Like other observers, Human Rights Watch hoped that the people of Eritrea would benefit from the announcement last July that Eritrea and Ethiopia had agreed to end the "state of war" between the two countries, and the subsequent easing of tensions in the Horn of Africa. Unfortunately, there has been little evidence that oppression in Eritrea has subsided, other than that Eritreans now find it easier to leave the country. Tens of thousands have done so since the border opened in September.
The government has made no meaningful changes to its mandatory "national service" that conscripts young Eritreans for unlimited times - often more than a decade -- despite the decree that officially limits conscription to 18 months. Conscripts continue to be used for commercial projects, as well as military and civil duties. Their pay remains inadequate and reports of abuses, including torture, persist. This Council's Commission of Inquiry labeled Eritrea's national service "enslavement."
With the end of the state of war, we hope the government will finally recognize that the excuse it has maintained since at least 1998 for these oppressive actions has no legitimacy, and we would ask the delegation: will it outline a timetable for demobilization of its conscripts, starting with the longest serving?
The Special Rapporteur for Eritrea, appointed last October, was requested by a unanimous resolution of this Council to develop benchmarks for progress on human rights. By seeking membership of this Council, Eritrea undertook a responsibility to cooperate with the Council's mechanisms. Could the Special Rapporteur indicate whether the government has cooperated with your mandate? Could the delegation indicate whether you will allow the Special Rapporteur access and work with her to identify and implement needed reforms?
There is an opportunity here for Eritrea to finally move onto a different track, to engage on a path of fundamental rights reform. But there has not yet been any meaningful progress, and this is exactly the wrong time to relax Council scrutiny. We urge the Council to continue the mandate of the Special Rapporteur beyond the current term to help ensure that Eritrea starts adhering to international norms of human rights. And we urge the government of Eritrea to demonstrate a good faith commitment to do so. It can start by allowing the Special Rapporteur access and cooperating with her mandate.