[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Tuesday released a report [text] outlining the prevalent trafficking and torture of Eritrean refugees for ransom by Sudanese and Egyptian individuals that has been occurring since 2010. Victims stated in the report that traffickers kidnapped and tortured them in order to extort money from their relatives. Various methods of torture used by traffickers include sexual assault, beatings with metal rods, electric shocks and sleep deprivation. The victims further reported that Sudanese police had handed over Eritrean refugees to traffickers, and that Egyptian security personnel had also colluded with traffickers. Despite the number of trafficking and torture allegations, the Sudanese government had prosecuted only four police officers, while the Egyptian government had not prosecuted any security personnel, by the end of 2013. The report stated that governmental failure to properly prosecute traffickers breaches the countries’ obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture [text], as well as international human rights law. Regarding the issues of trafficking and torture in the region, Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher for HRW stated, “Egyptian officials have for years denied the horrific abuse of refugees going on under their noses in Sinai. Both Egypt and Sudan need to put an end to torture and extortion of Eritreans on their territory, and to prosecute traffickers and any security officials colluding with them.” HRW also stated that international donors to Egypt should request that the governments adequately investigate traffickers and security officials that may be colluding with them.
Approximately 300,000 Eritrean refugees fled the country in 2012 alone, and the UN Refugee Agency estimates [UNHCR report] that between two and three thousand people attempt to escape every month, though the journey is often life-threatening. In November UN Special Rapporteur Sheila Keetharuth urged [JURIST report] the Eritrean government to respect its obligation to human rights, and called for protection for the hundreds of thousands of citizens currently fleeing the country for safety. Keetharuth also appealed [JURIST report] to the international community in October to keep the Eritrean human rights situation in focus and to increase efforts to aid refugees. This call came in the wake of two incidents earlier in October, when two separate boats [OHCHR press release] full of African refugees, many of them from Eritrea, capsized in the Mediterranean, killing more than 350 refugees. In May Keetharuth warned that the current situation in Eritrea warrants close scrutiny [JURIST report] from the international community. In January HRW alleged that the Eritrean government’s national service program requires all able-bodied men and women to serve indefinitely as conscripts for the government, and it assigns some of these conscripts to state-owned construction companies as forced laborers [JURIST report].