UN investigation reports a litany of crimes committed in Eritrea since 1991, including enslavement, rape and murder
The chair of the Eritrea inquiry, Mike Smith, says the international community must ensure there is accountability for the atrocities being committed.
Eritrea’s government is guilty of committing crimes against humanity since independence a quarter-century ago with up to 400,000 people “enslaved”, the UN said on Wednesday.
The crimes committed since 1991 include imprisonment, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings, and rape and murder, said the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights.
The forced labour of military conscripts is also a major problem in the country, the UN said.
“We think that there are 300,000 to 400,000 people who have been enslaved,” chief UN investigator Mike Smith told journalists in Geneva.
The government also operates a shoot-to-kill policy to stop people fleeing the country, according to evidence collected by the UN inquiry.
About 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.
The Refugee Council’s head of advocacy, Lisa Doyle, said: “This report should send shockwaves throughout Whitehall. It confirms the ongoing gravity of the human rights situation in Eritrea; once again finding evidence of crimes against humanity.
“When a regime is on the verge of being referred to the international criminal court for gross human rights violations, it is dangerous and absurd that its citizens are being denied refuge in Britain.”
EU announces support for poverty eradication in Eritrea
Brussels, 11 December 2015
The European Union today has announced €200 million in new long term support to promote poverty reduction and socio-economic development in Eritrea through the 11th European Development Fund (EDF).
The European Union today has announced €200 million of new long term support to promote poverty reduction and socio-economic development in Eritrea through the 11th European Development Fund (EDF).
Until 2020, under the National Indicative Programme (NIP), the European Union will support two main areas – energy and governance. The programme has the full agreement of the EU’s 28 Member States.
Announcing the new programme on behalf of the European Union, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, said: “The EU provides development aid where it is most needed to reduce poverty and support people. In Eritrea, we have agreed to promote activities with concrete results for the population, such as the creation of job opportunities and the improvement of living conditions. At the same time, we are insisting on the full respect of human rights as part of our ongoing political dialogue with Eritrea. As in other countries, the EU engages with governments around the world to promote human rights, democracy, and people-centred development everywhere. “
Support to the energy sector
In a country with one of the lowest access rates to electricity, supporting the energy sector is crucial for the Eritrean people as it will allow better access to social services, including schools, hospitals and health centres. The support will also facilitate irrigated agriculture and the development of the country’s considerable fishing potential. A more efficient energy network will have a broad positive effect on the social and economic development of Eritrea.
More Eritreans filed for asylum in the UK in the year to June than any other nation. They face “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” at home, says the UN.
A recent United Nations report found that “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed in Eritrea under the authority of the government”.
Eritreans make up a large number of those fleeing across the Mediterranean to Europe – around 15 per cent of the total reaching Europe’s sea border are from the country.
And the reason commonly cited for the dangerous journey to Europe – Eritrea’s national service, which though legally compulsory for 18 months, in reality amounts to “indefinite enrollment in the military where conscripts are used as “forced labour”, according to the UN.
he UN report, which has been rejected by the Eritrean government as an effort to undermine the government, describes a country where people live in fear and officials and security forces carry out gross human rights violations with impunity.
Extra-judicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrest all take place, the report says.
A former Eritrean interrogator told the UN: “Torture includes beating with whips, plastic tubes and electric sticks, standing [under the sun] on a very hot sunny day at noon, tying the hands and feet like the figure of eight, tying the hands and feet backwards (known as “helicopter”), tying to trees, forcing the head down into a container with very cold water, beating the soles of the feet and the palms.
UK’s tougher asylum controls for Eritreans
The UK Government has been accused of closing the door to thousands of asylum-seekers from Eritrea in an attempt to hit its discredited immigration target.
In March, the Government announced a new policy towards Eritrean asylum-seekers, saying that conscription is no longer automatic grounds for granting asylum because Eritrea has stopped the practice of indefinite military service.
However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised the UK’s policy, saying it is based “almost exclusively” on a “discredited” Danish Government report.
The Danish document released this year claimed that Eritreans returning to their home country would not face punishment providing they signed a “letter of apology”. It also said that Eritrea had stopped the practice of indefinite military service.
HRW said there is “no evidence” that the Eritrean Government have made these changes on the ground. “The reliance on a weak and discredited report suggests the Home Office is more interested in keeping asylum seekers out than in protecting people in danger,” said Senior Researcher Gerry Simpson.
“Faced with a seemingly hopeless situation they feel powerless to change, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans are fleeing their country,” the UN says.
IIndefinate national service is one of the main drivers, according to the report. Everyone from the age of 17 can be conscripted into the military, and it continues for years. Some conscripts have served for more than 20 years.
UN investigators say “slavery-like practices” are widespread, with conscripts subjected to hard labour, with poor food, bad hygiene and wretched pay.
Yet for most Eritreans, it is impossible to get an exit visa to leave the country legally. And by fleeing conscription they risk being arrested as “traitors” if they return.
