By EPDP Information Office

In a statement released on 6 March 2015, a specialized committee of the UN Human Rights Council criticized the Eritrean regime for not respecting women’s rights that are well enshrined in a convention that the Asmara regime itself has already signed.

The committee scrutinizing failures in the implementation the Convention to Eliminate all forms Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) discussed women’s situation in Eritrea. Also discussed was a report from the Eritrean delegation at the meeting that was presented on 26 February 2015.

        UN on Womens rightsDr Daniel Rezene represents Eritrean Law Society at Geneva meeting on women’s rights

Concluding observations of the Committee on Discrimination against Women contain serious concerns about the absence of rule of law in Eritrea with an elected National Assembly and fully implemented constitution which the basic necessities for protection and promotion of human rights, like women’s rights stated in the Convention (CEDAW).  

The committee could not expect any improvement in the Eritrean women’s situation before steps are taken to the rule of law in the country.  

Prevalence of sexual abuse of women in the Eritrean army, absence of criminal action against sex offenders, the open-ended “national service” that force women and families to escape from the regime, and the presence of small arms at every corner in the country were mentioned among the concerns of the committee that believed they should be addressed “as a matter of high priority”. (See link  - scroll down to see Eritrea)

Dr. Daniel Rezene, an Eritrean democracy and human rights activist residing in Switzerland, actively participated in the discussions and made written and oral presentations representing the Eritrean Law Society (ELS).  Below are excerpts from the CEDAW committee meetings concluding observations and the oral presentation made by Dr. Daniel Rezene at one of the committee meeting:

From CEDAW Observations:

6: The Committee considers that the indefinite national service, the ineffective implementation of the 1997 Constitution and the suspension of the National Assembly, have resulted in a deterioration of the rule of law and resulted in a serious refugee crisis which pose a challenge to the implementation of the Convention. Therefore the Committee urges the State party to implement the recommendations contained in the present concluding observations as a matter of high priority.

8(e): Concerned about [t]he proliferation of small arms and the accessibility of firearms to individuals in the framework of the national service and their impact on the security of women.

9(b): Prevent, investigate, prosecute in criminal courts, and punish all cases of violence against women and girls in the national service and at the Sawa Military Training Centre, implement a policy of zero tolerance and provide legal aid, rehabilitation programmes and compensation to victims;

11(a): Ensure the effective implementation of the 1997 Constitution of Eritrea and expedite the planned Constitutional review process, within a clear timeframe and with transparent procedures …

13(b): Ensure that all cases of violence and discrimination against women covered by the Convention are brought under the jurisdiction of criminal instead of military courts, including when violations of the law are committed by military or public officials;

20(c): Alleged perpetrators of sexual violence against women in the national service are rarely prosecuted.

22. …it is concerned about reports that numerous women and girls, including unaccompanied children who are fleeing the country become victims of human trafficking and smuggling.

24. …it is concerned that women remain underrepresented in senior government positions and at reports that the measures taken only benefit women sharing the views of the political party in power.

25(b): Expeditiously hold free and fair elections to the National Assembly and other elected bodies, ensuring that all women, including those from disadvantaged groups and those holding divergent opinions, can vote and stand for election;

49: It also invites the State party to consider ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court [other international treaties].

Dr. Daniel Rezene’s Comments:

“I am presenting this oral statement on behalf of the Eritrean Law Society (ELS), an association of Eritrean legal professionals, working from exile. In addition to providing a context to the overall crisis of rule of law in Eritrea, our oral presentation focuses on three major issues: the issue of sexual violence in the army, the problem of human trafficking and the dire of state of women and unaccompanied refugee children in neighbouring countries.

“One of the most pervasive problems in Eritrea is the issue of sexual violence that is committed with impunity by military commanders. As is widely known, the government has a sweeping policy of compulsory military conscription, known as National Service Programme. Accordingly, every adult of member of the Eritrean society, including women, are subject to unpaid and indefinite military conscription by which reason many Eritreans are fleeing the country in unprecedented scale, making Eritrea one of the leading refugee-producing countries in the world.

