Statement by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, after her visit to Tunisia and Malta (11 – 20 November 2013)

(GENEVA 25 November 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, expressed great concern about rampant human rights violations in Eritrea which caused hundreds of

(GENEVA 25 November 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, expressed great concern about rampant human rights violations in Eritrea which caused hundreds of thousands to leave their country for an unknown and precarious future.

“I call on the Eritrean Government to respect its human rights obligations and to put an immediate stop to human rights violations that are committed in the country”, Ms. Keetharuth stressed after interviewing Eritreans during an official mission to Tunisia and Malta from 11 to 20 November 2013. Her findings will be presented in her second report to the Human Rights Council in June 2014.

The Special Rapporteur indicated that the indefinite national service was quoted as the main reason inciting Eritreans to leave their home country. “The open-ended national service is a system which keeps Eritreans captive in a situation of despair, forcing them to take unimaginable risks in search of freedom and a safe haven”, the Expert stated. Many interviewed during the mission said they agreed in principle with national service in support of development and reconstruction of the country for a period of 18 months as it was originally envisaged.

Indeed, Article 8 of Proclamation 82/1995 calls for 6 months of military training and 12 months of active military service and development tasks in military forces for a total of 18 months. However, the Eritreans interviewed strongly rejected the current mandatory national service which has been extended indefinitely. No comprehensive demobilisation has been conducted to date, causing many to flee.

Young Eritreans, both women and men, often before reaching 18 years, are recruited into a compulsory national service characterised by severe human rights abuses.  Punishment amounting to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as detention in inhumane conditions, is routine in the military. Women explained they were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuses by officers. “These violations are committed with complete impunity, without any structures and procedures in place for victims to bring the perpetrators to justice”, the Special Rapporteur said.

Education is a human right; however, in the current educational system only those who complete military training at the Sawa Military Training Camp after 11th grade are allowed to continue their schooling. One interviewee said: “What we endure at Sawa prepares us to face the dangers while crossing the desert and the sea. I don’t agree with the military training and national service because of its harsh and indefinite nature, as well as its inflexibility, all of which make it inhumane.”

The Special Rapporteur added that those with religious or other conscientious objections are also forced into the military and the practice of one’s religion while in service is strictly prohibited. Conscripts and soldiers are granted leave on a discretionary basis, which can be arbitrary, with periods often longer than 12 months without permission to visit home.

Regular round-ups, the ‘giffas’ carried out by the military police are aimed at rounding up those considered fit to serve in the military, those who escaped from military service or draft evaders. Reprisals against family members of deserters are severe, requiring the payment of 50,000 Nakfa (approximately USD 3,350), a sum most Eritreans find unaffordable, or detention of a family member for an undefined period of time until the amount is paid.

While in the national service, Eritreans are assigned to jobs in various fields, including public administration, teaching, health services, agriculture and construction. The pay during the national service is so low that recruits are unable to support their families.

While those interviewed also described difficult economic and social conditions in their home country, they noted that the daily struggle for access to food and water, the lack of adequate health care and electricity had not motivated their departure. “It is the complete deprivation of the freedom and security of the person, a fundamental human right also recognised by Eritrea that drives entire families to leave their country in the hope of finding a place where they feel protected”, Ms. Keetharuth explained.

Many Eritreans she met during her mission were rescued at sea. Since September 2012, UNHCR Tunisia had registered 677 new arrivals rescued from boats in distress in the Mediterranean. Since the beginning of the year, 2008 asylum seekers have arrived in Malta on 21 boats, out of which
23 % were Eritreans. The Special Rapporteur acknowledged strengthened efforts by both countries to rescue asylum-seekers at sea, thus protecting the right to life and freedom from bodily harm of those shipwrecked.

The blanket disrespect of fundamental human rights in Eritrea is pushing between 2,000 to 3,000 people to leave the country monthly, although the risks along the escape routes are of a life-threatening nature. In 2012, the total Eritrean population of concern to UNHCR amounted to 305,723.

Those rescued at sea underlined that they knew how dangerous their journey across the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea would be. Despite the life-threatening conditions, they had decided to take the risk as they felt they had very little to lose. One young man told the Special Rapporteur: “We are aware of the risks associated with crossing the desert and the sea. Nobody in his right mind would take such a decision. We do it because there is no other choice.”

Ms. Keetharuth called for the protection of those fleeing from risking their lives by undertaking highly dangerous journeys to reach a place they feel is safe.

