure future generations will also be inquiring about that.”




Eritrea's UN envoy Sophia Tesfamariam laments “the total ineptitude and total failure” of the UN system in seeking a solution to the Sudan crisis. (AFP/File photo)

Tesfamariam called on Antonio Guterres, the UN’s secretary-general, to “pay attention” and be vocal about African issues.

“Right now, there is no voice for Africa,” she said. “Yes, it is good they tell you ‘African solutions for African problems.’ But when you come right down to it, if there’s no third party involved, nothing happens. Nothing moves.”

While there is indeed a growing sense that African issues should primarily be addressed by the African Union and sub-regional organizations, Tesfamariam said she has noticed a big discrepancy between theory and reality.

Despite the rhetoric of “African solutions for African problems,” she contended, the AU does not seem to be afforded the same weight or resources as its European counterparts, including the EU.




US Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should “pay attention” and be vocal about African issues, according to Eritrean Ambassador Tesfamariam. (AFP)

“Is the AU office here (at the UN) as fortified and given all the resources and attention and ability, and even the mandate, to interact with the UN the same way as the EU is?” she asked.

“I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s there. But can we just blame it on the EU or the UN and others for not taking an interest? What are Africans doing, also?”

She continued: “Why is it that when the AU meets every year, the first wave of people who come in, sit down to listen to your discussions are the Europeans and the Americans? Do you get the same respect and luxury to go and sit in the EU meetings in Europe to find out what they are discussing? No.

“So why do you continuously relegate yourself to these kind of positions for Africans? But when you cannot pay your own bills, when everybody else is funding every single project that you have all over the place, he who pays the piper picks the tune.

“How do you say no to the largesse that’s coming from EU, from the UN and other agencies that will dictate what should be done with your agency? Why does finance have to be the center of it all? I think if Africans come up with the solution, they will also find ways to finance the projects and initiatives they are trying to push.” 




Leaders of African Union member states join a family photo session during a recent assembly  in the city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Union needs to strengthen itself, grow more assertive and become a vocal advocate of African interests, says Eritrean Ambassador Sophia Tesfamariam (AFP/File photo)

To start with, according to Tesfamariam, the AU needs to strengthen itself, grow more assertive and become a vocal advocate of African interests. Next, she underscored the need for Africans to take responsibility for their own issues, strengthen regional and continental institutions, and find their own solutions to problems.

She criticized the current financial dependency in Africa on external entities, arguing that it often leads to the dictation of terms by donors that might not align with Africa’s interests.

“Africans themselves have got to take responsibility,” said Tesfamariam. “We need to start looking at ourselves, to do some soul-searching and say, why are we not doing more to strengthen our own regional and continental institutions?




A file photo shows Eritrea's UN Ambassador Sophia Tesfamariam speaking during a UN General Assembly meeting. (AFP/File photo)

“These institutions can’t just be a talking shop anymore. In practical terms, what are we doing to respond to the needs of our people, of our region? How do we form partnerships — not ‘who-gives-and-who-receives’ kind of partnerships but real partnerships, where we share interests and then do things together for the benefit of global security?”

While conceding that efforts to make a dent in the “entrenched” international architecture is still “a work in progress,” Tesfamariam added: “We are not giving up now.”

She pledged to continue to work to amplify Africa’s voice in international forums, taking heart from the fact that “over the years we’ve been able to find more like-minded people.”

She added: “I am not here alone. If I felt alone before, I now have a mutual grievance society at the UN whose members feel exactly the way Eritrea feels — that same frustration with the UN and its ineptitude in some of the things, and with our failure to coalesce as a group to make a difference, to bring change to some of the issues that we have raised here.”

 


Hamas armed wing says seven hostages killed in Gaza

Updated 8 sec ago
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Hamas armed wing says seven hostages killed in Gaza

  • Israeli officials have generally declined to respond to Hamas’ public messaging on the hostages, casting it as psychological warfare

CAIRO: Seven hostages who have been held in Gaza were killed as a result of the Israeli military’s bombardment of the enclave, Abu Ubaida, the spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing Al-Qassam brigades said on Friday.
He did not include details, like a timeline, backing up the claim.
The Al-Qassam brigades claimed that the number of hostages killed due to Israel’s military operations in Gaza has now exceeded 70 captives, Abu Ubaida added in a statement on Telegram.
Israeli officials have generally declined to respond to Hamas’ public messaging on the hostages, casting it as psychological warfare.
Israel’s military campaign follows Hamas militants’ killing of 1,200 people in southern Israel and the abduction of at least 250 on Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel has responded with a military assault on the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
During a week-long truce in late November, Hamas freed more than 100 Israeli and foreign hostages in exchange for Israel releasing about 240 Palestinian prisoners.
Hamas at the outset of the war threatened to execute hostages in retaliation for Israeli military strikes, and Israel has accused it of having executed at least two of the dead hostages recovered by the Israeli military.

