OCTOBER 21, 2015
A UN commission of inquiry is scheduled to present an oral update on human rights violations in Eritrea to the UN General Assembly in late October. The commission was established in June 2014 with a one-year mandate to investigate Eritrea’s severe restrictions on the rights and freedoms of its people. *
During its investigation, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE) concluded that “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” have occurred in Eritrea. On June 23, 2015, the COIE presented its report along with its findings and recommendations before the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. On October 29, 2015, the COIE will present an oral update to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly in New York. *
Persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses
In addition to its report presented to the HRC, the COIE submitted a supplementary 484-page report of the detailed findings of its investigation that drew attention to the discriminatory and abusive treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Because the Witnesses are politically neutral and conscientiously object to military service, the Eritrean government has targeted them for persecution since the country gained independence in 1993. Witnesses have been tortured and subjected to long-term detentions in harsh prison conditions. The government has deprived them of citizenship, confiscated their identity documents, dismissed them from government employment, revoked their business licenses, and denied them public benefits.
“All Eritreans receive vouchers for food, except Jehovah’s Witnesses because we do not have an ID. We are not considered as citizens.”—Statement by one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Among numerous other recommendations, the COIE concluded that the government of Eritrea should:
“Take immediate measures to end all religious persecution, particularly for specific religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses . . . , and immediately restore citizenship and related rights.”
“End forced evictions used in reprisal against unauthorized religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and those who did not take part in the armed struggle.” *
HRC Adopts Resolution
After the COIE’s presentation in Geneva, the HRC adopted a resolution on June 30, 2015, stating that it “strongly condemns the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea.” * In its resolution, the HRC also called on the government of Eritrea to take “immediate and concrete steps to implement recommendations” made by the COIE, including those concerning Jehovah’s Witnesses. The HRC further called on the Eritrean government to:
“End its use of arbitrary detention of its citizens, and to end the use of torture or other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment.”
“Ensure free and fair access to an independent judicial system for those detained, and to improve prison conditions.”
“Respect everyone’s right to freedom of expression and to freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief, and the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.”
Will the Treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses Improve?
There are currently 54 of Jehovah’s Witnesses imprisoned in Eritrea, 3 of whom have been detained for over 21 years. None have been charged or brought to trial. Some are held in metal shipping containers or in half-buried buildings where they experience harsh conditions and extreme temperatures. Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide are aware of the suffering of their fellow believers in Eritrea and hope that the government will stop persecuting them.
^ par. 2 The Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea was established on June 27, 2014, by the United Nations Human Rights Council under Resolution 26/24.
^ par. 3 The Third Committee considers matters relating to social and humanitarian affairs, and human rights issues that affect people all over the world.
^ par. 8 Report of the detailed findings of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (Advance Version), A/HRC/29/CRP.1, paras. 1530(c) and 1531(c).
^ par. 10 Resolution A/HRC/29/L.23.