Open letter to Member States of the United Nations General Assembly
3rd March 2021
Dear Members of the United Nation General Assembly,
We are writing to you with a sense of considerable urgency to raise the issue of Eritrea’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council. We understand that the Eritrean government has submitted an application to be re-elected as a member of this body.
Clearly, as members of the United Nations General Assembly, you will be aware of the fundamental principles and requirements for state members of this Council set out in paragraphs 8 and 9 of its founding Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 3rd April 2006 (/RES/60/251); also relevant to this application is Paragraph 12 of the Resolution which requires a state to co-operate with the methods of work of the Council and “allow for subsequent follow-up discussions to recommendations and their implementation and… allow for substantive interaction with special procedures and mechanisms…”
It is particularly difficult in Eritrea’s case to see how that state can be regarded as one which complies with these UN principles, let alone as a state which displays respect for and “upholds the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights”.
In 2016, the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Eritrea found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity – including enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, other inhumane acts, persecution, rape and murder – had been committed in the country since 1991.
There are over 10,000 prisoners of conscience in Eritrea. Anyone whose political views or religious faith attracts government suspicion is detained, usually without charge or trial, in appalling conditions. Enforced disappearances and extra-judicial executions are frequent, and torture is widespread.
There is no conscientious objection alternative to the system of compulsory National Military Service for all Eritreans over the age of 18, which has no end time limit.
Furthermore, there is clear evidence of the enforced use of conscripts as slave-labour in mining, industry, agriculture and administration offices, and in the war in Tigray.
What is certain and indeed obvious, is that the state of Eritrea has never “co-operated” with the “special procedures and mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council”. Eritrea has consistently refused to cooperate with the UN Human Rights special procedures, including the Special Rapporteur and its Commission of Inquiry. It has denied access to independent experts and investigators, boycotted debates on its human rights situation and launched attacks against human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur, and COI members.
The Eritrean government flouts the first two criteria set out by paragraph 9 of UNGA resolution 60/251 (namely, that States ‘uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’ and ‘fully cooperate with the Council’).
Eritrea’s human rights record was at least reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review system, but recommendations made and accepted during Eritrea’s reviews remain largely unimplemented. At the regional level, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) issued numerous decisions that have been entirely ignored by the Eritrean Government. Nothing has changed for the better in the human rights situation in Eritrea since 1991, and certainly not since 2018 when it applied for membership of the HRC.
Accepting Eritrea as a member of the UN Human Rights Council amounts to giving legitimacy to attacks against the Council’s integrity, as the Eritrean government has routinely engaged in reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society, who play a key role in the Council’s work by providing it with some of the information it needs to fulfil its mandate.
Indeed, Eritrea’s human rights record has only worsened since 2018.
The whole of Eritrea is suffering from prolonged starvation as a result of the complete lockdown due to COVID-19 and the ban on any movement even by bicycle, effectively stopping all casual and unofficial work and the income derived from it.
At the same time the government of Eritrea has sent thousands of soldiers into Tigray to fight a war in which it has no reason to participate, and there is now eye-witness evidence that its military has been committing crimes against humanity. Crimes Against Humanity committed by the Eritrean government against its own people were reported by the UN Commission of Inquiry. It is now clear that the Eritrean military have committed appalling War Crimes outside Eritrea in Tigray.
The Eritrean military in Tigray have also been directly responsible for abducting at gunpoint up to twenty thousand refugees from Shimelba and Hitsats refugee camps and forcibly transporting them to Eritrea. These two refugee camps were subsequently burned to the ground. Such enforced repatriation (or “refoulement”) of refugees against their will to the very country they fled from is contrary to every principle of international refugee law.
We appeal to you, to review fully the latest human rights record of Eritrea, as well as the evidence provided by the UN’s own Special Rapporteur and UN Commission of Inquiry, before considering the possibility of Eritrea’s further membership of the Council. Admission to membership should be solely dependent on Eritrea’s verifiable implementation of the recommendations of the above-mentioned UN officials and bodies and should not happen before credible evidence of such changes is shown. It is especially inappropriate for Eritrea to be accepted as a member of the Human Rights Council after the actions of its military in Tigray region and whilst these and its President’s responsibility are being investigated by the International Criminal Court.–
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)firstname.lastname@example.org