Recent diplomatic initiatives in the Horn are a positive step, but the region needs much more to achieve lasting peace.

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and Abiy Ahmed, prime minister of Ethiopia, attend a meeting in Juba, South Sudan on March 4, 2019 [Jok Solomun/Reuters]
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and Abiy Ahmed, prime minister of Ethiopia, attend a meeting in Juba, South Sudan on March 4, 2019 [Jok Solomun/Reuters]

Following his recent efforts to achieve normalisation with Eritrea, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed embarked on a shuttle diplomacy mission across the Horn of Africa. Since the signing of the landmark June 2018 peace agreement between the two long-warring nations, Abiy held several bilateral and tripartite summits both in Addis Ababa and in other Horn of Africa capitals to help resolve some of the region's deep-rooted problems and kick-start a process of political integration.

In September 2018, a tripartite cooperation agreement was signed between Abiy, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo following a meeting in Ethiopia

On February 20, 2019, Ahmed met Muse Bihi Abdi, leader of the breakaway northern Somalia territory of Somaliland, in Addis Ababa to strengthen bilateral ties, discuss regional security issues and try to meditate in its dispute with the central government in Mogadishu. Somali President Farmajo, who was reportedly invited to the meeting, refused to participate, but later voiced his administration's appreciation of Abiy's mediation efforts and Bihi's willingness to work with the Somali government in a tweet

On March 4, Abiy met Afwerki and South Sudan's President Salva Kiir in Juba to further the Intergovernmental Authority of Development-led peace process in the country.

Three days later, Abiy, Farmajo and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta got together in Nairobi to try to resolve the maritime dispute between Kenya and Somalia. However, this meeting failed to produce a tangible solution, with Mogadishu making it clear that they will wait for the decision by the International Court of Justice.

While Abiy's shuttle diplomacy received praise, admiration and positive media coverage both in the region and across the world, it clearly failed to produce any practical results on the ground and even led to some new concerns and tensions. 

The tripartite cooperation agreement between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, for instance, has spawned new concerns among neighbouring countries about Ethiopia's plans for the region. Somaliland took Ethiopia's undertaking to respect the territorial integrity of Somalia fully as indicative of a change in Ethiopia's policy that might not be in Somaliland's interests. Furthermore, Ethiopia's renewed diplomatic ties with Eritrea and Somalia caused its traditional allies, Sudan and Djibouti, to feel sidelined.

Abiy's mediation efforts and other Horn of Africa leaders' willingness to take part in them are undoubtedly a positive step towards political integration, sustainable peace and meaningful cooperation in the region. Diplomatic shuttles and media coverage of rapprochement efforts play an important role in generating the political will for, and public acceptance of, such a process.

However, shuttle diplomacy alone cannot resolve major international problems. For such efforts to have practical consequences, they need to be backed by well-deliberated and radical actions - actions that have the potential to bring down the multiple barriers that currently make political integration an impossibility in the region.

The first barrier to integration in the Horn of Africa is pervasive and entrenched distrust between states.

Real political integration requires a regime of free movement of people, goods, services and money; and this can only be achieved if there is a high degree of trust between all involved actors. Unfortunately, in the Horn region, such confidence is in short supply.

Historical animosities, security threats within and beyond borders as well as deep-rooted suspicions among state officials about the motives of neighbouring states increase the trust deficit. 

Ongoing conflicts, and serious transboundary resource disputes, which together have displaced more than 10 million people and resulted in the presence of four peace missions (in Darfur, Sudan; the Sudan-South Sudan border; South Sudan proper and Somalia) and the continuing presence of more than 50,000 UN and AU peacekeeping troops in the region pose another barrier to political integration and feed into the trust deficit. 

Border disputes between South Sudan and Sudan over the future of Abyei, and between Eritrea and Ethiopia over the control of towns such as Badme still persist. Kenya and Somalia are locked in a dispute over their maritime border in the Indian Ocean, and Kenya and Uganda are still competing over the tiny Migingo Island in Lake Victoria.

Foreign interference in the region is yet another obstacle to deepening cooperation and integration. Strategically positioned at the major geopolitical and geo-economic nexus of the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, the Horn is also a battleground for global forces fighting for the control of large national markets and maritime domains. The region currently hosts tens of thousands of foreign troops, with new military bases in Djibouti and other countries in the region.

Several secessionist movements are alive and kicking in the region, with South Sudan and Eritrea providing living examples as to how de jure independent states can be established by any one of these movements under the right circumstances.

Somaliland and its push for independence from Mogadishu also provides a cautionary tale for all the nation states in the region. The suspicion that secessionist threats are being fuelled by neighbouring states and foreign forces is making many countries in the region reluctant to push for further regional integration.

There are still ongoing tensions between states with devolved and federated systems across the region. Forces pushing for decentralisation, as well as internal border disputes between subnational units, are also causing insecurities in many federated countries, such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. 

There is a persistent danger that small isolated wars may erupt any time between autonomous subnational entities, threatening the security of both the host states and their neighbours. Intent on manipulating these volatile political fault lines, governments in the Middle East - and from more distant regions - have lent their support to various conflicting parties. 

Fuelled by new changes and old tensions, traffic in small arms and light weapons has proliferated, while the Horn has become highly militarised. 

These peace and security challenges make political integration an agenda hard to sell in the Horn of Africa, especially when pushed to include too many countries too quickly.

Mediation and integration can only succeed if they come on the back of serious consultations and institutionalised efforts to build inter-state trust and end historic animosities. One such attempt can be the transformation of artificial borders drawn by colonial forces into drivers of integration that reflects the socio-economic realities on the ground, including traditional movements of people, infrastructure and commercial ties.

This type of progress cannot be achieved in a day or over a short summit between a couple of leaders. First, institutional and financial arrangements would need to be made to sustain a long peace process. Second, geographic proximity, commonly shared interest and vision should be used to lay a foundation of economic integration and eventually political one. Third, plans need to be drawn and efforts made to establish a strong political union under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

In this context, it is clear that Abiy's well-intentioned diplomatic efforts are doomed to failure, as they lack the depth and capacity to heal the region's trust deficit and to propose resolutions to the multidimensional conflicts and threats it is currently facing.

What is needed to bring political integration to the Horn of Africa is not diplomatic shuttles and official meetings, but well-thought-out initiatives and long-term plans with institutional support from IGAD.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial stance. 


Statement by country’s information ministry arose out of misinformation, says foreign ministry

Beyza Binnur Dönmez   | 06.04.2019
 Turkey disappointed over allegations by Eritrea


Turkey expressed disappointment Saturday after Asmara accused it of obstructing the peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

"We are saddened to note the baseless allegations about Turkey in a press statement dated April 3, 2019 by Eritrea’s Ministry of Information," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"We believe this statement arose out of misinformation.”

The ministry said that as a strategic partner of Africa, Turkey maintains multi-dimensional cooperation with African countries and attributes "great importance" to the security and stability of the continent.

The ministry also emphasized that Turkey’s appreciation of the normalization process between Ethiopia and Eritrea and developments towards the stability of the Horn of Africa has been made public on many occasions.


