Viewpoint by Mirjam van Reisen
BRUSSELS (IDN) - The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a ground-breaking resolution following the presentation of the report by the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in Eritrea. The Eritrean government has rejected the Commission’s findings.
The Council expresses deep concern at the Commission’s findings that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Crimes against Humanity have been committed in Eritrea since 1991.
The resolution requests the General Assembly “to submit the report and the oral updates of the commission of inquiry to all relevant organs of the UN for consideration and appropriate action”.
Though the resolution does not specifically mention the Security Council, its referral the United Nations' most powerful body, with "primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security" would open the way for the findings to be presented to the International Criminal Court.
More than 16,000 people joined the demonstration held in Geneva and gave their whole-hearted support to the findings of the Commission of Inquiry.
The demonstration was headed by the leaders of the Eritrean churches and Muslim leaders, and included eminent representatives of all the different denominations.
Similar demonstrations were held in Tel Aviv, with a large Eritrean refugee population, as well as in The Hague, Addis Ababa and in the refugee camps on the Ethiopian border, May Ayini and Hitsatz.
The Council “strongly encourages” the African Union to follow up on the report and recommendations of the commission “by establishing an investigation, supported by the international community, with a view to examining and bringing to justice those responsible for violations and abuses of human rights identified by the commission of inquiry, including any that may amount to a crime against humanity”.
The UN Human Rights Council also extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea for a period of one year. It calls on Eritrea to allow “unhindered access to the country to further missions by the Office of the High Commissioner, the human rights treaty bodies and all mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, and to cooperate with all international and regional human rights mechanisms”.
The resolution emphasizes the right of everyone to take part in the “conduct of public affairs of his or her country, directly or through freely chosen representatives, and expressing grave concern that national elections in Eritrea have not been held since 1993 and that the Constitution of 1997 has never been implemented”.
The resolution reiterates the Council’s numerous calls upon the Government of Eritrea, “without delay”:
- To end use of arbitrary detention;
- To account for and release all political prisoners, including the G-15 reform group and journalists;
- To ensure free and fair trial;
- End the use of underground cells and shipping containers to hold people in detention;
- To end indefinite national service;
- To end forced participation in militia;
- Investigate all allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture, cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, punishment, rape and sexual sexual abuse within the national service;
- To bring perpetrators to justice;
- End shoot-to-kill policy at the border;
- To end “guilt-by-association” practices.
The Council further asks the Eritrean government to work with human rights and humanitarian organisations.
Human Rights activists were harassed and severely intimidated in Geneva by pro-government groups in June.
To underline the importance of the report, the Dutch Parliament held a plenary debate on the situation in Eritrea on June 30 with three government Ministers in attendance, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders. Dutch parliamentarians asked the Minister to support referral of crimes against humanity to the UN Security Council.
Ahead of the debate, Eritrean justice seekers forwarded a petition, signed end of June by 10,000 people, supporting the Commission of Inquiry findings and calling on the EU to support the matter to be referred by the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court. Eritrean justice seekers are also asking the EU to halt all aid to Eritrea.
The Netherlands has held the the Presidency of the Council of the European Union until June 30 and is now a member of the EU Presidency troika after finishing its term. It is therefore well-placed to support a strong position to bring any alleged crimes to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
* Prof. Mirjam van Reisen, Ph.D., is the founding director of Europe External Policy Advisors and the Secretary General of Europe External Programme with Africa. She has 20 years experience working both in and alongside European Commission institutions. Van Reisen is Professor Computing for Society at Leiden Centre for Data Science, at the University of Leiden and Professor International Relations, Innovation and Care at Tilburg University. [IDN-InDepthNews – 1 July 2016]
Photo: Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki. Credit: eritrea.be
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