The Impossible Mission: Reporting Human Rights Situation in Eritrea

Radio Erena: 17 June 2022

Human rights conditions are worsening at some frightening pace in Eritrea. The reports of International non-governmental organizations on the non-stop nationwide military conscription, the persisting deprivation of the basic civil and political rights, and the lack of access to justice not only reveal the grim realities in the country; but they also document and gauge these brazen violations (there isn’t governmental or civil human rights protection bodies in the country), while the Eritrean government tirelessly blocks all local and international reporting on these violations.

The first report of this kind was the Reporters without Borders (RSF) annual World Press Index. In this index, Eritrea deservedly ranked 179th out of 180 countries.

Eritrea has tightly held its reserved place at the bottom of this index for long years as it brashly quashed the nascent freedom of the press on 18 September 2001. Since that time, many journalists are still languishing in underground cells without a trace of the present. Almost no international freedom of press report is published without pointing to this horrendous record.
The latest extensive report on human rights in Eritrea is presented by the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Situation in Eritrea Dr. Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker to the 50th session of the Human Rights Council taking place in the period from 13 June to 8 July 2022. The report is produced pursuant to the Council’s resolution which extended the mandate of the Rapporteur for one additional year.

This 18-page comprehensive report focuses on the indefinite military service, access to justice, and the civil and political situation in the country. For those who keep a close eye on the human rights situation in Eritrea, the report confirmed their worst fears and concerns. This time not only at a local level but also across the border as it raised the violations committed by the Eritrean Defense Forces in Tigray. “No tangible progress was made toward solving the ongoing human rights crisis in the country,” the report said. And as it falls within the report’s mandate period, the Rapporteur further noted that: “The Eritrean armed forces continued to be involved in serious human rights and humanitarian law violations in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.”

The legal expert has equally confirmed that such violations have compounded the severe human rights challenges that Eritrea face and reinforced the pre-existing patterns of violence.

Dragging the Eritrean soldiers into the Ethiopian civil war quagmire wasn’t only a catastrophic decision, but it additionally foretold these reported violations. Along with the military operations on the ground, Eritrea correspondingly “used its re-election to the HRC to oppose international scrutiny over violations in Tigray” the report emphasized.

Understandably, Eritrea doesn’t accept this report and denies its content as it did with the previous similar reports from the same body. In fact, Eritrea didn’t allow the visit of the Special Rapporteur to meet with the authorities while preparing the report. This has been a firm stance since the appointment of the first Rapporteur Mrs. Sheila B. Keetharuth, and the second, Mrs. Daniela Kravetz. Mr. Babiker is facing similar constant resistance from the Eritrean authorities; this explains the absence of any input from the Eritrean side in the report.
As the Eritrean officials don’t trust these reports and see not a single grain of truth in them, the hostile stance will always prevail toward such illuminating reports.

In its final recommendations, the report asked the Eritrean authorities to put an immediate end to all sorts of human rights violations and to immediately withdraw its troops from Ethiopia, in addition, to halt obstructing the reach of humanitarian aid to the needy.

The Special Rapporteur’s call on the HRC to stiffen scrutiny and keep a diligent watch over Eritrea until some progress is achieved is worth quoting in full: “Keep Eritrea under scrutiny until consistent improvements have been made with regard to human rights situation and ensure that human rights issues remain at the core of any engagement with the country.”
Thirty years of ruthless iron-fist rule and palpable human rights violations made the nation pessimistic about any hopeful change of the current situation. There simply hasn’t been any political will towards altering the prevailing miserable conditions at all government levels.

Regarding the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation of placing human rights at the core of any engagement with the Eritrean government, this demand has already been breached by some Human Rights Council member states, thus giving the dictator’s tight grip more hold on people’s necks.

By Fathi Osman