Mussie Awate (2013)ላዶን ብሊንድ ጋብያ (I will speak once in Blin), Stockholm
By Kiflemariam Hamde, Sweden
This publication is a second in a series of published poetry books in Blin[i], after Bogos Goitom’s pioneering poems of love, እንከሊ enkeli[ii]. In 25 poems running several paragraphs or entries, Mussie describes how his competence on writing poems in other languages convinced his inner intuition and motivation to do so in Blin script. “Encouraged by the growing literature on Blin for the last two decades, I also take the real step to write in Blin”, asserts the author (2013: 9). Another implicit reason for taking this initiative is his critical stand on the socio-political life on Eritrea, his reaction to the continued domination of the public space by Tigrigna and Arabic, while ‘participants speaking other languages’ are often ‘expected to use their own languages only at home, continuously stripping them off their vitality in the Eritrean public space’ (Forward). According to the author, this phenomenon is also apparent in literature and communication among Eritreans in general. The author capitalizes on his rich experience (from the liberation period) when he participated in the liberation movement as a fighter between 1976 and 1981, and even after that period, continued working in the opposition movement from the diaspora.
It is impossible to comment on all of the poems in this short review but I have selected a few so that the reader can get an idea of the contents. Attending to the titles, I can identify five groups of poems: Poems based on Blin proverbs (p. 14, 28, 30, 48, 58, 61), idioms (p. 23, 37, 63, 69), famous or notorious actors or special events (p. 33, 39, 42, 45, 56, 76), riddles (p. 48) and poems with general contents (the rest). Moreover, there are critical rhetoric illustrative of current events, at times challenging the status quo in the socio-political impasse in Eritrea (p. 23) and victimhood (p. 30), shaky communication (p. 56), on care and judgement, (p. 76) on economy and war (p. 23, “Don’t provoke in your communication with each other – literally, ‘don’t throw words ), comments on the sad situation facing the Eritrea youth in different corners of the world, etc.
In the first Poem (p. 14), Mussie invokes a Blin proverb ኒመሓርኒዩዅቊጡምሰምበርጎደ! (Ni meHarini yuxw QTum sember Gwede! (p. 4-19). It is based on a factual event about a man who ploughed his farm in a forbidden day, Sunday, because he did not own oxen. After farming on Sundays a couple of times, he asks God for forgiveness. As for my reading, the greatness of the poem lies in its allegory for a value that is often difficult for human beings to acknowledge their mistakes, and ask for forgiveness, especially for Eritreans. Reversely, the poet abhors people who are inconsistent in their behaviour, hypocrites, and those who hurt, rebuke, or sell their brethren, gradually only fool themselves. He laments particularly the loss or lack of respect, dialogue and understanding, consequently everybody losing together! The author reminds Eritreans and the Blin people that interdependence, care and compromise should be the end (goals), rather than bickering on the means.
Mussie also describes the linguistic situation of Blin speakers both in the private and public arenas, alluding to future trajectories for the development on Blin writing as well as the expected Blin speakers’ active participation in Eritrea’s socio-political life and literature (p. 48-50). The author illustrates issues of language domination and power (p. 49), the impact on ordinary Eritreans lives of the cultural fragmentation and socioeconomic underdevelopment caused by the atrocities during the Ethiopian domination in Eritrea (1961-1991) , particularly the legacy of massacres and imprisonment of civilians in urban and rural areas in Eritrea in general, etc., for example, of almost 1000 civilians who were killed by the Second Military Division of Haile Selassie’s regime in Besikdira and Ona in November 30, and December 1, 1970, respectively[iii], and since 1991.
The poems reflect deep-rooted values, norms, and respectful communication that tends to be weakening or completely lacking among Eritreans, politicians, and in the general public, and calls for tolerance, respect, and justice, and thereof equality among Eritreans. Mussie is a good example of the growing number of authors on Blin language[iv] and culture. Anybody who is interested to understand how an author understands the past events, ongoing current happenings, and future trajectories about language, culture, politics and economy is advised to read this book. My only complaint is that the poems are not numbered, and we have to quote the page number or title in quoting them. However, that does not affect the quality and legitimacy of the language used and richness of values invoked and the call for future development of Blin language. As a reader, I recommend the book for anybody who wants to know about the mentioned values and norms within the context of past and current Eritrean situation is encouraged to read the book. Finally, it is a good starter for (Eritrean) language students and literature, it is a good addition to the growing poetry on and in Eritrean languages[v].
A father of three, Mussie Awate lives in Stockholm, Sweden.
[i] Since mid-1970s, more than 40 literature in Blin ብሊንድ and on Blin ብሊን has increasingly emerged both inside Eritrea and in the Diaspora, specifically Sweden, Norway and also London. or many – old and new - works on Blin language, culture, history, music, etc., read at the Blin Language Forum website www.daberi.org and www.debanma.com. The entries are mainly in Blin, and on Blin in English, Tigrinya, and a few in Arabic (on History).
[ii]Bogos Goitom (1992). እንከሊ (Love Poems), Nyna Tryckeri, Uppsala, Sweden.
[iii] For a succinct narrative of the painful massacre, and its consequences, at Besikdira village, and the general situation at that period, see Abba Teweldeberhan Geberemedhin and Abba Zerayakob Okbamikael, Capuchin friars: መሪርግፍዒኣብበስክዲራንከባቢኣን (A Painful Massacre at Besikdria and its Environs), ትምጻእመንግስትከ (Adveniat Regnum TUUM), 44th Year, Nrs 73/74, page 1-14.
[iv] A couple of them will be reviewed in English during the coming few months so that readers might get information on the type of literature that is emerging in local languages (i.e., Eritrean languages).
[v] See for example “Who needs A Story?” by Charles Cantalupo & Ghirmai Negash (2005), and “We have a voice, Selected Poems of Reesom Haile”, by Charles Cantalupo (2000), and many more.
A rare insight into what goes on inside the “North Korea of Africa”.
by Martin Plaut Published 6 July, 2015 - 17:40
Martin Plaut writes: A message has been smuggled out of Eritrea calling for UN sanctions against the regime to be maintained. It provides a rare insight into the conditions in a country that is so isolated and repressive that it is often referred to as the North Korea of Africa.
This appeal, which comes from the underground resistance in the capital, Asmara, helps explain why Eritreans make up one of the largest group of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe and finally making their way to Calais. It comes via the “Freedom Friday” network, which has used posters and phone calls to reach their people inside the country.
Last month a UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea concluded that human rights in the country are so severe that they may constitute crimes against humanity. Among these abuses is the system of national service. Young men and women are conscripted into the military at the age of 17 and have to serve indefinitely, with next to no pay. Some people have served for more than 20 years, acting as forced labour on the country’s gold and copper mine.
When the findings were debated in Geneva there were large demonstrations organized by the Eritrean government and the opposition, with the respective sides attacking or supporting the Commission’s findings. The President of the Commission complained that his members had received threats and attempts had been made to intimidate them. The Swiss police provided guards for the UN investigators.
Eritrean state television only broadcast news about the pro-government demonstrations, and it was in reaction to these broadcasts that a group of Eritreans sent this message abroad. They support sanctions against the regime. This is reminiscent of the calls by the African National Congress for sanctions against apartheid from the 1960s onwards, even if it was going to hurt the people of South Africa.