The Special Rapporteur said that the extremely difficult decision to leave behind one’s family and home can only be understood in light of the unbearable human rights conditions in the country. She called on the international community to address the root causes of the refugee situation by listening to the voices of victims of human rights violations in Eritrea who reach the conclusion that their only option is flight.

She also reiterated the importance to end bilateral and other arrangements between Eritrea and third countries that would provide for Eritreans to be returned to their home country where they risk facing persecution, torture, inhuman treatment, and forced recruitment into indefinite military service.

Since her appointment in November 2012, the Special Rapporteur has made several requests to visit Eritrea, which have so far not been granted. Consequently, the Expert resorted to gathering first-hand information from those who have left Eritrea.  She reiterates her call for access to the country to assess the human rights situation.

The Special Rapporteur thanked Tunisia and Malta for supporting her mandate and having allowed her to interview Eritreans on their territories. Last, but not least, the Special Rapporteur expressed her thanks to all those who shared their personal and sometimes very harrowing stories and experiences in their search for safety and enjoyment of their human rights.

 

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24 COMMENTS
  • Yerhiwo November 25, 2013

    Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth, I thank you on behalf of Etitrean who are suffering in the hands of a terrorist leader and his collaborators Yemane “Monkey”, Hagos “Kisha” all three happen to be from Tigray. Eritreans everywhere are terrorized by Dictator Isias Afwerki and his brutal generals, ministers, security agents and spies even in diaspora.

    Ms. Sheila, I don’t know what evidence is sufficient than what you have seen and heard in your own ears. As you remember 359 innocent Eritreans have died in Lampedusa because of this Mafia regime. The Dictator never made any statement or address the victims family or publicly address the issue. Eritreans in all walks of life are fleeing Eritrea and those we live abroad have fear to go home. Eritrea, now is home to killers, smugglers, drug dealers, human traffickers, terrorist, etc.

    PLEASE CHARGE DICTATOR ISAIAS AFWERKI with his collaborators with crime against humanity or genocide!!! Please save Eritrean people from extinction!!! Every Eritrean people will thank you forever!!!

    • Million November 26, 2013

      True Issayas might be from Tigray …..but that is not a problem. If that is taken as a problem then you and me and all the eritrean people are responsible for that since we have accepted him a our leader for decades. That’s undeniable fact.
      All we have to think and work is on how we can shorten his stay as a leader. Other wise it would look like ……KIWI-I BIID-KA , KIZIHIIL DMA BMANKA……double standard. ……. Kunetat kefiuna agame iyu mibal hiji ….. Ewae eti kedem ke 1991-1997 ertrawi neyru malet dyu ….pls be matured….. no matter where he is from he has dedicAted his life for the struggle ….. The only problem that we have agains him should be regarding his dictatorship not his origin. I don’t think that we have any eritrean who is not from other country exept the Kunama people. E.g go and check history Tigre around the Red Sea coastal area migrants from from Yemen , the same to Tigrigna speaking Muslims in kebesa, Muslims around the gashbarka region are mixed with Sudanese …….. Obama is from Kenya ….there is not any problem and abnormal for his past generation to be from Tigray. Thanks.

    • Million November 26, 2013

      True Issayas might be from Tigray …..but that is not a problem. If that is taken as a problem then you , me and all the eritrean people are responsible for harbouring a tigrean man as our leader for decades.
      That’s undeniable fact. If we deny that then it would mean……KIWI-Eka BIID-KA , KIZIHIILeka DMA BMANKA……double standard. ……. Kunetat kefiuna agame iyu mibal hiji ….. Ewae eti kedem ke 1991-1997 ????…pls be matured….. no matter where he is from he has dedicAted his life for the struggle ….. The only problem that we have agains him should be regarding his dictatorship not his origin. I don’t think that we have any eritrean who is not from other country exept the Kunama people. E.g go and check history Tigre around the Red Sea coastal area migrants from Yemen , the same to Tigrigna speaking Muslims in kebesa, Also Muslims around gashbarka region are mixed with Sudanese. There is not any problem for his past generation to be from Tigray. Lets rather ask if he is fit to lead us. Look Obama and the people.

