Dear members of the UN General Assembly,
We are writing to you with a sense of considerable urgency to raise the issue of Eritrea’s possible future membership of the UN Human Rights Council. We understand that the Eritrean government has submitted an application to be elected as a member of this body.
Clearly, as members of the United Nations General Assembly, you will be aware of the fundamental principles and requirements for state members of this Council set out in paragraphs 8 and 9 of its founding Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 3rd April 2006 (/RES/60/251), also relevant to this application is Paragraph 12 of the Resolution which requires a state to co-operate with the methods of work of the Council and “allow for subsequent follow-up discussions to recommendations and their implementation and… allow for substantive interaction with special procedures and mechanisms;”.
It is particularly difficult in Eritrea’s case to see how that state can be regarded as one which complies with these UN principles, let alone as a state which displays respect for and “upholds the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”.
In 2016, the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Eritrea found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity – including enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, other inhumane acts, persecution, rape and murder – had been committed in the country since 1991. There are over 10,000 prisoners of conscience in Eritrea. Anyone whose political views or religious faith attracts government suspicion is detained, usually without charge or trial, in appalling conditions. Enforced disappearances and extra-judicial executions are frequent, and torture is widespread.
There is no conscientious objection alternative to the system of compulsory National Military Service for all Eritreans over the age of 18, which has no end time limit.
Furthermore, there is clear evidence of the enforced use of conscripts as slave-labour in mining, industry, agriculture and administration offices.
What is certain and indeed obvious, is that the state of Eritrea has never “co-operated” with the “special procedures and mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council”. Eritrea has consistently refused to cooperate with the UN Human Rights special procedures, including the Special Rapporteur and its Commission of Inquiry. It has denied access to independent experts and investigators, boycotted debates on its human rights situation and launched attacks against human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur, and COI members. The then-President of the Human Rights Council, Joachim Ruecker, denounced ‘various threats and acts of intimidation [carried out] in [the COI members’] hotel.’1
The Eritrean government flouts the first two criteria set out by paragraph 9 of UNGA resolution 60/251 (namely, that States ‘uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’ and ‘fully cooperate with the Council’). Eritrea’s human rights record was at least reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review system, but recommendations made and accepted during Eritrea’s first and second cycles reviews remain largely unimplemented. At the regional level, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) issued numerous decisions that have been entirely ignored by the Eritrean Government.
Nothing has changed for the better in the human rights situation in Eritrea since 1991.
If Eritrea is admitted as a member of the Human Rights Council, the Council’s reputation will suffer hugely at a time when it badly needs to prove its value to the world. Accepting Eritrea as a member of the UN Human Rights Council will amount to giving legitimacy to attacks against the Council’s integrity, as the Eritrean government has routinely engaged in reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society, who play a key role in the Council’s work by providing it with some of the information it needs to fulfil its mandate.
We appeal to you, to fully review the human rights record of Eritrea, as witnessed and certified by the UN’s own Special Rapporteur and its Commission of Inquiry, before considering the admittance of Eritrea as a candidate for membership of the Council. Admission to membership should be solely dependent on Eritrea’s verifiable implementation of the recommendations of the above-mentioned UN officials and bodies and should not happen before credible evidence of such changes is shown.
1Reuters, “Police in Geneva guard U.N. investigators into Eritrea’s human rights after threats,” 24 June 2015, 2015, www.reuters.com/article/us-eritrea-un/police-in-geneva-guard-u-n-investigators-into-eritreas-human-rights-after-threats-idUSKBN0P427S20150624.