Eritrea’s history is one of the saddest in Africa. Eritreans fought for their independence from Ethiopia for 30 years. During that time vast quantities of American arms and financial support were provided to Emperor Haile Selassie. After he was overthrown in 1974 by the Marxist regime led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, the aid continued, but this time from the Soviet Union. Despite this, the Eritreans fought their way into their capital, Asmara, in 1991 and the country gained international recognition as an independent state in 1993.
A further border war with Ethiopia from 1998 until 2000 left the country badly weakened. The army remains entrenched along the Ethiopian border and a state of no-war, no-peace has allowed permanent conscription to be enforced.
In May 2001 President Isaias Afwerki was criticised by his party colleagues, who described his despotic rule as “illegal and unconstitutional”. They were promptly arrested and have been held without trial ever since. There have been no elections since independence. The constitution has not been implemented, there is no freedom of speech or independent media of any kind.
A message from Asmara: is it naivety or callousness?
Some Eritreans think the demonstration that took place on the 22 June has something to do with the existing UN sanctions against our country, or any economic sanction that might be imposed in the future. But although sanctions can hurt the people the current appalling situation of Eritreans is a reality that should be understood by every Eritrean living in the diaspora.
We are unable to make a living; we are forced to go to endless military training in the national service and the people’s army forces our children to go on “development” projects. This is the reality of our arduous lives.
All enterprises are shut. Even the meager provisions for every day goods including food items are limited. Those businessmen who used to be able to import small amounts have been forbidden from doing so. This has resulted in scarcity of every item. People are suffering.
It is as if the government has declared war on us; the government is busy shutting every door on us and making our lives a misery whilst we continually have to fight to overcome these difficulties
For example, domestic fuel is now very scarce and very expensive. The prices of essential food rises by the day. Even government owned ‘fair shops’ are working against the people and exposing the people to even more hardship. Shoppers are forced to queue for hours on end just to buy basics. Restrictions are placed on how much can be bought at one time.
Electricity is so seldom available that our children joke about it. They say it is rather like bread. This used to be rationed; now it has totally vanished from many shops. The absence of electricity is one indicator of how far our standard of living has fallen. We are convinced that this is a deliberate ploy of the government to keep us so bogged down in the grind of daily life we cannot begin to think about the future.
We are convinced that those who support the government abroad, by protesting against any report exposing the harsh reality under which we live, effectively believe that we only deserve the worst here in Eritrea.
Since those who are protesting don’t live here with us we consider their actions callous selfishness and greed, rather than naivety. They want to gain government favours at our expense.
We often hear and see reports about the “contribution” of young people (YPFDJ – the youth wing of the ruling party) in the diaspora. Our response is please don’t be duped by people like Yemane “Monkey”. [Yemane Gebreab, Presidential adviser and senior party leader. Most prominent Eritreans are known by their nickname.] Please listen to us, the victims.
Ask those who are mobilising you why the PFDJ [the ruling party] doesn’t abide by its own rules? Why are there no elections? Why do so many young people leave the country at great risk to themselves?
Instead of opposing the human rights report you could even suggest a committee made up of Eritreans to investigate everything that is taking place in our country. Make your own assessment!
We have our own country, yet we are the gypsies of the world. We are discriminated against and looked down upon. This is the tragedy that has befallen the heroic people of Eritrea, who stood up to the super-powers to secure Eritrea’s independence.
In conclusion, we understand what defending your country and standing with your people really means. But we consider your activities are working against us in the guise of defending the country and its interests.
What are you protecting the country from? What worse is going to happen to us?
There is no electricity, we have severe housing problems, there is a real scarcity of food and getting health care is difficult. Trust us: nothing worse can happen to Eritrea. So don’t deceive yourselves into thinking you are doing this for us or acting on our behalf.
Thursday, July 2, 2015 7:43 PM GMT
The UN Human Rights Council on Thursday decided to prolong an investigation into horrendous abuses in Eritrea, and widen it to include looking into suspected crimes against humanity.
The 47-member rights body unanimously agreed to extend for another year the work of a special commission of inquiry on the human rights situation in the autocratic Horn of Africa state.
The commission should "investigate systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights in Eritrea with a view of ensuring full accountability, including where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity," the resolution said.
The three-member team last month published a 500-page report detailing how Eritrea, under Isaias Afwerki's iron-fisted regime for the past 22 years, has created a repressive system in which people are routinely arrested at whim, detained, tortured, killed or go missing.
A system of indefinite conscription of all Eritreans also forces many to toil in slave-like conditions in the military and other state jobs, sometimes for decades, according to the report, which was flatly rejected by Eritrea.
The investigators said violations were taking place on a "scope and scale seldom witnessed elsewhere".
The report found that some of the numerous abuses committed in Eritrea "may constitute crimes against humanity," but the investigators said they had not probed that possibility, since it was not in their initial mandate.
"We didn't have the time, the resources (or) the possibility to be able to make any determination on (crimes against humanity) and we simply recommended that some mechanism could be judged to look at that issue," head of the commission Mike Smith told reporters last month.
The report provides a list of government and state entities responsible for the abuse, including the military, police, justice ministry and Isaias himself.
Thursday's resolution, which was tabled by Djibouti and Somalia, strongly condemned "the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations that have been and are being committed by the government of Eritrea in a climate of generalised impunity."
It also lamented that the abuses were inciting "an ever-increasing number of Eritreans to leave their country."
Eritrea, which after Syria is the largest source of migrants risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, is seeing some 5,000 people flood out of the country each month, despite a "shoot-to-kill" policy along the borders.
Thursday's text urged Eritrea to among other things release all political prisoners, halt the use of torture, end the system of indefinite national service and "end the practice of shooting at Eritrean citizens attempting to cross the border".
And it demanded that the country cooperate with the investigators, who have not been permitted to enter and who have so far mainly based their findings on interviews with Eritreans living abroad.
The resolution also said all the commission's findings should be passed on to UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the General Assembly in New York "for appropriate action".
© 2015 AFP
The organizing committee of the historic June 26 demonstration of justice-seeking Eritreans in Geneva submitted a petition to the UN Human Rights Council fully supporting the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea and urging for concrete action against the cruel regime in Asmara.
The petition stated that the thousands of demonstrators were “glad to know that the international community is now paying due attention to the dire state of human rights in Eritrea”. It further noted that although the UN report was an important step forward in the fight to end impunity but demanded that those perpetrators of so many crimes in Eritrea for a prolonged period of time should be brought to a court of justice.
Below is the full petition submitted on behalf of thousands of Eritreans who trekked to Geneva that day from many countries in Europe as well as some from North America and the Middle East.
To the President of the United Nations Human Rights Council
Adopt appropriate measures to end impunity in Eritrea
This letter is addressed to you by a huge crowd of justice-seeking Eritrean exiles, who are congregating in Geneva on the 26th of June 2015, for a mass demonstration that coveys our unflinching support to the report of the UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE).
We are conducting our mass demonstration at a time when the crisis of human rights in Eritrea has reached a very crucial level, which involves a possible situation of crimes against humanity. We are glad to know that the international community is now paying due attention to the dire state of human rights in Eritrea. While we see this as a very important development in our fight to end impunity, we also note that some crucial measures still need to be taken urgently in order to avoid further human suffering in our country.
