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Human Rights Council Holds Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Eritrea and Starts Dialogue with High Commissioner on Sri Lanka

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AFTERNOON

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea and started an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her report on on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.

Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, presenting his oral update, said he had seen no concrete evidence of progress or actual improvement in the human rights situation in Eritrea. He welcomed the release of a large group of Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrea, but noted that there had been no progress on the issue of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.

Eritrea, speaking as a concerned country, said that the allegations of the Special Rapporteur were presumptive and offensive. Eritrea had been treated unfairly and unjustly through this worn-out and distorted narrative. The report failed to objectively assess and portray the peace and security challenges posed by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in the implementation of the 2018 Peace, Friendship and Cooperation declaration between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers were concerned about the indefinite practice of national service, arbitrary detention and forced disappearances in Eritrea. The involvement of Eritrean military forces in the conflict in Tigray was troubling, particularly the allegations of human rights abuses, and the immediate withdrawal of forces was requested. Other speakers stressed that they were not in favour of country specific resolutions without the consent of the concerned country, as these were used for politicizing and imposing double standards.

Speaking were the European Union, Denmark, Germany, Russian Federation, France, Australia, Switzerland, Venezuela, Netherlands, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Belgium, United States, Spain, China, Belarus, Austria, Philippines, Ethiopia, United Kingdom, South Sudan, Ireland, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Nicaragua, Cuba and Djibouti.

The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Centre for Global Nonkilling, Elizka Relief Foundation, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Reporters Without Borders International, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Jubilee Campaign, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Advocates for Human Rights.

The Council then heard the presentation of a report by Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka A/HRC/46/20, who said the report indicated that nearly 12 years after the end of the armed conflict, domestic initiatives had repeatedly failed to ensure justice for victims and promote reconciliation. Despite commitments made in 2015, the current Government, like its predecessor, had failed to pursue genuine accountability processes.

Sri Lanka speaking as a concerned country, rejected the High Commissioner’s report as it unjustifiably broadened its scope and mandate. The recommendations and conclusions were based on ill-founded allegations and reflected a politicized agenda against Sri Lanka. They were based on evidence to which Sri Lanka was denied access by the High Commissioner’s Office and the High Commissioner refused to publish Sri Lanka’s comments to the report as an addendum.

At the end of the meeting, Israel, Ethiopia, Iran and Syria spoke in right of reply.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-sixth regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 25 February, to continue the interactive dialogue on the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, followed by an interactive dialogue on the promotion and protection of human rights in Nicaragua.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea

Presentation of Oral Update

MOHAMED ABDELSALAM BABIKER, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said he would focus on the human rights of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in the context of the ongoing Tigray crisis in Ethiopia, which added a new complicated dynamic in monitoring the human rights of the Eritrean people. There were over 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray before the crisis and he had received first-hand accounts of allegations of grave human rights and humanitarian law violations, including extra judicial killings, targeted abductions and forced return of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers to Eritrea, allegedly by Eritrean forces. He had written to the Government of Ethiopia, urging the Ethiopian authorities to protect the human rights of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in the Tigray region.

On the situation in Eritrea, he had seen no concrete evidence of progress or actual improvement in the human rights situation in the country. Eritrea lacked rule of law, a constitution and an independent judiciary to enforce the protection of and respect for human rights. On religious freedoms, he welcomed the release of a large group of Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, Eritrea continued to impose restrictions on religious freedoms. There had been no progress on the issue of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Since his appointment, he had not met with Eritrean officials and a request to undertake an official visit had not yet received a response from the Eritrean authorities.

Statement by Eritrea as a Concerned Country

Eritrea, speaking as a concerned country, said that the allegations of the Special Rapporteur were presumptive and offensive. Eritrea had been treated unfairly and unjustly through this worn-out and distorted narrative and the mandate served this purpose, relying on biased evidence from Eritrea’s enemies. The report failed to objectively assess and portray the peace and security challenges posed by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front in the implementation of the 2018 Peace, Friendship and Cooperation declaration between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Ignoring evolving threats and republishing the same position from previous reports was unacceptable. The track record of the past 29 years illustrated that Eritrea had and could achieve inclusive and rapid economic growth predicated on social justice, equal rights and the promotion of regional peace.

