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Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea after her interactive dialogue at the 31th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

(GENEVA 14 March 2016) The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, today provided an oral update to the Human Rights Council, focusing on the plight of unaccompanied Eritrean children crossing international borders. Since her first report in 2013, the Special Rapporteur has kept a focus on this pressing issue, as the numbers of children leaving Eritrea kept rising.

Ms. Keetharuth reiterated her continuing deep concern about the overall human rights situation in the country, pushing many Eritreans, including children to leave the country. “They embark on the journey across borders into neighbouring countries and further afield. Human rights violations they experienced has a ripple effect, leading to their increased vulnerability”.

Eritrean children constituted the largest group of unaccompanied children arriving in Italy – about 3,092 out of a total of 12,360 in 2015, the Special Rapporteur indicated. During interviews with the Special Rapporteur, the children pointed to the failure of the Eritrean Government to live up to the hopes and dreams of the younger generation, who aspired to a different existence, rather than spending their lives as soldiers.  One child said he left Eritrea because he wanted a life of his own, rather than one which would make him “belong to the state.” 

“Describing children’s departure as mere ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors often fails to capture the prevailing overall human rights situation in the country and its impact on individual children”, she said.

The Special Rapporteur underlined that the human rights environment in Eritrea, characterised by compulsory indefinite military conscription, impacted on the enjoyment and protection of children’s rights.  This pervasive context renders many of them exposed to abuse in the ‘absence of and in search of a better future’, driven by their conviction that ‘there is no future for them’ in their country of origin.”

The Special Rapporteur called on Eritrea to prioritize improvements in the overall human rights situation by addressing the most pressing ones, in accordance with the country’s international human rights obligations to address the root causes of the huge number of departures, in particular of children.

The Special Rapporteur urged countries hosting unaccompanied Eritrean children to put in place care and protection programmes which provide for individualised responses, targeted and specific to the needs of the unaccompanied children, with a strong component of psychological support, in view of the traumatic experiences they have endured.

Eritrean unaccompanied children abroad hope the conditions in their country would change for the better. An 11 year-old said to the Special Rapporteur “People have rights. Their rights have to be respected. I have seen many bad things.  Many bad things happened to me.  We want to be healed from our pain. My country Eritrea needs to heal too. We need to heal together. My country needs to live peacefully, like the country where I am living now.”

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(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council

Read the summary of the interactive dialogue:
http://www.unog.ch/unog/website/news_media.nsf/(httpNewsByYear_en)/29013F98AAF92231C1257F760049FFF2?OpenDocument

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, second and third reports 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 please write to sr-eritrea@ohchr.org