Photo Source: DefendDefenders
Photo Source: DefendDefenders

Eritrea: The annual Council resolution should outline the country’s human rights situation and extend the Special Rapporteur’s mandate

17 May 2023



Ahead of the UN Human Rights Council’s 53rd session (19 June-14 July 2023), we, the undersigned non-governmental organisations, are writing to urge your delegation to support the development and adoption of a resolution that extends the mandate of the Special Rap­por­teur on the situation of hu­man rights in Eritrea for one year.

Additionally, we highlight the need for the Council to put forward a strong resolution that clearly spells out and condemns the ongoing human rights viola­tions committed by Eri­trean authorities at home and abroad and the context of complete impunity that prevails.

*     *     *

We believe that the Council cannot fol­low a “business as usual” approach and that it is time for it to move be­yond merely procedural reso­lutions that extend the Special Rappor­teur’s mandate. The Council should produce a substantive assess­ment of Eritrea’s hu­man rights situation, adopting strong, meaningful reso­lu­tions on the country. These resolutions should include references to the Special Rapporteur’s “bench­marks for progress” and recommendations by other UN and African bodies and me­cha­nisms, as well as substantive paragraphs ad­dres­sing violations committed by the country’s autho­rities inside and outside the country.

In this regard, this year’s resolution should at a minimum mention the following key human rights issues in Eritrea:

      • Arbi­trary arrests and detentions, including in­com­mu­ni­cado de­ten­­tion of journalists and other dis­senting voices, as well as prolonged detention of Djiboutian pri­soners of war;
      • Vio­lations of the rights to a fair trial, access to jus­tice, and due process;
      • Enforced disappearances;
      • Conscription into the country’s abusive na­tional ser­vi­ce system, including conscription for in­de­finite periods of national ser­­vi­ce, involving torture, sexual vio­len­ce against women and girls, and forced labour. Since Council resolution 50/2 was adopted, in July 2022, the Eritrean Govern­ment led an inten­sive forced conscription campaign during which it conducted waves of roundups to identify peo­ple it considers draft evaders or deserters, punishing family members of those seek­ing to avoid cons­cription or recall. Such punishment has included arbitrary detentions and home expulsions;
      • Restrictions on the media and media workers, severe res­tric­tions on civic space, inc­lu­ding the rights to freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly, association, move­ment, and non-discrimination, as well as severe restrictions to freedom of religion or belief;
      • Widespread impunity for past and on­going human rights vio­la­tions; and
      • The Government of Eritrea’s refusal to engage in a serious dialogue with the inter­national com­mu­­ni­ty, including by cooperating with the Council, despite its election for a second term as a Coun­cil Member (2022-2024). For decades, Eritrean authorities have blatantly denied commit­ting serious human rights violations, including in relation to the presence of Eritrean for­ces in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Eri­trean forces have been credibly accused of grave violations of international law in Tig­ray, some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, since the conflict started in November 2020. These violations, and the associated complete lack of accountability, deserve the Coun­cil’s atten­tion.

*     *     *

In July 2022, the Council took a modest step toward addressing substantive human rights issues in Eritrea. For the first time since 2018, it went beyond a one-page resolution extending the Special Rap­por­teur’s mandate. It did so by referring to the benchmarks for pro­gress Special Rap­porteurs identified, thereby outlining a path for human rights reforms. These benchmarks include streng­then­ing the rule of law, refor­ming the national military service, protecting fundamental freedoms, addressing pervasive sexual and gender-based violence, and strengthening cooperation with international and Afri­can human rights bo­dies.

Resolution 50/2 also extended the Special Rapporteur’s mandate for a year, which was the main purpose of Eritrea-focused resolutions adopted in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Although it went further than these three resolutions, which were merely procedural and contained no sub­stantive assessment of Eritrea’s situation, resolution 50/2 failed to clearly describe and condemn hu­man rights violations Eritrean au­thorities are responsible for. It failed to reflect the situation in the coun­try in the way Council resolutions did prior to 2019, as well as the atrocities Eritrean forces have committed in Ethiopia’s Tigray region since armed conflict broke out, in November 2020. Yet violations Eritrean authorities commit at home and abroad are two sides of the same coin, and the total closure of the civic space enables these violations to continue with impunity.

Ahead of the Council’s 50th session, over 40 civil society organisations urged the Council to maintain its scrutiny of Eritrea’s human rights situation and to strengthen its annual resolution with a view to bringing it in line with pre-2019 resolutions. We welcome the inclusion, in resolution 50/2, of a call on the Gov­ern­ment of Eritrea to “[commit] to making progress on the recom­mendations included in [the Special Rapporteur’s] reports and on the benchmarks and asso­cia­ted indi­ca­tors proposed in 2019.” We stress, however, that resolutions on Eritrea should fully reflect the country’s human rights situation.

