Defenders Speaking Out: “The regime in Eritrea is a crime in itself.”

On 8 June 2016, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COI) released its second report, finding that the government of Eritrea has committed crimes against humanity.

The Commission found that “Crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, persecution, rape, murder and other inhumane acts have been committed as part of a campaign to instil fear in, deter opposition from and ultimately to control the Eritrean civilian population since Eritrean authorities took control of Eritrean territory in 1991.”

DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project) interviewed Eritrean human rights defenders in exile who have, and continue to, speak out against the ruthless Eritrean regime. Most were imprisoned in Eritrea for questioning the status quo and tortured, before fleeing the country. In exile, they continue to be harassed and intimidated for speaking out against the regime.
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“People are tortured to the extreme,” one of them told DefendDefenders.
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“Nowadays you are put in prison, simply because of your thoughts or your dreams.
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In this video, launched on the same day as the COI’s report, Eritrean human rights defenders describe how their freedom to express views, along with their right to think freely, was systematically attacked and repressed.

“The Commission of Inquiry’s landmark findings finally sets in stone the scale of atrocities the Government of Eritrea has committed, and the well-orchestrated machinery of repression that is in place,” said Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders. “Today, no one in the international community can deny the crimes the Eritrean Government has committed against its people, and all efforts should be turned towards bringing justice to the victims.”

Given the gravity of the COI’s first report, presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015, their mandate was renewed and the COI was instructed to investigate widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights in Eritrea with a view to ensuring accountability, including where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity.

Crimes against humanity are acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population, even in the absence of an armed conflict.

The COI will present its report to the UN Human Rights Council on 21 June 2016.


Human Rights Defender of the month: Alex Njenga John

Alex Njenga has always believed in egalitarianism both as a principle and as a tool for justice. As a result, he has always been suspicious of, and at times hostile to social prejudices that treat some people as “more equal than others,” – to use a line from George Orwell’s famed political fable, Animal Farm.

Some of the experiences that have shaped his social and political outlook have been personal. As an adolescent in Kenya’s Uasin Gishu County, Alex was stigmatised and denied healthcare after he identified himself as belonging to Kenya’s sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) community.