The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday lifted sanctions imposed on Eritrea nine years ago, rewarding its improved relations with Ethiopia and other neighboring countries, though concerns about its human rights record remain.
The unanimous Security Council decision immediately ended an arms embargo, a travel ban and an asset freeze on Eritrea and its leaders. It was hailed as a historic moment in the history of the conflicted Horn of Africa.
The sanctions were put in place in 2009 after U.N. experts said Eritrea was arming and training al-Shabab and other militants seeking to undermine the government in Somalia. The Eritrean government denied the allegation and primarily attributed the sanctions to U.S. opposition.
It has been several years since the United Nations has offered any evidence to support the claim against Eritrea. And, recently, the nation has reconciled with neighbors with which it had engaged in conflicts for many years.
In July, Eritrea and Ethiopia officially declared an end to two decades of hostilities. They agreed to open embassies and resume flights. A border dispute remains with Djibouti, where the United States maintains a military base. But the leaders of the two countries have met to discuss ways to settle their differences.
Eritrea, which lies along the Red Sea, provides bases for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their war against Shiite rebels in Yemen.
It also has improved its relations with Europe, which is seeking to stanch the flow of migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa.
But even as the sanctions were lifted, the government in the capital, Asmara, expressed bitterness.
“The Government of Eritrea welcomes this belated decision to redress injustice, almost a decade after nefarious acts were taken inculcating indefensible harm on the country,” tweeted Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel.
After thanking those who argued against the “ignominious sanction,” Gebremeskel added: “But even as we turn the page of this dark chapter and focus on the future, we must ponder on, and take stock of, what transpired; why Eritrea was needlessly victimized; what were the dynamics that underpinned a travesty of international justice on this scale?
“In the event, the UNSC shoulders a responsibility of effecting amends to the wrongs done; above and beyond the lifting of the sanctions. The Government and people of Eritrea will not thus abandon their efforts for truth and justice with the mere lifting of the sanctions.”
Eritrea also has demanded compensation for the economic harm caused by the sanctions.
The Security Council vote to lift the sanctions marked a reversal by the United States and France, two permanent members that earlier insisted that Eritrea first needed to demonstrate that it was improving its human rights record.
The State Department’s most recent human rights report on Eritrea expressed concern over several abuses. They included politically motivated killings; people dying or disappearing after being detained by government forces; and lingering reports of torture inflicted on army deserters, national-service evaders, those trying to flee the country without travel documents and some religious groups.
Paul Schemm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, contributed to this report.