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Eritrea’s Human Rights Crisis Requires Ongoing Scrutiny

UN Human Rights Council Should Renew Special Rapporteur’s Mandate

Delegates arrive for the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

At the 41st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council starting today, states will discuss whether to keep Eritrea in the spotlight. A new report from the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea highlights why they should.

The report, which reviews Eritrea’s human rights situation since its historic July 2018 peace deal with Ethiopia, paints a worrying picture of ongoing abuse and repression.

There is no independent scrutiny in Eritrea. Despite sitting on the Human Rights Council, which should entail cooperation with UN rights mechanisms, Eritrea continues to deny access to the Special Rapporteur and other special procedures. It still forbids independent press and non-governmental organizations to operate.

An unknown number of citizens are jailed incommunicado, without trial or opportunity to appeal, some for decades. Detainees are held in awful conditions that fail to meet basic minimum detention standards, and risk ill-treatment and torture.

The report notes the government hasn’t yet taken any concrete steps to reform the country’s notorious open-ended and indefinite national service requirement, which all Eritreans are forced to conduct and in which abuses are rife.

Women and girls continue to risk sexual violence, notably during military training at the Sawa military camp, with little chance of redress.

Neighboring countries, which have previously placed Eritrea on the Council’s agenda, know firsthand that nothing has changed. Hundreds of Eritreans, many of them children escaping indefinite service, continue to flee across the border daily. They will continue to do so until Eritrea addresses the root causes that make life in the country untenable for so many.

While Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somalia are now enjoying improved relations with Eritrea and the mood may be more favorable, this is the wrong time to end scrutiny on the country. Eritrea misrepresented its election to the Human Rights Council as an endorsement by the international community; it would doubtless similarly seize on the termination of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate as “proof” that nothing needs change.

Any future shifts in the Council’s approach to Eritrea should respond to concrete improvements; until then, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur should be renewed, Eritrea should be pressed to allow access to the Special Rapporteur and other UN and African Commission mandate holders, and show concrete progress on the benchmarks identified in the new report.

Eritreans need to know the world is still paying attention to the dire reality they face at home.

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