We therefore call on the Human Rights Council to ensure that those most responsible for a possible situation of crimes against humanity in Eritrea are held accountable pursuant to the existing legal framework of international criminal justice. Indeed, it is time for the international community to devise appropriate methods by which accountability for gross human rights violations is ensured meaningfully. Such measures shall include, among other things, the adoption of effective targeted sanctions against those who appear to be most responsible for a possible situation of crimes against humanity in Eritrea.
As noted by the report of the COIE, we also urge the Human Right Council to adopt appropriate follow-up measures, with a view to providing conclusive findings on the issue of crimes against humanity in Eritrea. In this regard, we also believe that the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur (Ms. Sheila B Keetharuth) is another important step.
Pending the adoption of appropriate accountability measures, we urge the Human Rights Council to give due consideration to the Eritrean refugee crisis, by advising recipient countries to continue providing appropriate legal protection to all Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees wherever they are.
Your Excellency, we hope that you will give your utmost consideration to the issues of concern we have pointed out above, and we look forward to reading a resolution of your Council that adequately captures these considerations.
Thank you in anticipation of your kind cooperation, and we will look forward to hearing from you.
Coordinating Committee of the Demonstration of Eritreans in Geneva
26 June 2015
CC: To all Members of the Human Rights Council(through their diplomatic missions in Geneva)
The large majority of the 137,000 people who crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe during the first six months of 2015 were fleeing from war, conflict or persecution, making the Mediterranean crisis primarily a refugee crisis, a UNHCR reportreleased today concludes.
One third of the men, women and children who arrived by sea in Italy or Greece were from Syria, whose nationals are almost universally deemed to qualify for refugee status or other forms of protection. The second and third most common countries of origin are Afghanistan and Eritrea, whose nationals are also mostly considered to qualify for refugee status.
"As Europe debates the best way to deal with the rising crisis on the Mediterranean, we must be clear: most of the people arriving by sea in Europe are refugees, seeking protection from war and persecution," said António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Data received from Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain charts a 83 per cent increase in refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean from January to June - 137,000 compared to 75,000 in the same period last year. Historically, crossings significantly increase in the second half of the year, in particular over the summer months, so it is expected the numbers will continue to soar. Arrivals in the second half of 2014, for example, were almost double those of the first half.
The number of deaths at sea rose to record levels in April 2015, and then dropped dramatically in May and June. Between January and March, 479 refugees and migrants drowned or went missing, as opposed to 15 during the first three months of the year before. In April the situation took an even more terrible turn. In a number of concurrent wrecks, an unprecedented 1,308 refugees and migrants drowned or went missing in a single month (compared to 42 in April 2014). In May, the number of refugees and migrants drowned or missing at sea fell to 68, a quarter of the figure only one year earlier (226). The downward trend continued in June, which saw 12 deaths compared to 305 in 2014.
"The decline in people drowning over the past two months is encouraging; a sign that with the right policy, backed by an effective operational response, it is possible to save more lives at sea," said Guterres. "Nonetheless, we must stay vigilant. For the thousands of refugees and migrants who continue to cross the Mediterranean every week, the risks remain very real."
The report shows that the eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey into Greece has now surpassed the central Mediterranean route (from north Africa to Italy) as the main source of maritime arrivals.
The majority of those arriving in Greece are refugees from Syria. Many will have first fled for safety to neighbouring countries, such as Turkey and Lebanon. But after years of rising pressure and insufficient international support, the economies and infrastructure of many refugee-hosting countries are struggling to cope, making it increasingly difficult for refugees to find work, shelter, healthcare, and education. As humanitarian appeals to assist them go underfunded, many have no choice but to move on.
In Greece, a limited infrastructure providing less than 2,000 reception places has meant inadequate reception conditions for new arrivals. Many refugees and migrants continue their journey across The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia to and through Hungary. Every day, an average of over 1,000 people enter The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia from Greece, compared with 200 just a few weeks ago. There are frequent reports of abuse and violence along the way by smugglers and criminal networks, as well as the increasing tightening of borders.
"Europe has a clear responsibility to help those seeking protection from war and persecution," said Guterres. "To deny that responsibility is to threaten the very building blocks of the humanitarian system Europe worked so hard to build. European countries must shoulder their fair share in responding to the refugee crisis, at home and abroad."
Like Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders and many other organizations, the US State Department also issues annual report on the human rights situation in Eritrea. Its coverage of the year 2014 just released (see printed below) shows a worsening situation that will require close world attention and possible action, as suggested by the June 23 report of UN Commission of Inquiry which is now under consideration by the UN Human Rights Council for further appropriate decisions. It is highly probable that the regime in Eritrea would be accountable to crimes against humanity.
Executive Summary: The government of Eritrea is a highly centralized, authoritarian regime under the control of President Isaias Afwerki. The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), headed by President Isaias, is the sole political party. There have been no elections since the country’s independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Authorities generally maintained effective control over most security forces.
Citizens did not have the ability to change the government through free and fair elections. Incommunicado detention continued under life-threatening conditions, which sometimes resulted in death. The government forced persons to participate in its national service program, routinely for periods of indefinite duration beyond the 18-month obligation.
Other abuses included killings; disappearances, torture and other cruel treatment; arbitrary arrest; executive interference in the judiciary; lack of due process and excessively long pretrial detention; politically motivated detentions; infringement of privacy rights; restrictions on freedom of speech and press; restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events; restrictions on internet freedom; restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and religion; limits on freedom of movement and travel; corruption and lack of transparency; domestic violence against women; and alleged discrimination against ethnic minorities. The law criminalizes consensual same-sex activity. Female genital mutilation/cutting, human trafficking, and forced child labor occurred. Government policies limited worker rights.
The government did not generally prosecute or punish officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in the government. Impunity was the norm.
The government committed arbitrary killings with impunity and subjected detainees to harsh and life-threatening prison conditions. Prisoners who disappeared were often presumed dead.
In July the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization reported authorities arrested Abdul Karim Qadr, an ethnic Afar, in Massawa, and that special security guards later executed him in a secret prison in Afabet.
A shoot-to-kill policy remained in effect that targeted those who tried to cross the border illegally to leave the country.
An unknown number of persons disappeared during the year and were believed to be in government detention or to have died while in detention. The government did not regularly notify family members or respond to requests for information regarding the status of detainees, including locally employed staff of foreign embassies or foreign nationals. Disappeared persons included those detained for political and religious beliefs, journalists, individuals suspected of evading national service and militia duties, and persons with no discernible charge levied against them.
On February 27, fighter pilot Dejen Ande escaped from a maximum-security prison in Asmara where the government had held him without charge for 15 years.
On April 29, security officers arrested Mohammed Ali Omaro, the country’s ambassador to Nigeria, in Asmara. His whereabouts were unknown.
In November it was reported that the head of security in the President’s Office, Colonel Tesfalidet Tesfasilassie, disappeared. No additional information was available.
The law and the unimplemented constitution prohibit torture. The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea reported in regards to detention conditions that “torture and ill-treatment are prevalent, with prisoners being more vulnerable during the early days in custody, for example during interrogation and investigation, if any.” Lack of transparency and access to information made it impossible to determine the numbers or circumstances of deaths due to torture or poor detention conditions.
Security forces tortured and beat army deserters, national service and militia evaders, persons attempting to flee the country without travel documents, and members of certain religious groups.
Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening.
