ARTICLE 19 today called on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to ensure accountability for egregious violations of human rights, including freedom of expression, in Eritrea following a damning report by the Commission of Inquiry.
“The Commission of Inquiry has vindicated the experiences and testimonies of the countless Eritreans that have fled the country’s appalling human rights situation in recent years”, said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
“The total absence of media freedom in the country, with journalists jailed incommunicado, and many reported to have died in custody, sustains impunity for the potential crimes against humanity the Commission has identified”, Maina added.
The Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in Eritrea was established by the HRC in June 2014. Though the Commission was denied access to Eritrea, the report they presented to the HRC on 23 – 24 June 2015 drew on a range of testimonies and evidence provided by Eritreans throughout the diaspora. The report and its recommendations mirrors grave concerns that ARTICLE 19 raised at Eritrea’s Universal Periodic Review in February 2014.
In an Oral Statement to the HRC, as part of the ‘interactive dialogue’ on the Commission of Inquiry’s report, ARTICLE 19 outlined how an apparatus of censorship and repression have led to no independent voices existing within Eritrea.
No independent media has existed in Eritrea since the last outlets were banned in 2001. Since, media attempting to report from outside the country have been subject to transmission blocking and cyber-attacks. Journalists working for State media outlets have been arrested and detained; and others attempting to leave the country have been murdered attempting to do so.
In 2001, at least 18 journalists and 11 former government officials (part of a collective known as G-15) were arrested on ‘national security’ grounds. Eight of the journalists are since known to have died in State custody. In a complaint initiated by ARTICLE 19, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights decided in 2003 that these abuses amounted to a violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Eritrea has not acted on this decision.
The Eritrean government, responding to the Commission’s report and statements by States, dismissed the allegations as politically motivated, but provided no adequate explanation for refusing the Commission access to the country. Responding to concerns raised by the HRC President, the Eritrean delegation denied any connection to incidents of intimidation against Commission members and civil society in Geneva ahead of the presentation of the report this week.
As a first step towards reform, the Commission of Inquiry identified the need for political will from Eritrean authorities, together with immediate steps to implement the 1997 Constitution.
ARTICLE 19 reiterated the Commission’s recommendation that the government must account for the whereabouts and wellbeing of political prisoners, including journalists, and allow international and regional observers access to them with a view to securing the unconditional release of those that are still alive.
The Commission of Inquiry has recommended that its mandate be extended so it has sufficient time to gather further evidence to confirm the occurrence of possible crimes against humanity in the country. The Commission also recommends the renewal of the mandate of Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea, to ensure sustained attention to the human rights situation in the country after the Commission has finished its work.
Djibouti will table a resolution on the human rights situation in Eritrea at the 29th Session of the HRC this week, supported by Somalia and Cameroon.
“It is critical that the UN Commission of Inquiry is able to complete its work, and that it is given the mandate to address issues of accountability for human rights violations, including possible crimes against humanity” said Maina. “All States must get behind Djibouti in supporting this initiative; greater exposure of Eritrehttps://www.article19.org/data/files/medialibrary/38019/Oral-statement-responding-to-Eritrea-COI-FINAL.pdfa’s gross human rights abuses on the international stage cannot come soon enough,” he added.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Human Rights Council to adopt the resolution on the situation for human rights in Eritrea by consensus.
Read ARTICLE 19’s in depth report, “A Nation Silenced”, on violations of freedom of expression in Eritrea.