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Human Rights Council discusses the situation of human rights in Belarus and Eritrea

Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON

23 June 2015 

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with Miklós Haraszti, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, followed by an interactive dialogue with Mike Smith, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. 

In his introductory remarks, Mr. Haraszti said the human rights situation inside Belarus showed no signs of improvement as the Government had not addressed any of the entrenched and systemic violations, nor had it created an environment for free and fair elections.  Particularly endangered were the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, the rights to just and favourable conditions for work, and the freedom to choose one’s workplace. 

Speaking as the concerned country, Belarus said it was building its democratic society by itself and it differed in opinion from the European Union in how it should go about it.  Belarus rejected any project that was against its national interest and in particular against its national security interests.  The mandate on Belarus should be abolished and should not be renewed.  It was a political project aimed at destabilizing Belarus and it was a failure. 

In the interactive dialogue, speakers expressed concerns about the continued deterioration of the situation in Belarus, including the systematic repression of journalists, human rights defenders and political opponents, media censorship, non-free and unfair elections and the use of the death penalty.  Speakers expressed disappointment that the authorities of Belarus continued to refuse to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur.  Other speakers believed the situation in Belarus did not warrant such a mandate and criticized the selectivity and politicization of the Human Rights Council. 

Speaking were the European Union, Russian Federation on behalf of a group of like-minded States, Syria, Albania, Greece, Ireland, Russian Federation, Czech Republic, France, United States, Tajikistan, Lao People’s democratic Republic, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Poland, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Canada, Norway, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Switzerland, Latvia, Austria, Kirghizstan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Viet Nam, Nicaragua, Slovakia, China, Iran, Myanmar, Turkmenistan, Belgium and Australia. 

Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, Human Rights House Foundation, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Human Rights Watch, United Nations Watch and World Association for Citizen Participation Civicus. 

The Council also started an individual interactive dialogue with Mike Smith, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. 

Mr. Smith said Eritrea remained marked by fear and repression.  Domestic surveillance penetrated all levels of society, and much of the population was subjected to forced conscription and labour, sometimes in slave-like conditions.  Eritrea should ensure accountability for systemic, widespread and gross human rights violations, including extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, unlawful detention, sexual violence, and forced labour. 

Eritrea, speaking as the concerned country, said the Commission had deliberately short-changed its investigative mission to bolster preconceived, politically motivated conclusions and recommendations.  Its members had espoused sinister political agendas against Eritrea due to their close and unorthodox association with subversive groups.  The bleak narrative on human rights in Eritrea that the Commission had portrayed was widely at variance with the prevailing reality in the country.  

During the discussion, speakers strongly condemned acts of intimidation against members of the Commission of Inquiry, and expressed concerns about the systematic human rights violations in Eritrea.  They also highlighted the vulnerability of those fleeing from Eritrea, facing risks of human trafficking. 

Speaking were the European Union, Ghana, United States, Czech Republic, Australia, China, Belgium and Djibouti. 

Turkey and Syria spoke in right of reply. 

The Human Rights Council will resume its interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea on Wednesday, 24 June at 9 a.m. followed by a general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.  At 3 p.m., it will consider the Universal Periodic Review outcomes of Kyrgyzstan, Kiribati and Guinea.  

Documentation

The Council has before it the report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus (A/HRC/29/43)
Presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus

MIKLÓS HARASZTI, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus, said that Belarus had made welcome efforts to ease the regional tensions through mediation.  The Riga Eastern Partnership Summit had welcomed promising signs in European Union-Belarus relations, and the country had promised to consider a resumption of the European Union-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue.  At the same time, the Government’s continued refusal to recognize the Human Rights Council’s country mandate was a substantial setback in its engagement with the international community.  The human rights situation inside the country showed no signs of improvement during the reporting period.  A long list of basic human rights was systematically denied to citizens through an intentional combination of restrictive laws and abusive practices.  The Government had not addressed any of the entrenched and systemic violations, nor had it created an environment for free and fair elections.  Particularly endangered were the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, the rights to just and favourable conditions for work, and the freedom to choose one’s workplace.  The situation was all the more disturbing in light of the upcoming presidential election in the autumn of 2015. 

