By Ray Ja Fraser,
LAST week, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI), created to investigate alleged human rights abuses in Eritrea, produced its final report. The COI report was widely covered by the mainstream press, and has led to a substantial amount of discussion regarding Eritrea. The report has also come in for considerable criticism, with several detailed articles rebutting different parts of the report (see I , II, and III).
Notably, the last 24 hours have uncovered more problems with the COI report. On Tuesday, June 16, 2015, Sheila Keetharuth, who served as the lone Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea (and one of the authors of the COI) appeared on Al-Jazeera’s The Stream interactive show alongside three members of the Eritrean diaspora. Two of the members offered views and perspectives that were in direct contradiction to Keetharuth’s claims (and the general COI report). The show clearly illustrated that understandings and reflections about Eritrea are much broader than those presented within the report.
Accordingly, why has Keetharuth only now begun to engage with the wide spectrum of viewpoints (i.e. after the publication of the COI)?
During the show, Keetharuth suggested that thousands of letters, statements, and enquiries from the diaspora were not considered due to a technical issue (i.e. addressed to the special rapporteur rather than the commission). Is that good enough? Does that make the statements of thousands of individuals invalid or inadmissible? Surely if the aim is to present an accurate, objective, impartial view and account of the situation in Eritrea, those viewpoints and statements must be considered.
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Hours after, Nevsun Resources Ltd., a mining company that has been working in Eritrea for several years, released a statement. Cliff Davis, CEO of Nevsun stated that the human rights allegations within the COI report were “sensational and unbelievable…[and] made without visiting either the mine or the country.”
Davis also made reference to a human rights impact assessment report on the Bisha mine which stands in stark contrast to the COI report. The report was published by two independent investigators, including Lloyd Lipsett, a distinguished international human rights lawyer, after trips to Eritrea and the Bisha mine.
Additionally, Davis revealed that despite attempts by Nevsun to engage with the COI, the commission “chose not to engage with the Company to verify any basic facts or allegations or to report on the Company’s independent human rights assessment.” As a result, “this brings into serious question the methodology, process and collation of information” within the COI report.
Ultimately, yesterday’s show on Al-Jazeera and the revelations by Nevsun underscore the considerable problems with the COI report’s data and methods of collection. Without including information and views from Nevsun or the broader diaspora, Keetharuth and the COI fail to meet their mandate requirements, that is to “ensure the participation of all relevant stakeholders.” Consequently, the COI report is considerably flawed.