Human Rights Council holds enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Eritrea

Report
from UN Human Rights Council
Published on 12 Mar 2018 View Original

AFTERNOON

GENEVA (12 March 2018) - The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

In opening remarks, Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that since the Council’s last deliberations on the human rights situation in Eritrea, the Office of the High Commissioner had continued to receive reports of severe curtailments of human rights. In the past year, there were allegations of arrests of over 100 persons practicing religions not officially recognized by the State, as well as allegations of suppression of a protest outside an Islamic school.

Sheila B. Keetharuth, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said her monitoring of the current situation showed that the patterns of human rights violations continued unabated. She said she would focus her remarks on the right to right to life, the right to liberty and security of the person, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedom of expression, assembly and association, and freedom of religious belief. The continuation of serious breaches of international human rights had intensified in October 2017, with and following the imprisonment of Haji Musa Mohamednur.

Remy Nogy Lumbu, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, said the human rights situation in Eritrea was of great concern and demanded international mobilization. Eritrea had been violating fundamental human rights for a long time and the Commission had demanded the end to forced deportations, as well as respect of the ceasefire and peaceful settlement. Detention without trial and arbitrary arrest of opposition members, journalists, former ministers and civil servants featured prominently on the agenda.

Veronica Almedom, Information Forum for Eritrea, said the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, which was a political party driven by its very distinctive ideology, had assumed it could represent all the functions and demographics of the Eritrean society. Such brutal domination over any given society would profoundly hurt a population and its cohesion. Eritrean society was trapped in this vicious circle of repression.

Pamela Delargy, public health specialist, said there was not enough assistance for Eritreans outside of Eritrea, who represented a significant portion of those arriving across the Mediterranean. Eritrean migrants were all across the world - in Sudan, Israel, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, France, Mexico - and torture, trafficking, smuggling, abduction, and extortion characterized their plight. This was a human rights situation that could not be neglected when speaking of Eritrea.

Eritrea was not present to take the floor as the concerned country.

In the ensuing enhanced discussion, some speakers welcomed Eritrea’s willingness to engage in dialogue on human rights abuses with third countries. They called on the Government to take far-reaching institutional and legal reforms to ensure the respect for human rights, to strengthen cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to implement relevant United Nations resolutions, and to allow access to United Nations representatives to the country. They also urged the Government to comply with international obligations by improving detention conditions. Speakers voiced their concerns regarding the arbitrary detention of people. Some speakers were seriously concerned that all forms of repression had continued unabated in Eritrea, and warned that systematic human rights violations comprised crimes against humanity. A number of speakers warned that punitive approaches and sanctions could not bring the international community closer to the goal of peace and human rights. They said the Council should not impose mandates which a country had not accepted, as it infringed upon its national sovereignty. Eritrea did in fact cooperate with the Council through the Universal Periodic Review, having underwent two cycles of reporting.

Speaking were European Union, Norway, Switzerland, United States, Australia, France, China, Greece, Venezuela, Sudan, Djibouti, United Kingdom, Ireland and Cuba.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Article 19- International Centre against Censorship, Centre for Global Nonkilling, Human Rights Watch, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Amnesty International, United Nations Watch, and Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Israel spoke in a right of reply.

The Council will reconvene on Tuesday, 13 March at 9 a.m., when it will hold a high-level panel on the human rights of children in Syria, to be followed by an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. In the afternoon, the Council is scheduled to hold an interactive dialogue with the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, to be followed by an interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

Opening Statements

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that since the Council’s last deliberations on the human rights situation in Eritrea, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had continued to receive reports of severe curtailments of human rights in that country. In the past year, there had been allegations of arrests of over 100 persons practicing religions not officially recognized by the State, as well as allegations of suppression of a protest outside an Islamic school. It was difficult to verify allegations given the restricted access to the country and the absence of independent actors, whether media or non-governmental organizations. The Council and the Special Rapporteur had separately called on the Government to allow human rights defenders and independent civil society organizations to operate without interference. In 2016, the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea had found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity, namely, enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture and persecution had been committed since 1991. The Commission also noted that there had been no evidence of progress in the field of human rights. There was an extensive use of arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as enforced disappearance and the use of torture. The fear of arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention curtailed freedom of expression. There were still no privately-owned media outlets. Eritreans continued to be subjected to indefinite military services. The Constitution of 1997 had never been full in force and the Government was urged to implement it without delay.

