Human Rights Watch has received reliable reports that your government arbitrarily refused entry to four people seeking political asylum from Eritrea in late December in violation of Djibouti’s international treaty obligations.

We strongly urge the Government of Djibouti to respect its treaty obligations. Under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1465 U.N.T.S. 185) to which Djibouti acceded in 2002, Djibouti has an obligation not to return a person to a place where they face torture or ill-treatment. Article 3 of the Convention against Torture provides:

1. No State Party shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.

2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

The State of Eritrea has a well-documented record of gross and flagrant violations of human rights, including torture of Eritrean citizens involuntarily returned to the country. The government of Eritrea routinely imprisons such persons. There have been credible reports of physical and psychological abuse in Eritrean prisons and other places of detention. The victims include returned asylum seekers and military deserters. For example, the 2004 United States Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices reported that, during 2003, Eritrean “police severely mistreated and beat army deserters [and] draft evaders . . .” and “subjected them to various disciplinary actions that included prolonged sun exposure in temperatures of up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit [45 degrees Celsius] or the binding of the hands, elbows and feet for extended periods.”

Under Article 33 (1) of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (189 U.N.T.S. 150), to which Djibouti is a party, “[n]o Contracting State shall expel or forcibly return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his . . . political opinion.” This obligation, which is also a principle of customary international law, applies to both asylum seekers and refugees, as affirmed by UNHCR’s Executive Committee and the United Nations General Assembly. In addition, Article 3 of the U.N. Declaration on Territorial Asylum (U.N. Doc. A/6716) states that no person seeking asylum “shall be subjected to measures such as rejection at the frontier . . . .”

By returning the four men at the frontier without providing them with an opportunity to have their asylum claims considered, the Djibouti government has breached its obligations under international treaty and customary law.

Human Rights Watch urges your government to revise its policies and procedures so as to ensure compliance with the international conventions and declarations on asylum. We would urge your Government not to refoule any asylum seeker, and to provide them with access to fair and efficient asylum procedures so that their claims may be considered. In addition, all asylum-seekers and refugees should be provided with access to UNHCR. Furthermore, given the evidence of torture by the Government of Eritrea of persons who have been involuntarily returned to Eritrea and of army deserters and draft evaders, we would urge the Government not to involuntarily return army deserters and draft evaders to Eritrea, as such action would be in breach of Djibouti’s obligation under the Convention Against Torture.

Finally, Article 12 (4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 999 U.N.T.S. 171, (to which Djibouti acceded in 2002) provides that “ [n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” Refusing to admit Mr. Chehem is a clear violation of the Covenant.
Human Rights Watch urges you to instruct your border police and immigration officials to admit all Djibouti citizens (subject to later administrative and judicial review, if appropriate).

Sincerely,

Peter Takirambudde
Executive Director, Africa Division
Human Rights Watch

cc:
Ambassador Roble Olhaye, Embassy of Djibouti to the U.S.