News.- On 24 June 2015, the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea presented an alarming report about the humans right situation in this country at the 29th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
This 500-page report described the plight of Eritrean citizens who are subjected to “a state that rules through fear and a vast security network that reaches into every level of society”. Denouncing the impunity of the Eritrean government, the commission called on the Human Rights Council to closely monitor human rights violations which may constitute crimes against humanity.
Commission Chairperson Mike Smith (Australia) listed several problems that have plagued the country since its independence, 20 years ago: no free elections, arbitrary judiciary system and arrest methods, open-ended military service for men above 18m, forced labor as the economic rule. All these elements contributed to tens of thousands of Eritreans being imprisoned without charge and trial for an indeterminate period. This climate of fear and repression, and the lack of economic perspective have left no other choice to thousands of young and desperate Eritreans but to flee the country. The UN refugee agency reported last week that nearly 417,000 had escaped the country at the end of 2014. Moreover, this figure has doubled over the past six years.
On their way to Europe, Eritrean migrants are exposed to human smugglers and traffickers when wanting to cross the Mediterranean as well as via other irregular routes. The Swedish-Eritrean documentary “Sound of Torture” reveals how hundreds of Eritrean refugees are being held hostage in torture camps in the Egyptian Sinai Desert, enduring weeks of violence and rape, in order to ask ransoms to their Eritrean families. The Human Rights Watch report, I Wanted to Lie Down and Die: Trafficking and Torture of Eritreans in Sudan and Egypt, reveals the widespread “collusion between traffickers and Sudanese and Egyptian police and military”.
Smith calls on Europe, North Africa and the Middle East to keep providing protection to Eritreans despite the unprecedented flow of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants at their borders. He encouraged UN members to engage with Eritrean authorities to find solutions and promote reforms but also to stay firm on the respect of human rights. The Eritrean government should actively promote the rule of law by implementing viable institutions like an independent parliament and a court system. Besides, the culture of impunity should be eradicated by recognizing the abuses and holding the perpetrators accountable for them.
However, the Eritrean government showed no intent to reform as it denied access to the Commission and refused to cooperate on this report. On June 9, the Eritrean Foreign Ministry issued a statement describing the commission’s findings as “an attack, not so much on the government, but on a civilized people and society who cherish human values and dignity.” The Commission answered it represented “the voice of imprisoned and ill-treated critics, journalists, religious leaders” so it was a legitimate entity to claim for more international pressure on Eritrea. The aim is to start concrete actions to improve the human rights situation in the country, not to focus only on institutional rhetoric.
Sherwood, H. “Hundreds of Eritreans enslaved in torture camps in Sudan and Egypt,” The Guardian, February 11 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/11/eritreans-enslaved-traffickers-sudan-egypt-torture-camps
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea after her interactive dialogue at the 29th Session of the UN Human Rights Council,” June 24 2015, http://www.ohchr.org/FR/Pages/WelcomePage.aspx