April 5, 2019 News

A photo taken on July 22, 2018 shows a general view of Old Massawa with the port and the train tracks that leads to the Eritrean capital Asmara. Maheder Haileselassie Tadese / AFP

Eritrea’s Capital Is Lovely. But Scratch the Surface and You’ll Find a Terrifying Reality

Source: Haaretz

People are jailed in cellars of houses, a network of informers has destroyed trust between people and hundreds of thousands have fled. A rare visit to the ‘North Korea of Africa’

ASMARA, Eritrea – The streets in the city center are spotless. There’s very little traffic, people walk in the center of the road, no one honks. Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, appears to be one of the loveliest and most pleasant cities in Africa. Orderly and quiet, the place seems like a sort of souvenir from the 20th century. As in Cuba, the cars are mostly old, from the 1960s and ‘70s. The many VW Beetles stand out. Italian architectural gems evoke the pre-World War II colonial period.

A stranger visiting the city won’t sense that anything is amiss. Outwardly, nothing suggests that this is one of the most insular dictatorships in the world, the North Korea of Africa. President Isaias Afwerki has ruled the country with an iron hand for 25 years. In Afwerki’s Eritrea, men serve in the army from age 17 until as late as age 50. Until recently, soldiers deployed along the borders were under orders to shoot anyone trying to flee to one of the neighboring countries. And throughout Eritrea, citizens are entangled in an extensive government-run network of informers: Students betray friends who have deserted the army; housewives inform on neighbors who criticize the regime and so on.

But there’s no hint of any of this in the streets. The only indication that life here is, after all, not as good as it may seem, is the lack of material goods. In the stores and markets I encounter the same products time and again. Bananas, toilet paper, mineral water. There are few clothing stores. Some fruits and vegetables are available in the main market, and old spare parts from cars and other items are on display on sidewalks, but there’s no doubt that in comparison to other cities in Africa, the range of products for sale is limited. With insularity comes dearth.

Next to the market, in the very heart of the city, is the notorious Karsheli Prison, which has both political and former military inmates. Actually, Eritreans often refer to their country as “one big prison.” No one knows how many people are imprisoned in Eritrea, but according to reports from the United Nations and other international organizations, 14,000 people are incarcerated in military prisons alone. Inside Karsheli, which is surrounded by cafés and private residences, inmates undergo torture, according to refugees in exile. Eritrea has a particularly brutal way of eliminating opponents of the regime: They’re thrown into shipping containers under the broiling sun and left to die from heat and thirst.
Tamara Baraaz

ISIS and civil war

After half a year of trying, I was informed that I would receive a visa to visit Eritrea. I wanted to see close up the circumstances that have sparked the waves of departure – what has prompted what seems like an entire generation of young people to turn their back on their homeland and scatter far and wide.

There’s something almost biblical in the scale of this exodus and in the dangers that lurk for the escapees afterward. Wherever they turn, Eritrean refugees are in existential danger. Many set their sights on Libya. Some have been caught by ISIS, some made it onto boats to attempt the perilous journey to Europe. Others escaped to Sudan and South Sudan, just as civil war erupted there. Those who headed for Egypt discovered that criminal organizations in Sinai have made a habit of kidnapping refugees, torturing them and demanding a ransom from their families for their release. Tens of thousands of Eritreans entered Israel from Sinai until the high barbed-wire border fence between it and Israel was erected some six years ago.

The visa came and I’m here at last, in Asmara. As I expected, it’s not easy to engage random citizens in conversation; Eritreans are naturally reticent and admit that they don’t tend to confide in strangers. When you add the fear and terror fomented by the state authorities, it’s easy to understand why no one is in a hurry to get into a candid conversation.

To break into the expected circle of silence, I’d been in contact earlier with representatives of the Eritrean underground – a network of clandestine movements and organizations. As I make my way along the streets of the capital to meet my liaison person, Tesfai (the names of all interviewees here have been changed for their protection), I notice I’m being followed. Tesfai explains: “That person has been following us in order to make sure that other people were not following us. He stayed around to observe, so that if someone should decide to ‘disappear’ me, they’ll at least know where it happened.”

The two men both belong to the Eritrean Liberation Democratic Movement, which aims to create “democracy, justice and a flourishing future in our country,” according to the group’s Facebook page. Abroad, its members openly work to advance their cause; here in Asmara, where even the slightest suspicion of criticism of the regime can land you in jail indefinitely, all their activity takes place underground.

Tesfai, who’s in his 20s, points toward the street I came from: “Do you see that building? In the past there was a government office there, and below it was a cellar with prisoners. When the neighbors found out what was going on there, the prison was moved elsewhere and the cellar was rented out. Every house here could be a makeshift jail.” Many of the people who disappeared, he adds, ended up in those jails, some of them in the basements of apartment buildings.

Just a few days earlier, Tesfai relates, agents of the regime arrested a group of young people in a bar. The charge: unlawful assembly. According to him, any gathering of more than five people is forbidden in Eritrea, but the law is enforced arbitrarily. The regime doesn’t usually intervene in cases involving family celebrations.

“They’re afraid of groups that will conspire to topple the government,” Tesfai explains. “But young people won’t give up their social life. People take the risk. In this case, people in civilian clothes showed up and announced that everyone was under arrest for unlawful assembly. No one has seen them since, and no one knows the real reason [they were apprehended], either.”

Maheder Haileselassie Tadese / AFP

Disappointing peace

How did Eritrea become a dictatorship that’s being abandoned by its citizens? Until the early 1990s the country, which has a population of about five million today, was still part of Ethiopia. In 1993, after waging a prolonged guerrilla war, the Eritreans dissociated themselves from the Addis Ababa government and gained independence. But the disputes didn’t end there. The struggle for independence morphed into a protracted conflict over control of areas along the two countries’ borders. In 1998, when a particularly violent confrontation broke out between them, President Afwerki declared that citizens would be subject to lengthy, mandatory military service – even up until the age of 50.

As the confrontation continued, there were increasing signs that the country was shifting to a regime of one-man rule. Things took a turn for the worse in 2001, when a group of members of the opposition and journalists publicly called for democratic reforms. In response, the president’s loyalists arrested everyone in the group – they are still categorized as missing persons. Since then, the situation has only deteriorated: Independent media outlets were shut down, some religious streams were outlawed, among them Jehovah’s Witnesses. For example, in 2017 the government imposed a ban on Muslim girls wearing a veil to school, on teaching religious subjects and on gender-separated classes. Ultimately, public criticism of the government was prohibited. Eritrea grew ever more insular and eventually became one of the world’s major exporters of refugees.

Last summer, there was a surprising development: After nearly three decades of conflict, Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace agreement. Families that had been separated by the border for so long were reunited. Foreign investors and tourists discovered that Eritrea was starting to issue visas and to show initial signs of openness. Swept up by euphoria, Eritreans hoped that the protracted mandatory military service would also be cancelled.

