U.N. human rights investigators accused Eritrean leaders on Wednesday of crimes against humanity including torture, rape, murder and enslaving hundreds of thousands of people and called for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
Atrocities had been committed since the country's independence in 1991 and were continuing, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry said in a report that was immediately rejected by the government.
"Particular individuals, including officials at the highest levels of State, the ruling party - the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice - and commanding officers bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations,” the report said.
"We probably think there's 300,000-400,000 people who have been enslaved," Mike Smith, the Australian diplomat leading the inquiry, told a news conference, referring to people drafted into military service and sent away for years to remote areas.
Eritrea's poor treatment of its own people has motivated many thousands to flee the country, according to the U.N. refugee agency. Smith said he believed the country still had a "shoot-to-kill" policy on the borders to stop them. However, it seemed the policy was not being rigorously enforced, he said.
The inquiry has compiled files on key suspects to assist future prosecutions, but Smith declined to give details or to say if President Isaias Afwerki was among them.