What The Eritrean Situation Means For Global Human Rights

With a population of around five million, Eritrea has approximately nine recognized ethnic groups and speaks a variety of different languages. While home to diverse groups and languages, the state itself remains one of the most repressive and authoritarian one-party states – often compared to North Korea. In September of 2018 the Eritrean government signed a peace accord with Ethiopia, ending some twenty years of hostility between the two former elements of the Ethiopian Empire, itself dating back to the First Century BC. While the hostilities between the two countries were the subject of a lot of the region’s problems, the rights of Eritreans are still the object of international condemnation. Presently, there is hope that the situation could improve for Eritreans when and if the international community takes the action required.

The situation in Eritrea is a subject of intense scrutiny at the United Nations Human Rights Council where the Commission of Enquiry has continued to investigate the country’s records. The recent peace accord was expended to be coupled with an end in the authoritarian policies of the Afwerki regime. Given that Afwerki used the decades long conflict with Ethiopia as a justification for authoritarian control and suppression of human rights, the international community expected that the situation would improve. This has not been the case however, with many Eritreans still refusing to return despite the imposition of a peace deal with Ethiopia. As of 2017, Eritreans comprise the ninth largest group of refugees globally, with UN estimates suggesting approximately 460,000 Eritreans living in exile.

Since the imposition of the 2014 Commission into Human Rights in Eritrea, numerous reports and criticisms levelled at the regime documented the reality for Eritreans. However, since then there has been relatively little action in terms of repercussions for the regime. Furthermore, the UN Human Rights Council has continued to allow members states that are themselves violators of human rights to sit on the very council that issues such condemnation. As of 2017, the Council itself had approximately eight members under criticism for their record on human rights abuses, specifically of officials who report to the UN. Eritrea is one such nation, amongst others including Bahrain, Egypt, China and Cuba. Such a situation makes a mockery of the UN Human Rights institution and continues to garner resentment towards the international human rights program.

The origination of the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea dates back to the end of World War Two. At the end of World War Two, Abyssinia (Ethiopian Empire) was under the jurisdiction of the British after the defeat of Italian Eritrea, itself a product of the Italian invasion of the Ethiopian Empire. Ten years later in 1952 the UN resolved to grant Eritrea independence under Resolution 390 A(V). However, it did so with the condition that Eritrea would rely upon Ethiopian defence and foreign affairs policy – essentially nullifying the independence it needed to establish itself as a unitary state in the international arena. Given the checkered history, Eritrea used this as a backdrop on which to form its own independence which has now led to the situation that presently stands today.

If there is to be an improvement in human rights globally, let alone the rights of Eritreans, then the UN ought to hold member states to account. Improvement in the vetting process of states desiring to be members of the Human Rights council must be introduced into the decision-making process if decisions, investigations and enquires are to hold any legitimate weight in the upholding of international human rights standards.

Mitchell Thomas