At a press conference held in Geneva on Thursday, 28 March, the 18-person UN Human Rights Committee monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of peoples (ICCPR) released its report on six countries including Eritrea. The committee’s concluding observations showed that Eritrea is still a desperate case in regard to implementing the political and human rights obligations enshrined in that Covenant the government signed in 2002.
UN Palais Wilson, Headquarters of the Human Rights Commission, Geneva
Composed of independent experts, the Committee demanded that the Eritrean authorities tell soon the true situation and whereabouts of all the reported cases of prisoners and disappeared persons.
The report accused the Asmara authorities of ‘’widespread impunity, in particular with respect to serious human rights violations, including alleged cases of enslavement, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and rape.’’ It further exposed that, in total absence of political and legal institutions in the country, perpetrators of heinous crimes are allowed to go free and ‘’no adequate remedies’’ are made for victims of those crimes.
The Eritrean regime was charged of failing for 17 years to respond to queries sent to it by the Committee, and finally sending a delegation to this year’s meeting without a written report. Worse still, the Eritrean delegation’s responses at the ICCPR committee meeting consisted only of ‘’blanket denials.’’
The Committee of 18 international experts on the ICCPR regretted the suspension of the Eritrean National Assembly since 2002 and the absence of a working constitution in the country which ‘’poses a serious challenge to the implementation of the Covenant.’’ It also took note of the ‘promised’ new constitution said to be under drafting and was deeply concerned about the ‘’lack of clarity in the time frame and modalities of the drafting process’’ and the secrecy surrounding the reported drafting process.
Below are excerpts of some salient points of the Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations:
- The Committee urges Eritrea to put the 1997 constitution into effect until a new one is drafted and ratified;
- Eritrea should establish an independent national human rights institution with a broad human rights protection mandate;
- Asmara authorities are asked to take all necessary measures to end impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations;
- To end as soon as possible the de facto state of emergency and ensure that any state of emergency applied on its territory and measures taken in pursuance to it comply with the provisions of article 4 of the Covenant.
- The Committee expressed concerned about allegations that arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial killings have been committed against members of the Muslim community as a group for their alleged links with terrorist groups and asked Eritrean authorities to refrain from designating any specific community as linked to terrorism;
- It was concerned that women are unrepresented in senior government positions and that temporary special measures aimed at ensuring women’s representation in legislative and judicial bodies benefited only women affiliated with the political party in power;
- Furthermore, the Committee expressed deep concern about lack of legal standards and relevant procedures on appropriate use of force and asked that measures are taken to prevent and eliminate all forms of excessive use of force by police and security officers;
- Concern was expressed about the extensive and methodical use of torture in civilian and military detention centers, including reports of torture to punish criticism of the government, practicing of religions non-recognized by the government, attempting to leave the country or failing to perform duties during national military service;
- The Committee cited several reports of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by governmental actors. The Committee is deeply concerned about the reports of widespread arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention, failing to meet basic minimum legal safeguards.
- Conditions of detention in Eritrea and lack of data pertaining to the prison population, and the number of detention facilities were cited as grave issues of concern in light of the reports about over-incarceration and over-crowding, poor hygiene, inadequate nutrition and water supply, lack of health care in detention facilities;
- The Committee expressed frustrations in regard to lack of basic liberties and rights to freedom of expression, assembly, the holding of election, free thought, free movement and the right to practice one’s own religion.
The Committee also hoped against hope when it asked the authorities in Eritrea to seize the new opportunities of peace with Ethiopia ‘’as the beginning of a new era to build a more peaceful, inclusive and resilient future for the people of Eritrea.’’