Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRCE) expresses its wholehearted support for the conclusions reached by the UN Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE) in its second report, which was launched on 8th June 2016. In particular, HRCE is concerned to emphasise and underline the prime conclusion of the Commission that “Eritrean officials have committed crimes against humanity” in the last 25 years.
Though given little publicity in the world’s media, Eritrea is known to all human rights experts as one of the worst states in Africa for abuses of its citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms. The scale, range and frequency of abuses are so extensive that large numbers of Eritreans flee the country every year. Striking evidence of this mass exit is the statistic that 47,025 Eritrean citizens applied for asylum in Europe in 2015.
Eritrea’s many abuses of fundamental human rights have been the subject of searching inquiries initiated by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) over the past four years. The Council began by appointing a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea during the 21st Session of the HRC in September 2012, and began receiving reports in 2013. The Council later appointed a Commission of Inquiry, which initially reported in June 2015, and was subsequently directed to determine whether the documented violations of human rights amounted to crimes against humanity.
In its latest report, the Commission has confirmed that the abuses can indeed be classified as crimes against humanity. Mike Smith, chairperson of the Commission announced on 8th June 2016 that the crimes identified and documented were part of a “widespread and systematic campaign” by Eritrean government officials with the aim of “instilling fear in Eritreans”, “maintaining control over the population and perpetuating the leadership’s role.” According to the Commission, “crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, rape, murder and other inhumane acts” have been committed. “The use of arbitrary detention” is singled out in the report as a major concern, with “the vast majority of those detained” never “brought before a judge, tried, or involved in any form of judicial proceedings whatsoever.”
The Commission reports that these crimes are not confined to the past: “Unfortunately, the gross human rights violations documented are continuing to take place.” The Commission highlights major issues in Eritrea’s military national service programme, such as its “arbitrary and indefinite duration, use of conscripts as forced labour, inhumane conditions of service, rape and torture, (for female conscripts) enforced domestic servitude, and its devastating impact on family life.” Furthermore, “the Eritrean Government has taken no steps to address any of these problems,” and “does not have the political will to prosecute the crimes documented.”
HRCE has identified and documented these same abuses since its foundation, and fully supports the Commission’s decision to identify those responsible, namely, “the Eritrean government and ruling party officials, military commanders, and members of the National Security Office.”
HRCE fully supports the Commission’s conclusions and commends its decision to recommend international judicial proceedings and sanctions against those responsible for crimes against humanity. HRCE particularly applauds the decision of the Commission to recommend “that the UN Security Council refer the situation in Eritrea to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court…” impose travel bans and asset freezes on individuals suspected of crimes against humanity”, and to ask UN “Member states to prosecute or extradite suspects on their territories.”
HRCE also fully supports the Commission’s recommendation of an accountability mechanism, under the aegis of the African Union and supported by the international community, to investigate, prosecute and try individuals reasonably believed to have committed crimes against humanity.
Elisabeth Chyrum, HRCE’s Director, commented: “the Commission’s report is clearly a turning point and a moment of truth for Eritrea and its current leaders. The international community can no longer pretend to be unaware of the real extent and severity of the crimes committed in Eritrea, nor of the urgent need to take action.”