UN Eritrea Special Rapporteur: Conclusions And Recommendations

Editor’s note: the following is an excerpt from the Eritrea Special Rapporteur report (dated May 28, 2013) which was submitted to the UN on June 4th, 2013.To read the entire (20 pages, pdf) report, visit here. Following the report by the Special Rapporteur, the Government of Eritrea (GoE) was given the right of rebuttal. The  GoE delegation, headed by Ambassador Tesfamicael Gerahtu, addressed only a fraction of the report. It questioned the report’s claim that the University of Asmara is closed; that there is a shoot-to-kill policy, or that there is a requirement for special permit to move around the country and other minor claims. The ambassador failed to substantially address the Rapporteur’s report that there is rampant “extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, indefinite incommunicado detention, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” in Eritrea. The ambassador recommended that a report provided by E-Smart (a pro-government group of Eritreans in the United States) be considered as part of Eritrea’s rebuttal. Following the Eritrean ambassador’s speech, representatives from Croatia, Cuba, Austria, Norway, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom and Ethiopia gave short addresses.  With the exception of Cuba, whose address was in Spanish, all addressed the body in English and all were supportive of the Rapporteur’s report and condemned the Eritrean government. Specially noteworthy was the presentation by the delegation of Norway, a self-described “long standing friend of the Eritrean people” nation, (and, indeed, it was during Eritrea’s armed struggle),  who noted that “Eritrea cannot use this [the failure of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border demarcation] as an excuse to violate human right obligations” which are “serious and systematic” because respecting human rights ” does not depend on external factors.” 

VI. Conclusions and recommendations

A. Conclusions

95. While acknowledging the importance of finding a resolution to border disputes, Eritrea cannot use this as an excuse to continue to violate its human rights obligations. Giving effect to the State obligation to respect, protect and fulfil human rights domestically is not dependant on external factors.

96. Excessive militarization is affecting the very fabric of Eritrean society, and its core unit, the family. The open-ended nature of national service is depriving the women and men of Eritrea of their most productive years, forcing them to cross borders to take their destiny into their own hands.

97. Even children as young as 7 or 8 years of age are crossing borders unaccompanied, citing dysfunctional family circumstances caused by the absence of one parent or even both as a result of conscription, detention or exile or forced military training as the reasons for flight.

98. There is no rule of law to provide citizens with a transparent legal system to protect them from the arbitrary use of power by the State, other institutions and individuals.

99. There are no internal mechanisms or institutions to hold to account those responsible for the pervasive human rights violations committed on a daily basis in Eritrea. The State is obliged to investigate and prosecute those responsible for human rights violations. This legal obligation to punish those found guilty of having committed human rights violations is an important element of the rule of law. The State’s failure to investigate, to punish perpetrators and to provide reparations for victims perpetuates a culture of impunity that undermines the credibility of the country’s criminal justice system.

100. Extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, indefinite incommunicado detention, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, all of which are prevalent in Eritrea, undermine the deepest values of any society committed to respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

101. Freedom of expression and opinion, of assembly and association, the very cornerstones of an open society respecting the democratic principles of governance, are severely curtailed, creating a climate of fear fuelled by rumours, propaganda and suspicion. The result is an all-encompassing feeling of fear and distrust, even within families, reflecting a pervasive intelligence network that the Government of Eritrea has established throughout the country.

102. People cannot choose their profession and their remunerations are too low, causing them to rely on remittances from family and friends from abroad and pooling resources to be able to live in dignity.

103. While human rights violations are widespread and pervasive and affect all components of Eritrean society, minority ethnic groups suffer from a disparate impact, multiple forms of discrimination and marginalization, leading to exile.

104. Real change would require a fundamental reform process transforming the current culture of rights denial into one anchored in the rule of law and in respect for and the realization of all human rights and human dignity.

105. During the initial period of the mandate, the Special Rapporteur concentrated on ensuring access to Eritrea and opening up channels of communications with the Government, gathering information on the human rights violations, and engaging with a broad spectrum of interlocutors to gather information about the human rights situation in Eritrea, primarily with victims.

106. The Special Rapporteur would like to focus on three priority areas and relative action points in the delivery of the mandate in the medium term:

(a) To respect, protect and fulfil internationally recognized human rights standards;
(i) To revoke the shoot-to-kill policy when people cross borders;
(ii) To release all prisoners detained without charge or trial, including those detained because of their political or religious beliefs;
(iii) To put a stop to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment;
(iv) To put an immediate end to indefinite national service;
(v) To give effect to the right to freedom of expression and opinion, and of assembly and association;

(b) To restore and respect the rule of law;
(i) To strengthen democratic governance institutions;
(ii) To guarantee the independence and impartiality of the justice system to combat impunity;
(iii) To take legislative, administrative, institutional and practical measures to give effect to the rule of law;

(c) To ratify international human rights standards and to cooperate with United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms;
(i) To ratify international human rights treaties (such as the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance) without further delay; and to give effect to the right to freedom of expression and opinion, and of assembly and association;
(ii) To cooperate with United Nations human rights treaty bodies and special procedures, including with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea;
(iii) To cooperate with regional human rights mechanisms.

B. Recommendations

107. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government of Eritrea:

(a) Respect all obligations under international human rights treaties to which Eritrea is a party, and ratify and implement other international human rights instruments, in particular the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance;
(b) Implement the Constitution ratified in 1997 by the Constituent Assembly and review the national legal framework to bring it into line with international human rights standards;
(c) Allow the creation of political parties and hold free, fair and transparent democratic national elections;
(d) Restore and respect the rule of law, in particular by institutionalizing an independent and transparent judiciary, checks and balances against the abuse of power, and by providing access to justice, especially for the accused and detainees;
(e) Cease the shoot-to-kill policy implemented at the borders with immediate effect, as well as all other forms of extrajudicial executions;
(f) Set up an effective mechanism to establish the whereabouts of those who have reportedly disappeared and provide information thereon to their families immediately;
(g) Investigate and prosecute all allegations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings and bring perpetrators to justice in accordance with international standards;
(h) Put an immediate end to State-sponsored violence, namely killings, disappearances and all cases of arbitrary arrest, torture and other ill-treatment;
(i) Immediately release, or charge and bring before a court of law, the members of the “G-15” and the journalists arrested in 2001, and release all other political prisoners and those detained on the basis of their religious belief;
(j) Put an immediate end to the practice of incommunicado detention, close all unofficial and secret places of detention and allow access to prisoners by family members, lawyers and judges;
(k) Guarantee the physical integrity of all prisoners, ensure access to medical treatment of those in need, improve the conditions of detention in accordance with international standards, and allow unhindered access by international monitors to all detention facilities;
(l) Stop use of torture, establish an adequate complaints mechanism, and ensure that prompt and effective investigations are conducted into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment with a view to bring perpetrators to justice;
(m) End the practice of indefinite national service and initiate demobilization for those who have completed 18 months service; and stop the use of national service conscripts as forced labour, and the recruitment of children under the age of 18 years into military training;
(n) Ensure accountability for past human rights violations by investigating promptly all allegations of violence committed by police and security personnel, as well as other government actors; by bringing perpetrators to justice, in particular those with command responsibility; and by providing adequate redress to victims;
(o) Fully respect the freedoms of expression and opinion, of peaceful assembly and association as critical foundations for any democracy; put an end to harassment and intimidation of journalists; allow the creation of private media; and provide licenses to private radio and television stations;
(p) Respect the substantive role that civil society actors play in democratic societies and ensure that human rights defenders and civil society organizations are
able to carry out their activities in an open, safe and secure environment, without fear of retribution or curtailment of their activities;
(q) Respect the religious freedom of all faiths, and ensure that people of all faiths can practice their religion without fear;
(r) Put an end to restrictions to the freedom of movement within Eritrea and to travel outside the country;
(s) Address the alarming living conditions and, at a minimum, ensure the enjoyment of the minimum essential level of economic, social and cultural rights for all, in particular the rights to food, water and health, through sustainable livelihood, especially in rural communities;
(t) Ensure access to education, including higher and academic education, by reopening the University of Asmara to provide Eritrean students with access to higher-level education that is internationally recognized;
(u) Cooperate with the international community to allow those providing international humanitarian assistance unhindered access throughout the country;
(v) Collaborate with the Special Rapporteur in implementing her mandate and respond positively to her requests for an invitation to visit Eritrea;
(w) Cooperate with other international human rights mechanisms and respond positively to pending visit requests by special procedures mandate holders; ensure an inclusive and comprehensive follow-up process to the universal periodic review; implement the recommendations made by treaty bodies; and submit overdue reports;
(x) Seek technical assistance from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other agencies, as appropriate, with a view to facilitate the promotion and protection of human rights.

108. The Special Rapporteur recommends that the international community:

(a) Keep Eritrea under close scrutiny until meaningful change is evident in the country, while increasing efforts to constructively engage with Eritrea and neighbouring countries with a view to improve the situation of human rights in the country;
(b) Strengthen efforts to ensure the protection of those fleeing from Eritrea, in particular the increasing numbers of unaccompanied children, including by respecting the principle of non-refoulement and by granting at least temporary refuge or protection, and end bilateral and other arrangements between Eritrea and third countries that jeopardize the lives of those who seek asylum;
(c) Promote channels of migration from Eritrea to reduce clandestine channels and promote intercountry cooperation to counter human smuggling and trafficking, while treating victims humanely;
(d) Provide space for long-term solutions to help refugees, including local integration in the first-asylum country and resettlement in third countries, and strengthen international solidarity in sharing the responsibility to care for refugees and migrants.

inform. inspire. embolden. reconcile.


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