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Human Rights Council – Report of the UPR Working Group on Eritrea
November 30, 2009

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America Delivered by Chargé d‘Affairs Douglas M. Griffiths

Thank you, Mr. President.

We thank the Eritrean delegation for their participation in the UPR.

The United States is concerned by the existence of “special courts” established by Eritrea in 1996. The government has not made available the statute establishing these courts nor published the records of its procedures. The Special courts are not bound by the Criminal or Penal code and court practices do not adhere to international standards of fair trial. There is no time limit on pre-trial detention; trials are conducted in secret; defendants are held incommunicado without access to legal representation; and judges often serve as the prosecutor.

The United States recommends that the government dismantle the “special courts” and transfer all cases to the criminal courts or High courts, to comply with human rights obligations regarding fair hearings and due process.

Credible sources report that Eritreans in military service are used as laborers for their commanding officers and in the construction and agricultural sectors, functions outside the scope of Eritrea’s Proclamation of National Service. There are also reports that some national service workers are required to continue their service indefinitely, beyond the 18 months specified by law, with many required to serve in their positions for over 10 years. The government also remains complicit in the conscripting children into the military service.

The United States recommends that the government curb abuses of Eritrean citizens in the national service program, pass and enforce a comprehensive anti-trafficking statute, and cease the conscription of children into military service.

The United States is gravely concerned by the government’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers involuntarily returned from neighboring countries. The government does not provide UNHCR or other international organizations access to these returnees. According to Human Rights Watch, “punishments inflicted on asylum seekers who are forcibly returned are terrible, including torture and death.”

The United States strongly recommends that Eritrea not detain, persecute or prosecute returned migrants and asylum seekers and to allow the international community, especially UNHCR, access to returnees.

The United States understands that same-sex activity between consenting adults is criminalised by article 600 of the Penal Code of Eritrea. The UN Human Rights Committee believes that such laws violate the rights to both privacy and non-discrimination, contrary to articles 17(1) and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The United States recommends that Eritrea bring its Penal Code into conformity with its international human rights obligations by repealing those provisions which criminalize same-sex activity between consenting adults.

The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) is Eritrea’s sole political party and has controlled the country since 1991. The PFDJ continues to postpone national elections – none have ever been held – while the government uses the unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia to justify severe restrictions on civil liberties.

The United States recommends that the Government of Eritrea conduct a national to examine the need to maintain the national state of emergency that has denied the people their basic human rights.