Compared to previous years, some positive developments had taken place, such as fewer persons incarcerated for long prison terms in retaliation for their political activities, and the release of the leader of a major human rights organization.  Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur urged the Belarus authorities not only to release, but also to fully rehabilitate all political opponents who were imprisoned.  Another entrenched practice that was continued and even increased was the arbitrary short-term detention of activists, journalists and human rights defenders.  Despite some steps to simplify the legal system, the independence of the judiciary remained undermined by the President’s power to appoint and remove all judges and prosecutors at any time.  Fair trials were denied by hearings held in closed sessions, and court rulings that relied heavily on law enforcement testimonies, while defence witnesses were ignored.

The Law on Mass Media had taken down the last vestiges of free expression.  The authorities blocked independent web sites, and the use of the Internet was increasingly interpreted as “unauthorized public event” and subject to sanctions.  Discrimination continued in various fields, from the treatment of sexual minorities to labour rights.  In a country where 70 to 80 per cent of workplaces were in State owned sectors, the precarious employment conditions had worsened since last year.  Short-term contracts were the rule rather than the exception.  A recent decree introduced taxes on all employable citizens who were not employed, and punitive measures against those who did not work.  The Special Rapporteur urged Belarus to accept all recommendations made during the Universal Periodic Review and to address equally all rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural, in line with the principle of interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Belarus, speaking as the concerned country, said that by mid-1990s, it had understood that it had its own national interests and should only rely on itself.  It then found friends and was proud that Russia was its strategic partner.  Belarus had proposed to the European Union to establish relations of partnership and cooperation, but the European Union’s acceptance of Belarus’ priorities and been low, as evidenced by sanctions, the visa regime and the establishment of the country mandate.  Belarus was building its democratic society by itself and it differed in opinion from the European Union in how it should go about it.  Belarus was ready to enter into dialogue with the European Union.  Recent contacts had shown usefulness to both partners.  Belarus rejected any project that was against its national interests and in particular against its national security interests.  The mandate on Belarus should be abolished and should not be renewed.  It was a political project aimed at destabilizing Belarus and it was a failure.  Belarus rejected the report as pseudo-truthful and for this reason unfounded.

Interactive Dialogue on the Human Rights Situation in Belarus:

European Union expressed concern at the deteriorating situation in Belarus exemplified by repeated violations of freedom of assembly, crackdown on peaceful protests, harassment of human rights defenders and activists, and restrictions on Internet freedom.  The European Union strongly condemned the continued application of the death penalty in Belarus and asked the Special Rapporteur which aspects of the process in the lead up to elections should be prioritized and monitored.  Russia, speaking on behalf of a Group of Like-minded States, expressed deep concern over the practice of the adoption of country-specific resolutions which were political tools, and said that progress on human rights could only be achieved with mutually respectful dialogue, cooperation and support.  The Universal Periodic Review provided an effective framework for cooperation in the field of human rights and enabled an objective and reliable assessment of the human rights situation in all countries.

Syria said the report was political and not objective, and was based on false facts and evidence.  The Special Rapporteur was a tool in the hands of the European Union to dictate its views to Belarus without its consent.  Belarus had cooperated appropriately with all Special Procedures mandates and had engaged in the Universal Periodic Review. 
Albania remained concerned about the systematic repression of the human rights of citizens of Belarus, and regretted that Belarus continued not to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur.  Albania was concerned about the absence of free and fair elections and about the continued use of the death penalty.  The scale of discrimination against Roma persons and homophobia needed to be immediately addressed in Belarus. 
Greece noted with concern the restrictions on freedom of assembly, Internet freedom and harassment and arbitrary detention of human rights defenders and journalists.  Greece reiterated its recommendations to Belarus during the last Universal Periodic Review, including that it provide guarantees for the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and that it remove extrajudicial procedures for blocking websites.  

Ireland stated that in the modern world, physical access to a country was no longer necessary to document the situation of human rights, as new technologies allowed for data gathering.  Ireland asked the Special Rapporteur on the steps that the Belarussian authorities could take to improve human rights before the Presidential elections.  Russian Federation stated that it did not recognize the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, noting that his mandate was political.  It did not understand what led the Special Rapporteur to call human rights violations systemic and endemic.  The mandate was a clear example of the politicization of the Council and a waste of resources.  The Russian Federation therefore did not support the continuation of the mandate.  Czech Republic welcomed the release of some political prisoners in Belarus in 2014, but regretted that those persons were not fully rehabilitated and were not able to enjoy all civil and political rights, notably to fully participate in the elections.  It joined the recommendation to create space for effective and full participation of citizens in public life and called for the Council’s continued attention to the situation in Belarus.

France expressed concern about the systematic violation of human rights in the run-up to the Presidential elections, and the use of arbitrary detention as a means to punish free expression by human rights defenders, activists and journalists.  France called upon Belarus to establish an immediate moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its abolition, to address torture and cruel treatment in places of detention, and to ensure transparent, independent and impartial judicial processes.  United States was extremely concerned about the systematic denial of human rights, especially with Presidential elections scheduled for November.  The Government continued to severely restrict freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, deny labour rights, and arrest and detain peaceful political opponents.  Belarus should immediately release all those imprisoned for the exercise of their civil and political rights.  The United States asked about amendments to the electoral law.  Tajikistan said that the steps taken by Belarus showed its commitment to fulfilling it international human rights obligations, which was reaffirmed by its accession to a number of human rights instruments, legal amendments and its participation in the Universal Periodic Review.  Steps taken by Belarus would promote the preservation of stability in the country and the promotion and protection of human rights.

Lao People’s Democratic Republic said country-specific resolutions created more mistrust and misunderstanding, rather than improving the human rights situation in that country.  It insisted on engaging through dialogue and in a spirit of constructiveness, and underlined the Universal Periodic Review as the appropriate mechanism for such discussion.  It noted Belarus’ engagement in the post-2015 development agenda discussions and its cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms.  Estonia appreciated the work by the Special Rapporteur and regretted the continued lack of cooperation by Belarus.  It expressed concerns at the continued deterioration of human rights, including through the adoption of new restrictive laws.  Estonia expressed concerns about Internet censorship and harassment of human rights defenders.  In the light of this, and of the upcoming 2015 elections, Estonia supported the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.  Spain was worried about continued and widespread violations of civil and political rights in Belarus and restrictions on the use of the Internet and freedom of assembly.  Spain expressed concerns about the harassment of human rights defenders and the continuing application of the death penalty in clear violation with international minimum standards.  Spain called on Belarus to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur. 

Lithuania said it expected the Belarussian authorities to hold the upcoming Presidential elections in accordance with international standards.  It urged the Government to immediately release all political prisoners ensuring their full rehabilitation, to abort restrictive provisions regulating mass media, and to ensure freedom of opinion and expression.  Democratic People’s Republic of Korea noted that it was deeply concerned about the fact that the discussion of the politicized country-specific reports was still going on, and it strongly opposed the discussion of the report submitted by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus.  It called for an immediate end to the anachronistic adoption of country-specific resolutions and mandates of Special Procedures.  Poland urged the authorities in Minsk to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur, including the moratorium on the use of capital punishment, addressing the issue of impunity for human rights violations, and the removal of all legal and practical obstacles to the free functioning of civil society and independent media.  It also called for the holding of open, transparent and democratic Presidential elections.

Uzbekistan said that the report did not properly reflect the achievements of Belarus in the area of human rights, cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms, and progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.  The best mechanism for the assessment of human rights situations in countries was the Universal Periodic Review.  Venezuela said that the biased report on Belarus spoke volumes about the highly political nature of this mandate that was imposed by the European Union.  Belarus had informed about its progress in the area of human rights in full transparency when it had gone through its second successful Universal Periodic Review in May this year.  Venezuela rejected the selective and impartial nature of country-specific mandates.  Canada remained deeply concerned about the lack of democratic process in Belarus and the intimidation and harassment of the political opposition.  Belarus should ensure that the elections were transparent, free, fair and in line with international standards, release its political prisoners, and remove restrictions on civil society.  Canada asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on his concerns related to the upcoming elections. 

