10 December 2015 marked the 65th anniversary of the International Human Rights Day, which the international community celebrates annually to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The UDHR is arguably the first global document to pronounce on human rights standards that countries ought to aspire to. Though not a treaty itself and therefore not binding on Member States, the UDHR serves as the cornerstone for the definition of human rights and fundamental freedoms as outlined in the United Nations Charter, which is legally binding on all State Parties including Eritrea which joined the United Nations(UN) in 1993.
The UDHR is also the bedrock upon which treaties such the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) were founded. Eritrea has notably ratified both covenants, further and invariably placing upon itself a legal obligation to abide by the human rights norms enunciated in the declaration as well as other ratified treaties.
The United Nations General Assembly held its Seventieth Session in October 2015, during which the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Eritrea, H.E. Mr. Osman Saleh, was invited to address the assembly. In his speech, the Honourable Minister declared that Eritrea is making remarkable progress in building a nation founded on the respect for human rights, contrary to what he described as “unfair and baseless accusations” of human rights violations that Eritrea has been subjected to. But is Eritrea truly making the progress that it has committed itself to in terms of the UDHR? Is it being unfairly targeted by the international community? These questions warrant an examination of some of the observations on the state of human rights in Eritrea made by treaty bodies and the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.
Assistant Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
Eritreans observed the 54th Anniversary of the Beginning of the Armed Struggle for Independence on 1 September 2015. While the success of the armed struggle in attaining independence from Ethiopian rule should have been a cause for celebration for the whole nation, it was instead characterised with mixed emotions.
On the one hand, the ruling party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and some Eritreans, embraced and glorified the country’s protracted 30 year war with Ethiopia-describing it as one of Africa’s formidable revolutions. On the other hand, many Eritreans, in particular those who fled, have by implication of their seeking refuge in other countries, expressed their discontentment with the current socio-political landscape in which widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations are perpetrated with impunity.