In a joint oral statement today to the UN Human Rights Council, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project urged the Council to pay close attention to human right violations in Eritrea. Large numbers of Eritreans are fleeing the country to escape lifelong military service and denial of their fundamental rights. The authorities tolerate no independent media outlets and have been holding dozens of journalists and activists incommunicado for years. RSF took the opportunity to stress the importance of renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and the Commission of Enquiry on Eritrea, which has been gathering valuable information on the situation in the country. The two NGOs urged the Council to demand that the Eritrean government provide proof of life of those detained and that it free all journalists, political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. "Human Rights Council 31st Session Individual Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea (Oral Update) 14 March Joint Oral Statement The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project Reporters Without Borders Read by: Hélène Sackstein Mr President, On March 1st, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Eritrea assured the Council of his country's commitment to human rights and human dignity as a "top priority" and of its full engagement in the UPR process. Reporters Without Borders and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project are concerned by the gap between His Excellency’s description of the situation in his country and the systemic, widespread and grave human rights violations documented by the Special Rapporteur and the Commission of Enquiry on Eritrea. We sincerely thank the Special Rapporteur for her continued attention to the plight of ordinary Eritreans who continue to flee in droves, including unaccompanied minors, as noted in this year’s oral update. They flee to avoid endless military service in a country where fundamental rights are inexistent, where there is no independent media and where the UPR recommendations are repeatedly ignored, a country where civil society activists and journalists are held incommunicado for years with no access to lawyers. 2 cases are emblematic: Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist, arrested and held incommunicado since 2001, and Seyoum Tsehaye, former head of national television, whose films on the independence struggle continue to be screened regularly on independence day while he languishes in jail. Their families and the families many others have not heard anything from their loved ones, nor do they know whether they are alive or dead. We would like to ask the Special Rapporteur what, given her findings, are the priority issues she believes the international community and the government of Eritrea need to address to tackle the country’s damning human rights record. We also urge the Council to renew the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, and to demand that the Government provide proof of life of those arrested and release all journalists, political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. I thank you." To learn more about freedom of information in Eritrea, click here.