Fresh evidence that British Eritreans face illegal tax extortion

Summary:  Eritrean nationals in the UK, as well as individuals of Eritrean descent, are being forced to pay an illegal 2% tax levied on all their UK earnings by the Eritrean government. This is in addition to the taxes they pay in Britain. Despite assurances from the British Government that this has been stopped secretly filmed evidence reveals that this practice continues to be routine.  This video evidence is supported by official receipts from the Eritrean embassy.

The extortion is forced on the Eritrean diaspora despite a UN Security Council resolution forbidding it – a resolution which the British government supports. UN Resolution 2023 (2011) expanded sanctions against Eritrea to include the “diaspora tax”, a 2 per cent income tax levied on Eritrean nationals living abroad.[1] The resolution required Eritrea to cease using threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means to force its nationals and, indeed, other individuals of Eritrean descent to pay taxes to the Eritrean government.

The Eritrean community in the UK calls for the British government to end its toleration of the Eritrean Embassy’s flouting of official British policy and United Nations resolutions. The time to act is now – follow the lead of the Canadian government and to expel the Eritrean ambassador until this illegal taxation ends!

Contents

1. The fresh evidence. 2

2. British government policy towards Eritrea. 4

3. British government acknowledgement of Eritrean human rights violations. 6

3. International action to halt Eritrean double taxation – the Canadian example. 9

4. Conclusion. 10

5. Appendices. 12

Appendix 1 Verbatim transcript of extortion at Eritrean Embassy,  18 December 2013. 12

Appendix 2  Documentary evidence of the levying of the diaspora tax after May 2011. 15

Appendix 3    Eritrea openly flouts UN Security Council resolution. 16

Appendix 4. 19

1. The fresh evidence

Simon Tesfamariam has lived in Britain since the early 1990s and has dual British and Eritrean citizenship. On the morning of the 18th of December 2013 he went to the Eritrean Embassy at 96 White Lion St, London N1 9PF, as every ordinary Eritrean must, to get official clearance to be allowed to have any dealings in Eritrea or with the Eritrean government.

To be ‘cleared’ Eritreans must prove they have paid a 2% tax on all their earnings in the UK to the Eritrean government. This has to be paid from the moment they are in employment and – as the transcript of Mr Tesfamariam interview indicates – it can be backdated over many years. Without an Eritrean tax certificate it is impossible to get a passport renewed, or an entry or exit visa.  It is also impossible to undertake a number of unofficial transactions. For example, Eritreans must prove they have paid the tax before they can remit money back to their families or simply to send them old clothes. No business can be opened or closed, no license can be obtained without a tax certificate from the Eritrean authorities.

Eritreans in this country have continued to face demands from the London Embassy for the tax to be paid, despite assurances from the British authorities that these demands will be stopped. Wearing a secret camera during his visit Mr Tesfamariam recorded what took place. The full translation of his conversation is provided [Appendix 1] but here is the key exchange, which was captured on video.

EE What was your address when you last paid?
ST When I paid? 90 Guinness court I think.
EE Since then, there hasn’t been any payment.
ST Well it’s probably because I was still a student then. I was told to pay for my ID card.
EE Yes, you paid for ID card. You were underage so 2% tax was not applicable. Bring your ID.
ST From when do I need to pay according to this?
EE OK…. The year you were born is 1978, right?
ST Yes.
                  (Embassy staff turns to speak to someone else)
                  Coming back to ST:
EE In 1996, you turned 18 years old. You have not paid anything since 1996. If you were a student, you have to bring proof of that.
ST Well I was a student until 2001, until I finished university.
EE You have to bring proof if you were in college or university.
ST So I have to bring proof that I finished university?
EE OK, You know you were under age until 1996 and then from then until 2001, in education. Proof is needed or if you were under social services and so on.
ST Well, I was under social services from 1995-1997 but not after that. I was living in a children’s home.
EE OK from 1996-2004 what were you doing? Were you working, studying, you have to bring proof. Anyway even if you were a student, £50/year is paid by everyone. For the rest, until 2013 you have to provide proof of income.Before 1996, you don’t need to. However, after and until 2013 you need to bring a payslip, a P60 or anything that indicates your income. When you come with all these documents, then you can pay the 2% tax.
ST Do I have to pay it all at once?
EE No you don’t have to pay it all at once; you can break it down and pay in Eritrea.
ST So do I have to pay it in Eritrea?
EE Yes you have to pay it in Eritrea.
ST But do I have to go myself? How can I?
EE You can send it.
ST OK, so it  has to be paid there in pounds?
EE Yes in pounds.
EE However if you have anything to do there any query, e.g  Power of Attorney (wekelena),  or anything to do there, you will have to pay it all and get clearance. You will not be able to do anything without clearance. However, If you have no query or nothing to do, then you can pay it little by little.
ST But I don’t get clearance until everything is clear.
EE Yes, clear.