That was eight months ago. Photographs of President Afwerki with his Ethiopian counterpart Sahle-Work Zewde during the reconciliation talks can still be seen in restaurants and shops in Asmara, but the hope for any real change has been largely dashed. Military service was not abbreviated. The human rights situation remains dire. Expectations have been disappointed with respect to any mass return of Eritreans from self-imposed exile. In fact, the opposite has occurred: The flow of people fleeing the country increased.

At present, a large number of Eritreans continue to perform what is in essence, at least for men, open-ended military service. Some are assigned to combat duty near the border with Ethiopia, some are posted to office jobs and many are forced to engage in Sisyphean manual labor in the service of the state in mines, construction, paving of roads and so on. They receive a monthly allowance equivalent to 200 shekels ($55), but are not allowed to take another job. For most of the year they are unable to see their families.

A soldier’s date of discharge is decided arbitrarily by a commanding officer. Service can indeed last until the age of 50, but many are released after one or two decades. Bribery can play a crucial role in securing an early release, too. But even when a soldier is discharged, he can be mobilized again by law at an officer’s whim.

Preference for death

Just over a year ago, I visited Bor, a small town in South Sudan. Not long before, it had been the site of some of the bloodiest fighting during the civil war that broke out in the fledgling state in 2013. The presence of Eritrean refugees was immediately noticeable at the time. Many parts of South Sudan were on the brink of starvation, but the Eritreans seemed to have found their place. I asked some of them why they had come to a place whose local residents had until recently been burying the victims of the war. “We would rather die here than go back to our country,” they told me.

Tekeste, whom I meet in Asmara, also fled to Sudan, but is now back in his native land. He asks me whether I like Eritrea. It’s nice here, I reply, the streets are quiet and pleasant. “That’s because all the young people have left,” he says. “This country has emptied out. The situation here is crap.” A friend immediately interrupts and advises him to be quiet, but Tekeste continues: “She should know what’s going on here, so that she can share it with the rest of the world. Someone has to know about the situation here – that it’s all one big lie.”

When Tekeste finished high school, the dictatorship had been entrenched for two decades. He knew very well what lay in store: that he had to choose between devoting his best years to the army, or leave Eritrea. He made it across the border to a neighboring country but was eventually caught there, along with other refugees, and deported back to Eritrea.

Veronique DURRUTY / Gamma-Rapho

Back home, Tekeste was immediately jailed as a deserter. “We were 400 prisoners in one cell,” he recalls. “It was so crowded you couldn’t lie down. There was also a shortage of water. Once every three weeks, each inmate received a liter of water so he could shower. Other than that, inmates didn’t shower.”

According to a UN report, the families of soldiers who flee Eritrea are also liable to be severely punished. In some cases, they will lose the right to receive food-ration coupons. The coupons are used to purchase the basic commodities that are available once a month at government-run centers, and thus constitute the basis of subsistence for many families. In the past, loss of coupons was sometimes accompanied by a steep fine; nonpayment led to arrest and incarceration.

But the price of lengthy military service is also paid by families of soldiers who obey the law; such families are doomed to a life of poverty and only get to see their loved one after long periods of time. Binti has lived for years without her husband, who was inducted early on in their marriage. Every month he sends her a pittance equivalent to 125 shekels – about 60 percent of the allowance he gets – an amount that condemns her to extreme poverty.

“He gets one month of leave a year,” Binti explains, “and the rest of the time I don’t see him. In the 20 years of our marriage, we have spent a total of two years together. We had a daughter early on, and now she has also reached draft age. She was sent to serve in another city and I was left alone, to live off the small amount my husband sends me.”

How has Eritrea’s regime succeeded in subjecting the populace to its whims? Actually, for one particular class in the country – for example, business owners with connections to the regime – life isn’t so bad. Impressive buildings, cafés and restaurants line the capital’s main boulevard. In the evening the street comes alive and well-dressed young people come to guzzle beer and sip espresso. During the day, groups of cyclists go by – bicycling is the country’s leading sport. Quiet, peaceful streets branch off the boulevard. Yonas, a local resident, says it’s safe to walk around. “If someone finds a wallet with cash, you can be sure he’ll turn it in to a police station,” he says.

But the ostensible normality of the main boulevard and surrounding streets is deceptive. The state preserves stability through a national network of informants that keeps everyone intimidated. “People in Asmara will always assume that they are being spied on,” says Abraham Zere, an Eritrean journalist who lives in the United States, in a phone interview. “There’s a great deal of below-the-surface monitoring going on, and people are aware of the danger. So, despite the dire situation, when you ask someone how he is, he’ll say ‘Fine’ and smile.”

Spying on friends

A 2015 report of the UN’s Human Rights Council describes Eritrea’s domestic espionage network as a large, ramified body that encroaches on all spheres of life. The authorities recruit informants ceaselessly and in large numbers, so everyone lives under constant fear of being under surveillance. “In Eritrea everyone is a spy, local housewives, farmers, etc.,” the report quotes a witness as saying. “So they know when you arrive and when you leave. Your own neighbors report you to the authorities.”

Another young man testified that someone had asked him to spy on his fellow students: “Whatever information I gave him, he already knew of it. I came to understand that I was not the only one ‘on the ground.’ Other people could also know what I was doing… In a room with 10 people, maybe three could be spies. These people that are mandated to do surveillance work do it for a number of reasons: easy money, little labor, exemption from national service.”

Tesfai, the underground member, says that years ago, intelligence personnel attempted to recruit him too to spy on friends. “They asked me whether I would be willing to do everything for my country,” he recalls. “I replied that of course I would. Then they asked if I would report on an offense that could harm my country, and I understood what they were after. I replied that I would be ready to report murder or theft or any offense that is harmful to society, but I made it clear that I had no intention of reporting on my friends’ opinions or on remarks of acquaintances about the regime.” He was lucky: They authorities left him alone. Others paid for refusal with incarceration.

YokoAziz 2 / Alamy Stock Photo

The UN report notes that the Eritrean espionage network operates overseas, too; staff at its embassies even try to recruit collaborators among the exiles. In return, they promise to provide jobs and assistance in various matters. One of the sanctions used against opposition activists who voice criticism abroad is loss of rights of their family members still in Eritrea, and in some cases their incarceration. Such measures explain the fear of Eritrean refugees to critique the regime or talk about the crimes they’ve witnessed.

According to Tesfai, “It’s impossible to truly hide from the regime’s network of informants. Everyone knows everyone. You’re better off being open about most things and hiding only what is explicitly forbidden. In Eritrea everyone is slightly in favor of the government and slightly against it. If you praise the regime during a family event, everyone will agree with you and praise the president. If you complain about the situation, they will accept that, too, but the conversation will end when someone says, ‘So go demonstrate on the streets, let’s see you.’ But still, family is family. No one will inform on you for things you say at home. The authorities have succeeded in destroying the basic trust between people, but not in destroying the family unit.”

And if someone in the family is a government informer? Tesfai says that no one sells out relatives. “In a case like that, the informant might say that he knows about my activity and will warn me that if I persist with it he will not be able to protect me. But still, in Eritrea the family is the strongest thing.”

