Ensure continued scrutiny of the human rights situation in Eritrea – Civil Society to the UNHRC

Published: 12 Jun 2019

11 June 2019


We, the undersigned human rights organizations, are writing to urge you to support the adop­tion of a resolution at the upcoming 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council (“Council”) to maintain a monitoring and repor­ting mandate on the human rights si­tu­ation in Eritrea.

The human rights situation in Eritrea remains dire, notwithstanding recent developments, including the Eritrea-Ethio­pia Summit, the re­open­ing of the border between the two countries, and the signing of a tripartite agr­ee­ment between Ethio­pia, Eritrea, and Somalia.

A free and independent press continues to be ab­sent from the country and 16 journalists remain in de­tention without trial, many since 2001. Eritrean authorities are yet to produce evidence that those arbi­trarily jailed are alive. Throughout the country, authorities have restricted and suppressed civic space. At the Council’s 40th session in March 2019, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights high­lighted impunity for past and on­going human rights violations, including arbitrary arrests and in­com­municado de­ten­­tion, vio­lations of the right to a fair trial, lack of infor­mation on the fate and whe­re­abouts of dis­appeared persons, lack of access to justice, lack of enforcement of the 1997 Cons­titu­tion, the impo­si­tion of severe res­tric­tions to the enjoyment of human rights, in­clu­ding the rights to free­dom of expression, peaceful assembly and asso­cia­tion, and religion or belief, and the con­tinued use of inde­finite national service involving tor­ture, sexual violence and forced labour. She stres­­s­ed: “[A]s far as [the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR] is awa­re, the actual hu­man rights situation for the peo­ple of Eritrea has not im­pro­ved in the past year.” Ongoing se­vere vio­­la­­tions, including their gendered impact and generalised impunity, call for a high level of mo­ni­­tor­ing and pub­lic repor­ting.

This is the wrong time for the Council to relax scrutiny of the situation in Eritrea. In its reso­lu­tion 38/15, adopted by consensus in July 2018, the Council invited the Special Rapporteur to “assess and report on the situation of human rights and the engagement and cooperation of the Gov­ern­ment of Eri­trea with the Human Rights Council and its me­ch­a­nisms, as well as with the Office of the High Com­missioner, and, where feasible, to develop bench­marks for progress in improving the situ­a­tion of hu­man rights and a time-bound plan of action for their imple­men­t­ation.”

The Special Rapporteur will present her report on reform benchmarks at the upcoming Council ses­sion. These provisions, which offer a constructive way forward, outline an expec­ta­tion of con­ti­nued attention to, and engagement with, the country. The Council should now ensure ade­quate follow-up. Failure to do so would doubtless be interpreted by Eritrea as an endorsement of the status quo, further en­trenching systemic rights violations. Discontinuation of the mandate should only occur when and if these benchmarks are met and there is demonstrable and concrete progress in the promotion, pro­tec­tion and realisation of human rights.

As a newly-elected member of the Council, Eritrea has an obligation to “uphold the highest stan­d­ards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council” (UN Ge­ne­ral Assembly resolution 60/251). Eri­trea has not adhered to its membership obligations and has nei­ther invited the Special Rapporteur nor accepted her request to visit the country. Eritrea is one of only 22 coun­t­ries that have never received a country visit from any Special Procedure, despite re­quests from nume­rous mandate-holders.

Obstructionist behavior should not be rewarded. Eritrea’s mem­ber­ship in the Council should be fully leveraged for improvements in the country’s human rights situation and cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms. The Coun­cil should urge Eritrea to change course and engage with the UN hu­man rights system.

At its 41st session, the Council should make clear that membership does not prevent, but rather triggers an enhanced responsibility to accept, scrutiny. It should adopt a resolution maintaining a Spe­cial Procedure mandate and a high level of monitoring and public reporting, to ensure that the grave and systemic human rights violations identified by OHCHR and the Council’s own me­­cha­nisms are addressed and accountability for these violations is achieved.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information.


  1. AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  2. Amnesty International
  3. ARTICLE 19
  4. Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE)
  5. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  6. Center for Reproductive Rights
  8. Civil Rights Defenders
  9. Committee to Protect Journalists
  10. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
  11. DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  12. Eritrea Focus
  13. Eritrean Diaspora in East Africa (EDEA)
  14. Eritrean Law Society (ELS)
  15. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)
  16. Front Line Defenders
  17. Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
  18. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  19. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
  20. Human Rights Defenders Network – Sierra Leone
  21. Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
  22. Human Rights Watch
  23. International Commission of Jurists
  24. Information Forum for Eritrea (IFE)
  25. International Refugee Rights Initiative
  26. International Service for Human Rights
  27. Ligue burundaise des droits de l’homme ITEKA
  28. Network of Eritrean Women (NEW)
  29. Odhikar, Bangladesh
  30. One Day Seyoum
  31. Release Eritrea
  32. Reporters Without Borders
  33. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Regions: North and Horn of Africa
Type: Advocacy, Open Letter