Simon Tesfamariam’s experience is common. Every Eritrean resident abroad must pay the illegal 2% tax. Documentary evidence has also been obtained which shows that the tax has been paid since the UK government’s assurance that it had instructed the Eritrean embassy to end the practice in 2011. The most recent receipt is dated 18 December 2012. [See Appendix 2]

2. British government policy towards Eritrea

The British government supported a series of UN resolutions imposing sanctions against Eritrea.[2] The UK assured the UN that it had taken steps in 2011 to ensure that the diaspora tax was not being collected in the UK. This is indicated in the following extract from a report by the UN Monitoring Group, on the implementation of resolutions relating to Eritrea and Somalia.[3]

“On 20 May 2011, the Government of the United Kingdom notified the Eritrean authorities that, since aspects of the collection of the two per cent tax may be unlawful and in breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, until it was demonstrated otherwise, the Eritrean embassy should suspend, immediately and in full, all activities relating to the collection of the tax.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office says it reminded the Eritrean ambassador as recently as December 2012 that the diaspora tax was illegal.  This was made clear by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister in the House of Lords, Baroness Warsi, in reply to this question from Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead.[4]

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the provisions of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2023 (2011) calling for an end to the tax imposed by Eritrea on the Eritrean Diaspora. [HL5787]

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi):

“The UK supported UN Security Council Resolution 2023 which condemned Eritrea’s use of the diaspora tax to destabilise the Horn of Africa region and decided that Eritrea should cease using illicit means to collect the tax. We are aware of allegations over the use of harassment to collect revenue from members of the Eritrean diaspora in the UK.

On 20 December 2012, Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials raised these concerns with the Eritrean ambassador and reminded him of UN SCR 2023.”

Despite these assurances and repeated warnings, it is clear that the British government’s policy is being continually flouted by the Eritrean embassy in London.

The British government is aware that this is taking place. In its most recent report to the UN Security Council, in July 2013, the UN Monitoring Group had this to say about the diaspora tax: “…the Group has obtained receipts, dated 2012 and 2013, which document taxation by the Government of Eritrea of its citizens living in the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden and Canada, and it has been reliably informed by dozens of Eritrean citizens living in the diaspora of taxes being levied in other countries with significant Eritrean populations.”[5]

It is particularly worrying that Britain has failed to provide the Monitoring Group with any indication of the steps taken to implement resolution 2023 (2011), which the UK supported.[6]

 

 3. British government acknowledgement of Eritrean human rights violations

Eritrea remains among the most repressive states in the world. It has been described as the “North Korea of Africa.”[7]

The country allows no freedom of speech, no opposition parties of any kind, has no functioning constitution and uses the most appalling and systematic forms of torture against anyone who questions President Isaias Afeworki’s rule. These violations have been widely reported by the international media and chronicled by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.[8] As Human Rights Watch put it:

“Torture, arbitrary detention, and severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and religious freedom remain routine in Eritrea. Elections have not been held since Eritrea gained independence in 1993, the constitution has never been implemented, and political parties are not allowed. There are no institutional constraints on President Isaias Afewerki, in power now for twenty years. In addition to ongoing serious human rights abuses, forced labor and indefinite military service prompt thousands of Eritreans to flee the country every year. Access to the country for international humanitarian and human rights organizations is almost impossible and the country has no independent media.”

