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UN Report: Human Rights Situation in Eritrea Dips to New Low

FILE - Eritrean refugees and dissidents, some holding Eritrean flags, demonstrate against human rights abuses allegedly committed by Eritrea's government, outside the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 23, 2016.

A U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea has issued a report critical of the deteriorating situation there, noting forced military conscription, arbitrary arrests, disappearances and torture among the violations recorded.

In a report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker said Eritrea’s involvement in the armed conflict in neighboring Ethiopia shines a light on the impact of the Eritrean government’s system of indefinite national military service. He described the rights situation as dire.

Those who attempt to evade the draft, he said, are imprisoned in inhuman and degrading conditions for indefinite periods of time.

“The authorities also punish draft evaders by proxy, for example by imprisoning a parent or a spouse in order to force them to surrender themselves,” he said. “I also received reports about the conscripts who were killed as they tried to escape from Tigray or from military training centers in Eritrea.”

Ethiopia’s military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front began November 4, 2020. Since then, thousands of Eritrean conscripts have been forced to participate in the conflict.

Investigator Babiker said children as young as 14 have been rounded up and recruited, and that Eritrean refugees in Ethiopian camps have been kidnapped and forced to fight. He said the human rights situation in Eritrea continues to push thousands to flee to other countries for asylum.

“I remain gravely concerned by the situation of hundreds of Eritreans who have been disappeared and arbitrarily detained in secret prisons in violation of human rights standards,” he said. “I continue to hear testimonies from witnesses and victims who were held and tortured in places known as ‘villas.’ These are actually secret places of detention that cannot be readily identified.”

Tesfamicael Gerahtu, an ambassador in Eritrea’s foreign ministry, said he would not respond to the allegations in the report, saying they were based on information from select and irresponsible sources. He added that there was no human rights crisis in Eritrea and that the harassment and sanctions imposed on his country had to stop.

Eritrea was reelected to serve as a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council in October 2021. Rapporteur Babiker said the country’s failure to promote and protect human rights puts the credibility and integrity of the council in jeopardy.