Human Rights Violation Continues in Eritrea
It is reported by several sources that Eritrea is a country that have little regard for the well being of its citizens. People live under constant fear for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. In today’s Eritrea act of terror accompanied by extra judicial killings are the norm. It is a state where forced labor has become an entrenched practice that government officials cannot do without.(1) Sadly, it is also a country where parents tacitly approve the illegal migration of their children from Eritrea to relatively safe places like Ethiopia and the Sudan. Since the rule of law long ceased to exist in Eritrea, that is, ever since the ascendancy to power by the Eritrean Popular Liberation Front (EPLF), the people of Eritrea are ruled by decrees rather than laws promulgated by their representatives. Perhaps it is the only country that does not have a constitution that one can lean on for direction. It does not have and never had press freedom, except for few months in the spring of 2000.
The Commission of Inquire (COI) appointed by the United Nations (UN) to investigate human right violation in Eritrea came up with damning report casting dark shadow on the government. True enough; in Eritrea people are detained without due process of law. In some cases people are booked in detention centers without charge and most often forgotten for years. The comical part of it all is that prison officials are unaware of the reason that brought the inmate in their facilities in the first place. In a sense if the accused is brought by an official who would only request that ‘so and so be held here in your facility until claimed later’ can remain anonymous until death do him/her part. So many are kept in limbo for years especially, if no one comes to file charge against him or her. The prison system in Eritrea is managed haphazardly. Individuals run it with no accountability to a system of government. According to Awate.Com there are 36 major prison facilities on top of the makeshift detention centers amounting to over three hundred.(2) The government is now constructing a prison facility in the outskirt of Asmara for government officials implicated in the 2013 coup and after.(3) It should be borne in mind that hundreds of veterans of the war of independence, score of journalist and hundreds of religious leaders are in prison for a period ranging between 10 and 15 years. The well-respected general responsible of running bush school during the armed struggle for under age children is kept incommunicado by the order of the president. General Biteweded Abraha, now reported to have gone insane was held for over 20 years. Indeed he was the longest held prisoner in the country.
One of the most controversial measures enacted by the Government in 1995 was the National Service (NS) formed ostensibly to defend and build the new nation born out of the ruinous armed struggle. In hindsight the NS was conceived with the idea of keeping the youth and the nation perpetually embroiled in conflicts and wars. It is diabolical scheme set by the government to bring numerous actors to play in the drama, all to ensure the survival of the ruling corporate group. Among the players slated to take part in the war game are members of the NS, some of the people entranced by the aura of ‘freedom fighters’ and the perceived enemies namely Ethiopia, Yemen, Sudan, Djibouti and even the US. Despite the unintended consequence for the regime itself the drama unfolded leaving the people and most of all the NS victims of the scheme. Today Eritreans between the ages of 18 and 50 are serving the regime in any capacity that they are called on to serve, including working in the mines free of charge and building villas for officials. There are over 300,000 youth affected by the proclamation No 82 issued in October 23, 1995 where people of certain age range are obligated to serve 6 month as army reservist and the remaining one-year in the fields of their endeavor. Instead the NS became an open-ended project propelling masses of refugees fleeing the service and the country. (4)
The result of this uncontrolled mass exodus is the drowning of hundreds of young men and women including nursing mothers in the Mediterranean Sea.(5) The extortion by human smugglers created more victims than providing an environment of solace for anyone escaping tyranny. Families at home also feel the pain and in some case the entire village where the victim of kidnaping and torture originally came from. In such case, an exorbitant sum of money is demanded for the release of their loved ones from captivity in the Sudan, the Sinai and Libya. Eritrea is unique in that by association punishes parents. For every member of NS whose is Absent Without Official Leave (AWOL), the family are penalized and asked to pay 50,000 Nakfa. For a keen observer of Eritrea it would not fail him to observe, escapee from the regime who found comfortable refuge in Europe and the US to complete Form-requesting pardon from the regime. This mutually inclusive arrangement relieves the escapee’s concern of his family and reaps benefit for the regime that stand to gain by collecting 2% diaspora tax. The Eritrean embassies not particularly known for their diplomatic prowess in the countries that they are assigned to work are involved in the preparation and execution of the so called Pardon Project. The unorthodox activities of the Eritrean embassies the world over goes beyond collecting tax or enticing persons who left Eritrea clandestinely to prostrate and eventually sign the ‘I sinned “ form but also forcing them sign a petition to the UN that the COI was biased toward Eritrea and therefore its finding concerning the human rights situation in Eritrea be treated as null and void. (6)