These views were supported by Amnesty International. Their Eritrea researcher, Claire Beston had this to say in May 2013, when she launched a major report on the country: “The government has systematically used arbitrary arrest and detention without charge to crush all opposition, to silence all dissent, and to punish anyone who refuses to comply with the repressive restrictions it places on people’s lives.”[9]

The British government has repeatedly made clear its abhorrence of the gross human rights violations of the Eritrean government. On 29th of October 2013, for example, Mark Simmonds, the Minister in the Foreign Office with responsibility for Africa, told Paul Maynard MP in a written reply that:

“We are extremely concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea, including human trafficking and abuse of migrants. We engage with the Eritrean Government at every opportunity. I raised our human rights concerns with the Eritrean Foreign Minister in July.”[10]

On 15th April 2013 Mr Simmonds told Jermy Corbyn that issues of human rights in Eritrea remains central to the relationship between the two governments.

“We raise our concerns about human rights with the Eritrean Government at every opportunity, bilaterally and with EU partners. Issues raised include arbitrary and inhumane detention, lack of religious freedom, freedom of the media and freedom of expression and assembly.

Civil society in Eritrea remains tightly controlled. There are no independent human rights or civil liberty groups currently operating in Eritrea. Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials in London meet regularly with representatives of the Eritrean diaspora, civil society and human rights organisations to discuss human rights in Eritrea.”[11]

The repressive nature of the Eritrean regime has forced hundreds of thousands of young Eritreans to flee from their country, frequently facing terrible risks including being shot  by border guards, death by drowning while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, and the threat of systematic torture by Bedouin people traffickers in the Sinai. Responding to a petition presented to the House of Commons in November 2013 by Frank Field MP, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague had this to say:[12]

“I understand and sympathise with those who have signed the petition. I share your concerns about the reports of the treatment of Eritrean, Ethiopian and Sudanese refugees in Sinai, many of whom are trying to get to Europe and Israel. The British Government strongly condemn all instances of violence and particularly the killing of innocent people who have sought to leave their homes for a better future. We have raised our concerns about the treatment of migrants, including refugees being held hostage in the Sinai, with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on many occasions, most recently at Ambassadorial level in Cairo. Former Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, right hon. Alistair Burt MP raised the issue during an official visit to Israel in late 2012. My staff has also been in contact with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Cairo, which deals with asylum seekers in Egypt, a task delegated to them by the Egyptian Government.

FCO officials have discussed this issue with the Eritrean Embassy in London, the Eritrean Government in Asmara, and with various members of the Eritrean Diaspora in the UK. In July 2013 the Minister for Africa met with the Eritrean Foreign Minister, and earlier this month, FCO officials, along with officials from the National Crime Agency and West Yorkshire Police, held discussions about the growing problem of human trafficking with various members of the Eritrean Diaspora. We are following up on these discussions by looking at the possibility of providing practical support to Eritrea’s anti-trafficking and victim protection efforts. We continue to urge the Eritrean Government to bring to justice any Eritreans involved in human trafficking and have taken every opportunity to raise the need for political, economic and human rights reforms with the Eritrean Government.

The British Government have encouraged the Egyptian authorities to find a solution to the complex and interrelated security challenges in the Sinai, including kidnapping. A lasting solution to these challenges will require a joined-up response, including the security forces, but also encouraging improved levels of engagement and opportunity for the local Bedouin population.”

The British government also accepts that the Eritrean regime is a risk to international peace in the region. The policy of the Eritrean government has been to support the al-Qaeda affiliate, in Somalia, al-Shabaab.  The Eritrean military also invaded neighbouring Djibouti in 2008. These developments were condemned by the UN Security Council, which stated in December 2009 that it was:

“Gravely concerned about findings that Eritrea had provided support to armed groups undermining peace and reconciliation in Somalia and that it had not withdrawn its forces following clashes with Djibouti in June 2008, the Security Council today imposed an arms embargo on that country, in addition to travel restrictions on and a freeze on the assets of its political and military leaders.”[13]

To fulfil its obligations under this resolution, the British government adopted a range of sanctions.[14] The UK imposed an arms embargo on Eritrea, in addition to travel restrictions on and a freeze on the assets of the political and military leaders of Eritrea.

