UN demands investigation of alleged killings and missing detainees in Eritrea

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Eritrea must investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings by its security forces and resolve the fate of missing detainees, including a former finance minister, a United Nations human rights watchdog said.

Military conscripts should not be subjected to forced labour in mining or construction “while receiving no or very little salary” during indefinite national service, it said.

A separate UN Commission of Inquiry accused Eritrean leaders of crimes against humanity including murder, torture, rape and enslaving thousands in 2016.

Government immediately rejected that report, which called for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

This month, Eritrea appeared before the UN Human Rights Committee for the first time since 2002, but did not submit an overdue report on  compliance with civil and political rights, the panel said.

Tesfamicael Gerahtu of the foreign affairs ministry told the panel  Eritrea never violated the commitment to its citizens’ human rights. He urged it to take into account its struggle for liberation and “unjust sanctions” imposed in 2009 and lifted last November after a rapprochement with Ethiopia.

“There are many allegations of extrajudicial executions, torture and disappearances — some of the most serious violations,” panel member Christof Heyns told a news briefing.

The independent UN experts voiced concern over alleged detentions of political critics, journalists and Muslim clerics.

During the review, they sought information on the whereabouts of 18 journalists detained in 2001 and on 11 former top officials of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, known as the G15, arrested the same year.

“We asked them ‘are these people still alive?’ They did not answer which is a worrying sign,” Heyns said.

“We also asked about the former minister of finance, Berhane Abrehe and his wife, Almaz Habtemariam. They were detained in 2018, and we also asked whether they were alive and there was no response,” he added.

A rights group and a UN official said last September Eritrea arrested Abrehe, minister from 2000 to 2012,  author of books critical of President Isaias Afwerki, who led Eritrea since independence from Ethiopia in 1991.