Norway welcomed the commendable work of the Special Rapporteur despite being denied access to the country and urged Belarus to cooperate fully with him, which was in the Government’s best interests.  The upcoming elections provided an opportunity for the Government to commit to human rights.  Norway regretted that the situation had continued to deteriorate, and that previous positive steps, such as the findings of the working group on capital punishment, had not been followed by concrete improvements. 
United Kingdom expressed its strong support for the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and regretted the lack of cooperation by Belarus.  The human rights situation in Belarus remained a serious cause of concern, with the widespread use of administrative and preventive arrests to limit freedom of speech and to stifle civil society.  The United Kingdom urged Belarus to release and rehabilitate all political prisoners.  Belarus should also establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.  Luxembourg remained concerned at continued, systematic and systemic human rights violations in Belarus, and noted with concern that the space for civil society and freedoms of speech and assembly continued to shrink.  This situation was particularly worrisome considering the upcoming elections.  Luxembourg called on Belarus to establish a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, and to move towards cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms. 

Zimbabwe said that the Human Rights Council should adhere to the principles of universality, objectivity and non-selectivity in addressing human rights issues, and for that reason it opposed the imposition of country-specific mandates, as experience showed that they were prone to political manipulation.  It urged the Council to engage Belarus in a spirit of cooperation and constructive dialogue.  Cuba reiterated that the mandates that did not garner support and recognition of concerned countries could not effectively contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights.  The noble objective of the protection of human rights could not be used as a pretext for advancing political agendas, such as the one on Belarus.  The maintenance of the mandate had only served to justify a resolution against Belarus.  Switzerland said that the refusal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur by Belarus reinforced the said mandate.  Switzerland encouraged the Government of Belarus to create the necessary conditions for free and democratic Presidential elections, and to address the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe regarding a potential electoral observation mission.

Latvia said that the findings of the report indicated no improvements in the human rights situation in Belarus and that the situation of some rights had further deteriorated.  In light of the forthcoming elections, respect for freedom of assembly, association and expression, and the rule of law were cornerstones of democracy and the preconditions for fair and free elections.  Latvia asked the Special Rapporteur’s assessment of the potential of the recent Universal Periodic Review of Belarus.  Austria concurred that there was no significant improvement in the human rights situation in Belarus and was concerned that major legal changes further aggravated freedom of expression and media freedom, and that the repression of journalists and human rights defenders had increased.  Austria was dismayed by the continued application of the death penalty, aggravated by the absence of regulations to observe basic standards of due process.  Kyrgyzstan believed that reports of mandate holders should be based on primary sources and enjoy the active engagement of the country concerned.  The human rights situation in Belarus should also be considered in light of a positive approach and should focus on the achievements and improvements made on the ground.  Belarus should further strengthen its cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms.

Azerbaijan welcomed the achievements of Belarus in the field of human rights, freedoms and the Millennium Development Goals, as well as Belarus’ cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms.  Azerbaijan was against politically-motivated approaches in the sphere of human rights, and believed that efforts to advance human rights must be based on the principles of cooperation, impartiality and mutually respectful dialogue.  Kazakhstan regretted that the report omitted to objectively reflect the full picture of a comprehensive overview of the human rights situation in Belarus.  The open and constructive cooperation of Belarus with the treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review was commendable.  The Universal Periodic Review mechanism based on dialogue and cooperation constituted an objective and reliable assessment of the human rights situation in every country.  Viet Nam did not see the value of politicization of the Council, and wished further enhancement of the credibility and verifiability of the information used in relation to United Nations processes.  It was imperative that all relevant stakeholders adopted constructive dialogue and effective cooperation as the only approach.  Viet Nam finally noted with satisfaction Belarus’ notable efforts to ensure socio-economic development. 

