UN expert says embracing human rights is vital to shape successful future

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GENEVA, SwitzerlandThe UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea has expressed concern that patterns of violations identified over the past six years persist, namely arbitrary and incommunicado detention, indefinite military/national service amounting to forced labour and severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms.

In her fifth and final report to the Human Rights Council, Sheila Keetharuth expressed concern that the human rights violations she identified in her first and subsequent reports, as well as in those of the Commission of Inquiry in Eritrea remained unchanged.

“It is not acceptable that we are still seeing these types of human rights violations continue in Eritrea and that the Government has shown little willingness that it would tackle such abuses,” she said. adding “It is vital for the country’s future that these wrongs are put right. That means creating fundamental institutions based on the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a democratically elected parliament and providing space for diverse political parties, an independent media and civil society organisations.”   

She said it was deeply concerning that arrests and detention were used as a form of punishment for legitimate and peaceful exercise of fundamental rights.

Keetharuth cited as an example the arrest and detention of the late Haji Musa Mohammed Nur, former director, and other committee members of the Al Dia School in the Akhria neighbourhood of Asmara. Haji Musa, aged 93, died in March 2018, after having been detained for four months, reportedly for refusing to apply a Government directive on banning Muslim students from wearing the veil or hijab, the discontinuation of religious teachings as well as the introduction of co-education.

Keetharuth was also worried about the continued detention of children and said she had spoken with the parents of an adolescent boy arrested after the funeral of Haji Musa on 3rd March 2018. He was with other children aged below 18, who were rounded up just after the ceremony. The child has been in incommunicado detention since then. While some children have been released, an unknown number remain in detention.

“I recall the right of all detainees to have the lawfulness of their detention reviewed by a court, and the right of victims of unlawful detention to compensation – rights that Eritrea systematically refuses to respect,” she said. All those arbitrarily detained should be released and alternatives to detention considered, particularly for children.

She also expressed concern about the lack of protection afforded to Eritrean refugees. Keetharuth cited the death of an Eritrean national on 6th June 2018 at a detention holding area in the Cairo International Airport where he was being held in transit as he awaited removal from the United States of America to Eritrea. She reiterated her call to host countries to continue providing protection to Eritreans and refrain from sending them back as the risks of punishment for having left are high.

Human rights violations continue in Eritrea and that the Government has shown little willingness that it would tackle such abuses

She  recalled that both she and the Commission of Inquiry had repeatedly called for the implementation of the 2002 decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission to delimit the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

In this regard, she welcomed recent efforts to reach peaceful solutions and called on all concerned to ensure that human rights remain a central consideration, moving forward.