UN Human Rights Council calls for improving the human rights situation in Eritrea

On 11 March 2019, Human Rights Council held an enhanced interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Eritrea following the Council’s resolution 38/15.  The dialogue was organized with the participation of Daniela Kravetz, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, civil society and other stakeholders.

In their opening speeches, both Kravetz and Gilmore said that the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia as well as the election of Eritrea to the Human Rights Council are welcome opportunities for Eritrean Government to embrace its responsibilities with regard to human rights in the country. Despite the peace, however, severe concerns over the human rights situation in Eritrea were expressed by many participants. UN representatives, the Special Rapporteur, member states, and non-governmental organizations urged Eritrea to live up to its international commitments by ending arbitrary detentions in the country, adopting a constitution, organizing general and democratic elections, upholding the freedom of association, freedom of expression and putting to an end the indefinite national service.

Vanessa Tsehaye, the founder of One Day Seyoum, whose uncle is imprisoned in Eritrea, highlighted that the Eritrean people should stay at the center of the discussion to prevent creation of false dichotomy between the Eritrean Government and international community and the politicization of the dialogues. She stated that the ‘no war, no peace’ had only brought business and diplomatic changes, but no change to the human rights situation in Eritrea. There have been no promises of democratic change. She wonders “what makes so many people and governments around the world hopeful [that the situation will change]?”

Head of the Eritrean delegation, Tesfamicael Gerahtu, said Eritrea was committed to strengthen the international cooperation and stated that Eritrea was being singled out. Daniel Eyasu, Head of Cooperation and International Relations of the state-controlled National Youth Union & Eritrean Students, criticized the Human Rights Council’s  characterization of the indefinite national service as a modern slavery.