Appeal for the Renewal of the Mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, and for Perpetrators of Crimes Against Humanity to be Held to Account
11 July 2021
To: HE Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General
HE Nazhat Shameem Khan, President, Human Rights Council
HE Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chair, African Union Commission
HE Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
HE Nicolas de Rivière, Permanent Representative of France to the UN
Peter Maurer, President, ICRC
Hon Jamesina Essie L King, Commissioner, ACHPR
Hon Mudford Zachariah Mwandenga, Commissioner, ACHPR
As concerned Eritrean individuals and organisations in the diaspora, we write to highlight the ongoing repression, trauma and setbacks our people have endured for 30 years under an unelected totalitarian government, and to urge you to facilitate the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, and to hold perpetrators of these appalling crimes accountable.
Eritrea’s heroic independence struggle culminated in independence on May 24, 1991. Tragically, the nation immediately transitioned into a dictatorship thereafter, under the tyrannical rule of Isaias Afwerki, who has killed or imprisoned those among his freedom fighter comrades who opposed his authoritarian tendencies. Afewerki’s regime has perpetuated its power by disregarding the fundamental rights and freedoms for which many Eritrean citizens paid the ultimate price. Over 400,000 Eritreans are enslaved in indefinite national service, and are regularly forced to work for individuals or private enterprises for little or no remuneration. There is no independent press or judiciary; the freedoms of religion, expression and assembly are severely curtailed; arbitrary detention is rife, and money can only be withdrawn from banks in small sums, regardless of the amount one has available. Moreover, despite the regime’s self-declared reputation for honesty, officials routinely accept bribes for exemption or early release from military service or detention, or to divulge unofficially information about the location of detained people.
The regime constantly limits access to food, water, fuel, medicine, electricity, and transportation in order to keep the population in constant trauma and anxiety. Families have been destroyed, and our culture, heroic history, and values have been diminished. Most recently, members of our armed forces, many of them minors and conscripts, have been forced to participate in the war in Ethiopia, which was launched without the consent of Eritrean citizens, and where some have been implicated in the most severe human rights violations.
Due to the pervasive repression occasioned by the regime’s totalitarian nature, every month, thousands of young people, elders, and even unaccompanied minors, escape the country, ending up in Libya, Sudan, Europe, North America, and elsewhere, 1Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, 2016 subjected to extortion, mistreatment or torture by unscrupulous people traffickers, or dying enroute in the Sahara Desert or the Mediterranean Sea. By 2018, approximately 507,000 people, almost one-tenth of Eritrea’s population had fled. The regime has perfected divide and rule tactics that instrumentalise our diversity in religion, ethnic and clan which was previously a source of strength and unity, and its secret operatives severely intimidate Eritreans both within the country and in the diaspora, inhibiting our ability to speak out collectively against the injustices our people endure on a daily basis.
The Eritrean dictatorship has now exported its tyranny to Ethiopia, with the agreement of a Nobel Laureate, and thousands of Eritrean conscripts, including underage youth (male and female) are likely either to have been killed, captured, or disabled, in fighting in Tigray and ongoing clashes in Oromo. Many of these minors were abducted from their homes, schools, or city market. The Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) were under orders to demolish historical and religious sites, schools, factories, hospitals, clinics, and commit the most heinous crimes against Tigrayan civilians, or face immediate execution. In addition, two camps housing Eritrean refugees were destroyed, and an unknown number of refugees were forcibly returned.
Every aspect of the fabric of Eritrea has been besieged and violated. As was accurately documented in the 2016 report of the Commission of Inquiry mandated by your august body, since 1991, Eritrean officials have committed the crimes against humanity of enslavement, imprisonment, exile, conscription, torture, reprisals, persecution, rape and murder. It was therefore deeply disheartening for us to watch Eritrea being elected to membership of the UN’s premier human rights organ in 2019, a mere three years after this landmark report, where with typical arrogance the regime refuses to cooperate with Council mechanisms, continues to violate the rights and freedoms of Eritrean citizens comprehensively, and has now extended these violations to people groups in a neighbouring country.
Thus, we strongly urge the UN Human Rights Council, in collaboration with the UN Security Council, the European Union, the African Union, and the entire international community, to facilitate the following and necessary actions:
To the Human Rights Council:
- Ensure the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea for a further year. Nothing has changed in Eritrea, and events in Tigray have provided an accelerated display of the violations endured by the Eritrean people for the last 30 years. There must be sustained human rights monitoring of the country until all Eritrean citizens are free to enjoy the rights and freedoms for which so many shed their blood.
To the Security Council:
- “(a) Determine that the situation of human rights in Eritrea poses a threat to international peace and security; (b) Refer the situation in Eritrea to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; (c) Impose targeted sanctions, namely travel bans and asset freezes, on persons where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the said persons are responsible for crimes against humanity or other gross violations of human rights.”1
To the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees:
- Ensure protection and provision for Eritrean refugees in Adi Harush and Mai Aini camps, and facilitate relocation to a third country, as they are seriously at risk.
To the International Committee of the Red Cross and relevant institutions
- Ensure appropriate treatment for underage Eritrean prisoners of war.
To HRC Member States and international organisations:
- “Keep Eritrea under close scrutiny until consistent and tangible progress with regard to the situation of human rights is evident, and ensure the centrality of human rights in all engagement with the State; […] Keep Eritrea on the agenda of the International Labour Organization and continue to address the issue of forced labour; and […] Provide Eritrean nationals seeking protection with refugee status in accordance with the provisions of the international law governing asylum, and in particular the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.”1
Finally, we appeal to the entire international community to ensure that President Afewerki, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and all key officials, individual persons, businesses, institutions, and representatives of both countries who are implicated directly or indirectly in grave human rights violations against Eritrean civilians, Tigrayans, Oromos, and Eritrean refugees not only face targeted sanctions, but are also brought before an international tribunal to account for their atrocities.
- Adi Red, USA
- Alem Ghezey, USA
- Arefayne Woldeab, Canada
- Assenna Foundation (ATV)
- Binega Adhanom Markos, Canada
- Daniel Reka Awshek, Canada
- Dawit Tewelde, UK
- Dr Jerusalem Tesfai, Eritrean Community Activist, USA
- Dr Sirak Hagos, UK
- Dr Tsigabu Asmelash
- Eritrea Focus
- Eva Afewerki Tsehaye, Together We Push, Denmark
- Fitsumbirhan Araya, UK
- Global Yiakl, Canada
- Global Yiakl, Denmark
- Global Yiakl, France
- Global Yiakl, Germany
- Global Yiakl, Italy
- Global Yiakl, South Africa
- Global Yiakl, Sweden
- Global Yiakl, Switzerland
- Global Yiakl, UK
- Global Yiakl, USA
- Helen Berhane Neguse, Nightingale Ministries, Denmark
- Human Rights Concern Eritrea, UK
- Joseph Leadership Academy
- Kebreab Y Hailegiorgis CEO (Interim), and Board Chairman, Eritrean Community Connections (ECC), USA
- Michael Anday Kidane, South Africa
- Mengs Tecle Asfha, USA
- Mussie Mulugeta, UK
- Mussie Zena, USA
- Negassi Solomon, USA
- Noh Tukku, Canada
- Ogbazgi K Measho, USA
- Release Eritrea, UK
- Rev Daniel Habtey, UK
- Senayit Alem, UK
- Tesfalem Mebrahtu Woldeab, Canada
- Tirhas Tesfazghi, Canada
- Yenet Moges, Canada
- Yihdega Retta, USA
- Yohannes Alula, UK
- Yosief Meconen, UK
Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)
+44 7958 005 637
1Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, 2016