Nicaragua expressed concern that the Council continued the unequal practice of promoting country-specific mandates, which had not proved to be useful in promoting dialogue and cooperation among States.  Belarus had proved its cooperation with the United Nations mechanisms through the submission of periodic reports.  Nicaragua thus maintained that Belarus did not need the Council’s attention, monitoring and a country-specific mandate.  Slovakia fully supported the Special Rapporteur’s mandate in light of the situation of human rights in Belarus and the persistent disregard for civil and political rights.  It remained concerned that the death penalty continued to be imposed and called for the establishment of an immediate moratorium on the use of capital punishment.  It noted that an independent and impartial judiciary was key to upholding the rule of law.  China opposed the imposition of country-specific mandates without the support of the concerned country.  The report ignored the positive achievements of the Belarussian people and was not objective.  China welcomed the cooperation of the Belarus Government through the submission of Universal Periodic Review reports.  It was notable that Belarus had achieved basically all its Millennium Development Goals.

Iran said that the promotion and protection of human rights should be based on the principle of cooperation and genuine dialogue and be aimed at increasing the capacity of States to comply with their obligations and commitments.  Belarus should be recognized for its meeting of the Millennium Development Goals and its cooperation with the Universal Periodic Review.  Myanmar reiterated its principled position against country-specific mandates of the Human Rights Council which would not create a conducive environment for a genuine dialogue and constructive cooperation with countries concerned.  The work of the Council should be guided by the principle of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity.  Turkmenistan said that the situation in Belarus did not require urgent attention or monitoring by the Council and that further prolongation of this mandate was meaningless.  Belarus had cooperated with the United Nations human rights bodies and demonstrated its will to comply with its human rights obligations. 

Belgium was disappointed to read that there was no significant improvement, and even deterioration in some aspects of the situation of human rights in Belarus since 2014.  Belgium was concerned at the additional limitations to the enjoyment of civil and political rights and freedoms.  There were no developments with regard to a moratorium or the abolition of the death penalty.  Australia opposed the death penalty in all circumstances, and had asked Belarus on numerous occasions to abolish capital punishment.  Australia was recommending that Belarus establish a formal moratorium on the death penalty.  Australia also recommended that Belarus end the detention of political activists and release all political prisoners without delay, particularly before the Presidential elections in November 2015. 

International Federation of Human Rights Leagues stated that recent months had been marked by a continued deterioration of the situation of political prisoners.  A new Presidential decree required Belarusian citizens who had not worked for at least 183 days in the past year to pay a special fee to finance Government expenditures.  Human Rights House Foundation said the human rights situation in Belarus required the closest attention of the Council.  It urged Belarus to implement all the recommendations on elections made by the Special Rapporteur, stop restricting online space for freedom of expression, and to immediately and unconditionally release and rehabilitate the civil and political rights of all prisoners of conscience.  International Fellowship of Reconciliation stated that the Special Rapporteur’s report did not refer at all to the question of freedom of religion and belief, and the issue of conscientious objection.  There was criminal persecution under the country’s draconian Religion Law, whereas the Law on Alternative Service was far from meeting international standards in the area.  Human Rights Watch noted that Belarussian authorities had made no meaningful steps to improve the country’s poor human rights record since 2010.  Instead they continued to impose further restrictions on freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly and association.  The peaceful exercise of all those fundamental freedoms could be subject to criminal sanctions.  The Council had to support the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.

United Nations Watch said that the report documented an alarming pattern of persistent violations of human rights by Belarus and found a dangerous combination of restrictive laws and abusive practices, which amounted to a systematic denial of basic human rights.  Given the total absence of an accountability mechanism, would the creation of a Commission of Inquiry into the human rights situation in Belarus help advance the cause of human rights and justice?  World Alliance for Citizen Participation CIVICUS was concerned about the systematic denial of human rights and restrictive laws and abusive practices in Belarus and called on this country to immediately release all political prisoners, comply with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, repeal article 193.1 of the Criminal Code which imposed criminal sanctions for participation in unregistered civil society organizations, and allow independent civil society monitors to observe this year’s elections.

