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Eritrea: Formal Complaint about Certain Controversial Statements Attributed to Some Senior UN Officials

 

This is a formal complaint, addressed to the following United Nations (UN) organs: the Department of Political Affairs, the Head Offices of UNDP, UNFPA and UN Women in New York.

The signatories of this letter are concerned Eritreans who live in different parts of the world as exiles, due to the extremely repressive political situation in Eritrea.

This complaint is promoted by some misleading public pronouncements attributed to some UN staff members working for UNDP, UNFPA and UN Women (some of whom are senior officials), who recently spoke at a UN side event in New York. The event in question took place on 16 March 2015, celebrating Eritrea’s “achievements” on gender equality.

The statements attributed to the UN staff members are reported in a press release dated 17 March 2015, published by the Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the UN (copy of which is attached to this letter). The press release was posted in the official website of the Eritrean government: http://50.7.16.234/hadas-eritrea/Press%20release.pdf (later removed without any explanation or apology as explained below). The misleading statements as reported in the press release, are as follows.

Ms. Raquel Lagunas, UNDP Policy Advisor on Gender, is quoted to have said, in reference to Eritrea’s achievements in gender equality: “what Eritrea is doing is not only the right thing to do but the smart thing to do.”

Ms. Christine Musisi, Regional Director of UN Women, is said to have applauded the Eritrean government’s “successful multi-sectorial approach on addressing gender equality.”

Dr. Dan Odallo, UNFPA Representative in Eritrea, is quoted to have said: “Eritrea stands number one in effective community participation.” He is also reported to have said: “Accountability is not a problem in Eritrea.”

The above bold statements are contrary to well-established facts about Eritrea, as articulated by other credible UN sources, such as Geneva-based treaty monitoring bodies, UN-mandated fact-finding missions, as well as the UN Human Rights Council. For instance, the statements in question fly in the face of grave concerns that are articulated by the Concluding Observations of the CEDAW Committee, adopted on 6 March 2015 (at the Sixtieth Session of the Committee). The Eritrean government’s dismal record in the area of women rights, particularly its failure to combat violence against women and the rampant practice of sexual violence by army commanders, was thoroughly scrutinized by the CEDAW Committee, leading to very negative Concluding Observations.

The assertions made in the New York side event also find themselves in profound discord with the following strong observations made by the oral update (interim report) of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE), submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, on the same day when the New York side event took place (16 March 2015):

[W]e can already report on very clear patterns of human rights violations and on our systemic understanding of them … Most Eritreans have no hope for their future: national service, whether in a military unit or in a civil assignment, is the only thing that from the age of seventeen they can expect to spend their life doing – paid between less than one and a maximum of two dollars a day … there is no rule of law in the country; and no one is being held accountable for violating the rights of groups or individuals … Eritrea is a country where detention is an ordinary fact of life, experienced by an inordinate number of individuals – men and women, old and young, including children; where detention centres are official and unofficial, above ground and underground, metal containers in forbidding heat or mere fences with no shelter for inmates in punishing cold; where once in one of them, there is a likelihood that you will be subject to torture to extract a confession or to simply punish behaviours.[1]

Added to the above are two other authoritative reports by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea (Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth), which portray a very bleak picture of the state of human rights, including women’s rights, in Eritrea. Since 2012, the UN Human Rights Council has repeatedly asserted that the problem in Eritrea is that of “continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms committed by the Eritrean authorities.”[2] In the lexicon of atrocity crimes, this amounts to a situation of crimes against humanity, as also noted in the Notice of Claim of three Eritrean plaintiffs, submitted on 20 November 2014 to the Supreme Court of British Colombia in Vancouver, Canada.[3]

In the press release of the Eritrean Permanent Mission to the UN, there was another fundamentally erroneous assertion attributed to Ms. Christine Umutoni, UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator in Eritrea.[4] She is reported to have “emphasized her assessment that when compared to many other civil society organizations from her vast experiences, the National Union of Eritrean Women is one of the most effective community movements with a high level of accountability and efficiency.”

