[JURIST] A UN special reporter said Tuesday that the current situation in Eritrea warrants close scrutiny [press release] from the international community. Sheila Keetharuth [official profile] made the statement based on her findings during a 10-day mission to obtain knowledge from refugees in Ethiopia and Djibouti. The total number of refugees in the past year reached 4,000—increasing the total Eritrean refugee population to more than 50,000. Specifically, she expressed concern for the increasing numbers of both unaccompanied minors and those seeking religious freedom. She attributed these recent increases to a “culture of rights denial.” Echoing the UN statements made in December [UN News Centre report], she urged that, “Real change would require a fundamental reform process transforming the current culture of rights denial with one anchored in the rule of law, respect for and realization of all human rights and human dignity.” Keetharuth reiterated that such changes will be necessary before the refugees can return to their homeland.
The international community has become increasingly concerned with forced labor issues and human rights abuses that have led to the increase of refugees leaving Eritrea [JURIST news archive]. In January Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] alleged that the Eritrean government’s national service program requires all able-bodied men and women serve indefinitely as conscripts for the government, and it assigns some of these conscripts to state-owned construction companies as forced laborers [JURIST report]. In June UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned Eritrea [JURIST report] for its failure to address the human rights violations in the country. These sentiments came on the heels of the US State Department [official website] Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 [text], which added Eritrea and five other countries to its list of countries with the worst human trafficking records.