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Human Rights News

Eritrea UPR: are recommendations enough?


Eritrea has undergone its second review during the 18th session of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group on 3 February 2014 in Geneva amid concerns on its failure to implement the bulk of recommendations from the first cycle. 70 states took part in the review process, which was chaired by the troika.1 Despite the high number of recommendations accepted by Eritrea during the previous round for alleviating the human rights situation, very few were implemented. What will be fate of the 200 recommendations currently on the table and how many will Eritrea accept? The crucial issue remains what will happen to both the new set and the previous recommendations; in other words, is the state willing to implement them?

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a state driven mechanism created through the UN General Assembly in 2006 and which is run under the auspices of the Human Rights Council (HRC). It involves the voluntary review by other states of one another’s human rights records. This mechanism allows the Council to work with states to encourage them to respect and implement their international obligations in relation to human rights and fundamental freedoms, with the aim of improving the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations whenever they occur.2 The record of each state is reviewed every four and a half years.3 The council does this by setting out a list of recommendations for states that take part in the process.

During Eritrea’s review under the first cycle in 2009 131 recommendations were put forward and adopted at the 13th session of the Human Rights Council in 2010. Even though Eritrea accepted most of these recommendations, it rejected those on compulsory and indefinite national service, enforced disappearances and it maintained it did not recruit children under the age of 18 for military service.

During the second review, it was clear that the areas of concern were largely linked to the recommendations that Eritrea rejected at the first review. These include Eritrea’s failure to ratify the Convention Against Torture and the second optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the prevalent practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) despite the enactment of law prohibiting it, the recruitment of children into military service, arbitrary detention and arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings, detention conditions, and severe limitations on freedoms of expression, assembly and association.

Reportedly, Eritrea is one of the few African states that are on track to achieve most of 7 Millennium Development Goals. Some of the states present also commended Eritrea for positive developments mostly in the field of women’s rights and socio economic rights.

In relation to women’s rights, the following were highlighted:

  • Improvement of economic empowerment through micro-credit schemes;
  • Decline in the number of reported cases of FGM though the figures remain high;
  • Increased access to education among women through the Girls Education Programme

In relation to Socio-economic rights, states commended Eritrea for:

  • Improved access to health;
  • Improved access to education;
  • Improved food security.

Even though Eritrea claims to have made strides in these areas and in relation to its Millennium Development Goals (relating to child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, gender equality and environmental sustainability), there is no independent statistical evidence to support its assertions. Independent non-governmental organizations continue to be limited in their operations in the country.4 Moreover, these alleged strides have had little impact on the levels of poverty in the country which remain relatively high.

Issues of Concern
Even with the positive developments cited above, the Working Group noted areas of concern which needed to be addressed by the government of Eritrea. These include:

  • Compulsory military service for an indefinite period;
  • School going children are compelled to complete their last year of secondary education while undergoing military training;
  • Limitations in freedom of expression, internet censorship and media control by the government. There are still no independent media since the 2001 media crackdown and the jailing of journalists. Continuing arrest and detention of journalists without trial was also highlighted in this regard;
  • Little progress in the respect and enjoyment of civil and political rights;
  • The conditions of the detention centres in Eritrea;
  • The lack of governmental cooperation with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea and with other special procedure mandate holders.

The recommendations put forward by the states to Eritrea include:

  • Ratification of international standards: To ratify the Convention against Torture and its optional protocol, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol, the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court and the Convention on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances and its Optional Protocol, the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers.
  • Conscription: To end indefinite national service and the recruitment of children into military service and to recognize conscientious objection to military service.
  • Constitutional and electoral reform: To implement the 1997 Constitution in order to enable multiparty democracy and reform of the electoral system and to hold elections.
  • Cooperation with Special Procedures Mandate Holders: To cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea and other special procedures by allowing them to visit the country and providing them with the necessary information for in the delivery of their mandates.
  • Political prisoners: To release political prisoners and allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to places of detention.
  • End Torture: To bring to an end the systematic use of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings.
  • To establish a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles.
  • To sustain governmental efforts to abolish FGM.
  • To abolish the death penalty.

The Working Group5 report sets out 200 recommendations for Eritrea and the latter is expected to respond by the 26th session of the Council in June 2014.6 As can be observed from the above issues and recommendations, the human rights situation in Eritrea remains of serious concern. It is regrettable that little progress was made on the 2009 UPR recommendations, which begs the question: to what extent will the government of Eritrea spearhead meaningful efforts to improve the human rights situation in the country?

