Special Rapporteur Tells Human Rights Council that Serious Human Rights Issues Persist in Eritrea

OHCHR

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.  It also concluded its interactive discussion on the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the central role of the State in responding to pandemics. 

Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said that since he started his mandate in November 2020, there were no tangible signs of progress or concrete evidence of improvement in the internal human rights situation in Eritrea.  In addition, Eritrea had extended its human rights violations extra-territorially or beyond its borders during this period and committed heinous human rights violations in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. 

Eritrea had not yet put in place a minimum institutional and legal framework to uphold human rights standards.  Serious human rights issues persisted, including the use of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, inhumane prison conditions, and lack of freedoms of expression, opinion, association, freedom of the media and the right to participate in political and public affairs.  He welcomed the release of over 100 Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses over the reporting period.  This was a step in the right direction.  However, faith groups, were still detained without being informed of the reasons for their arrest, without charges and trial.  It was difficult to speak of progress on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, while the authorities continued their policy of arbitrarily detaining persons without any regard to due process or the right to a fair trial. 

Eritrea, speaking as a country concerned, said the report relied on unacceptable benchmarks and was full of presumptions.  Questioning its methodology, Eritrea rejected the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, which was politicised.  Eritrea had put together a development roadmap which was being implemented despite the pandemic.  The Special Rapporteur’s observations on the national service were unacceptable; this service was making an effective contribution to development.  Pointing out that its Government was the victim of a media defamation campaign, Eritrea urged the Council not to make decisions based on unacceptable recommendations outlined in the report.  The mandate of the Special Rapporteur should be abolished.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, some speakers welcomed Eritrean cooperation with the Council and encouraged further cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The March agreement on the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray was welcomed by speakers, who called for its full implementation.  Other speakers said that violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by the Eritrean army in Tigray were of utmost concern, and called for in-depth and independent inquiries.  Universal Periodic Review recommendations should be implemented, and the benchmarks developed by the previous Special Rapporteur remained relevant, speakers stated.  Some speakers said that as it did not enjoy the assent of the country concerned, this dialogue went against the principles that underpinned the Council’s work. 

Speaking were European Union, Norway on behalf of Nordic-Baltic countries, Liechtenstein, France, Switzerland, Germany, Cuba, Australia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, China, Netherlands, Venezuela, United States, Saudi Arabia, Austria, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Belarus, Ireland, Belgium, Somalia, United, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Russian Federation, Philippines, Cameroon, and Nicaragua.

The following civil society organization also took the floor: Jubilee Campaign. 

Eritrea spoke in a point of order. 

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her report on the central role of the State in responding to pandemics.

Speakers reiterated that vaccines were powerful tools in addressing the pandemic and should become a global public good; access, availability and affordability of vaccines had become a widespread problem.  Vaccine nationalism remained a worrying trend as the enjoyment of all human rights across the globe had been deeply impacted by the pandemic.  States must ensure access to health to all; uphold labour rights and put in place adequate welfare systems; and implement participatory, rights-based public health measures, rather than policies that suppressed freedoms.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, said the world needed urgent debt relief and access to affordable credit.  Sanctions must be eased to allow all States to deal with the effects of COVID-19 and all citizens to enjoy their human rights.  The vaccine must be treated as a global public good – everyone must be able to benefit from technological progress, and States must ensure universal and equitable access to vaccines in all countries. 

Speaking were China, Jordan, Nepal, Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Ireland, Pakistan, Bolivia, Timor-Leste,  Belarus, Georgia, Mali, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Ukraine, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Chad, Afghanistan, Croatia, Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, Guyana, Mauritania, Thailand, UN Women, Kazakhstan, Mozambique, Russian Federation, Niger, Philippines, Uganda, International Development Law Organization, Mauritius, Colombia, Tunisia, Albania, Cambodia, Barbados, and the United Nations Children’s Fund.

The following civil society organizations and national human rights institutions also took the floor: National Human Rights Institute of Morocco, National Human Rights Commission of India, International Commission of Jurists, Medical Aid for Palestinians, World Evangelical Alliance, China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, Instituto de Desenvolvimento e Direitos Humanos, Minority Rights Group, Universal Rights Group, Civicus, COC Nederland, and iuventum.

Speaking in right of reply were Armenia, Brazil, and Ethiopia. 

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-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet on Tuesday, 22 June, at 10 a.m. to conclude the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, followed by an interactive discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her update on her annual report.

Interactive Discussion with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her Report on the Central Role of the State in Responding to Pandemics

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented her report on the central role of the State in responding to pandemics in the morning meeting and a summary can be found here.

Speakers reiterated that vaccines were powerful tools in addressing the pandemic and should become a global public good; access, availability and affordability of vaccines had become a widespread problem.  Vaccine nationalism remained a worrying trend as the enjoyment of all human rights across the globe had been deeply impacted by the pandemic.  Low income and least developed countries must be prioritised in the recovery effort, as some speakers agreed with the report’s call to cancel the debt burdening them.  It was the duty of each State to lead and save lives in cooperation with other partners.  Some speakers called for a temporary waiver of certain World Trade Organization intellectual property rights obligations to increase the technical capacity of States to respond to the pandemic.  Women’s rights and the protection of persons in vulnerable situations were particularly concerning to speakers – States had to ensure that pre-existing inequalities were not entrenched during the recovery process.

