First of all, let me say how overjoyed I am by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council’s decision at the Twentieth Session on July 6th to adopt the resolution A/HRC/20/L.19, which, amongst other things, provides for the establishment of a Special Rapporteur to Eritrea for the first time, and officially condemns all the human rights abuses committed by the Eritrean authorities.
The resolution calls upon the Government of Eritrea, without delay to end its use of arbitrary detention of its citizens, and to end the use of torture and inhumane and degrading treatment and punishments; to account for and release all political prisoners, including the G-11; to ensure free and fair access to an independent judicial system for those detained and to improve prison conditions and allow regular access to prisoners for relatives, legal advocates, medical care, and other competent and legally authorized authorities and institutions;
To put an end to the policy of indefinite military service; to allow human rights and humanitarian organizations to operate in Eritrea without fear or intimidation; freedom of peaceful assembly and association; to promote and protect women’s rights, including by mutilation.
To implement the recommendations accepted during its universal periodic review (UPR) and to report on progress made; to end guilt-by-association policies that target family members of those who evade national service or seek to flee Eritrea;
To cooperate fully with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in accordance with their international human rights obligation by inter alia, allowing access to a mission by the Office as requested by the High Commissioner, as well as with the human rights treaty bodies, all mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and with all international and regional human rights mechanisms; to provide the Office of the High Commissioner with all relevant information on the identity, safety, well-being and whereabouts of all detained persons and persons missing in action, including journalists and Djiboutian combatants missing in action since the clashes of 10 – 12 June 2008; and to fully implement the Constitution of Eritrea adopted in 1997.
It decides to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea for a period of one year, to submit a report to the Human Rights Council at its 23rd session; and calls upon the government of Eritrea to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur and to permit access to visit the country and provide information necessary in execution of his or her mandate, and requests the Secretary-General to provide all information to the Special Rapporteur with the resources necessary to fulfill the mandate.
The Eritrean authorities who control all the media in that country would have you believe that this resolution came about through American propaganda for their own purposes, and similarly, the Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the United Nations in Geneva has also issued a Press Release following the adoption of the resolution. What these purposes might be remain a mystery. It is true, however, that the USA has been more outspoken in its human rights reportage against the Eritrean dictatorship.
The truth is that this landmark decision came about through the constant lobbying over four years by Human Rights Concern Eritrea. The first step was in July 2008 when I visited the Human Rights Council in Geneva to study how it worked and how Eritrea’s case could most effectively be brought to its attention. About six weeks later at the 9th session of the Human Rights Council Session, in September 2008, the Eritrean Civic Society in Geneva, individual Eritrean activists in Switzerland, and myself, organised a side event which was chaired by Hassan Shire, Executive Director of the East and Horn of African Human Rights Defenders Project, and I continued lobbying. In the process, I was joined by CSW the East and Horn of African Human Rights Defenders Network, and Human Rights Watch.
Over the next four years HRCE ensured that Eritrea’s case was not ignored, or given little consideration through the agendas of other countries, keeping the case of Eritrea, which is one of the worst cases of human rights abuses in the world, to the forefront. I went to Geneva up to three times a year, attending every session, to raise awareness of the plight of the Eritrean people. Sometimes, it seemed as though the battle would never be won.
Afewerki’s delegates did not attend the previous sessions but they must have sensed that change was in the air because they attended in March 2012 during the 19th session of the HRC when 44 countries signed a cross-regional statement condemning Eritrean human rights abuses. And they were in attendance again this month during the 20th Session. One of them, the Eritrean Ambassador to the European Union, Mr. Mohammed Suleiman, when the resolution was introduced at the African Group Meeting by the Somalian Ambassador, and immediately supported by the Botswanian and Nigerian Ambassadors, saw fit to harangue the Somalian Ambassador in the Serpentine Cafeteria, thinking that he could use the same aggressive tactics in the Human Rights Council as he is used to employing in Eritrea where bullying by officials, even of other countries’ officials, is the norm; the Eritrean Ambassador to the UK, Ambassador Tesfamichael Gerahtu also saw fit to harass the Botswanian Ambassador at the same cafeteria in Geneva for about an hour, just after the meeting, but to no effect. The Eritrean Delegates present at this session had misplaced confidence that somehow their bullying presence, or some form of blackmail, would alter the course of events but history is proving that Eritrea.., too, has had enough of dictators and will have to change.
This correspondent was so overjoyed when the resolution was adopted by consensus that she could not resist letting out whoops of joy and standing up to thank everybody on behalf of the oppressed people of Eritrea.
This is the first time that African countries, such as Nigeria, Somalia and Djibouti, have tabled a resolution against another African country. This resolution was also co-sponsored by Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Italy, Ivory Coast Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Maldives, Namibia, Norway, New Zealand, , Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Swiss, The Netherlands, U.K and U.S.A. We wish to thank these African leaders for their courage, and the co-sponsors for their support.
So, I think it is clear that this historic decision has been arrived at through the perseverance of Eritrean and other human rights organisations, and not, as the dictatorship would have you believe, by so-called USA propaganda for their own interests. The Special Rapporteur, and others who will now gain entry into the hidden world of Afewerki’s dictatorship, with or without the Eritrean authorities’ cooperation, will provide proof that this is not the case.