UN report: Eritrea guilty of 'gross' human rights violations

by Julia A. Seymour
Posted 6/15/15, 09:24 am

The government of Eritrea rules its people by fear and control in a “totalitarian” state, according to a new United Nations report. Amid rampant human rights violations and religious persecution, Eritreans are fleeing the country in a wave of migration second only to the flood of Syrians trying to escape their country’s bloody conflicts.

President Isaias Afwerki tightly controls Eritrea, which gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. The government maintains control through its security forces, a spy network, and an extensive surveillance state. According to the UN, the government uses a “pervasive control system” in “absolute arbitrariness to keep the population in a state of permanent anxiety.”

“It is not law that rules Eritreans—but fear,” UN officials said in the press release for the new report.

Religion is highly restricted. Since 2002, only three denominations are legal—Roman Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, and Orthodox Christian. Any other Christians face severe punishment if they are caught. Persecution watchdog groups estimate between 2,000 and 3,000 Christians languish in the country’s jails. Raids on underground churches are common, and the government even uses spies to try to find secret churches. In 2015, Open Doors ranked Eritrea the ninth hardest country for Christians.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has called for Eritrea to be designated a “country of particular concern” since 2004.

International Christian Concern recently shared the story of one Christian jailed by Eritrean authorities in 2003 for evangelism, an illegal act. The man was imprisoned, tortured, starved, and exposed to the elements.

“They take you outside in the hot sun with nothing, to make you suffer, and leave you out in the cold at night,” Yohan told ICC. Yohan’s real name was not disclosed.

The suffering Yohan endured is typical in Eritrea, according to the UN’s year-long investigation. Investigators interviewed hundreds of people who had escaped Eritrea and said violations including torture, extrajudicial executions, and forced conscription similar to slavery may actually rise to the level of crimes against humanity. The commission’s multiple appeals to Eritrean officials for information and access to the country were ignored.

“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,” UN officials said.

Not only does the government instill fear within Eritrea, it severely punishes anyone caught trying to flee the country. The BBC said there is a “shoot-to-kill” policy at the border. Due to the horrific environment, many still try to escape, risking death or slavery in the process. Hundreds of thousands have sought refuge in other African countries, Europe, and the Middle East.

Many potential interviewees who had escaped refused to talk to UN investigators because they still feared the surveillance of the Eritrean government.

The UN puts the total number of Eritrean refugees at more than 357,400. According to Foreign Policy magazine, only the population of Syrians fleeing across the Mediterranean is higher than the Eritrean population doing the same. Although many countries are struggling under the tide of refugees, the UN urged the international community to continue to protect those fleeing and not send them back.

Eritrea’s foreign ministry denounced the UN report as “vile slander,” claiming the findings were "totally unfounded and devoid of all merit," BBC reported.

Julia A. Seymour

Julia is a correspondent for WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and worked in communications in the Washington, D.C., area from 2005 to 2019. Julia resides in Denver, Colo. Follow her on Twitter @SteakandaBible.


Read more from this writer