A U.N. commission detailed in a report Monday "systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations" committed under the Eritrean government's authority, with the country's president listed among those mainly responsible.
The U.N. commission of inquiry on Eritrea said it was unable to visit Eritrea and received no response from the government to its requests for information during a year-long process that involved 550 interviews and 160 written submissions.
The commission said Eritreans are in need of international protection and called for the world to develop long-term solutions to help refugees.
"Faced with a seemingly hopeless situation they feel powerless to change, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans are fleeing their country," the report says.
Allegations against the government include an extensive, arbitrary system of surveillance that the commission said goes beyond national security needs and leaves Eritreans in constant fear of being monitored.
Those who wish to leave the country are hampered by strict government controls on movement, while arbitrary and extrajudicial killings include a shoot-to-kill policy implemented by the military in border areas to keep people from fleeing, the report says.
In addition to the president, the commission identifies the ministries of information, justice and defense, as well as the Eritrean Defense Forces and the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice as the main perpetrators of rights violations.
Those violations include what the panel calls the "organized repression" of rights to free expression, opinion, assembly and religion.
"The government systematically silences anyone who is perceived as protesting against, questioning or expressing criticism of the government and its policies, even when such statements are genuine and legitimate in the context of a democratic public debate," the report says.
Rule by fear
Ertireans accused of crimes are not given fair trials, and are subjected to arbitrary detention, solitary confinement and labor camps, while women in the country face discrimination and violence "in all areas of Eritrean society," according to the commission.
"It is not law that rules Eritreans, but fear," the report says, accusing the ruling party of keeping power by dismantling or refusing to implement reforms to establish a real democracy.
Sheila Keetharuth, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea and one of the three commission members, called on the international community to help address what she called the "justice deficit."
"Rule by fear -- fear of indefinite conscription, of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, of torture and other human rights violations -- must end," she said.