STATEMENT DELIVERED BY AMBASSADOR GIRMA ASMEROM, PERMANENT REPRESENTATIVE OF ERITREA TO THE UNITED NATIONS, DURING THE INTERACTIVE DIALOGUES WITH THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON 28 OCTOBER AND THE COMMISSION OF INQUIRY ON 29 OCTOBER ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN ERITREA
AGENDA ITEM 72 C: PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
AT THE THIRD COMMITTEE OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
29 OCTOBER 2015, NEW YORK
On the politically motivated reports presented by the Special Rapporteur (SR) on October 28 and the Commissionof Inquiry (COI) on 29 October respectively, who have never been to Eritrea, my delegation wishes to refer to the distinguished members of the Third Committee to a document number A/HRC/29/G/6* of 19 June 2015, which extensively addresses Eritrea’s concerns and rejection of the country specific mandates. Since the current reports are not different in motive, content and methodology from last year’s report of the Special Rapporteur, I will not waste your time in rebutting and rejecting these reports that lack professionalism, objectivity and neutrality. The reports are full offabricated information with sweeping and outrageous conclusions that defythe UN Charter, principles of objectivityand non-selectivity as well as impartiality. They completely contradict the verifiable and extensive reports that different UN agencies and diplomatic missions stationed inside Eritrea, send daily and regularly to their respective headquarters. I would, therefore, take this opportunity to share with the Committee, the reality in Eritrea and thereby present Eritrea’s progresses and challenges in its efforts to advance human rights and I leave the distinguished delegations in this room to make theirown judgments.
On Enhancing Good Governance and Judicial System
• Eritrea is a country governed by the rule of law. The government has enacted and implemented 176 proclamations and more than 120 legal notices since independence 24 years ago with the view of providing effective and efficient justice services.
• The social justice policy is in place and equitable provision of services, such as health and education, are the basic pillars of human rights that are implemented and promoted in Eritrea with the objective of empowering all of its nationals, irrespective of their gender, creed, nationality, geographic location, age, physical condition or status. Special focus is given to the most vulnerable groups of the society, such as women and girls, nomads, disabled persons, orphaned, and street children.
• In May 2015, the Ministry of Justice published new Penal and Civil codes and their related procedures. The drafting and deliberation of the penal and civil codes involved public consultations and an examination of more than 80,000 documents dealing with customary laws. International and universal human rights laws were also taken into consideration.
• To ensure wider understanding of the revised codes concerted sensitization campaign has been launched and the documents have been translated into two Eritrean languages and English.
• The task of drafting of a new constitution and consultations are on track.
• Eritrea has acceded to the Convention against Torture and the Convention against Transitional Organized Crime and its Protocol on Trafficking in Persons.
• In keeping with the institutional linkages under the UPR mechanism, Eritrea has developed cooperation framework with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
• Officials from OHCHR have visited Eritrea two times and they are planning to visit Eritrea next month for the third time. Strengthening of the judicial system, addressing the needs of the most vulnerable groups, and the rights to water are areas of cooperation that both parties have agreed upon.
• The Prison and Rehabilitation Centers offer extensive educational and developmental opportunities to prisoners.
• To strengthen the crime prevention and criminal justice system as well as to integrate the Mandela Rules, Eritrea plans to partner with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC)
• The UN Declaration of Human Rights has been translated into Eritrean languages and distributed to the public.
• To raise public awareness on various important issues, every year, UN recognized international days such as the International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation [6 February]; World Day of Social Justice [20 February]; International Women’s Day [8 March]; World Down Syndrome Day [21 March]; World Water Day [22 March]; International Day of Families [15 May]; International Youth Day [12 August]; International Day for the Eradication of Poverty [17 October]; International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women [25 November]; Universal Children’s Day [20 November]; International Day of Persons with Disabilities [3 December];Human Rights Day [10 December], are observed withmassive popular participation.
• Under Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement, regular constructive dialogue and engagement takes place between the European Union member countries stationed in Eritrea and the Eritrean government on the issue of human rights.
• Last year, Eritrea co-sponsored GA resolution tabled by Italy concerning moratorium on death penalty.
On Social and Economic Rights
• Under the theme “Education for all”, the Eritrean government devotes over 50% of its annual budget on education.
• In Eritrea, education, from kindergarten to tertiary level, is free. At tertiary and vocational level, students are provided with free food and lodging.
• Gross school enrollment ratios have reached 93.2% at elementary level, 70.2% at middle level and 31.5% at secondary level.
• Concerning eradication of illiteracy, more than 900 adult literacy centers have been established and more than 2000 facilitators have been trained and 95% of the participants in the program are women.
• Students are taught in mother tongues until grade six (Eritrea has nine ethnic groups with nine different languages). Above grade six, all subjects are taught in English.
• In Eritrea the overall development achieved in the health sector is commendable and well acknowledged.
• Provision of primary health care facilities can be found within a radius of 5km.
