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12 November 2018

Do Not Dump Human Rights in Eritrea

With reports of a looming UN Security Council vote on lifting sanctions on Eritrea, including an arms embargo, Front Line Defenders is calling on the UK and French governments to vote against the resolution and maintain their stated positions that the government of Eritrea must improve human rights conditions in the country before such a measure could be contemplated.

Front Line Defenders welcomes recent developments in Eritrea’s foreign relations, including the rapprochement with Ethiopia and ongoing discussions with Djibouti, and the organisation is hopeful that these are the first steps in a series of positive changes in the country.

However, despite these encouraging signs, there should be no possibility of lifting sanctions until the Eritrean government takes practical steps to improve the domestic human rights situation. A first step in that direction would be the release of Dawit Isaak and other human rights defenders who are currently held in Eritrean prisons. At a minimum, the International Committee of the Red Cross should be given access to the prisons, and prisoners should be provided with any medical assistance they require.

According to a report in June by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, no efforts have been made to improve the human rights situation in the country. This is true despite thawing diplomatic relations with neighbouring countries; domestically, there is still no legislature, no free press, and no constitution. Average citizens lack basic rights, and any citizens perceived to be dissidents are imprisoned or disappeared. Lifting sanctions without requirements for meeting basic human right standards, such as the 2015 €200 million EU Development Fund support for energy and governance in Eritrea, sends a clear message that governments can simply wait out the international community on human rights concerns.

Without a rights-based approach to development that acknowledges the range of actors and factors that contribute to a healthy democracy, civil society and human rights defenders will be left out. In a year marking the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, this vote at the UN Security Council would only further undermine human rights globally.

Front Line Defenders calls on France and the UK to maintain their positions on insisting that essential questions on human rights in Eritrea be addressed before sanctions are lifted; inclusive and wide-reaching development will only be possible in a country where human rights defenders and civil society are encouraged to participate. Continuing to jail and imprison human rights defenders and journalists such as Dawit Isaak will impede much-needed development and progress.