These are just a selection of official statements. They indicate that the British government is well aware of the scale of the human rights violations inflicted on the Eritrean people by their government and that these issues have been repeatedly raised with Eritrean government representatives.

We would argue that these measures have failed to change the nature of the Eritrean regime. More must be done and done urgently. Britain has a clear responsibility to protect thousands of Eritreans resident in the UK from harassment and extortion.[15]

3. International action to halt Eritrean double taxation – the Canadian example

If Britain needs advice on how to halt the extortion perpetrated by the Eritrean embassy it need look no further than Canada.  In May 2013, impatient with the lies it was being told about the ending of the tax, Canada acted.[16] Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird, expelled the Eritrean consul and head of the Eritrean Consulate General in Toronto, Semere Ghebremariam O. Micael, with immediate effect. “Today’s actions speak for themselves,” said Mr Baird.

The Canadians gave this explanation for their action:

“Canada has repeatedly made clear to Eritrea to respect international sanctions and Canadian law. The Eritrean government is welcome to propose another candidate to represent it in Canada, but that person must be prepared to play by the rules. Our resolve on this matter should not be further tested.”

The Eritrean consulate had previously been warned against collecting funds from Eritrean expatriates living in Canada. The consul said it would comply with the Canadian government’s ruling. But reports indicated that Mr Micael had continued demanding the payments.[17]

“You have to go to the consulate and they arrange how you have to pay the money,” one Eritrean in Toronto, who asked not to be named, told Canadian broadcaster CBC.

“They want 2%… they don’t give you a reason. You have to pay the money,” he said. “My family [in Eritrea] would get in trouble if I don’t pay.”

4. Conclusion

The British government has recognised the repressive nature of the Eritrean government and has a clear responsibility to protect Eritreans resident in the UK from its extortion. The Eritrean embassy in London has been instructed by the British government not to impose the 2% tax, but has ignored these warnings

We – members of the Eritrean diaspora – therefore call for the British government to take the following steps without further delay:

  • Follow the Canadian example and expel the Eritrean ambassador to London, Tesfamichael Gerahtu, with immediate effect,
  • Not allow Mr Gerhatu’s replacement until a clear and unequivocal undertaking has been received that the 2% will no longer be levied in the UK,
  • Mark Simmonds, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, to meet a delegation from the Eritrean community in the UK to discuss the pressure they are facing from the Eritrean government, and how this can be relieved,
  • The Foreign and Commonwealth Office to co-operate fully with the UN Monitoring Group and to provide them with every assistance in carrying out their work, in particular providing the Monitoring Group with details of the steps taken to implement resolution 2023 (2011), which the UK supported,
  • Provide assurances to the Eritrean community in Britain that they will be protected from harassment, threats and intimidation from the Eritrean government.

5. Appendices

 

Appendix one

Verbatim transcript of extortion at Eritrean Embassy, 96 White Lion St, London N1 9PF, 18 December 2013

