Eritrean leaders committing crimes against humanity, says UN

Eritrea Human Rghts

Eritrea Human Rghts

Eritrea’s government is guilty of committing crimes against humanity since independence a quarter-century ago with up to 400,000 people “enslaved”, and should face international justice, the UN said Wednesday.

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights said the government of President Isaias Afwerki, in power since 1991, was guilty of systematic enslavement, forcible conscription and other abuses.

“We probably think that there are three to four hundred thousand people who have been enslaved,” chief investigator Mike Smith told journalists in Geneva.

According to the United Nations, around 5,000 Eritreans risk their lives each month to flee the nation where forcible army conscription can last decades.

“Very few Eritreans are ever released from their military service obligations,” Smith said.

Refugees from the repressive Red Sea state have in recent years made up one of the largest contingents of people risking the dangerous journey to seek a new life in Europe.

“What we are asking for is the Security Council to contemplate targeted responses” against individuals responsible for rights abuse, he said, without naming those involved.

The UN report also called for the perpetrators to be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague to ensure accountability.

Since it was established in June 2014, the COI has interviewed more than 800 Eritrean exiles and received more than 45,000 written submissions, some defending Eritrea’s record.

‘Widespread abuses’

“Crimes against humanity have been committed in a widespread and systematic manner in Eritrean detention facilities, military training camps and other locations across the country over the past 25 years,” the UN commission said.

“Particular individuals, including officials at the highest levels of state, the ruling party – the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice – and commanding officers bear responsibility for crimes against humanity,” it said.

The 1991 split between Ethiopia and Eritrea followed a three-decade independence war, which saw Eritrean rebels battling far better-equipped Ethiopian troops backed first by Washington and then by the Soviet Union.

The country ranks below North Korea as the worst in the world for press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Smith said Isaias presided over a state with no functioning democratic institutions.

“This has created a governance and rule of law vacuum, resulting in a climate of impunity for crimes against humanity,” he said.

He said there was no chance that Eritrea’s judicial system could bring the perpetrators to justice through a legitimate trial.

Eritrea has repeatedly denied UN investigators access to the country.

Refugees from the repressive Red Sea state have in recent years made up one of the largest contingents of people risking the dangerous journey to seek a new life in Europe.

With an annual per capita gross national income of $480, Eritrea is one of the world’s poorest nations, according to the World Bank.