U.N. investigators accuse the Eritrean government of a quarter century of widespread and systematic violations amounting to crimes against humanity.
A report released by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea call the country an authoritarian state, with no independent judiciary, national assembly or democratic institutions. They say crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances and other inhumane acts are committed to instill fear in the population and deter political opposition.
The investigators say people should not be fooled by what they call, “the facade of calm and normality” that visitors to Eritrea see. Commission chairman Mike Smith tells VOA many visitors to the capital, Asmara, and even foreigners living there, describe a situation that is very different from the picture painted in the report.
“Human rights abuses of the type that we describe do not generally happen in the streets of Asmara. They are happening in detention centers across the country. They are happening in military camps. They are happening in training centers where foreigners simply do not have access,” he said.
Torture, rape, murder, enslavement
Smith says violations, including torture, rape and murder, occur in hidden places. He estimates between 300,000 and 400,000 people have been enslaved over the past 25 years, doomed to serve indefinitely in the country’s system of national service.
“The principle elements are the complete loss of choice. The fact that you are having to work and that you are not remunerated for your work. That you have to work, come what may,” he said.
Eritrea refused to allow the commissioners entry into the country, so they gathered their information from hundreds of interviews with Eritreans abroad and some 45,000 written submissions.
Yemane Gebreab, adviser to Eritrea’s president, offered a rebuttal to the report, calling it seriously flawed, unprofessional and one-sided. He says the commission’s accusation that Eritrea has committed crimes against humanity since it gained its independence in 1991 is without merit.
“The COI [Commission of Inquiry] has no solid evidence or firm legal basis to support this extreme and unfounded charge. The report of the COI fails to meet the principles of impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity,” said Gebreab.
The investigators say they have compiled dossiers of evidence on a number of individuals they believe bear responsibility for crimes against humanity. They are calling on the U.N. Security Council to refer Eritrea to the International Criminal Court.