A byproduct of the omnipresent network of surveillance is that people don’t allow themselves to feud with neighbors or acquaintances. Says Tesfai: “You need to avoid confrontations and make sure that everyone feels you are on their side. If there is bad blood between you and an acquaintance, he can exploit [the memory of] that wedding party where you were drunk and complained about the regime.” Tesfai says he can be truly open only with close friends whom he’s gotten to know over a long, gradual period: “I can count them on fewer than the fingers of one hand.”

His own master

It’s been four months since Afwerki last addressed the nation. The hope was that in that speech, he would announce abridgement of military service, but he didn’t even mention it. According to Tesfai, “The thinking is that the president is afraid to cancel the eternal military service, because then he will have to cope with frustrated young people who have never done anything in life other than being in the military.”

Tadesse recently left the army after two decades. “I wasn’t officially discharged,” he explains. “I just told the commander that I had made my contribution to the state and that I was going. He didn’t object.” Tadesse spent his first years of service along the border, in the period when the confrontation with Ethiopia flared up into outright hostilities. As a young soldier, he witnessed brutal battles. “We lost many comrades-in-arms,” he relates. “Things were hard in the years after the fighting, too. Conditions in the army were awful, no different from the prisons, except maybe that you have more room to walk around.”

Having spent almost his whole adult life in the army, Tadesse, like the rest of his comrades-in-arms, never went to university or held a job. Inexperienced and apprehensive, he found himself competing in a tough job market after his discharge. The other job-seekers he encountered were former soldiers, students who were exempted from military service thanks to their high grades and fortunate young people who weren’t drafted because their families are well connected. But Tadesse got lucky and landed a job. It’s low paying, but the wages are higher than what he got in the army. What’s most important, he says, is that now he is his own master.

“My friends are still in the army,” Tadesse explains. “They don’t know anything else and they simply aren’t capable of leaving. It makes no difference to them that since the peace accord, monitoring of deserters has decreased. In the past few months many checkpoints have been removed, and discharge or exemption documents aren’t checked as they were in the past. But that doesn’t really help people who think they have nothing to come back to and say they won’t find work.”

When I met Tadesse a few weeks ago, he believed that the authorities would ease up gradually and loosen the reins. But since then, pessimistic reports have been making the rounds among the Eritrean community abroad. “We are in regular contact with residents of Asmara,” says Dr. Daniel Mekonnen, director of the Eritrean Law Society, who has lived since 2001 in exile in Switzerland. “We are being told that the checkpoints have been put back in place and that all departures from Asmara are being monitored. We understand that military forces have been beefed up and are on standby, but it’s not really clear to us why.”

As a district court judge in Asmara 20 years ago, Mekonnen explains in a phone call, he already saw signs of a grim future in Eritrea. “You could see that the system was moving toward dictatorship,” he says. “Already then, the court’s independence began to be curtailed, and I came under heavy pressure to rule in favor of the government’s interests in certain cases, or to join the ruling party.”

Mekonnen is openly and frequently critical of the regime. Even though he left his homeland long ago, he still gets threats via telephone and the social networks. “The most frightening incident was three years ago, in Geneva,” he recalls, “at a demonstration against the conclusions of a UN report on Eritrea that caused a big storm. Two Eritreans at the demonstration started to attack me. I was beaten and battered, but I ran to the UN headquarters, and was protected by the guards. I filed a complaint with the police, but they didn’t take it seriously. In general, we find that countries that have become Eritrean diasporas don’t want to intervene and help.”

The atmosphere on Asmara’s main boulevard betrays no signs of the tensions and experiences described by Dr. Mekonnen. Eritreans are quite sociable. The people in cafés are affable, take an interest when they meet foreigners, and repeatedly offer to pay for a visitor’s coffee or meal, according to the norms of local hospitality.

One man I met, named Bruno, explains that “the cafés are indeed full of people, but it only looks as though they are there to enjoy themselves. Actually, it’s where they run their business from. Most of the day they’re stuck doing their public work, in the army or in the service of the state, but it’s impossible to subsist on what the regime pays. They’re not allowed to start a business of their own, so they take long lunch breaks and manage their secret projects from the cafés. That’s also why nothing gets done in government offices. It’s the only revolt people allow themselves [to wage].”

As the days go by during my visit, the discrepancy between the initial impression created by the city’s streets and the actual reality becomes more acute. In fact, it’s possible to sense echoes of the dictatorship resonating in every sphere of life. From my conversations I realize that the lengthy military service and the mass exodus of young men have fundamentally unhinged the social order here.

“One of the consequences of what’s happening is that there are fewer couple relationships here,” Tesfai notes. “People try to marry off their children and help one another, but in the end most of my friends are single. They are people in their 30s who are simply unable to establish a family on the money they get for their military service. They don’t have a life outside the army.”

Tekeste agrees: “Military service has destroyed all male-female ties. Women are conscripted, too, but are discharged if they become pregnant, even if that is not officially stated in the law. Some women decide to become pregnant at any price in order to be exempted from service. Asmara is full of single mothers. Men who earn so little are afraid that they will be required to pay child support, and in Eritrea paternity testing is banned by law. This whole situation creates problems.”

In addition to the impact on interpersonal relations, the despotic rule and the lengthy mobilization are also harmful to the country’s economy. Experts point to the limited scope of agriculture in Eritrea. Besides the droughts and an abundance of mine fields, the country is also affected by a labor shortage: With so many working-age men serving in the army and many others in exile, people able to work the land are in short supply.

Economically, an Eritrean family is beholden to the government in almost every realm, above and beyond the food-coupons system. Many professionals are still at the beck and call of the army. This affects physicians and teachers, and also influences the construction industry, road-building and other infrastructure projects – all carried out by forced laborers drafted as soldiers. This situation of absolute dependence is instrumental in allowing the regime to maintain an obedient society. “The government looks after the citizens to a certain degree,” Tekeste says. “People get help so they won’t go hungry, but the assistance is limited.”

Over the years, the government has adopted a series of tough measures to consolidate its tough, centralist economy. For example, no more than $300 a month may be withdrawn from a bank account, and anyone who wants to establish a private business faces numerous obstacles. In the absence of a vibrant private economy, many families depend on aid sent by refugees. In the past, the government made every effort to stop people from emigrating and looked askance at ties with the diaspora. Nowadays, semi-official agencies help arrange money transfers from Eritreans abroad for their families who stayed behind.

The population must also contend with a serious housing crisis. The large-scale flight did not bring about a reduction in home prices. On the contrary: The combination of the influx of people to the cities and lack of new construction has spiked real estate prices.

“Not one building has been erected in Asmara since 2006,” Abraham Zere, the journalist, says. “Rent has skyrocketed and is no longer consistent with salaries and with the money the bank allows you to withdraw – assuming you have money. So a large part of the economic activity takes place under the table, and people have become dependent on funds sent from abroad.”

Indeed, signs of a construction freeze are apparent on the streets of Asmara. Even though the city was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list two years ago, decay is obvious beneath the apparent order and cleanliness. The once-lauded, fine Italian-era buildings are peeling and cracked, and have not been renovated for years. This is also the case in the port city of Massawa, where most of the old buildings from the Ottoman period and more recent colonial times are falling apart and riddled with bullet holes from the fierce battles of the 1990s.