Eritrea is a country run by corporate group with no accountability to the public. In the last days of the 2000 war with Ethiopia, an official from EPLF made an audacious public pronouncement that his organization meaning the ruling front, owes the government and by extension the people 300 million Nakfa at the account of the war. This is in a country where there is no room for auditing private and public assets. In this regard we cannot but seriously doubt if the proceedings from mining operation is public and/or spent on the welfare of the people in particular the pastoralists whose grazing ground is forcibly expropriated. We might add it could be one of the very few developing countries that do not have pension system. After the de facto separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia proper those workers who labored their life are left pension less and some died without claiming what is rightly theirs. Regardless of the economic status of a country; never mind poor or resource deprived, it is cruel and irresponsible not to look after the workforce that has been the bulwark of the nation. Although not strictly illegal, still it is morally reprehensible to deny old people social security and the rights to health care. It is also contrary to the recommendation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing agreed in April 2002.(7)
The EPLF led government has long proved to be bellicose with its habitual and unprovoked aggression against its neighbors. To that end it went to war with Ethiopia and two other nations adjoining it. To top it all it used naval force to wage war against Yemen for some islands historically that was never Eritrean.(8) The first 10 years of its rule, the EPLF used a conventional war to demonstrate its invincibility by crossing borders and occupying disputed lands. As with the Sudan the military campaign was focused to destabilize the Islamic government before it turned menace to its existence. In all its military adventures the EPLF came out loser. But more significantly it is the people of Eritrea who turned victim of each military adventure that it undertook. Following the failed attempt to dictate its will to countries that it was in loggerhead, the EPLF government continued its destabilizing actions using clandestine means by supporting organizations ranging from tribalist, Islamic and narrow nationalist groups. In the past decade it actively engaged in destabilizing the government in the Sudan by supporting assorted guerilla movements in the east. It eventually succeeded in accelerating the secession of Southern Sudan by providing training ground and deploying logistic materials to the secessionists. It tried but miserably failed to do the same in Djibouti and Ethiopia. One can also argue confidently that the state of affair in Somalia is aggravated by the flagrant interference of the EPLF led government.(9) This opportunistic measures has one objective, that is, at the expense of fractured Somalia to get back at Ethiopia, which supported the formation of stable government. Taking this as background it is not hard to imagine that the Eritrean people are weary of the warlike posture of the government that always imposes its will on them.
Despite the false claim by the Eritrean government that all is well and people are supportive of its effort to bring Eritrea in par with countries like Singapore, the fact remains people are near starvation requiring outside help for survival. The problem is that the government does not acknowledge the serious food shortages in the country. The people on the other hand are not in position to request let alone protest the disinformation spread by the government. Any protest no matter how peaceful is prohibited. In other wards they have long learned to tow the line and avoid any confrontation with it. What happened in the morning of April 3, 2016 in Asmara is grim reminder on the extent of the government’s viciousness. On that fateful day the security forces shot at conscripted youth travelling by tracks to the port city of Assab through Asmara killing and maiming 29. (10)
It is high time that the government realizes that the no-war no-peace with Ethiopia is working against the advantage of the Eritrean people. In this connection peace within and outside is essential element for the people of Eritrea to lead normal life. The current political climate is so oppressive that the young as many as 5,000 a month leave the country never to return again. It is shameful for a front purported to have fought for the liberation of people and in the process sacked in the whirlpool of violence hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians to revert to the most savage way of administering people and country. I take this opportunity to call on the government to be open, accommodating and trustful. Societal stability and national well-being is not guaranteed by muzzling people to express their view. Construction of neither high tech detention facilities nor running prison gulag is an answer to the Eritrean predicament.
In conclusion we urge the UN to continue with the sanction, monitor the activities of the regime and as much as possible deny it diplomatic honorifics that it does not deserve. The COI unbiased report is the true reflection of the situation in Eritrea where old and young are constantly intimidated to even voice their concern on the grave food shortages that the country is experiencing today. The Eritrean government is responsible for the mass exodus and the corralling of hundreds of thousands more in desolate areas in the name of National Service. This must be condemned by all peace loving people. The sooner countries of good will join hands to pressure the regime to change its ways and adopt normal state behavior the better for the Eritrean people.
5 1/ In October 2013, a rickety ship holding a little over 400 refugees sank. Almost 90% of those drowned were from Eritrea 2/ In April 2015, 700 refugees many among whom Eritreans perished 60 miles outside the Libyan waters 3/ in April 2016 another 500 refugees died trying to cross the Mediterranean sea. Sizeable number of the victims were from Eritrea and Somalia
6 Official Letter from Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressed to “All Eritrean missions”, 12th of April 2016, Source: An Eritrean Whistleblower
7 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing (MIPAA) Madrid Spain 2002.