“Not to turn their backs on Eritrean refugees for short-term political gain”

On October 26, 2017, Mrs. Sheila Keetharuth, UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, presented her update to the General Assembly in New York.

The Special Rapporteur on Eritrea begins her statement by congratulating Eritrea for its efforts in health security, allowing Eritrea to be the only African country with Tanzania to be prepared in the face of a global pandemic. She also congratulates Eritrea on its first entry into UNESCO universal heritage.

Mrs. Keetharuth then highlights the concerning human rights issues that sadly remain unchanged. In this respect, it is reported that:

“Eritrea still has no constitution to provide protection for fundamental human rights, no independent judiciary, no legislative assembly – in fact no institutions that could ensure checks and balances or protect against the misuse of power by the state,”

The Special Rapporteur also draws the international community’s attention on the rise of populist movements which prevent a dignified and appropriate reception of people fleeing serious human rights violations. In this regard, the expert says:

“I appeal to the international community not to turn their backs on Eritrean refugees for short-term political gain in response to populist electoral demands or promises, which can translate into actual restrictions, harassment and human rights violations,” she said, while updating the General Assembly on the country’s bleak human rights picture.

“At best, efforts to reduce the number of Eritrean refugees arriving will lead only to a temporary drop in numbers, but they will not stop people crossing deserts and seas in search of safe havens. No barrier will be insurmountable for someone fleeing human rights violations.”

The Special Rapporteur continues her statement by quoting the story of a family who, since 2003, had lost all traces of the father after he was illegally and secretly detained by the Eritrean authorities. Later on and by unofficial means, the family was able to locate the father’s place of detention. Nevertheless, he had been detained for 14 years:

– without being informed of the reasons for his detention;
– without being informed of the length of his detention;
– without having access to the outside world, not even a lawyer;
– without being brought to justice to determine the legality of his detention.

Last summer, prison guards went to the family’s home to hand over the dead body of the father, stating that he had died suddenly while in detention.

The Special Rapporteur rightly points out that such acts, amounting to a death sentence without the appearance in a court of law, are not acceptable anywhere in the world whether the rule of law is applied or not.

Also, Ms. Keetharuth reminded and invited member states to create their own benchmark on the situation in Eritrea. However, she highlights a specific set of areas that need to be addressed, namely:

– the creation of institutions ensuring respect for the rule of law;
– a transparent assessment (1) of the judiciary and (2) the human rights situation, backed by real data in order to make the appropriate improvements;
– an assessment of the independence of judges, lawyers and prosecutors;
– a fight against institutionalized impunity.

She ended her statement by reiterating her openness for dialogue and partnership with the Eritrean authorities.