Even though Eritrea stated that the UPR mechanism is its preferred mode of engagement with the UN on human rights, the non-binding nature of recommendations raises serious questions about its ability to curb human rights violations in the country. It remains to be seen whether the international community will develop alternative means of engaging the government of Eritrea to work on its appalling human rights record lest the same situation were to prevail at the third round of the UPR: little progress and another list of unimplemented recommendations.


  1. The troika members for the 18th session were Indonesia, Sierra Leone and Austria.
  2. (accessed 6 February 2014)
  3. (accessed 6 February 2014)
  4. The government restricts NGO work to the grant of relief and rehabilitation. NGOs must operate within the policies which are prioritized by the state. For this assertion see the stakeholder report available on http: // (Accessed 6 February 2014)
  5. The Working Group members are H.E MR. Jose Luis Balmaceda Serigos (Chile), H.E. Mr. Luc-Joseph Okio (Congo), H. E. Mr. Hanns Heinrich Schumacher (Germany). H. E. Mr. Zamir Akram (Pakistan) and H. E. Ms Maria Ciobanu (Romania)
  6. See draft Working Group report available on (accessed 6 February 2013)



African Commission finds Zimbabwe responsible for torture of a human rights lawyer

Banjul, The Gambia, 22 March 2013 -The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has found the Zimbabwe Government responsible for the torture and ill-treatment of Gabriel Shumba, a well-known human rights advocate and lawyer from Zimbabwe. This is the first time in its 26-year history for the most important human rights body in Africa to hold Zimbabwe responsible for torture.  

Mr Shumba, who was representing human rights activists and members of the opposition party MDC before courts in Zimbabwe at the time of his arrest and torture at the hands of the police and intelligence personnel, emphasised that the ruling went beyond his case.

“This important ruling adds to Africa’s struggle against impunity, and the case is representative of thousands who have suffered torture and various indignities at the hands of a repressive regime in Zimbabwe,” said Mr Shumba, who fled to South Africa for fear of his life in 2003, shortly after his torture. Mr Shumba brought a complaint before the African Commission in 2004.

In its decision, the African Commission considered that Mr Shumba had submitted “more than adequate evidence” to support his allegation of torture and ill-treatment, including being subjected to prolonged electric shocks in the mouth, genitals, fingers, toes and other parts of the body. It said Zimbabwe failed to open an official investigation and that it should do so and bring those responsible to justice.

The decision also alluded to the impunity with which torture is being committed in Zimbabwe which made it impossible for Mr Shumba to seek justice before Zimbabwean courts. In particular, it acknowledges that he would have undergone great risks had he returned to Zimbabwe to seek justice, stating that “there was no guarantee that he would not have been arrested or subjected to the same treatment he had been subjected to the previous time.”

The Commission also made it clear that remedies in Zimbabwe “are inadequate, ineffective and unavailable” and ordered Zimbabwe to pay Mr Shumba adequate compensation for the torture and trauma caused to him. Zimbabwe has 90 days to implement the decision.

“The Government of Zimbabwe and the African Union's commitment to ending impunity will be measured against a clear yardstick of implementation of the decision of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights,” added Mr Shumba.

“This decision is emblematic of the widespread use of state terror to coerce and cow a subject population. It is not merely a legal decision in favour of a single victim but rather a recognition by Africa's most important and prestigious institution that the practice of disappearing people and beating them to within an inch of their lives will no longer be ignored by Zimbabwe's neighbours,” said David Padilla, Mr Shumba’s lawyer.

“The decision once more underlines the crucial role of the Commission in providing justice to victims who have nowhere else to go,” said Dadimos Haile, Interim-Director of REDRESS, who supported Mr Shumba’s claim. “While we would have hoped that the Commission’s ruling on reparation is more inclusive of other forms of reparation recognised under international law, particularly access to medical and psychological rehabilitation, this ruling is an important acknowledgment of the torture committed against Mr Shumba and the obligation of the Government of Zimbabwe to provide him with compensation,” added Haile.
Background to the case

Gabriel Shumba is a well-known human rights lawyer who has represented human rights activists and members of the former opposition party MDC before courts in Zimbabwe. Mr Shumba was arrested by the Zimbabwean riot police and personnel from the Central Intelligence Organisation on 14 January 2003, while taking instructions from a client. He was kicked and beaten, detained without charge and severely tortured and ill-treated for several hours. Interrogators threatened Mr Shumba with death, electrocuted him and poured a chemical substance over his body. He lost control of his bodily functions, vomited blood and was forced to drink his vomit. Following his torture in 2003, he was forced to flee to South Africa, where is currently living. Mr Shumba is the chairperson of the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, advocate of the High Court of South Africa and a member of the Johannesburg Bar. He filed the complaint against Zimbabwe with the African Commission on 24 May 2004. Click here to read more about the case.