Physical Conditions: No information was available on the number of prisoners, detainees, and detention centers. There were reportedly numerous unofficial detention centers, some located in military camps. The law requires juveniles be held separately from adults. There is a juvenile detention center in Asmara, but authorities held some juveniles, particularly teenagers, with adults, due to overcrowding in juvenile facilities. When police arrested mothers, their young children were sometimes held with them. Severe overcrowding was reportedly common.
Data on the prevalence of death in prison and detention facilities were not available, although persons died from harsh conditions or were reportedly killed in detention. Authorities reportedly held detainees in metal shipping containers and underground cells, without toilets or beds, incommunicado. Use of psychological torture was common, according to former inmates. Some former prisoners reported authorities appeared to conduct interrogations and beatings within hearing distance of other prisoners to intimidate them. The government did not provide adequate basic or emergency medical care in prisons or detention centers. Food was inadequate, and potable water was sometimes available only for purchase.
Refusal to perform military or militia service, failure to enlist, fraudulent evasion of military service, and desertion were punished by lengthy imprisonment or other arbitrary forms of punishment. Former detainees and other sources reported harsh detention center conditions, in police stations, and prisons for persons held for evading national service and militia duties. For example, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea noted Wi’a prison camp as notoriously harsh.
Authorities placed political prisoners in solitary confinement more often than other detainees.
Administration: Verifying whether authorities released prisoners after they served their sentences was impossible. Recordkeeping procedures were not transparent, and the government did not routinely announce release of prisoners. There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints.
Prisoners and detainees did not have consistent access to visitors. The government did not grant consular access to detained dual citizens. Authorities generally did not permit family visits with persons detained, arrested, or convicted for reasons purportedly involving national security, but they permitted visits with those held for other reasons. Authorities did not permit religious observance for some prisoners and detainees, although at least one detention center had a facility where prison officials permitted prisoners to conduct religious observances. International religious organizations claimed authorities interrogated detainees about their religious affiliation and asked them to identify members of unauthorized religious groups. Prisoners and detainees could not submit complaints to judicial authorities, and authorities did not adequately investigate or monitor prison or detention center conditions.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. The government did not permit international bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to monitor prison conditions, nor was the ICRC given access to Ethiopian or Djiboutian prisoners of war allegedly detained in the country.
The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but arbitrary arrest and detention remained widespread.
Round-ups of persons suspected of evading national service or militia duty occurred.
Police are responsible for maintaining internal security, and the armed forces for external security, but the government sometimes used the armed forces, the reserves, demobilized soldiers, or the civilian militia to meet domestic and external security requirements. Agents of the National Security Office, which reports to the Office of the President, are responsible for detaining persons suspected of threatening national security. The armed forces have authority to arrest and detain civilians. Police generally do not have a role in cases involving national security.
Impunity for abuse was the norm. There were no known internal or external mechanisms to investigate security force abuse or government actions to reform the security forces.
The law stipulates that unless there is a “crime in progress,” police must conduct an investigation and obtain a warrant prior to making an arrest, but this seldom occurred. In cases involving national security, the process may be waived. Detainees must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest and may not be held more than 28 days without being charged with a crime. Suspects generally were detained for longer periods without being brought before a judge or charged with a crime and, in some cases, being told the reason for detention. Authorities sometimes arbitrarily changed charges during detention. The government promoted the assumption that detainees detained without charge were held due to national security concerns.
The law provides for a bail system, but it was arbitrary; bail not always set and sometimes reportedly involved paying bribes.
Detainees held on national security grounds did not have access to counsel. Other detainees, including indigent persons, often did not have such access. Incommunicado detention was widespread. Detainees did not have consistent access to visitors. Authorities generally did not permit family visits for persons detained or arrested for reasons purportedly involving national security, whereas they usually permitted visits one day a week with those held for crimes not considered related to national security.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest occurred frequently. Security force personnel detained individuals for reasons that included suspicion of intent to evade national and militia service, criticizing the government, attempting to leave the country, and unspecified national security threats. Authorities also arrested members of unregistered Christian groups.
Round-ups of persons suspected of evading national service or militia duty occurred. Security personnel entered markets or towns and picked up men who could not prove they had completed or were excused from national service. There was a report that on August 30 that the army’s 22 Kefle-Serawit conducted a round-up in Enda-Kebti. Authorities reportedly took such persons to remote camps for training.
Authorities sometimes arrested persons whose papers were not in order and detained them until they were able to provide evidence of their militia status or demobilization from national service. The government contacted places of employment and used informers to attempt to identify those unwilling to participate in the militia.
There were occasional reports, particularly from rural areas, that security forces detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country.
Persons arrested in previous years for refusing to bear arms on grounds of conscience and for participating in unregistered religious groups remained in detention.
There were no reported developments regarding at least 180 individuals detained in relation to the brief takeover of the Ministry of Information building in January 2013, with the exception of the case of Major General Omer Hassen (“Tewil”). There was a news report that he died in prison on May 13; additional information was unavailable.
On July 20, an opposition radio station reported that special units under the command of General Philipos Woldeyohanes released 450 detainees from Hashferay jail. Those released had been held for evasion of military service. Among those reportedly released were Colonel Amn Idriss Abu Taweela and Colonel Saleh Jreid, who were abducted from Sudan in 2013.
Pretrial Detention: The government held numerous detainees without charge or due process. The percentage of the prison and detention center population in pretrial detention was not available.
The law and unimplemented constitution provide for an independent judiciary, but executive control of the judiciary continued, and the judiciary was not independent or impartial. Judicial corruption remained a problem. The Office of the President served as a clearinghouse for citizens’ petitions to some courts. It also acted as an arbitrator or a facilitator in civil matters for some courts. The judiciary suffered from lack of trained personnel, inadequate funding, and poor infrastructure.
The law and unimplemented constitution provide for the presumption of innocence and for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of charges “in a language he understands.” The constitution provides for a fair, speedy, and public hearing by a court of law, but it allows the court to exclude the press and public for reasons relating to morals or national security. Defendants do not have the right to trial by jury. The law does not specifically address the provision of adequate time to prepare one’s defense, access to government-held evidence, and the right of defendants to confront witnesses, although courts generally afforded these rights to defendants in cases they did not deem related to national security. There is no right for defendants to refuse to testify.
In civil and criminal courts, defendants have the right to be present and to consult with attorneys. Prosecution and defense lawyers are court appointed and have the right to present witnesses. Courts of first instance are at the regional level. Each party to a case has the right to one appeal. Decisions rendered by any regional court may be appealed to the next appellate court. Should it reverse a decision, the party whose petition was not sustained may appeal to the five-judge upper appellate court. If the lower appellate court upholds the decision of a regional court, there is no second appeal.
Special courts had jurisdiction over corruption and national security cases. During the year authorities did not bring persons detained on national security grounds or for political reasons to trial. Authorities did not inform persons detained on national security grounds of charges against them. Special Courts did not protect the rights of defendants, including by providing access to a lawyer. Judges serve as prosecutors and may request that individuals involved in given cases present their positions. Special Court judges are military officials. The court reports to the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the President. Trials in Special Court are not open to the public, and the court’s decisions are final, without appeal.
Community courts headed by elected officials were widely used in rural areas and generally followed traditional and customary law rather than formal law. For example, on April 21, the inhabitants of the Mogolo administrative area of Gash-Barka elected magisterial judges. Local administrators in rural areas encouraged citizens to reconcile outside the court system for less serious cases. Trials in community courts were open to the public and heard by a panel of judges.
An international nongovernmental organization (NGO) reported the government held at least ten thousand suspected political prisoners and prisoners of conscious, including opposition politicians, journalists, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, and persons suspected of not completing national service or evading militia practice. Such persons were subjected to harsher treatment in detention than were other detainees. The government did not permit access to detainees by international human rights or humanitarian organizations.
On May 6, the UN special rapporteur on human rights reported that authorities released eight detainees held without charge. Authorities did not publicly acknowledge the release. The majority of the detainees were arrested in 2005 and 2006 in the city of Keren. They included government officials and two medical doctors. The reasons for both their arrest and their release remained unclear.
There are no civil judicial procedures for individuals claiming human rights violations by the government.
The law and the unimplemented constitution prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but the government did not respect these rights.
There were reports security force members targeted gatherings of unregistered religious groups, searched the homes of their members, and detained those suspected of belonging to religious groups not among the four permitted by law (Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Sunni Islam, and Evangelical Lutheranism).
The government monitored mail, e-mail, text messages, and telephone calls without obtaining warrants required by law. Government informers were widely believed to be present throughout the country. Many citizens believed the government monitored cell phones in particular, since permits are required to use SIM cards.
Membership in the PFDJ, the only legal political party, was not mandatory, but authorities pressured some categories of individuals, particularly those occupying government positions, to join the party. Authorities occasionally convoked citizens to attend political indoctrination meetings as part of mandatory participation in the militia irrespective of PFDJ membership. Authorities denied benefits such as ration coupons to those who did not attend. Some Eritreans in the diaspora claimed convocations occurred at Eritrean embassies, with the names of those who did not attend reported to government officials, sometimes resulting in denial of benefits such as passport services.
In the past there were reports authorities occasionally visited refugee camps in Sudan and interrogated and seized persons who had fled the country and in some cases brought them back to Eritrea. No new information was available.
Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of speech and press, the government severely restricted these rights.
Freedom of Speech: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private through intimidation by national security forces.
Press Freedoms: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of the media and requires that documents, including books, be submitted to the government for approval prior to publication. The government controlled all domestic media, including a newspaper published in three languages, three radio stations, and a television station. The media focused primarily on local issues, celebrations, descriptions of good moral practices, and profiles of national heroes.
The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials. The printing of a publication by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are both punishable by law. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations. On May 25, four Catholic bishops issued a pastoral letter that included discussion of human trafficking, emigration, corruption, and rule of law. It called for the imprisoned to be treated humanely, charged, and taken to court, and for persons to demand constitutional rule. There was no official government response.
The government permitted satellite dishes, and their use was common in Asmara, Massawa, and other cities and increasingly in the countryside. As a result some individuals had access to international cable television networks. A number of satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans, including Radio Erena, based in Paris, attempted to reach listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia.
Violence and Harassment: The government continued to detain journalists and others associated with the media. It did not provide information about their locations or health. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the government held 23 journalists in detention during the year.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most independent journalists remained in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.
Libel Laws/National Security: Although the government did not prosecute individuals under libel or national security laws, the government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech.
The government monitored some internet communications, including e-mail, without obtaining warrants. Internet users could choose from among five service providers, some of which were government owned. The use of internet cafes with limited bandwidth in Asmara was widespread, and persons also used them in other major cities, but the vast majority of persons in the country did not have access to the internet. Internet users who needed larger bandwidth paid prices beyond the reach of many individuals.
Reportedly, government informants frequented internet cafes. The government discouraged citizens from viewing some opposition websites by labeling the sites and their developers as saboteurs. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing such sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available.
The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.
Authorities monitored activities at private secondary schools and in some cases arbitrarily denied visas to foreign teachers or presented impediments to school administration. Some parents of students in private schools charged that educational quality suffered because of disputes between government officials and school administrators.
With few exceptions, secondary school students must spend their last year of high school at the government’s Sawa National Training and Education Center. Students had to complete military training at Sawa before being allowed to take entrance exams for institutions of higher education. Authorities assigned those who took entrance exams to courses of study based on exam results instead of allowing them to choose their own educational paths.
The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad. Some persons claimed authorities scrutinized academic travel for consistency of intent with government policies.
The government censored, canceled, or closed film showings and other cultural activities. It monitored libraries and cultural centers maintained by foreign embassies and in some instances questioned employees and users. The government directly sponsored most major cultural events.
The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. For some public gatherings, the government sporadically required those assembling to obtain permits. Gatherings of large groups of persons without prior approval were subject to investigation and interference, with the exception of events that occurred in the context of meetings of government-affiliated organizations, were social in nature, or were events such as weddings, funerals, and religious observances of the four officially registered religious groups.
Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of association, the government did not respect this right. The government did not allow any political parties other than the PFDJ. It also prohibited the formation of civil society organizations except those with official sponsorship. The government generally did not allow local organizations to receive funding and resources from or to associate with foreign and international organizations. It closed all international NGO offices in previous years.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted all these rights. It often denied national service recruits passports and exit visas on the grounds they had not completed their military duties.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide protection and assistance in some areas, and it restricted UNHCR activities in others. The government expelled the UNHCR country representative in December without explanation. The government defined refugee status differently than the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. It did not recognize Ethiopians or Sudanese as refugees. It provided protection to Somali refugees on a prima facie basis. The government continued to permit the UNHCR to screen and resettle Somali refugees. UNHCR staff had unhindered access to the Umkulu refugee camp, where the UNHCR funded programs. They did not have access to border areas to monitor new arrivals.
In-country Movement: The government requires citizens to notify local authorities when they change residence, although many did not. When traveling within the country, particularly in remote regions or near borders, authorities asked citizens to provide justification for travel at the few checkpoints in country.
Travel restrictions on noncitizens remained in effect. The government required all diplomats, humanitarian workers, UN staff, and foreign tourists to request permission from the government at least 10 days in advance to travel 15.5 miles or more outside of Asmara. This waiting period was shortened considerably for diplomats residing in country for a long period. Authorities gave the UNHCR a monthly permit for all staff to visit Umkulu refugee camp.
Foreign Travel: The government restricted foreign travel. The government required citizens, including dual nationals, to obtain exit visas to depart the country. Requirements for obtaining passports and exit visas were inconsistent and nontransparent. During the year the government imposed new exit visa restrictions. Authorities generally did not give exit visas to children ages five and older. In September members of the civilian militia were told that any man or unmarried woman in the civilian militia would be unable get an exit visa until further notice. Categories of persons most commonly denied exit visas included men under age 54, regardless of whether they had completed the military portion of national service, and women younger than age 47. The government did not generally grant exit permits to members of the citizen militia, although some whom authorities demobilized from national service or who had permission from their zone commanders were able to obtain them. Authorities arrested persons who tried to cross the border and leave without exit visas. A shoot-to-kill policy was in effect for those attempting to cross the border to exit the country without authorization.
To prevent emigration the government generally did not grant exit visas to entire families or both parents of children simultaneously. Some parents avoided seeking exit permits for children approaching the age of eligibility for national service due to concern they would be denied permission to travel, although other adolescents were granted exit permits. In the past diaspora members who visited the country reported being required to pay a 2-percent tax on foreign earned income before being given exit visas. This was not consistently enforced.
Exile: Many persons who fled the country remained in self-imposed exile due to their religious and political views and fears that they would be conscripted into national service if they returned.
Emigration and Repatriation: In general citizens had the right to return, but citizens residing abroad had to show proof they paid the 2 percent tax on foreign earned income to be eligible for some government services, including passport renewals and real estate transactions. Persons known to have broken laws abroad, contracted serious contagious diseases, or been declared ineligible for political asylum by other governments had their visas and visa requests to enter the country considered with greater scrutiny than others.
Citizenship: The government considered persons of Eritrean descent to be citizens and did not recognize their possible citizenship in other nations, even if they were born outside the country.
In 1994 the government revoked the citizenship of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses due to their refusal to take part in the referendum on independence or participate in the military portion of national service. Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who did not perform military service were not able to obtain identification cards and thus were not eligible for public sector jobs or for ration coupons to buy basic essentials at government-subsidized prices.
Access to Asylum: The law does not specifically provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, although the government offered protection to some individuals from neighboring countries, predominantly Somali refugees. The government did not grant Ethiopians or Sudanese asylum, although it allowed them to remain in the country and granted them residency permits that enabled them to access government services. The government required Ethiopians to pay an annual fee of 600 nakfa ($40) for a residency card. The card demonstrated the holder was not indigent.
Employment: There did not appear to be discrimination based on nationality in terms of employment or entitlements with the exception of resident Ethiopians, some of whom the government viewed as potential security risks.
Access to Basic Services: Persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin living in the country sometimes claimed they received social entitlements commensurate with the perceived degree of their loyalty to the Eritrean government, including eligibility for ration coupons to buy basic essentials at government-subsidized prices. Most Somalis were restricted to Umkulu camp.
Durable Solutions: According to the UNHCR, the government made local integration available to some Ethiopian and Sudanese refugees.
The law and unimplemented constitution provide citizens the ability to change their government through free and fair elections, but they were not able to exercise this right.
Recent Elections: The government came to power in a 1993 popular referendum, in which voters chose to have an independent country managed by a transitional government. This government did not permit the formation of a democratic system. The government twice scheduled elections in accordance with the constitution but canceled them without explanation. An official declaration in 2003 asserted that “in accordance with the prevailing wish of the people, it is not the time to establish political parties, and discussion of the establishment has been postponed.” Government officials also stated implementation of the constitution was not possible until the border demarcation with Ethiopia was final.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The country is a one-party state. Political power rested with the PFDJ and its institutions. At times the government coerced persons to join the PFDJ.
Participation of Women and Minorities: Women held three of 17 ministerial positions: justice, tourism, and health. A woman was the minister of labor and human welfare at the start of the year, but she was later replaced by a man. Women also served in other government positions, including as ambassador to France and as regional administrators.
Members of ethnic minorities served on the PFDJ’s Executive Council and the Central Council. Some senior government and party officials were members of minority groups. The head of the navy was an ethnic Afar.
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea’s October report stated that “officials continue to collect millions of dollars per year through unofficial revenues by means of private business arrangements involving PFDJ-run companies domestically and abroad.” According the monitoring group, the government used “tax havens, secret trusts, and companies incorporated under the names of officials, and, in most cases, the names of private individuals.”
Corruption: Persons seeking executive or judicial services sometimes reported they obtained services more easily after paying a “gift” or bribe. Patronage, cronyism, and petty corruption within the executive branch were based largely on family connections and used to facilitate access to social benefits. Some persons who benefited from preferential treatment due to perceived loyalty to the government subsequently were denied services such as housing when their political loyalties appeared to change. Judicial corruption was a problem, and authorities generally did not prosecute acts such as property seizure by military or security officials or those seen as being in favor with the government.
The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea’s reports from previous years and reports from others cited allegations that military leaders were involved in trafficking in persons. Members of the armed forces also reportedly engaged in illicit trade in arms and black market sales of goods such as fuel and cement.
There were reports of police corruption. Police occasionally used their influence to facilitate the release from prison of friends and family. Police reportedly demanded bribes to release detainees.
Reports indicated corruption also existed in the issuance of identification and travel documents, including in the passport office. Individuals requesting exit visas or passports sometimes had to pay bribes.
There were no government agencies or effective mechanisms to address allegations of official abuse, and impunity was a problem.
Financial Disclosure: Public officials were not subject to financial disclosure laws.
Public Access to Information: Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for public access to government information, the government did not as a rule release statistics or provide other information to either citizens or noncitizens.
The government closed all international NGO offices in previous years. Civil society organizations were few and, other than those with official affiliations, lacked capacity.
The United Nations and Other International Bodies: The government did not permit visits by the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea or the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea. From January 21 to 24, two Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights staff visited the country. They received briefings from government officials, visited UN projects related to health, education, and sanitation, and observed community courts in session. On February 14, authorities met with monitoring group representatives in Cairo, Egypt, and on July 28, government officials participated in a video conference. On July 14, the UN Human Rights Council established a mandate for a commission of inquiry to investigate alleged violations of human rights in the country, and in August a UN political team visited the country to discuss political, economic, and social conditions.
The government permitted the ICRC to operate, although it limited ICRC operations to supporting Ethiopian repatriation, supporting vulnerable Ethiopian residents, implementing assistance projects (water, agriculture and livestock) for persons living in the regions affected by conflict, dissemination of international humanitarian law to students and government officials, and connecting separated family members living abroad to their family members in Eritrea through the Red Cross. Authorities did not permit the ICRC to visit prisons or detention.
The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit discrimination based on race, language, and social status and against women and persons with disabilities, but the government did not enforce these prohibitions. The constitution does not specifically address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Gang rape or rape of a minor or an invalid is punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Sexual assault is punishable by six months to eight years in prison. The law does not specifically criminalize spousal rape. No information was available on the prevalence of rape, which citizens seldom reported to officials. There were frequent reports of rape in military training camps, during national service, and during interrogations. Communities or families sometimes responded to reports of rape by encouraging the perpetrator to marry the victim, since victims of rape were often perceived as not marriageable.
Domestic violence is punishable as assault and battery. Domestic violence was reportedly commonplace, but domestic violence cases were rarely tried. Women usually refrained from openly discussing domestic violence because of societal pressures. Authorities rarely intervened due to societal attitudes, a lack of trained personnel, and inadequate funding. Traditional authorities, families, or clergy more commonly addressed incidents of domestic violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C. The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stated the prevalence of FGM/C had declined over time. The 2010 Population and Health Survey reported that 83 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 had undergone FGM/C. The study found older cohorts had a higher prevalence of FGM/C than younger cohorts. The 2002 Demographic and Health Survey found 89 percent of girls and women had undergone FGM/C.
Sexual Harassment: There is no specific law against sexual harassment. Cultural norms often prevented women from reporting such incidents. There was no record of any person ever being charged or prosecuted for sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals are generally able to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children; to have the information and means to do so; and to attain the highest standard of reproductive health free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Some girls and women reportedly married and had children to avoid national service or being mobilized.
According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the maternal death rate was an estimated at 380 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2013. According to 2010 data, skilled health personnel attended 28 percent of births, and 5 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception. Access to government-provided contraception, skilled health attendance during pregnancy and childbirth, prenatal care, essential obstetric care, and postpartum care was available, but women in remote regions sometimes did not seek or could not obtain the care they needed due to lack of transport, fuel, or awareness of opportunities.
Discrimination: Women have the same legal status and rights as men under family, labor, and inheritance law. The law requires equal pay for equal work. The percentage of men receiving access to education, economic resources, and employment exceeded that of women, particularly in rural areas. The Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare and the Ministry of Health are the primary government offices responsible for promoting legal rights of women, along with the quasi-governmental National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW).
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived from having at least one Eritrean parent, whether the person is born in the country or abroad. Registration of a birth within the first three months requires only a hospital certificate. After three months parents must present themselves to judicial authorities with their child and three witnesses. If not registered a child may not attend school but may receive medical treatment at hospitals. There were reported cases of local officials refusing to register the births of children who had a parent living abroad who did not pay the 2 percent tax on foreign earned income.
Education: Education through grade seven is compulsory and free of tuition, although students’ families were responsible for providing uniforms, supplies, and transportation. Education above grade seven required a nominal fee and was not compulsory. There was a shortage of schools and teachers at all levels. In rural areas parents did not enroll young girls as commonly in school as they did young boys, but the percentage of girls in school continued to increase.
The government requires all students who reach the final year of secondary school to attend grade 12 at the Sawa National Education and Training Center. Students who did not do so could not graduate and therefore could not pursue higher education, although they could attend vocational schools. Some persons who attempted to leave the country did so to avoid going to Sawa. According to the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea, students at Sawa faced “various types of violations, some amounting to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, and corporal punishment.” The special rapporteur noted reports of students becoming sick and dying and of committing suicide.
On July 5, 700 of the 15,000 to 20,000 students expected to attend presented themselves to start their final year of high school at Sawa. Citizens and other observers considered this demonstrative of citizen resistance to having children attend the last year of schooling at Sawa.
Child Abuse: There are no laws against child abuse. Information on the extent of violence against or abuse of children was not available. Local social welfare teams investigated circumstances reported to be abusive and counseled families when child abuse was evident. The society generally accepted physical punishment of children, particularly in rural areas.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage for both men and women is 18, although religious entities may condone marriages at younger ages. Information on the marriage rate for girls and boys under age 18 was not available. Girls in rural areas were particularly at risk for early marriage. The government encouraged various semiofficial associations such as the NUEW and the National Eritrean Youth and Student Association to discuss the impact of early marriage and raise awareness among youth about its negative consequences. Female ministers spoke publicly on the dangers of early marriage and collaborated with UN agencies to educate the public regarding these dangers. Many neighborhood committees also were active in discouraging the practice.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C. UNICEF stated the prevalence of FGM/C had declined over time. The 2010 Population and Health Survey reported that 83 percent of girls and women ages 15 to 49 had undergone FGM/C. The study found older cohorts had a higher prevalence of FGM/C than younger cohorts. The 2002 Demographic and Health Survey found 89 percent of girls and women had undergone FGM/C. The UNFPA worked with the government and other organizations, including the NUEW and the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students, on a variety of education programs to discourage the practice.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law criminalizes child prostitution, pornography, and sexual exploitation. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. Penalties for the commercial sexual exploitation of children included imprisonment. Crimes were seldom reported and punishment rarely applied. Data on the extent of child prostitution were not available. Authorities instructed the citizen militia to report evidence of the sexual exploitation of children to facilitate the arrest of patrons and pimps.
Child Soldiers: The law prohibits the recruitment of children under 18 into the armed forces. Children under 18, however, were detained during round-ups and sent to Sawa National Training and Education Center, which is both an educational and military training school. Those who refused to attend and participate in military training either hid, fled the country, or were arrested.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts, and the sole synagogue was maintained by the small number of remaining Eritrean Jews.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services. There are no laws on discrimination in air travel and other transportation and access to health care. The constitution does not specify the types of disabilities against which it prohibits discrimination. The government did not effectively enforce prohibitions, although it implemented programs to assist persons with disabilities, especially combat veterans. The government dedicated substantial resources to support and train thousands of persons with physical disabilities, especially for those missing limbs that resulted from the war for independence and the later conflict with Ethiopia. No laws mandate access for persons with disabilities to public or private buildings, information, and communications. An increasing number of hotels and government offices provided such access or employed guards who offered assistance as needed. There were special schools for children with hearing, sight, mental, and intellectual disabilities. Information on whether there were patterns of abuse in educational and mental health facilities was not available. The Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities including mental disabilities.
Governmental and societal discrimination allegedly continued against ethnic minorities, particularly against the nomadic Kunama and the Afar, two of nine ethnic groups in the country.
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity, which is punishable by 10 days to three years’ incarceration. The government did not actively enforce this law. Antidiscrimination laws relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) persons do not exist. There are no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to investigate bias-motivated crimes against LGBT persons.
Foreign male tourists reported that hotel staff in different cities told them men could not share a room. There were no reports of Eritrean men encountering this restriction. There was no official action to investigate and punish those complicit in abuses, including state or nonstate actors. There were no known LGBT organizations in the country. In general society stigmatized discussion of LGBT issues.
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and requires reinstatement of union leaders dismissed for union activity, but it does not provide equivalent protection for other workers dismissed for engaging in union activity. The law allows unions to be established in workplaces with at least 20 employees and requires a minimum of 15 members to form a union. The law requires prior authorization from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare to establish a union, but it deems registration granted if no response is received from the ministry within one month.
The government did not effectively enforce the applicable laws. While there is a fine of 1,200 nakfa ($80) for antiunion discrimination or acts of interference, this did not constitute an adequate deterrent, according to the International Labor Organization. No corresponding penal law provisions specifically address labor violations.
The government did not respect freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. There were no reports of strikes, collective bargaining, or government opposition to, or approval of, the formation of labor associations during the year. Unions existed as governmental organizations for hotel workers, service personnel, agricultural professionals, and teachers, among other employment sectors. They were ineffective in promoting or protecting workers rights. The minimal civil society in the country did not play any significant role in labor issues.
The law prohibits forced labor and slavery. The law’s definition of forced labor excludes activities performed as part of national service or other civic obligations, and labor protections limiting hours of work and prohibiting harsh conditions did not apply to persons engaged in national service. The law provides penalties of five to 20 years’ imprisonment for “enslavement.” The law also provides penalties of imprisonment and fines for “violation of the right to freedom to work,” which appears to covers situations of forced labor.
By law all citizens between ages 18 and 50 must perform national service, with limited exceptions. The national service obligation consists of six months of military training and 12 months of active military service and development tasks in the military forces for a total of 18 months, or for those unfit to undergo military training, 18 months of service in any public and government organ according to the person’s capacity and profession. There is no provision for alternative service for conscientious objectors.
Despite the 18-month limit on national service under the law, the government did not demobilize many conscripts from the military as scheduled and forced some to serve indefinitely under threats of detention, torture, or punishment of their families. Persons performing national service could not resign or take other employment, generally received no promotions or salary increases, and could not leave the country legally because they were frequently denied passports or exit visas. Those conscripted into the national service performed standard patrols and border monitoring in addition to labor such as agricultural terracing, planting, road maintenance, hotel work, teaching, construction, and laying power lines. In 2012 the government instituted a compulsory citizen militia, requiring persons not already in the military, including many who were demobilized or exempted from military service in the past, to carry firearms and attend militia training. Failure to participate in the militia or national service could result in detention. There was evidence of forced child labor in government summer work programs for secondary students.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
The legal minimum age for employment is 14, although this restriction does not apply to self-employed workers. The law prohibits those under age 18 from employment in categories including transport industries, work connected with toxic chemicals or dangerous machinery, or work underground or in sewers. This restriction does not apply to training. The government prohibits persons under age 18 from employment between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. and for more than seven hours per day.