    • fithawi November 26, 2013

      Yerhiwo,
      eti kab Tigray zibil hareg miwisakk entay yitekim. abti reasi guday atekuirka tiray zeytizareb. kab Tigray zimetsu eyom zechemalikuna zelewu mibal kisab kindey kemzehifir kinestewelelu yigibaa. bejaka ab hasabat atekur, welodotat mitsibtsab botuu aykonen.
      mis akkbrot

      • Million November 26, 2013

        FITHAWI ,
        True u have said. You are saying that we need to elevate out maturity and thanks for that.

        I heard the report of Wedi vacaro in Atlanta and heard him saying about Isayas as ” Adu Ayflet Awdu ayflet.”

        Is it not disgusting to hear this from some one who is telling us that he wants unite us all ?

        And why does he say this after working with him for about four decades ?
        In any way I didn’t find it that point constructive one.

  • Bereket and Wedi negash 2 November 26, 2013

    The case must be taken to ICC, we saw several reports but no action either monitoring group or human right investigation lead so far to ICC. Issais is the cause of thousands death and massacre.

  • Tewelde November 26, 2013

    Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth, the UN-coated catalysator in the process of perishing Eritrea visited Tunisia and Malta. why so much endevours to making the conspiracy look like a legal action? The case “Sheila B. Keetharuth” must realy be taken to ICC.

    Note that I had never sympathized DIA, just the opposite!

  • mara November 26, 2013

    MILLION no one accepted isayas afewerki as our eritrean leader…
    he is the self announced president. Or did we had election in eritrea to vote for him?!
    you think he was fighting for eritrean liberation? NO, this man had other plans so stop saying he was dedicating his life for us. Iseyas is a killer since he went to MEDA…

    • Million November 26, 2013

      Dear Mara,
      Well, you are right that we didn’t vote and we were not given a chance to vote either. He even has said that ” contrat zhabeni yebleyn.”
      It’s true that he is abusing us like second to none.
      He is the worst dictator by any standard.
      Mara, Here is the point that I was trying to underline.
      You see people are writing he is from Tigray. Does that matter if so
      1. Why are we raising this point at this time ?
      2. I don’t know if you have followed the seminar given by Wedi vacaro aimed at uniting us all. It was great initiative and I hope all the justice seekers will be on his side. But shame to hear him saying that ” Adu ayflet geliu ayflet.” Zhalefe 40 amet gn ab gonu koynu yiserh neyru iyu. Again why at this point in time ?
      3. A number of the opposition parties members are heard to say Issayas is from Ethiopia/Tigray and yet they have been going to Ethiopia and have had several meeting with Ethiopian leaders who are mainly from Tigray whith the objective of strengthening their attempt to shorten the life of DIA. For me it’s not a problem as far as there is genuine movement.

      Mara as I have said it before except the Kunama people who all have other origins when we try to trace back our generation in the past. As such non of us will stand to be Eritrean except Kunama.
      Please let’s focus on our main objective.
      Thanks.

      • Suleiman Salim November 26, 2013

        ab zey tfelTo atiKa halew-lew aytbel:: Wedi Vacaro Hade jajawi kriminal Hasawi ‘yu::

        Abdallah Idris, rebi yrHamo, Kunama kab Debub Sudan ‘yom meSi’om ybl kem znebere tfelT do ?

        • Million November 27, 2013

          Sulieman,
          Thanks for ur comment and correction , I didn’t like your words though.
          But let me tell you , my reference regarding the Kunama people is ” eritrean history text book ” . I learnt from the text books when I was a student …… “dekebat ertra Kunama iyom.” But am still ready to learn and know more…

          Thanks sahbey.

        • Sorobeti November 27, 2013

          Suleiman Salim
          What about DIA.

      • Suleiman Salim November 27, 2013

        Million,

        Abdallah Idris bzaEba Kunama ‘ntay kem zbele knegreka ile ‘ye ‘mber bhiere-Kunama kab Tnti atHizom deqi-meriet mKwanom ab TrTr ke’tu delye aykonkun:: bKal’ azerarb ‘ti nsKa bzaEba Kunama zbelkayo qnuE ‘yu::

        Wedi Vacaro n’Issaias Afeworki ” Adu ayfleT ..” ‘nte ilu Hangolu bVino brushare demu dma bPasta shokiru kKewn alewo:: nHade rstun merietun fluT zKone wedi Abeyti kem’u aybehaln ‘yu::

        wo deHanka

        • Sorobeti November 27, 2013

          Suleiman

          Wedi Vacaro n’Issaias Afeworki ” Adu ayfleT ..” ‘nte ilu Hangolu bVino brushare demu dma bPasta shokiru kKewn alewo:: nHade rstun merietun fluT zKone wedi Abeyti kem’u aybehaln ‘yu::

          Your problem with wedi Vacaro is that he abandoned and exposed the mafia boss Isaias.

