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IPU Says Parliament Members Disappeared in Eritrea

The Human Rights Committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union says the cases of more than 250 parliament members in 32 countries who have been imprisoned, killed or disappeared remain unresolved and continue to be a matter of grave concern. Representatives from many of the more than 140 national parliaments that are members of the IPU attended an international conference in Geneva this week. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union, which groups more than 140 national parliaments worldwide, says parliament members often run into trouble in non-democratic countries. It says leaders in these countries have little tolerance for dissent. It says those in opposition are frequently intimidated, jailed, sometimes killed and made to disappear.

The IPU Human Rights Committee says cases of concern include 40 Palestinian parliament members jailed without charge by Israel, 26 MPs languishing in Burmese prisons, 57 Ecuadorians stripped of their parliamentary seats and an increasing number of MPs killed in Lebanon.

Canadian Senator Sharon Carstairs says she considers Eritrea to be the worst offending country.

"And, I would say it is the worst, because parliamentarians have disappeared in 2001," she said. "And, they have literally disappeared off the face of the earth. We know nothing about these individuals. It is hard to highlight a case when you do not know anything about those individuals. We have asked to go to Eritrea, to take a mission to Eritrea. So far, we have not been able to do that."

Carstairs says 11 Eritrean members of parliament have been held incommunicado since September 18, 2001 after they called for Democratic reforms. She says it is not clear whether the MPs are still alive.

She says the IPU would like to put Eritrea under tight public scrutiny, but she says this is difficult to do.

She says that making progress in a country like Zimbabwe is also difficult. Carstairs says the IPU has compiled reports about rights violations against MPs and has even been able to go on a mission there. Nevertheless, she says none of this has made a difference.

"Having said that, we cannot ignore those parliamentarians in Zimbabwe who have serious, serious human rights violations against them," she added. "And, when we have a report of a parliamentarian literally beaten up in an airport parking lot and then we are told by the government of Zimbabwe 'well, he did not report this violation, so therefore, we are under no compunction to investigate.' We have to point out that that is contrary to the rule of law."

Despite allegations of brutal behavior by the authorities, the Canadian senator says parliament members in Zimbabwe fare better than they do in Eritrea. Unlike Eritrea where the MPs simply disappear, in Zimbabwe they are held for varying lengths of time.

She says they may be detained for a few hours or weeks or a month. But, then, as far as she knows, they tend to be released.