“In the context of the government’s sweeping militarization agenda, many women conscripts have been victimised by sexual violence committed with impunity by army commanders. The problem is complicated by the total breakdown of the rule of law. In Eritrea, the whims and actions of military commanders are above the law. This means, access to justice with regard to sexual violence is unthinkable. The victims of this form injustice are estimated in thousands.

“The other issue is that of human trafficking. Due to a long history forced migration, Eritrea is also a major origin of victims of human trafficking. Eritrean victims make the majority of victims of the human trafficking crisis in the Sinai Desert of the last 4 to 5 years. Many of these Eritrean victims are women, who are wantonly raped and subjected to all sorts of abuses. In the first place, they have been forced to flee Eritrea as a result of severe political repression, pervasive practice of sexual violence and a dire state of socio-economic crisis. After feeling Eritrea, they fall in the hands of merciless human traffickers, and this means effectively jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Related to this issue is that of thousands of refugees, including unaccompanied underage boys and girls, in neighbouring countries of Ethiopia and Sudan. Their plight requires urgent attention.

“Madame Chairperson, what makes the case of Eritrea unique from many other countries is that it has no working constitution, no opposition political party, no functioning parliament, no form of free press, no form of civil society organizations (except GONGOs). To our knowledge, there is no other country in the world that is helplessly stifled bysuch kind of multiple structural problems all at once.The predicament of Eritrea is exceptionally unique. That is why the country has alarmingly high number of victims of human rights violations, estimated in tens of thousands. And this includes victims of sexual violence.

“As we speak now, the Eritrean government is under comprehensive scrutiny by a Commission of Inquiry established last year by UN Human Rights Council, here in Geneva. To our knowledge, Eritrea is the only African country (after Libya) to have been a subject of investigations of this nature. And this is happening sadly in the absence of any sort of armed conflict in the country. From this, it is not difficult to imagine the level of political repression and the dire state of women’s right in in the country.

“In conclusion, Madame Chairperson, we would like to highlight that the prevailing situation in Eritrea is a portent of much worse to come. This is how it looks like when a nation is at the brink of a state failure. Anyone with a right conscience cannot feign ignorance about the deep-seated political crisis in the country. We therefore kindly urge the CEDAW Committee to adopt recommendations that are commensurate with the reality at the ground level”.

Eritrea Liberty Magazine Issue No. 31

Saturday, 07 March 2015 05:54 Written by

Eritrea LIBERTY magazine issue No 31 1 

By EPDP Information Office

The external affairs committee of the Swiss Social Democratic Party has organized an important meeting in the Swiss capital of Bern on 2 March 2015 at which Eritreans made strong presentations on the political and human rights problems encountering Eritreans at home and in their heartbreaking displacement in diaspora.

Chaired by MP Carlo Sommaruga, who is the president of both his party’s foreign committee as well as being the president of  Swiss National Assembly’s Commission for External Affairs,  the meeting was attended by over 30 senior federal government officials from the ministries of foreign affairs, justice and police, representatives of parties and non-governmental organizations that were interested to question and discuss Switzerland’s policy towards Eritrea on human rights, refugees and related  external policy matters.

Swiss101 MP Carlo Sommaruga           Swiss Federal Palace/Parliament               Amb. Anne Lugon-Moulin

Keynote presentations were made by Mr. Woldeyesus Ammar, foreign relations head of the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), followed by Ambassador Anne Lugon-Moulin, director of the Sub-Saharan and Francophone Division in the Swiss Foreign Ministry, and Mr. Daniel Zollinger, senior official at the state secretariat for migration in the Ministry of Justice and Police which is headed by the current Swiss President, Ms Simonneta Sommaruga of the Social Democratic Party. Other speakers who were invited by the chair to give their inputs were Mr. Tesfagaber Ghebre and Mr. Tseghazeab G/Michael who represented at the meeting the newly formed umbrella to  coordinate  various Eritrean refugee and politico-civil society groupings in Switzerland.

