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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 29th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

(GENEVA 24 June 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, emphasized that Eritrea and the international community should nurture a long-term human rights perspective in the country. She provided an update on the situation of human rights in Eritrea on 24 June 2015, during the 29th session of the Human Rights Council.

“I call on the Eritrean Government and the international community to bear in mind that trading human rights for short-term political or economic gains would undermine the long-term enjoyment of all human rights by all in Eritrea” Ms. Keetharuth stressed during her interactive dialogue*.

In her report**, the Special Rapporteur focused on the issue of forced evictions and demolition of houses in different parts of Eritrea. She also raises the plight of unaccompanied minors crossing the international borders and the Mediterranean Sea. Ms. Keetharuth ends the report with conclusions and recommendations to the Government of Eritrea and the international community, aimed at addressing the prevailing situation of human rights in Eritrea

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.

In Adi Keyh, town residents opposed the demolitions and evictions fiercely, leading to physical confrontations between high-school children and the military. Reportedly at least two people who stood in the way of the military to save their homes or during protests were killed on or about 5 March 2015. A dozen of high school students were detained when they tried to stop the demolitions and because of their participation in protests. There is little evidence that the State authorities took any proactive measures to inform those facing eviction of the demolitions. The impact has been greater on more vulnerable groups of society, including women, children and the elderly.

The Special Rapporteur called on the Government of Eritrea to put an immediate stop to the practice of forced evictions and demolition of houses by agreeing to a moratorium, to be maintained until the Government sets up an independent mechanism to assess the reasonableness and legality of any eviction, bearing in mind international human rights law and practice in this field. She also called for the prioritization of the provision of social housing by expanding the low-cost housing supply to match the huge unmet demand for such housing. Ms. Keetharuth called for investigations and the prosecution of public order officials, including the military and police, responsible for killings, violence, unlawful arrests and arbitrary destruction of personal property during evictions, more specifically in Adi Keyh.

The Special Rapporteur is concerned about the plight of unaccompanied Eritrean minors crossing international borders is becoming increasingly visible, revealing a population characterized by its heightened vulnerability. Eritrean minors manage the journey across the borders into neighbouring countries, and then through the desert and across the Mediterranean Sea. These journeys are undertaken at risk of falling prey to many forms of abuse, including sexual, economic and criminal, these minors represent a group with special protection needs. The consequences of these death-defying journeys are too dire to bear and the impact on unaccompanied minors could be ever-lasting, leaving them traumatised for life. She called on the international community to develop detection and follow-up mechanisms to identify and protect unaccompanied migrant children.

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 access to the country to assess the human rights situation.

The Special Rapporteur thanked Italy and Belgium for supporting her mandate and having allowed her to interview Eritreans on their territories. 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 county. Ms. Keetharuth appreciates their courage to speak with her despite the real possibility of reprisals against themselves and their families in Eritrea.

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(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16136&LangID=E)

(**) Read the full report of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/29/41): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session29/Documents/A_HRC_29_41_en.doc

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