In the above statement, the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) is erroneously portrayed as a civil society organization (CSO) or alternatively as a community movement. As a matter of fact, NUEW is a GONGO (government-operated non-government organization) that masquerades as a CSO or community movement for purposes of lip service. This was actually one of the main problems by which reason the Eritrean government was criticised by the Concluding Observations of the CEDAW Committee, adopted on 6 March 2015, as noted below:

[The CEDAW Committee] regrets that the State party has not yet changed [NUEW’s] legal status as a non-governmental organization, nor provided it with executive powers, which impedes the Union’s ability to effectively respond to the current challenges. The Committee is also concerned about the insufficient human and financial resources allocated to the national machinery to ensure its adequate functioning.[5]

Seen against the above sound observations of the CEDAW Committee, Ms. Umutoni’s description of NUEW as a CSO or a community movement is completely out of touch with reality.

At a time when the Eritrean government is under thorough scrutiny by the international community for its abhorrent record of human rights violations, including violence against women, the inaccurate statements made at the New York side event have the unfortunate consequence of undermining other credible findings by other UN-mandated legitimate processes.

The fact that the statements in question were communicated in the same day when the COIE presented its oral update (interim report) to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva does not come as a good sign in terms of the requirements of aligning UN-mandated activities, supposedly working in the same area of concern, such as the promotion of a rule of law-abiding political system in Eritrea in which context women’s rights are better understood. Indeed, at a time when Geneva-based UN organs, processes and experts, such as the Human Rights Council, the CEDAW Committee, the COIE, the Special Rapporteur (Ms. Kheetharuth), are working hard to ensure accountability for the situation of grave human rights violations in Eritrea, it is enigmatic to observe that some New York-based UN entities going in the opposite direction of what the former group of UN organs are doing. To our understanding, this is also contrary to well-known UN approaches of safeguarding human rights, such as the “rights-based approach to development,” and the UN Secretary-General’s Human Rights up Front (HRuF) initiative.

We note that the original press release of the Eritrean government was later removed from its official website and replaced with a milder and short news item still available at this link: http://www.shabait.com/news/local-news/19407-eritreas-achievements-in-gender-equality-commended-at-meeting-held-in-new-york-city-. This could have happened possibly as a result of an initial complaint communicated to the office of Ms. Umutoni in Eritrea (by email dated 19 March 2015). Nonetheless, the original press release was removed without any explanation or apology on the side of the Eritrean government, or any feedback from Ms. Umutoni’s office on the initial complaint. In our view, professional courtesy requires that Ms. Umutoni’s office respond to the initial email on a timely fashion, with explanation on the concern raised in the same email. Sadly, this does not seem to be happening as we write this letter.

To sum up, we stress that the UN speaks with one voice and expresses the situation in Eritrea like it is: an alarming record of human rights violations. Indeed, Eritrea is now the only country in the world (after North Korea) for which the UN has mandated a Commission of Inquiry, to investigate alarming levels of human rights violations, taking place in a situation that does not involve armed conflict. This cannot be ignored in any context.

We believe that the misleading statements discussed above seriously compromise the obligation of the concerned UN staff members to maintain the highest standard of honesty, integrity and truthfulness, as indicated in some UN official documents, such as paragraph 19 of the UNDP Legal Framework for Addressing Non-Compliance with UN Standards of Conduct.[6] Thus, we call on the relevant UN organs to take appropriate measures to rectify the problem we have addressed in this letter.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you in anticipation of your cooperation.

Kind regards,

The Signatories

 

(A complete list of signatories is attached in the next page).

 

1 April 2015

List of Signatories

 

No.

Full Name

Country of Residence

1.

Selam Kidane

UK

2.

Saleh “Gadi” Johar

USA

3.

Isayas Sium

USA

4.

Berhane G. Negus

USA

5.

Abraham T. Zere

USA

6.

Ahmed Abdelrehim

Australia

7.

Mohamed Abdulrahman

Australia

8.

Tesfalidet Meharena

USA

9.

Mohamed Kheir Omer

Norway

10.

