Mrs. Hiwet Zemichael, Director General of Social Affairs
Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare, Gov.'t of the State of Eritrea
Geneva, 29 June 2000
Mr. Secretary General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of my delegation, I wish to congratulate you, Mr. President, on your election to preside over this important Special Session of the General Assembly. Allow me also to extend the best wishes of my Government to the esteemed delegates gathered at this session. It is indeed an honour and pleasure for my delegation to attend this twenty-fourth special session of the United Nations General Assembly to discuss the achievement of social development for all in this, now, globalized world of ours.
When Eritrea emerged as Africa's youngest sovereign state in 1993, it inherited tremendous social and economic problems. Decades of foreign occupation, neglect and war had made their impacts on all segments of Eritrean society and on all levels of national development. The economic, social, infrastrutural standards and other common indicators of development levels suggested that national building had to start from scratch. The Government of the State of Eritrea believed that sustainable development could only be achieved with the development of the Eritrean human person. The development of human resources virtually depends on education and training-education being a priority.
Since independence, the government's vision of a new Eritrea had focused on creating a modern, market oriented economy, with a leading role for the private sector. This is an over-riding national development objective. To achieve this objective, the Government had developed an integrated national development plan whose major components are:
· Development of human resources with education and health as key inputs
· Promotion of the private sector
· Development of infrastructure to remove critical bottle necks
· Development of industry and agriculture
· Restoration and protection of the environment
· Introduction of comprehensive national security schemes
· Rehabilitation of vulnerable groups
· Promotion of Gender issues
Macro and sectoral policies have been formulated to respond to present and future needs. These are intended to serve fundamental principles which include the maintenance of national unity, the re-assurance of active participation of the population, the recognition of the decisive role of the human factor in working towards the prevalence of social justice, internal dynamism and effective governance. Although the level of social development in Eritrea today is still comparatively low, a great deal has been achieved in education, especially in building school facilities and making education accessible to children in their own mother tongue. (Currently about 52% of all school age children attend school). The same can be said about the health sector. Other sectors, particularly infrastructure, including road construction and communication, have attained the minimum standards in terms of the services required for economic takeoff. These improvements are most noticeable in the countryside.
The private sector has been
a focus of attention. The re-integration and rehabilitation programs for the
disadvantaged groups that have so far been implemented have shown remarkable
results. Indeed, all the achievements made are quantitatively significant and
have contributed much to the positive change in the quality of life and attitude
of the Eritrean people.
The progress achieved to date, however, should only be considered the beginning. We are fully aware that there are many challenges ahead of us. It is these challenges that the Government of the State of Eritrea is addressing with its limited resources.
I would have wished to dwell more on the development opportunities that could be realized in Eritrea. But, the present situation in the country is overwhelmed by external threats. Allow me, therefore, to talk a bit about these threats since they have tremendous negative impact on our effort to provide development opportunities for our people.
One of the major impediments to development in Eritrea is the current war with neighbouring Ethiopia. The war with Ethiopia, which broke out in 1998, resulted in the wanton destruction of property. The invading Ethiopian forces destroyed the social and economic developmental infrastructure that have been laid in the last eight years of freedom and peace. Ethiopian troops systematically looted, burned and destroyed, with explosives, private and public property in all the areas they occupied. In addition to the death of many civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly, Ethiopia's invasion has also led to the displacement of about 1.6 million people in Eritrea. This displacement figure, which amounts to over one-third of Eritrea's population, has been confirmed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Indeed, Ethiopia's invasion has led to a major humanitarian crisis that ought to draw the attention of the international community.
To compound the injustices the Ethiopian regime committed on Eritreans, it also deported over 70,000 Eritreas and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin from Ethiopia under the most inhuman conditions. All of them had their properties confiscated and most families were separated.
This is a very traumatic experience perpetrated against the Eritrean people by Ethiopian regimes for the second time with a respite of only one decade. Ethiopia has this time deliberately targetted not only the human resource of Eritrea, but also development gains Eritrea made since its indepencence in 1993. This is indeed a crime. What is more painfully unjustifiable, however, is the apparent silence of the international community in the face of this naked crime.
Conflicts pose serious obstacles to the attainment of social development. Sustainable development is unattainable without peace. Ambitious targets and policy objectives articulated in this special session of the world body will remain mere platitudes for many countries unless they are accompanied by concrete measures of collective action and solidarity against injustice, war and aggression. I therefore appeal to you, Excellencies, to devote special attention to the guarantees for social justice and the prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts in this session.