• According to the 21 October 2015 report by an international organization called Countdown to 2015, which is a coalition of academics, governments and international organizations, including UNICEF and the WHO, Eritrea is one of the four countries out of the 75 countdown countries that has been able to achieve the health MDGs 4 and 5. The other three countries being Cambodia, Nepal and Rwanda. Eritrea has also achieved MDG 6 and is also on track on the other Millennium Development Goals.
• According to WHO report, Eritrea is declared polio and measles free country, and vaccination of children has nearly reached 100%.
• HIV prevalence being 0.93% is the lowest in Africa.
On the Rights of the Child
• For the past two decades, under the motto, “Our children are our future” and “everything good for the child”, the Eritrean government has been implementing an integrated and coordinated policy in protecting and enhancing the rights of the child.
• Inter-ministerial committee composed of the ministries of Labour and Human Welfare, Justice, Education and Health has been created to oversee and monitor the implementation of the Rights of the Child.
• In compliance to Article 44 of the Convention of the Right of the Child, Eritrea has presented its report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child last May. The concluding observations of CRC are in the process of implementationin partnership with UNICEF.
• Several kindergartens have been built all over the country, including in remote areas.
• Corporal punishment is banned, and children’s right to choose custody in situations of divorce are upheld by law.
• Labour proclamation 118/2001 prevents children under the age of 14 from engaging in any form of employment.
• There is a clear legal system that prevents recruitment of minors below the age of 18 into the army.
• Currently, a draft policy paper that will enhance the role of communities concerning the rights of the child is being discussed among all stakeholders. Eritrea fully supports and diligently implements (even during the struggle for independence) the campaign, “Children Not Soldiers” that was launched in March 2014, by the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF.
• In an effort to hear children’s views on issues that affect them, child to child media programs have been introduced.
• In partnership with UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA and UNDP, Eritrea is implementing the Country Program Action Plan (CPAP).
• Street Children are given full attention and necessary assistance.
• Vulnerable Orphans are integrated with their Extended Family or in Group Homes with the hope of eliminating the permanent orphanage institutions.
• About 20 Adolescent/Child friendly Spaces (ACFS) are established in schools, health facilities and communities that are highly impacted by landmines.
On Empowering Women
• The National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW), a grass root civil society organization that was established in 1979, today with a membership of more than 450,000 and offices all over the country, is actively involved at all levels of the society and the government, to advance the empowerment of women and to protect the right of girls.
• Eritrea has put in place a 5 year National Gender Action Plan (2014-2019) which focuses on education, health, economic empowerment and power sharing and decision making processes.
• Pursuant to Article 18 of the Convention of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Eritrea has presented its report on the implementation of the Convention to the relevant Committee, last March.
• The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has been translated into local languages and is widely disseminated, particularly among women.
• Eritrea has criminalized child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) as well as all types of violence, including domestic.
• Offenses and incidents of rape are severely punished by law, and are culturally condemned and regarded as a taboo by the entire society.
• Equal pay for equal work as well as land and property ownership by women is guaranteed by law.
• Affirmative actions are pursued to enhance women’s involvement in decision making processes and politics.
• In the National Assembly, 30% of seats are allocated to women.
• More than 400 Community Courts that are currently operating throughout the country, including in remote areas, are composed of three judges, one of them reserved for a woman.
• In partnership with the EU, approximately 1,200 community court judges, 370 clerks, and 700 support staff are trained.
• The introduction of an innovative energy efficient stove locally called “Adhanet” and increased access to clean drinking water have improved the lives of women and benefited Eritrea’s Climate Change Agenda.
• Eritrea is among one of the first countries which has submitted its national Report of the Beijing Platform of Action to the AU and UN Women.
On Creating Opportunities for the Youth
• Eritrea’s development strategy is anchored on investing in its human capital which involves upgrading and expanding its educational system and creating economic opportunities for the youth. This is an area that requires more investment and cooperation.
• The National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (N.U.E.Y.S) that was established in 1978, today with thousands of members and numerous offices inside and outside Eritrea, is creating formal and informal forums for the youth to discuss national and international issues.
• As part of the government’s effort to address the rising cost of living, effective last July, salary increments have been introduced for the civil servants, including the youth.
• Contributing to the national and economic development of the country and climate change agenda, the Eritrean youth are effectively involved in afforestation, water harvesting, and several infrastructure construction programs.
• Just for the record, it must be underlined and clearly understood that the national service is a legal obligation that is limited to 18 months. The deliberate misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the program as an “indefinite military service” is unacceptable and must be corrected and rejected.
On Migration, Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling
• Migration is a global challenge and common responsibility to countries of origin, transit and destination.
• The President of Eritrea has formally requested the United Nations Secretary General and members of the UNSC to create a body that will investigate crimes perpetrated by human traffickers and smugglers against its nationals and other victims. The president has also expressed Eritrea’s readiness to fully cooperate with that body and to provide it with all relevant information in its possession.
• At the national level, Eritrea has intensified preventive awareness campaigns through mass media, grass root organizations and community based town hall meetings
• To tighten its fight against organized criminal networks, global extremism and terrorism, Eritrea has introduced an anti-money laundering proclamation and has been engaged in border security initiatives.
