Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights of Eritrea

By IndepthAfrica
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Jan 28th, 2014
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National Report Submitted to the Human Rights Council by Government of Eritrea (GoE) November 2013:

http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G13/185/01/PDF/G1318501.pdf?OpenElement

Responses by Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE) to the Eritrean National Report

V. Progress on UPR Recommendations

Rights of the Child:

Follow-up to 2009 UPR Recommendations: Implementation: The GoE accepted the recommendation to implement the ILO Convention on Child Labour and to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In 2013 the GoE reported that “Domestic laws have been harmonized to conform with the principles enshrined in the CRC”…and that it “has introduced a regulation to ensure that a person below the age of 18 cannot be engaged in an occupation that jeopardizes his/her physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development”.

However, HRCE reported in October 2013 that “children are forced by the authorities to work for long periods year in year out without even nominal pocket money. Students of junior and secondary schools are separated from their parents and sent to remote rural parts of the country in the ‘Maetot’ summer camps – the so-called Summer National Reconstruction Campaign. They are totally isolated from their families and forced to work without any payment.
During the harvesting season, all students of Grades 6 to 8 are forced to do farming work, or work on mending roads and construction of houses.
According to HRCE’s interview with ex-conscripts in August 2013, underage children in National Service were forced to work in government farms, in construction and digging trenches, under harsh conditions, often subjected to physical and psychological abuse and maltreatment.
HRCE stated that “students at junior and secondary levels, many not only under 18 years but as young as 12 years old, are required to attend summer vacation camps for 45 days where they were compelled to undertake unpaid manual labour” in government projects, in the process depriving the children of family life and depriving the families of the economic contribution they would have made by assisting the family and taking part in income-generating projects.
The Government of Eritrea (GoE) report denies cases of child soldiering and under-age conscription. .
In some cases, with lack of birth certificates, it is difficult to prove the true age of a child or to refute completely the government’s assertions, but the physical and psychological maturity of those taken into military training is uncontested. There have been repeated round-ups in schools and also cities and towns that mainly target street children who are under-age and are physically and psychologically very immature. After these round-ups they are taken to the military training centres where they end-up serving in the military often as errand boys.

Gender Equality:

The GoE maintains in its report that “Female empowerment and other rights of women were one of the strongest sides of Eritrea’s liberation struggle. This legacy….has greatly improved the social standing of women…. Eritrea has gone a long way towards achieving gender equity.”

However, the GoE has cunningly exploited the labour of women which it promotes as providing equal opportunity. Under-age marriage and other violations of girls’ rights continue to be widely practised and girls remain under-represented in school enrolments. The GoE has passed a law that prohibits the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, but without putting into place any mechanism to implement this law, and without an independent monitoring system in place.
National military service has been extended to married women, and notably women with children, and indeed women of all ages up to 54 years.
According to the Sexual Rights Initiative, “Eritrean society remains traditional and patriarchal, and women are subjected to perceived inferior status to that of men in homes, communities and workplaces. The GoE is ineffective in addressing these discriminatory beliefs and attitudes.”

Detention Centres and Torture:

Follow-up to 2009 UPR Recommendations: Implementation: The GoE accepted recommendations to ratify and implement the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT) and give clear public orders to cease torture. It also asserted that “torture has been criminalized in the domestic legal system”. The GoE asserted that “Police officers who violate the rights of the detained are indicted and brought to a court of law”.

But, according to the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea (UNSRE) in 2013, all kinds of persons “are subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”.
HRCE reported that “physical and psychological torture is used regularly in prisons, military barracks and training camps”. Amnesty International (AI) states that it has documented “the arbitrary detention of thousands of people without charge or trial …for actual or suspected opposition to the government…and none of these persons has ever been charged with a crime or brought before a judge…to review the legality of their detention”. Widespread reports of appalling conditions of imprisonment abound and were confirmed by the Report of the UNSRE (2013).Those detained are not given access to any legal representation, let alone lawyers of their choice.
In its 2013 report, the GoE also stated that “Every prison inmate has the right to unencumbered religious belief and practice”.
Jubilee Campaign reports that, in the military and in military camps and detention centres, soldiers and detainees are banned from engaging in religious activities and are punished for possessing religious literature (e.g. Bibles).

Poverty Eradication:

Follow-up to 2009 UPR Recommendations: In 2009, four countries recommended stronger efforts to eradicate poverty, and the GoE stated that it “considers access to food for all its citizens as a human right and has invested heavily in food security”.

However, HRCE stated that “a food distribution coupon system controlled food consumption of every household” in the towns, but “people in the villages were left to fend for themselves”. HRCE reported that “poverty was rampant with many families having a meal once a day and begging was common and the only means of income for many.” HRCE advocated the “high need for a social service system to help those who were vulnerable and disabled.”
The Eritrean people have never in their history been so food insecure and the prevalent high malnutrition rate is only one measure of the worsening situation. The government takes by force the larger portion of the produce of subsistence farmers at a low price that the government itself determines.
The UNSRE reported in 2013 that “while the government maintains there is no food shortage, market food prices have reportedly soared, making even basic commodities unaffordable and food rationing widespread….In many villages, those fit for farming were serving in the military, which further contributed to food insecurity. In addition, humanitarian aid organizations are not allowed to operate in Eritrea.”

G. Implementation of Constitution:

The Government of Eritrea (GoE)agreed that under the constitution, an institution to “protect citizens’ human rights” would be provided; but, while stating that “the Constitution will be duly implemented”, made reference to the ongoing hostilities with Ethiopia, and made no commitment as to when this implementation would take place

Amnesty International (AI) reported that “no steps were taken to implement the 1997 constitution or hold free and fair elections”. Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE) and Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) recommended “that the Government of Eritrea implement the constitution”, and Article 19 recommended an “end to the state of Emergency”.

H/I. Invitation to Human Rights Special Procedures/ Co-operation with UN Treaty Bodies:

Follow-up to 2009 UPR Recommendations: Implementation: In 2009 the GoE accepted the recommendations to co-operate with UN Special Procedures and UN Treaty Bodies, but declared that it would “consider inviting UN Special Rapporteurs on a case-by-case basis”. After another four years, it is “still considering extending invitations to Special Procedure mandate holders in the future.”

The UNSRE noted in 2013 that “Eritrea has not issued a standing invitation and has not agreed to any pending visit requests made by six special procedures mandate holders of the UN Human Rights Council”.
CSW and Human Rights Watch have called for a standing invitation to be issued to all UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders.
Human Rights Council resolutions 20/20 of 6 July 2012 and 21/1 of 26 September 2012, called on the GoE, to cooperate fully with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in accordance with its international human rights obligations by, inter alia, allowing access to a mission by the Office as requested by the High Commissioner, the human rights treaty bodies, all mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and with all international and regional human rights mechanisms; it also called upon the GoE to cooperate fully with the UNSRE, to permit access to visit the country and to provide the information necessary for the fulfillment of her mandate; and fully implement the recommendations in the Report of the UNSRE, but the GoE rejected the whole report , citing amongst its objections the sources of information and methodology used by the UNSRE mandate-holder.

J. Right to Life, Physical Integrity and Security:

The GoE has asserted that “the right to life is safeguarded in all National Laws”.

However, the UNSRE Report identifies widespread “extra-judicial killings”, and a “shoot-to-kill policy” at borders. The rule of law has no place in Eritrea. In a highly militarized state, the courts are reduced to dealing only with family disputes and small cases. Matters of life and death do not come before the courts; extra-judicial killings are widespread, undocumented, and never come before the courts.

K. Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance:

The GoE has asserted that “political abduction is a criminal act,” and the “Civil Procedure Code of Eritrea of 1991 provides for Habeas Corpus.”

However, the UNSRE Report identifies multiple “enforced disappearances” and the “total disregard for the principle of accountability and respect for international human rights law.” According to this same Report, “there have been thousands of victims of enforced disappearance or incommunicado detention in Eritrea”, and “The practice of enforced disappearance is used to intimidate people, to instill a climate of fear and to deter people from claiming their rights.”
HRCE stated that multiple disappearances continue of journalists, politicians and soldiers. The Eritrean government refuses to say where such “disappeared” prisoners are; and it is impossible to discover the precise number because the government refuses independent access to detention facilities.

L. Accession to International Conventions:

The GoE is pleased to report “the government’s finalization of the internal juridical processes of approval and endorsement the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour.”

However, what this statement does not reveal is that, 4 years after making commitments to do so, these international Conventions have still not been fully signed, ratified and implemented.

The GoE reports that it has “ratified the Convention on the Protection of Migrant workers and their Immediate Families”.

Whether this commitment has any validity with regard to the experience of migrant workers is doubtful, since the experience of most Eritrean workers is that, in reality, legal protections have no force in or relevance to the work place.