EE: Eritrean Embassy staff

ST: Simon Tesfamariam

EE What was your address when you last paid?
ST When I paid? 90 Guinness court I think.
EE Since then, there hasn’t been any payment.
ST Well it’s probably because I was still a student then. I was told to pay for my ID card.
EE Yes, you paid for ID card. You were underage so 2% tax was not applicable. Bring your ID.
ST From when do I need to pay according to this?
EE OK…. The year you were born is 1978, right?
ST Yes.
              (Embassy staff turns to speak to someone else)
               Coming back to ST:
EE In 1996, you turned 18 years old. You have not paid anything since 1996. If you were a student, you have to bring proof of that.
ST Well I was a student until 2001, until I finished university.
EE You have to bring proof if you were in college or university.
ST So I have to bring proof that I finished university?
EE OK, You know you were under age until 1996 and then from then until 2001, in education. Proof is needed or if you were under social services and so on.
ST Well, I was under social services from 1995-1997 but not after that. I was living in a children’s home.
EE OK from 1996-2004 what were you doing? Were you working, studying, you have to bring proof. Anyway even if you were a student, £50/year is paid by everyone. For the rest, until 2013 you have to provide proof of income.Before 1996, you don’t need to. However, after and until 2013 you need to bring a payslip, a P60 or anything that indicates your income. When you come with all these documents, then you can pay the 2% tax.
ST Do I have to pay it all at once?
EE No you don’t have to pay it all at once; you can break it down and pay in Eritrea.
ST So do I have to pay it in Eritrea?
EE Yes you have to pay it in Eritrea.
ST But do I have to go myself? How can I?
EE You can send it.
ST OK, so it  has to be paid there in pounds?
EE Yes in pounds.
EE However if you have anything to do there any query, e.g  Power of Attorney (wekelena),  or anything to do there, you will have to pay it all and get clearance. You will not be able to do anything without clearance. However, If you have no query or nothing to do, then you can pay it little by little.
ST But I don’t get clearance until everything is clear.
EE Yes, clear.
ST So they will notify you that everything has been paid from there and I get my receipt.
EE Yes you get your receipt here and if they tell us that you have paid, then we deal with your query.
EE A Call from Asmara
EE Yes we are very busy. Who is here? What’s his ID number? 80xxx OK we will send it to you guys. If he paid there is no problem. There is another brother called Eyob, we sent you guys his information ten times. They have not received it.We don’t keep it here overnight. Confirmation of tax is sent straight away, never kept overnight.We will send for Yosef now. OK Bye.
EE Ummm…Simon, we need a picture of you.
ST Oh, OK.
EE You come with your picture, and your documents then we can talk about payment. But until everything has been cleared, nothing is done.
ST I need to get a mortgage to pay all this!(both laugh)
EE OK, bring the paperwork then we will see.
ST OK. What’s my ID number just in case?(ID number given out)
ST OK Bye.

 

Appendix 2

Documentary evidence of the levying of the diaspora tax after May 2011, when the UK government told the UN the Eritrean embassy in London to cease collecting the tax.

 

Translation:

To Eritrean Embassy

London: United Kingdom

This person that lives in England, with your instruction have been asked to pay GBP 450.00 (Four Hundred and Fifty Pound)  to the bank account of trading by hand. We will send you bank Credit advice once completed and from your end, like other bank account, update the government Data base on the Government Account System.

Translation:

To the ministry of Foreign affairs

Mr Berhane Yemane

Greetings,

Mrs xxxx ID number xxxx, must pay GDP 450 (Four Hundred and fifty pound). Please assist her where necessary.

The monies mentions above, is money I have paid of my free will.

name of Paye: xxxx

Stamp:

Appendix 3

Eritrea openly flouts UN Security Council resolution

The Eritrean government has openly flouted the UN Security Council resolution 2023 (2011) which banned the 2% tax on the diaspora. The authorities in Asmara declared that they would continue to extract the tax and that: “the acquisition of property or land and to obtaining business licenses were withheld from members of the Eritrean diaspora who failed to meet their fiscal obligations.” (See below)

This is what the Eritrean government told the UN Monitoring Group:[18]

35. On the question of the “diaspora tax”, Eritrea drew attention to its sovereign right to levy taxes on its citizens, emphasizing that the revenue collected from the tax was aimed at providing a “social cushion for the dependants of martyrs of war, disabled war veterans and national reconstruction and development” projects. Eritrea insisted that the domestic law under which the tax had been created was not extrajudicial and that the tax was levied on Eritrean citizens living abroad, not on individuals of Eritrean descent. As all Governments pursued “legally specified enforcement measures to regulate tax evasion”, in the case of Eritrea, services related to the acquisition of property or land and to obtaining business licenses were withheld from members of the Eritrean diaspora who failed to meet their fiscal obligations. In Eritrea’s view, this could not be characterized as using extortion or threats of violence, as indicated in resolution 2023 (2011). Eritrea reported that nationals residing abroad had now started to send their payments directly to Asmara while the Government finalized a new administrative procedure for the collection of taxes.

