It was a signal of serious humanitarian problems in the East African nation of Eritrea that a disproportionate number of the refugees flowing across the Mediterranean into Europe were fleeing from that nation of only 6 million.
Confirmation of the dire situation in Eritrea has now come in the form of a report released Tuesday, based on two years of research, by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. It is a body that included a former senior Australian U.N. official, a Mauritian and a Ghanaian. The report cited “systematic, widespread” human rights abuses, including indefinite conscription into the Eritrean armed forces and forced labor, so bad, officially administered and so extensive at an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people, that the commission deemed it slavery.
The commission recommended that Eritrean officials at the highest levels, by name, be referred to the International Criminal Court, charged with crimes against humanity.
Eritrea is unfortunately another case of absolute power corrupting absolutely. With a background of Italian, British and Ethiopian rule, it became independent in 1993, separating from Ethiopia, although it has continued to scrap with that country. Eritrea has never had elections. Its president, Isaias Afwerki, 70, has been in power since independence. One party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, is fully in control. No tolerance of dissent is part of the abusive human rights context prevailing.
The United States provided it aid until 2005, when the Eritrean government put an end to all foreign aid as creating dependency, adding non-governmental organizations to the prohibition in 2006.
U.S. interest in the place was based on its location, across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It borders on Ethiopia, Sudan and Djibouti, where the United States maintains its only military base in Africa. Eritrea’s economy is primarily agricultural and its population is roughly half Christian and half Muslim.
For the sake of the situation of the 6 million Eritreans, and as part of the effort to stem the flow of migrants into Europe, the commission’s recommendation of referral of Eritrea’s leaders to the international court should be pursued by the United Nations as a deterrent to further beastly governance. Governments anywhere should not be permitted to systematically mistreat their people without consequences to their leaders. If the people can’t turn them out through elections, there have to be other means to stem abuses.