35th session of the Human Rights CouncilOral Update on Eritrea, Item 4
Severe human rights restrictions in Eritrea
15 June 2017
Opening Statement by Ms. Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, 15 June 2017
Ladies and gentlemen,
In resolution 32/34, this Council requested the Human Rights Office to continue to enhance engagement in improving the situation of human rights in Eritrea and to present an oral update at this session on progress in cooperation between Eritrea and the Office, and on its impact on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.
Since we last reported to this Council at its 32nd session, the Office and the Government of Eritrea have been in discussions on the organisation of a workshop to strengthen administration of justice. This is in accordance with accepted Universal Periodic Review recommendations, the Strategic Partnership Cooperation Framework (SPCF) between the Government and the United Nations for 2017-2021, the request from the Government for assistance from the Office, and subsequent technical assessment missions that the Office undertook in 2015 and 2016.
We have reached agreement with the Government on the objectives of the proposed workshop in coordination with the United Nations country team, which will aim to reinforce the capacity of judges, prosecutors, lawyers, police and prison officials, to improve their knowledge of international and regional human rights norms and standards, and strengthen their implementation and protection at the national level. We plan on implementing the proposed activity next month in collaboration with the Government.
Together with the Government we have also agreed that during our next visit to the country in July we will meet with the Government and relevant stakeholders and counterparts to discuss human rights issues of concern in the country. We are keen that increased engagement by the Government with international partners should translate into concrete impact and improvement of the human rights situation on the ground and we will focus our interaction with the Government on this primary concern.
We have also been in discussions with the Government on the request made by this Council -- at its 32nd session -- for the Office to establish a presence, with a full mandate in Eritrea.
The Government has indicated that it cannot consider the proposal at present and has informed us that they would like to begin with exploring options for strengthening collaboration with the recently deployed Human Rights Adviser. The Human Rights Adviser was deployed to the Resident Coordinator’s Office last month, to amongst other things assist with the implementation of accepted UPR recommendations in addition to other human rights concerns. We welcome the Government’s commitment to work with the UN Country Team and other international actors on the follow-up to accepted UPR recommendations and call on the Government to also reconsider recommendations it did not yet accept.
We look forward to an update by the Government outlining the steps it has taken so far and hope that it will reflect the commitment for real improvement on the ground. Without meaningful impact, the UPR will remain an exercise without any genuine relevance for people’s lives. This requires a transparent, inclusive, and participatory process at the national level, which would be inadequate without the active participation of civil society. We call on the Government to create an environment were civil society organisations can operate without interference and fear. My Office remains committed to support the Government in these endeavours.
This year Eritrean Government officials participated in a regional training-of-trainers on treaty body reporting which we organized in Nairobi from 6-10 March and aimed to improve and develop the knowledge and skills of participants on treaty body reporting and on human rights training methodology. Two Eritrean Government officials are now trained to build the capacity of their counterparts on the functioning and reporting requirements of the treaty bodies.
While our engagement with the Government of Eritrea has continued, the situation on the ground has unfortunately not seen significant changes. There are continued reports and allegations of serious human rights violations, including reports of arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention. Indefinite national service despite legislation limiting the duration to 18 months, continues to lead to significant human rights violations as well as limitations on the media civil society and civil liberties. Restrictions on access to Eritrea and freedom of movement within the country make it impossible to independently verify allegations of human rights violations.
This Council’s resolution requested the Government to provide information to the Office on all detained persons and persons missing in action. I regret to report that we have not received any information on the number of detainees, their identity, safety, well-being or whereabouts to date. We urge the Government to ensure that any person arbitrarily detained should be immediately released. Furthermore, the right to a fair trial at all times and in all cases and the rights of all persons deprived of their liberty need to be fully respected.
I am especially concerned that the Government of Eritrea has not made progress in addressing concerns highlighted by this Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, in particular as it relates to impunity and lack of accountability towards perpetrators of past and ongoing violations, as noted also by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. I regret that for the 5th year, the Government has refused to provide her with access to the country. I reiterate the High Commissioner’s call to the Government of Eritrea, to cooperate in respectful manner with the country mandate and all other mandates of this Council, and provide access, in the absence of which the Special Rapporteur will continue to monitor the situation remotely.
I hope that Eritrea’s increased engagement with the international community will translate into concrete improvements in the human rights situation on the ground.
We count on the commitment of the Government and the international community to ensure protection and enjoyment of human rights by all Eritreans and accountability for human rights violations. We are looking forward to discussing with the Government of Eritrea in detail our possible support to such future endeavours.