While welcoming Eritrea’s positive response to some of the UPR Working Group recommendations, we are deeply concerned that it failed to accept the most pressing recommendations that are key to ending the country’s human rights crisis.
The government continues to subject its population to widespread forced labor, imposes staunch restrictions on freedom of expression, opinion and faith, and restricts independent scrutiny.
We regret that, during its 2019 UPR review, the government rejected recommendations calling for an invitation to UN mandate holders. Despite its Council membership, the government continues to refuse to grant access to the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea.
We also deeply regret that the government failed to accept any of the recommendations calling for a reform of the country’s indefinite national service and an end to forced conscription. The responses provided by Eritrea during its UPR on these issues fail to match the reality on the ground. Each year children are amongst the Grade 12 students forced to spend their final year of high school in a military camp. During this year, students undergo mandatory military training and are subjected to harsh punishments and forced labor by the military officials’ controlling them.
Similarly, despite improved salaries for national service conscripts posted in civilian jobs, there has been no meaningful reform of the national service. Improvements in standard of living have been minimal and mandatory ‘national service’ still constitutes forced labor – with conscripts facing years of service and risking serious reprisals if they try to leave.
While the government accepted one recommendation calling for improved rights of detainees, it did not accept important recommendations calling for independent monitoring of places of detention and for the release of people unlawfully detained. The government still jails citizens without trial or means for review. It does not permit relatives access to prisoners.
The government accepted some recommendations calling for the protection of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, as well as freedom of religion, but in practice these key rights are regularly violated. A recent example is the case of the former finance minister Abrehe Kidane Berhane, who remains in incommunicado detention since September 2018 after he publicly criticized the President.
Will Eritrea comply with international human rights law and its membership obligations by unconditionally releasing all persons arbitrarily detained, ending forced conscription of children, reforming the national service system to bring it in line with the statutory 18-month requirement, and fully cooperating with the UN Special Rapporteur?
If Eritrea refuses to accept these recommendations, we urge the Council to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and maintain a strong monitoring mechanism on Eritrea.