• It has also cosponsored several relevant United Nations General Assembly and United Nations Security Council resolutions.
• Under the Khartoum process, Eritrea has forged a common front and strategy with its neighboring states, AU, EU, UNODC, IOM and other institutions, to step up its fight against human trafficking and human smuggling.
• On the issue of illegal migration, constructive dialogue is taking place between the European Union and Eritrea.
• Creating more opportunities and curbing illegal migration are challenges of which the government of Eritrea remains seized.
• Eritrea hopes the upcoming Valetta Summit will yield concrete strategy in dealing with the root causes of global migration through common approaches, close cooperation and solidarity among countries of origin, transit and destination.
• Eritrea has been receiving several European delegations in the past 12 months who were able to make first hand assessment on the internal situation as well as to understand Eritrean government policy concerning Eritreans that have left the country illegally and are returning home to stay or to visit. As a result of their visit and extensive interaction with different stakeholders that includes the diplomatic community, the UK Home Office and the Danish Immigration Service have already revised their asylum policies concerning Eritrean illegal migrants.
• With the view of intensifying cooperation in the fight against human trafficking and human smuggling as well as strengthening the criminal justice system, recently, a delegation from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) visited Eritrea.
• A delegation from the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) has also returned from Eritrea a few days ago after meeting different government officials and stakeholders.
On Ownership of Land and Housing Projects
• Article 4 of the Land Proclamation (No.58) of 1994 accords every citizen the right to obtain land for housing. Article 4.4 further guarantees the equal enjoyment of this right with no discrimination on the basis of sex, belief, race or clan.
• It is important to mention that Land Proclamation (No.58) of 1994 is a land mark law that replaced the centuries old land tenure system that prevented women from owning land.
• Recently, the Minister of Local Government reaffirmed publicly the equitable land use as the right of every citizen and called on relevant line ministries, local administrations and the various regional and district level officials and assemblies to work in a coordinated and harmonized mode to ensure full and effective implementation of the land ownership law as well as the urban and rural development plans.
• It is important to stress that in many countries infrastructural development activities, including housing projects are implemented in accordance to the law of the land as well as the urban and rural development plans.
The Way Forward
When we analyse about internal and external situation of any country, it is important to be mindful of context, perspective and their ramifications. From the perspective of the people and government of Eritrea, occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories, including the town of Badme by Ethiopia and the politically motivated unjust sanctions imposed against their country, are among the most critical impediments for them to fully enjoy their human rights as well as their right to development. These are real, important and critical issues and are not a pretext as the Special Rapporteur and the Commission of Inquiry (COI) attempt to insinuate or assert.
Occupations and unjust sanctions are collective punishments, which are the highest forms of human rights violations. For all those who are interested and are serious in advancing human rights in Eritrea, my delegation appeals to them to exercise their international responsibility and to urge Ethiopia to respect international law and its treaty obligations as well as to immediately and unconditionally withdraw from sovereign Eritrean territory, including the town of Badme.
My delegation is equally calling on the UNSC to lift the unjust sanctions imposed on Eritrea as they continue to hurt the most vulnerable members of the society, in particular, children and women. “Nobody should be left behind”. One cannot claim to stand for human rights while ignoring these basic realities, principles and facts.
As a post conflict country, whose people suffered a great deal as a result of several decades of protracted and devastating war for independence and maintenance of its sovereignty, Eritrea does not deny the fact that like all countries, including least developing countries, thatthere are rooms for improvement. Rest assured its engagement with all relevant stakeholders and partners will be continued and enhanced.
Eritrea, with its 1,200 kilometers of coastline and more than 350 islands, located in the volatile Horn of Africa and the Red Sea Region, with 50% Christian and 50% Moslem population, is a peaceful and harmonious country, and is fully engaged and committed to the implementation of its national laws and international human rights instruments that it is a party to. The Eritrean people know very well their rights and obligations, what they need is understanding and solidarity, not threat and intimidation.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman,
Eritrea wishes to stress that the UPR is the appropriate mechanism to advance human rights ideals and it is important to underline and be candid that naming and shaming and country specific mandate approach did not work in the past and will not work in the future. When the commission of inquiry was established last year, Eritrea clearly warned that we members of Third Committee will be obliged and required to hear two reports on the same issue, compiled and written with the involvement of the same person. As a result yesterday, we heard the baseless accusations presented by the Special Rappourter on Eritrea and today we are listening to similar baseless accusations and sweeping statements from the Commission of Inquiry of which the Special Rappourter is a member. Maintaining the Special Rapporteur and the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea isredundant, unjust and waste of time and resources.
The resources devoted to these overlapping and redundant mandates could be allocated to OHCHR to enhance its pillar of technical cooperation with member countries.
Eritrea once again appeals to the distinguished delegates to reject and dismiss the reports and terminate the mandates of the Special Rapporteur and the Commission of Inquiry.
Thank you Mr. Chairman.