          • Suleiman Salim November 28, 2013

            Sorobeti,

            ‘za Wedi Vacaro zbela zereba ( nay jajawn nay Hasawn zereba) sgaE ab Alem bhiwetu zelo dedHri’u ktgoyo iya::

    • HABTE November 26, 2013

      Mara
      You said “no one accepted Isaias Afewerki as our Eritrean Leader” what about the followers of Isaias who are more than one didn’t they accept him as a leader ?
      He was the leader of the front elected by the congress of the front was he nor from Tigray (as you claim it ) then ? How come he is despised as Tigrian now ? You see your problem is not focusing on the real issue and trying to find a short cut and exploit peoples emotions.
      Let us wait to have a real constitution accepted by the people that defines who is Eritrean and who is not then we can accuse those who are not Eritreans according to the constitution right now you have no legal ground at all. You have no right to strip the citizenship of Isaias and we oppose Isaias not because he might be from Tigray we oppose him because he is a ruthless dictator.

  • monicasalguero November 26, 2013

    AB ENTERNET M-XHAF HANTE AYTEKEMN EYÚ HEZBEY REKBAT MSTOM KHEGSU ZKLU HAGERAT TESEMAMI-HIKUM ZETBGESU YEHWAT. ANEWIN HEGI AY-INI ANKUHE YEXEHEF ALOKÚ.

    MEFELELAY GEDFKÚM GDA ZEY-TBGESU BEFELAY ETOM AB ZETEFELA-YE GRUOP ZELEKÚM BEYAKUM NEBA-LATKÚM TEBEGSKÚM ABEGSÚ HENKFÁT AYTEJÚNÚ BETEHTNA YELEMN.

  • Mara November 26, 2013

    @ Million: you´re totally right but i was a little bit confused when you said he devoted his life for what we eritreans belived in so much and our mother´s and fathers where fighting for: OUR REAL FREEDOM. i agree with you totally that our problem is isayas THE DICTATOR and not his ethnic origin
    @Habte: Isayas wasnt elected by the eritrean people right or am i wrong? People=Eritrea and not Eritrea=Isayas
    Folks PLEASE read careful of what i wrote i never said he is Tegaru thats why he has to get out of our country..NOOOOO
    and HABTE how can you define who is 100% eritrean and who is not??? i´m very excited about your explanation 😉
    one more time DIA has to get rid of eritrea because of his criminals action against mankind (since he was in MEDA/struggle) and not just because he is tegaru

    • HABTE November 27, 2013

      dear Mara
      weather Isaias is elected or not is not an issue he is the worst dictator our people have ever seen and he has to be removed from power by any means necessary.
      1.What I said was on the gehdli era he was elected by the congress of the front to be there leader I have never said elected by the people of Eritrea read carefully.
      2. I didn’t say I will define who is Eritrean and who is not again read my comment. What I said is let us have a real constitution with the participation of all Eritreans that is accepted by all Eritreans that will define citizenship. It is the constitution that defines the criteria of citizenship not me, hope you do understand me know
      cheers

      • Suleiman Salim November 28, 2013

        Habte,

        bTEnaKa diKa? President Issaias Afeworki Abraham AdKum Halwun hneSun ‘nte bele ‘ntay newri alewo?

        bejaKa ileka halay aytuKun: nedieKan neboKan ayteSrfom::

  • Danny adhanom November 26, 2013

    Can Eritreans focus on a topic and discuss the issue at hand? Experience on websites indicates a resounding no. Except a very few, the majority of commentators comment on absolutely irrelevant issues compared to the topic. It is like discussing bible studies in a chemistry class and hope that the teacher will pass you for writing down something about the bible on a chemistry exam. Please comment on what the special rapporteur has worked on. Leave Isaias’s race for judgement day on Eritrean citizenship.

    • Suleiman Salim November 28, 2013

      Danny Adhanom Gebre-Mariam,

      Judgement zbehal neger yelon:: nHade beAl merietn beAl rstn zKone seb’ay kem’u aybehaln ‘yu::

  • Suleiman Salim November 28, 2013

    Emmanuel Iyassu,

    nezi website nay ‘ti nay qedemu mleso:: nay Hadesti gbre-melstat geS nabey wesidkayo?

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