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350 Chapter 9 Crimes against Humanity: The Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea Susan Höfner & Zara Tewolde-Berhan The commission finds that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea and that there is no accountability for them. (UNHRC, 2015, p. 14) Introduction In 2015 and 2016, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE) investigated the human rights situation, including the possibility of crimes against humanity, in Eritrea. The reports received widespread attention in the Eritrean community and beyond, sparking fierce debate. Pro-government supporters denounced the reports, saying that they lacked credibility and were not based on substantive evidence. However, many Eritrean refugees and human rights campaigners applauded the reports as confirmation of the ongoing gross human rights violations being committed by the Eritrean regime. While the Eritrean diaspora was particularly involved in the debate through demonstrations and on social media, those inside the country were largely silent. In this chapter, we present the findings of the two reports from the COIE in 2015 and 2016 and examine the methodology used by the COIE to gather information. We also explore how these reports were received by supporters and opponents of the regime in the diaspora and describe the many forms of activism used by both sides to mobilise support against and in favour of the reports. Finally, we 351 look at the response from Eritreans inside Eritrea and their relative silence. First report: Systematic and widespread, gross human rights violations In 2014, the COIE started investigating the human rights situation in Eritrea, pursuant to Resolution 26/24 of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) (UN General Assembly, 2014). The first report came out on 8 June 2015 (UNHRC, 2015a) and concluded that “[...] systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea and that there is no accountability for them” (Ibid., p 14). The human rights situation, which the UN Commission found created a climate of fear, was recognised as the predominant reason for Eritreans to flee the country. In investigating the alleged human rights violations, the UN Commission found grave grievances in relation to all public freedoms, stating that “Eritreans are unable to move at will, to express themselves freely, to practice their religion without undue interference, to enjoy unrestricted access to information or to have the liberty to assemble and associate” (Ibid., p. 15). Freedom of movement is highly restricted by the regime as the following statement of one of the witnesses, a former clerk in charge of issuing travel permits, shows: You cannot move wherever you want in the country. Whether you are civil or military, you need to show your paper to all checkpoints. There are check points everywhere. [...] You have to put the place where the person is going, you need to have a link. (UNHRC, 2015b, p. 103) The shoot-to-kill policy on the border, implemented by the military, adds an additional threat to anyone attempting to cross the border, as described by another witness: 352 I crossed the border at night. When I climbed the mountain I lost my direction and I came to the valley instead. When I tried again the next morning, they saw me from afar, they shot at me. It was a steep slope; I got shot. I fell. They told me: come back, we will finish you off. I was afraid. They captured me. I was bleeding ... They beat me ... I was exhausted. They moved a bit and started discussing how they should finish me off. (UNHRC, 2015b, p. 319) Furthermore, the report presents records of the arbitrary arrest of persons, who are routinely subjected to different forms of illtreatment , including torture, rape, and sexual abuse (of women and men): When I was going to visit my sister and a friend in Agordat, they thought I was trying to escape. I did not need permission for that travel because it was in our area within the same zoba. You need a special permission only if you go home ... I was put in prison for six months. I got tortured and abused... After one month in Agordat, they transferred me to Hadas, where I stayed for one week. After that, I was detained for one month in Keren, and then another month in Adi Abeito. After this they give me back to the police division. (UNHRC, 2015b, p. 208) The COIE found that many...


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