We believe that you have received an invitation to attend a side-event organized by the Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the United Nations Office in Geneva, scheduled to take place on Tuesday 13th June, at the Human Rights Council (HRC). This side event is advertised as being “in partnership with the United Nations Country Team”, and supposedly will focus on progress made by Eritrea in meeting recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Eritrea’s Human Rights in 2014.
In advance of this side event it is relevant to ask the crucial question regarding the kind of co-operation the HRC is experiencing in its relations with the governmental regime in Eritrea. It is well known that Eritrea has refused to admit any officials of the HRC into its territory or to allow any UN delegations to examine its record on human rights. There is not the slightest sign that Eritrea has acceded to the recommendations to co-operate with UN Special Procedures or welcome UN Special Rapporteurs to the country. Indeed, the Eritrean authorities ignored repeated requests by the UN Commission of Inquiry for direct access to the country, as well as for information. There has been a repeated refusal to co-operate with UN requests for visits or access to information for its reporting processes.
May we respectfully point out that not one of the 92 recommendations accepted by the Government of Eritrea from the 2014 UPR has been implemented. Torture remains endemic and widespread. Enforced disappearances continue to occur frequently. Child Labour and forced recruitment of children under 18 years of age into military training and military service is still occurring regularly, with unlimited military service the only prospect for these young people.
Abuses of religious freedom continue undiminished. Freedom of expression and a free media continue to be non-existent. No constitution has been established for the country, there is no parliament, and no independent human rights institution or body has been established.
Eritrean refugees forcibly returned to their country continue to be persecuted and imprisoned entirely in contravention of UN principles. For further details of these matters, please refer to Human Rights Concern-Eritrea’s Review of Eritrea’s human rights record with regard to some of the 2014 UPR (see below).
With regard to the 13 June side event at the HRC, it is important to examine who exactly comprises “The United Nations Country Team” referred to in the invitation from the Eritrean Permanent Mission. It is obvious that this “UN Team” will not include any knowledgeable personnel from the HRC, its Commission of Inquiry, or its Special Rapporteur, since all of these persons have been excluded from the territory of Eritrea, and have never been accorded the courtesy of a visit or even an interview with Eritrean officials.
The “UN Team” present on 13 June must therefore be from some other branch of the UN, with limited expertise in assessing human rights. It is not improbable that the “UN team” referred to will include members of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), such as the UNDP Humanitarian Co-ordinator, who have been known for some time to have abandoned the cherished UN principles of independent and unbiased expertise, and have acted more as the representatives of the Eritrean regime in repeating its propaganda and advocating on its behalf.
May we reiterate that UNDP officials have no expertise or authority to speak on the subject of human rights, nor on progress towards meeting targets and recommendations from the UPR processes of the UN HRC. For detailed evidence on this matter, please see the attached letter recently sent in to the UN Secretary General by Human Rights Concern-Eritrea and Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
We trust that you will bear these concerns in mind in your response to the invitation from the Eritrean Permanent Mission to the Side-Event on 13th June at the Human Rights Council.
HRCE’s Review on The UN Universal Periodic Review Of Eritrea’s Human Rights 2014
Eritrea’s first cycle of Universal Periodic Review was in 2009. Although Eritrea had been urged to uphold the commitments it adopted in accepting the recommendations made by the 2009 UPR, it has not implemented any of them.
Similarly, its second UPR review was in February 2014, and to this day there is no indication Eritrea had implemented any of the 200 recommendations put forth in 2014 either (of which it only accepted 92). Many of the recommendations concerned the ratification and implementation of conventions that would guarantee Eritreans their rights and dignity. They can be grouped thematically, and below we comment on the following issues:
- a) Torture
- b) Enforced Disappearance
- c) Child Labour and Children’s Rights
- d) Compulsory Military Service
- e) Religious Freedom
- f) Freedom of Expression
The human rights violated by the State of Eritrea (SoE) are many more but we hope these will give a representative idea of the lack of respect and commitment by the SoE to the Eritrean people, the UPR to which it only gives lip service, and other international bodies and conventions.
The review below takes the form of the responses of Eritrea to the Recommendations in the UPR (in black) and our assessments (in red) of the progress or otherwise in implementing these recommendations.
The State of Eritrea accepted recommendations which included acceding to, ratifying, and implementing the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) and giving clear public orders to cease torture and to prevent children being tortured.
Eritrea ratified the Convention Against Torture in September 2014. But it is clear from evidence received from refugees who have fled from Eritrea that torture continues unabated within prisons and camps in Eritrea. Evidence has emerged from hospitals in Asmara that prisoners who have been subjected to life-threatening abuse and torture are being brought to hospital wards to have their injuries treated and to prevent them from dying from injuries inflicted by torture.
The UN Commission of Enquiry into Human Rights in Eritrea found in June 2015 and 2016 that “the use of torture is so widespread that one can only conclude it is a policy of the Government to encourage its use for the punishment of individuals perceived as opponents to its rule and for the extraction of confessions. Monitoring of detention centres is non-existent and perpetrators are never brought to justice.” The Commission’s report listed about 15 different methods of torture applied by the Eritrean regime, including “violations directly committed by Eritrean public officials; committed at their instigation or with their consent or acquiescence.”
The State of Eritrea said it was “co-operating actively” with Working Group on Enforced & Involuntary Disappearances.
However, this assertion seems to have had no effect, since the UN Commission of Enquiry into Eritrea’s Human Rights found in 2015 that those individuals who are arrested and detained are victims of the widespread and systematic practice of enforced disappearance, which also entails the violation of the right to life, the right to not be subject to torture, and the right to liberty, among other rights. The Commission found that statistics on the number of enforced disappearances were unavailable, but that the government has been especially likely to target the following groups: political dissidents, journalists, religious leaders, and leaders and members of the Afar ethnic group.
Child Labour and Children’s Rights
The State of Eritrea accepted the recommendation to ratify the International Labour Organization Convention 182 on the worst forms of Child Labour and accepted the recommendation to fully implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child and adopt a national plan to cover all areas included in it.
Eritrea signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in August 1994, but acknowledged that it had not fully implemented it in accepting the recommendations at the UPR.
Eritrea accepted the Recommendation from Switzerland to “ensure that the recruitment of children into armed forces stops and that children are not subjected to forced labour.” But Amnesty International reported in 2015 that “Children continued to be conscripted into military training under the requirement that all children undergo grade 12 of secondary school at the Sawa National Service training camp. There they faced harsh living conditions, military-style discipline and weapons training. Some children dropped out of school early to avoid this fate. Children were also conscripted into training in round-ups conducted by the military, in search of people evading National Service.”
The Amnesty Report found that girls and boys as young as 16 were being forced into indefinite conscription. These young people, many of them children, become refugees fleeing a system that amounts to forced labour on a national scale and that robs them of choice over key aspects of their lives. Based on interviews with more than 70 Eritreans who fled the country since mid- 2014, the report sheds new light on the harsh conditions facing conscripts and the brutal methods used by the military against those who attempt to evade it. It is clear that Eritrea has done little or nothing to implement the rights of the child as regards military conscription of children under 18 and child labour.
From October 2015 to February 2016 the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea collected information related to the plight of unaccompanied Eritrean child refugees in neighbouring countries and further afield, including in Finland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia and the United Kingdom. She reported that she “would like to echo the Committee on the Rights of the Child’s concerns regarding the situation of (Eritrean)migrant children… including national service evaders and deserters, who face detention and enforced disappearance” on return. Other family members are not informed of their whereabouts.
The Special Rapporteur also echoed the committee’s concerns about “allegations of forced underage recruitment, including through the frequent practice of round-ups called “Giffa”, despite the legal minimum age for recruitment being set at 18.” She also expressed concern about the “large number of people leaving the country, including unaccompanied children, (who) face the risk of being trafficked, smuggled or abducted”. “Eritrean unaccompanied children said they feared forcibly conscripted into the army…. Some of the unaccompanied children said that if they were caught without identity documents such as their student cards, they would risk being rounded up and conscripted during ‘giffas’ or raids.
One of the unaccompanied children said he was caught in a ‘giffa’ after he had gone to the market to buy food for his family. He was detained together with other boys who were even younger than him and his parents were not allowed to see him while he was in detention. He was sent from prison to military training until he fled the country… Fear of a future constrained by indefinite military conscription and arbitrary detention for exercising fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression or religion, were chief among the concerns they voiced.”
Compulsory Military Service
The State of Eritrea refused to accept recommendations that it end its enforced military conscription for all citizens, male and female, but stated that it began its demobilization programme in 2002. It stated that there is no under-age recruitment in Eritrea’s military.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea reported on 14th March 2016 that “To date, I have not received any conclusive sign that the national service was reduced to 18 months, following initial indications that this could be the case.
Those involved in the 28th round of national service have not been released.” Clearly there is no evidence that the State of Eritrea has started to release young persons from the conscripted National Service programme after one or even two years; they continue to be forced to serve in the military and in industrial labour camps without any chance to leave or be demobilised.
Those who attempt to escape can be shot on sight by the Eritrean military escorts and on April 3rd 2016 in Asmaraeleven conscripts died from such gunshots when they attempted to jump from military/industrial transport conveying them to sites where they are used as “slave” labour. At the end of 2015 the Information Minister of Eritrea confirmed that indefinite National Service is going to remain without fundamental change, but that the government is planning to increase the present very low wages paid to conscripts.
