Addressing the Human Rights Council, Nada Al-Nashif warned that serious violations of people’s basic freedoms in Eritrea have continued “and show no sign of improvement”.
In addition to the longstanding problem of indefinite military service – which intensified during the recent Tigray conflict in Ethiopia – Ms. Al-Nashif insisted that the agreed withdrawal of the Eritrean Defence Force (EDF) from Ethiopia “remains very slow and largely incomplete”.
And despite a UN human rights office report from November 2021 detailing how EDF troops have attacked civilians and carried out extrajudicial killings and executions, no accountability mechanisms have been established by Eritrea, the UN deputy rights chief continued. “Eritrea has rejected this …report and has allowed perpetrators in the EDF to act with impunity. There is no genuine prospect that the domestic judicial system will hold perpetrators to account,” she said.
Echoing that assessment, the UN Special Rapporteur for Eritrea noted that military conscription round-ups – known as “Giffa” – had “dramatically intensified”, with new locations emerging in Asmara, Segheneyti, Hebo, Akrur, Adi Kontsi, Degra, Adengefom and Digsa.
“Many families were evicted from their properties and forced to live outside their homes, if they did not hand over or surrender their missing family members or relatives, while many youths are living in hiding, sometimes even living in forests, trying to escape massive conscription,” he said.
Equally concerning was the call-up in September 2022 of thousands of reservists aged 40-66 to fight in Tigray, the Special Rapporteur told the Council, before underlining how the situation has “continued to push thousands of Eritreans to flee” the country.
Gone, but not forgotten
Mr. Babiker also expressed deep concern for the many Eritreans who remain arbitrarily detained, “and some disappeared, in secret prisons, for more than two decades”.
These include 16 journalists, including the Swedish-Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak, last seen over 20 years ago, making them the longest detained journalists in the world, Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker told the Council.
The Special Rapporteur’s update to the rights forum also noted that there is no information about former members of the Eritrean Government known as the “G-15”, who have been detained since 2001.
The whereabouts are also unclear of Ciham Ali Abdu, an American-Eritrean national and daughter of a former information minister who was 15 when she was detained.
“In all these cases, Eritrea did not acknowledge deprivation of liberty by concealing the whereabouts of the disappeared persons, and hence placing them outside the protection of the law,” Mr. Babiker told the Geneva forum. “It is unacceptable that Eritreans consider people disappearing as a way of life in their country.”
In a call for greater pressure from the Council for human rights reforms in Eritrea, the Special Rapporteur noted that the country lacks “rule of law, a constitution, a national assembly, an independent judiciary, and a democratic society. Civic space in Eritrea remains restricted, with no independent media, and dissent is far too often met with arbitrary detention, disappearance, or death.”