The Government of Eritrea needs to put an immediate end to the widespread practices of arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment and persecution, says an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to look into the situation in the country.
“I urge the Eritrean authorities to immediately release, or charge and bring before a court of law, all detainees, including the members of the ‘G-15’, the journalists arrested in 2001, as well as those arrested for their opinions or religious beliefs,” said Sheila B. Keetharuth, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.
Ms. Keetharuth welcomed the reported release of eight detainees in Eritrea, which took place in April 2014, but which has not been publicly acknowledged by the Eritrean authorities.
“Their release is a positive development, which I hope will be followed by more systematic releases,” she said, expressing the hope that “Eritrea will abide by its obligations under international human rights law more consistently.”
Since her appointment in November 2012, the Special Rapporteur has made several requests to visit Eritrea, which have so far not been granted. She has repeatedly urged the Eritrean authorities to collaborate with her mandate with a view to addressing its human rights challenges.
Ms. Keetharuth, travelled to Germany and Switzerland from 17 to 28 March 2014 to collect first-hand information from Eritrean refugees and migrants on the human rights situation in Eritrea.
The Special Rapporteur will submit her second report on the human rights situation in Eritrea to the Human Rights Council in June 2014.
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
Ms Keetharuth expressed concern about the unknown number of Eritreans who continue to be held in the country’s secret detention centres. Thousands are believed to be detained incommunicado at unknown locations, without charge or trial.
“Those detained incommunicado and in undisclosed locations are at high risk of being tortured or submitted to other forms of ill-treatment,” she said. “I call on the authorities to disclose the whereabouts of all detainees held incommunicado and provide immediate access to their families, medical doctors and legal representatives.”
Most of those men reportedly released had been arrested in 2005-2006 in Keren, 90 kilometres north-west of the capital, Asmara. Among them were several government officials and two medical doctors. It is unclear whether reasons have been provided for their arrest in the first place, or for their release. None of them has ever been brought before a court of law to review the legality of their detention.