British Parliament hears concerns about Eritrean human rights

Now that British Members of Parliament have returned to work they have taken up the atrocious human rights situation through a series of questions to Ministers.

Below are the questions and answers. The plight of Eritrean prisoners and the rights of its journalists have not been forgotten, as well as other issues, like desert locusts.

Importantly, the British Government commits itself to supporting the continued work of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea.


 

Asked by Harriett Baldwin

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what representations he has made to the Government of Eritrea on the release of political prisoners, journalists and Aster Fissehatsion.

Answered by: James Duddridge

We remain concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea, including the arrests of opposition leaders, journalists and religious figures. Since Aster Fissehatsion and others were detained in 2001, the UK Government, along with partners in the international community, have taken every opportunity to voice our concern about arbitrary arrests and detentions in Eritrea, and have called for their release. We have done so directly with the Government of Eritrea and publicly – through our annual reporting on human rights and at the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva.

On 26 February, the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights, Rita French, delivered a statement during the 43rd Session of the HRC expressing concern at continuing human rights abuses. Although welcoming Eritrean acceptance of Universal Periodic Review recommendations and offering UK assistance in support of their implementation, she said that the UK would continue to press for the release of arbitrarily detained individuals including journalists, as well as reform of the National Service and freedom of religion or belief for worshippers of unregistered religions.

During visits to Eritrea, the FCO’s Head of East Africa Department, in November 2019, and the Home Office International Director, in February 2020, both raised human rights issues with senior members of the Eritrean Government, including Freedom of Expression and National Service. In April our Ambassador in Asmara raised the prospect of releasing prisoners given their increasing risk of infection from Covid-19 with the President’s chief political adviser, Yemane Gebreab. Eritrea remains a priority country for the FCO under our annual human rights reporting, and we will continue to monitor the situation there.

Asked by Sir George Howarth

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what representations he has made to the UN Human Rights Council on the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

Answered by: James Duddridge

The UK is a strong supporter of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea and the important work that she does in challenging the government of Eritrea to improve its human rights record. This was reiterated by the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights in her statement at the last session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) on 26 February. The HRC was suspended in March because of COVID-19, and arrangements to conclude the 43rd session and hold the 44th session have not yet been agreed. As the Minister of State responsible for Human Rights, Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, told the High Commissioner for Human Rights on 20 May, the UK supports the safe resumption of the HRC in June. The UK believes that the Special Rapporteur’s work on Eritrea needs to continue, and we would support a resolution renewing her mandate.

Asked by Lord Hylton

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made to the government of Eritrea about the house arrest of Patriarch Antonios of the Eritrean Orthodox Church; and what responses they have received

To be answered by 17 June

Asked by Stephen Doughty

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what assessment his Department has made of the location of 20 people arrested by the Eritrean security forces in November 2019 in the Mendefera and Adi Quala areas in the Southern Zone of the State of Eritrea.

Answered by: James Duddridge

We are aware of reports that at least 20 Muslim males, including local businessmen, religious teachers and community leaders, were arrested in Mendefera and Adi Quala on 28 November by Eritrean security forces. It is difficult for diplomatic staff to verify such reports given the lack of free media reporting in Eritrea and Eritrean Government restrictions on internal travel by diplomats.

Eritrea remains a priority country for the FCO in our annual human rights reporting, and we will continue to monitor the situation there. We regularly raise our concerns about human rights in Eritrea with their Government and in international fora. On 26 February, the UK’s International Ambassador for Human Rights delivered a statement during the 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council expressing concern at continuing human rights abuses; she welcomed Eritrean acceptance of Universal Periodic Review recommendations with an offer to support their implementation, and called for the UN Special Rapporteur to be allowed to visit Eritrea.

During visits to Eritrea, the FCO’s Head of East Africa Department, in November 2019, and the Home Office International Director, in February 2020, both raised human rights issues with senior members of the Eritrean government, including Freedom of Expression and National Service. In April our Ambassador in Asmara raised the prospect of releasing prisoners given their increasing risk of infection from Covid-19 with the President’s chief political adviser, Yemane Gebreab.

Asked by Stephen Doughty

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, what representations he has made to his Ethiopian counterpart on that country’s change to its asylum policy in January 2020 towards Eritrean refugees.

Answered by: James Duddridge

The UK Government is concerned about the recent changes in Ethiopia’s status determination procedures for asylum seekers. We have sought a dialogue with the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) on its changes so that we can discuss how they will be delivered and the implications for those fleeing from Eritrea and elsewhere. Through our £170 million refugee and migration programme in Ethiopia (2016-2023), the UK is a leading donor to the refugee response in Ethiopia and plays a proactive role in the coordination of the refugee response alongside UN agencies, other donors and the GoE.

Asked by Stephen Doughty

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development, what assessment her Department has made of the effect of the (a) covid-19 pandemic and (b) ongoing locust infestation in the Horn of Africa on the humanitarian situation in Eritrea.

Answered by: James Duddridge

We are deeply concerned about COVID-19 and the desert locust outbreak compounding high humanitarian need already caused by residual effects of war and climate change induced disasters in Eritrea. Limited health infrastructure, limited diagnostic capacity, low levels of sanitation coverage and high pre-existing levels of malnutrition and morbidity, raise the Eritrean population’s vulnerability. The locust outbreak is destroying crops, livelihoods and essential food supplies. The impact of COVID-19 on domestic market supply chains and household food and income sources could also be significant.

Existing humanitarian and development programmes in Eritrea are being adapted to address current food security challenges. The UK has funded life-saving activity in Eritrea for several years, including providing £4 million to UNICEF in 2019-20 to help treat malnutrition in under-fives and provide access to safe hygiene and sanitation services. The UK has provided £7 million to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Regional Emergency Appeal for the locust outbreak, which includes Eritrea. With the UK’s support, the FAO is spraying pesticides on the ground and by air to prevent further damage to crops and livelihoods.

Asked by Stephen Doughty

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development, what assessment her Department has made of the humanitarian situation of (a) Eritrean asylum seekers and (b) unaccompanied children who are being turned away from the Ethiopian border.

Answered by: James Duddridge

Recent changes in the Government of Ethiopia’s (GoE) asylum policies, alongside the impact of COVID-19, are affecting the ability of Eritreans to acquire refugee status in Ethiopia. The policy changes have seen a reduction in the numbers of Eritreans registering with the GoE and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Humanitarian agencies are now concerned that many Eritreans, including unaccompanied children, arrive in Ethiopia but do not complete the formal registration processes that facilitate access to lifesaving protection and other forms of assistance. This makes it challenging to assess their humanitarian needs.

We are not aware that unaccompanied children are being turned away at the Ethiopian border. However, in an effort to limit transmission of COVID-19 GoE asylum personnel are no longer deployed at border crossings, which complicates registration processes for newly arrived asylum seekers. Despite these complications we are encouraged that recent COVID-19 planning documents shared by the GoE stress Ethiopia’s commitment to uphold the right to asylum.

In Ethiopia, the UK has allocated £22.2 million to COVID-19 activities with urgent support now reaching refugees and other communities across the country. Ongoing UK funded programmes are also being adapted to meet COVID-19 needs, which refugees are also benefitting from.

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