Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea

Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
as delivered by Luke Falcon-Sapp

37th Session of the Human Rights Council
Geneva, March 12, 2018.

Thank you, Special Rapporteur Keetharuth.

We appreciate your updates on the recent passing of Mussa Mohammed Nur and the situation in the Akhriyah neighborhood. We value your assessment of the human rights situation in Eritrea and your mandate to inform this Council, and we reiterate our desire for the Eritrean government to cooperate with you and with the international community by allowing access to evaluate the situation inside the country first-hand.

We call on the Eritrean government to implement and comply with its international obligations by ensuring an independent and transparent judiciary, improving detention conditions, and releasing individuals arbitrarily detained, including political prisoners, journalists, and members of religious groups held on account of their beliefs.

Among our most serious concerns is the indefinite nature of Eritrea’s obligatory national service.  Though Eritreans have given previous assurances that national service is limited to eighteen months, accounts indicate that the government routinely requires individuals to serve for longer periods.  This deprives Eritrea’s young people of the opportunity to pursue other careers and encourages them to leave the country at great risk to their lives.

We are also concerned over the Special Rapporteur’s report on how the government is exercising more control over the four religious groups it officially recognizes, as seen with its recent crackdown on Islamic and Catholic schools and institutions and the continued house detention of Patriarch Antonious for protesting government interference in church affairs.  In addition, members of unrecognized religious groups – especially evangelical Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses – reportedly continue to face arbitrary detention, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and are forced to make assurances not to continue practicing unrecognized religions as a condition of release.

In closing, I want to underscore that we recognize and welcome Eritrea’s recent efforts to reengage the international community.  Progress will require all sides to seriously address historic concerns that have resulted in Eritrea’s relative isolation.  Eritrea has the opportunity to signal its seriousness to the international community by honestly accounting for and addressing longstanding human rights concerns, a step that would be a win for the government of Eritrea and its citizens.  Thank you.

Question:  Special Rapporteur Keetharuth, the Eritrean government has been sending signals that it is more open to international engagement than it has been in the past.  If that is the case, how could the international community most effectively use an opening as an opportunity to improve the human rights situation?