Enhanced interactive dialogue on Eritrea at the UN Human Rights Council

On Monday 12 March 2018, the Human Rights Council held an enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Eritrea. The Eritrean Delegation, as the main stakeholder, did not attend the session (read the statement).

The panel was composed of 5 speakers :

– Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights (read the statement) ;
– Sheila B. Keetharuth, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea (read the statement) ;
– Remy Nogy Lumbu, African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights ;
– Veronica Almedom, Information Forum for Eritrea; and
– Pamela Delargy, public health specialist.

The following statement was delivered by Veronica Almedom.

* * *

Dear Madam Vice-President, Madam Deputy High-Commissioner, Distinguish Delegates,

It is often raised by the Eritrean delegation that the process of nation-building is in the heart of the government’s mission. As its name indicates, nation-building is obviously not the project of a few. It ordinarily embraces the contribution of every single individual in the society. Just in the same way as the human body operates, every organ has its distinctive function and it would be senseless to assume that one single organ, like the heart for example, could take over the functions of the lungs or the kidney.

Madam Vice-President, Madam Deputy High-Commissioner, Distinguish Delegates, allow me now to go back to discussing Eritrea. PFDJ, which is a political party driven by its very distinctive ideology, has been acting as though it could represent all the functions and all demographic groups that exist in Eritrean society: from young to old, from the public sector to the private sector, from the judiciary, to the legislative, to the executive branch, and to the army. From education to religion, to information, etc. Such brutal dominion over all aspects of a given society would profoundly hurt a population and its cohesion. And this is one of the vicious circle of oppression in which the Eritrean society has been trapped in. So far, exile has been their only safeguard, given the lack of robust and effective governance mechanisms at national and continental levels.

For the past 5 years, I’ve had the chance to spend a considerable amount of time with unaccompanied Eritrean minors living in Geneva and other areas of Switzerland. From the moment I began this work in 2013 till today, five years later, not much has changed, only that the situation in the country has gotten significantly worse. It has certainly not been the same narrative upheld by the Eritrean government, but as we say : “the story, as recounted by the lion, is not going to be told in the same way as the one told by the gazelle”.

The fear of being subjected to ill-treatments is a recurrent threat that I hear when I ask Eritrean teenagers why they left the country. Also, the fact that the government of Eritrea imposes one single, very formatted model to a population of 4 million people is not only objectively unsustainable as it increases pauperization, but also because it profoundly goes against the natural rights of every individual to be the sole architect of their destiny, dreams and aspirations.

One would think that indefinite national military service, a hugely rights-restrictive measure, would at least yield a highly lucrative or results-oriented purpose. However, the sacrifice of national service that is delivered by thousands of Eritrean youth is not even being translated into gratifying results that benefits the nation. Quite the contrary, the infrastructure is deteriorating, as electricity shortage is common even in places like hospitals.

So, my question goes to Mr. Ambassador: According to your party and its views, what effective value does this model of society bring? What sustainable benefit can Eritrea gain from this system of governance when you see a clear pattern of exile over the years, when you see disgraceful trade deals made to exchange your nationals for pecuniary gains?

What we see of the Eritrean government, when discussing internal issues, is lack of fulfilment of its obligations, grave violations of the Constitution or inertia. Indeed, there has not been any recovery in nearly 17 years of political oppression, no initiation of a dialogue with its civil societies, no creation of at least economic incentives to keep the youth at home.

This lack of commitment to the supreme rule of law, to public service and to the Eritrean people is not acceptable. The deliberate institutional disarray in favor of the politics of the belly is not acceptable. Treating Eritrean soil as a private property by extracting gold or selling the port of Asseb to foreign entities, without the consent of the people of Eritrea, notwithstanding the unethical and immoral nature of this transaction, is not acceptable.

These arbitrary and irresponsible decisions do not reflect the general will of the Eritrean society. Rather, it is being brutally forced upon them and the entire world sees it.

So, no one should be surprised of such country specific mandate which remains the sole remedy for Eritrean victims and human rights defenders to be heard and to report on the ongoing institutionalized abuse.

Thank you