The Eritrean speakers regretted that Switzerland, and the Swiss parliament in particular, did not so far strongly formally condemn the human rights abuses in Eritrea, including the use of forced labour, and hoped that such important actions will be taken in the future. They also highlighted the situation of Eritrean refugees in Switzerland and called for attention by federal and cantonal authorities as well as by the fraternal political and civil society organizations in the country. In particular, Mr. Tsegazeab G/Michael, chairman of the umbrella, and Mr. Tesfagaber Ghebre committee member (and also chairman of the Swiss branch of EPFP) emphasized the importance of protecting asylum seekers from agents of the Eritrean regime in Switzerland, like Toni Locher of Zurich, who are creating problems to refugees opposed to the dictatorship in Eritrea. 

Ambassador Lugon-Moulin briefed the meeting on measures taken by the federal foreign office in the Horn of Africa and areas of Swiss support tuned to refugees in the region. Mr. Zollinger of the Ministry of Justice and Police and his two colleagues closely working with Eritrean asylum seekers briefed the meeting on the real hardships Eritrean refugees face in their risky journeys to reach Europe. They said every care is taken to support them adjust to life in this country.

Mr. Carlo Sommaruga, a jurist-trade unionist who built huge renown in his anti-apartheid and related campaigns in the past, thanked all meeting participants and reassured that their inputs will be taken care at many levels of action in Switzerland.

After briefing the meeting on the internal political and human rights situation in Eritrea and the suffering of its refugees, the EPDP head of foreign office made the following summary regarding what Switzerland can do to help avert a much worse situation from occurring in highly militarized Eritrea that can further complicate matters in the region and outside it, as did the state failure and breakdown of society in Somalia.

What Switzerland Can Do to Help Eritrean Refugees in this Country

Most of the recent caseload of over 20,000 Eritrean refugees in Switzerland are young, almost all with poor educational background. They are also extremely traumatized by the difficult situation they experienced in Eritrea and the problems they faced on their hazardous journey to Europe. Therefore, to help them to eventually become useful citizens anywhere, they would primarily need immediate support/assistance like:

  • Special attention to their emotional/mental status;
  • Basic education, including technical skills; and assist them obtain jobs through a special agency catering this support;
  • Periodical seminars/conferences in their language on basics of human rights, anti-militarism/anti-violence etc
  • Grant them appropriate legal/political protection with the condition that those who misuse this right by collaborating with the Eritrean Consulate General in Switzerland will be sent back to Eritrea.

Action on the Government in Eritrea

The repressive regime in Asmara has not been receptive to outside pressure in the past. However, continued efforts can yield fruit. For example,

  • Strictly implement the targeted UN sanctions, especially regarding the 2% tax and the denial of entry visas to Eritrean government officials;
  • Switzerland can work with some known organizations like the ICRC to pressurize the regime to allow at least visitations to known prisoners such as the members of G15 (senior government officials) and journalists imprisoned since 2001;
  • Pose to the regime serious questions about the status of the national service and the use of forced labour in Eritrea. In addition, it would be greatly helpful if the Swiss Government (preferably by the Swiss Federal Assembly) could issue a statement condemning (a) Eritrea’s use of forced labour, (b), misuse of national service beyond humanly acceptable limits in the past two decades, and (c) the incarceration without any charge and a day at court of the 11 members of the Eritrean “National Assembly” since 18 September 2001.  

At the Horn of Africa Level

  • Put more pressure on both Eritrea and Ethiopia to normalize relations;
  • Ethiopia can help by accepting the final and binding arbitration decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission;
  • Initiate a solid support for Eritrean refugees in the Horn of Africa region. This will require a special package project for academic and vocational education in East Sudan and North Ethiopia partly using technical development resources that several countries suspended from Eritrea due to the human rights condition there.

Capacity Building for Democracy and Human Rights

  • Empowering the mainstream non-state actors (civil society and political movements in diaspora) through capacity building can help in bringing about a positive change in Eritrea (eg. Help radio broadcasts to Eritrea);
  • In particular, some Swiss political parties have a stake in working closely with the Eritrean community in this country to influence positive developments in Eritrea today and in constitutional governance in post-dictatorship Eritrea. 

