GENEVA - The United Nations Human Rights Office is calling on the Eritrean government to immediately release all people who are arbitrarily detained and ensure they receive a fair trial. On Wednesday, a senior rights official updated the U.N. Human Rights Council on the prevailing rights situation in Eritrea.
For years, groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have considered Eritrea one of the most repressive countries in the world. There is no independent media, critics of the government are routinely arrested, and most young people are forced into years of "national service," which some liken to slavery.
U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore, who presented Wednesday's report, says the human rights situation for Eritrea’s people has not improved.
“Arbitrary detention without charge or trial are still the norm in the country, affecting thousands imprisoned, languishing within the country’s jail cells, including those who were reportedly arrested after participating in the funeral of the 93-year-old founder of an Islamic school who himself had been arrested for opposing the takeover of the school by the state,” she said.
Thousands of people reportedly were rounded up when demonstrations broke out at the cleric’s funeral earlier this month.
Gilmore says a U.N. delegation to Eritrea in October raised a number of troubling human rights concerns with authorities.
“We emphasized the need to strengthen the rule of law and to ensure access to justice. We urged an end to indefinite national service — which is the root cause of so many human rights violations," she said. "We asked that information on the whereabouts of disappeared persons be provided urgently, as should access for the families of those in detention.”
Gilmore says the U.N. delegation urged the Eritrean government to implement a constitution under which human rights are fully protected.
She says the government said it was still considering a review of the constitution — something that Eritrean officials have raised as a possibility before, but with no actual results.
Gilmore says her office is committed to working with the government in hopes of bringing about tangible reforms to end decades of human rights violations.