(Reuters) – Eritrea faces a second year of scrutiny by human rights investigators after the U.N. body overseeing them extended their mission on Thursday, a decision that may put the government at risk of referral to the International Criminal Court.
The U.N. Human Rights Council asked the independent investigators to use the time to consider if the Horn of Africa country was committing “crimes against humanity” – a level of offence that can be prosecuted by the global tribunal.
Eritrea’s envoy to the Geneva-based rights council described the decision as “politicised” and dismissed an earlier report detailing testimony of widespread torture, sexual violence, forced labour and mass surveillance as unfounded and biased.
Eritrea is one of the poorest countries in the world and around 5,000 of its citizens flee every month to try and join migrants heading towards Europe, according to the United Nations.
Somalia, which formally asked the U.N. council to extend the investigation of its near neighbour Eritrea, has regularly accused Eritrea of backing militants on its a territory, a charge Asmara rejects. Djibouti, which shares a border with Eritrea, also backed the resolution.
The investigators, who submitted a report last month, had recommended that the council extend their remit to decide whether crimes against humanity had been committed.
In the past they have said such a finding could lead later to a case before the Hague-based global court – a tribunal set up to investigate the worst crimes when local courts fail.
Thursday’s resolution told the investigators to look into “systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in Eritrea with a view to ensuring full accountability”.
Eritrean envoy Tesfamicael Gerahtu told the 47-member Council that his country believed that “the draft resolution is a recipe for sustained confrontation with no dividend for the promotion of human rights”.
He called Djibouti and Somalia “the usual bidders… on behalf of the main known architects”.
Gerahtu said Eritrea was “redoubling its development efforts to achieve a qualitative leap in the next three to four years,” and was strengthening human rights as part of this effort.
Last week the three U.N. investigators were given police protection, even inside the secure U.N. complex, after a senior official said they had received threats on the street and at their hotel.