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Systematic human rights violations persist in Eritrea leading to an increasing number of Eritreans to flee the country

NEW YORK (29 October 2015) -- A wide range of systematic human rights violations continue to take place in Eritrea where a climate of fear and lack of hope for a life in dignity and freedom, sparking an increasing number of Eritreans to flee the East African nation, according to a report presented to the General Assembly's Third Committee today.

In its nearly 500-page report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea reports that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed under the authority of the Government in Eritrea, where extrajudicial executions, torture, violations in the areas of national service and forced labour may constitute crimes against humanity.

While reiterating their concern over the increasingly alarming refugee exodus reaching the coasts of Europe and in particular the sizeable component of Eritreans in this group, the Commissioners explain why the numbers of Eritreans fleeing the country has steadily grown, citing the persisting climate of fear and lack of hope for a future as the main culprits.

The authors note that while the majority of men, women and children who have reached Europe this year, almost half a million, are fleeing war and displacement in Middle East conflict zones, a very significant number are escaping from Eritrea, a country not currently in a situation of conflict or unrest.

“Today, the Eritrean Government is faced with a haemorrhage of its productive youth who are fleeing national service and a future with little hope and even lesson choice”, Commission Chair Mike Smith noted in his statement to the Third Committee on 29 October.

In its report, presented to the Human Rights Council in Geneva in June this year, the three-person Commission notes that arbitrary arrest is a common occurrence, often ordered by anyone with de facto authority. Tens of thousands of Eritreans have been imprisoned, often without charge and for indeterminate periods and ill-treatment and torture of detainees are used routinely. Moreover, the authors of the report note that forced labour is so prevalent that all sectors of the economy rely on it, and all Eritreans are likely to be subject to it at some point in their lives.

Under the pretext of defending the integrity of the state, the Government has subjected much of the population to open-ended national service, either in the army or through the civil service. All Eritreans are conscripted before or by age 18. While national service is supposed to last 18 months, in reality conscripts end up serving for an indefinite period, often for years in harsh and inhumane conditions.

The Commissioners appeal to the Government of Eritrea to acknowledge human rights violations and ensuring accountability for them, while urging more international pressure on Eritrea to bring about actual and lasting change.

In engaging with the Eritrean authorities on solutions to stem the flow of asylum seekers from Eritrea, the international community should place human rights considerations at the forefront of any package of proposed abatement measures. It should insist on tangible progress on human rights in Eritrea, in particular the adoption of real reforms that seriously address the problems identified in the report.

The Commission was established by the Human Rights Council in June 2014 to investigate all alleged violations of human rights in Eritrea, as outlined by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. In July 2015, the Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Commission for one year to investigate systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in Eritrea with a view to ensuring full accountability, including where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity.

In addition to Smith, the members are 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.

For more information about the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea please consult their website –
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIEritrea/Pages/commissioninquiryonhrinEritrea.aspx

For media requests, please contact the Secretariat of the Commission of Inquiry by email: coieritrea@ohchr.org