Ahead of the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council ("HRC" or "the Council"), we write to you as a cross-regional group of non-governmental organizations to share our serious concerns over the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that continue to be committed with impunity in Eritrea.
We urge your Government to support and co-sponsor at the upcoming session a streamlined resolution that accurately reflects the gravity of the situation on the ground, renews the mandate of the Special Rapporteur under the Council's agenda item 4, and sets out a framework for needed reforms to improve the human rights situation in the country and advance accountability.
At the Council's last regular session, during an enhanced interactive dialogue on Eritrea held in March 2018, Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore noted:
"In 2016, the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea found reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity, namely, enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, other inhumane acts, persecution, rape and murder, had been committed since 1991. The Commission noted that despite the State's increased engagement with the international community, there was no evidence of progress in the field of human rights. I regret to report that this state of affairs remains unchanged."
In her most recent statement to the Council, the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, similarly detailed violations pertaining to the right to life, including deaths in custody for which responsibility "falls squarely on Government authorities," the right to liberty and security of the person, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedoms of expression, assembly and association, and freedom of religion or belief, including the harassment, mistreatment, torture and detention of members of unrecognized religions. These continuing violations present a systematic character, meaning, in the words of the Special Rapporteur, that "they cannot be the result of random or isolated acts by the authorities" and that they occur in a country ruled "not by law, but by fear."
Since Eritrea was first considered by the Council, the Government has refused to cooperate with the mechanisms the Council set up, including the Special Rapporteur and the Commission of Inquiry (CoI). At the March 2018 enhanced interactive dialogue, Eritrea was not present to take the floor as the concerned country.
Eritrea's cooperation with other international bodies, mechanisms or agencies has been extremely selective. While the Government recently invited the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for a short-term technical assistance mission, the Deputy High Commissioner underlined that "the test of the merits of our engagement with Eritrea - like Eritrea's commitments at the international level - lies in whether or not they produce concrete human rights improvements for the people of Eritrea." She concluded that there had been no measurable progress to date.
Eritrea has consistently denied UN Special Procedures, including the country-specific Special Rapporteur, access to the country. At the time of writing, pending visit requests by Special Procedures included requests from the Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (request in 2005; reminders in 2007 and 2010); freedom of religion or belief (request in 2004; reminders in 2005 and 2006); extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions (request in 2010); the right to food (request in 2003); and freedom of opinion and expression (request in 2003; reminders in 2005 and 2015).
Eritrea has also attacked, intimidated and threatened human rights defenders and independent UN experts, including the Special Rapporteur and members of the CoI. When the latter presented their report in 2015, they noted that "[they] were followed in the streets and in [their] hotels and vilified in blogs on line where the words of [their] report have been twisted and misquoted." The Commission's Chair added: "Of course this is trivial compared to the day to day experience of people in Eritrea itself, but it is indicative of a determination on the part of the authorities to control anyone they perceive as a critic."
The gravity, scale and nature of the continuing violations call for justice. Victims, including those who live inside the country and those who have fled it, deserve redress. As domestic avenues for such redress are non-existent, the international community must continue to act with a view to ending the generalized impunity that prevails in the country. The Deputy High Commissioner reminded the Council that, as advised by the Special Rapporteur, there could be "no sustainable solution to the refugee outflows until the Government complied with its human rights obligations."
In view of the ongoing crimes under international law and violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms committed in Eritrea, the Special Rapporteur's mandate remains an indispensable mechanism to advance the protection and promotion of human rights in the country. The mandate holder continues to fulfil an invaluable role by monitoring the dire situation in the country, shining a light on violations, providing a crucial platform to help amplify the voices of victims, and offering Eritreans an opportunity to find long-lasting solutions for the respect of their human rights.
Consistent with its mandate to address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations, the Human Rights Council should continue to address the situation in Eritrea. We urge your delegation to actively support and co-sponsor a resolution that:
Recalls the reports of the Commission of Inquiry and the Special Rapporteur and continues to express its deep concern over the findings contained therein;
Condemns the reported systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations and abuses that have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea in a climate of generalized impunity;
Reiterates that all perpetrators of such violations and abuses should be held accountable;
Extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and invites the mandate holder to continue to follow up on the findings of HRC mechanisms, including on accountability;
Invites the Special Rapporteur to assess and report on the Eritrean Government's degree of engagement and cooperation with the Council and its mechanisms, as well as with OHCHR, and where feasible to develop benchmarks for progress on human rights and a time-bound action plan for the implementation of these benchmarks;
Calls on all states to urge the Government of Eritrea to co-operate with the Special Rapporteur and other UN bodies and mechanisms, including Special Procedures, implement the recommendations these bodies and mechanisms made over the years, and allow unfettered access to the country, including detention centers and training facilities.
We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and are available to provide your delegation with further information as required.
Asian Legal Resource Centre
Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Citizens for Democratic Rights in Eritrea (CDRiE)
DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Eritrean Diaspora in East Africa
Eritrean Lowland League
Eritrean Law Society
Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights
FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
Human Rights Concern - Eritrea
Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA)
Human Rights Watch
International Fellowship of Reconciliation
International Service for Human Rights
Reporters Without Borders
Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
West Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (WAHRDN/ROADDH)
 The meeting summary can be found at: www.bit.ly/2Fc69BX
 www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16731&LangID=E The Special Rapporteur herself has faced personal attacks during an interactive dialogue that was held in June 2017, when she was referred to as a "naked Empress with no clothes" and was accused of carrying out a witch-hunt against Eritrea. See www.amnesty.org/en/documents/ior40/8032/2018/en/
 See footnote 1 above.