While construction is in crisis, other industries are likely receiving encouragement thanks to the involvement of foreign companies. But this is an illusory boom, because much of it is also based on forced labor. Foreign corporations frequently exploit the local workforce through the agency of the army. According to the UN report, Eritrean soldiers have been employed in mining, fishing and industrial enterprises by both foreign and local companies – under shameful conditions. Workers were denied breaks, received inferior food and suffered from poor hygienic conditions. In some cases, workers who wanted to rest were lashed to a pole for the night. A lawsuit is currently underway in Canada against a local company that is engaged in mining in Eritrea. The plaintiffs are exiles who say they were employed in the company’s mine as soldiers.

Listening post

Another method the regime has for subjugating the population is through Afwerki’s divide-and-rule policy. Incarcerations and house arrests are the lot not only of deserters and dissidents, but also of people who have ties to the government or even work for it. These arrests, on trumped-up charges, can take place with no warning or explanation. In some cases, the detentions are short-term, a means of deterrence and warning instituted by the president, but in other cases they are open-ended.

“The system of factionalism and arrests has created a conflicted hierarchy,” Tesfai says, “and today there is no publicly accepted leader who could replace the president. If Afwerki falls, we will probably see a civil war here. For that reason, our goal is not to topple the president but to put pressure on him to change his policy, in part through foreign entities that maintain ties with Eritrea.”

Israel is one of the foreign actors active in Eritrea – which is essentially isolated in the international community – although the nature of these bilateral ties and their impact is not clear. Indeed, the Jewish state has maintained diplomatic relations with the African nation since its founding in the 1990s. Unlike other states, Israel’s ties with Eritrea are not necessarily economic in nature, but rather security related. Over the years there have been reports that Israel has been allowed to anchor maritime vessels at an Eritrean port and to operate a surveillance station as well, as part of its effort to scuttle arms smuggling from Iran to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Though it is well aware of the political situation in Eritrea, Israel continues to maintain relations with its dictatorial regime. Last summer, the state was compelled to respond to a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice on behalf of human rights activists by attorney Itay Mack, who is dedicated to exposing information about Israel’s arms- and security-related deals with other countries. The petition demanded that an opinion drawn up by the Foreign Ministry about the situation in Eritrea be made public. The court noted that the documents paint a worrisome picture of the human rights situation in the African country, but rejected the petition on the grounds that “additional interests, among them the effort to avoid damage to Israel’s foreign relations, also deserve protection.”

In the meantime, Eritrea’s future remains cloudy. There are incipient signs of a new openness, such as the peace agreement with Ethiopia, a flow of tourists and the lifting of a UN-imposed arms embargo. But at the same time, there is little evidence of an improvement in the human rights situation, of a reduction in the mass arrests or of a revision of the policy of indefinite military service. Tesfai, the underground member, refuses to give up. “We intend,” he says, “to go on trying to change the situation from within.”

Maheder Haileselassie Tadese / AFP

April 1, 2019 EU, News

#ChangeInEritrea Assembly in front of EEAS demanding a reversal of EU policyEritreans living in the Netherlands are issuing a summons against the European Union for aid which they say will involve the use of forced labour in their home country.

The EU is providing €20 million to the Eritrean government under the ‘EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa for road reconstruction.

But the petitioners say that the projects will involve the use conscripts from the country’s National Service – a system condemned by the UN as a form of enslavement.

You can read the full Letter-of-Summons-EU-Emergency-Trust-Fund-for-Africa here.

National Service traps young men and women in an indefinite system of conscription.

Conscripts have been held for 20 years and more.

The Eritrean government introduced compulsory national service in 1995. By law, every high school finalist undertakes 18 months of national service, which include six months of military training.

When relations deteriorated with neighbouring Ethiopia following the bitter 1998-2000 border war, the national service was" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">extended indefinitely and this has never been revoked. As the UN Human Right Council found: “Very few Eritreans are ever released from their military service obligations.”

EU accepts conscript labour will be involved

The EU acknowledges in its project plan that national service members will be deployed on the project.

The EU has provided limited information about their Eritrean project funding, which is described as reinforcing the reconciliation agreement signed between Eritrea and Ethiopia in 2018. The road reconstruction will help by “reconnecting the two countries and providing Ethiopia access to Eritrea’s ports” which the EU describes as “a key priority.”

“The specific objective is to improve transport connectivity for commercial trade along the arterial roads between Massawa and the Ethiopian border,” according to the project document.

The EU argues that the use of National Service conscripts will be “a subject of heightened dialogue.”

The case is being brought by the Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans, which was founded by Eritrean exiles living in the Netherlands.

Emiel Jurjens, the solicitor who is bringing the case for the Foundation says that various arms of the Eritrean government are involved in the EU’s project.

The EU’s Eritrean project plans describe its stakeholders as including the Eritrean Government and the Red Sea Trading Corporation, which is owned by the ruling party, the Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice.

Mr Jurjens says the road reconstruction will involve the use of conscripts serving in the Eritrean National Service.

“This EU project was little advertised,” says Mr Jurjens. “It slipped below the radar.” Mr Jurjens believes this case is precedent setting: “as far as I know it is the first of its kind.”

Enslaved labour

The condition of the conscripts was described by the UN Human Rights Commission in graphic detail: “Thousands of conscripts are subjected to forced labour that effectively abuses, exploits and enslaves them for years. Women conscripts are at extreme risk of sexual violence during national service.”

The involvement of the EU in projects developed in association with the Eritrean government, which is among the most repressive in Africa, would have been bad enough.

That the Europeans are planning to provide aid funding to support programmes that use enforced or conscripted labour is described as unconscionable.

Mulueberhan Temelso, Director of the Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans, says: “Every person in National Service is trapped in extremely harsh conditions.

There are more than 365 secret and hidden prisons across the country and the European Union is well aware of this.

The EU must immediately stop aid to the country. It is totally unacceptable for EU to encourage the use of slave labour.”

Volating European human right commitments

The use of forced labour or enslaved labour in an EU funded project would violate a range of European undertakings. Article Five of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights states that: “No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour.”

Professor Mirjam van Reisen, of the University of Tilburg, and an expert on Eritrea and Human Trafficking, said: “It is shocking that the EU would allow the use of forced labour in any of the programmes that it funds – this is totally unacceptable.

National Service is the main reason Eritreans are fleeing their country and supporting forced labour will only create more refugees. This programme is wrong – it must be stopped at once.”

EU denies claim of funding Eritrea 'forced labour' project

Wednesday, 03 April 2019 23:23 Written by

2 April 2019

Eritrean soldiers

 Image copyright Getty Images Image caption National service in Eritrea is supposed to last 18 months but it can continue indefinitely, rights groups say

 Eritrean human rights activists have accused the EU of funding a scheme in Eritrea that uses "forced labour".

The EU is backing a road-building project as part of its programme to stem migration from Africa into Europe.

But it says it will carefully monitor the work to make sure that people are "adequately" paid and treated well.

National service recruits will be used and the Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans (FHRE) says conscripts are "trapped for an indefinite period".

FHRE has threatened to sue the EU over violating its human rights charter.

