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Human Rights Council holds dialogue on Eritrea, ends discussion on Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar

30 June 2020

Starts Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s Annual Report and her Oral Update on the Human Rights Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea after concluding its interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar.  It also began an interactive dialogue on the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her oral update on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Daniela Kravetz, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said that over this past year, she had seen no tangible evidence of a meaningful and substantive improvement in the situation of human rights in Eritrea.  After almost two years of joining this Council, Eritrea had yet to cooperate with the mandate and with other United Nations Special Procedures. 

Eritrea, speaking as the concerned country, stated that the recycled report was an extension of a different agenda item and should not be taken seriously.  The shallow conclusions with regards to establishing durable peace in the country were disappointing.

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers called on Eritrea to allow the Special Rapporteur to visit the country and urged it to cooperate with the mandate, expressing regret over the lack of improvements in the human rights situation.  Many speakers noted that the indefinite national service appeared to be the driving force of emigration from Eritrea, and one of the main obstacles to peace and security.  Other speakers called on the Council not to interfere in Eritrean State affairs via this country-specific mandate. 

Ms. Kravetz concluded by saying that her report outlined extensive recommendations to reform the national service in Eritrea.  It was important for the Government to promote job creation under the principles of dignified work and fair working conditions.  The implementation of the International Labour Organization conventions that Eritrea had ratified would require technical assistance, notably as regard the eradication of child labour. 

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were : European Union, Germany, Russian Federation, Belgium, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Djibouti, China, Venezuela (video message), Saudi Arabia, France, Australia, Spain (video message), Syria, Iran, Bangladesh, Croatia, Netherlands, Greece, Austria, Sudan, Switzerland, Somalia, Norway, United Kingdom, South Sudan, Belarus, Ethiopia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Egypt.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations : Christian Solidarity Worldwide (video message), International Fellowship of Reconciliation (video message), East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Human Rights Watch, CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation and United Nations Watch (video message).

The Council then began the interactive dialogue on the annual report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet presented her oral update in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Speakers raised concerns about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in exacerbating gender-based violence, discrimination against persons with disabilities and persons of African descent, as well as existing situations where atrocity crimes could be committed, as speakers called for a global ceasefire and the reinforcement of the “Responsibility to Protect” principle.  Other speakers emphasised that the Council must transcend double standards of selectivity by limiting interference in State affairs.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were the State of Palestine, France on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, Sweden on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Mexico on behalf of a group of countries, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, Cuba on behalf of a group of countries, the United Kingdom on behalf of a group of countries, Norway on behalf of the Nordic countries, Netherlands on behalf of a group of countries, Morocco on behalf of a group of countries, Ireland on behalf of a group of countries, Viet Nam on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Timor-Leste on behalf of a group of countries, Djibouti on behalf of a group of countries, China on behalf of a group of countries, Australia on behalf of a group of countries, and the United Kingdom on behalf of a group of countries.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded the interactive dialogue on the oral update of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar.  The interactive dialogue on Myanmar started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

During the discussion, speakers drew attention to the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and called on the Government of Myanmar to immediately grant full and safe humanitarian access to all conflict-affected areas and to lift any internet and media restrictions.  Speakers emphasised that the Government of Myanmar showed no willingness to facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees, noting that it was actively taking measures to drive out the Rohingya located in Myanmar, some of whom were forced to dig holes in the ground in order to shield themselves from the conflict. 

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were the European Union, Denmark on behalf of the Nordic countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, China, Russian Federation, Malaysia, Libya, Japan, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, France, Pakistan, Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Jordan, Indonesia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, New Zealand, Senegal, Ireland, Turkey, Maldives, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Tunisia and Netherlands. 

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations: Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Save the Children International, International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, International-Lawyers.Org and Aid Organization. 

