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UN rapporteur: Fundamental freedoms systematically repressed in Eritrea

FILE - An ambulance said by residents to have been damaged and stripped for parts by Eritrean soldiers sits next to people as they wait to be seen at a medical clinic in Abi Adi, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, May 11, 2021.
FILE - An ambulance said by residents to have been damaged and stripped for parts by Eritrean soldiers sits next to people as they wait to be seen at a medical clinic in Abi Adi, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, May 11, 2021.

A human rights expert says the Eritrean government is maintaining its iron grip
on society by systematically repressing the fundamental rights and freedoms of its people through violent and threatening means.

“The human rights situation in Eritrea remains dire. Patterns of gross human rights violations, including the widespread use of arbitrary and incommunicado detention and enforced disappearance persist unabated,” Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, told the U.N. Human Rights Council Thursday.

“The authorities continue to enforce a system of indefinite military national service that amounts to forced labor and has been consistently linked to torture and inhuman or degrading treatment,” he said.

This is the fourth report on Eritrea submitted by Babiker to the council since he was appointed special rapporteur in September 2020. Regretfully, he observed that nothing has changed over the years.

The same issues of concern continue to be raised time after time, he said, noting that no measures have been taken to improve and change “policies and practices
that perpetuate the human rights crisis in the country.”

The report finds that “due process rights continue to be systematically violated,” that hundreds of dissidents, human rights defenders, religious leaders, journalists and other perceived government critics are arbitrarily detained “for indefinite and prolonged periods without ever being charged or tried.”

The report says civic space continues to be completely closed in Eritrea; that there is no freedom of expression, association, and assembly; no independent media; and that dissent is systematically suppressed, “including through arbitrary detention or enforced disappearance.”

The special rapporteur told the council that “the stifling of civic engagement and
suppression of critical voices by the Eritrean authorities also extends to Eritrean
communities worldwide.”

He said Eritrean authorities have developed a pattern of “transnational
repression” to control diaspora politics and silence pro-democracy activists abroad through methods such as kidnappings and enforced disappearances, surveillance, violence, threats, harassment and smear campaigns.

“Over the past year and a half, we have witnessed an escalation of violence and
polarization in the diaspora, which is hurting Eritrean communities and society at large,” he said. “Clashes between Eritrean government supporters and detractors in dozens of cities across the globe have resulted in several Eritreans killed, hundreds injured, dozens arrested, and public property being destroyed.”

Despite the accumulating dangers abroad, Babiker said that Eritreans
continued to flee the grave human rights situation in their country, noting that an estimated 17% of the population has sought asylum as of 2024.

Commenting on another issue, Babiker noted that Eritrean forces continue
to be present in parts of the Tigray region of Ethiopia, though Eritrea is not party to the November 2022 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, which purportedly ended the war in that region.

Babiker said Eritrean forces in Tigray “continue to be involved in human rights and international humanitarian law violations,” including extrajudicial killings, kidnappings, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, and forced labor.

The presentation of the special rapporteur’s report to the council coincided with
Eritrea’s “Marty’s Day,” a day of remembrance for those who perished in the war
while fighting for Eritrea’s independence between 1961 and 1991.

That fact was not lost on Habrom Zerai Ghirmal, charge d’affaires at the Permanent Mission of Eritrea in Geneva, who responded to Babiker’s report “with a heavy heart.”

He lashed out at the special rapporteur for participating in “the annual ritual of
demonizing Eritrea” on this day of “immense historical importance.”

He said that “Eritrea abhorred that once again, the very countries today sponsoring the resolution against Eritrea were the very same states that prolonged the border conflict by refusing to uphold their moral and legal obligations as guarantors and witnesses of the agreements signed.”

“Those states that engineered the country-specific mandate, the nine-
year-long illegal and unfair United Nations sanctions…did not have the moral
authority to talk about the promotion of human rights in Eritrea,” he said.

Undeterred by the reprimand, Babiker called on member states to maintain international scrutiny of Eritrea.

“The international community must not forsake Eritrean victims of violations,” he said, while urging the Eritrean government to take “meaningful steps toward