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Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea after her interactive dialogue at Third Committee during the 70th session of the General Assembly

28 October 2015

(New York 28 October 2015) – In her third briefing to the Third Committee of the General Assembly, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, highlighted three key areas of concern namely the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, more specifically on the right to adequate housing, smuggling and trafficking, and the increasing number of unaccompanied minors who form part of the more than 5,000 people fleeing the country on a monthly basis for an uncertain future.

“From recently collected data, those leaving Eritrea are getting younger. Children represent our future and as Eritrean children increasingly cross international borders the future of Eritrea is walking away.”  Ms. Keetharuth stressed during her interactive dialogue.

She not only expressed concern about the fact that children are left with no other option than to leave Eritrea due to the human rights situation in the country in particular coercion into the national and military service which limits their enjoyment of the right to education, but also restrictions on freedom of movement and exit visas which place people in the hands of smugglers and traffickers at grave risk of becoming victims of torture.  In this context she was concerned about the short and long-term impact of the “commoditization” of Eritreans and on society as a whole.

“The main reason for fleeing”, she said “remained the national service, which in effect amounts to forced labour; this includes disproportionate punishments for insignificant “mistakes” or the fear of being trapped in the national service ad infinitum”. She also referred to statements from interviewees that recounted how mothers essentially gave birth to children that were later taken by the military to become soldiers.

In her report*, the Special Rapporteur also focused on the issue of forced evictions and demolition of houses in different parts of Eritrea.  She notes that threats to the right to adequate housing posed by forced evictions have been amplified in Eritrea since the beginning of 2015. Forced evictions represent an on-going practice and the authorities have bulldozed scores of houses, directly affecting hundreds of households.  Approximately 800 houses were demolished in Asmara and in several other villages in the vicinity of Asmara, as well as in other towns, such as Adi Keyh. About 3,000 people were made homeless owing to the forced evictions and demolitions.  These figures represent conservative estimates collated from different sources, as no official statistics are available regarding the number of houses torn down, the number of people displaced, the number of people injured and the number of those who lost their lives during the evictions, more specifically in Adi Keyh.

The Special Rapporteur urged the Government of Eritrea to: release all political prisoners; stop all forced evictions and demolitions, and review existing legislation and policies in line with international law; expand the provision of social housing; submit all outstanding reports to the treaty bodies in particular the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which has been outstanding since 20 June 2003; and the need for Eritrea to respect and fulfil the right to education without coercion which is causing so many young Eritreans to flee.

She also encouraged the international community to: advocate for reforms with respect to the national service; ensure human rights due diligence in the context of development cooperation; provide assistance for social housing; and provide safe and legitimate channels for migration and asylum which respect international human rights norms and standards.

Since her appointment in November 2012, the Special Rapporteur has made several requests to visit Eritrea, which have so far not been granted. Consequently, the Expert resorted to gathering first-hand information from those who have left Eritrea.  She reiterates her call for to the Government of Eritrea for access to the country to assess the human rights situation.

The Special Rapporteur thanked the Governments of Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom for accepting her requests for visits this year to engage with academic institutions and speak to Eritreans living in their countries. She would also like to thank the numerous Eritreans who have offered valuable information to enable her to prepare her reports and advocate for the respect of human rights in the country. She remains humbled by their personal stories and courage despite the real prospect of reprisals against them and their families in Eritrea.

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 (*) Read the full report of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/29/41): http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=201

Read the summary of the interactive dialogue:
http://www.un.org/press/en/2015/gashc4145.doc.htm

ENDS

Sheila B. Keetharuth was appointed as the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea during the 21st Session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2012.  She took her functions on 1 November 2012. 

As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity.  A lawyer from Mauritius, she has extensive experience in monitoring and documenting human rights violations, advocacy, training and litigation in human rights in Africa. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/ER/Pages/SREritrea.aspx

Check the Special Rapporteur’s first and second report on Eritrea to the UN Human Rights Council:
http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=201
UN Human Rights, country page – Eritrea: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/ERIndex.aspx

For more information, please write to sr-eritrea@ohchr.org