The Council will next meet on Wednesday, 1 July at 10 a.m. to hold its annual discussion on the rights of the child, with a panel discussion on a healthy environment as a child rights concern: setting the scene.  At noon, it will continue its interactive dialogue on the annual report of the High Commissioner and her oral update on the human rights implications of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Human Rights Situation of Rohingya Muslims and other Minorities in Myanmar

The interactive dialogue on Myanmar started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers, drawing attention to the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis in Myanmar, called on the Government to immediately grant full and safe humanitarian access to all conflict-affected areas and to lift any internet and media restrictions.  Speakers noted that there had been reports about arbitrary arrests, detentions of journalists and human rights defenders, and an intensified clampdown on freedom of expression, emphasizing that such practices must be halted.  Stressing the need for dialogue and consultation, other speakers called upon the international community to provide constructive assistance to Myanmar.  Some speakers said the actions of the Secretariat and the Council must lead to repatriation as soon as possible, and welcomed the creation of a joint working group comprised of foreign ministers of concerned countries, lamenting the colonial factors that were the root of the conflict.  Others called on the international community to shoulder a greater part of the problem.  Speakers denounced the genocide and hate speech that targetted Rohyingya as Muslims, and urged those present to tackle the root causes of the conflict.  Measures to respond to the pandemic should be proportionate and time-bound.

Speakers emphasised that the Government of Myanmar showed no willingness to facilitate the return of Rohingya refugees.  Moreover, the Government was actively taking measures to drive out the Rohingya located in Myanmar, some of whom were forced to dig holes in the ground in order to shield themselves from the conflict.  The services available to Rohingya refugees were lacking, and in combination with a lack of security made the human rights situation dire.  A comprehensive action plan with clear milestones must be created by the Government in order to tackle this crisis.  The impunity which States like Myanmar enjoyed was an abhorrent reality that must be put to an end, and the Government of Myanmar must undergo deep reflection and reform.  The human rights of Rohingya Muslims must be guaranteed and as a first step Myanmar must comply with the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice.  On 3 April 2020, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister had issued a COVID-19 directive, but it was difficult to implement it in the refugee camps, further worsening the situation. 

Concluding Remarks by the High Commissioner for Human Rights

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted that proceedings were underway in a variety of international mechanisms to deal with the crisis.  Myanmar would benefit from a broader range of transitional justice measures.  While some steps to promote economic activity in Rakhine state had been taken, internally displaced persons still had a lack of freedom of movement, which must be addressed.  Myanmar should facilitate an independent election and ensure monitoring by international partners.  At least 135 Rohingya migrants had died at sea this year, mostly as a result of lack of food and water, while others were beaten to death by the crew of the boat.

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

Documentation

The Council has before it the Human rights situation in Eritrea – Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea (A/HRC/44/23).

Presentation of Report by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea

DANIELA KRAVETZ, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said that, like other countries across the globe, Eritrea had been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.  She expressed concern that the COVID-19 pandemic was exacerbating the situation of famine and malnutrition that existed in parts of the country and was contributing to food shortages, in part due to the border closure and the restrictions on food imports currently in place.  Turning to her report, she said that over this past year, she had seen no tangible evidence of a meaningful and substantive improvement in the situation of human rights in Eritrea.  First, to demonstrate progress in human rights, an important initial step was for the Eritrean authorities to address the situation of those arbitrarily and unlawfully detained and of those who had disappeared in the prison system.  She had repeatedly raised this issue and had noted the lack of progress regarding the situation of political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and others arbitrarily and unlawfully detained.  It was quite striking that the Eritrean authorities remained completely silent on this issue.

To advance towards meaningful and sustainable development, Eritrea must invest in its youth.  This required the creation of positive conditions encouraging, among other things, youth to remain in the country.  To build the foundations for a thriving society, the Eritrean authorities must open civic space for independent civil society members.  Today, there was no space for independent human rights defenders, members of political opposition and independent journalists.  After almost two years of joining this Council, Eritrea had yet to cooperate with the mandate and with other United Nations Special Procedures.  The Eritrean authorities had complained that the report presented a distorted picture of the situation in the country.  At the same time, the authorities continued to deny the Special Rapporteur access to the country, refuse to meet with her and did not respond to her requests for input to her reports.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Eritrea, speaking as the concerned country, stated that its response to the COVID-19 pandemic was one of the most successful in the world.  The recycled report was an extension of a different agenda item and should not be taken seriously.  The shallow conclusions with regards to establishing durable peace in the country were disappointing.  The prospects of the peace process were positive in the long term.  Regarding national service, the report claimed that it was the main reason for emigration from Eritrea, yet the real reason lay in misguided policies of certain powers to win over Eritrean youth.  Despite the heavy effect of hostilities, Eritrea was driving forward with people-centred development and inclusive economic growth.  The 2019 transitional measures were already showing results. 

