Friday, May 17, 2013
UN human rights expert calls for close scrutiny of Eritrea - Sudan Tribune: Plural news and views on Sudan
By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
May 16, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) - The United Nations special rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, said the human rights situation in the reclusive Red Sea nation remained “unacceptable”, calling for the country to be closely monitored.
Keetharuth made the comments following a visit to Ethiopia and Djibouti as part of her mission to assess the human rights situation in Eritrea.
Keetharuth was forced to carry out her mission by talking to Eritrean refugees being sheltered in neighbouring countries, after authorities in Asmara refused her entry into the country.
During a 10-day visit to Ethiopia and Djibouti, Keetharuth collected first-hand information directly from Eritrean refugees, with the UN human rights expert stressing the need to improve the human rights situation in the East Africa nation.
Keetharuth called on the international community to keep Eritrea “under close scrutiny” until one of the world’s most repressive nations brings meaningful change in human rights.
“Blatant disrespect for human rights in Eritrea is unacceptable”, she said.
“Real change would require a fundamental reform process, transforming the current culture of rights denial with one anchored in the rule of law, respect for and realisation of all human rights and human dignity”, she added
In Ethiopia, the UN special rapporteur met with representatives of the ministry of foreign affairs and the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), as well as representatives from the African Union (AU).
She also spoke to a number of Eritrean refugees at a reception centre and at two refugee camps in Ethiopia where tens and thousands of refugees are being hosted.
In neighbouring Djibouti, she visited over 200 Eritrean deserters who had been detained at NAGAD Police Academy, as well as urban refugees and those based in the Ali Addeh refugee camp.
Many of the refugees interviewed confirmed to Keetharuth that they want to return home should the government respect and ensure the human rights of its citizens.
She underscored that the return of Eritrean refugees is impossible without an end to the current “brutal and inhumane policies and practices” of the regime.
Eritreans from all walks of life cross the border to Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries on a daily basis to escape mandatory military service, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and political oppression by the Asmara regime, led by Isaias Afewerki.
The spokesperson for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR ) in Ethiopia, Kisut Gebregzabiher, told Sudan Tribune on Thursday that there are currently a total of 67,211 Eritrean refugees in different camps in the Tigray and Afar regions near the Eritrean border.
The UN official said on average 1,000 Eritreans cross the border to Ethiopia each month.
“The continuing stream of refugees is of high concern", Keetharuth said.
“I am particularly concerned about the increasing number of unaccompanied children crossing the border without the knowledge of their families”, she added.
Exiled Eritreans in Ethiopia told Sudan Tribune that many young Eritreans are shot dead by border guards, while trying to flee the country.
Those caught fleeing are reportedly subject to torture and face charges of treason, which carries a life sentence or possible death penalty, refugees say.
According to Eritreans in Ethiopia, the families of those who do escape are often forced to pay a hefty fine of 50,000 Nakfa (over $4,000) to avoid being imprisoned in one of the country’s notorious prison facilities, which are often located underground or in shipping containers.