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Eritrea: UN expert says more arrests, detentions after elderly school chief dies in custody


14 March 2018

GENEVA (14 March 2018) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation human of rights in Eritrea has deplored the arbitrary arrest and detention of hundreds people who have challenged the Government’s restrictions at a school, and expressed concerns about continued human rights violations across the country.

Sheila B. Keetharuth told the Human Rights Council in Geneva that security officials have arrested hundreds of people, mainly males, after the death in custody of Haji Musa Mohamednur earlier this month. He was 93.

Mohamednur, former director of the Al Diaa private Islamic school in the Akriya neighbourhood and respected elder in Eritrea, was arrested in October 2017 together with other members of the school’s administrative committee for failing to carry out Government orders. They refused to enforce a ban on the veil or hijab, to stop religious teachings and to introduce co-education.

“Reports reaching me from credible sources point to the arrest of hundreds of people, mainly males, some of them children as young as 13 years, after the burial of Haji Musa,” she said, adding the arrests were continuing.

This was the second round of mass arrests after a similar wave of arrests in October 2017, she said. “In October, armed law enforcement officers violently dispersed the crowd, wielding truncheons and firing shots in the air,” Keetharuth said.

“Over a hundred people were arbitrarily arrested on that day. In the aftermath, more people were arrested from the Akriya neighbourhood, including students of the school. Reports indicate that while some people have been released, an unknown number remain in custody following this first wave of arrests.”

She said the Government tried to portray the resistance by the Al Diaa school leadership as a Muslim conspiracy and uprising. “The indiscriminate mass arrests in October 2017 and during the past week were carried out to quell any kind of protest or resistance in the face of human rights violations,” Keetharuth said.

“The fear to share anything that could be perceived by the Government as criticism, such as details about the arrest and detention of a relative, remains high.”

These latest cases of arbitrary arrests and detention are similar to the practice documented by the 2014-2016 Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, which reported extensively on cases of arbitrary detention, stating that almost all of those arrested are detained in violation of fundamental rules of international law without any form of judicial proceeding and no official information provided to the families of those detained about the fate of their relatives.

The Special Rapporteur said independent observers and researchers continued to be denied access to the country. “There is still no free and independent reporting on the situation by Eritreans from within the country,” she said.

“Sharing information abroad, including short video clips of events as they happen, or suspicion of doing so, can expose a person to arrests and detention. In such circumstances, claims made by the Government regarding their adherence to human rights norms cannot be verified. Sustained scrutiny is critical, given the continuing serious human rights situation.”

Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth (Mauritius) was appointed as the first Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea in October 2012. From 2014 to 2016, she also served as a member of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. Since May 2014, Ms. Keetharuth is an expert member of the Working Group on Extractive Industries, Environment and Human Rights Violations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Until 2012, Ms. Keetharuth was the Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa in Banjul, The Gambia. She also worked with Amnesty International in Kampala, Uganda, and as a lawyer and broadcaster in Mauritius. In 2017, Ms. Keetharuth was awarded with the Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award by the University of Leicester, in recognition of her human rights work.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: Eritrea

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Birthe Ankenbrand (+41 22 928 9465 / [email protected]) or write to [email protected]
For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: