On Friday 1st July, 2016, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the report and recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in Eritrea (COIE), including the conclusion that crimes against humanity have been committed by the government and officials of Eritrea.
The adoption comes despite intensive lobbying efforts by Isaias Afewerki’s’ right-hand man, Mr. Yemane Ghebreab (Head of Political Affairs and Presidential Adviser) and his team, to convince member states to reject the COIE report.
The resolution endorsing the findings and recommendations of the COIE was sponsored by Somalia and Djibouti, co-sponsored by 11 states, and was presented to the Council by Somalia’s Ambassador Ms. Faduma Abdullahi Mohamud. The resolution, inter alia, calls for the referral of the COIE reports to relevant UN organs and urges the African Union to setup a regional accountability mechanism to further investigate and examine with a view to brining the perpetrators of the said crimes to justice. The adopted resolution also calls for the extension of the mandate of UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea with her mandate focusing on following up on the implementation of the COIE recommendations.
In addition to its forward looking recommendations, the resolution also calls on the Eritrean Government:
To implement the 1997 constitution;
- To end the practice of indefinite conscription and limit military/national service to the 18 months period provided for by the 1995 decree;
- To put an end to the practice of using conscripts as forced labour;
- To end the practice of arbitrary arrest, detention, and enforced disappearance;
- To end persecution on religious and ethnic grounds;
- To release all political prisoners, and allow full freedom of expression, association and movement for all citizens, and;
- To cooperate fully with international human rights mechanisms, including with special procedure mechanisms and treaty bodies, and provide access to and cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur.
As expected, the government of Eritrea rejected the report in its entirety, despite the meticulous investigation and documentation of the human rights violations in Eritrea by the COIE based on interviews with around a 1000 Eritrean witnesses over two years. It is to be noted that the COIE report builds on the documentation of a range of human rights violations documented by the Special Rapporteur over the preceding two years.
Embarrassingly, the Eritrean Government was forced to withdraw its own resolution which rejected the COIE report, since no member state was willing to call for a vote or to express anything other than principled opposition to country specific mandates, thereby allowing for the resolution supporting the COIE report to pass by consensus.
In what can only be described as a desperate attempt to divert attention from the real issue, which is that the leadership in Eritrea is now formally alleged to be committing crimes against humanity, the PFDJ has immediately engaged in futile propaganda, declaring success by erroneously suggesting that Eritrea had been spared from referral to the UN Security Council (SC). It must be noted, however, that it is now only a matter of procedure and time before the COIE report and recommendations are referred to the UNSC for appropriate action.
Commenting on the adoption of the resolution by the HRC, Ms. Elizabeth Chyrum, Director of Human Rights Concern-Eritrea described it as a watershed moment which will change the discussion on human rights in Eritrea from one that focused on determining the severity of the human rights violations in Eritrea to one that focuses on how to bring perpetrators to account and provide justice to the many Eritrean victims of crimes against humanity.
Noting her long time advocacy at the HRC representing Eritrean victims and recently countering Mr. Ghebreab’s efforts, Ms. Chyrum concluded by urging Eritreans to focus on harnessing the energy and solidarity that was vivid when over 12000 Eritreans demonstrated in Geneva in support of the COIE’s report and findings, in the lead up to the passing of the resolution, and to work with even greater focus to ensure justice and healing to the millions of Eritrean victims of severe human rights violations.