The EU cannot send Syrian refugees back to their war-torn country.
And Eritreans’ asylum claims have generally been treated as legitimate in the EU.
But despite the abuses in Eritrea, documented by the UN and human rights groups, some countries are now considering sending Eritreans home.
A Danish Immigration Service report, from November 2014, suggested that Eritrea’s policy towards returnees had become more lenient. It was based on a fact-finding mission, but did not name its sources.
It quoted the Eritean Foreign Ministry as saying Eritreans abroad could now “regularise their relationship with the authorities” by paying a 2% income tax at an Eritrean embassy and signing an apology letter.
“This has been done by a number of people and they have returned to Eritrea without any complications,” the report said, quoting a ministry statement.
But the ministry gave “no specific information” about whether Eritrea’s national service would be changed.
The report was criticised by Danish media and Human Rights Watch, which described it as “more like a political effort to stem migration than an honest assessment of Eritrea’s human rights situation”.
The Norwegian government sent its own assessment team to Eritrea. It was led by Norway’s Deputy Minister of Justice Joeran Kellmyr.
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Kellmyr said he had received an assurance from Eritrea’s foreign minister that national service would be reduced to 18 months.
“It’s important for everyone,” said Mr Kellmyr.
“If national service is reduced, according to human rights standards, this could mean that a lot of Eritrean people don’t any more have the right to seek asylum.”
In December UK officials also visited Eritrea to discuss the migration problem.
And in March this year a new UK policy towards Eritrean asylum-seekers was announced.
New guidelines stated that conscription would no longer be automatic grounds for granting asylum, since national service would no longer continue indefinitely.
But an Eritrean migration expert, Prof Gaim Kibreab, said there was “no evidence” for the UK guidelines’ assertion that “national service is generally between 18 months and four years”.
An estimated 305,000 Eritreans, or five per cent of the population, have left the country, making them one of the largest groups of migrants into Europe.
Pictured as she was rescued from a stricken boat off the Greek island of Rhodes, the terrified face of Wegasi Nebiat last week became the symbol of Europe’s migration crisis.
The 24-year-old was among more than 100 migrants on a rickety craft that capsized en route from Turkey, drowning three of its occupants. But images of her being plucked to safety by a burly Greek rescuer have also put the spotlight on her homeland ofEritrea – a harsh, brutal dictatorship dubbed “Africa’s North Korea”.
The tiny Horn of Africa nation, which won independence in 1993 after a 30-year civil war with Ethiopia, is run as a one-party state by former guerrilla leader Isaias Afwerki and his cronies. Thousands of political prisoners languish in jail, no elections have been held in 20 years, and like Kim Jong-un’s hermit regime in Pyongyang,the country is off limits to foreign media and human rights groups.
However, one thing that Eritrea’s closed, secretive government cannot hide is how its population of just six million is now among the biggest customers of the people traffickers of the Mediterranean. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says that of the 200,000 migrants who made the crossing last year, some 18 per cent, or nearly one in five, were Eritreans like Ms Nebiat. Only refugees from Syria, with its brutal civil war, made up more at 31 per cent.
An estimated 305,000 Eritreans, or five per cent of the population, havenow left the country, fleeing torture, a stagnant economy, and conscription into a vast standing army that often amounts to little more than slavery.
(Photo above: Adikeih March 2015 – innocent child sitting on the remains of her destroyed home)
In the southern city of Eritrea in the town of Adikeih, the regime’s troops confronted by angry men and women to stop them from destroying their homes. When the armed forces headed to the area (mainly populated by Saho speaking people) to demolish their homes. Hundreds of residents came out to streets in solidarity of the victims. Many innocent civilians were seriously injured and were taken into makeshift prisons outside the town denying them basic medical attention. It has been reported that a number of casualties were died of their wounds, hours after the vicious attack. This resistance and civil disobedience by brave Adikeih residents have halted the regime’s plans from demolishing more houses in Adikeih and elsewhere.
(Photo above: Adikeih March 2015 – The regimes destroying civilian home)
(Adikeih March 2015 – There is no honour in attacking unarmed civilians)
Threatening citizens either to pay unimaginable sums of money or face the risk of their homes being destroyed is now increasingly a common practice to feed the beast and generate money. It’s hopes this civil disobedience by heroic Adikeih residents would make the regime think twice before acting to destroy homes.
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Reported Release on Bail of Six Journalists in Eritrea
Jen Psaki Department Spokesperson
January 27, 2015
The United States welcomes reports of six journalists released on bail in Eritrea. We note with deep concern that the government continues to detain other journalists, reportedly as many as 17. We encourage the government to take immediate steps to release these additional detainees, all persons detained on the basis of their religious beliefs, members of the G-15, and all other political prisoners. The United States continues to urge that the Government of the State of Eritrea take comprehensive steps to respect human rights and avail its citizens of their fundamental freedoms.
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