Eritrea: Deconstructing the Commission of Inquiry’s Report (Part – I)

Special Rapporteur on Eritrea
Why the UN Human Rights Council must restore the integrity and impartiality of the council by terminating the politically motivated mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea.

By Sophia Tesfamariam,

Sheila Keetharuth, the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, has engaged in activities that constitute a flagrant abuse of her mandate and continues to act with blatant violation of the principles of impartiality, non-selectivity and objectivity that govern the work of Special Rapporteurs, thus breaching the equality principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

The manner with which she presented her statement at the UN Third Committee on 27 October 2016 exposed her long held anti-Eritrea stance and deceptive nature. Her continued referral to the discredited and disbanded Commission of Inquiry, and attempt to present its rejected recommendations, in public forums, in academia, in Press Conferences etc. says a lot about her deceptive character and bias against the Government of Eritrea.



Special Rapporteurs have a “duty and responsibility […] to ensure that whatever actions they take or statements they make are always within the limits of the performance of their duties […] this obligation applies especially in regard to public statements […].”

Keetharuth continues to take actions or make statements that are outside the limits of the performance of her duties. Her behind the scenes actions and public statements are a matter of record. Her longtime association and work with anti-Eritrea groups and individuals associated with the minority regime in Ethiopia expose her politically motivated mandate.

Over the past 15 years, there has been a vicious political campaign orchestrated against the State of Eritrea by international as well as Eritrean non-governmental organizations funded by American and European state agencies and Sheila Keetharuth seems to have enlisted in this campaign.

Although her mandate does not allow her to engage in politically motivated activities that compromise her impartiality, dismissing the thousands of letters and petitions sent to her by Eritreans around the world, whom she considered to be supporters of the Eritrean government, the Rapporteur chose instead to compromise the integrity of the process by outsourcing her mandate to known anti-Eritrea groups and individuals.

A close scrutiny of the report shows that they have employed plagiary and complete fabrications in producing sections of the Commission of Inquiry report on Eritrea, and allowing its wide dissemination through media and NGO networks, further injuring the State of Eritrea and its people.

The 32nd session of the UN Human Rights Council exposed the behind the scenes shenanigans and the system’s fault lines, making for a nerve wrecking session, to be remembered by a generation of Eritreans for years to come. For Eritrea and its people, it will be remembered as the third transgression and the most threatening act of the United Nations and the United States against their existence as a people. No doubt, there will be a lot said and spun about the session that took place on the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the UN Commission of Human Rights in 1946, and on the 10th Anniversary of its reconstitution as the UN Human Rights Council, but for the people of Eritrea, it will be remembered as the session that brought a 15 year long defamation and vilification campaign to a head… full circle.

As I followed the proceedings, it dawned on me that words like “Impartiality”, “politically motivated” and “bias” were meaningless, as each game (against the member state) had its own rules. It was normal to be impartial in one game and ruthlessly partial in another; it was normal to decry political bias in one case, and ensure it in another, it was normal to cry foul about faulty methodology in one case, but employ it to make a case against another. Truth was in the hands of the beholder, double standards and hypocrisy ruled. Prominent “human rights organizations” played the vicious game, abusing their “consultative status” in order to advance certain political agendas in a twisted game of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”, exposing the rot within the human rights regime and contributing to its malignancy- further undermining the confidence of states in its efficacy.

There is prima facie evidence to show political bias in the mandate and the appointment of Sheila Keetharuth as the Special Rapporteur (SR) on Eritrea in 2012 and the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COIE) in 2014.

There is also substantial evidence to bring to question the COIE authorship of the reports on Eritrea. A quick look at the chronology of events leading up to the appointment of the Special Rapporteur also raise suspicions about Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner and Susan E. Rice, the then US Ambassador to the United Nations and their role in this yet another blatant act against the State of Eritrea, this time using the “human rights” pretext. The ill-advised resolution engineered by Ethiopia’s handlers and their surrogates, was accomplished with the full complicity of Navi Pillay, the former head of the UN Human Rights Council.