FHRE director Mulueberhan Temelso has called Eritrea an "open-air prison [where] every person in national service is trapped in extremely harsh conditions".

What's the issue with national service in Eritrea?

Officially, Eritrea requires people to undertake 18 months of national service, but this period was extended indefinitely in the wake of the Ethiopia-Eritrea war that ended in 2000.

A 2016 UN human rights investigation said conscripts were used as "forced labour".

The "widely-criticised practice... has robbed the country's youth of their dreams creating a generation of Eritrean refugees", rights group Amnesty International said in 2018.

Abiy Ahmed and Isaias Afwerki Image copyright Fitsum Arega Image caption Ethiopia-Eritrea relations thawed after Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (left) met Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki last year

Eritrea has said that this is a distorted picture of what is going on and has denied that there is indefinite national service. The government has not commented on what the FHRE is saying.

There was hope that it would return to its original 18-month period following the signing of a peace deal with Ethiopia last year, but this has not yet happened.

What is the EU doing?

The EU has pledged to spend €20m ($22m; £17m) in Eritrea as part of its Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, which is aimed at tackling what the EU calls "irregular migration" by funding job creation schemes in various African countries.

The money will be spent on improving the road network in Eritrea.

In its explanation of the project, the EU acknowledges that people on national service will be used but it says they will be paid and the pay rates have recently been increased.

It adds that the issue is the subject of "heightened dialogue" with Eritrea.

"The EU does not support indefinite national service in Eritrea. Human rights are at the core of all our policies and it is misleading to suggest we are supporting forced labour," an EU spokesman said in an emailed statement to the BBC.

Sources in Eritrea have told the BBC that since 2016 soldiers have nominally received $120 a month, but after deductions, including paying for rations, they personally get paid just $17 a month and their family gets $40.

There has been no recent pay increase, the BBC understands.

What will the rights activists do?

FHRE has sent a letter to the EU warning that it will take the organisation to court for violating its own Charter of Fundamental Rights if it does not withdraw from the road-building project.

The charter states that "no-one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour".

"I'm very interested to hear what the EU has to say for itself because whatever you say it will amount to a defence of using forced labour," the lawyer acting on behalf of the FHRE told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

"I find it hard to understand, and I'm hoping a lot of people within the EU will find it hard to understand," he added.


ፈስቲቫል ኤርትራ 2019 ኣገዳሲ ሓበረታን ጸዋዒትን

Cyrus Ombati 31st Mar 2019 10:39:33 GMT +0300

Police have rescued eight Eritreans while being smuggled through Kenya to Asia.
The victims aged between 17 and 31 are believed to be victims of human trafficking, police said. The eight were rescued after the detectives managed to intercept a vehicle, which they being ferried in at Wamba Junction in Isiolo County. According to the detectives, three suspects were arrested while one other suspect managed to escape.

SEE ALSO :Why war against shisha use, sale is far from being won

On Friday, two vehicles were also detained in connection to the syndicate. In Eastleigh, Nairobi, two suspects-Mohamed Ismail Ibrahim and Ali Ibrahim Barow were arrested on suspicion of being part of a racket that is involved in making false travel documents. After investigations, several Kenyan, Somali and Ethiopian passports were recovered at a hotel in Eastleigh, police said and added the men are part of a larger group that smuggles migrants from the region to other countries. This came two days after another suspected human trafficking ring was busted in Ruiru, Kiambu County. Elsewhere, at least 25 Burundians were rescued and three Kenyan women arrested. The victims aged between 24 to 33 years were reportedly held hostage pending transit to Asian countries including Thailand.

SEE ALSO :Taxi driver arraigned for smuggling 22 women

Detectives from the Transnational Organized Crime, raided a private home and rescued the 25 female victims. Most of the victims say they are escaping poor treatment in their countries and go to Asia to seek for jobs. This is the latest operation targeting foreigners who are on transit. Most of the arrested are from Ethiopia. Tens of Ethiopians are annually arrested in Kenya while on transit and later deported. Most of those arrested come to Kenya to seek for jobs or are on transit. Police and immigration officials have decried increased cases in which Ethiopian aliens are nabbed in the country while on transit to either Tanzania or South Africa. Police and immigration officials face difficulties in dealing with the aliens because they cannot speak in Swahili and English. Cases of human smuggling have been on the rise in the region with hundreds of young men and women from Ethiopia finding their way into South Africa through Kenya in search of employment. What is puzzling is how the immigrants manage to evade many police roadblocks mounted from Moyale border where they use to Nairobi. There are more than 20 roadblocks on the stretch, which raises the seriousness of the security agents to tame the practice. Some officials say the crime happens out of collusion between security agencies and the smugglers.

March 30, 2019 News

Note: this report follows the failure of Eritrea to submit a report

UN Human Rights Committee 2

Principle finding:

The State party should, as a matter of urgency, ensure that the 1997 Constitution is put into effect pending its replacement by the new constitution. It should also expedite the constitutional review process, within a clear time frame, and in a transparent and participatory manner. The State party should urgently reconvene the National Assembly so that it may, in line with its mandate, take necessary steps regarding implementation of the Covenant. The State party should ensure that the rights enshrined in the Covenant are fully incorporated into the Constitution and other relevant domestic legislation and take all measures necessary to ensure that all laws, including common, customary and sharia law, are interpreted and applied in full compliance with the Covenant and are enforceable in national courts. It should also make efforts to train all legal professionals, including judges, prosecutors and lawyers, public officials and the public on the rights enshrined in the Covenant and their application.


Source: United Nations

Advance unedited version Distr.: General 28 March 2019 

Original: English 

Human Rights Committee’s Concluding observations on Eritrea in the absence of its initial report*

  1. In the absence of the initial report by the State party, the Committee considered the situation of civil and political rights under the Covenant in Eritrea at its 3582nd and 3583rd meetings (CCPR/C/SR.3582 and CCPR/C/SR.3583), held in public sessions on 12 and 13 March 2019. In accordance with rule 70, paragraph 1, of the Committee’s rules of procedure, the failure of a State party to submit its report under article 40 of the Covenant may lead to an examination in a public session of the measures taken by the State party to give effect to the rights recognized in the Covenant and to adopt concluding observations.
  1. At its 3599th meeting, held on 25 March 2019, the Committee adopted the following concluding observations.
  1. Introduction
  1. The Covenant came into force for Eritrea on 22 April 2002. The State party was under an obligation to submit its initial report by 22 May 2003. The Committee regrets that the State party has failed to honour its reporting obligations under article 40 of the Covenant and that, despite numerous reminders, the State party has not submitted its initial report.
  1. The Committee further regrets that the State party did not send replies to the Committee’s list of issues (CCPR/C/ERI/Q/1). The Committee nevertheless expresses appreciation for the opportunity to engage in a constructive dialogue with the State party’s delegation on the implementation of the Covenant on 12 and 13 March 2019 and takes note of the oral responses by the delegation and the additional information provided by the State party after the dialogue.

