Eritrea: maintain Human Rights Council scrutiny and engagement

AfricanDefenders and partners called on the UN Human Rights Council to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea in a letter released on 5th May 2020. Ahead of the 44th session of the Coun­cil (scheduled to begin in June 2020), the signatories urged State delegations to support the adop­­tion of a resolution extending the Special Rappor­teur’s mandate for another year.

Read the letter below:

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council

5 May 2020

Extend the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea


At the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council (24 June-12 July 2019), the Council extended a hand to the Eritrean Government. While renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the coun­try, it signalled its willingness to offer Eritrea a constructive way forward, in particular by shifting the resolution from agenda item 4 to item 2.

While welcoming the adoption of Council resolution 41/1, and in particular the renewal of the mandate, many non-governmental orga­ni­sations cautioned that any shifts in the Council’s ap­proach should reflect corresponding changes in the human rights situation on the ground.

Regrettably, one year later, we, the undersigned non-governmental orga­ni­sations, recall that the concerns expressed in a joint letter[1] published last year remain va­lid, for the reasons set out below. Ahead of the 44th session of the Coun­cil (currently scheduled to begin in June 2020[2]), we urge you to support the adop­­tion of a resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rappor­teur on the human rights si­tu­ation in Eritrea.

As Eritrea has entered the second year of its Council membership term, its domestic human rights situation remains dire. A free and independent press continues to be ab­sent from the country and 16 journalists remain in de­tention without trial, many since 2001.[3] Impunity for past and on­going human rights vio­la­tions is widespread. Violations continue unabated, including arbitrary arrests and in­com­mu­ni­cado de­ten­­tion,[4] vio­lations of the rights to a fair trial, access to justice and due process, enforced disappearances, lack of infor­ma­tion on the fate or whe­re­abouts of dis­appeared persons, violations of women’s and girls’ rights, and severe res­tric­tions on the enjoyment of the rights to free­dom of ex­pres­sion, peaceful assem­bly, asso­cia­tion, and religion or belief. Secondary school students, some still chil­dren, continue to be conscripted in their thousands each year into the country’s abusive na­tional ser­vi­ce system.[5] In­de­finite national service, involving torture, sexual vio­len­ce and forced labour continues; thousands re­main in open-ended conscription, sometimes for as long as ten years or more, despite the 2018 peace accord with Ethiopia.[6]

In reso­lu­tion 38/15 (6 July 2018), the Council invited the Special Rapporteur to “assess and report on the situation of human rights and the engagement and cooperation of the Gov­ern­ment of Eri­trea with the Human Rights Council and its me­ch­a­nisms, as well as with the Office of the High Com­missioner [OHCHR], and, where feasible, to develop bench­marks for progress in improving the situ­a­tion of hu­man rights and a time-bound plan of action for their imple­men­t­ation.” The Council should ensure ade­quate follow-up by allowing the Special Rapporteur to pursue her work and OHCHR to deepen its en­gagement with the Eritrean Government.

As a Council member, Eritrea has an obligation to “uphold the highest stan­d­ards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.” However, during the Council’s 43rd session, in February 2020, both the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Da­nie­la Kravetz, and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, reported that no concrete evidence of pro­gress in Eritrea’s human rights situation, including against the bench­marks, could be reported.[7]

By streamlining its approach and adopting resolution 41/1 under its item 2, the Council of­fered a way forward for human rights reform in Eritrea. In March 2019, Eritrea took an initial step by meeting with the Special Rapporteur in Geneva. More recently, in February 2020, a human rights dialogue took place between the Government and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in a more constructive spirit than during Eritrea’s 2019 review by the Hu­man Rights Com­mit­tee. Unfortunately, despite the window of opportunity provided by Eritrea’s CEDAW review and the Eritrean Ambassador indicating, at the Council’s 43rd session, that his country was committed to confidence-building measures and technical cooperation, Eritrea refuses to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, and recently launched yet another unwarranted attack on her and her mandate.[8] The Government continues to reject findings of ongoing grave violations, as well as calls for re­form, and human rights-based recom­men­dations, including in relation to the Covid-19 crisis.[9]

The Council should urge Eritrea to make progress towards meet­ing its membership obligations and to engage with the UN human rights system constructively. It should not reward non-cooperation by, but rather maintain scrutiny of, one of its members. We believe that a technical rollover of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, under the same item, would contribute to this aim.

At its upcoming 44th session, the Council should adopt a resolution: (a) Extending the mandate of the Spe­cial Rap­porteur for a further year; (b) Urging Eritrea to cooperate fully with the Spe­cial Rap­por­teur by granting her access to the country, in accordance with its obligations as a Council member; (c) Calling on Eritrea to develop an implementation plan to meet the progress benchmarks, in consultation with the Special Rapporteur and OHCHR; (d) Requesting OH­CHR to present an oral update on Eritrea at the Council’s 46th session; and (e) Requesting the Special Rappor­teur to present an oral update at the Council’s 46th session in an interactive dia­lo­gue, and to present a report on the implementation of the mandate at the Council’s 47th ses­sion and to the General Assembly at its 76th session.

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as needed.



  1. African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
  2. AfricanDefenders (the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  3. Amnesty International
  4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  5. Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)
  7. Civil Rights Defenders
  8. Committee to Protect Journalists
  9. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
  10. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  11. Eritrean Law Society (ELS)
  12. Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)
  13. Geneva for Human Rights / Genève pour les Droits de l’Homme
  14. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  15. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
  16. Human Rights Watch
  17. International Service for Human Rights
  18. Network of Eritrean Women (NEW)
  19. Network of Human Rights Defenders in Central Africa / Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC)
  20. One Day Seyoum
  21. Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
  22. Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  23. West African Human Rights Defenders Network / Réseau Ouest Africain des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (ROADDH/WAHRDN)
  24. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

[1] DefendDefenders et al., “Eritrea: the UN should ensure continued scrutiny of the human rights situation,” 11 June 2019, (accessed on 16 April 2020).

[2] The exact dates of the session are likely to be affected by the Covid-19 situation, which led the Council to suspend its 43rd session on 13 March 2020.

[3] Committee to Protect Journalists, “2019 prison census: 16 Journalists Imprisoned in Eritrea,” (accessed on 30 April 2020). Eritrea remains at the top of the CPJ’s most-censored countries, as per a 2019 report, “10 Most Censored Countries,” available at: (accessed on 30 April 2020).

[4] Amnesty International, “Human rights in Africa, Review of 2019,” 8 April 2020, Index: AFR 01/1352/2020, available at (accessed on 16 April 2020), p. 39.

[5] Human Rights Watch, “‘They Are Making Us into Slaves Not Educating us.’ How Indefinite Conscription Restricts Young People’s Rights, Access to Education in Eritrea,” 8 August 2019,; Human Rights Watch, “Statement to the European Parliament’s Committee on Development on the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea,” 18 February 2020, available at (accessed on 24 April 2020).

[6] Amnesty International, “Human rights in Africa, Review of 2019,” op. cit., p. 38.

[7] Interactive dialogue with the SR on Human Rights in Eritrea – 9th Meeting, 43rd Regular Session, Human Rights Council (webcast archive), 26 February 2020,; Presentation of High Commissioner/Secretary-General country reports & Item 2 General Debate – 10th Meeting, 43rd Regular Session, Human Rights Council (webcast archive), 27 February 2020, (accessed on 9 April 2020).

[8] Permanent Mission of the State of Eritrea to the United Nations, Geneva, “Harassment of Eritrea is Unconscionable,” 6 April 2020, (accessed on 23 April 2020).