The selection of the Rapporteur preceded the decision to conduct an investigative mission in Eritrea. The HRC should not have considered Sheila Keetharuth from the onset, as her background and close association with the minority regime in Ethiopia, and the Eritrean groups opposed to the Government of Eritrea made her prone to bias and she ought to have been eliminated from the candidate list. The Rapporteur chosen should have been one that was not deposed to a political finding, competent and not committed to a perceived outcome-in the case of the Rapporteur on Eritrea, both criteria were ignored. Keetharuth does not appreciate the distinction between factual findings in the domain of human rights, as opposed to a political findings.

While Susan E. Rice was serving as US Ambassador to the United Nations, her office arranged for individuals and groups opposed to the government of Eritrea to address the UN Security Council, while denying that right to members of the Eritrean government. When the President of Eritrea, H.E. Isaias Afwerki asked to address the UN Security Council (UNSC) on issues relating to the sanctions against his country and people, Rice deliberately delayed the issuing of his visa and prevented him from addressing the UNSC, but made arrangements for Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, and other IGAD members to address the UNSC via video conference.

It is especially egregious when the US Ambassador prevents the President of Eritrea from addressing the UN Security Council in defense of his people against sanctions that she and the Ethiopian regime engineered, using the same underhanded tactics, pitting Africans against Africans, undermining the credibility of the UN system and worst, the peace, stability and security of the region has been greatly compromised. Members of the United Nations, especially the UN Secretary General, should not have allowed the US Ambassador to abuse the power of the Security Council, and use UN as a podium to advance anti-Eritrea agendas.

Rice’s influence on U.S. diplomacy in Rwanda, Sudan, and Eritrea in the Obama Administration is well known. The people of Eritrea have had to bear the brunt of her arrogance, vindictive nature and abuse of power against their beloved nation. Susan E. Rice and Meles Zenawi engineered the unjust sanctions resolution against the State of Eritrea – Rice called it an “African Initiative”[1], but it was not. It was also Susan E. Rice who employed the African faces for the agenda against Eritrea at the UN Human Rights Council. History and the Eritrean people will judge her cruelty harshly. No presidency in the United States has been as hostile to the people of Eritrea as the Obama Administration – a black mark on his legacy as the first African-American President of the United States.

The duplicity and hypocrisy and the political corruption and bullying of UN member states in order to advance illicit political agendas has now become common practice at the United Nations and its various organs-further eroding states’ confidence in the UN System and its purported principles of sovereign equality human rights. Over the past 15 years, there has been a vicious political campaign orchestrated against the State of Eritrea by international as well as Eritrean non-governmental organizations funded by American and Sheila Keetharuth seems to have enlisted in this campaign.

Appointment of Sheila Keetharuth as Special Rapporteur

Eritrea has long maintained that the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COIE) lacked objectivity, used duplicitous methodology, and that its biased mandate had a predetermined conclusion. In this seating, the author will address important issues relating to the Special Rapporteur, the Commission of Inquiry, and the Report it “produced” for the UN Human Rights Council.

Eritrea has come full circle and the events during the 32nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) brought a lot of issues to a head. Although reported widely as “Eritrea escaping censure”, the truth is that the Commission of Inquiry did not deliver any evidence to support its preposterous accusations, and with good reason. There were none…Over 500 pages of allegations – not a single verifiable evidence.



This article will endeavor to address the case against the State of Eritrea at the UN Human Rights Council, track record of the Special Rapporteur’s hostility against the Government of Eritrea and her past and the individuals, groups and institutions, who were contracted in the production of the now discredited Commission of Inquiry’s Report on Eritrea.

In addressing what transpired at the 32nd Session, it is important to address 3 very serious issues came to the fore-how was Sheila Keetharuth appointed, who authored the reports she and her partners presented, and what role did the UN Human Rights Council Secretariat play in the collusion against the State of Eritrea, other than the United States and Ethiopia.

Eritrea rejected the resolution that called for the establishment of the Special Rapporteur saying the UN HRC was flouting “the Council’s impartiality and admissibility criteria” as the outcome was not a result of “impartial process of fact gathering and ascertaining”.

