Eritrea: UN-mandated inquiry finds ‘very clear patterns’ of human rights abuses

Mike Smith, Chairperson, Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, speaks to the press after presenting his report to the 28th Session at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

16 March 2015 – A four-month United Nations investigation into the human rights situation in Eritrea has found “very clear patterns” of violations and abuses, according to a report delivered today at the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva.

“Most Eritreans have no hope for their future,” said Mike Smith, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, which despite not being granted permission to visit Eritrea, collected testimony from more than 500 members of the Eritrean diaspora.

Presenting the Commission’s interim report, Council, Mr. Smith said that in Eritrea national service is universal and of an indefinite duration. From the age of 17, Eritreans could expect to spend their lives in national service, struggling to live on less than two dollars a day.

Meanwhile, the Government has curtailed basic freedoms to the extent that, “individuals feel that they have hardly any choice with regard to the main decisions in their lives: where to live, what career to pursue, when to marry or who to worship,” he noted in a news release on the report.

For Eritreans, Mr. Smith said, “detention is an ordinary fact of life, experienced by an inordinate number of individuals – men and women, old and young, including children.” Detention centres range from official to the unofficial, located above ground or underground. Some have metal containers where prisoners are kept in extreme heat.

“Once in one of them, there is a likelihood that you will be subject to torture to extract a confession or to simply punish behaviours,” he added.

Torture is widespread, both in detention and during national service. Some Eritreans interviewed by the Commission had been beaten or tortured simply for asking for medicine, or for drinking water without permission.

Mr. Smith pointed out that these violations take place against a backdrop of the so-called “no war, no peace” situation related to Eritrea’s unresolved border issues with neighbouring countries.

“This has become the pretext for almost all the State’s actions that generate and perpetuate human rights violations in the country,” he said. “It is an expression abusively used by the Eritrean authorities to disregard international human rights law.”

Under this pretext, the entire society has been militarised, the Constitution has never been implemented and there is no rule of law, according to the news release, which added that no one was being held accountable for human rights violations.

The Commission of Inquiry, established by the Human Rights Council, is examining a broad range of alleged violations since Eritrea gained independence. It will present a written report of its findings to the Council in June 2015.


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