 


Iranians vote in elections as conservatives expected to dominate

Updated 29 min 15 sec ago
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Iranians vote in elections as conservatives expected to dominate

  • Iran has also been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis
  • Fearing escalation, Iraq asked Iran to help rein in groups

TEHRAN: Iranians voted on Friday in elections for parliament and a key clerical body, amid fears of a low turnout and with conservatives expected to tighten their grip on power.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called for a strong turnout, was the first to cast his ballot. He vote at a polling station in central Tehran, state television reported.
The elections are the first in Iran since widespread protests erupted after the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, following her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.
Since the last elections, Iran has also been badly affected by international sanctions that have led to an economic crisis.
More than 61 million of Iran’s 85 million people are eligible to vote for members of parliament as well as the clerics of the Assembly of Experts, which selects Iran’s supreme leader.
There were fears of a low turnout, however, after a state TV poll found more than half of respondents were indifferent about the elections.
“Suppose that I vote: what would it change?” asked a 21-year-old from Kurdistan province who gave her name only as Hanna, for fear of reprisals. “They (the elected officials) do not respect their promises.”
Her comments were echoed by Hashem, a 32-year-old from the southwestern province of Khuzestan. “The problem with the elections is that people are not happy with this system because of the political and economic situation,” he said.
Another voter, Moradiani from south Tehran, said she would heed Khamenei’s call to vote.
“The leader said that participating in the elections is an obligation,” she said, “just as it is obligatory for us to pray.”
Polls closed at midnight (2030 GMT), after voting hours were extended several times during the day, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Local Fars news agency estimated the turnout to stand at “more than 40 percent.”
“The plan to boycott the elections, designed by foreign enemies and their internal supporters, failed with the participation of around 25 million people,” it said, without elaborating

Iran’s last parliamentary election in 2020 saw turnout of 42.57 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Hadi Tahan Nazif, spokesman for the Guardian Council which vets candidates, voiced optimism about Friday’s turnout, saying it was “even better” than four years ago.
Khamenei had on Friday appealed for people to vote, saying: “Onlookers from all over observe the affairs of our country; make (Iran’s) friends happy and ill-wishers disappointed.”
The supreme leader had previously warned that Iran’s “enemies want to see if the people are present.” Otherwise, he added, “they will threaten your security in one way or another.”
Those watching, he said, included the United States, “most of the Europeans, evil Zionists, capitalists and big companies.”
Iran considers the United States, its Western allies and Israel “enemies” of the state and accuses them of seeking to intervene in its internal affairs.
On the eve of the elections, the United States said they would be unfair.
“I have no expectation that Iran’s elections will be free and fair, and I suspect that a great number of Iranians have no expectation that those elections will be free and fair,” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.
Candidates for parliament are vetted by the Guardian Council, whose members are either appointed or approved by the supreme leader.
They have approved a total of 15,200 candidates, out of nearly 49,000 applicants, to run for seats in the 290-member parliament.
Conservatives and ultra-conservatives, who hold 232 out 290 seats in the 2020 parliament after reformist and moderate candidates were disqualified, are expected by analysts to dominate once again.
A coalition of parties called the Reform Front said it would not take part in “meaningless, non-competitive and ineffective elections.”

Former Iranian president, the reformist Mohammad Khatami, was quoted in February by the conservative Javan daily as saying that Iran was “very far from free and competitive elections.”
Conservatives are also expected to maintain a firm grip on the Assembly of Experts, an 88-member body exclusively made up of male Islamic scholars.
A total of 144 candidates are running but many hopefuls were disqualified, including moderate former president Hassan Rouhani.
The Israel-Hamas war has sent tensions in the region soaring, with pro-Tehran groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen all involved in clashes with either Israel or its Western allies.
The elections also take place amid crippling international sanctions and mounting economic hardship in Iran, where inflation has hovered around 50 percent and the rial has sharply depreciated against the dollar.
“The prices are extremely high and continue to increase,” Masoumeh, a 40-year-old housewife, told AFP in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar ahead of the vote.
“I don’t think that the representatives who will be elected will be able to improve this situation.”
 