Nairobi 22 February 2015

Eritreans in  Nairobi  have  established  the Eritrean Diaspora in East Africa ( EDEA)  to promote the interests and the  welfare of Eritrean citizens in  the East Africa Region and  help them to  benefit from the hospitality accorded to them in the region. The executive committee had planned an inaugural meeting to be held on Friday 20 February 2015.

Key topicsfor the meeting were:

Current  situation  of Eritrea and the Region  – to be presented by Ambassador Andebrhan Woldeghiorgis -  Former Eritrean Ambassador to the  EU;  former Commission for  Co-ordination with  UN Peace  Keeping Mission Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE)  – author of the book  Eritrea at a Crossroads

The role of the  Diaspora  in promotion of peace and  cooperation  to be  presented by Dr Wanyama Masinde – Senior  Lecturer  and Director Institute for  Regional Integration and Development – the Catholic University of East Africa

cartello giant prisonThe meeting was to be opened by Mr Elias Habte Selassie (an Eritrean academician, lawyer and an expert in conflict resolution and development) and   closed by Dr Asefaw Tekeste. (Public Health Director School of Medicine Touro University   )

Guest of honourwere:

Ambassador  Haile Menkerios  – UN Special  Representative  to the African Union;

Ambassador Dr. Monica Juma, MBS was appointed and sworn in as the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Defence on 27th June, 2013. Prior to her appointment as the Principal Secretary, Amb. Dr. Juma was Kenya’s Ambassador Extra-Ordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the Republic of Djibouti and Permanent Representative to the African Union, Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Amb. Dr. Juma holds a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, Master of Arts (MA) and Bachelor of Arts (BA) from the University of Nairobi and Certificate in Refugees Studies from Oxford University. She is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Political Science, University of Pretoria (South Africa); an Associate with the African Programme of the United Nations-affiliated University for Peace, (Costa Rica); and an Adjunct Faculty member at the African Centre for Strategic Studies of the National Defence University, Washington D.C., (United States of America).[1]

At the last minutethe inaugural meeting of the EDEA did not take place. There was much confusion however what has emerged is that somehow the Eritrean embassy  lodged a complaint with the Kenyan authorities.

Haile Menkerios

In additionto lodging a protest with the Kenyan authorities, the Eritrean Embassy has also engaged in a campaign of intimidation of Eritreans in Nairobi by sending them mobile text messages. The message states that: the Eritrean Embassy has received complaints from concerned Eritreans about the meeting organised by the EDEA and in particular the nature of the discussion to be held there.  The message further states that no Eritrean should even dream of participating in the meeting. If Eritreans do participate no Eritrean embassy anywhere in the world will provide them with any services.

Andebrhan Woldeghiorgis

Typically the messageis a God Father like threat and very divisive. We should note that the key purpose of EDEA is to promote the welfare of the Eritrean citizens and the diaspora and in so doing to address the issue of so many of our young people   running from a ruthless uncaring government in Eritrea.

The reaction of the Eritreanembassy to the initiative, can only  demonstrate to the Kenyan authority  how  Eritrean Government  treats its people, it   should be taken as a sign that EDEA is on the right path,  it should  create  international  alliances carry out the work it has set out to do  seriously – the youth of  Eritrea is watching .

Makeda Saba
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Migrants arrive by boat at the Sicilian harbour of Pozzallo, February 15, 2015. REUTERS-Antonio Parrinello

1 OF 4.Migrants arrive by boat at the Sicilian harbour of Pozzallo, February 15, 2015.



(Reuters) - Italy's coast guard went to the rescue of at least 1,000 migrants in difficulty in the sea between Europe and North Africa on Sunday, the third operation of its kind in as many days.

The coast guard said it had plucked more than 130 people from two rubber boats about 180 km (110 miles) south of the island of Lampedusa so far, and was working to save eight more vessels.

"We are certainly at more than 1,000 migrants" involved in Sunday's rescue operation, a spokesman for the coast guard in Rome told Reuters. 50% 50% no-repeat transparent;"> 

Better weather since last week has encouraged migrants to make the perilous journey from North Africa, where a breakdown of order inLibyahas made it almost impossible to police the traffickers who pack people onto rickety boats.

More than 300 people died last week trying to make the crossing, which claimed 3,500 lives last year even beforeItalyclosed its Mare Nostrum search and rescue mission in December.

