Original post: The New York Times

28 March

GENEVA — Eritrea must investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings by its security forces and resolve the fate of dozens of missing detainees, including a former finance minister, a United Nations human rights watchdog said on Thursday.

Military conscripts should not be to subjected to forced labor in mining or construction "while receiving no or very little salary" during indefinite national service, it said.

A separate U.N. Commission of Inquiry accused Eritrean leaders in 2016 of crimes against humanity including murder, torture, rape, and enslaving hundreds of thousands.

The government immediately rejected that report, which called for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

This month, Eritrea appeared before the U.N. Human Rights Committee for the first time since 2002, but did not submit an overdue report on its compliance with civil and political rights, the panel said.

Tesfamicael Gerahtu of the foreign affairs ministry told the panel that Eritrea never violated the commitment to its citizens' human rights. He urged it to take into account its struggle for liberation and "unjust sanctions" imposed in 2009 and removed last November after a rapprochement with Ethiopia.

"There are many allegations of extrajudicial executions, torture, and disappearances -- some of the most serious violations," panel member Christof Heyns told a news briefing.

The independent U.N. experts voiced concern over alleged detentions of political critics, journalists and Muslim clerics.

During the review, they sought information on the whereabouts of 18 journalists detained in 2001 and on 11 former top officials of the People's Front for Democracy and Justice, known as the G15, arrested the same year.

"We asked them in so many terms, 'are these people still alive?' They did not answer to that, which is of course a worrying sign," Heyns said.

"We also asked about the former minister of finance, Berhane Abrehe and his wife, Almaz Habtemariam. They were detained last year in 2018, and we also asked whether they were alive and there was no response to that," he added.

A rights group and a U.N. official said last September that Eritrea had arrested Abrehe, minister from 2000 to 2012, who wrote books critical of President Isaias Afwerki, who has led Eritrea since independence from Ethiopia in 1991.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans)