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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review

30 November 2009 (morning)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working morning, during Group reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Eritrea this which thirty-nine Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

Presenting the national report of Eritrea was GIRMAI ABRAHAM, Economic Advisor, Ministry of National Development, who said the strong belief both of the people and the Government of Eritrea in, among others, the right to life, liberty, and security of the human person, were deeply rotted in their culture and history. No people without such a belief would pay such a high price as the people of Eritrea did to secure that right for themselves. Nothwithstanding that Eritrea's independence was won through military victory, the then-Transitional Government of Eritrea chose in 1991 not to declare outright sovereignty, but put the matter in the hands of the Eritrean people in the form of a free, open, and internationally-monitored referendum. As important as national elections were, the Constitution also dealt with some other fundamental rights, freedoms and duties, including the protection of women's rights, the rights of the child, sustainable development, safeguarding the environment, and the right to property.

The Constitution provided that any act that violated the human rights of women or limited or otherwise thwarted their role and participation were prohibited, and the Transitional Civil Code extensively provided for the protection of the rights of women, including that marriage was now based on the free consent of both partners and needed no parental consent- equally, the age of the female partner had been raised to eighteen years. With respect to the rights of the child, Eritrea had signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in August 1994. Consistent with its commitment thereto, the Government had put on the ground programmes and activities that addressed the challenges faced by children, including orphans, street children, and children in conflict with the law. The idea that Eritrea recruited underage children for military service, subjected them to detention or ill-treated them was inconsistent both with the ideals of the Government and its practice on the ground. 

The Government was committed to nourishing and sustaining its communal, ethnic and religious harmony as a cornerstone of its sustainable and peaceful development, and in this connection viewed any pressure on the country by outside forces to adopt practices, policies and models of development and governance that would in any way tamper with Eritrea's ethnic and communal harmony as counterproductive, and not in the best interests of Eritrea. Eritrea was on track to achieve six of the eight Millennium Development Goals, and was one of only sixteen countries worldwide and one of four countries in Africa expected to achieve most, if not all, of the Millennium Development Goals by the target year of 2015. In line with its overall policy of building an open and democratic society, the Government had accepted as positive the existence of the conventional press, however, experience in this regard had been negative, and the Government was forced to take corrective measures, although it recognised this as an important outstanding issue, and intended to address it in due course. The Government had responded to correspondence from Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups of the Human Rights Council, and recognised that there were some outstanding issues in this area, intending to address them in due course. 

During the three-hour interactive discussion, delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; the efforts made to eradicate female genital mutilation through national legislation and a proclamation issued thereon; increased enrolment rates, attendance and statistics on children's education; the policy of providing anti-retroviral treatment free of charge for HIV/AIDS patients; the progress made on achieving the Millennium Development Goals; the focus on the reconstruction of the economy, with a focus on the Eritrean people; and the institutional and legal framework that had been set up to ensure the enjoyment by all of human rights.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to, among other things, the need to implement the right to freedom of expression and opinion, including the freedom of the press; the need to implement further those international humanitarian Conventions that had been ratified and what efforts were being made in this regard; to what extent Eritrea intended to cooperate fully and truly with United Nations mechanisms, including with regards to follow-up to recommendations issued by Treaty Bodies; in the context of the right to participate in public and political life, how was Eritrea was addressing concerns relating to the prosecution of those people with dissenting views; and what steps were taken to ensure political participation of women at different levels, especially local and community levels.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These
included: that Eritrea should ask for technical assistance in presenting its periodic reports and to improve access to education; support the inclusion of women in political life; adopt a national action plan for children; become a party to other major international human rights instruments, including the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities without delay; take prompt measures to free those detained due to exercising their right to freedom of expression or for expressing their political views; take necessary steps to implement the Constitution; the need to extend a standing invitation to all human rights mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur on Torture; the need to interact with the international community on human rights issues; and an avoidance of national service conscripts being used as forced labour for private companies.

Other recommendations included: that the Government respect the right of any individual to exercise their freedom of religion or belief without any restriction; to continue efforts to raise awareness on female genital mutilation and to bring perpetrators to justice; to take all measures to protect the human rights and physical dignity of all female recruits to the armed forces; that the promotion of gender equality be made explicit in all development policies; that the 1997 Constitution be implemented, and the rights that it enshrined be actively protected; and to issue immediate and clear orders to the armed forces to cease and desist from the practices of arbitrary arrest and torture of those exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief.

Moreover, States called on the Working Group to provide technical assistance to Eritrea to strengthen national institutions capacity building and for the international community and international donors provide Eritrea with technical assistance to fulfil its human rights obligations and the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review and the treaty-monitoring bodies.

Responding to these questions, issues and recommendations, as well as others, Mr. Abraham said Eritrea was interested in engaging in a constructive dialogue to further advance the economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights of its people. As a post-war society, the country faced several challenges, from defending its hard-worn independence to creating the necessary infrastructure for economic and social development. There were a large number of very vulnerable people, including children, women, people with disabilities and others, and it required great efforts from the Government to address their needs. Eritrea also faced tremendous capacity limitations. With regards to efforts to counter the female genital mutilation phenomenon, there had been an extensive campaign to educate the public, and the Government was committed to enforcing the abolition of the issue. Eritrea would carefully examine all questions and recommendations made, Mr. Abraham said, and would respond to these more fully than it had been able to so far.

Member States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Egypt, Brazil, United Kingdom, Mexico, Netherlands, Cuba, France, Norway, Qatar, Chile, Pakistan, Slovenia, Argentina, China, United States of America, Slovakia, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, and Bangladesh.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Turkey, Sweden, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Austria, Spain, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Democratic Republic of Congo, Azerbaijan, Poland, Latvia, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

The eight-person delegation of Eritrea consisted of representatives from the Ministry of National Development, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the United Nations in New York, the Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare, the National Union of Eritrean Women, and the Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Eritrea are Italy, Angola, and Saudi Arabia.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Eritrea can be found here.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Eritrea on Wednesday 2 December.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work this afternoon at 3 p.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Cyprus.  

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp

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