Labor inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare are responsible for enforcing child labor laws, but inspections were infrequent and penalties, if imposed, arbitrary. Although the government had a national action plan to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, it did not enforce the plan effectively.
Children in rural areas commonly worked on family farms, fetched firewood or water, and herded livestock. In urban areas children worked as street vendors of cigarettes, newspapers, and chewing gum. Children also worked in small-scale garages, bicycle repair shops, metal workshops, and tea and coffee shops. They also transported grain or other goods via donkey cart. Child domestic service occurred. Data on the extent of child prostitution were not available. Begging by children occurred in Asmara.
The government continued to require secondary school students in the ninth, 10th, and 11th grades to participate in summer work programs known as “maetot.” News reports indicated students engaged in activities such as environmental conservation, agricultural activities (irrigation, maintenance of canals, and terracing), and production and maintenance of school furniture. The government required all secondary school students to complete 12th grade at the Sawa National Education and Training Center.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings/.
With respect to employment or occupation, labor laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, gender, disability, color, social origin, nationality, political orientation, or religion. The government did not effectively enforce the laws.
The national minimum wage for employees of PFDJ-owned enterprises and government employees was 360 nakfa per month. At the official exchange rate this equaled $24 (15 nafka to $1, but at the unofficial market rate it was equivalent to $7.20 ($1 to 50 nafka). There was no national minimum wage for private sector workers. The government paid national service recruits according to a fixed scale, and the most common salary was 500 nakfa ($33/$10) per month. For some professions wages had not increased for more than a decade despite high inflation. The standard workweek was 44.5 hours, but employers sometimes required overtime without fair compensation. There were no prohibitions against excessive overtime. The law entitles workers to overtime pay, except for those employed under national service, but this was not always enforced. The legal rest period is one day per week, although most received one and one-half days.
No published occupational health and safety standards existed. The Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare is responsible for worker safety and welfare. The ministry employed inspectors, but the number was unclear. No regular enforcement mechanisms were in place, and no inspections of factories occurred to determine whether safety equipment was in use. No major industrial accidents were known to have occurred, including in the mining sector.
Information regarding abuses pertaining to wage, overtime, safety, and health standards was neither reported nor available.
On 26 June 2015, more than 5000 justice-seeking Eritreans (in very conservative estimates) flocked to Geneva from all over the world –– to demonstrate their unflinching support to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea (COIE). They congregated in huge numbers in front of the UN Offices in Geneva (Place des Nations).
The number of people that showed up in support of the cause was unprecedented by all measurements. In very conservative estimates, it was twice as big as the number of people who gathered on 22 June 2015 in “support” of the certified repressive regime in Eritrea.
As noted in the message of the day read on the occasion, the demonstration of 26 June has underscored one basic reality: the voice of justice-seeking Eritreans won’t be muzzled! Indeed, the balance of power between justice-seeking Eritreans and tyranny-loving (confused) Eritreans and their repressive regime has meaningfully shifted in favour of justice-seeking Eritreans. The tyrant regime in Eritrea can no longer fool the world by coercing people into its fake rallies. On the other hand, justice-seeking Eritreans are telling the world unequivocally that it is time for the international community to end impunity in Eritrea. The message is loud and clear: enough is enough! The tyrant must go and full accountability for crimes against humanity must be ensured immediately.
The coordinating committee would like to thank all who have contributed in different ways in making the demonstration of 26 June a huge success that surpassed expectations.
Below is a Tigrinya version of the message by the Coordinating Committee read on the day of the demonstration (English and Arabic versions will follow soon).
Our voice won’t be muzzled!
Coordinating Committee of the Demonstration of Eritreans in Geneva
28 June 2015
June 19, 2015
His Excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon United Nations Secretary-General
United Nations Headquarters New York, N.Y.
Dear Mr. Secretary-General:
We preface our letter with our-heart-felt good wishes to you in all the very important duties you are performing as a world leader. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you and all those who collaborate with you in all the noble efforts.
We are writing you as a matter of great urgency, on behalf of hundreds of thousands of our unfortunate Eritrean compatriots. We note with great appreciation the expression of sympathy and grave concern that you voiced following the tragic drowning of hundreds of Eritreans near the Island of Lampedusa some twenty months ago. Indeed, we believe that your voice and that of His Holiness Pope Francis helped put such tragedy and its causes on national and international agendas, especially in Europe, leading to a great deal of debate and soul-searching.
While we welcome these promising developments, unfortunately, we believe that they stopped short of what needs to be done in order to find a lasting solution to such tragedies and the causes that trigger them. The flow of refugees continues unabated and more people have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea, despite the efforts at naval intervention to save lives. We strongly believe that the international community and Europe in particular, needs to translate the expressions of good will voiced in the wake of the Lampedusa tragedy to more concrete actions. Such actions should begin by addressing the causes of the massive migration of refugees from Africa and the Middle East.
In that spirit, and focusing on the Eritrean refugees, we urge you to bring the considerable moral weight carried by your office to bear on the specific tragedy that has befallen on our unfortunate nation—Eritrea. The cause of the massive exodus of Eritreans is the wrong policy and dangerous politics pursued by the government of Mr. Isaias Afwerki.
Of all the wrong policies of the government that have devastated a once promising nation, the most egregious is the so called National Service, which has pinned down hundreds of thousands of Eritrean youth in what can only be described as forced servitude. Eritrean youth, the cream of the nation, have wasted, and are wasting, their lives in a pointless and unending service. Thousands have chosen to escape from this servitude at huge risk to their lives, including those who perished in the Mediterranean Sea. Though this servitude is the worst policy pursued by the government, we need to understand the overall context of the nature of the state under which it is practiced.
People who expressed any criticism against the government have been severely punished; many have died in detention. It is generally known that a once promising country has been turned into a police state and the fervent hopes and aspirations of a whole generation of Eritreans have been dashed on the rock of wrong polices and dangerous politics of a government led by an unelected President. The recent U N Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea found “that systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed under the authority of the Government. Some of these violations may constitute crimes against humanity.”
In the prevailing conditions of lawlessness families of thousands of prisoners do not know where their loved ones are incarcerated, do not know if they are dead or alive, do not have the right to visit them or for doctors and lawyers to see them. The young are particularly vulnerable and many prefer risking death remaining in conditions of endless servitude wasting their precious lives. This is the condition that is forcing thousands to flee their country in search of refuge abroad. Unless and until this condition is properly and quickly addressed, the “refugee problem” will continue with more Lampedusa-like incidents. We are, therefore, appealing to you, Mr. Secretary-General, to use your good offices to help set in motion a thorough investigation on the cause that is driving refugees from their beloved homeland. Your leadership, along with that of H.H. Pope Francis, and with the support of leaders of the European Union, African Union, and individual governments, is needed to bring this tragedy to an end. We implore you to take speedy steps toward the accomplishment of this objective.
On June 19, 2015, Eritreans and friends of Eritrea are demonstrating in Washington,
D. C., in support of the people in Eritrea and against the dictatorship in Eritrea.
Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change (ENCDC)
Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP)
Eritreans for Facilitating National Dialogue (EFND)
Copy to U S Department of State