Online commerce had concentrated wealth in fewer hands.  Speakers emphasised that the right to life should prevail over the rights of patent holders.  Pharmaceutical companies imposed far-reaching non-disclosure agreements on governments which restricted access to health information necessary to combat corruption and ensure accountability.  Some speakers criticised the failure of occupying powers to ensure that populations under their control had an equitable access to vaccines, a situation that had deepened inequalities.  In many countries, governments’ health responses lacked dialogue with and furthered stigmatisation and discrimination of religious minorities, speakers regretted.  Much of the inequity the pandemic had rendered evident was endemic before the outbreak.  Accordingly, States must ensure access to health to all; uphold labour rights and put in place adequate welfare systems; and implement participatory, rights-based public health measures, rather than policies that suppressed freedoms.

Concluding Remarks by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed in her concluding remarks the calls for global solidarity and cooperation from the delegations.  The world needed urgent debt relief and access to affordable credit.  Sanctions must be eased to allow all States to deal with the effects of COVID-19 and all citizens to enjoy their human rights.  The vaccine must be treated as a global public good – everyone must be able to benefit from technological progress, and States must ensure universal and equitable access to vaccines in all countries.  Democratic principles must be upheld as some countries took advantage of the pandemic to restrict human rights unnecessarily. 

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

Report

The Council has before it the report A/HRC/47/21 of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea 

Presentation of the Report

MOHAMED ABDELSALAM BABIKER, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, presenting his first report to the Council since taking up the role of Special Rapporteur last November 2020, said the report covered the period from 5 May 2020 to 28 April 2021 and provided an assessment of the human rights situation in light of the five benchmarks for progress set out in the report of his predecessor Daniela Kravetz.  Since he started his mandate in November 2020, there were no tangible signs of progress or concrete evidence of improvement in the internal human rights situation in Eritrea.  In addition, Eritrea had extended its human rights violations extra-territorially or beyond its borders during this period and committed heinous human rights violations in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.  In his report he also addressed the role of Eritrean troops in perpetrating serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law and the situation of Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees in Tigray.

Eritrea had not yet put in place a minimum institutional and legal framework to uphold human rights standards.  Serious human rights issues persisted, including the use of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, inhumane prison conditions, and lack of freedoms of expression, opinion, and association, freedom of the media, and the right to participate in political and public affairs.  He welcomed the release of over 100 Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Jehovah’s Witnesses over the reporting period.  This was a step in the right direction.  However, faith groups, were still detained without being informed of the reasons for their arrest, without charges and trial.  It was difficult to speak of progress on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, while the authorities continued their policy of arbitrarily detaining persons without any regard to due process or the right to a fair trial.  Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience were held incommunicado for indefinite periods, and in inhumane conditions. 

Noting that the Government continued to conscript young Eritreans for prolonged periods of time, the Special Rapporteur called on the authorities to urgently reform the national service, which truncated the aspirations of Eritrean youth and pushed them to leave their country.  Addressing allegations of grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the Eritrean troops in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, he expressed particular concern about allegations of attacks by Eritrean troops targeting Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers, in particular the destruction of the two refugee camps hosting more than 25,000 Eritrean refugees in Hitsats and Shimelba.  While the Ethiopian authorities stated in March 2021, and again in June, that the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray was underway, he had received no verifiable information to suggest progress in this regard.

Statement by the Country Concerned

Eritrea, speaking as the country concerned, said the Special Rapporteur’s report relied on unacceptable benchmarks and was full of presumptions.  Questioning its methodology, Eritrea rejected the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, which was politicised.  Eritrea had put together a development roadmap which was being implemented despite the pandemic.  The Special Rapporteur’s observations on the national service were unacceptable; this service was making an effective contribution to development.  Pointing out that the Government was the victim of a media defamation campaign, Eritrea urged the Council not to make decisions based on unacceptable recommendations outlined in the report.  The mandate of the Special Rapporteur should be abolished.

Discussion

Speakers called on the Eritrean Government to release all prisoners held for arbitrary reasons.  As speakers welcomed Eritrea’s cooperation with the Council, they encouraged further cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The March agreement on the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray was welcomed by speakers, who called for its full implementation.  Some speakers said that violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed by the Eritrean army in Tigray were of utmost concern, and called for in-depth and independent inquiries.  Universal Periodic Review recommendations should be implemented, and the benchmarks developed by the previous Special Rapporteur remained relevant, speakers stated.  As it did not enjoy the assent of the country concerned, this dialogue went against the principles that underpinned the Council’s work.  The mandate should be discontinued accordingly, according to some speakers.  Failing to do so amounted to a waste of the Council’s scarce resources.

Speakers asked the Special Rapporteur about the ways that States and the international community could ensure accountability for human rights violations in Eritrea.  The use of rape as a weapon of war during the conflict was highly concerning, and all allegations of war crimes must be investigated.  Some speakers noted that the report contained false narratives that had negative real-life consequences, applauding Eritrea’s engagement with human rights bodies and mechanisms.  The task of the international community was to assist Eritrea based on mutual respect, made all the more important by the dire economic situation in the country, yet the examination of the situation at the Council was biased.  Speakers noted that the Government’s attitude had not changed: it continued to take no action to remedy multiple violations, the military service was not reformed as conscripts were not demobilised and thousands were held indefinitely in national service, while children under 18 continued to be sent to Tigray, violating international law.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/06/conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-il-ny-pas-de-preuves-concretes-dune

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