Eritrea crackdown - thousands flee

2013-06-05 16:57

Geneva - Brutal government repression in Eritrea, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture, is leaving its citizens with no option but to flee, a UN expert said on Wednesday.

"The human rights situation in Eritrea is dire," Sheila Keetharuth told reporters in Geneva, where the UN's top human rights body was debating the situation, noting that thousands have fled despite a shoot-to-kill policy for those trying to cross into neighbouring Ethiopia or Sudan.

Keetharuth, the UN's first special rapporteur on the rights situation in the autocratic Horn of Africa country, called on the international community to engage directly with Eritrean authorities and urged African nations especially to explore how they might be able to help improve the situation.

But her report was swiftly denounced as unfair by the Eritrean ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council.

Keetharuth said the world should pursue efforts to receive news of the numerous people being detained incommunicado, including Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak, who was arrested along with nine other journalists and 11 opposition politicians in September 2001.

In a report to the rights council, Keetharuth said rampant violations of citizens' rights in Eritrea were "triggering a constant stream of refugees".

Decades long conscription and "excessive militarisation" are leaving Eritreans with little option but to risk leaving, with more than 4 000 fleeing every month, she said.

The UN refugee agency has registered more than 300 000 Eritreans refugees in neighbouring countries, she added.

Extraneous objectives

"Even children as young as seven or eight years of age are crossing borders unaccompanied, citing dysfunctional family circumstances caused by the absence of one parent or even both as a result of conscription, detention or exile or forced military training as the reasons for flight," her report read.

"Severe curtailment of freedom of movement, opinion, expression, assembly, association and the right to freedom of religion" were among the reasons people chose to leave the country, as was forced conscription and into an indefinite national military service, she said.

But Eritrean ambassador Tesfamichael Gerahtu blasted the report.

"We see that Eritrea is yet faced with another unfair report which has less to do with the essence of the matter in the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms, but more so a tool for political pressure for extraneous objectives," he said.

Eritrea has also released a weighty report to counter the UN accusations, which it called "disinformation manufactured and circulated over the last decade by the sworn historical enemies of the Eritrean people".

Keetharuth was not been permitted to enter the country to investigate the situation, instead relying mainly on interviews with "survivors of human rights violations".

  • Karl Reed - 2013-06-05 17:10

    I really wish I knew what to do to help

  • Menzi Mnandi Phewa - 2013-06-05 18:09

    if there is freedom why are the people fleeing their own country risking death on crossing borders..

  • Asmarana Asmarana - 2013-06-05 20:48

    When people at the highest levels of the government are fleeing ... it ain't cooking right. A couple of pilots took off with the presidential jet to Saudi Arabia and asked for asylum. After a 6-months futile attempt to bring back the pilots to Eritrea, the president had another pilot sent to bring the plane [Captain Rahwa]. Upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, the female pilot also asked for asylum. I heard our president is taking "Flying lessons for the dummies". I would say it is easier to send a couple of camels to pull it back home.

  • Ertra Natna - 2013-06-07 07:52

    The report is unfair in that the very reason Eritrea is stuck in this situation is because of UN's disregard to its own charter and international law. The first thing Sheila should have asked is why the Eritrean government is enforcing such tight control over its citizens. The reason is simple, Ethiopia, the darling of the West, is occupying Eritrean territory by force against UN's own ruling and verdict. Eritrea being not only a small country but also having been colonized by Ethiopia, it has no choice but to stand guard to defend itself. With the US being part of this mess, the entire suffering of Eritrean people is attributed to the unfair and unjust handling of the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia by the UN and US.

  • Eri T Rea - 2013-06-08 15:58

    Stop blaming the US and the UN for the mess our self-elected leaders have made. Who blames if Ethiopia is a darling of the west; good-governance, intelligent diplomacy, great strategy - that is all it takes. Meles was a great leader - look at how he has changed Ethiopia. Back to our country, Isayas' only friend was the former Libyan mad man Gaddafi and that tells it all. We have a good saying in Tigrinya it goes ... "Tell me about your friends, and I will tell you who you really are". This is what our leaders have done: 1. We can't leave our country 2. We work under slave-like conditions under the name of "National Service" 3. We are jailed for praying together, for publicly voicing opposition 4. We have no jobs 5. Our 60, 70 year old fathers are forced to carry arms 6. We receive rations of 2 loaves of bread for two people for the whole day. and remember we have: 1. a 1000 km long amazing sea-coast filled with bounty - fish and salt ... 2. large amounts of high-quality Gold, Copper and potash 3. Hard working people If our leaders were a little bit more diplomatic, we wouldn't be in this mess at all. Our leaders are still working with the same gorilla-style leadership that they have brought from before independence, and 22 years on, they still are blind - IT IS NOT WORKING.

  • Kevin Moxham - 2014-07-05 09:24

    Having been there and worked there for 3 years, there is not a more peaceful place - misplaced sanctions and US double standards are causing hardship and thats the reason for people leaving the country.

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