In closing, Ms. Gilmore stressed that the existing human rights situation continued to fuel a steady stream of asylum seekers from Eritrea. In June 2017 the Special Rapporteur advised the Council that there could no sustainable solution to the refugee outflows until the Government complied with its human rights obligations.

SHEILA B. KEETHARUTH, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said her monitoring of the current situation showed that the patterns of human rights violations identified by both her mandate and that of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea continued unabated. Little had changed regarding basic human rights since 2012, when this Council had given her the responsibility to monitor, document, analyse, report and make recommendations on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. She would focus her remarks on the right to life, the right to liberty and security of the person, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedom of expression, assembly and association, and freedom of religious belief. Eritrea continued to keep people in custody until death. Following the recent events in the Akhria neighborhood of Asmara, another name had been added to the long list of known and unknown individuals who died while in custody. On Saturday, March 3, 2018, the family of Haji Musa Mohamednur, aged 93 years, received information that the respected elder and former freedom fighter had died while in jail. He had been arbitrarily arrested and detained for almost four months. Reports reaching her from credible sources pointed to the arrest of hundreds of people, mainly male, some of them children as young as 13 years, after the burial of Haji Musa. The arrests continued. The genesis of these continuing serious breaches of international human rights law was oppression, which had been intensified in October 2017, with and following the imprisonment of Haji Musa Mohamednur.

With regard to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, the Government had carried out indiscriminate mass arrests in October 2017 and the following months; they were carried out to quell any kind of protest or resistance in the face of human rights violations. Followers of both recognized and unrecognized religions continued to be targeted for their religious beliefs. Economic, social and cultural rights were at a stagnation point, and several businesses had been closed due to the change of currency notes. A maximum withdrawal limit from bank accounts remained at 5,000 Nakfa. Independent observers and researchers continued to be denied access to the country and there was still no independent reporting on the situation in the country by Eritreans. In conclusion and in response to her own question, she said there was very little progress on human rights in Eritrea.

REMY NOGY LUMBU, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, agreed that the human rights situation in Eritrea had been of great concern, demanding international mobilization to assist the country in respecting its obligations. Eritrea had been violating fundamental human rights for a long time and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights had demanded that it stop its forced deportations, and respect the ceasefire and peaceful settlement. Detention without trial of opposition members, journalists, former ministers and civil servants, and arbitrary arrests featured prominently on the agenda. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also called on the Government to respect regional and international treaties, such as the Constitutive Act of the African Union, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights would review the report submitted by the current president Issyas Afeworki in February 2018, covering the period from 1999 to 2016. The recommendations, which would be drawn up in cooperation with Eritrean civil society, would allow for constructive dialogue with the Government.

VERONICA ALMEDOM, Information Forum for Eritrea, noted that nation-building was not the project of a few. It embraced the contribution of every single individual in a given society. The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, which was a political party driven by its very distinctive ideology, had been assuming that it could represent all the functions and all the demographics of the Eritrean society: from young to old, from the public to the private sector, from the administration of justice to the Parliament, to the executive branch, and to the army, and from education to religion. Such brutal domination over any given society would profoundly hurt a population and its cohesion. That was the vicious circle of repression in which the Eritrean society had been trapped in. The only safeguard for people was exile. The fear of being subjected to ill-treatment was a recurrent reason for exile among Eritreans in Geneva, as well as the fact that the Government of Eritrea imposed one single, very formatted model to a population of four million people. It went against the natural rights of every individual. There had been no redress for almost 17 years of political oppression, no initiation of a dialogue with civil society, no creation of at least one or two economic incentives to keep the youth at home since the migration crisis had exploded. That lack of commitment to the supremacy of law, to the public service and to the Eritrean people was not acceptable. Approaching the soil of Eritrea as private property by extracting gold and selling the port of Asseb to foreign entities, without the consent of the people of Eritrea, was not acceptable. All those arbitrary and irresponsible decisions did not reflect the general will of the Eritrean society.