Sebhat Gebreselassie

USA

11.

Elizabeth Chyrum

UK

12.

Dawit Mesfin

UK

13.

Tesfay K. Tseghay

Canada

14.

Abdulgader Habties

Australia

15.

Aklilu Ghirmai

Germany

16.

Ali Dinai

Sudan

17.

Alem Yohannes

USA

18.

Amanuel Beraki

Denmark

19.

Assefaw Berhe

UK

20.

Babekir Mohammed Hamid

Sudan

21.

Eritrea Alazar

USA

22.

Gherghis Negash

Sweden

23.

Gime Ahmed

Ethiopia

24.

Haile Ghebru

Australia

25.

Hamid Drar

UK

26.

Idris Ismail

Sudan

27.

Ismail Nada

Sudan

28.

Issa Mohammed

Sudan

29.

Mahfuz Hussein

UK

30.

Mansour Omar

UK

31.

Menghesteab Asmerom

Germany

32.

Mesfin Hagos

Germany

33.

Mohammed Adem Artaa

Sudan

34.

Mohammed Asselo

Sudan

35.

Negusse Tsegai

Germany

36.

Rezene Tesfazion

Sweden

37.

Suleiman Sediq

Sudan

38.

Tekle Melekin

Sweden

39.

Tesfamichael Yohannes

USA

40.

Tesfai Woldemichael

USA

41.

Wolde-Yesus Ammar

Switzerland

42.

Desbele Gebre

USA

43.

Rahwa Gebrezghi

USA

44.

Sham Gebre

USA

45.

Joseph Gebre

USA

46.

Zehaye Araia

USA

47.

Weini Araia

USA

48.

Woldeselassie G. Abera

USA

49.

Maasho Solomon

Canada

50.

Fessehaye Hagos

USA

51.

Tesfaldet Abraham

USA

52.

Ahmed Y. Mohamed

Canada

53.

Abeer Mohamed

Gulf

54.

Tesfalidet Asfaha

Canada

55.

Meron Estefanos

Sweden

56.

Khedijah A. Mohammed-Nur

UK

57.

Sophia Ammar

Switzerland

58.

Arei Mohamed Saleh

Australia

59.

Medhanie Admasu Taye

USA

60.

Tomas Solomon

USA

61.

Dawit Tesfu

Israel

62.

Fitsum Teklemichael

Australia

63.

Veronica Almedom

Switzerland

64.

Senait Almedom

Switzerland

65.

Daniel G. Mikael

USA

66.

Gherezghiher Tewelde

Canada

67.

Ghezae H. Berhe

Canada

68.

Goitom Kuflom

Switzerland

69.

Teclesenbet Ghebremariam

Holland

70.

Akberet Ghebrehannes

Holland

71.

Edom Ghebremariam

Holland

72.

Adonay Ghebremariam

Holland

73.

Biniam Fessehazion

USA

74.

Russom Mesfun

USA

75.

Kisanet Y. Gebrengus

Norway

76.

Yonas D. Gebreselassie

USA

77.

Semhar Negash

Switzerland

78.

Eyasu A. Habtemariam

South Africa

79.

 Adiam Wolday

South Africa

80.

Samuel B. Abraha

South Africa

81.

Mehari Tesfamariam

Holland

82.

Debessay Negasi

Germany

83.

Almaz Araia

USA

84.

Eru Abraham

USA

85.

Walta Abraham

USA

86.

Ariam Abraham

USA

87.

Okbay Abraham

USA

88.

Medhanie Abraham

USA

89.

Tesfay Berhe

Sweden

90.

Noel M. Joseph

UK

91.

Yohannes Okbu

Holland

92.

Afeworki Abbai

Germany

93.

Abraham Ghebre

Sweden

94.

Alganesh Yacob

Sweden

95.

Mussie Awate

Sweden

96.

Andebrahan Yohannes

Germany

97.

Andezion Ghirmai

Germany

98.

Andom Ghergish

Germany

99.

Antonio Tesfai

Sweden

100.

Adiam Teferi

Germany

101.