 

Appendix 4

Revenue collection outside Eritrea, as recorded by the UN Monitoring Group[19]

 

87. In its resolution 2023 (2011) the Security Council condemned the use of the diaspora tax by the Eritrean Government to destabilize the Horn of Africa region or violate relevant resolutions, including for purposes such as procuring arms and related materiel for transfer to armed opposition groups or providing any services or financial transfers directly or indirectly to such groups. The Council also decided that Eritrea should cease using extortion, threats of violence, fraud and other illicit means to collect taxes outside of Eritrea from its nationals or other individuals of Eritrean descent.

88. The Monitoring Group has therefore conducted investigations to determine whether the Eritrean authorities do in fact employ extortion, threats of violence, fraud or other illicit means to collect taxes outside Eritrea, as well as the purposes to which the revenues from such taxes are directed. A more detailed account of its findings is contained in annex 3.1.

General observations on Eritrean extraterritorial revenue collection

89. The Government of Eritrea and the ruling PFDJ impose a variety of extraterritorial taxation requirements on Eritrean citizens resident abroad and foreign nationals of Eritrean descent. In addition, members of the Eritrean diaspora are also encouraged to make “voluntary” contributions to a variety of causes, although in practice individuals may be penalized if they do not comply.

90. Procedures for payment of Eritrean extraterritorial taxes vary from location to location. In places where an embassy or consulate exists, it is usually made directly at the embassy. Where there is no official representation, local PFDJ agents or activists act as tax collectors. In Seattle, Washington, for example, taxes can be paid through an Eritrean-owned travel agency.28 Whether or not the techniques they employ are extortive or illicit is often a matter of national or state law, and depends upon such questions as whether or not the collector is a diplomat or other registered agent of a foreign power, the nationality of the collector and the kinds of legal and administrative loopholes employed by collectors.

91. Eritrean officials and party agents routinely resort to threats, intimidation and coercive measures in order to elicit payment. The most common tactic is the denial of unrelated services until taxes have been paid. Other measures include harassment, intimidation and the threat of retribution in Eritrea: individuals who refuse to make payment may have their inheritance rights voided; their family members may be penalized; and they may be subject to detention or denial of an exit visa if they return to Eritrea.

92. Since the passage of resolutions 1907 (2009) and 2023 (2011), methods of Eritrean extraterritorial revenue collection have come under greater scrutiny and are facing mounting challenges. On 20 May 2011, the Government of the United Kingdom notified the Eritrean authorities that, since aspects of the collection of the 2 per cent tax may be unlawful and in breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, until it was demonstrated otherwise, the Eritrean embassy should suspend, immediately and in full, all activities relating to the collection of the tax.29 The Government of Germany has also demanded that Eritrea cease collection of the 2 per cent tax involving the use of Eritrean diplomatic missions on German territory.30 Members of the Eritrean diaspora have increasingly begun to challenge the legality of the tax under the laws of their host countries.31

93. As a result, revenue collection techniques are increasingly designed to avoid direct confrontation with host countries’ investigators and prosecutors, and increasingly resemble the clandestine fundraising techniques employed by the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) during the liberation struggle — without the same degree of popular support that they once enjoyed.32 Greater emphasis has been placed on voluntary contributions through concerts and cultural events

__________________

28 Interviews, Seattle, Washington, United States, 28 March 2012.

29 Foreign Office statement, “Foreign Office concern at being denied consular access to detainees in Eritrea”, 26 May 2011. According to Elsa Chyrum, an Eritrean human rights activist, Eritrean Government and party agents have since resumed tax collection across the United Kingdom. Eritrean officials in the United Kingdom demand to inspect P60 forms (official British pay and tax summary) to compute the Eritrean 2 per cent tax.

30 German diplomatic source, 22 April 2012.

31 In Canada alone, between 2010 and 2012, members of the Eritrean diaspora registered complaints concerning PFDJ fundraising activities on four separate occasions: one in Calgary, one in Winnipeg and two in Ottawa.