Interactive Discussion

Speakers said that the human rights situation in Eritrea continued to be a cause for serious concern, including the indefinite practice of national service, arbitrary detention and forced disappearances, as well as the severe restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of religion or belief. The involvement of Eritrean military forces in the conflict in Tigray was troubling, particularly the allegations of human rights abuses, and the immediate withdrawal of forces was requested. There were disturbing reports about the treatment of Eritrean refugees in the Shimelba and Hitsats camps and it was imperative to allow independent experts to investigate all violations. The immediate and unconditional release of all arbitrarily detained persons was requested, including political prisoners, journalists and human rights defenders.

Other speakers stressed that they were not in favour of country specific resolutions without the consent of the concerned country as they were used for politicizing and imposing double standards. The Eritrean authorities were called upon to build good cooperation with their neighbours and work on recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review, while the international community was urged to provide adequate assistance to this developing country. Some speakers asked how the international community could best assist the Special Rapporteur in monitoring the human rights situation in Eritrea and of Eritrean refugees in the region? Did Eritrea have enough control over its own troops to prevent human rights violations? As a member of the Council, Eritrea had a special duty to uphold the highest human rights standards and to fully cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms.

Concluding Remarks

MOHAMED ABDELSALAM BABIKER, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, reiterated his wish for constructive engagement from the Eritrean Government. He had serious concerns regarding the detention of prisoners, the destruction of refugee camps, and the destabilising effect of migrant flows out of Eritrea into the region. Therefore, in order to fact find and discuss these matters, it was vital that he was granted access.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka

Report

The Council has before it the report of the High Commissioner on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka A/HRC/46/20.

Presentation of Report

MICHELLE BACHELET, High Commissioner for Human Rights, stressed that the report A/HRC/46/20 indicated that nearly 12 years after the end of the armed conflict, domestic initiatives had repeatedly failed to ensure justice for victims and promote reconciliation. Despite commitments made in 2015, the current Government, like its predecessor, had failed to pursue genuine truth-seeking or accountability processes. The impact on thousands of survivors, from all communities, was devastating**. **The report highlighted disturbing trends over the past year, which warned of a seriously deterioration in key areas. The space for civil society and independent media, which had grown significantly, was now rapidly shrinking. The independence of the judiciary, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the National Police Commission and other key bodies had been deeply eroded by the recently adopted twentieth Constitutional Amendment.

The growing militarisation of key civilian functions was encroaching on democratic governance. Tamil and Muslim minorities were being excluded by divisive and discriminatory rhetoric, including from the highest State officials. And the policy of forced cremation of COVID-19 victims had caused pain and distress to the minority Muslim and Christian communities. Successive Government commissions had failed to credibly establish truth and ensure accountability. Ms. Bachelet called on the Council to explore new ways to advance various types of accountability at the international level, for all parties, and seek redress for victims, including by supporting a dedicated capacity to collect and preserve evidence and information for future accountability processes, as well as to support relevant judicial proceedings in Member States.

Statement by Sri Lanka as a Concerned Country

Sri Lanka, speaking as a concerned country, rejected the High Commissioner’s report as it unjustifiably broadened its scope and mandate. The recommendations and conclusions were based on ill-founded allegations and reflected a politicized agenda against Sri Lanka, therefore it categorically rejected them. They were based on evidence to which Sri Lanka was denied access by the High Commissioner’s Office, despite its consistent and constructive engagement with the United Nations and its mechanisms. Moreover, the High Commissioner refused to publish Sri Lanka’s comments to the report as an addendum. The sources that the report drew on were rife with factual inaccuracies and appeared to equate atrocities committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a terrorist organisation, with legitimate actions taken by the Sri Lankan Government. Sri Lanka called on the members of the Council to reject any resolution based on this report.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/02/le-consei...

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