For further information, please contact:
Gabriel Shumba, Zimbabwe Exiles Forum, on  +27846649798  or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Eva Sanchis, Communications Officer, at REDRESS on  +44 (0) 20 7793 1777  or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

18th African Union Summit

The African Union held its 18th summit at Addis Ababa at the end of January under the theme ‘Boosting Intra-African Trade'.

Several issues were tabled for discussion at the AU summit including strengthening of regional economic communities, the arrest warrant of the International Criminal Court against the President of Sudan, the situation in  North Africa and the conflict between South Sudan and Sudan. The outcome of many of the discussions is not yet clear as the AU as usual delay the publication of the decisions and declarations of the Assembly and Executive Council for a few weeks after the Summit.

On the issue of the ICC arrest warrant against Omar al-Bashir it was reported that the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government asked the AU Commission (the Secretariat of the organization) to consider submitting a request for an advisory opinion to the International Court of Justice on the issue of immunity of state officials under international law. It remains to be seen whether such a request will be submitted and, if so, crucially, how the question in the request for an advisory opinion will be formulated.

2012 has been declared as the year of shared values by the AU. These values include human rights and democracy. It was thus symbolic that the President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who has been declared a predator of press freedom by Reporters without Borders, handed over the chairmanship of the AU to Thomas Yayi Boni, President of Benin, one of only nine African liberal democracies according to Freedom House.
The election of chairperson of the AU Commission was more contentious with South Africa attempting to get its Minister of Home Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to replace the current chairperson, Jean Ping from Gabon. It is clear that the AU Commission could need some new faces in order to function more effectively. However, many states are happy with the status quo and thus support Mr Ping. In the end the election of the chairperson and members of the Commission was postponed to the next Summit in July.

In a speech to the Summit, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, raised his concern over the persecution of persons based on their sexual orientation, a topic that probably did not go down too well with the assembled heads of state, many of whom have played  an important part in the persecution the Secretary-General criticized. Ban Ki-moon also raised the issue of participation of women in politics, an issue where there has been some improvement in recent years in some African states.

On trade issues the Summit reiterated that a Continental Free Trade Area should be established by 2017, an ambitious goal considering that many sub-regional organizations in Africa have postponed the creation of free trade areas time and again or, as in the case of COMESA, not all member states have signed up to free trade areas which have been established. The Summit discussed the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) and decided to develop a continental broadband network.

In sum it seems clear that not much of substance came out of the Summit.

Journalists convicted for terrorism

Three journalists were convicted on 19 January 2012 under the Ethiopian anti-terrorism act for allegedly supporting  an organisation labelled terrorist by the government and planning an Arab style uprising. On 26 January they were sentenced to between 14 years and life imprisonment. Since March 2011, at least 108 opposition party members and six journalists have been arrested and convicted for alleged involvement with terrorist groups. In addition, two Swedish journalists were recently sentenced to 11 years imprisonment for purportedly supporting terrorism activities in the country.

The Ethiopian Anti-terrorism Proclamation No. 612/2009 contains a broad and vague definition of terrorism. The government has used this Proclamation to violate civil and political rights of citizens such as freedom of expression and political participation.

Ethiopia is a party to the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance which will enter into force on 15 February 2012. Article 27(8) of the Charter provides for the obligation of member states to promote freedom of expression, specifically freedom of the press. Furthermore, article 2(10) requires states to establish necessary conditions to foster citizen participation, transparency, access to information, freedom of the press and accountability in the management of public affairs. According to article 4 state parties should promote democracy, principle of the rule of law and human rights. According to article 13, state parties should also take measures to ensure and maintain political and social dialogue, as well as public trust and transparency between political leaders and the people, in order to consolidate democracy and peace.

Why does a state ratify a treaty if it does not intend to abide by it? As a party to the Charter, as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Ethiopia is obliged to adhere to the provisions of these international treaties.  Ethiopia must amend the Anti-terrorism Proclamation so that it cannot be used to stifle legitimate expressions of opinion. The detained opposition leaders and journalists should immediately be released.

The Centre for Human Rights calls on the African Union to condemn the attacks on freedom of expression in Ethiopia and if there is no improvement impose sanctions in line with the Constitutive Act of the Union.


