Saturday, October 26, 2013

Eritrea's human rights record comes under fire at United Nations | World news |

East African nation strongly denies 'shoot-to-kill' policy as general assembly hears over 300,000 have fled in past decade

The claims against Eritrea were made at the UN's gteneral assembly, in New York. Photograph: Eric Thayer/Reuters
Human rights abuses in Eritrea are forcing 2,000-3,000 people to flee the east African nation every month despite a "shoot-to-kill policy" targeting those attempting to leave, a UN investigator said on Thursday.
Sheila Keetharuth, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, said the UN refugee agency was concerned about 305,723 Eritreans who have fled over the past decade.
The most serious human rights violations are being committed in Eritrea, Keetharuth said, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, extended incommunicado detention, torture, indefinite national service, and lack of freedom of expression, assembly, religious belief and movement.
She told the general assembly's human rights committee that "excessive militarisation" in the country and indefinite national service for all Eritreans aged 18-50, often without adequate remuneration, "causes countless Eritreans to desert from their positions and flee the country".
Eritrea, a former Italian colony, gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war. It has been feuding over its border with Ethiopia ever since, including a war from 1998-2000 in which about 80,000 people died.
Eritrea has also disputed its border with the tiny port nation of Djibouti. Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki has been in power since the country broke away from Ethiopia in 1991.
Eritrea's ambassador to the UN, Arya Desta, rejected the report and Keetharuth's portrayal of the country, saying human rights issues were being used "as a tool of political pressure".
He accused unnamed countries of spearheading the imposition of "unfair and unjust" sanctions and of holding the entire population "in a state of 'no war, no peace'." Desta also denied there was a shoot to kill policy for illegally crossing the border and said youths were not required to stay for extended military service and were offered wide educational opportunities.
Eritrea has barred Keetharuth, a human rights lawyer from Mauritius, from visiting the country but she said she spoke to Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, Djibouti and elsewhere in preparing her report. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have also issued highly critical reports of human rights in Eritrea, calling it an oppressive state.
Keetharuth pointed to the number of Eritreans on board the two boats of migrants that sank off the coasts of Italy and Malta in October. "It demonstrates the desperation of those who decide to flee, despite the extreme dangers along escape routes and an unknown future," Keetharuth said.
She said that nearly as many Eritreans – 7,504 – as Syrians – 7,557 – have arrived in Italy by sea from 1 January to 30 September this year, citing figures from the UN.


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