On the 17th anniversary of Eritrea’s clampdown on its free press on 18 September, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a statement about the peace agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
The OHCHR expressed its desire that the end of the ‘no war, no peace’ stalemate between the countries would place human rights at the centre of Eritrea’s path towards a society respectful of all fundamental rights.
While current developments present undeniable opportunities for positive change, the rhetoric of peace espoused by Eritrea in the past few months is in contrast with the recent arrest of former Finance Minister Berhane Abrehe.
Abrehe was arrested following the publication of a two-volume book titled ‘Eritrea My Country’. The book sharply criticised Isaias Afwerki’s political system and called on Eritreans to use peaceful means to achieve democracy. In an audio message, Mr. Abrehe confirmed his authorship of the book and addressed Isaias Afwerki directly.
Sheila B. Keetharuth, who has served as UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea since 2012, expressed concerns over the tangible implementation of peace in Eritrea. She said:
“The achievement of peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia must be duly celebrated. However, Eritrean authorities must urgently embrace and implement bold measures to strengthen protection of and respect for human rights, justice and accountability”.
The UN Rapporteur called for immediate action to be taken in three concrete areas, “where urgent rectification is most needed.” These include the passing of information to the families of those disappeared in Eritrean prisons of their loved ones’ whereabouts, and to bring before law courts the unknown number of people arrested or detained; the implementation of the Constitution which has been pending since 1997; and the elaboration of a solid demobilisation plan, especially for long-serving conscripts.
While the terms of the internal treatment of human rights remain uncertain, it is vital that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur is maintained and respected.