Kenyan High Court orders that President al-Bashir of Sudan should be arrested

The Kenyan High Court orders that President al-Bashir of Sudan, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and genocide, should be arrested if he sets foot in Kenya.

Download the judgment

Ghana becomes the fifth state to accept direct access to the African Court

Ghana has become the fifth state to accept the competence of the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights to consider cases submitted directly to the Court by individuals or NGOs after exhaustion of local remedies through a declaration under article 34(6) of the Protocol establishing the Court. This is important for victims of human rights violations as they can through direct access bypass the often lengthy procedure before the African Commission. Burkina Faso, Malawi, Mali and Tanzania are the other countries which have made such declarations under article 34(6).

Download the Ghana Declaration under article 34(6) of the Protocol establishing the Court

The African Human Rights Court orders provisional measures against Libya

On an application from the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights on 25 March 2011 ordered provisional measures against Libya. The Court ordered Libya to immediately refrain from any action that would result in loss of life or violation of physical integrity of persons, which could be a breach of the provisions of the Charter or other international human rights instruments to which it is a party.

Download the Order for Provisinal Measures against Libya

Indigenous peoples’ rights upheld in Botswana

Botswana Court of Appeal rules in favour of the Basarwa Community of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR) by granting them access to water.

The Botswana Court of Appeal has reversed a decision of the Botswana High Court by granting indigenous peoples of the Basarwa community access to water. The Court held that depriving access to water to them was an act of inhuman and degrading treatment on behalf of the government. In a purposive interpretation of the Botswana Bill of Rights, the Court used civil and political rights to guarantee the enjoyment of socio-economic rights. The judgment and a short comment are available online under the Centre for Human Rights indigenous peoples’ database.

Download the judgment (appeal)
Download the case comments

Botswana court finds denial of access to water to be degrading

The Botswana Court of Appeal has held that to deny an indigenous group the right to re-commission a borehole at their own expense in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve constitutes degrading treatment in violation of the Botswana Constitution.

Download the case

Court rules that all Ugandans have a right to privacy and dignity: Tremendous boost to constitutional rights and protection of sexual and other minorities

Item added: 11 January 2011

On 3 January a Ugandan court issued an interim order restraining a newspaper from inciting violence against homosexuals. The ruling is a landmark in the struggle for the right to privacy and dignity irrespective of one's sexual orientation.

Press release of the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rigths & Constitutional Law


Rules of Procedure adopted by the African Commission

Item added: 21/10/2010

The Rules of Procedure adopted by the African Commission in May 2010 are now available in the African Human Rights Law Documents Database

Raging debate about the proposed 'Protection of Information Bill'

Item updated: 17 September 2010

A debate is raging about the proposed 'Protection of Information Bill' and the government's stated intention to establish a 'Media Tribunal'. Many have contributed to the debate, often in very general and broad terms. How many people have studied the provisions of the Bill? Here, we provide easy access to the Bill, and to the justifications of two of its most important proponents: President Zuma, and Chief legal advisor Enver Daniels.


We also provide easy access to the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2 of 2000, which has up to now given effect to section 32 of the Constitution, dealing with access to information, and the Protection of Information Act of 1982, which will be repealed by the new legislation. One of the important questions one should pose is: What is the 'mischief' that the new Bill seeks to redress? In other words, what was wrong with the current legislative and regulatory framework that necessitates the adoption of the proposed legislation?

While most of the critics of the Bill were dismissed by the government as emotional, partisan or seeking to score cheap political points,  it is certainly more difficult to paint the comments by ex Minister Kasrils with the same brush. We also include his comments, and invite readers to engage with all these views.

Higher Education South Africa (HESA) - Statement on Protection of Information Bill

Bill and Media Tribunal 

South African Law Dean's Association (SALDA) - Comment on Protection of Information Bill

Related documents

28th Activity Report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Item added: 24 August 2010

The 28th Activity Report of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights covering November 2009 to May 2010 is now available for download.


The uncertain future of the SADC Tribunal

The future of the SADC Tribunal as a human rights watchdog in the Southern Africa region seems to be under threat following the recently concluded SADC Summit in Windhoek, Namibia. The question of the implementation of the SADC Tribunal's judgment was on the agenda.

However, it seems a bit unclear what was actually decided. According to South African Deputy President Kgalame Motlanthe SADC leaders gave 'themselves six months in which to review and address the stand-off between the government of Zimbabwe and the regional tribunal' with a view of finding an amicable solution.


