Geneva, Switzerland (June 30, 2015), Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE) in collaboration with various human rights organizations and international NGO’s hosted a presentation featuring victims and witnesses that contributed their experiences to the recent Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on Eritrea. The COI was established by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 27 June 2014 to investigate the widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Eritrea.
The presentation was held as a side event to the COI’s report of their findings from their yearlong investigation. The COI report is 484 pages of accounts by Eritrean victims, victims’ families and witnesses of the systemic human rights crimes of the Eritrean government. The document includes testimonies from Eritreans that were direct victims of the government as well as a comprehensive background on the Eritrean war for independence from Ethiopia. The report acknowledges the current border conflict as well as the Commissioner’s inability to assess the human rights situation in Eritrea due to the government’s refusal to allow them entry into the country to conduct their investigation. Elsa Chyrum, Director of HRCE commented that “The COI report is a good reflection of the human rights situation inside Eritrea, but it is still a tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, the regime in Eritrea still uses the demarcation issue with the border with Ethiopia as a justification and reason to violate its citizens’ rights in every possible way, and to continue committing crimes against humanity”
The full report can be found here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIEritrea/Pages/ReportCoIEritrea.aspx
The side event titled ‘Eritrea’s Human Rights Crisis Through the Eyes of the Victims’ began with a tribute to the Somali Ambassador Yusuf Bari-Bari, a champion of human rights and tireless advocate for displaced Eritrean refugees and those victimized by their government. Ambassador Yusuf Bari-Bari was a victim of a brutal attack by Al-Shabab in Mogadishu on 27 March 2015. Chyrum worked closely with the Ambassador and gave a heartfelt presentation on his significant contributions as an advocate for human rights along with diplomats, and other representatives from Under the Same Sun, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Horn and East African Human Rights Defenders Network and Human Rights Watch, among other participants.
Victims, witnesses to human rights violations and family members of those that have been imprisoned or forcibly disappeared by the Eritrean government also gave statements about their experiences. The significance of these Eritreans coming forward to share their testimonies shed light on the mass exodus of citizens leaving the country due to persecution, indefinite national service and lack of freedom of movement. Elsa Chyrum has advocated for these victims and other displaced Eritreans, often assisting in their resettlement. She noted the general sentiment of the event: “the regime in Eritrea has committed heinous crimes against the Eritrean people for so long and with impunity. Listening to victims and families courageously sharing their compelling stories is heart wrenching”.
Of those that shared their personal testimonies and family members detained by the Eritrean government were:
- Mr Solomon Abraha – Brother of Bitweded Abraha, a liberation fighter and prisoner of conscience since October 1991;
- Mr Natnael Estifanos – Son of Estifanos Seyoum, a senior government official and General, imprisoned incommunicado since 2001
- Ms Winta Gebreyesus – A former conscript and victim of torture
- Ms Hanna Petros – A former conscript, victim of torture, both parents are still prisoners of conscience
- Mr Eskias Yemane – Church leader and victim of torture
The event brought together a diverse group of diplomats, renowned human rights experts, victims of the Eritrean government and grassroots activists to address concerns. Due to safety issues stemming from harassment and threats, the Commissioners were not able to attend the presentation but were originally scheduled to brief the audience on their findings.
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