Eritrea: HRC must establish Commission of Inquiry

Eritrea: HRC must establish Commission of Inquiry - Civic Space

ARTICLE 19 calls on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to adopt a resolution on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, calling for accountability for the dire violations of freedom of expression and other rights in the country. A UN Commission of Inquiry will be critical to investigate these abuses and push for concerted action on Eritrea.

“Eritrea has without a doubt the worst record in Africa when it comes to freedom of expression” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa. “There is no media freedom in Eritrea; jailed journalists are held incommunicado and many have died in custody. The government violates the rights of its people with total impunity.”

“While the Eritrean government does its utmost to censor all independent voices, the international community cannot remain silent. A UN Commission of Inquiry into this situation, like that seen recently for North Korea, is both appropriate and overdue”, Maina added.

Somalia has tabled a resolution on the human rights situation in Eritrea at the 26th Session of the HRC. The draft resolution, which will be considered for adoption this Friday, mirrors grave concerns that ARTICLE 19 raised at Eritrea’s Universal Periodic Review in February.

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.

Instead, the government vehemently denies reports of human rights violations, dismissing information shared at the UN as politically motivated. They have repeatedly refused requests for the UN Special Rapporteur, Ms. Sheila Keetharuth, to visit the country.

The draft resolution calls on the Eritrean Government without delay to:

  • Respect everyone’s right to freedom of expression and to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, and the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association;
  • To implement the 1997 Constitution;
  • To account for and release all political prisoners, including members of the G-15 and journalists, providing full information to the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights regarding their identity, safety, well-being and whereabouts; and,
  • To ensure free and fair access to an independent judicial system for those detained, and to improve prison conditions, including ending incommunicado detention.

Critically, the resolution calls for the renewal of the UN Special Rapporteur’s mandate, and for the establishment of a three-person Commission of Inquiry, including the UN Special Rapporteur, to investigate abuses. The Commission of Inquiry would submit an oral report to the HRC at its September Session, followed by a full written report in March 2015. The Commission of Inquiry would also report to the General Assembly in New York.

“The UN Commission of Inquiry could bring together the evidence to convince the international community to increase its pressure on Eritrea,” said Maina. “All States must get behind Somalia in supporting this initiative; greater exposure of Eritrea’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.