The coast guard ship Fiorillo and several cutters were sent to the latest rescue, along with four merchant ships and two tug boats which were diverted to join the operation. One navy ship, two police patrol ships and a Maltese vessel had also been mobilized, the coast guard spokesman said.

(Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing byMark Heinrich)


Issaias Afwerki WL

The swiss branch of HSBC bank hiding billions of dollars for corrupt clients has put a new spotlight on Eritrea. Despite being one of the poorest countries in the world, Eritrea had the highest amount of money hidden for a single client in the bank, according to the HSBC leak.

Many Eritreans are pointing fingers at their corrupt ruling party officials since the poor economy of Eritrea has not produced millionaire businessmen. While Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is infamous for claiming his salary is only $130 dollars; over $695 million dollars is allegedly stashed in one of his foreign bank accounts, according to the HSBC leak.

According to Diaspora Eritreans with links to the military in Asmara, international reports of around a billion dollar total deposit by Eritrea regime has rattled the capital city. It is the largest illegal HSBC bank deposit in Africa. Some generals are reportedly dissenting the regime as mid-level officials wonder which top generals might also be involved in this scheme.

Many Eritrean activists blame President Afwerki for the shortage of food and electricity in the country. Long lines for bread are common sights even in Eritrean cities. The UN has also put sanctions on the Isaias government due to its financial support for terrorist groups in Africa.

Last week, leaders of Djibouti, Somaliland and Ethiopia condemned the destabilization role of Asmara in the region.



The United Nations announced on Wednesday that as many as 300 migrants are thought to have perished in the Mediterranean Sea this week after their boats overturned while attempting to cross from Libya to Italy. Vincent Cochetel, the regional director of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, called the incident a "tragedy on an enormous scale."

The migrants were “swallowed up by the waves,” another United Nations official said. Over the course of the past few months, several incidents involving migrants and refugees have captured (quickly fleeting) attention. Earlier this year, two cargo "ghost ships," carrying nearly 1,500 asylum-seekers and set to autopilot by fleeing smugglers, were rescued before they crashed into the Italian coast. That group constituted a tiny fraction of the 170,000 people intercepted by Italian rescuers in just over one year.

According to experts, Mideast conflict is part of what's spurring the largest mass migration since World War II.  

Late last year, the International Organization for Migration estimated that over 3,000 migrants had died while trying to cross the Mediterranean in 2014. "There needs to be a united response to the question of migration," said Pope Francis, following the rescue of 600 migrants traveling from North Africa to Sicily in November. "We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery."

This week's events involved four inflatable boats and severe weather. "The sea conditions were extreme," the AP reported, "with waves as high as eight metres (26 feet) and temperatures just a few degrees above zero. Twenty-nine died of hypothermia in the 18 hours it took the coast guard to ferry them to Italy."

The influx of migrants and refugees is coming from North Africa as well as the Middle East, where conflicts have spurred the largest mass migration since World War II—a time when, one expert told The Guardian, the migration was occurring in the opposite direction.

There are fears that the trend will only worsen. In October, Italy suspended Mare Nostrum, a search-and-rescue operation that was launched in 2013 following the deaths of several hundred migrants. Mare Nostrum was an aggressive undertaking that involved scanning the Libyan coastline looking for imperiled ships. Its replacement is Triton, a less-equipped European Union mission, which only monitors the waters close to Europe. However, by the time the boats get that far, it's often already too late.

ROME (Reuters) - Twenty-nine migrants died of hypothermia aboard Italian coast guard vessels on Monday after being picked up from a boat adrift near Libya, reigniting criticism of the government's decision to end a full-scale search-and rescue mission last year.

Two patrol boats picked up 105 people late on Sunday from an inflatable boat drifting in extreme sea conditions, with waves as high as 8 metres (26 feet) and temperatures just a few degrees above zero, the coast guard said in a statement.

The migrants who died spent 18 hours on the deck of one of the vessels taking them to the Italian island of Lampedusa, buffeted by high winds and spray. One survivor was taken by helicopter to Sicily in critical condition, Pietro Bartolo, Lampedusa's chief healthcare official, told Reuters.