Concluding Remarks

Belarus expressed gratitude to those delegations who had spoken in favour of a constructive dialogue.  Belarus had a dynamically developing democratic society.  Successes of Belarus had been recognized by international bodies, and the country was progressing in terms of socio-economic development.  Belarus decried double standards.  President Lukashenko had said that all of the observers deemed necessary were welcome in Belarus to monitor the elections in 2015.

MIKLOS HARASZTI, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, in his concluding remarks, stated that for two decades, Belarus had had no opposition in Parliament, which showed the real face of the Belarusian parliamentary system.  Belarus was the only country in Europe where there were no privately owned broadcasters.  Pluralism could at least be established in the existing State channels.  Unregistered civil society organizations could be registered, which would be an immediate improvement.  Mr. Haraszti stressed that Belarus was not fully cooperating with international human rights mechanisms.  Acting on treaty body recommendations would be another real and immediate improvement.  Belarus was not responding to repeated requests by mandate holders.  Belarus had not accepted recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review in the areas which were most of concern.  Many of those recommendations had had to be repeated again in 2015.  When it came to the death penalty, steps were manifold and could be taken by Parliament.  A practical moratorium on executions could be the first step.

Documentation
The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea (A/HRC/29/41)
The Council has before it the report of the Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of human rights in Eritrea (A/HRC/29/42)
Presentation by the Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea

JOACHIM RUECKER, President of the Human Rights Council, informed the Council that members of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea had been subject to threats and intimidation since their arrival in Geneva.  The police had been contacted and security measures had been taken to ensure that the interactive dialogue proceeded calmly.  Whereas it was acceptable that there were substantial disagreement with the work of the Commission, it was totally unacceptable for the Commission members to be subjected to threats and intimidation.

MIKE SMITH, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, said that the dream of a democratic Eritrea, free of human rights violations, seemed more distant than ever since the country was marked by fear and repression.  Since independence the ultimate power had remained in the hands of one man and one party.  The promising Eritrean Constitution of 1997 had never been implemented, and the Eritrean people had no say in governance and little control over many aspects of their own lives.  A massive domestic surveillance network penetrated all levels of society, and much of the population was subject to forced conscription and labour, sometimes in slave-like conditions.  Eritreans had never voted in free and fair elections.  The number of people fleeing, which was estimated at 5,000 every month, was forcing the outside world to take notice. 

In the past several months, the Commission of Inquiry had found that systemic, widespread and gross human rights violations were being committed with impunity.  Basic freedoms were curtailed, from movement to expression, and from religion to association.  The non-implementation of the 1997 Constitution had had a profound effect on the country and its people.  With no parliament meeting and a court system controlled by the executive branch of the Government, it could be said that there was no rule of law operating in Eritrea.  Violations of the right to fair trial and due process were particularly blatant, whereas torture was often used to obtain statements.  Arbitrary arrest was common and scores of people were victims of enforced disappearances.  Under the pretext of defending the integrity of the State and ensuring national self-sufficiency, the Government had subjected much of the population to open-ended national service, either in the army or through the civil service. 

The Commission recommended that the Government acknowledge the existence of human rights violations, and that it ensure accountability for them, including extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture, unlawful detention, sexual violence, and forced labour.  Victims should receive adequate redress.    The Commission urged the international community to continue to provide protection to Eritreans fleeing human rights violations and warned against sending them back to danger.  Contrary to Government pronouncements, it was noted that the Commission was recording the voice of real Eritrean people through 550 testimonies and 160 submissions received.  The testimonies collected included Eritreans who had fled their country as late as February 2015.    The Commission strongly recommended the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. 