Discussion

During the dialogue, speakers called on Eritrea to allow the Special Rapporteur to visit the country and urged it to cooperate with the mandate, expressing regret over the lack of improvements in the human rights situation.  Many speakers noted that the indefinite national service appeared to be the driving force of emigration from Eritrea, and one of the main obstacles to peace and security.  Some speakers endorsed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, singling out instances of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and torture as particularly troubling, especially when used against the political opposition.  Political prisoners, prisoners of faith and prisoners of conscience must be released immediately.  Human trafficking and gender-based violence were noted as signs that more progress had to be made with regards to gender issues.  Recent positive developments in the broader region were noted, as other speakers praised Eritrea’s progress and increased engagement despite the many challenges it faced, noting that the report used unconfirmed information and calling on the Council to stop interfering in the internal affairs of developing countries such as Eritrea.  Speakers said countries were solely responsible for their internal human rights issues and the international community must only act in assistance to a State, while the Council must not interfere in State affairs and must limit politicisation.  Multiple speakers emphasized that the Universal Periodic Review tool, which Eritrea cooperated with, was the best method of pursuing these issues.  Speakers also commended the normalisation of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia following the 2018 peace agreement. 

Speakers drew attention to the situation of detainees in Eritrea, which had worsened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Their situation was life-threatening, despite the Government’s declaration that the virus had been vanquished.  Eritrea had no welfare system, and with over 2 million people facing food insecurity, the governmental response was inadequate.  The international community must wake up to the alarming situation, speakers stated, and urged the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.  The human rights situation in the country remained dire.  While the interactive dialogue between the Government and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women was noted, Eritrea’s denial of access and refusal to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur violated its obligations as a Member State of the Human Rights Council.  Speakers asked the Special Rapporteur in which areas progress was more likely to happen and what would be the key drivers of change.  Eritreans needed to know that the Government would continue to face Council scrutiny.  Civic space remained closed and there was no free and independent press.  Speakers inquired about the steps that could be taken to ensure that the benchmarks were met.

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea

DANIELA KRAVETZ, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said her report outlined extensive recommendations to reform the national service in Eritrea.  It was important for the Government to promote job creation under the principles of dignified work and fair working conditions.  The implementation of the International Labour Organization conventions that Eritrea had ratified would require technical assistance, notably as regards the eradication of child labour.  It was urgent for the authorities to map a way forward on several fronts, including upholding the freedom of religion, and the failure of the Government to do so was not only unhelpful, but also disappointing.

Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her Annual Report and the Oral Update on the Human Rights Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet presented her oral update in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers agreed with the annual report of the High Commissioner about the need for international solidarity to promote and protect human rights.  COVID-19 had led to a global outbreak of gender-based violence, and response mechanisms had to be urgently strengthened to protect the rights of women and girls.  Persons with disabilities had suffered disproportionately during the pandemic, and it was important to respect their autonomy and right to education.  The pandemic had also further highlighted the discrimination faced by people of African descent, as speakers called for the full implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.  Efforts undertaken to combat COVID-19 crisis were welcomed, and speakers warned of a growing trend of democratic backsliding that was made worse by the pandemic.  Civil society and human rights defenders suffered from disinformation campaigns and abuses of technology, a situation made worse by COVID-19 responses in some States.  By compounding structural inequalities, COVID-19 may exacerbate existing situations where atrocity crimes could be committed, as speakers called for a global ceasefire and the reinforcement of the “Responsibility to Protect” principle. 

The Council was urged to transcend double standards of selectivity by limiting interference in State affairs.  Speakers raised concerns regarding human rights situations in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, Indian-occupied Kashmir, Nagorno-Karabakh, Nicaragua, Venezuela, eastern Ukraine, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, China, Russian Federation, Cameroon, Yemen, Turkey, occupied Western Sahara, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka as well as regarding growing instances of Islamophobia, nationalism, racism and discrimination.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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