Lampedusa's mayor, Giusi Nicolini, blamed last year's closure of Italy's search-and-rescue mission, known as Mare Nostrum, for the tragedy. Since then no navy ships capable of keeping large numbers of migrants below deck have patrolled the waters near the Libyan coast.

"Mare Nostrum was an emergency solution to a humanitarian crisis, so closing it was a huge and intolerable step backward," Nicolini told Reuters. Human rights groups had repeatedly warned that ending the mission would endanger lives.

"The small patrol boats were completely swallowed by the waves during the trip back. If Mare Nostrum were still going, the migrants would have been given shelter inside a large ship within an hour," Nicolini said.

Laura Boldrini, the president of Italy's lower house of parliament and a former spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency, said on Twitter the "horror" of "people dying not in a shipwreck but of cold" was due to the suspension of Mare Nostrum.

Mare Nostrum was abandoned by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's government partly due to public concern over the 114 million euro ($129 million) cost of the mission in its first year. Renzi has not commented on Monday's events.

Former prime minister Enrico Letta started Mare Nostrum after more than 360 men, women and children -- mostly Eritreans -- drowned when their overcrowded boat flipped over within sight of Lampedusa in October, 2013.

Now the European Union runs a border control operation called Triton, with fewer ships and a much smaller area of operations.

Civil war in Syria and anarchy in Libya swelled the number of people crossing the Mediterranean last year. Many paid smugglers $1,000-$2,000 to travel.

The United Nations refugee agency says 160,000 people made the sea crossing to Italy between January and November 2014 and a further 40,000 landed in Greece. Thousands have died attempting the journey.

Bartolo said that the 29 victims were all young men from sub-Saharan Africa, but he did not know their nationalities.

"To organised crime it's not important if people make it across the sea alive or dead," Nicolini said. "But now, without Mare Nostrum, it's as if no one, and not just the criminals, cares if they live or die."

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)


On 7 February 2015, a relatively large gathering of Eritreans in Geneva formed a new association that primarily aims to help a successful integration of Eritrean refugees in Switzerland where over 25,000 new caseload of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers have entered the country in the past few years.

The new community association, which will be known in French as d’Entraide Suisse-Erythrée (Eritrean-Swiss Mutual Aid), shall be free from political and religious affiliation. Existing Eritrean political and civil society groups as well as free individuals have committed themselves to promote the objectives of the community association.

The general assembly was informed by the organizing committee, mainly composed of young Eritreans raised in Eritrea and abroad, that a good number of support activities have been underway by volunteers in the community.

Genevemeeting 1

Four of the organizing committee members who led the proceedings of the general assembly included Tedros Eyasu, Sophia Ammar, Tedros Teklemariam, and Awet Aregai. Addressing the general assembly in turn, they explained to the general assembly the various objectives of the new mutual aid association which include the following:    

  1. Granting a range of assistance to newly arriving Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees to help them become self-supporting members in the society. In particular
  • Providing them necessary information related to job opportunities, housing, insurance etc
  • Translation assistance at administrative offices and at health centres
  • Taking preventive measures to avoid violent confrontations among them.
  1. Preparing education and capacity building programmes to help Eritrean refugees to integrate in the Swiss society.
  2. Creating a common centre where the asylum seekers, refugees and Swiss nationals of Eritrean origin can meet.
  3. Preparing the ground to preserve Eritrean cultures and traditions.

The general assembly adopted the constitution of the new association in a unanimous vote and mandated the organizing committee to lead the association till the next general assembly.

The general assembly also voiced commended the services of mothers in supporting the new refugees, many of them still living in under-ground bunkers, and warmly applauded the work of Swiss-born young boys and girls who are granting French classes to the refugees, several of them being under the age of 20


In picture are among the young educators who availed themselves to talk about the project at the assembly. They are from left to right: Hannah Ammar, Niyat Tesfaldet and Veronica Almedom. Other youngsters who take part in the teaching courses are Filmon Zerai, Uda Bekit, Lina Hamde, Senait Almedom.