32 During the Ethiopian civil war (1975-1991), EPLF employed covert procedures to finance clandestine support of its war effort against the Mengistu regime. Interview with former Eritrean diplomat, London, 11 September 2011. organized by PFDJ agents and activists, but even these may be illegal under certain circumstances (see the section on cultural events and annex 3.1 below).

 

Two per cent development and rehabilitation tax

94. What the Security Council in its resolution 2023 (2011) calls a diaspora tax is referred to by the Eritrean authorities as the 2 per cent development and rehabilitation tax, “enacted in 1994 by the National Assembly to provide some cushion to the hefty annual budgetary bills that the Government continues to shoulder to date to support the war disabled and the families of martyrs”.33 In a letter to the Committee dated 18 April 2012, the Government of Eritrea denied that the tax was extrajudicial, and referred to a specific law published in an official Gazette in 1994, without further elaboration. The letter also made reference to “some administrative regulations that are applicable for those who evade or refuse to comply with them”, including “forfeiting certain entitlements such as title to ownership of real estate and business privileges”, but affirmed that “these measures are not, and cannot, be enforced extraterritorially”.

95. The Monitoring Group has collected numerous testimonies from diaspora

Eritreans and host country authorities describing the various techniques employed by Eritrean embassy personnel and PFDJ representatives to elicit payment.34 According to a recent Royal Canadian Mounted Police assessment, which is consistent with the Monitoring Group’s own findings, refusal to pay the tax often results in denial of service or threats against, or harassment of, family members still residing in Eritrea, or possible arrest of the individual should they travel to Eritrea without paying the taxes alleged to be owing.

96. For diaspora Eritreans, payment of 2 per cent income tax is a prerequisite for obtaining any government service, and is retroactive to the date of the last payment of the tax.35 Any contact with an Eritrean embassy or consulate, whether for renewal of a passport, issuance of a visa, family reunification, or inheritance matters, automatically triggers a demand for retroactive payment of taxes.

__________________

33 “Statement by Mr. Araya Desta, Permanent Representative of Eritrea to the United Nations, during the informal consultations of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea, New York, 18 April 2012.

34 Multiple interviews with credible Eritrean diaspora members and former high-ranking officials in Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, September 2011; Oakland, California, and Seattle, Washington, United States, 27 and 28 March 2012; and Washington, D.C., United States, during January and April 2012. 35 For Eritreans who have never paid the diaspora tax, PFDJ forms and agents calculate arrears in income tax due retroactively to 1992. S/2012/545 24 12-38313Eritrea are often required to formally repudiate the diaspora family member or suffer the consequences.

97. Applicants may also be required to sign an immigration and citizenship services request form, also known as a B4 form or a regret letter. The form requires the applicant to sign a statement of “regret [for] having committed an offence by not completing the national service” and indicating readiness to accept appropriate punishment in due course (see annex 3.1.b).

98. Requests for service by relatives living in Eritrea can also trigger a demand for payment of tax by a diaspora member. Renewals of annual business licences or requests for Power of Attorney may be refused if a family member in the diaspora has not paid the taxes. If the demand for payment is rejected, then relatives in

99. Lastly, diaspora Eritreans who return home for a visit may be delayed or detained if they have not paid the 2 per cent tax. The Eritrean authorities do not distinguish between Eritrean nationals resident abroad and foreign nationals of Eritrean origin. Foreign passport holders may therefore also be denied access to the consular services of their country of citizenship pending resolution of the matter.

Contributions to the Eritrean defence forces

100. In some countries, diaspora Eritreans may be required to make a contribution to the Eritrean defence budget, in addition to the 2 per cent tax. In Canada, for example, the 2 per cent tax form makes provision for contributions for the purposes of national defence, described as “donations to national defence against Ethiopian invasion” (see annex 3.1.c.).37

101. Such donations, however, are not necessarily voluntary. Multiple sources with direct personal experience of this requirement, told the Monitoring Group that if an Eritrean agreed to pay the 2 per cent tax, but refused to make a contribution to the Eritrean defence budget, they could be penalized as though they had refused to pay the diaspora tax.38

__________________

36 Interviews, Seattle, Washington, United States, 27 March 2012, and Oakland, California, United States, 28 March 2012.

37 Aaron Berhane, “Eritrean repression follows emigrants to Canada”, The Star, 14 May 2012.

38 Interviews, 18 January 2012 and 3 June 2012.

39 Interviews and e-mail communications with Royal Canadian Mounted Police, April, May and

June 2012.

