GENEVA (10 November 2015) – The Commission of Inquiry set up to investigate human rights violations in Eritrea embarked on its second term after reconvening in New York.
In July 2015, the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Commission for one year to investigate systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in Eritrea with a view to ensuring full accountability, including where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity.
The Human Rights Council decided to extend the mandate after hearing the findings and conclusions of the three-person Commission contained in the first report [http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIEritrea/Pages/ReportCoIEritrea.aspx#report].
It notes that arbitrary arrest is a common occurrence, often ordered by anyone with de facto authority. Tens of thousands of Eritreans have been imprisoned, often without charge and for indeterminate periods and ill-treatment and torture of detainees are used routinely. The authors of the report note that all sectors of the economy rely on forced labour, and most Eritreans are likely to be subject to it at some point in their lives.
In New York, the Commissioners presented their findings to the Third Committee of the General Assembly noting a wide range of systematic human rights violations that continue to take place in Eritrea where a climate of fear and lack of hope for a life in dignity and freedom, sparking an increasing number of Eritreans to flee the East African nation.
The Commissioners held meetings with the Permanent Representative of Eritrea to the UN in New York, UN agencies, scholars and civil society organisations.
“We appreciate the opportunity to directly engage with Eritrea’s Ambassador Girma Asmerom Tesfay, but regret that the Government of Eritrea has not yet responded to our numerous requests to visit the country in order to gather first-hand information on the ground,” Commission Chair Mike Smith said. “During our second term, we will continue to seek the Government’s cooperation in carrying out our work.”
The Commissioners also discussed the strategy, methodology and investigative approach they will employ during the implementation of their revised mandate. In line with its revised mandate, the investigation and documentation of possible crimes against humanity in Eritrea
will be at the core of the Commission’s work during the second term. In addition, it will investigate and document developments with regard to the human rights situation in Eritrea since the finalisation of the Commission’s first report.
“It is high time that the Government of Eritrea truly endeavours to improve the human rights of its people. We need to see real progress,” said Smith. “We hope that our work will contribute to positive change for the lives of the people in Eritrea.”
Mr Smith, Adjunct Professor at Macquarie University in New South Wales, Australia, and former Executive Director of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, is working with Ms Sheila B. Keetharuth, who is the current Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, and Mr Victor Dankwa, Associate Professor at the University of Ghana and former member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.*
The Commission of Inquiry, supported by a team of experienced human rights officers, is publishing a call for submissions to encourage interested individuals, groups and organisations to share information with the Commissioners (call for submissions - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIEritrea/Pages/Call2015.aspx)
Biographies of Commission of Inquiry members:
Mr Mike Smith (Australia) –Adjunct Professor in the Department of Policing, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism at Macquarie University in New South Wales, Australia. From November 2007 until July 2013, he was an Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations in New York and Executive Director of the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate. Prior to that, he was Australia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva. In 2004, he was chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Ms Sheila B. Keetharuth (Mauritius) – was appointed in October 2012 as the first Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. Until June 2012, Ms Keetharuth was the Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), a pan-African NGO based in Banjul, The Gambia. A lawyer from Mauritius, Ms Keetharuth has extensive experience in research, advocacy, litigation and training in Africa.
Mr Dankwa (Ghana) – is Associate Professor at the University of Ghana and chairs the Constitutional Review Implementation Committee of Ghana. He was a Member of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights from 1993-2005 serving as its Vice-Chair, Chair and as the First Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Detention Centres in Africa (1996-2000). He was Senior Member of the Faculty of Law, University of Ghana (1972-2005), and a Senior Member at the Department of International Law, University of Limburg, The Netherlands (1985-1987).
UN Human Rights, country page – Eritrea: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/ERIndex.aspx
For more information about the Commission, please contact: [email protected] or write to: Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea
United Nations Office at Geneva
CH-1211 Geneva Switzerland