PAMELA DELARGY, Public Health Specialist, said there was not enough assistance for Eritreans outside of Eritrea. All knew that Eritreans represented a significant portion of those arriving across the Mediterranean. Referring to the abduction and torture of Eritreans from 2010–2014 from Sudan to the Sinai, persons who had been burned or raped, she said some of these had made it safely to Israel but still faced problems. There was not a people in the world that faced as many challenges as the Eritreans. Lack of livelihoods, trafficking, smuggling, abduction and extortion characterized their plight. There were thousands who had received a ransom call asking for $ 20,000 to set family members free. This was a story largely unreported by the international media. Of the migrants in Libya, Eritrea was the largest group, sometimes abducted by the Islamic State. There were Eritrean refugees who had sought refuge in Yemen, and who now found themselves in the midst of the bombing, with loss of housing, education and health care. The growing number of unaccompanied minors in the world had a large proportion of Eritreans. Over half of the 3,000 migrants arriving to Egypt were Eritreans. Eritreans in their teens were also found in Calais, France. Today, at least three dozen Eritrean migrants sat in detention centers in Mexico in detention. Their physical and mental health was truly deplorable. This was a human rights situation that could not be neglected when speaking of Eritrea. In response to the question on whether they had left for reasons strictly defined under the 1951 Convention, Ms. Delargy said that no Convention compromised the right to protection that refugees and migrants faced.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Eritrea was not present to take the floor as the concerned country.

Discussion

European Union, while welcoming Eritrea’s willingness to engage in dialogue on human rights abuses with third countries, called on the Government to take far-reaching institutional and legal reforms to ensure respect for human rights. Norway said reliable data and statistics were essential to verifying the status of human rights in Eritrea. Norway urged the Government to allow access to United Nations representatives to the country and asked how cooperation could be enhanced. Switzerland called on Eritrea to be actively involved in addressing rights abuses. Switzerland encouraged Eritrea to strengthen cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and asked what support the Office could provide Eritrea.

United States called on Eritrea to comply with international obligations by improving detention conditions. Accounts indicated that prolonged national service was forcing Eritreans to flee the country and minority groups continued to face discrimination. Australia encouraged the Government to increase cooperation with the Special Rapporteur and reiterated concerns over sexual- and gender-based violence. Eritrea was encouraged to broaden its democratic space and implement the 1997 Constitution. France deplored the lack of measures taken by Eritrea to implement Human Rights Council recommendations and stressed that systematic human rights violations comprised crimes against humanity. Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights must be strengthened.

China consistently advocated for constructive dialogue when dealing with human rights issues. The progress achieved in the human rights field by Eritrea deserved the attention of the Council and States were invited to provide assistance and take part in a constructive dialogue. Greece said that while some positive developments had been noted regarding Eritrea’s limited yet renewed engagement with the United Nations, the country had yet to prove its willingness to address the international community on some of the gravest human rights violations which it had faced. Non-implementation of the Council’s resolution 35/35 was particularly worrying. Venezuela reminded that the Council had to act in line with the Charter, without imposing mandates which the country had not accepted, as it infringed upon its national sovereignty. Eritrea did in fact cooperate with the Council through the Universal Periodic Review, having underwent two cycles of reporting.

Sudan believed that the optimal way to protect human rights was by promoting genuine dialogue and cooperation and ensuring non-politicization. Eritrea was encouraged to continue its engagement with the international community. Djibouti said it was regrettable that Eritrea continued to reject the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and failed to fulfil its international obligations by not respecting the relevant United Nations resolutions. How could the Member States better assist the Special Rapporteur in efforts to generate an effective dialogue with Eritrea? United Kingdom was particularly concerned by the arbitrary detention of people practicing or involved in teaching certain faiths. Eritrea’ s continued engagement with the Office of the High Commissioner and work done by the United Nations Development Programme was welcomed.

Ireland welcomed and encouraged the renewed engagement by Eritrea with the international community. However, it reiterated its call on the Government of Eritrea to enact the political and legal reforms required to end human rights violations, end impunity, and ensure accountability for past violations. Cuba stated that international cooperation, dialogue and respectful exchange among countries were key to facilitate the highest standards of human rights. Punitive approaches and sanctions could not bring the international community closer to that goal.