40 David Bozzini, an expert on Eritrea working at the University of Neuchâtel says that the

Eritrean Government is particularly keen on controlling those who have dodged the permanent

military draft back home by seeking asylum abroad in “Eritreans complain of intimidation”,

1 February 2012. Also multiple interviews with diaspora informants and law enforcement

sources.

41 Interview, 31 January and 3 April 2012.

activities, and PFDJ-dominated Eritrean community centres may conceal their

political nature in order to obtain financial assistance from their host Governments.

A PFDJ fundraising drive in Canada in early 2012 falsely presented itself as a

campaign to assist Eritrean orphans and children, in potential violation of Canadian law (see annex 3.1.).

 

 

Cultural events

102. In the opinion of the Monitoring Group, solicitation of contributions to

Eritrean military expenditure arguably violate paragraph 5 of Security Council resolution 1907 (2009), which requires Member States to take the necessary measures to prevent, inter alia, financial assistance related to Eritrean military activities covered by the arms embargo.

103. The solicitation by PFDJ of voluntary contributions includes an increasing reliance on fundraising at folklore festivals and other cultural events organized across Europe, North America and in countries where political rallies are forbidden.39 A secondary purpose of these events is typically to allow PFDJ agents and activists to gauge loyalty to the party within diaspora communities. 40 According to Western law enforcement officials who monitor such events, PFDJ fundraising at such festivals and concerts is fast becoming a major source of hard currency for the Eritrean authorities.41

104. The organization of such events may not always be transparent or legal. Many PFDJ activities are described as Eritrean community functions, not as political

Responses by the Government of Eritrea and the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice to resolution 2023 (2011)

105. The response of the Eritrean authorities to greater international scrutiny and the adoption of Security Council resolution 2023 (2011) has been to make the process of extraterritorial revenue collection even more informal and opaque.

106. A key feature of this informal revenue collection system is an intrinsic lack of documentation of the process itself. Apart from embassy and consular officials, Eritrean tax collectors are generally neither diplomats, nor declared agents of a foreign Government or political organization. In the United States, for example, the Monitoring Group has learned that no PFDJ representative or agent is currently registered with the United States Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

107. Eritrean embassies and consulates no longer offer receipts for payment of the tax. Regret letters are retained by embassies, without copies being provided to the signatories. Movement of funds has shifted further away from official bank accounts into hard currency cash payments handled by PFDJ agents and activists via designated private bank accounts outside Eritrea.42 Cairo and Dubai continue to be routinely cited as key PFDJ financial hubs, but Kampala and Juba are both rapidly gaining in importance.43


[2] UN Security Council Resolutions 751 (1992), 1907 (2009) and 2023 (2011)

[3] Letter dated 11 July 2012 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee  pursuant to resolutions 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea addressed to the President of the Security Council, 13 July 2012, S/2012/545, paragraph 92, page 22

http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/Somalia%20S%202012%20545.pdf

[5] S/2013/440. Letter dated 24 July 2013 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea addressed to the President of the Security Council, 25 July 2013, paragraph 129, page 34.

[6] S/2013/440. Letter dated 24 July 2013 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea addressed to the President of the Security Council, 25 July 2013, paragraph 132, page 35.

[15] The 2011 census found that 17,282 Eritreans were resident in England and Wales alone. See Table QS213EW – Country of birth.

[19] Letter dated 11 July 2012 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee  pursuant to resolutions 751 (1992) and 1907 (2009) concerning Somalia and Eritrea addressed to the President of the Security Council, 13 July 2012, S/2012/545