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UN Decries Lack of Reforms and Widespread Abuse in Eritrea

FILE - A man carries a table as he walks past the ruins of a building in the port city of Massawa, Eritrea, July 22, 2018.

A U.N. investigator is condemning an Eritrean crackdown on fundamental freedoms and religious practice in a new report, as well as the country’s harsh, indefinite military service and widespread abuse.

Hopes that Eritrea, which has been accused of human-rights abuses, would institute reforms after it signed a historic peace agreement with Ethiopia in 2018 have not materialized. If anything, a U.N. report on its human rights situation has found widespread human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearances, sexual violence and torture.

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea Daniela Kravetz deplores the government’s repression of religious freedom. She says Christians practicing without government approval are arrested, as are those who belong to nonrecognized Christian congregations. She says Muslims also are targeted, arrested and jailed.

She finds no justification for Eritrea’s failure to reform its compulsory national service. She says that failure cannot be justified on the grounds that economic conditions in the country do not permit job creation or salary hikes for conscripts.

“There are, however, immediate measures that the authorities could take that do not depend on economic reforms, such as stopping the ongoing roundups of youth for forced conscription, separating secondary education from military conscription and putting in place mechanisms to monitor and prevent abuses against conscripts, in particular against female conscripts,” she said.

Kravetz is calling for the release of all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. She says people are arbitrarily arrested because of their opposition to the government or their beliefs as conscientious objectors. She says they often are jailed for decades, without any recourse to justice or relief.

Eritrean Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Tesfamicael Gerahtu, calls the report politically motivated and ill-intentioned. He says it portrays his country in a negative light and does not reflect any of its positive achievements.

He notes Eritrea is at peace after two decades of conflict. He says Eritrea is in the process of resolving the many social and economic problems that have arisen during that time but adds there is no quick fix.