In 2016, the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea found that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that crimes against humanity have been committed in the country since 1991 and that Eritrean officials have committed and continue to commit the crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, tor­­ture, other inhumane acts, persecution, rape, and murder. The international com­munity and the African Union have failed to ensure adequate follow-up for these findings. Since 2019, the Human Rights Council has conveyed the impression to victims, survivors, and their families that it has given up on the account­a­bility agenda.

Yet no Eritrean official has been held criminally accountable, and Eritrea’s human rights situation has not fundamentally changed. All the key issues identified in pre-2019 Council resolutions on the country and by independent experts and organisations remain valid. For ins­tance, in his 2022 report, the Special Rapporteur, Dr. Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, noted that “the vast majority of the recommendations made by human rights mechanisms […], as well as the recom­mendations from the country’s universal pe­riodic review in 2019, remain unimplemented.” He added that “the persistent human rights crisis in Eritrea deepened during the reporting period” and iden­tified several worrying trends.

Similarly, in the statement delivered during the enhanced interactive dialogue on Eritrea held on 6 March 2023, the Deputy UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Nada Al-Nashif, highlighted that “[t]he human rights situation in Eritrea remains dire and shows no sign of improvement. It continues to be cha­racterised by serious hu­man rights violations.” She added: “It is alarming that all these human rights violations are committed in the context of complete impunity. Eritrea has not taken any de­mons­trable steps to ensure accountability for past and ongoing human rights violations.”

*     *     *

The Human Rights Council should allow the Special Rapporteur to pursue his work and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to deepen its engagement with Eritrea.

At its 53rd session, the Council should adopt a resolution:

      • Extending the mandate of the Spe­cial Rap­porteur on Eritrea for a period of one year;
      • Urging Eritrea to cooperate fully with the Spe­cial Rap­por­teur by granting him access to the country, in accordance with its obligations as a Council Member;
      • Condemning the ongoing human rights viola­tions committed by Eri­trean authorities at home and abroad and the context of complete impunity that prevails;
      • Welcoming the benchmarks for progress in improving the situ­a­tion of hu­man rights and associated indicators and recommendations, as well as recommendations formulated by other UN and African human rights bodies and mechanisms, and calling on Eri­trea to deve­lop an implementation plan to meet the benchmarks for pro­gress, in con­sul­tation with the Special Rapporteur and OHCHR; and
      • Requesting the High Commissioner and the Special Rappor­teur to present updates on human rights concerns in Eritrea and on accountability options for serious violations at the Coun­cil’s 55th session in an enhanced interactive dia­lo­gue that also includes the participation of civil so­ciety and requesting the Special Rap­porteur to present a comprehensive written report at the Council’s 56th ses­sion and to the General Assembly at its 78th

We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information.


  1. Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture in the Central African Republic (ACAT-RCA)
  2. AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  3. The America Team for Displaced Eritreans
  4. Amnesty International
  5. Burkinabè Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CBDDH)
  6. Burundian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CBDDH)
  7. Cabo Verdean Network of Human Rights Defenders (RECADDH)
  9. Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Benin (CDDH-Bénin)
  10. Coordination of Human Rights Organizations (CODDH) – Guinea
  11. CSW (Christian Solidarity Worldwide)
  12. DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
  13. Eritrean Afar National Congress
  14. Eritrea Focus
  15. Eritrean Coordination for Human Rights
  16. Eritrean Law Society
  17. Geneva for Human Rights – Global Training (GHR)
  18. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P)
  19. Global Initiative to Empower Eritrea Grassroot Movement
  20. The Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum (HoACSF)
  21. Hawai’i Institute for Human Rights
  22. Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
  23. Human Rights Defenders Network – Sierra Leone
  24. Human Rights Watch
  25. Institut des Médias pour la Démocratie et les Droits de l’Homme (IM2DH) – Togo
  26. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  27. Ivorian Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CIDDH)
  28. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada
  29. Libyan Human Rights Clinic (LHRC)
  30. Network of NGOs for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (RONGDH) – Central African Republic
  31. Nigerien Human Rights Defenders Network (RNDDH/NHRDN)
  32. One Day Seyoum
  33. Togolese Human Rights Defenders Coalition (CTDDH)
  34. Vision Ethiopian Congress for Democracy (VECOD)
  35. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and other NGOs


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