Two opposition members tell the Guardian how Eritreans are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the repressive regime

Issaias AfwerkiEritrea’s president, Isaias Afewerki, runs a one-party state and brooks no opposition. Photograph: James Akena/Reuters
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Martin Plaut

Eritrea is the most closed and repressive country in Africa, routinely denying access to the international media. No foreign journalists are based in the country and there is no independent local press. However, in a rare and courageous breach of the wall of silence, members of the internal opposition spoke to the Guardian and Radio France International last weekend.

Since independence from Ethiopia in 1993 Eritrea has been ruled by as a one-party state by President Isaias Afewerki, who brooks no opposition.
Two members of the Eritrean resistance, speaking via a secure connection, described conditions inside the country. “Essentials like water, electricity or petrol have disappeared,” they said. Food is so expensive that even middle-class families find it difficult to find enough to eat.

They said tension in the capital, Asmara, is high, with reports of trucks filled with Ethiopian “mercenaries” – from the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), known locally as Demhit, which Eritrea supports – ringing the city. The last round of compulsory military service failed, with only around 50 of the expected 400 conscripts reporting for duty. “We think it is highly likely that Demhit will carry out a door to door sweep to round up recruits,” said Sami (not his real name).

The TPDM, drawn from the ethnic group that now rules Ethiopia, has been given sanctuary, arms and training by Afewerki. Eritrea and Ethiopia have a long-standing border dispute, which has resulted in tens of thousands of troops confronting one another in the bleak, mountainous border region. Supporting Demhit is Eritrea’s means of maintaining pressure on the Ethiopian government.

A UN report published this month estimated that some 20,000 TPDM fighters are based in Eritrea, bolstering the president’s security. The report described them as having “a dual function as an Ethiopian armed opposition group and a protector of the Afewerki regime. Its fighters, who are from the same ethnic group as Afewerki, are seen to be personally loyal to him, unlike the defence forces whose loyalties have been questioned by the president in recent years.”

Since a failed army mutiny against the Eritrean regime in January 2013, the TPDM has become central to Afewerki’s survival. This reliance on foreign forces is deeply resented by the Eritrean population. “They demanded the identity documents of a friend of mine and I,” Sami said. “When this happened earlier this year there was a riot. People really hate them.”

Despite the intense security, the resistance is finding new ways of getting its message across. The group, which began over two years ago, started by helping organise phone calls from the diaspora abroad to Eritreans back home.

The resistance told the Guardian how it evaded tight security to put up posters protesting against conscription. “We lay on the streets, pretending to be homeless people,” said Sami. “It was freezing cold, but the security officials walked right over us. When they had gone we could put up our posters.

A smuggled video of “Freedom Friday”, now on YouTube, shows people in Asmara crowding round to read the posters.

Sami described the growing contempt for the regime. “In coffee bars you hear people talking – even high-ranking officials complain openly about the regime.” The government led the struggle for Eritrean independence, and for years relied on its legitimacy to demand the population’s support. “The movement was treated like a religion then, like the Bible or the Koran, and followed unquestioningly,” said Sami’s colleague, Temasgen. “Slowly, this has fallen away – and now it is gone.”

Both men know the risk they are taking in speaking to the international media. “I am willing to pay with my life,” Sami declared. “In history I would rather be remembered as someone who made the ultimate sacrifice rather than just sit and complain to my neighbours.”

They appealed for international pressure to be maintained on Afewerki: “Listen to our agony. We thank you for giving shelter to Eritrean refugees abroad, but if you are a decision-maker we beg you to keep up the pressure on the Eritrean regime.”

The opposition’s growing confidence and the fragility of the regime comes at a time when discussions are taking place about relaxing the sanctions against the Eritrean government. There are suggestions that the European Union is thinking about a new approach towards Asmara, and offering aid worth €200m (£158m) as a carrot for improved human rights.

Previous attempts by the former EU development commissioner Louis Michel to negotiate the release of the Swedish journalist Dawit Isaak in return for aid resulted in empty promises. Neither Dawit nor other political prisoners were freed. Instead, repression intensified, resulting in an exodus of refugees, who find their way across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to arrive at Calais in their hundreds.