30 May 2018

Why Does Eritrea Pretend to Respect and Implement the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights?

Eritrea acceded to the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) in 1999. Since then, the Eritrean Government missed 8 previous reporting deadlines. This year, the Eritrean Government surprised everybody by submitting a report for the period from 1999 to 2016, a 17-year period since its accession to this seminal African human rights instrument.

Why the long delay? Has the delay been caused, perhaps, because the Eritrean Government has been too busy establishing its autocratic grip on the country and over the long-suffering citizens to be concerned with its obligations under the ACHPR?  Is the sudden burst of activity and the submission of the 17-year-late report linked to the UN Human Rights Council’s recommendation that: “...the African Union establish an accountability mechanism under the aegis of the African Union and supported by the international community, to investigate, prosecute and try individuals reasonably believed to have committed crimes against humanity...”?  If such was indeed the case, it would be a cynical political calculation rather than a true commitment to the principles and obligations as enshrined in the African Charter.

During the review of the said report by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at Nouakchott, Mauritania in April 2018, the Commissioners and Special Rapporteurs gave their full attention to the Eritrean Report and asked several pertinent questions on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. The Eritrean delegation was unable to give any satisfactory replies and ducked issues whenever they were confronted with the seemingly different reality on the ground. Sadly, the multiple human rights abuses within Eritrea continue.

If the Government of Eritrea truly wishes to demonstrate its respect for the African Commission and the principles of the ACHPR, it must comply with the decisions and directives of this august home-grown body. Consequently, the Eritrean Government must explain why - to date - it has ignored all the Commission’s requests for visits, letters raising human rights concerns and more importantly, its rulings and recommendations in communications filed before it.

As an illustration, we highlight the case of Dawit Isaak, a journalist who held dual nationalities as a citizen of Eritrea and of Sweden. The Eritrean authorities arrested Dawit in September 2001. Ever since his arrest (16 years ago) Dawit has been held incommunicado. To date, he has not been charged with any offence or brought to trial; his right to an independent court hearing to establish his guilt or innocence has been breached. Dawit Isaak is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for exercising his freedom of expression and opinion.

The continued incommunicado detention of Dawit Isaak is in violation of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR). The African Commission found Eritrea in breach of Charter articles and ruled so in the decision to the communications filed in relation to Dawit’s case. As a member state, Eritrea is required to respect and implement the decisions given by the African Commission in specific cases.  To date, in the case of Dawit Isaak, the Eritrean Government has refused to accept the ruling of the African Commission, ignoring the Commission’s findings and recommendations that: “the Government of Eritrea [should]  release or bring to a speedy and fair trial the 18 journalists detained since September 2001, and to lift the ban on the press; Recommends that the detainees be granted immediate access to their families and legal representatives; and Recommends that the government of Eritrea takes appropriate measures to ensure payment of compensation to the detainees.”   Article 19 v Eritrea (2007).

The African Commission continues to emphasise Eritrea’s failure to implement these recommendations drawing the attention of the Eritrean Government to: “…. its obligations to give effect to the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Charter which Eritrea voluntarily undertook to adhere to.”

The Eritrean Government’s failure to implement the ACHPR is a direct consequence of the fact that in Eritrea there is:

          no respect for the rule of law;

          no independent judiciary;

          no independent media;

          and no independent civil society.

Therefore, there are no mechanisms in place for Eritreans to hold the Government to account.   Because there are no mechanisms of accountability and specifically no independent judiciary that can guarantee a fair trial, the cases of the G11 (11 dissenting Ministers, and Senior Government Officials), Dawit Isaak, and his fellow

journalists were brought to the attention of the African Commission, in 2002 and 2003, and 2012, respectively.

The Government of Eritrea has claimed that these officials have been detained 'because of crimes against the nation's security and sovereignty – a position   that fails to acknowledge that Human Rights are for all and apply even to persons accused of “crimes against the nation’s security and sovereignty".

In this instance, the African Commission has determined that the prisoners in question: “have not been afforded due process of law for protection of the rights that are alleged to have been violated”; that the detainees “have been denied access to the remedies under domestic law and have thus been prevented from exhausting them”.  Furthermore, the Commission found that “there has been an unwarranted delay in bringing these detainees to justice”.  This delay continues – 17 years later!

Referring to Article 6 of the African Charter which provides that “Every individual shall have the right to liberty and to the security of his person. No one may be deprived of his freedom except for reasons and conditions previously laid down by law. In particular, no one may be arbitrarily arrested or detained...” the African Commission expressed the view that “all detentions must be subject to basic human rights standards. There should be no secret detentions and states must disclose the fact that someone is being detained as well as the place of detention. Furthermore, every detained person must have prompt access to a lawyer and to their families.”

The African Commission has declared the State of Eritrea in violation of articles 2, 6, 7(1) and 9(2) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. The Commission urged the State of Eritrea to order the immediate release of the 11 detainees, in 2003, (see 250/02 Liesbeth Zegveld and Mussie Ephrem v Eritrea). But, Eritrea has not responded positively or effectively to any of these judgements and recommendations.

Thus, the commitment of the government of Eritrea to the Africa Charter and its principles is questionable while the assurances contained in the Eritrean Government’s Report to the African Commission are of little value in the light of a total disregard for the Commission’s conclusions and recommendations to date, as above detailed. How else can we interpret the stubborn refusal of the Eritrean authorities to respect the Charter’s principles, to cooperate with the Commission’s special mandate holders and finally, implement its recommendations?

The Eritrean government so far has ignored:

•          The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) recommendations, from the first cycle (2009), and the second cycle (2014);

•          The yearly UN Human Rights Council’s resolutions, and recommendations, from 2012 to date;

•          The recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea from 2012 to date;

•          The recommendations from the UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea from 2014 to 2016;

•          Eritrea refused to cooperate with the UN and African Commission Special Mandate holders and has denied them entry to the country.

Therefore, Eritrea’s recent Report to the African Commission appears to have been little more than “window dressing”.  But what were its motivations? Is it to secure certain contracts that only signatories of the African Charter are eligible for or was it merely an exercise in garnering favorable public opinion, rather than an attempt to assess the truth about human and peoples' rights in the country? Why does the Government of Eritrea continue to remain a signatory to the African Charter if it does not comply with its underlying obligations and principles? The Eritrean authorities’ non-compliance and non-implementation is a reflection of the disrespect they demonstrate for the Charter and the African Commission.

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)

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Links to:

Eritrea’s Initial Report to the African Commission: http://www.achpr.org/files/sessions/62nd_os/state-reports/1st-1999-2016/achpr_eritrea_initial_report_1999_2016.pdf

Human Rights Concern Eritrea’s Submission to the African Commission: