Eritrean officials on Saturday claimed “victory” after the U.N. cultural agency unanimously decided to put the African nation’s capital city of Asmara on the UNESCO World Heritage list — the result of years of lobbying by one of the world’s most reclusive governments.
The decision during a session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee in Poland appreciated the outstanding values of Asmara’s 19th and early 20th century modernist architecture, designed by colonial-era Italian architects and immersed in an African highland environment.
Eritrea’s ambassador to France and permanent representative to UNESCO, Hanna Simon, called the decision the result of “years of research, planning and campaigning” and a “victory not just for the Eritrean people but for Africa and the world at large.”
Simon stressed that the builders were Eritrean and that “despite the colonial imprint” Asmara belongs to the Eritrean identity and to its “struggle for self-determination, thus being a symbol of pride and achievement for the Eritrean people.”
Eritrea fought a three-decade war for independence from Ethiopia and since 1991 has become one of the world’s most closed-off nations.
Its government has faced widespread criticism over what a U.N. commission of inquiry last year said are numerous abuses including enslavement, rape and torture. President Isaias Afwerki, in power since 1991, is described by rights groups as increasingly repressive in the Horn of Africa country of about 6 million.
Eritrea has been a major source of migration toward Europe.