Biden says ‘hoping’ for Gaza ceasefire deal by Ramadan

Updated 39 min 40 sec ago
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Biden says ‘hoping’ for Gaza ceasefire deal by Ramadan

  • Biden had said at the beginning of this week that he expected a deal by Monday for a six-week halt in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but has steadily walked back the timeline

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden said Friday he was “hoping” for a ceasefire deal in the Israel-Hamas conflict by the Muslim holy month of Ramadan but agreement was still not sealed.
“I’m hoping so, we’re still working real hard on it. We’re not there yet,” he told reporters at the White House when asked if he expected a deal by Ramadan, which will start on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.
“We’ll get there but we’re not there yet — we may not get there,” Biden added, without elaborating, as he headed to his helicopter to spend the weekend at the presidential Camp David retreat.
Biden had said at the beginning of this week that he expected a deal by Monday for a six-week halt in the fighting between Israel and Hamas, but has steadily walked back the timeline.
The 81-year-old Democrat announced earlier Friday that the United States would soon start airdropping aid to Gaza, a day after dozens of desperate Palestinians were killed rushing an aid convoy.
Biden has said the incident could complicate talks, but would not comment Friday on what was holding up a deal, adding: “I’m not going to tell you that because that’ll get involved in the negotiations.”

 


Tunisian judge releases union leader after one-day detention

Updated 02 March 2024
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Tunisian judge releases union leader after one-day detention

  • The UGTT, which has about 1 million members, has been a critical voice after the arrest of activists, businessmen, and journalists since President Kais Saied took charge of most powers in 2021 when he closed parliament

TUNIS: A judge has released a top official in Tunisia’s biggest labor union, one day after he was detained, the union said.
The Tunisian General Labor Union denounced the detention of Tahar Mezzi, saying it was a politically motivated attempt to undermine union rights.
Mezzi is the deputy secretary-general and the union’s head of the private sector.
He was detained two days before a huge protest called by the UGTT against what it said was a “violation of union rights and the disruption of social dialogue.”
A judicial official said the judge also ordered a travel ban on Mezzi.
The UGTT did not say on what grounds Mezzi was detained.
Tunisian authorities were not immediately available for comment.
Since last year, police have arrested at least four senior union officials.
The UGTT, which has about 1 million members, has been a critical voice after the arrest of activists, businessmen, and journalists since President  Kais Saied took charge of most powers in 2021 when he closed parliament.
But the voice of the union, which was widely seen as the biggest force in the country, has been significantly diminished since last year after the arrest of some officials.
Some political parties and activists have accused UGTT of inaction, retreating from its role, and choosing silence instead of confronting Saied’s authoritarian approach.
Saturday’s protest will be the first in months.

 


How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge

Updated 53 min 43 sec ago
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How Middle East and North African countries can rise to the climate challenge

  • Saudi Arabia and the UAE leveraging renewables and environmental policies to protect future growth and prosperity
  • Without action now, parts of the MENA region could be uninhabitable by 2050 owing to extreme temperatures and water scarcity

RIYADH/DUBAI: The Middle East and North Africa region is at a crossroads. As temperatures rise, water scarcity intensifies and desertification spreads, the region’s immense economic potential is at risk unless bold action is taken.

Fortunately, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar have been taking steps to adopt sources of renewable energy, not only to meet their own commitments to slashing carbon emissions, but to take a lead in the global energy transition.

The Sakaka Solar Plant project in Saudi Arabia's northern province of Jouf, spread over an area of 6 square kilometers, generates 940,000MWh electricity and supplies enough clean energy to power 75,000 households. (SPA)

This adoption of renewables has come hand in hand with a broader regional push to diversify economies away from oil, invest in carbon capture, storage and utilization, and roll out policies designed to protect natural habitats and expand green spaces.

