The UN Commission of Inquiry has just released its report on the Eritrean government’s human rights abuses. There is nothing new for the Eritrean people. For a population which underwent wide spread torture and cruelty for decades, the findings of the report are just a tip of an iceberg. But, the suffering of the Eritrean people has at last come to the knowledge of the international community.
The commission of inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014 to conduct an investigation of all alleged violations of human rights in Eritrea, including: extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearances; arbitrary arrest and detention; torture and inhumane prison conditions; violations of freedom of expression and opinion; freedom of association and assembly; freedom of religion and belief; freedom of movement; and forced military conscription, etc.
The three-member commission is chaired by Mr. Mike Smith (Australia), with Mr. Victor Dankwa (Ghana), and Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth (Mauritius), who also serves as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, as commissioners. Although the Commission sought the full cooperation of the Government of Eritrea and requested access to the country, it received no response. The Commission collected and documented testimonies and the accounts of survivors, witnesses and other sources in eight countries (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.) In all, more than 550 confidential interviews were conducted and 160 written submissions received. The commission formally presented its report to the UN Human Rights Council on June 23 in Geneva.
Background the report
According to the report, many potential witnesses residing outside Eritrea were afraid to testify, even on a confidential basis, because they assumed they were still being clandestinely monitored by the authorities and therefore feared for their safety and for family members back in Eritrea. Those in Diaspora know that the main agenda of the Eritrean Embassies is to spy on the movements of their nationals and to collect 2% income tax for the government. Any opposition movement or gathering is reported to Asmara with immediate effect. Those who pay the reprisals heavily are the family members at home.
Despite initial promises of democracy and rule of law the regime of Isayas Afeworki never conducted any type of election under the pretext of national defense. The border war with Ethiopia 1998-2000, ignited by Eritrea itself, is serving the regime to keep the country under a state of suspension. The war ended and the UN border commission gave a verdict. But the demarcation on the ground is still to be effected. Ethiopia is demanding a negotiation before demarcation, but Eritrea is using that excuse to keep the country in a state of emergency. With the same pretext the population is subjected to open-ended national service, either in the army or through the civil service. When they turn 18 or even before, all Eritreans are conscripted for an indefinite period often for years in harsh and inhumane conditions.
“The commission finds that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea and that there is no accountability for them”, it says. “The enjoyment of rights and freedoms are severely curtailed in an overall context of a total lack of rule of law. The commission also finds that the violations in the areas of extrajudicial executions, torture (including sexual torture), national service and forced labour may constitute crimes against humanity”, it adds.
Very few people know that in the whole of Eritrea there is one daily news paper, two TV stations, one short wave and one FM radio, one mobile company: all owned by the government! According to U.N. International Telecommunication Union figures, Eritrea has the lowest figure globally of cell phone users, with just 5.6 percent of the population owning one.
To substantiate the UN report it is worthwhile mentioning that the private sector of the economy has been paralyzed for more than 20 years. The resources are dominated by the ruling party People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), the economic wing commonly known as 09. The 09 is the hub of all corruption and embezzlement in the country and it is run by Hagos Kisha who is directly accountable to the president himself. The gold-mine industry which gave much hope is still to benefit the nation after many years of digging. According to Swiss Fraud Leaks in Feb this year, the Swiss branch of one of the world’s biggest banks, HSBC, profited from doing business with tax dodgers around the world, ranked Eritrea 53 out of 200 countries with assets of 699.6 million US$ stashed in these offshore accounts. Meanwhile the country is lacking all basic necessities: foodstuff, electric power, fuel, health service, etc.
The UN report lists the main perpetrators of these violations as the Eritrean Defense Forces, in particular the Eritrean Army; the National Security Office; the Eritrean Police Forces; the Ministry of Information; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Defence; the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ); the Office of the President; and the President.
The report describes the repressive system used by the Government to control, silence and isolate individuals, including a pervasive domestic surveillance network in which neighbours spy on neighbours and even family members mistrust each other. When Eritreans in Diaspora come for family visitation, the first advice of the family members is “keep your mouth shut”.
As expected the Eritrean government dismissed the UN’s allegations as “unfounded and devoid of all merit”. All over the world Eritrean government agents are busy discrediting the report as ‘a tool of the USA government’ and that of Eritrea’s archenemy Ethiopia. On June 23, 2015, the 23rd Meeting of the 29th Regular Session of Human Rights Council was held in Geneva, Switzerland. The UN Human Rights Council on Eritrea was a meeting where the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea was openly discussed. To the dismay and shock of the international community and the Swiss authorities, several hundred supporters of the Eritrean regime came from across Europe to intimidate and threaten the Commission of Inquiry. The president of the UN Human Rights Council, Mr. Joachim Rücker, started his opening statement by saying: “it has been brought to my attention that the members of the commission of inquiry on Eritrea have been subjected to various threats and acts of intimidation in their hotels and in the streets since their arrival in Geneva. Security around members of the commission has had to be redoubled and contacts established with the hosts country’s police”.
Victims of Human Traffickers and organ removal
According to recent international indexes Eritrea occupies the worst rank: in Censorship last in the world, in corruption 166 out of 174; and in democracy 155 out of 174. These and many other hardships forced the Eritrean population to flee to other countries just to breathe some air of freedom. According to the UN there are two refugee routes:
1.Eritrea-Sudan-Ethiopia-Libya-Italy. 2. Eritrea-Sudan-Ethiopia-Egypt-Sinai-Israel.
Sudan and Ethiopia both host more than 100,000 refugees each. Unfortunately many refugees fall victim to human traffickers on their way to Europe or Israel. The main groups involved in human smuggling in the region are the Rashaida of Eastern Sudan and the Bedouin of Sinai. But the network of human traffickers is much more complex. There are Eritrean, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Egyptian, Libyan security and military officials, extremist Islamic parties in addition to doctors and gangs trafficking with arms, drugs and human organs in the network.
Victims are sold several times to successive human trafficker’s groups. Every kidnapped refugee has to pay a ransom of between 2,000 to 50,000 US dollars in order to be released by his/her captors. The captors use different types of torture to force their prey to pay the ransom money. The torture methods used includes beatings, dropping molten plastic on their backs, hanging from the ceilings and rape.
The strong Pastoral Letter of the Eritrean Catholic Bishops “Where is your Brother”, and the visit of Pope Francis to Lampedusa at the end of 2013 after the ship tragedy, surely have influenced the UN and other Human Rights activists to scrutinize the Eritrean situation. The findings are enormous and the hope of the Eritrean people is that the consequences be “enormous”, as well. The people are expecting the resolutions of the UN to affect positively, not only those in Diaspora, but mainly those who are paying the daily humiliation of the regime at home. They want to see a change and justice be administered to those who have committed crimes. If change comes and the criminals are let free then we are at square one. The Eritrean people need an atmosphere of laissez-faire style of leadership to lead their life peacefully. (S.A.)