Eritrea was not been given the opportunity to provide essential information and evidence, and what it has been able to present in the very limited time was “ignored”. The whole process was “carried in a hasty manner” and was “based on a biased approach of swallowing the charges by Eritrea’s detractors and ignoring Eritrea’s replies and evidence”.

In June 2012, the Human Rights Council decided, for the first time, to transfer the confidential complaint against the government of Eritrea to a public procedure and to establish the mandate of a Special Rapporteur to follow up, although the government of Eritrea denied any such need (A/HRC/ RES/20/20). The country mandate was introduced by three main sponsors from Africa: Djibouti, Nigeria and Somalia. This was the first time in the history of the HRC that the African Group had called for a country mandate despite Eritrea’s rejection.

Since the establishment of the Human Rights Council in 2006, while thousands of complaints have been submitted to the procedure each year, only 14 complaints were ultimately referred to the Council, of which only two referrals were made public. The HRC, at the behest of the United States, accepted the complaints filed against Eritrea by these politically motivated groups. The Council adopted a confidential resolution on Eritrea at its twentieth session on the 6th of July 2012 and decided to make it public as Human Rights Council resolution 21/1 and appointed Sheila Keetharuth, as Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, despite Eritrea’s engagement and communication with the UNHRC through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

The selection of the Rapporteur preceded the decision to conduct an investigative mission in Eritrea. Why did Navi Pillay rush to appoint the Special Rapporteur when Eritrea was diligently working with the Office of the High Commissioner and the Universal Period Review (UPR) process? So what happened to Navi Pillay and why did she decide to intervene in this manner? UN Resolution 65/251 stresses that the work of the UN Human Right Council (UN HRC) shall be guided by the principles of impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity. In the case of Eritrea, the record shows otherwise.

The appointment of the Special Rapporteur on October 2012 was shrouded in secrecy. On closer scrutiny, she does not pass the impartiality smell test. Circumstantial evidence shows that the appointment of the Special Rapporteur was pushed by Susan E. Rice, the then US Ambassador to the United Nations and her friends in Ethiopia. The visit came at a time when the Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) announced that it could not find any evidence to support the allegations of Eritrea’s support for Al Shabbab. The resolution and appointment of Sheila Keetharuth followed Navi Pillay’s visit to New York and the meeting with Susan E. Rice in May 2012.

Right after her visit to New York, Pillay went to South Africa for a lecture at the University of Pretoria. A news report[2] by the University of Pretoria said:

“…On Tuesday, 15 May 2012, Ms Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented the Annual Helen Kanzira Memorial Lecture at the University of Pretoria…”

Upon her return to Geneva on 18 June 2012 Navi Pillay made the following statement:

“…In January, I wrote to the Government seeking to explore avenues to assist it in addressing their human rights challenges and to that end offered to send a mission. After a meeting with a Government delegation in March, and further to their request, my Office provided a list of potential areas of cooperation that the proposed mission could discuss with the Government, and asked for the mission to be facilitated before June. To date, the Government has not replied to this proposal. I call on the Eritrean authorities to cooperate fully with international and regional human rights mechanisms, and renew my call for full cooperation with OHCHR…”

Not too long after Navi Pillay’s visit, the Center for Human Rights announced the following:

“…The Centre for Human Rights is pleased to announce that Ms Sheila B. Keetharuth was appointed as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea…Ms Keetharuth is a doctoral candidate at the International Development Law Unit, based at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria…”

The appointment of the Special Rapporteur on 12 June 2012 is an appointment that has been shrouded in secrecy until now, albeit some anti-Eritrea groups and individuals took credit for it back then. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which has no presence in Eritrea but worked closely with Eritrean surrogates said:

“…this is an amazing proof of our advocacy bearing fruit! The landmark UN resolution is the result of many years of work by CSW, presenting compelling evidence to persuade the UN that the way human rights are violated in Eritrea is utterly horrific, and must be investigated…This resolution is the culmination of years of raising religious freedom and human rights at the UN, campaigning and prayer. It finally came after a rollercoaster two weeks of intense lobbying and negotiations in Geneva earlier this month and means that a Special Rapporteur will be appointed to investigate and monitor human rights in the country…”