Statement by the Concerned Country

Eritrea, speaking as the concerned country, said Eritrea remained under United Nations sanctions since 2009 based on hearsay and trumped-up charges.  These sanctions had exacted huge economic and development costs, and remained in force due to procedural hurdles, diplomatic inertia and continued hostility by some principal players and powers, despite Eritrea’s cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The Commission had deliberately short-changed its investigative mission to bolster preconceived, politically motivated conclusions and recommendations.  The Commission’s highly subjective standards of proof and validation were ill-suited to ascertain  potentially fallacious testimonies.  The Commission disregarded many testimonies made in favour of Eritrea.  The Commission was in addition “ignorant” or did not care to note that the border issue with Ethiopia had long been settled.  It had members within its ranks that espoused sinister political agendas against Eritrea due to their close and unorthodox association with subversive groups.  The bleak narrative on human rights in Eritrea that the Commission had portrayed was widely at variance with the prevailing reality in the country.  

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

European Union said that Eritrea should extend full cooperation to the Commission of Inquiry and take all necessary measures to implement the Commission’s recommendations.  The European Union noted with great concern the ever-increasing number of Eritreans leaving their homes and risking their lives in search of a better future.  What were the most urgent steps the Government of Eritrea should take to address the root causes of the migration from Eritrea?  Ghana said it was concerned about the conclusions of the report highlighting systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations committed by the Government of Eritrea.  Ghana urged the Government of Eritrea to implement the Constitution of 1997, ensure the separation of powers and bring justice to all perpetrators who had committed various human rights abuses identified by the Commission.  United States said that the Government of Eritrea had created and sustained repressive systems to control, silence and isolate individuals in the country, which deprived them of their ability to exercise fundamental freedoms.  The Government was encouraged to return the duration of national service to 18 months and treat all recruits humanely.  Were there specific programmatic or diplomatic actions that the Commissioner suggested that Member States should consider in that regard?

Czech Republic regretted that the repeated requests for cooperation of the Government of Eritrea had not received response and that members of the Commission did not have the opportunity to visit the country.  It called on the Government of Eritrea to expeditiously ensure the implementation of the 1997 Constitution, to acknowledge the existence of human rights violations and ensure accountability, to allow the creation of political parties, and to hold free and fair elections at all levels.  Australia said it was deeply concerned by the widespread and systematic human rights violations raised in the Commission’s report, including that Eritreans were subject to systems of national service and forced labour that effectively abused, exploited and enslaved them for indefinite periods of time.  It encouraged Eritrea to implement fully the 1997 Constitution and the rights that it enshrined.  China noted that it was always in disagreement with the imposition of country-specific reports, as their findings were not accurate.  Eritrea was an economically underdeveloped country and thus its human rights situation was affected by the lack of development.  China urged the international community to view objectively Eritrea’s obstacles to the promotion and protection of human rights, and to provide adequate technical assistance.

Belgium regretted the intimidation against members of the Commission of Inquiry, and underlined the deplorable human rights record in Eritrea.  Belgium called upon the Government to open a dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry, and to put an effective end to military service without specified end date.  Belgium asked for proposals concerning measures to stop human trafficking affecting migration routes from Eritrea. 
Djibouti deplored the non-cooperation of Eritrea with mechanisms of the Council, and pointed at mass and systematic human rights violations in Eritrea.  Of particular concern was the situation of helpless Eritrean migrants.  Djibouti still had no news about its citizens being held as prisoners in Eritrea.  Djibouti supported the extension of the mandate of the Commission, to investigate to which extent human rights violations in Eritrea amounted to crimes against humanity. 

Right of Reply

Turkey, speaking in a right of reply in response to Syria, said that the Syrian regime was desperately trying to disseminate lies, in an insult to the intellect of the international community.  Turkey was doing its best to return to the Syrian refugees their dignity which they had lost in their own country.

Syria, speaking in a right of reply, said that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain should spare their “crocodile tears” over the events in Syria.  Saudi Arabia should focus on abuses in its own country.  The culture of human rights was such that, for example, the head of the human rights had stated that ID cards for women were evil.  The media that applauded to Al Nussra should look into their own countries, where there were many people deprived of nationality.  Some regimes were turning a blind eye to the activities of ISIS.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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