International Fellowship of Reconciliation reminded that all forms of repression of Eritrean citizens by their own Government continued unabated. Over 10,000 prisoners of conscience had been detained in more than 350 prisons across Eritrea, under harsh conditions and without due legal process. Article 19 - The International Centre against Censorship regretted the deteriorated situation for freedom of expression, assembly and association in Eritrea. It condemned the recent crackdown on the protests against the closure of village schools. Centre for Global Nonkilling welcomed the relentless ongoing work of the Special Rapporteur that shed light on violations in Eritrea and it looked forward to the continuation of the mandate as the international community moved to crucial implementation of the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry. Human Rights Watch regretted that the Eritrean Government had repeatedly ignored the resolutions of the Human Rights Council. It urged the Council to implement the principle of universal jurisdiction, and to recommend to all countries to allow fleeing Eritreans to file asylum claims.

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, also speaking on behalf of a group of organizations, asked if the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had seen any progress regarding concerns over detained journalists and opposition members. It also asked if an investigation had been conducted into the crackdown on the November 2017 protests. Amnesty International expressed concern over national service requirements that were the main cause for many to flee Eritrea. Government interference in religious affairs persisted and the space for political dissent continued to shrink. United Nations Watch said religious freedom continued to be denied in Eritrea with thousands of Christians facing detention. United Nations Watch asked why the Special Rapporteur’s report failed to closely assess this situation. Christian Solidarity Worldwide noted the arrest of dissenters and their family members by security agents and stressed that the Commission of Inquiry had found that Eritrea had committed crimes against humanity. Claims of improvement in the human rights situation by the Government were unfounded.

Closing Remarks

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, assured the Member States that the Office of the High Commissioner would provide information on the history of technical assistance and cooperation with the Government of Eritrea. Training to officials working on international treaties in the Ministry of Justice were offered and workshops would be held. Delegations were thanked for their constructive remarks and the Office of the High Commissioner was aware of the need to engage Eritrea in dialogue. Personalized verbal attacks on mandate holders were unacceptable and it was noted that such attacks were almost always directed towards female mandate holders.

SHEILA B. KEETHARUTH, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said that there had been no progress on human rights, people were still being detained and arrested, and there was no free or independent reporting from within the country, making the sustained scrutiny necessary. Seeing how Eritrea was not present, there had been no possibility to engage in a dialogue with the country concerned.

REMY NOGY LUMBU, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, said that the absence of the Government of Eritrea during the session should not be a sign of despair. The next meeting of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights would serve to convey the findings from the Council’s meeting.

VERONICA ALMEDOM, Information Forum for Eritrea, reaffirmed that the Government had not been showing enough interest which was why the conversation had been held between Member States, experts, United Nations and civil society, but the main stakeholder had been absent, making it increasingly difficulty. Allowing asylum protection for asylum seekers from Eritrea should remain a priority for countries.

PAMELA DELARGY, Public Health Specialist, said that most of the Eritrean women and girls fleeing to other countries had experienced sexual violence and were in need of clinical care and psychological support. Normalization of relations in the region and implementation of the Algiers Agreement as well as respecting the ruling on the border demarcation would all have an effect on improving the overall situation in Eritrea, as it would open trade relations. Return to the ideals of Eritrean independence would also be significant as it would facilitate the establishment of institutions of good governance and the rule of law. Moreover, reconciliation between Eritreans would stop the flow of refugees.

Right of Reply

Israel, speaking in a right of reply, responded to Syria and Iran, reminding that they had used unacceptable terms in a futile attempt to divert attention from their own dire human rights situations. That kind of behaviour should not be allowed to continue unchecked. It was deplorable that 70 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, some countries insisted on ignoring the reality and refused to recognize Israel. Israel was a flourishing democracy where universal human rights were upheld and promoted, they were not regarded with contempt as they were by Iran’s rulers. It was a model knowledge-based economy where opportunity for human development abounded. The State of Israel was proud to be the fulfilment of the Zionist vision of re-establishment of the self-determination of the Jewish people in its historical land. It was inconceivable that in 2018 there were still those who refused to accept that fact. Those, like Iran and Syria, who continued to brutally violate the human rights of their own people, were certainly not in a position to question that.

For use of the information media; not an official record