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.
Respecting the rights of urban refugees in East Africa through a human rights approach to urbanisationPosted: 7 September, 2015
The city is the new refugee camp…
~ International Rescue Committee
Article 1 of the 1951 United Nations (UN) Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) defines refugee as ‘a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence due to a well-founded fear of persecution base on race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion and is unable or unwilling to avail him or herself of the protection of that country or to return there for fear of persecution’. Due to contextual issues, article 1 of the 1969 Organisation for African Unity’s Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (1969 OAU Convention) added a second paragraph to the 1951 Convention to incorporate people that have been displaced due to liberation wars and internal upheavals.
Meanwhile, there is no internationally recognised definition for urban refugees. However, the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) defines an urban refugee as a refugee who satisfies the international requirements for obtaining a refugee status and has self-settled in a city or town. Recent decades have experienced rapid population growth with most cities witnessing urban sprawl. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in 2009 that an estimated 58 percent of the world’s 10.5 million refugees now reside in cities.
Despite it being mostly rural region, UN Habit has projected that Sub-Saharan Africa and for that matter countries in Eastern Africa will have more than half of its population residing in urban areas by 2026. Characteristically, there has been increasing flow of refugees to urban areas in this region too. According to official UNHCR 2015 statistics, four Eastern African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia) host more than 1.5 million refugees. These refugees are mostly from 9 countries (Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo).
‘Statelessness is a profound violation of an individual’s human rights. It would be deeply unethical to perpetuate the pain it causes when solutions are so clearly within reach.’
– Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Statelessness as a legal problem has far reaching political and economic challenges which have attracted rising attention from scholars, human rights activists and international organisations in recent years. Officially, statelessness means a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law. The UNHCR started collecting data on stateless persons in the world in 2006 and confirmed in 2011 that the number of stateless persons around the world is in excess of 10 million despite conceding that obtaining the actual statistics is difficult.
The most affected are regions that have suffered or are experiencing armed conflicts or economic migration. Large numbers of stateless population are largely due to policies and laws which discriminate against foreigners despite their deeper roots in the states concerned. For instance, more than 120 000 persons in Madagascar are stateless on the basis of discriminatory citizenship laws and administrative procedures. Moreover, about 170 000 Burundian refugees who fled their country in 1972 are recognised as stateless in Tanzania despite cogent attempts by international and local organisations to have the situation rectified.
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 Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation: 6 February 2015
February 6 – the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation – is dedicated annually to making the world aware of the harmful effects of female genital mutilation or cutting (FGM/C) and to promote its eradication. FGM/C involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia; a deep form of discrimination against women and girls, it directly violates their right to health, and physical integrity. The practice is rooted in cultural and religious beliefs of communities who perceive it as a social obligation to control female sexuality and ‘preserve or protect’ a woman’s chastity.
The most common form of FGM/C in Eritrea is ‘infubulation’. During the procedure, the child’s legs and hips are tied together to limit movement – often for several weeks afterward to allow healing. The age for circumcising of a girl varies amongst cultural groups, but can range from one month old to 15 years. A traditional circumciser commonly performs the act within communities; close relatives or neighbours can also act as circumcisers.
International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists: 2 November 2014
In a land where the right to freedom of expression and information is heavily curtailed, I sought to interview three exiled Eritrean journalists and allow them the space to freely express what they cannot in their country.
Why did you choose to become a journalist?
*Aman: “I used to be a development worker; I was taken to prison camps and three times I saw people tortured and killed. I started to write stories and post articles on what was happening…I became a journalist by accident – all I wanted to do was contribute to justice”.
Since Eritrea’s “liberation” from Ethiopia in 1991 and its international recognition as an independent sovereign state in 1993, the country gradually evolved into a nation rife with human rights abuses. Notably, the systematic attack on dissent of any form resulting in extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and indefinite incommunicado detentions.
What does freedom of expression mean to you?
Aman:” It is a symbol of democracy- the flow of information without fear or restrictions – the means to freely enlighten and educate”.
18 September 2001 was coined as the Eritrean government’s ‘Crackdown’ on all independent media, when it banned the entire private press by shutting down media houses. It also marked the end of dissenting voices at the political level. Eighteen journalists, as well as eleven political leaders were rounded – up and imprisoned incommunicado without trial. Their whereabouts are still unknown till today. Since then, more than 70 journalists have been detained at different periods in time.
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?
International Day of Democracy: 15 September 2014
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce
When the world celebrated the International Day of Democracy (15 September 2014), I reminded myself of some of the key tenets of democracy, namely: free and fair elections, the rule of law, the upholding of fundamental rights and freedoms — to name but a few. The mention of the rule of law in particular raised red flags in my mind as I pondered where to place Eritrea when choosing between definitions of democracy and autocracy.
The rule of law and the respect for human rights stand as prerequisites to realising democratic statehood. The laws which govern a state are enshrined in a constitution; a constitution sets the parameters for lines that cannot be crossed; the principles by which a state should conduct itself. Where then does one begin to place or reference these barriers in a country with no constitution? Who has legitimacy in decision-making? What legal standards are used? The lines continue to blur…