Eritreans and friends of Eritrea in the civil society organized a a panel discussion at the UN Geneva Office Monday morning, 13 March, to highlight the the pressing issues in the struggle to bring about justice and accountability in Eritrea based on the reports of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) and the subsequent decisions and recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council. The side-event was sponsored by 15 international NGOs that included Amnesty International.
Panelists at the side-event, held a few hours before the 34th Session of the UN HR Council started discussion Eritrea, were Professor Mirjam van Reisen, of the Dutch University of Tilburg, the Zimbabwean Teldah Mawarire, a policy and research officer at the international NGO Civicus, and young Awet X (full name withheld), a survivor of the human tragedy faced by Eritrea's new generation.
Dr. Daniel Rezene of the Eritrean Law Society, who coordinated the side-event, explained at the outset that the aims of the panel were: 1) ensuring that the situation of human rights in Eritrea remains active in the yearly agenda items of the HRC by, among other things, lobbying for continued renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur; and 2) calling on the international community to give effect to the set of recommendations adopted in the June 2016 report of the COI, especially those recommendations calling for robust accountability measures aimed at halting the perpetration of crimes against humanity in Eritrea. Dr. Daniel also informed the meeting that efforts by pro-human rights and democracy activists has been going on since last July in Geneva, New York, Brussels, Banjul, Addis Ababa and other places.
Following the coordinator's remarks, young Awet, who was conscripted at the age of 17 and imprisoned at that age, witnessed all what he experienced in the hands of the Eritrean authorities. He was imprisoned two times and was incarcerated in 7 detention centres until his last escape to Ethiopia. He said the prison-life in Eritrea was difficult to explain, and that he was imprisoned with adults as well as children aged 14 and 15.
On her part, Ms Teldah Mawarire spoke on strategic approaches of lobbying towards realizing the key decisions and recommendations of COI and the UN HR Council. She said countering the regime propaganda is of critical importance, and that making a credible documentation of what has been taking place in Eritrea is essential in convincing the concern actors that include governments and the UN Security Council. Ms Mawarire also stressed the importance of working with African civil society, especially in the Greater Horn of Africa region.
Professor Mirjam van Reisen, who is also the founder-director of the Brussels-based NGO EEPA (External European Policy Advisors), spoke in great length about the lasting harmful effects of human trafficking on the survivors and what has to be done to serve justice to those perpetrators of such pervasive crimes. She said latest revelations tell that the vast majority of the key organizers of the human trafficking were Eritreans, and that Eritrean officials at home and in the various embassies of the regime were involved in the crime. Professor van Reisen hoped that the COI recommendations could include abusive acts perpetrated by regime agents in the diaspora, and expressed the opinion that the Human Rights Rapporteur should be mandated also to investigate violations taking place abroad. Regarding the EU, she said Europe is pre-occupied with the migration 'problem' but her home country, the Netherlands, was an exception by taking a firm stand against the repressive regime in Eritrea