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.
Maternal mortality is one of the shocking failures of development and a dreadful social injustice. According to recent UN official figures, 536,000 women die every year during pregnancy and birth. This is one death every minute. Out of the 536,000 maternal deaths, 99% are experienced by women in developing countries. The highest maternal mortality rates are in Africa; with a lifetime risk of 1 in 16. Maternal death is often the result of policy decisions that directly or indirectly discriminate against women. Maternal death is also often an indication of inequalities between men and women in their enjoyment of the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Below I illustrate how other rights are either implicated by or essential in combating maternal mortality.
Author: Yulia Prystash
Student (LLM Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa), Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria
International Women’s Day – 8 March 2015
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)’s Working Group on the Issue of Discrimination against Women in Law and in Practice has applauded the extensive legal guarantee of women’s rights and equality across the globe. In its statement on International Women’s Day, the UNHRC indicated however, that this legal guarantee of equality has not translated into reality due to persistent discrimination against women and retrogression from these norms. Eritrea is an example of a country that has not fully translated the legal guarantees on women’s rights to equality into reality. Lack of implementation of laws, religion, tradition, regressive and patriarchal culture as well as the rhetoric of nationalism (“no war – no peace”) continue to hinder the realisation of gender equality in Eritrea.
International Day of the Girl Child: 11 October 2014
“The female soldiers did everything we did. In addition they were forced to cook for the commanders, wash their clothes, and some were forced to have sex with them.” – Khalid al-Amin on life as a conscript, Aljazeera interview – Escaping Eritrea’s ‘open prison’ (3 October 2014)
The legal age at which a girl can get married in Eritrea is 18 years, however many marry earlier as an act of great desperation.
Child marriage is prohibited in numerous international human rights instruments, namely; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) and in the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. That said, child marriage is nevertheless rampant on the African continent. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) figures (2013), out of the 20 countries most affected by child marriage, Africa hosts 15. ‘Typical’ drivers of child marriage include customary/traditional beliefs, desire for economic gain or to provide security. I hesitated at the mention of ‘security’ because how does a minor gain security from being forced to engage in sexual reproduction, childbearing and birth within a completely unprepared body and mind?
Currently, Ethiopia is among the developing countries that are hosting thousands of refugees from Eritrea, Kenya, Somali and Sudan, and that mandates refugee to reside in camps. Some of the refugees in Ethiopia live in the northern parts of the country in a camp called the Shimelba refugee camp. Refugees in this particular camp lived in Eritrea and fled to avoid military service, religious persecution and ethnic discrimination. This camp is situated is in a place widely recognised for its diverse settings and agro-ecosystems, displaying a wide array of environmental problems and vulnerabilities. To this end, the lands are fragile and vulnerable to both natural and human generated calamities, ranging from the shortage of or unpredictable rainfall to species and resource base depletion and degradation rendered more acute by the effects of drought. The location of the camp site is isolated. The environmental conditions are difficult, with temperature ranging up to 42 degree Celsius. The Ethiopian government in collaboration with the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), oversight and manages Shimelba.
Ethiopia is signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol. Regionally, Ethiopia is also a party to the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention). Besides these refugee-specific instruments, Ethiopia is also a party to most of international and regional human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the International Convention on Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, therefore reinforcing the protection for refugees.
The Ethiopian government often associates its developmental ideology with the East Asian model, while at the same time defining itself as a progressive democratic government. Paradoxically, the government defends itself from prodemocracy critics by arguing that food security comes first, then slowly comes democracy. Within this context, I analyse the right to food as a legal concept and how it can be used as a means to achieve food security in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia has ratified and adopted the main instruments establishing the right to food such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Covenant on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women; and the African Charter on Peoples’ Rights. Ethiopia is also bound by international humanitarian law, having ratified the Geneva Convention of 1999 and the Additional Protocols thereto of 1977.