GENEVA (26 June 2018) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea expressed concern that patterns of violations identified over the past six years persist, namely arbitrary and incommunicado detention, indefinite military/national service amounting to forced labour and severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms.
In her fifth and final report to the Human Rights Council, Sheila Keetharuth expressed concern that the human rights violations she identified in her first and subsequent reports, as well as in those of the Commission of Inquiry in Eritrea remained unchanged.
“It is not acceptable that we are still seeing these types of human rights violations continue in Eritrea and that the Government has shown little willingness that it would tackle such abuses,” she said. “It is vital for the country’s future that these wrongs are put right. That means creating fundamental institutions based on the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a democratically elected parliament and providing space for diverse political parties, an independent media and civil society organisations.”
She said it was deeply concerning that arrests and detention were used as a form of punishment for legitimate and peaceful exercise of fundamental rights. Keetharuth cited as an example the arrest and detention of the late Haji Musa Mohammed Nur, former director, and other committee members of the Al Dia School in the Akhria neighbourhood of Asmara. Haji Musa, aged 93, died in March 2018, after having been detained for four months, reportedly for refusing to apply a Government directive on banning Muslim students from wearing the veil or hijab, the discontinuation of religious teachings as well as the introduction of co-education.
Keetharuth was also worried about the continued detention of children and said she had spoken with the parents of an adolescent boy arrested after the funeral of Haji Musa on 3 March 2018. He was with other children aged below 18, who were rounded up just after the ceremony. The child has been in incommunicado detention since then. While some children have been released, an unknown number remain in detention.
“I recall the right of all detainees to have the lawfulness of their detention reviewed by a court, and the right of victims of unlawful detention to compensation – rights that Eritrea systematically refuses to respect,” she said. All those arbitrarily detained should be released and alternatives to detention considered, particularly for children.
She also expressed concern about the lack of protection afforded to Eritrean refugees. Keetharuth cited the death of an Eritrean national on 6 June 2018 at a detention holding area in the Cairo International Airport where he was being held in transit as he awaited removal from the United States of America to Eritrea. She reiterated her call to host countries to continue providing protection to Eritreans and refrain from sending them back as the risks of punishment for having left are high.
She recalled that both she and the Commission of Inquiry had repeatedly called for the implementation of the 2002 decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission to delimit the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. In this regard, she welcomed recent efforts to reach peaceful solutions and called on all concerned to ensure that human rights remain a central consideration, moving forward.
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Ms Sheila B. Keetharuth (Mauritius) was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea in October 2012. From 2014 to 2016, she also served as a member of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. Since May 2014, Ms Keetharuth has been an expert member of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Until 2012, Ms. Keetharuth was the Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa in Banjul, The Gambia. She also worked with Amnesty International in Kampala, Uganda, and as a lawyer and broadcaster in Mauritius. In 2017, Ms Keetharuth was awarded with the Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award by the University of Leicester, in recognition of her human rights work.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Proceduresof the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily i