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UN launches probe of rights violations in Eritrea

Eritrean demonstrators hold banners during a protest against the Eritrean regime in central London, on February 22, 2013 (AFP Photo/Justin Tallis)
Eritrean demonstrators hold banners during a protest against the Eritrean regime in central London, on February 22, 2013 (AFP Photo/Justin Tallis)

Geneva (AFP) – The UN’s top human rights body launched an investigation on Friday into widespread abuses in Eritrea, including extrajudicial executions, torture and forced military conscription that can last decades.

 “The human rights crisis in Eritrea has been forgotten for too long and the scale of violations is unparallelled, putting the country among the worst human rights situations worldwide,” Somalia’s representative to the UN in Geneva, Yusuf Mohamed Ismail Bari-Bari, told the council.

The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution tabled by Somalia and France establishing a one-year special commission of inquiry into the situation in the autocratic Horn of Africa state.

China, Pakistan, Venezuela and Russia refused to join the consensus, but the resolution passed without a vote, calling for the creation of a three-member investigation team to probe “all alleged violations of human rights in Eritrea.”

The team will include the UN’s current monitor on the rights situation in the country, Sheila Keetharuth, and is set to present its findings to the 47-member council during its February-March session next year.

– ‘Fake crisis’ –

Eritrea’s representative on the council, Teestamicael Gehrahtu, slammed the resolution which he said was made up of “fabrications, wrong perceptions and baseless assumptions” used to create the illusion of a “fake crisis”.

He accused Eritrea’s arch-enemy Ethiopia of orchestrating the resolution in a bid to raise international pressure on his country.

Keetharuth told the council last week that brutal government repression and Eritrea’s system of open-ended conscription of all men and women at the age of 18 was driving nearly 4,000 Eritreans to flee the country every month.

She told reporters that many in Eritrea are forced to toil for hardly any pay in the military and other state jobs, including in ministries and schools, until retirement age.

Friday’s resolution equated the system with “forced labour”

It said children are forced to complete their final year of school in military training camps, and deplored the “intimidation and detention of those suspected of evading national service in Eritrea and their family members.”

Friday’s resolution also strongly condemned other serious rights violations committed under the iron-grip rule of President Issaias Afeworki, including “cases of arbitrary and extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, the use of torture, arbitrary and incommunicado detention without recourse to justice, and detention in inhumane and degrading conditions.”

Eritrea is also ranked last in the world for press freedom by the rights group Reporters Without Borders.

Journalists, activists and political and religious actors are often detained in the country, often for long periods in secret locations, Keetharuth said in her report.

Swedish-Eritrean journalist and author Dawit Isaak is perhaps the most famous case internationally. He was arrested in September 2001 along with nine other journalists and 11 opposition politicians in a draconian purge by Afeworki.

They are all still being held in secret locations, although reports indicate several may have died after being held for years in horrendous conditions.

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