UN Commission Declares Eritrea's Officials Committed Crimes Against Humanity Since 1991

Meron is a One Young World Ambassador from Eritrea, who is passionate about addressing the current human rights situation in his home country and the rest of the world. 

After an extensive year-long investigation, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COI) declared that Eritrean officials have committed crimes against humanity since 1991. This decision came about last June after interviewing 500 refugees, who now primarily live in neighbouring countries, the USA, South Africa and Europe. They recounted their experiences enduring these gross human rights violations.

Speaking at a press conference in Geneva, Mike Smith, the Chairperson of the Inquiry, stated that the Commission’s first report, completed twelve months prior, documented a multitude of human rights violations in Eritrea. Subsequently, the Human Rights Council asked to determine whether these violations might amount to crimes against humanity, and what should be done to address the issue of accountability. 

Mike Smith, the Chairperson of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea

Mr. Smith stated, "The commission has concluded that the Eritrean officials have committed crimes against humanity." In the second report, it was determined that the crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, and torture among other inhumane acts have been committed as part of a widespread and systematic campaign against the civilian population since 1991. He also stated that since the first report, the Commission has made every effort to investigate the situation impartially and objectively. Unfortunately, I do believe that the gross human rights violations that they documented are still ongoing, and often happen behind closed doors, not only within the country, but also in the diasporas.

Mr. Smith also expressed that the issues regarding Eritrea's military and national service program include conscription that enforces indefinite manual labor. The inhumane conditions of service, rape, and torture has a devastating impact on family life and freedom of choice for these individuals. Despite promises to the country, there is no evidence that the Eritrean government has taken no steps to address these problems. For these reasons, the Chairperson concluded that Eritrea's programs constitute as crimes of enslavement.

He stated that crimes against humanity are ongoing. The crimes have primarily been committed directly or indirectly by government and ruling party officials, military commanders and members of the National Security Office. The Commission identified individual suspects, and will provide the Commissioner of Human Rights files about these individuals.

The Commission also concluded that the Eritrean government has neither the political will nor institutional capacity to prosecute the documented crimes, and recommended that the UN Security Council should refer the situation in Eritrea to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the African Union, and subsequently establish an accountability mechanism. Member States were also asked to prosecute or extradite suspects in their territory, and Mr. Smith recommended that the Security Council put travel bans and asset freezes on suspects of crimes against humanity.

The Eritrean government response

The Eritrean President’s advisor and Minister of Information, Yemane Gebreab, initially responded by stating that he received the report only 48 hours prior, which is a false claim. He also claimed that the three-person COI panel is campaigning to take yet another African country to the ICC, and that the Commission’s report is the biased view of those individuals, not of the Human Rights Council or the United Nations. Additionally, Mr. Gebreab stated that the COI has no solid evidence or firm legal basis to support these extreme and unfounded charges, and that its report fails to meet the principles of impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity as laid out in the United Nations guidelines. The Commission will present its second report to the Human Rights Council on June 21st.

Moving forward

Now that there is no doubt that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea, we must do something about addressing it and rebuilding the country. Due to the huge number of refugees who have fled as a result, the EU, US, Canada, and Australia must give special attention to the re-settlement of Eritrean refugees. 



Serious questions need to be raised: What implications will these crimes against humanity have in the fate of Eritrea and its people? How will they deal with the consequences? The Eritrean government should admit its mistakes. As Mr. Smith stated, there isn't any independent judicial system to indict the perpetrators. The opposition is only spread amongst the widespread diasporas.  

Many members of the African Union are trying to rescind their ICC memberships, stating it is biased against African leaders.

More than ever before, Eritreans need wise men to save the country from the route in which it is heading. The opposition needs to be united and collaborative to determine the fate of the country.

The Horn and North of Africa are known as some of the most volatile regions of the world alongside Yemen, Libya, South Sudan, Somalia and parts of Ethiopia. They are all in crisis. Eritreans need to do what it takes to bring about justice, although in a more peaceful way. For if there is no justice, there is no peace. We must value life above everything else.