The Arch Diocese of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in North America and the Archbishop and Ambassador/Nuncio of the Holy See to the UN in Geneva were among many quarters that congratulated the WCC for issuing the powerful message on human Rights in Eritrea.
It is to be recalled that Central Committee of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches (WCC), on 8 July 2014 reviewed and supported the pastoral letter issued by four Eritrean bishops in Asmara and urged the Eritrean government to release all prisoners including the Eritrean Orthodox Church Patriarch Antonios.
The Central Committee of WCC met between 2 and 8 July at its headquarters, the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, and took several meetings to study the extremely disquieting human rights situation in Eritrea. The pastoral letter issued in Asmara was the main trigger for review of situation in Eritrea. The WCC Central Committee thus deemed it important to endorse the pastoral letter that clearly told all what is taking place in Eritrea.
Previous to the WCC Central Committee meeting, senior WCC staff studied the Pastoral Letter from Eritrea and in addition to it compiled sufficient dossier on the situation in the country from its own first hand sources as well as through consultation at formal meeting with persons closely knowledgeable of the situation, who included Father Mussie Zerai and EPDP’s Woldeyesus Ammar. The recent reports of the UN Human Rights Council and the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation in Eritrea were also taken into consideration in the discussions of the WCC Central Council which had over 150 delegates attending from all over the world.
Bellow is the full text of the WCC statement.
Statement on the state of human rights in Eritrea
Over the past years, the ecumenical family has received various accounts of the deteriorating state of human rights in Eritrea and on-going reports of serious violations of human rights by the Eritrean authorities against their own population, as well as the alarming number of civilians, especially youth, fleeing Eritrea as a result of these violations.
There is a high level of lack of freedom in the country, aggravated by the arbitrary arrest and detention, including enforced disappearances and incommunicado detention of persons for suspected infractions being perceived as critical of the Government.
Media is state-owned and does not leave any room for independent media. There is no independent judiciary, and individuals are detained without any due process. There are no political parties, nor any unions to protect workers’ rights. There is no right of association, or to demonstrate peacefully. No public meetings are allowed. No human rights defenders are allowed to operate within Eritrea; and most NGOs have been expelled from the country. As a result of drought and famine, food is rationed and controlled by the government.
There is no religious liberty. Authorities have stripped the Eritrean Orthodox Patriarch of his ecclesiastical authority and have placed him under house arrest since 2005, after he protested against the detention in November 2004 of three Orthodox Priests from Medhane Alem Church.
We have all sadly witnessed the death of more than 300 Eritreans in October 2013 during the Lampedusa boat tragedy. Indeed, many Eritrean refugees – both women and men – who seek to avoid forced military conscription are fleeing their country in search for a sanctuary, often at the peril of their own lives.
Over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled their country to seek sanctuary in neighbouring Ethiopia and Sudan, often at great personal risk. In their journey to a better and safer place, many of them have become easy targets for traffickers, and consequently face horrifying experiences, such as torture, being held hostage against a ransom, or routine rape for women and girls. For those who take the northern route through Egypt to reach Israel, they often end up being captured by Bedouin traffickers in the Sinai desert and are daily abused and tortured while family and friends are repeatedly pressured with exorbitant ransom requests.
In view of these harsh realities in the country, the Catholic Bishops of Eritrea issued a pastoral letter on 25 May 2014 which has been fully endorsed by the Eritrean Orthodox Church in the Diaspora.
The Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, 2-8 July 2014, therefore:
- Expresses deep concern over the degrading state of human rights in Eritrea and the impact on the lives of thousands of innocent Eritreans;
- Commends the initiative taken by the Catholic Bishops of Eritrea for letting the world know the existing realities and the consequent tragedies;
- Calls on member churches of the World Council of Churches in neighbouring countries and beyond to cooperate on the issue of trafficking in human beings in the Sinai desert that is costing the lives of many innocent daily;
- Stands in solidarity with His Holiness Patriarch Antonios and his ideals of non-political interference in the church affairs;
- Appeals to the government of Eritrea to release His Holiness Patriarch Antonios from house arrest and allow him to travel freely;
- Calls on the Government of Eritrea to treat prisoners with dignity and to assure that they are given fair trials;
- Expresses grave concern by the arbitrary arrest and detention, including forced disappearances and incommunicado detention of persons for suspected infractions being perceived as critical of the Government;
- Urges the government to adhere to the obligations of Eritrea under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.