There is a lot at stake for the MENA region, which is viewed as being uniquely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Indeed, several studies suggest parts of the region could be uninhabitable by 2050 owing to extreme temperatures and water scarcity.

In November and December last year, Dubai hosted the UN Climate Change Conference, COP28, at which states agreed to a historic set of measures to stop average global temperatures rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

People walk outside Expo City in Dubai on December 12, 2023 during the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP28. (AFP)

The agreement called for a “transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner ... so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science.”

It also called for the creation of a fund to help vulnerable countries pay for climate-related damage, and the publication of landmark assessments on the world’s progress in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Furthermore, it called for a tripling of renewable energy capacity worldwide by 2030, the speeding up of efforts to reduce coal use, and the adoption of technologies for carbon capture, storage and utilization.

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Although not all nations were satisfied with the text of the deal, it did mark an important step forward, building on the ambitions laid out in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Speaking at the Paris headquarters of the International Energy Agency on Feb. 20, COP28 President Sultan Al-Jaber said that meeting the goals agreed under the “UAE Consensus” would require “unprecedented action” by global stakeholders.

“Solidarity overcame polarization, inclusivity prevailed over finger-pointing and the spirit of partnership brought the best of humanity together,” he said of the COP28 summit.

“To keep this spirit alive and build on the momentum achieved at COP28, the UAE Consensus set a new direction and a clear course correction. We must now turn an unprecedented agreement into unprecedented action. Now is the time for all stakeholders to step up.”

COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber is seen on a screen as he speaks during a high-level round table on COP energy and climate commitments organized by the International Energy Agency at its headquarters in Paris on February 20, 2024. (AFP)

While many Western nations appear to be rolling back their climate commitments, the Middle East and North Africa region has risen to the challenge.

One bold example of this is the Saudi Green Initiative, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2021 to protect the Kingdom’s environment, conserve wildlife, and plant billions of trees, while enabling sustainable economic growth.

 

 

“Since its inception, SGI has implemented a range of initiatives to protect and conserve the Kingdom’s vital ecosystems,” Osama Ibrahim Faqeeha, deputy minister of environment, water and agriculture, told Arab News.

Osama Ibrahim Faqeeha

“For example, the National Greening Program, which is driving nationwide tree-planting efforts across Saudi Arabia and is underpinned by two key guiding principles: firstly, maintaining ecosystem balance, and secondly, utilizing renewable water resources.

“The program follows a nature-based regeneration approach to allow its ecosystems to flourish over time.”

Faqeeha said several dedicated initiatives under the SGI are being actioned to protect biodiversity hotspots through the designation of protected areas.

“SGI also aims to promote sustainability by raising awareness and reducing the adverse impact of economic sectors on the ecosystems, driving all these efforts by engaging all relevant stakeholders from the public, private, and third sectors,” he said.

Saudi Arabia's National Greening Program has been in full swing since 2021. (SPA)

Other significant steps the Kingdom has taken to safeguard biodiversity include the establishment of a dedicated national environmental framework, underpinned by the National Environment Law.

Several agencies have been established to carry out this work, including the National Center for Wildlife, National Center for Vegetation Cover, National Center for Environmental Compliance, and the National Center for Waste Management.

Under his ministry’s oversight, Faqeeha said these agencies “regulate and monitor critical environmental domains linked to biodiversity conservation, such as terrestrial, marine, and coastal ecosystems, land and vegetation cover, environmental media, waste management, (and) underscore the commitment to biodiversity conservation in the Kingdom.”

The picture is similar in the UAE. Under the General Environment Policy of 2021, authorities are working to preserve ecosystems, promote diversification and economic prosperity, integrate climate change and biodiversity considerations into various sectors, and support the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030.

Keeping its marine waters constantly clean is part the UAE's sustainability goals. (Supplied)

All these plans are crucial if countries in the Middle East and North Africa region hope to address the effects of climate change, which are already impacting precipitation patterns, causing water scarcity and harming agriculture, thereby threatening livelihoods and food security.

In the Gulf states, in particular, climate change is already contributing to an increase in the salinity of groundwater. According to a report by the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, Gulf water supplies will come under additional strain over the next 20 years due to the region’s booming population and the scarcity of rainfall.

Officials in these countries believe it is therefore critical to plan now in order to mitigate and adapt to these challenges if they are to protect future growth and prosperity.