Italy hopes to ‘rekindle trust’ with Eritrea

Italy's deputy foreign minister has visited Eritrea to discuss greater cooperation on areas such as migration in what was the first government visit to the country since 1997.

Italy hopes to 'rekindle trust' with Eritrea
A man in Sicily waves an Eritrean flag during a ceremony commemorating migrants who drowned off the Italian coast in October. Photo: Marcello Paternostro/AFP

Lapo Pistelli held talks with Osman Saleh, Eritrea’s foreign minister, before meeting with President Isaias Afewerki and his advisor, the Italian foreign ministry said in a statement.

Pistelli said the visit aimed at fostering greater cooperation between the two countries, “given that many of the security and migration problems that affect Italy actually originate in this part of the region.”

While Eritreans do not make up the largest group of immigrants to Italy, greater attention has been placed on the country in recent months due to a sharp uptick in the number of boat migrants to Italy from the Horn of Africa.

The majority of the 366 people who died in a shipwreck in October off the Italian coast were fleeing Eritrea, a country where “human rights conditions remain dismal” according to Human Rights Watch.

SEE ALSO: Eritrean refugees rally in Rome after tragedy

Many more Eritreans continue to cross the Mediterranean by boat, along with others from Syria, Somalia and elsewhere. At least 40 people have died attempting the dangerous sea journey to Italy over the past week, with 75 more reported missing yesterday.

Speaking about his visit to the Eritrean capital, Asmara, Pistelli said he wanted to “try to foster Eritrea’s full reinstatement as a responsible actor and key member of the international community in the stabilization of this region”.

The deputy minister’s visit showed a “new willingness to engage”, he said, which had the potential to “rekindle the mutual trust” between Eritrea and Italy that has been absent for “too many decades”.

The last visit to Eritrea by a member of the Italian government was in 1997, when the then president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro travelled to the country. 

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Swedish rights group reports Eritrea to police for ‘torture and kidnapping’

Sweden's chapter of Reporters Without Borders has filed a complaint accusing Eritrea's regime of human rights abuses over the imprisonment of Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak in 2001.

Swedish rights group reports Eritrea to police for 'torture and kidnapping'
A sign from a September 2011 demonstration for Dawit Isaak's release
The complaint was directed at Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and seven other high ranking political leaders, including Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed.
Handed over to Swedish police by RSF and Isaak's brother, the complaint accused them of “crimes against humanity, enforced disappearance, torture and kidnapping”.
It was also signed by human rights advocates like Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
On September 23, 2001, Isaak was arrested shortly after the Eritrean newspaper he founded, Setit, published articles demanding political reforms.   
According to RSF, he and his colleagues detained at the same time are now the journalists who have been imprisoned the longest in the world.
Isaak had fled to Sweden in 1987 during Eritrea's struggle against Ethiopia which eventually led to independence in 1993. He returned in 2001 to help shape the media landscape.
RSF ranks Eritrea as the world's third most repressive country when it comes to press freedom, behind North Korea and Turkmenistan.
Similar complaints have been filed before, including in 2014 when a new law took effect in Sweden enabling the prosecution for such crimes even if committed elsewhere in the world.
The prosecutor-general at the time concluded that while there were grounds to suspect a crime and open an investigation, doing so “would diminish the possibility that Dawit Isaak would be freed.”
Bjorn Tunback, coordinator for RSF Sweden's work on the Dawit Isaak case, said they hoped this time would be different after Foreign Minister Ann Linde last year said that despite repeated calls for Isaak's release “no clear changes are yet to be noted in Eritrea.”
Tunback said the minister's statements indicated that diplomatic channels had been exhausted.
“Diplomacy has its course, but when that doesn't lead anywhere, there is also the legal route,” Tunback told AFP.
“The law is there to protect individuals… and that is what we're testing now.”