In a video, “Breakthrough resolution on Eritrea – the inside track”, Matthew Jones of the CSW, who has been associated with anti-Eritrea individuals and groups, and has been a staple at sessions in Geneva how CSW orchestrated the campaign against Eritrea:

“…Particularly we referred back to the work we had done on North Korea a number of years ago, and since that was quite pivotal, and getting a new mandate and new UN mandate on North Korea and we felt this may be possible to replicate with respect to Eritrea and certainly the situation deserved it. So we set about from that point and enacting a strategy at the UN, and raising Eritrea and that consisted of, making speeches, directly at the Human Rights Council, we organized and spoke at side meetings at the Human Rights Council, myself and colleagues, have spoken to diplomats from literally with dozens of state delegations from countries…”

A “Christian” news outlets reported on the actions taken by the UN Human Rights Council against the State of Eritrea in 2012, it said:

“…On Friday 6 July, the United Nations Human Rights human-rights-concern-eritrea-elsa-chyrumCouncil (HRC) adopted its first resolution on Eritrea, approving the mandate for a Special Rapporteur who will report to the HRC and the UN General Assembly on the human rights situation in Eritrea. This is the result of much work by a group of NGOs led by Christian Solidarity Worldwide…The groundbreaking resolution, submitted by Somalia, Nigeria and Djibouti and supported by a number of African and other states, was adopted by consensus at the 20th session of the HRC…This is the first time that African states have spearheaded a resolution on another African state…”

No doubt these African States were used by Ethiopia and its handlers as much the same modus operandi was used to engineer the unjust 2009 sanctions resolution against the State of Eritrea. No surprise that Susan E. Rice, the then US Ambassador to the United Nations is implicated in both shenanigans, at the behest of the minority regime in Ethiopia.

A 2009 US Embassy cable is telling of the modus operandi used by Rice and Pillay to advance political agendas using human rights as a pretext-it also shows the close relationship between the Commissioner and the US Mission. The cable says:

“…Ambassador Rice met June 23 at USUN with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay… Pillay praised the very quiet and effective work of the U.S. charge in Geneva in helping secure passage of the Sudan resolution…Ambassador Rice suggested that the U.S. should be pushing the EU to do more. Pillay concurred, “especially on principles” and country‐specific issues… Pillay believes that breaking up the solidarity of the regional groups is one key to success. There is a feeling that these divisions are important, while they are not…”

Pitting African states against each other seems to be Susan E. Rice’s favorite play.

As admitted by Matthew Jones of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and Elijah Brown of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA), in Eritrea’s case, it is statements and lobbying to the Human Rights Council by such NGOs that played a significant role in the creation of the Special Rapporteur and the Commission of Inquiry. Almost all of their studies were conducted in extensive secrecy and the vast Eritrean Diaspora was oblivious to their covert activities. The background and activities of the individuals and groups involved in the 15 year long orchestrated vilification and defamation campaign raise considerable questions as to their impartiality and ability to credibly and objectively report on Eritrea, its people and its leadership.

The politically motivated resolution and the secrecy behind the appointment of the Special Rapporteur, determined in advance Eritrea’s guilt. Both actions underwrite from the start, the tenor and orientation of the Rapporteurs mission. The fact that this exercise emanated from, and is directed by a few nations on the UN Human Rights Council, such as Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and the US, and from politically motivated individuals and groups who have an ax to grind with the Government of Eritrea, only adds to the questionable nature of Rapporteurs mandate and retracts from any semblance of credibility and reliability. Any expectation and anticipation of impartiality, objectivity, transparency, and professionalism was absent from the get go and with time, exposed the real agenda.

It is not by coincidence that Sheila Keetharuth was appointed Special Rapporteur for Eritrea… as the Government of Eritrea has been her target for quite some time, and the UN HRC served as a means to achieving the goals of her sponsors. Her background and activities against the Government of Eritrea on behalf of known anti-Eritrea political groups and individuals is a matter of public record. Her past and present entanglements with anti-Eritrea elements are obviously influencing her judgment, as evidence by Keetharuth’s parroting of overused “sound bites” as she stumbled to make the incoherent oral presentation at the Third Committee on 27 October 2016.


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