Tesfamichael Abraha

France

102.

Awalom Malik

Sweden

103.

Bahta Ghebru

Germany

104.

Berhe Tesfai

Sweden

105.

Berhane G. Kristos

Germany

106.

Bizu Butignoli

Switzerland

107.

Berhane Kidane

Sudan

108.

Tadesse Asmelash

Germany

109.

Dawit Araya

Norway

110.

Dawit T. Berhan

UK

111.

Debessai Beyene

Ethiopia

112.

Dirar Mantai

Holland

113.

Debessai Negasi

Germany

114.

Habte Michael Tekle

Sweden

115.

Feven Ghideon

Germany

116.

Fikak Kurban

Sweden

117.

Fitsum G. Hiwet

Sweden

118.

Fitwi Kifle

Switzerland

119.

Ghenet Tekle

Australia

120.

Ghide Zere

Germany

121.

Ghirmai Koken

Germany

122.

Goitom Mebrahtu

UK

123.

Ghebre Nashih

Sweden

124.

Habtom Mesfin

UK

125.

Hailesus Ghebrai

Australia

126.

Hiriti Kibreab

Germany

127.

Hassi Mogos

Saudi Arabia

128.

Haile Tinsaew

Sweden

129.

Haile Woldu

UK

130.

Leteab Tewelde

Switzerland

131.

Maasho Asrat

Germany

132.

Mahder

Norway

133.

Mehari Amar

Switzerland

134.

Medhanie Habtezghi

Norway

135.

Mussie Haile

Germany

136.

Medhanie Neraio

Sweden

137.

Mohammed Adem

Sweden

138.

Mohammed Alamin

Sudan

139.

M. Teklezghi

Germany

140.

Negasi Hamde

Sweden

141.

Osman Jaber

Norway

142.

Redae Mahre

Germany

143.

Rusom T. Mariam

Germany

144.

Samson Tekie

Germany

145.

Seid Abdulhamid

Switzerland

146.

Shumai Berhe

Norway

147.

Tedros Amanuel

Sweden

148.

Tesfai Bayre

Germany

149.

T. Teklezghi

Germany

150.

Teklehaimanot Elfu

Sudan

151.

Tiebe Tekie

Germany

152.

Tesfamariam Kibreab

Germany

153.

Tzehaie Kubrom

Germany

154.

Tesfai Teklezghi

France

155.

Woldu Yohannes

Sweden

156.

Yacob Ogbamichael

Norway

157.

Yemane Zemlay

Germany

158.

Zehaie Keleta

Sweden

159.

Zerabruk Gebre

Holland

160.

Zere Hiyab

Norway

161.

Woldu Negasi

USA

162.

Genet Negasi

USA

163.

Adiam Gebrai

USA

164.

Samuel Gebrai

USA

165.

Sarah Ogbay

UK

166.

Ghezae Z. Kidane

USA

167.

Wegahta K. Sereke

Switzerland

168.

Daniel R. Mekonnen

Switzerland

 



[1] Interim Report of the COIE [Oral Update by the Chair of the Commission to the UN Human Rights Council], 16 March 2015, available at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15699&LangID=E [emphasis added].

[2] UN Human Rights Council, Resolution on Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea, A/HRC/26/L.6, 23 June 2014 [emphasis added].

[3] See in particular paras. 4, 53, 59, 72, and 76 of the Notice of Claim, copy of which is on file with author, and is available on request. The pending court is case Gize Yebeyo Araba & Others v. Nevsun Resources Ltd. (Supreme Court of British Colombia, Case No. S148932).

[4] In some sources, Ms. Umutoni is also referred to as UNDP’s Representative in Eritrea in addtion to the post described above.

[5] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Concluding Observations on the Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports of Eritrea, 6 March 2015, CEDAW/C/ERI/CO/5, paragraph 14.

[6] Aavailable at http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/documents/about/transparencydocs/UNDP_Legal_Framework_for_Addressing_Non_compliance_with_UN_Standards_of_Conduct.pdf.

 

 

 
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