Human Rights Council holds separate interactive dialogues on the human rights situations in Eritrea and in Sri Lanka

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held separate interactive dialogues on the situations of human rights in Eritrea and in Sri Lanka.

Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, presenting his oral update, said recent developments continued to evidence a lack of progress in the human rights situation in Eritrea. Eritrea’s systematic crackdown on dissenting voices continued unabated. Civic and democratic space remained hermetically shut as the Government continued to severely curtail freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, association and religion. In place since 1998, the indefinite national service programme effectively constituted forced labour and remained one of the key sources of human rights violations in the country.

Speaking as the country concerned, Eritrea denounced the distorted assumptions of the reality on the ground contained in the report and said it would not answer to what had been said. Eritrea continued to provide justice and human rights building through strategies and programmes. The report had failed to mention the work that Eritrea had done to remain a zone of stability despite the external destabilisation attempts. The irresponsible defamations were negating the efforts that the country had made to address its human rights challenges that were being continuously addressed.

In the ensuing debate, speakers said the persistent human rights abuses and violations in Eritrea, including arbitrary detention, restrictions on rights of freedom of expression, association, religion and belief, and forced labour were all of great concern, as were reports of sexual violence and child labour. The Government should undertake investigations that met international standards and hold those responsible to account. The Government should fully comply with all its international obligations and improve its cooperation with human rights bodies, allowing them full and unhindered access to the country. Other speakers said that the efforts of the Government of Eritrea to promote and protect human rights should be applauded and encouraged. The Human Rights Council should avoid bias and selectivity; it should promote dialogue in the understanding of different realities. The Universal Periodic Review mechanism was the ideal way to consider the situation in Eritrea. The Council should rethink the role of country mandates and abandon them in favour of cooperation with the countries involved.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, introducing the report on Sri Lanka, said the Government should take further steps to address the fundamental problems with the Prevention of Terrorism Act and undertake deeper legal, institutional and security sector reforms that were critically needed to put an end to impunity and prevent any reoccurrence of past violations. Victims and their families continued to be denied truth and justice. There was deep concern about the concentration of civilian positions in the hands of military officials, some of them implicated in serious allegations of human rights violations. The Council should pursue alternative strategies to advance accountability at the international level.

Sri Lanka, speaking as the country concerned, said the resolution was directly contrary to the Council’s founding principles of impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity. There were serious anomalies and problems with the report. It had an intolerably intrusive character and there was a clear element of discrimination within it. This in itself struck at the root of the foundations of the United Nations system. It was deeply regretted that numerous unsubstantiated allegations had found their way into the report. The international community should join Sri Lanka on a footing of mutual respect to face the challenges ahead.

In the ensuing debate, speakers said Sri Lanka should ensure a safe democratic space, and strong independent judicial institutions. The erosion of democratic institutions and the lack of accountability for past human rights violations undermined progress. The Government had taken the first steps to undertake reforms but there was a long road ahead. More comprehensive reforms were needed to allow civil society to operate freely and safely and to bring terrorism legislation in line with international norms and standards. Ensuring accountability and justice for survivors was essential for maintaining peace and ensuring reconciliation. Some speakers said that reports should be based on reliable, objective and neutral observation. The development of reports should be done with constructive cooperation with the concerned country. When dealing with human rights situations, the Council should retain a non-biased, non-selective and non-hypocritical point of view.

Speaking this afternoon on the situation in Eritrea were the European Union, Iceland on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Philippines, France, Djibouti, Luxembourg, Venezuela, China, Cuba, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Russian Federation, Benin, Australia, Sudan, Ireland, Belarus, United States, Belgium, United Kingdom, Canada, Somalia, Syria, Iran and South Sudan. Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Eastern Horn of Africa: Human Rights Defenders Project, Civicus World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Amnesty International, Advocates for Human Rights, and UN Watch.

Speaking on Sri Lanka were the European Union, Netherlands on behalf of the Benelux countries, Norway on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries, United Kingdom on behalf of the Sri Lanka Core Group, Saudi Arabia on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Germany, Egypt, Montenegro, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Canada, Philippines, Nepal, Kenya, India and France.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-ninth regular session can be found here.

The Council will reconvene on Monday, 7 March at 9 a.m. when it will continue and conclude its interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner’s report on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. It will then hold a meeting on technical cooperation in protecting the human rights of vulnerable persons in and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Source: UN Human Rights Council

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