Eritrea calls U.N. human rights findings "indecent hyperbole"

Tue Jun 9, 2015 12:49pm EDT
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NAIROBI, June 9 (Reuters) - Eritrea on Tuesday dismissed what it called "indecent hyperbole" in a U.N. human rights report that described alleged extrajudicial killings, torture and sexual slavery in the secretive Horn of Africa state.

Suggestions the Asmara government had committed gross human rights violations against its own people was "totally unfounded and without merit," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"Clearly, the resort to extreme charges and indecent hyperbole, including cynical and unwarranted reference to 'possible crimes against humanity,' is intended to forestall a sober reflection on the realities in Eritrea," it said.

The statement did not address the specific allegations made in Monday's U.N. Human Rights Commission report, which followed a year-long investigation.

The report concluded that slavery-like practices are routine in Eritrea and torture is so widespread that it was likely the government's policy was to encourage its use.

It further said Eritrea effectively enslaves people by a system known as "national service" that involves "arbitrary detention, torture, sexual torture, forced labour, absence of leave."

National service is supposed to last 18 months, but the U.N. commission said it interviewed one Eritrean who had fled after 17 years in effective detention. Witnesses reported people being executed for trying to avoid being drafted into service as recently as 2013, according to the report.

The commission said it had asked Eritrea for access and information, but "received no response".

Eritrea maintains a vast detention network and regards anyone who tries to leave the country as a traitor. About 6 percent to 10 percent of Eritreans are now registered as refugees by the United Nations, and Eritreans are prominent in a growing wave of migrants from Africa and the Middle East trying to make their way by boat across the Mediterranean to Europe.

Eritrea has operated a shoot-to-kill policy on its borders to stop people fleeing. The U.N. commission said people were still being shot in 2014, including children. The government says it has ended the policy. (Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Mark Heinrich)