|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE BY Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Situation in Eritrea
The current human rights picture in Eritrea was “bleak”, with thousands taking grave risks to flee intolerable situations at home, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in that country told reporters at Headquarters today.
Obligatory indefinite national service, increased militarization, arbitrary arrests, prolonged incommunicado detention and the ballooning refugee problem were among her main concerns, Sheila Keetharuth said after presenting her report on the matter to the General Assembly that morning. (See Press Release GA/SHC/4077.)
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 305,723 people had fled the country last year. Reflecting on the gravity of the problem, she pointed to the Office figures showing that, during the same period, Italy had received 7,504 refugees from Eritrea and 7,557 from Syria.
The reason was rooted in Eritrea’s human rights situation, she said, noting that there had been many Eritreans among the 350 refugees killed in a recent boat fire off the coast of Italy while trying to escape to safe shores.
While Ms. Keetharuth had not visited Eritrea and was currently waiting for the Government’s permission, she had interviewed Eritrean refugees and had conducted research on the situation on the ground, she said.
“Even small steps to strengthen human rights would result in an impact,” she said, suggesting a number of remedies that included strengthening institutions, rule of law and the release of political prisoners. As well, the international community needed to do more to address refugee smuggling and trafficking.
Asked to respond to the Eritrean Ambassador’s comment in the General Assembly that her mandate had been politically driven, she said she had met with the Ambassador and other Eritrean officials regularly, and had emphasized to them that political rights were equally important to the country’s efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals.
Responding to another question, she said she had not yet examined the effects of sanctions on Eritrea. Elaborating on her findings, she attributed the country’s current increased militarization to its ongoing “no-war, no-peace” situation with Djibouti and Ethiopia, including border concerns and the release and return of prisoners to Eritrea.
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