In effect, Eritrea is not prepared to stop forcing its youth into lengthy stretches of work as soldiers and civil servants, a conscription policy that is driving waves of refugees to leave the country to escape from compulsory National Service for an unlimited period. Each month as many as 5,000 people flee Eritrea, according to U.N. figures. Those who flee from the country say that this National Service can stretch to 10 years and much more. The government reserves the right to extend the length of service for any citizen without limit. Officially, compulsory military service does not extend beyond the age of 50, but one man was still in compulsory National Service at the age of 68.
Amnesty International’s report on Eritrea for 2016 concludes that “Children continue to be conscripted into military training under the requirement that all children undergo grade 12 of secondary school at the Sawa National Service training camp. There they face harsh living conditions, military-style discipline and weapons training. Some children drop out of school early to avoid this fate. Children are also conscripted into training in round-ups conducted by the military, in search of people evading National Service.”
The State of Eritrea asserted that “Every Eritrean has the right to religious belief, and Eritrea does not detain people for their religious belief”. It maintained that any persons detained on the grounds of religious belief had been “detained for crimes including treason and threatening national security.”
The abuses of religious freedom denied by the Government of Eritrea continue undiminished.
Religious prisoners are sent routinely to the harshest prisons and receive some of the cruellest punishments, without legal due process. Released religious prisoners have reported that they were confined in crowded conditions, such as in 20-foot metal shipping containers or underground barracks, and subjected to extreme temperature fluctuations.
In addition, there have been reports of deaths of religious prisoners due to harsh treatment or denial of medical care. Persons detained for religious activities, in both short-term and long-term detentions, are not formally charged, permitted access to legal counsel, accorded due process, or allowed family visits. Prisoners are not permitted to pray aloud, sing, or preach, and religious books are banned. Evangelicals, Pentecostals, and Jehovah’s Witnesses released from prison report being pressured to recant their faith, forced to sign a statement that they would no longer gather to worship, and warned not to re-engage in religious activities.
Freedom of Expression
The State of Eritrea asserted that “Eritrea respects the right to information and freedom of expression and opinion. No one in Eritrea is detained for expressing his/her views. Eritrean citizens have access to the entire spectrum of the media, including the internet.…As for the issue of freedom of the press, the government will continue to work on developing press laws and regulations consistent with the values, traditions, cultural practices and national interest of Eritrea.
The Eritrean state government rigidly controls all media. The UN Commission of Enquiry reported that “All media outlets currently operating in the country are owned or controlled by the Government. Ownership of television channels and radio stations, the two media with the broadest reach, is reserved to the Government. Moreover, the law envisages the possibility for the Government to revoke private newspapers’ licenses without a court decision. The closure of Radio Bana is the latest illustration of the executive branch’s control over media in the country.”
Independent Human Rights Institution
The State of Eritrea accepted recommendations to establish an independent national human rights institution, in conformity with the Paris Principles.
However, there is no public news of any such institution having been established in Eritrea, let alone one with the independence from government that the Paris principles require.
The State of Eritrea accepted recommendations not to detain, persecute, prosecute returned migrants and asylum-seekers and allow the UNHCR access to returnees. The State of Eritrea asserted that it “does not encourage involuntary return” and encourages and facilitates the return of its citizens to their country”, where “returnees go straight to their homes”.
The U.N. estimates that about 5,000 Eritreans flee the country every month. Eritreans had been making perilous journeys to Israel and European countries for many years before the refugee crisis captured Europe’s attention. The U.N. refugee agency estimated that in 2014 nearly 420,000 Eritreans — about 6 percent of the population — were refugees or seeking asylum.
Deportation of refugees back to Eritrea continues and refugees who managed to leave the country a second time have reported of the torture and abuse they suffered upon return. They were taken immediately to remote prisons and never saw their home. Some refugees who are deported are never heard from again once they arrive in Eritrea.
UN Special Procedures
The SoE accepted the recommendations to co-operate with UN Special Procedures and the UN Treaty Bodies, CERD and CESCR by agreeing to submit overdue reports to these bodies. In response to recommendations for Eritrea to invite UN Special Rapporteurs to visit the country and extend a standing invitation to them, SoE declared that it would “consider these invitations on a case-by-case basis.”
There is no sign that Eritrea has acceded to the recommendations to co-operate with UN Special Procedures or welcome UN Special Rapporteurs to visit the country. Indeed, the Eritrean authorities ignored repeated requests by the Commission for direct access to the country as well as for information. There is a repeated refusal to co-operate with UN requests for visits to access to information for its reporting processes.