The government of Eritrea is responsible for systematic and widespread human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity. According to the 8 June 2016 report of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Eritrea, the government of Eritrea and its ruling party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), has perpetrated crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, persecution and murder.
Although the CoI and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea were denied access to the country by the PFDJ, ahead of its 2016 report the Commission interviewed 833 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers. According to the CoI and subsequent reports by the Special Rapporteur, civilians are routinely subjected to arbitrary arrest and subject to forced disappearance. The CoI reported high-level officials authorizing sexual violence as a mode of punishment in compulsory military service camps, concluding these crimes amount to sexual slavery and torture.
Border disputes with Ethiopia and Djibouti and perceived threats to the sovereignty of Eritrea have resulted in the commission of gross human rights violations by the PFDJ for more than two decades. Eritrea declared independence from Ethiopia on 24 May 1991, ending a 30-year liberation war. Border disputes subsequently sparked the Ethiopian-Eritrean War from 1998-2000 during which over 100,000 people were killed. Despite the 2002 establishment of borders by a UN-associated Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, land disputes centered around the town of Badme endured until 8 July 2018 when parties agreed to abide by the 2002 ruling.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has reported more than 460,000 refugees have fled from Eritrea, with an estimated 300 people crossing the border into Ethiopia daily via remote, illegal crossings to avoid arrest by Eritrean authorities.
Minority religious groups are also targeted for persecution. Eritrea has four government-sanctioned religious groups allowed to openly practice their faith while others are forcibly suppressed and, in some cases, adherents have been deprived of citizenship. During June 2019 the Eritrean government forcibly closed Roman Catholic Church-run hospitals and churches after Eritrea’s four Catholic bishops issued a statement calling for a truth and reconciliation commission and reforms to help stem migration to Europe.
Despite positive developments regarding the border conflict with Ethiopia, long cited by the Eritrean government as a reasoning behind its mandatory national service policy, the situation within the country has not improved.
A culture of impunity and official encouragement of grave abuses reveals the Eritrean government’s blatant disregard for its obligations under international law. Despite the CoI report and mounting evidence of crimes against humanity, the Eritrean government has rejected the CoI’s findings and the UN Security Council (UNSC) has not formally discussed the human rights situation in Eritrea.
The government of Eritrea is manifestly unwilling to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.
In 2005 the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted Resolution 91 on the human rights situation in Eritrea, calling upon the government to respect its obligations under all human rights conventions to which it is a party.
In response to reports of gross human rights violations, during July 2012 the HRC authorized the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. On 5 July 2019 the HRC extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for one year.
During July 2014 the HRC established the CoI to investigate alleged violations and abuses of human rights. In response to the CoI’s report, during March 2016 the European Union (EU) enacted provisions to ensure that EU funding does not benefit the Eritrean regime.
Despite the government’s commission of grave human rights abuses, on 12 October 2018 Eritrea was elected to the HRC for the 2019-2021 term. During January 2019 the HRC conducted its Universal Periodic Review of Eritrea. Eritrea accepted 131 of 261 recommendations.
On 14 November 2018 the UNSC lifted an arms embargo on Eritrea, in place since 23 December 2009 for its border dispute with Djibouti and its alleged support of the extremist group al-Shabaab.
The government of Eritrea must immediately end the forced national service, torture, sexual violence and extrajudicial killings of its civilians.
The international community must address the human rights situation in Eritrea. The UNSC should impose sanctions and asset freezes on all senior PFDJ leaders and government officials responsible for the commission of grave human rights abuses.
Given the refusal of the Eritrean authorities to cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteur and other mechanisms, the African Union and states that have close relations with Eritrea should assist the UN and the international community in upholding their collective responsibility to protect the Eritrean people from ongoing crimes against humanity.
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