VI. Challenges, Constraints, Best Practice and Achievements

The National Report submitted by Eritrea for the 2014 UPR does not address the following vitally important Human Rights issues:-

Freedom of Expression and Independence of Media:

Follow-up to 2009 UPR Recommendations: The GoE asserted in 2009 that “Eritrea respects the right to information and freedom of expression and opinion. No one in Eritrea is detained for expressing his/her view. Eritrean citizens have access to the entire spectrum of the media. The government will continue to work on developing press laws and regulations…”

But Article 19 reports that “no media law reform has taken place”; and the Report or the UNSRE in 2013 reveals “private and independent press or media …are nonexistent in Eritrea. The government destroyed the private press in 2001 and arrested 10 journalists who remain in incommunicado detention.”
International PEN reports that “little has changed in Eritrea since 2009. There remains no freedom of expression or opinion, no independence of the media since the government crackdown in 2001.”With regard to “the situation of detained writers, the government of Eritrea has failed to implement any of the recommendations” made in 2009.
In the World Press Freedom Index for 2013 created by Reporters Without Borders, Eritrea came 179th, (last place in the index for the sixth successive year). There is no freedom of press. All the private media have been closed since September 2001; to date, at least 30 journalists have been detained incommunicado; and 7 journalists are known to have died in prison due to the harsh prison conditions.

Freedom of Religion and Belief

Follow-up to 2009 UPR Recommendations: Implementation: In 2009, the GoE asserted that “Every Eritrean has the right to freedom of Religious Belief and Eritrea does not detain people for their religious belief.”

But the UNSRE reported in 2013 that “followers of unrecognized religions are regularly arrested, detained and tortured and submitted to severe pressure to renounce their faith” and that “Worshipping in someone’s home or possession of religious material, including Bibles, can be a reason for arrest.”
In 2013 The World Alliance for Citizen Participation stated that “minority churches/ denominations remained banned with members continuing to be routinely arrested and detained without charge for long periods”, and The European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ) stated that Christians face discrimination, detention, arrest, imprisonment and abuse because of their religious beliefs.”
The International Fellowship of Reconciliation pointed out that Eritrea “does not recognize the right to Conscientious Objection to military service.”
Many Eritreans professing religions or denominations other than those officially approved have been summarily rounded-up and put in prison and many are reported to have died, having been subjected to inhumane treatment.
The Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church who was opposed to the curtailment of religious freedoms in Eritrea has been for 10 years under house arrest, confined without access to contact with any other persons.

Military Service and Education

Follow-up to 2009 UPR Recommendations: The GoE rejected all the recommendations made at the UPR in 2009 on enforced and indefinite military service, conscription of child soldiers , and the use of military training camps as part of the education system, although it stated that it had begun its demobilization programme in 2002.

HRCE states that, “despite the official length of service being 18 months, most (conscripts) have served 17 years or more”. At present, the length of military service can be extended without limit. The relatives of deserters from military service are fined up to $3000 – or imprisoned indefinitely where they are subjected to hard labour.
Amnesty International reports, “school children under 18 are required to complete their final year of schooling at Sawa military camp”, thus effectively “involving conscription of children into the military”.
Eritrea has an extremely high number of military prison camps where it can take any person from anywhere in the country without due process of law and keep the person in prison, often incommunicado, for an unlimited period of time.

Freedom of Movement: Treatment of Refugees and Asylum-Seekers and Human Trafficking Follow-up to 2009 UPR Recommendations: Implementation :

The GoE “accepted the recommendation not to detain, persecute or prosecute returned migrants and asylum-seekers” and “encourages and facilitates the return of its citizens to their country”, where “returnees go straight to their homes.” In 2013, the GoE stated that it “has accorded all rights to those who return to their home country,” and that it “encourages voluntary repatriation and is against forced deportation or refoulement of those who may have left the country illegally.”

But the UNSRE reported in 2013 that “Travel within the country is extremely restricted”, “controls are frequent at checkpoints between cities”, “freedom to leave the country is even more tightly controlled”, “exit visas are required to travel abroad and are not granted to men between 18 and 54 years of age or to women between 18 and 47 years of age.” The same document highlighted “the “shoot-to-kill policy when people cross borders” and the “deadly risks run while attempting to escape the country.”
The UNSRE also reported the “forcible …return of Eritrean citizens to their country of origin, despite warnings from the UNHCR”. According to the UNSRE report, many refugees from Eritrea seeking asylum “have fallen into the hands of traffickers and smugglers who demand high ransoms for their victims’ freedom.”
These well-founded reports of human trafficking are acknowledged by the GoE as “malicious and concerted practices”, but the GoE appears to have taken no action itself, merely “requested the UN to launch an independent and transparent investigation”.

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