Tuesday, 16 September 2014

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Eritrea: only option is flight?

UN Photo/Jorge Aramburu

Rampant human rights violations in Eritrea have caused hundreds of thousands to leave their country for an unknown and precarious future.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, expressed great concern about the situation. "I call on the Eritrean Government to respect its human rights obligations and to put an immediate stop to human rights violations that are committed in the country", Ms. Keetharuth stressed after interviewing Eritreans during an official mission to Tunisia and Malta.

The blanket disrespect of fundamental human rights in Eritrea is pushing some 2,000 to 3,000 people to leave the country monthly, although the risks along the escape routes are of a life-threatening nature. In 2012, the total Eritrean population of concern to UNHCR amounted to 305,723.

Young Eritreans, both women and men, often before reaching 18 years, are recruited into a compulsory national service characterised by severe human rights abuses. Punishment amounting to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment as well as detention in inhumane conditions is routine in the military. Women explained they were particularly vulnerable to sexual abuses by officers.

"These violations are committed with complete impunity, without any structures and procedures in place for victims to bring the perpetrators to justice", she said.

Many refugees she met during her mission were rescued at sea after a dangerous journey across the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea. One young man told her: "We are aware of the risks associated with crossing the desert and the sea. Nobody in his right mind would take such a decision. We do it because there is no other choice."

Ms. Keetharuth called for the protection of those fleeing from risking their lives by undertaking highly dangerous journeys to reach a place they feel is safe. She also urged the international community to address the root causes of the refugee situation by listening to the voices of victims of human rights violations in Eritrea who reach the conclusion that their only option is flight.

Since her appointment in November 2012, the Special Rapporteur has made several requests to visit Eritrea, which have so far not been granted. Consequently, the Expert resorted to gathering first-hand information from those who have left Eritrea. She reiterates her call for access to the country to assess the human rights situation.

The expert's findings will be presented in her second report to the Human Rights Council in June 2014.

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