Letter to the President of the United Nations General Assembly

Re: UN Commission of Inquiry’s Written Report and Oral update on – Human Rights Abuses in Eritrea

His Excellency Mr. Peter Thompson,

President of the United Nations General Assembly,
Office of the President,
United Nations,
NEW YORK 10017
United States of America

Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations;
Mr. Choi Kyong-Lim, President of the Human Rights Council;
Ms. Maria Emma Mejia, Chair of the Third Committee, General Assembly.

26 October 2016

Your Excellency,

The recent Report of the UN Human Rights Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses in Eritrea confirms what Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRCE)has been reporting for many years. In particular, the Commission of Inquiry confirms HRCE’s reports that: –

  • Eritrea’s ruling party and government is one, which has no respect for the human rights of its people, and there are presently no means of establishing and protecting human rights. There is no rule of law, and no independent judiciary to enforce it. A climate of impunity has prevailed, allowing crimes against humanity to be perpetrated over a quarter of a century. These crimes are still occurring today.
  • A ratified constitution has not been implemented since 1997; in effect, there is no legal guarantee of democracy. No free and fair elections have taken place since 1997.
  • There is no independent press, no freedom of expression, no freedom of association, no political freedom, and no freedom of religion or belief;
  • There is no place of higher education. The Government of Eritrea closed down the country’s only university in 2006; Children take their last year of high school in a military training camp, where young girls can face sexual abuse, rape, and forced domestic servitude;
  • Arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance are widespread, with tens of thousands imprisoned in a myriad detention centres. Shipping containers, underground facilities, and even holes dug in the ground can serve as prison cells. Several detainees have lost their sight after being suddenly exposed to the light, having been held underground for an extended period.
  • Torture is rife in Eritrea’s detention centres, with many dying following mistreatment.
  • A very large but unrecorded number of Eritreans have been murdered, with no one held responsible, no one prosecuted, convicted or punished for these capital crimes. These gross human rights violations are not committed on the streets of Asmara, but rather behind the walls of detention facilities and in military training camps.
  • National Service was officially supposed to last 18 months, but in practice can continue indefinitely for over 20 years. Many of those who joined the armed forces as conscripts in 1994 still remain compulsorily enrolled, earning no more than US$10 dollar per month, whether or not they have family obligations. National Service recruits are subjected to enslavement, being forced to work on government construction sites, in agricultural projects and in mining sites; in virtually all cases the conscripts endure extremely harsh conditions and can be forced to work up to six and a half days a week, with very little food.
  • Owing to this all-pervasive repression, thousands of Eritreans attempt to flee their country each month, making Eritrea one of the countries which generate the greatest number of refugees in the world, despite its small size.
  • To travel outside Eritrea, citizens require an exit visa, which is very rarely granted; there is a shoot-to-kill policy at the border; many have died and been seriously wounded in the attempt to escape.
  • Eritreans make up a very large proportion of Africans who have died in the Mediterranean Sea. They have also died in the Sahara Desert as they have desperately sought refuge. They have been held hostage and tortured by people smugglers, to extort ransoms from relatives. Many have died in the Sinai desert; and ISIS slaughtered 49 in March 2015. Despite these appalling hazards, sheer desperation forced 47,025 Eritreans to find their way to Europe in 2015 and apply for asylum there.

Eritrea’s Response to the United Nations’ Procedures and Processes:

However, despite this catalogue of abuses, which, according to the Commission of Inquiry, amount to crimes against humanity, Eritrea has not and is not co-operating with UN Human Rights Council procedures.

  • Eritrea has not co-operated with the Special Rapporteur and the UN Commission of Inquiry, and refused them access to the country.
  • Eritrea has refused to co-operate with other UN thematic mandate holders.
  • To date, none of the recommendations from the first and second cycle of Eritrea’s Universal Periodic Reviews (UPR) have been implemented. For example, Eritrea has refused to end the practice of forced labour and modern slavery or to limit the period of National Service.

Conclusions of the UN Commission of Inquiry:

The UN Commission of Inquiry found that the crimes documented had been “committed primarily, directly or indirectly by state and ruling party officials, military commanders and members of the National Security Offices.” The Commission identified alleged perpetrators and compiled files on those individuals to assist future accountability mechanisms.

According to the Commission “Eritrean officials have committed crimes against humanity, the crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, persecution, rape, murder and other inhumane acts have been committed as part of a widespread and systematic campaigns against the civilian population since 1991. The campaign has been aimed at maintaining control of the population and perpetuating the Eritrean leadership role.”

Request to the UN General Assembly:

Human Rights Concern-Eritrea strongly recommends and requests that the UN General Assembly: –

  • Condemn the ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations in Eritrea;
  • Submit the Commission of Inquiry’s written Report and oral update to the Security Council;

Recommend that the Security Council:-

  1. Take appropriate action to ensure Eritrea’s accountability for human rights abuses;
  2. Consider targeted sanctions against those responsible for crimes against humanity;
  3. Consider very seriously the need to refer Eritrea to the International Criminal Court for the crimes committed against humanity identified by the Commission.

With the utmost respect, may we request that you ensure that these matters are fully considered by the General Assembly, and may we ask that you take the lead and guide the Assembly to take action on the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, as outlined above?

Yours respectfully,

Elizabeth Chyrum
Human Rights Concern-Eritrea
+44 (0)7958 005 637