Source: UN News
A young man in Eritrea works with wood to make furniture.
June 14, 2022
The giffa, or raids for the purpose of military conscription, have intensified "dramatically" throughout Eritrea, especially following the conflict in the Ethiopian region of Tigray, denounced Monday in Geneva an independent expert from the UN.
“Thousands of conscripts have been forced into the Tigray conflict, with men, women and children taken and sent to fight on the front lines,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker on the first day of the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
Previously documented patterns of child recruitment by Eritrean forces have worsened, with witnesses referring to "roundups of children as young as 14".
Refugees who were abducted from Hitsats and Shimelba camps in Ethiopia in late 2020 have also been detained, punished and conscripted. Over the past year, the UN independent expert says he heard from dozens of Eritreans whose relatives had been forced to fight in Tigray. Their families have received no official information about their fate or whereabouts, and live in fear that they will never return.
Officially, military service is limited to 18 months. But the power in place in Asmara believes that it must be able to count on its population in the event of war.
Evading military service is synonymous with degrading imprisonment
“Since taking office in November 2020, I have not received any evidence of progress in the human rights situation in Eritrea. In fact, I have observed a deterioration in several areas,” he said, noting that Asmara's involvement in the armed conflict in Ethiopia has highlighted the continuing human rights violations.
These abuses are linked to the indefinite national/military service system, and have further aggravated the already dire internal human rights situation in Eritrea.
Those who attempt to evade military service are imprisoned in "inhumane and degrading conditions for indefinite periods". Authorities also punish defaulters by proxy, for example by imprisoning a parent or spouse in order to force them to surrender themselves. "I also received information about conscripts who were killed while trying to escape from Tigray or from military training centers in Eritrea," Babiker said.
Under these conditions, the “deplorable” human rights situation in Eritrea continued to drive thousands of people to flee. At the same time, Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers face increasingly restrictive asylum and migration policies in both transit and destination countries.
The Challenge of Humanitarian Access in Ethiopia's Tigray Region
"Eritrean asylum seekers are still detained, turned back and are denied access to the asylum procedure in many countries", regretted the UN expert, recalling that Eritrean asylum seekers are faced with violations and untold hardship in their search for safety. In this regard, he considers that the situation of unaccompanied children is particularly alarming.
On the fate of these Eritrean refugees, he was particularly concerned about the situation of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, where thousands of them are "still in great danger". "I continue to receive reports of Eritrean refugees being killed in attacks, as well as preventable causes related to lack of access to food, water and medicine in Tigray," Babiker said. .
For the Special Rapporteur, this is an urgent issue that requires immediate action to protect refugees and other vulnerable populations. While he commended the efforts made by the Ethiopian Refugee and Returnee Service and UNHCR to register and assist Eritrean refugees, he expressed concern about the difficulties faced by humanitarian actors in operating in the Tigray region.
"The role played by the Eritrean forces, which for several months has prevented the delivery of humanitarian aid to refugees and other populations in need in Tigray, is very worrying", detailed the Special Rapporteur.
The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what are called the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the United Nations human rights system, is the general name for the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that deal either with country-specific situations or thematic issues in all regions of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.