47th regular session of the Human Rights Council
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea
21-22 June 2021
At the occasion of the 47th regular session of the Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea presented his report during an Interactive Dialogue. While he mentioned that no progress had been observed throughout the past year regarding the human rights situation in Eritrea, he insisted on the urgency of specific challenges. The challenges included the arbitrary detention of 11 members of the former government, the government-imposed national service during which young Eritreans are frequently being exposed to sexual violence and forced labor, and the attacks committed by Eritrean groups towards Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in the Tigray region. The SR insisted on the Council’s primary role in investigating the prolonged detention of former government members and the allegations of attacks committed by Eritrean groups in the Tigray region. He also called on Eritrean authorities to withdraw their forces from the Tigray region, and to provide information on the whereabouts of missing Eritrean refugees.
Eritrea strongly opposed the SR’s report, claiming that it was not only based on unverified information, but also claiming that the SR had exceeded his mandate by researching on the situation of refugees in Ethiopia. States such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the People’s Republic of China, Venezuela, and Ethiopia expressed their support of Eritrea’s statement, and condemned what they deemed as an increasing politicization of the Council. A majority of western states (EU, US and Baltic countries) called on Eritrea to engage more significantly with regional and international human rights organs, while withdrawing its forces from the Tigray region without any conditions and to grant the SR access to the country.
In his concluding remarks, the SR denied that his report was based on unverified data and insisted on the independence of his research and the legitimacy of his sources. Responding to allegations of his report exceeding his mandate, he stated that Eritrea had effective control over the Tigray region and therefore his research on human rights violations in the region did not exceed his mandate. Lastly, the SR reiterated his initial recommendations, and also called on Eritrea to engage constructively with his mandate, mentioning that he had attempted several times to get in contact with the Eritrean delegation but had received no response.
Mr Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea:
The Special Rapporteur (SR) opened the session by claiming that, since the last session, he could hardly note any improvement regarding the human rights situation in Eritrea. Grave violations persist within the country, and the situation has worsened since the beginning of the conflict in the Tigray region. The SR insisted on the absence of a legal framework or institution in Eritrea, which caused significant abuses to persist such as violations of the freedom of opinion, freedom of association, and freedom of the media. The SR also mentioned that, despite his attempts, he had not been able to engage in dialogue with Eritrea officials.
The SR cited specific, concerning cases of violations. He notably stated that eleven former members of the Eritrean government were being held in detention in Eritrea, with no information being released on their conditions of detention and physical condition. He called on the government to release all of them, along with all the independent journalists arbitrarily detained. The SR then cited the issue of the government-imposed national military service as an obligation that lead young Eritreans to leave the country : not only does the national service last for an indefinite period of time, but allegations of forced labor and sexual violence being frequently experimented by those taking part in the national service have also emerged.
The SR called on the council to investigate allegations of attacks committed by Eritrean groups towards Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers in the Tigray region. He also called on Eritrean authorities to withdraw their forces from the Tigray region, and to provide information on the whereabouts of missing Eritrean refugees. Lastly, the SR reiterated the importance for Eritrea to cooperate with UN human rights treaty bodies and organs as well as with African human rights mechanisms. He welcomed the recent sanctions imposed on Eritrea by the EU along with the investigation efforts demonstrated by international organizations.
Mr Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea
Eritrea (country concerned): The representative of Eritrea accused the SR of presenting a report containing unverified allegations and of trying to destabilize Eritrea. He notably deemed national service in Eritrea as effective, and claimed that the reports’ allegations on national service were unacceptable. He stated that the country had made undeniable progress in terms of social and economic development, reiterated Eritrea’s support for international cooperation structures, and called on Council members not to take decisions based on the SR’s report.
Participating countries' statements
European Union: The representative of the EU expressed his concern regarding the serious human rights violations committed in Eritrea. He called on Eritrea to release all those arbitrarily detained, to establish official structures improving the respect of all human rights and freedoms within the country, and to withdraw its forces from the Tigray region without any conditions. The representative also called on Eritrea to cooperate with the HRC and African commissions on human rights and to grant human rights experts access to Eritrea. Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Ireland aligned with the EU’s statement.
Mr Thomas Wagner, the representative of the EU
Norway (on behalf of the group of nordic-baltic countries): The representative also expressed her concern about Eritrea’s human rights situation, he called for an immediate implementation of the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from the Tigray region. She called on Eritrea to accept the SR’s recommendations, and to grant him unconditional access to the country.
Ms Tine Mørch Smith, the representative of Norway
Eritrea (point of order): The representative of Eritrea raised a point of order concerning the mandate of the SR. He reminded the President that the mandate should exclusively focus on the human rights situation in Eritrea, and claimed that the SR had exceeded his mandate by commenting on the situation of refugees in Ethiopia. He asked the President to delete all interventions commenting on violations committed outside of Eritrea’s borders. The president responded that she could not delete any intervention.
Mr Adem Osman Idris, the representative of Eritrea
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea : The Representative of North Korea claimed that the SR’s mandate was based on erroneous data and unverified allegations. He deemed the session as counter-productive.
People’s Republic of China : The representative commended Eritrea for its social and economic progress and its commitment to protect all human rights and freedoms. He claimed that the SR’s report was based on unverified data, and that the SR had exceeded his mandate. He condemned the politicization of the HRC.
Venezuela : The representative expressed his concern regarding the SR’s mandate, stating that it did not respect principles of sovereignty and non-interference with internal affairs. He added that Eritrea currently cooperated actively with the council and encouraged genuine dialogue and cooperation between HRC members.
Ethiopia : The representative expressed dismay at the allegations made in the report, claiming that no attempt had been made to contact the delegation in order to verify the report’s allegations. Ethiopia lastly commended Eritrea’s efforts for national development as well as its cooperation with regional and international human rights mechanisms.