Report on Abuses in Eritrea Draws Demonstrators, Heated Emotions

Salem Solomon/voa June 25, 2016 9:12 AM This week, thousands of Eritreans gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, to both support and protest a new U.N. report alleging that the leaders of the Eritrean government have committed crimes against

This week, thousands of Eritreans gathered in Geneva, Switzerland, to both support and protest a new U.N. report alleging that the leaders of the Eritrean government have committed crimes against humanity.

Elsewhere, hundreds of Eritrean refugees gathered outside African Union headquarters in neighboring Ethiopia to protest the alleged crimes back home.

The report comes from a commission of inquiry set up more than two years ago to investigate human rights in Eritrea.

The commission gathered testimony from 833 people in 13 countries including Australia, Canada and the United States, but was not allowed to travel inside Eritrea to conduct its investigation.

Its report outlined arbitrary arrests, torture, rape, enslavement, murder and reprisals against family members of dissidents inside the country.

Eritrean refugees and dissidents, some holding Eritrean flags and some dressed as Eritrean military to illustrate beatings and torture, left, demonstrate outside the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 23, 2016.

Eritrean refugees and dissidents, some holding Eritrean flags and some dressed as Eritrean military to illustrate beatings and torture, left, demonstrate outside the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 23, 2016.

During an interactive dialogue at the U.N. Human Rights Council with the commission and other organizations and stakeholders on Monday, Eritrea’s head of political affairs and presidential adviser said that the commission not only failed to prove the accusations but was overstepping its mandate.

“The Commission has made the incredible judgment that the human rights situation in Eritrea constitutes a threat to international peace and security, as a fig leaf to try to send yet another African country to the International Criminal Court ((ICC)),” Yemane Gebreab told the attendees.

Testimonies

In the audience were children of jailed journalists, political prisoners in the country and other Eritrean activists who also gave their testimonies.

Outside the official proceedings, demonstrators waved Eritrean flags and signs denouncing the ruling party – the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice – as criminals.

“Geneva was literally flooded by people who are requesting that enough is enough,” said Daniel Rezene Mekonnen, an Eritrean human rights lawyer, who traveled to Geneva to participate in the dialogue. “There must be an end to the situation of crimes against humanity in Eritrea and people were shouting telling the world that they support the findings of the commission of inquiry.”

Mekonnen said the most heartbreaking aspect of the events was to hear supporters of the Eritrean government deny the seriousness of crimes being committed inside the country.

“When they deny the realities of the human rights violations in Eritrea, they are insulting the victims, and this is inhuman,” he said.

“These people who are suffering in the dungeons of the regime in all of the formal and informal prison systems in Eritrea, what we call the Eritrean network of gulags, they are innocent people,” Mekonnen said. “They don’t deserve that. Or if the government believes that they have committed something else, they should be brought to a court of justice.”

Eritrean refugees chant slogans as they hold a banner with the picture of President Isaias Afwerki during a demonstration in support of a U.N. human rights report accusing Eritrean leaders of crimes against humanity, in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, Ju

Eritrean refugees chant slogans as they hold a banner with the picture of President Isaias Afwerki during a demonstration in support of a U.N. human rights report accusing Eritrean leaders of crimes against humanity, in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Ju

Others believe just as strongly that Eritrea is being wrongly maligned by the international community.

Simon Tesfamariam is the founder and director of Red Sea Institute, a nonprofit doing research in Eritrea, and a supporter of the government.

“There’s nothing wrong with looking at the human rights situation of the nation at all,” Tesfamariam said. “Those who are investigating the human rights situation are not impartial, not independent, not objective and not neutral.”

Impartiality questioned

He questioned the impartiality of the U.N.’s special rapporteur, Sheila B. Keetharuth, who previously worked for Amnesty International and who, he said, has called for Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to be tried at the ICC. He also criticized the lack of evidence like video or audio to substantiate the allegations.

“You have anonymized allegations. You don’t have any hard evidence, any tangible evidence to make us feel comfortable with the fact that these allegations may, in fact, be true,” he said. “I mean just think of it in the court of law.  Who would take seriously 100 percent anonymized allegations?  Who would take seriously that those that are not anonymized are not coming from those who have clearly checkered relations with whom they are making allegations against?”

The report outlines numerous abuses including the use of national service, which began as a development program but now continues for years and is equated to enslavement in the report.  Government officials say it is necessary to stay on a war footing with Ethiopia as recent clashes on the Ethiopia-Eritrea border attest.

The report now goes to the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which will decide whether to adopt a resolution on the issue.

“This issue should be passed to the Security Council because only the Security Council has the power to make referrals to the International Criminal Court,” commission chairman Mike Smith told VOA.

“So, yes, these are individual crimes, and yes, we have found that there are a number of people that we have reason to believe are responsible for those crimes,” Smith said.

aseye.assenna@googlemail.com

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4 COMMENTS
  • Alem June 26, 2016

    Simon tesfamariam Jesse
    What evidence do u need if a 17 yr old daughter is placed behind bar incommunicado for yrs b/s her father who was a minister abandoned the criminal regime; when 400,000 youngsters are enslaved by the regime for 20 yrs; when prominent figures are in dang eons for over a decade without due process.

  • Alem June 26, 2016

    U can not commit crimes for decades and hide or run away even if u expel all ngo’s,, foreign diplomats, relief organizations and journalists.
    Iseyas can try to run along with other mafia colleagues but can not hide.

  • k.tewolde June 27, 2016

    Not only heinous crimes were committed,the whole nation was held hostage for 25 years in a catatonic state under the false pretext of ‘liberation’.

  • Peace in Eritrea June 28, 2016

    Hmmm
    Sometimes I wonder if people like the so called Simon Tesfamariam are out of their mind. I am not sure if you Mr. Simon really meant what you said. You still ask for evidence despite the fact that you hear and see evidence in abundance every day. Deny, deny and deny again are the habits of HEGDEF and it seems you one of them.
    This system is brutal, even to you. What dreams do you have when you are sleeping very deeply? Please tell me the truth. I am sure you have nightmares, waking up sweeting and suspecting even your own shadow as being a murderer sent by HEGDEF to silence you or finsh you for good. Isn’t it enough for you to see that Eritrea is number two exporter of refugees in the whole planet?
    But I understand you since you are the “founder and director of Red Sea Institute, a non-profit organization doing research in Eritrea”. You pretty well know that if you utter a word against the butcher Isayas, the consequences are dire and you may end up like Sherifo, Petros, DuruE …..and all the others who gave their entire life to Eritrea. In conclusion I say only three words: SHAME ON YOU!

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