This statement seems to indicate that the focus is on Zimbabwe's implementation of the SADC Tribunal's judgment against it. On the other hand reports indicate that the Summit decided to review the mandate of the Tribunal and that the Tribunal should not hear any new cases during the review which should take six months.

Quote of the day

Item added: 18 August 2010

'The regulation of the media should be a matter for self-regulation by journalists themselves through their professional organizations'
- African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights,
Scanlen and Holderness v Zimbabwe, April 2009


African Commission finds violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights in cases against Botswana and Sudan

Item added: 13 August 2010

Botswana: Country reprimanded for denying critic access to Court

Sudan: African Commission issues scathing decision against government for atrocities in Darfur

Kenya adopts new constitution

Item added: 6 August 2010

The overwhelming acceptance of the new Constitution of Kenya following a referendum on 4 August 2010 marks a watershed moment in Kenya’s recent history. The new Constitution is the result of years of activism, lobbying, and negotiation aimed at reforming governance in Kenya. The main features of the new Constitution include a bill of rights containing a detailed catalogue of rights, and provisions on dual citizenship. Other departures from the old constitutional dispensation are the devolution of government to regions and counties, enhanced representation of the people through the establishment of an upper house of parliament; the establishment of a supreme court and constitutional court; checks and controls among the three arms of government and in particular a less powerful presidency, and clauses dealing with land allocation and use. Objections to the new constitution centered around the entrenchment of Kadhis courts for those professing the Muslim faith as a breach of the separation of religion and state, the clause on the right to life, perceived as being weak and potentially allowing abortion on demand, and clauses on land reform that were seen as potentially violating the right to property.

Kenyan court awards compensation for torture

Item added: 4 August 2010

On 21 July the High Court of Nairobi awarded 21 plaintiffs compensation for torture and other human rights violations which they suffered during the presidency of Daniel arap Moi who ruled Kenya from 1978 to 2002. Most of the claims dealt with unlawful detention and torture in the 1980's and early 1990's.

Uganda ratifies Women's Protocol

Item added: 4 August 2010

28 of the 53 member states of the African Union have ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. The Protocol was adopted in July 2003 and entered into force in November 2005.

Enforcing the SADC Tribunal judgment

Item added: 3 August 2010

On 28 November 2008 the SADC Tribunal delivered judgment in the case of Campbell v Zimbabwe. The Tribunal held that the Republic of Zimbabwe had violated the SADC Treaty through discriminatory expropriation of land without compensation. On 5 June 2009, and again on 16 July 2010, the SADC Tribunal held that Zimbabwe had not complied with the judgment and referred the finding of non-compliance with the judgment to the SADC Summit for 'appropriate action'. The 2009 SADC Summit did not take any action. It remains to be seen what will happen when the SADC Summit meets in Windhoek, Namibia, on 16-17 August 2010.

The complainants in Campbell v Zimbabwe have unsuccessfully tried to have the Tribunal judgment registered in the High Court of Zimbabwe. To enforce the right to compensation the Tribunal judgment has been registered in the High Court of South Africa. The auction of three Zimbabwe-owned commercial properties in South Africa was suspended in July 2010 pending an application by the Zimbabwean government to the Johannesburg High Court to stop the auction.


The African Union Assembly continues to defy the International Criminal Court

Item added: 27 July 2010

At the recently concluded AU summit in Kampala, Uganda, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government reiterated that AU member states shall not cooperate with the arrest and surrender of President al-Bashir of Sudan who has been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Assembly also rejected the request by the ICC to open a liaison office in Addis Ababa. The position of the AU in relation to the ICC is particularly regrettable in the light of that 30 African states have ratified the Statute establishing the ICC and are obliged to cooperate with the Court.

At the summit the Assembly also appointed members of a number of continental bodies including the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights and the African Committee on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Ms Lucy Asuagbor, a judge from Cameroon, replaced Ms Angela Melo from Mozambique on the African Commission. The Commission is thus still composed of six women and five men. Only one woman were among the five judges elected to the Court.

Download the AU press release on the decisions of the AU Assembly 

Court in Botswana denies indigenous group right to water

Item added: 22 July 2010

In a judgment delivered on 21 July, the High Court of Botswana refused to issue an order compelling the government to grant permission to allow the Basarwa to sink a borehole (with their own resources) in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. The Court held that the government's delay in granting permission was tacit refusal, but that the government had the right to refuse permission. The court did not consider the refusal to constitute inhuman or degrading treatment.

Download the Central Kalahari Game Reserve judgment

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