Drawings by Eritrean survivor document shocking regime torture tactics

5,000 flee the country on a monthly basis because of violations of their basic rights

ABOUT 5,000 Eritreans flee the country every month because of violations of their basic rights, according to the UN refugee agency.

The number of Eritreans under the UN’s concern outside the country was at more than 357,400 in mid-2014. Depending on estimates of the current population, this is between 6-10% of the national population.

It’s for this reason that Eritrea has been high on the agenda of the United Nations Human Rights Council during its 29th Session, with the release of two important reports; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea and the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea.

Eritrea is widely considered to be one of Africa’s “bad boys” flouting international rules and conventions on human rights but the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea peels back the layers of the abuses right to the core. 

Established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014 to conduct an investigation of all alleged violations of human rights in Eritrea, the report detailed how widespread torture is. How, over the past 20 years, it has been inflicted on detainees – in police stations, civil and military prisons, and in secret and unofficial detention facilities – but also on national service conscripts during their military training and throughout their life in the army. 

A particularly poignant addition to the report were some simple sketches provided by an Eritrean torture survivor:

The Torch

Victims have their hands and sometimes legs, tied or handcuffed, a stick placed under the knees. They are hung upside down and beaten, especially on the soles of the feet.

The Helicopter

The hands and the feet of victims are tied behind their back. They are either suspended in the air…

...or made to lie on the ground, face down.

Almaz (Diamond)

Victims are generally hung to a tree with their elbows tied behind their back and forced to stand on tiptoes.


The arms are tied behind the back of victims who are often made to lie on the ground, face down.

Toilet time

Inmates can generally go out for toilet breaks once or twice a day to urinate and defecate, often in open spaces covered with human waste while guarded at gunpoint. Former detainees reported being forced to relieve themselves under extreme time pressure and in humiliating ways.


Victims are often handcuffed with ferro during interrogations. These specially designed iron handcuffs have bolts that can be screwed from underneath to tighten them, which creates severe pain and stops the blood flow. Depending on the replies given to the questions of the interrogator, the ferro are tightened or loosened.

These physical forms of torture are in addition to a form of psychological torture described in the report, repressive systems used by the Government to control, silence and isolate individuals. This includes a type of domestic surveillance network in which neighbours spy on neighbours and even family members mistrust each other.

“As a result of this mass surveillance, Eritreans live in constant fear that their conduct is or may be monitored by security agents and that information gathered may be used against them, leading to arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, disappearance or death,” it says. 

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