Elizabeth (Elsa) Chyrum: A woman of the year 2012

We, at asmarino.com, would like to emphasize what a difference Elsa Chyrum has made this yea as a Human Rights Activist, to the cause of Eritrea's human rights situation. Elsa has done a lot in helping refugees stranded in nowhere; in highlighting the lawlessness of the mining companies in Eritrea; in helping Eritreans in detention centers outside the country, the latest one being in Djibouti; and generally in bringing the humanitarian plight of Eritrea inside and outside the country. But the one that has made us chose her as "a woman of the year 2012" has to do is what was in news lately, and that is what will be the focus of this posting.

Elizabeth (Elsa) Chyrum has been instrumental in bringing about the appointment of a Special Rapporteur to Eritrea; four years' work has culminated in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) appointing Ms. Beedwantee Keetharuth as Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea.

Mrs. Chyrum has been advocating and lobbying at the HRC for recognition of the severe human rights crisis in Eritrea since September 2008. She is passionate about justice for Eritrea, and has doggedly campaigned for the appalling human rights record of Eritrea to come to the fore of the international agenda. She has done this, and more, largely by funding herself and occasional contributions for travel and other expenses from well-wishers and sisterly organizations.

It was her passionate testimony at side events that touched the hearts and consciences of delegations from every geographical region and ensured that the suffering of the Eritrean people would no longer be treated as a footnote on the international to-do list.  It is no small thing that the Africa Group at the HRC initiated the resolution, especially when you consider that Africa has never in the past initiated action, however valid, against a fellow nation. All this time Elsa tirelessly approached key delegations to ensure either their support or their neutrality. As an Eritrean, it was her passionate and persuasive lobbying that carried the most weight and assisted in turning the hearts of the Chinese, Cuban and Russian delegations, who generally vote against such resolutions as a matter of principle, but this time merely dissociated themselves from the issue without forcing a vote, thereby allowing the resolution to pass by consensus. When at the last minute one of the delegations held up proceedings demanding a removal of all reference to the 2% tax, and diplomats were involved in a huge debate outside the chamber, Elsa went into the midst of them to argue otherwise, and prevailed in the end.

When the resolution passed by consensus when people applauded, Characteristic of Elsa, she stood up and, let out a ululation that came from her very soul, and loudly thanked everyone on behalf of the voiceless Eritrean people. The HRC has never heard anything like it before, and we are sure it will never hear anything like it again.

All of this was achieved despite the pressures of a six-man Eritrean delegation that included two ambassadors.  She faced them down and insisted on speaking to each of them, asking them to search their consciences and change their ways.  Her first-person testimony came from the heart and rang true for all those who heard, and pricked the consciences of every delegation, and she did not stop lobbying until it was over. Her integrity and sincerity are beyond reproach - and we are sure that if you asked them nearly every ambassador or delegation at the HRC would concur with this assessment.

The UN Special Rapporteur to Eritrea, Ms. Beedwantee Keetharuth has issued this statement recently: "I hope that the Eritrean government would consider the mandate of the Special Rapporteur as an opportunity to start a fresh and constructive dialogue on human rights issues that have been raised by the international community and other stakeholders.

Ms. Keetharuth, a lawyer from Mauritius with extensive experience in monitoring and documenting human rights violations across Africa, is expected to present her report on Eritrea's human rights situation to the council in June 2013. She requested meetings with Eritrea's diplomats in Geneva and London at start of her mandate in November but these meetings have yet to take place. "The aim was to introduce myself and present my vision of the mandate in a spirit of openness, as well as to explore avenues for cooperation. I have now requested to travel to Eritrea in early 2013." Ms Keetharuth expressed faith that the Eritrean government would ultimately view the mandate as an opportunity to carefully address the country's "compliance with its human rights obligations as contained in international treaties to which the country is a party.

It is Elizabeth Chyrum's selfless hard work that has made this opportunity possible.

For all the above mentioned reasons and others, we would like to call her a woman of determination, persistence and integrity. Her single-minded mission has achieved change for the better for many Eritreans in desperate situations, and bodes well for effective changes in the future of less fortunate Eritreans. Her life so far acts as an example to others of what just one person's will can accomplish, her energy undaunted despite many financial setbacks and even problems with her own health often exacerbated by her tireless efforts to help the Eritrean people. She has been the recipient of humanitarian awards. She deserves many more.

Thank you Elsa, for all your help.