Eritrea faulted for abuses

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Robyn Dixon robyn.dixon@la­times.com Twit­ter: @robyn­dixon_LAT

JO­HAN­NES­BURG, South Africa — The gov­ern­ment of Eritrea has com­mit­ted gross and sys­tem­atic hu­man rights abuses against a large part of the pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to a United Na­tions re­port re­leased Mon­day.

The East African na­tion has seen hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple f lee, with hun­dreds of them even­tu­ally dy­ing at sea as they des­per­ately seek to reach Europe aboard un­safe ves­sels.

The U.N. por­trait of life in Eritrea is Or­wellian: Peo­ple live in a state of con­stant fear. Dis­sent is for­bid­den, and any­one who speaks out against the gov­ern­ment is jailed. A per­va­sive and sin­is­ter spy net­work has in­fil­trated all lev­els of daily life. Peo­ple are forced to serve in­def­i­nitely in the mil­i­tary.

Neigh­bors spy on neigh­bors. Even fam­ily mem­bers fear and dis­trust one an­other, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Re­pres­sion is or­ga­nized and sys­tem­atic.

“When I am in Eritrea, I feel that I can­not even think be­cause I am afraid that peo­ple can read my thoughts and I am scared,” one wit­ness told a com­mis­sion of in­quiry set up last year to in­ves­ti­gate the na­tion’s hu­man rights abuses.

The com­mis­sion, cre­ated by the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Coun­cil, found that the Eritrean gov­ern­ment could be guilty of crimes against hu­man­ity and called for strong in­ter­na­tional ac­tion to stop the abuses.

“As a re­sult of this mass sur­veil­lance, Eritre­ans live in con­stant fear that their con­duct is or may be mon­i­tored by se­cu­rity agents, and that in­for­ma­tion gath­ered may be used against them lead­ing to ar­bi­trary ar­rest, detention, tor­ture, dis­ap­pear­ance or death. It is not law that rules Eritre­ans, but fear,” says the 500-page re­port, which de­tails ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings, dis­ap­pear­ances, ar­bi­trary ar­rest and im­pris­on­ment, and forced con­scrip­tion in the mil­i­tary or civil ser­vice.

A large pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion of 6.5 mil­lion faces forced la­bor and im­pris­on­ment, ac­cord­ing to the re­port, which con­tains grue­some sketches of tor­ture pro­vided by a sur­vivor.

In a cat­a­log of hor­ror, one sketch shows a man hogtied and suspended from a tree, face down. In an­other drawing, a man is suspended up­side down from a pole by his el­bows, tied at the wrists and an­kles. A third ren­der­ing de­picts a man with his el­bows drawn up high be­hind him and tied to a tree, with just his toes touch­ing the ground.

“The com­mis­sion finds that the use of tor­ture is so wide­spread that it can only con­clude it is a pol­icy of the gov­ern­ment to en­cour­age its use for the pun­ish­ment of in­di­vid­u­als per­ceived as op­po­nents to its rule and for the ex­trac­tion of con­fes­sions,” the re­port says.

“Ar­rests are of­ten un­just, un­pre­dictable, un­rea­son­able and dis­pro­por­tion­ate. In most cases, peo­ple are ar­rested and de­tained for rea­sons that are ar­bi­trary to such an ex­tent that no one can pos­si­bly iden­tify the law that might have been bro­ken.”

Satel­lite images of mil­i­tary and detention camps are also in­cluded in the re­port.

The re­port says Eritre­ans are likely to face forced la­bor “sim­i­lar to slav­ery” dur­ing their lives, and it is so preva­lent that ev­ery sec­tor of the econ­omy de­pends on it. There had been only a few cases of peo­ple protest­ing against the gov­ern­ment, but they were ruth­lessly crushed, with demon­stra­tors killed by se­cu­rity forces or im­pris­oned.

“Faced with a seem­ingly hope­less sit­u­a­tion they feel pow­er­less to change, hun­dreds of thou­sands of Eritre­ans are flee­ing their coun­try,” the re­port says. “In des­per­a­tion, they re­sort to deadly es­cape routes through deserts and neigh­bor­ing war-torn coun­tries and across danger­ous seas in search of safety. They risk cap­ture, tor­ture and death at the hands of ruth­less hu­man traf­fick­ers.”

The re­port calls for in­ter­na­tional pro­tec­tion for peo­ple flee­ing Eritrea.

Ar­giris Man­tikos Eurokinissi

ERITREAN MI­GRANTS are res­cued off Rhodes, Greece, af­ter their ship sank. Eritre­ans are f lee­ing spy­ing, tor­ture and forced la­bor, a U.N. re­port says.

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