Rights Group Welcomes ‘Landmark’ UN Vote Creating Inquiry on Eritrea Abuses
Eritrean delegation interrupted testimony by Eritrean human rights dissident brought by UN Watch
GENEVA, June 27, 2014 – Geneva-based human rights group UN Watch welcomed the Human Rights Council’s “landmark” creation of a commission of inquiry into human rights abuses in Eritrea, in a resolution that was adopted by consensus today at the 47-nation body.
The resolution “strongly condemns” the Eritrean authorities for perpetrating “widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
“It speaks volumes that thousands of Eritreans are fleeing every month to escape their country’s grave abuses,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer.
“Today’s resolution sends the message that the time has arrived to seek minimal human rights accountability from the Eritrean government.”
“Let’s not forget that Eritrea is one of the few countries without any reporting on the human rights situation from within, and a complete lack of access by international human rights observers, rendering monitoring of human rights conditions on the ground extremely challenging,” said Neuer.
“It is unacceptable that Eritrea refuses to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, that none of the UN rights council’s thematic mandate-holders have been allowed to visit, and that the government has still not responded to the request by High Commissioner Navi Pillay to dispatch a mission with access to places of detention.”
During the UN’s recent quadrennial review of Eritrea’s human rights record, the country was unable to document any tangible improvements.
Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees undertake perilous journeys to Europe and are now one third of the overall arrivals in Italy—above Syrians.
“The human rights crisis in Eritrea has been forgotten for too long,” said Neuer. “This inquiry is a vital step because there’s an urgent need for the international community to increase efforts to explore additional means to tackle the situation effectively, at a time when Eritrean authorities continue to perpetrate human rights violations without any accountability.”
Eritrea Interrupts UNHRC Testimony by Dissident Brought by UN Watch
UN Watch was a leading voice in this UNHRC session urging accountability in Eritrea, taking the floor twice to condemn Eritrea’s abuses. During last Friday’s review of Eritrea’s rights record, Eritrea interrupted the testimony of journalist and rights activist Meron Estafanos, who on behalf of UN Watch gave eyewitness testimony of the cruelty suffered by Eritrean refugees. (See UN Watch’s testimonies on Eritrea here and here).
Ms. Estafanos, a contributor to the leading Eritrean diaspora news site Asmarino, detailed the horrific abuses endured by the Eritrean refugee community in Egypt’s Sinai, where they are trafficked, extorted, and held for ransom.
Halfway through her speech, the Eritrean delegate interrupted to question her credentials and right to speak on behalf of UN Watch. The Council President responded in favor of Ms. Estafanos saying, “The speaker was accredited to this session under UN Watch. The speaker seems to be taking an example of a situation that she has experienced, and we should let her continue. I will once again give her the floor.”
With the Council President’s support, Ms. Estafanos went on to say: “Many of those fleeing the country are young people escaping the indefinite national service or underage children fleeing before they reach conscription age… I call upon the Council to urge Eritrea to assume its responsibilities under international law and to safeguard the welfare of its youth and respect their human rights.”
UN Watch, a rights group that gives human rights victims an international platform to influence action, was privileged to give Ms. Estafanos its spot to address the Council.
“Ms. Estafanos’ eye-witness testimony reaffirms the findings of the UN expert on Eritrea, whose report exposes the country’s gross human rights violations,” said UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer. “Her experience importantly underscores the need for the newly-created investigation into Eritrea’s human rights abuses.”