Positive aspects 

  1. The Committee notes with appreciation the signing of a Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship between Eritrea and Ethiopia on 9 July 2018, and of a cooperation agreement between Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia on 6 September 2018 on working together to restore peace and stability in the Horn of Africa Region. The Committee also notes the lifting of sanctions imposed against Eritrea by the United Nations Security Council on 14 November 2018. The Committee hopes that the State party will seize these opportunities as the beginning of a new era to build a more peaceful, inclusive and resilient future for the people of Eritrea.
  1. The Committee welcomes the ratification of, or accession to, by the State party to the following treaties:

(a)  The Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, on 25 September 2014;

(b)  The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, on 16 February 2006.

  1. Principal matters of concern and recommendations

Constitutional and legal framework within which the Covenant is implemented 

  1. The Committee is concerned about the fact that the Constitution is not in force in the State party due to the fact that the 1997 Constitution was not implemented, and no other constitution has yet been adopted. This poses a serious challenge to the implementation of the Covenant in the State party. While noting the plans of the State party to draft a new constitution, the Committee regrets lack of clarity about time frame and modalities of such drafting process. The Committee is also seriously concerned about the suspension of the National Assembly since the year 2002. In view of the State party’s dualist system, the Committee is further concerned about the lack of information about proper incorporation of the Covenant’s rights into national law and of complete lack of information on their enforceability before domestic courts (art. 2).
  1. The State party should, as a matter of urgency, ensure that the 1997 Constitution is put into effect pending its replacement by the new constitution. It should also expedite the constitutional review process, within a clear time frame, and in a transparent and participatory manner. The State party should urgently reconvene the National Assembly so that it may, in line with its mandate, take necessary steps regarding implementation of the Covenant. The State party should ensure that the rights enshrined in the Covenant are fully incorporated into the Constitution and other relevant domestic legislation and take all measures necessary to ensure that all laws, including common, customary and sharia law, are interpreted and applied in full compliance with the Covenant and are enforceable in national courts. It should also make efforts to train all legal professionals, including judges, prosecutors and lawyers, public officials and the public on the rights enshrined in the Covenant and their application.
  1. The Committee is concerned about a lack of access to an effective remedy for victims of violations of rights protected under the Covenant. It is further concerned at an absence of a mechanism to implement decisions of the relevant international human rights bodies. The State party has not yet implemented the decision in Dawit Isaak v. Republic of Eritrea (communication 428/12) by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights concerning the 18 journalists who have been arrested on 19 September 2001 (art. 2).
  1. The State party should provide all victims of violations of rights protected under the Covenant with access to an effective remedy and full reparation. It should take immediate measures to implement decisions of the relevant international human rights bodies, including release or trial of the 18 journalists who were the subject of the above- mentioned decision in Dawit Isaak v. Republic of Eritrea.

National human rights institution  

  1. The Committee is concerned at the absence of a national human rights institution to monitor human rights in the State party, and the lack of clarity about plans to create one (art. 2).
  1. The State party should establish an independent national human rights institution with a broad human rights protection mandate and adequate human and financial resources, in conformity with the principles relating to the status of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (the Paris Principles).

The fight against impunity and past human rights violations 

  1. The Committee is concerned about reports of widespread impunity, in particular with respect to serious human rights violations, including alleged cases of enslavement, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and rape, and the absence of prosecutions of alleged perpetrators and the provision of victims with adequate remedies (arts. 2, 6, 7 and 14).
  1. The State party should take all necessary measures to end impunity for perpetrators of human rights violations, in particular the most serious violations, by establishing a transitional justice process for the prosecution of past violations and by systematically conducting prompt, impartial, effective and thorough investigations in order to identify and prosecute and punish those responsible, while ensuring that the victims have access to effective remedies and to full reparation.

Public emergencies 

  1. The Committee is concerned that although no state of emergency has been officially proclaimed, the State party applies de facto a state of emergency, as stated by the State party’s delegation, failing to comply with the basic safeguards of article 4 of the Covenant (art. 4).
  1. The State party should take steps to end as soon as possible the de facto state of emergency and ensure that any state of emergency applied on its territory and measures taken in pursuance to it comply with the provisions of article 4 of the Covenant. In accordance with the Committee’s general comment No. 29 (2001) on derogations from the Covenant during a state of emergency, the State party should develop legislation containing clear provisions on states of emergency so that the rights protected under article 4 (2) of the Covenant may not be suspended under any circumstances and to ensure that any derogation is consistent with the Covenant.

Counter-terrorism measures 

  1. While acknowledging the State party’s need to adopt measures to prevent acts of terrorism, the Committee is concerned about allegations that arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial killings have been committed against members of the Muslim community as a group for their alleged links with terrorist groups (arts. 2(1), 6, 7 and 26).
  1. The State party should ensure that measures taken to combat terrorism are fully compatible with its obligations under the Covenant and are directed at the suspected perpetrators only. It should refrain from designating any specific community as linked to terrorism.

Non-discrimination and equality between men and women

  1. While noting measures to increase women’s representation at the regional level, the Committee is concerned that women are unrepresented in senior government positions and that temporary special measures aimed at ensuring women’s representation in legislative and judicial bodies benefited only women affiliated with the political party in power (arts. 2, 3 and 26).
  1. The State party should take all necessary measures to increase women’s fair participation in all aspects of public life, in particular their representation at the highest levels of government, legislative bodies and in the judicial system.

Gender-based violence, including domestic violence 

  1. While welcoming assurances by the State party that it is addressing harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation, the Committee is concerned that violence against women is widespread and persistent in the State party, including domestic violence and sexual violence in the context of the national service programme. The Committee is further concerned about a lack of comprehensive legislation that explicitly criminalizes all forms of violence against women, including marital rape. The Committee is also concerned that consensual same-sex relationships is criminalized in the State party, which promotes

CCPR/C/ERI/CO/1 3 CCPR/C/ERI/CO/14 homophobic attitudes and stigmatize lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons (arts. 3, 6, 7, 14 and 26).

  1. The State party should adopt comprehensive legal measures explicitly criminalizing all forms of violence against women, including sexual violence and marital rape. The State party should ensure that (a) cases of violence against women and domestic violence are promptly and thoroughly investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offences; (b) victims have access to effective remedies and full reparation. The State party should also decriminalize same-sex relationships between consenting adults and take measures, including policy and public education initiatives, to change societal perceptions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

Right to life 

  1. The Committee is concerned about a lack of legal standards and relevant procedures on appropriate use of force and firearms by law enforcement and security forces in the State party. The Committee is concerned about allegations of disproportionate use of force against civilians, such as a reported killing of at least 11 individuals during an incident where young conscripts jumped out of a truck on 3 April 2016 in Asmara, and the alleged use of live ammunition during the dispersal of a protest against government involvement in a Muslim school, on 31 October 2017 in Asmara. The Committee is also concerned about reports of killing or wounding of persons attempting to leave the State party illegally by its security forces at the borders. While the Committee notes the statement of the delegation from the State party that there is a de facto moratorium on death penalty, it is concerned that the death penalty remains in the Penal Code and the Government has not instituted an official moratorium on the use of the death penalty, with a view to its abolition (arts. 6 and 12).
  1. The State Party should take measures to effectively prevent and eliminate all forms of excessive use of force by police and security officers, including by (a) adopting appropriate legislation and policies controlling the use of lethal force by law enforcement officials, taking due account of the Committee’s general comment no. 36 on the right to life and the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials; (b) introducing procedures designed to ensure that law enforcement actions are adequately planned in a manner consistent with the need to minimize the risk they pose to human life, mandatory reporting, review, and investigation of lethal incidents; (c) providing law enforcement personnel with training on the use of force; and (d) ensuring that all instances of excessive use of force are promptly, impartially and effectively investigated and that those responsible are brought to justice. The State party should consider: (a) establishing an official moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolishing it; and (b) acceding to the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

Prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

  1. The Committee is concerned about allegations of extensive and methodical use of torture in civilian and military detention centres, including reports of torture to punish criticism of the government, practicing of religions non-recognised by the government, attempting to leave the State party or failing to perform duties during national military service. The Committee is concerned about non-existence of an independent body to investigate complaints and prevent torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials (arts.7 and 10).
  1. The State party should, as a matter of urgency, put an end to the practice of torture and ill-treatment. It should (a) review its laws to ensure that all elements of the crime of torture are prohibited in accordance with article 7 of the Covenant and stipulate sanctions for acts of torture that are commensurate with the gravity of the crime; (b) ensure prompt, thorough and effective investigation of all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and where appropriate prosecute and punish the perpetrators with penalties commensurate with the gravity of the offence and provide effective remedies for the victims, including rehabilitation; (c) take all measures necessary to prevent torture, including by strengthening the training of judges, prosecutors, the police and military and security forces. The State party should establish an independent mechanism for investigating complaints on torture and ill- treatment by law enforcement officials.

Enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention 

  1. The Committee is deeply concerned about reports of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by governmental actors, particularly the National Security Office. The Committee is deeply concerned about the reports of widespread arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention, failing to meet basic minimum legal safeguards, such as access to a lawyer, medical doctor and right to inform a family, a right to be promptly brought before a judge and a judicial review of detention. The Committee is specifically concerned about allegations of applying arbitrary detention against (a) perceived political dissents, (b) journalists (c) members of religious groups, including 40 Muslim clerics and scholars from the Saho ethnic group, detained since 2008, and Abune Antonios, Patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, being in house arrest since 2006. The Committee is also concerned about the reports that some unlawfully detained persons have died in detention, including Musa Mohammed Nur, the former director of the Al Dia School in Asmara, who was arrested in October 2017. The Committee is further concerned that the delegation of the State party did not confirm or deny, despite being repeatedly asked to do so, whether the below-mentioned persons held in detention are still alive (arts. 6 and 9).
  1. The State party should (a) ensure prompt, impartial and thorough investigations of all allegations and complaints concerning enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings; (b) ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions and ensure that the victims are provided with full reparation, including satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition; and (c) clarify the fate or whereabouts of disappeared persons and ensure that their relatives are informed about the progress and the results of investigations. In particular, it should promptly make public the whereabouts of the 18 journalists detained since 19 September 2001, mentioned in paragraph 9 above; 11 former top officials of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), known as “the G15”, detained since 18 September 2001, and former Minister of Finance, Berhane Abrehe, and his wife, Almaz Habtemariam, detained respectively since 17 September 2018 and January 2018. The State party should ensure that (a) all persons deprived of their liberty are only detained in official places of detention and are provided with all legal safeguards, including an access to a lawyer, medical doctor and a family member, and that they are brought promptly before a judge; (b) allegations of unlawful detention are promptly investigated and that the perpetrators are brought to justice; (c) victims of arbitrary and unlawful detention are promptly released and provided with access to an effective remedy and full reparation. The State party should, as a matter of urgency, inform the relatives of the persons in detention about their whereabouts.

Conditions of detention 

  1. The Committee regrets lack of data pertaining to the prison population, and the number of detention facilities, both official and unofficial, in the State party. The Committee is concerned about reports of over-incarceration and over-crowding, poor hygiene, inadequate nutrition and water supply, lack of health care in detention facilities. It is further concerned about reported use of underground cells and shipping containers to detain prisoners, including in Adi Abeto, Alla, Dhlak Kebir, Mai Edaga, Mai Serwa, Sawa and Wi’a. The Committee is concerned about allegations of high number of deaths in custody, lack of information or explanation provided to relatives and an absence of any investigation into the circumstances of such deaths. It is also concerned about a lack of access of independent monitoring groups to prison facilities (arts. 6, 7 and 10).
  1. The State party should take measures to improve detention conditions by (a) adopting practical measures to reduce overcrowding, including through the promotion of alternatives to detention; (b) ensuring that persons in detention are treated with humanity and dignity, in accordance with the Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners (Nelson Mandela Rules); (c) allowing for independent monitoring of detention facilities; and (d) considering accession to the Optional Protocol to the CCPR/C/ERI/CO/1 5 CCPR/C/ERI/CO/16

Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. 

The State party should investigate all inmate deaths promptly and thoroughly, prosecute and, where appropriate, punish those responsible and grant full reparation to victims’ families.

The right to a fair trial and the independence of the judiciary 

  1. The Committee is concerned about the lack of independence of the judiciary, including absence of a transparent procedure of appointment and dismissal of judges and the fact that many judges are military officers without proper legal training. The Committee is also concerned that military courts have jurisdiction in cases involving civilians and about the absence of a right to appeal decisions of the military courts. The Committee is concerned about the Special Court, which is not part of the ordinary judicial system, and which derives its powers from the Ministry of Defence and has its jurisdiction extended to general criminal cases. The Committee is concerned about a lack of basic guarantees of fair trial before the Special Court, including no right to a legal representative, to defence, to appeal, absence of a public hearing and public decisions. The Committee regrets that the Supreme Court, provided for by the Constitution, has not been established (art.14).
  1. The State party should take efforts to ensure and protect the full independence and impartiality of the judiciary and guarantee that it can carry out its judicial functions without any form of pressure or interference. The State party should (a) establish transparent and objective appointment and dismissal procedures of judges; (b) allocate additional human and financial resources to the judicial system, including providing judges and prosecutors with proper legal education and training; (c) ensure that military courts have jurisdictions only in cases involving military personnel; (d) provide for a right to a fair trial in all stages of judicial procedure, including the right to a defence and an appeal; (e) abolish the Special Court; and (f) establish the Supreme Court in accordance with the Constitution.

Freedom of movement and trafficking in persons 


  1. The Committee is concerned about restrictions on the right to freedom of movement in the State party, including restrictions of the right to leave the country, stipulated in the National Service Proclamation 82/1995. It is concerned about allegations that persons moving without permits within the State party or trying to leave it are subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention. It is further concerned about allegations of so called shoot-to-kill or shoot-to-wound policies that have been applied against persons trying to cross the borders illegally. It is further concerned that, due to severe travel restrictions, including exit permits, persons attempting to leave the State party are compelled to resort to clandestine alternatives, which may make them vulnerable to smuggling and trafficking in persons. While the Committee notes the efforts to combat trafficking in persons mentioned during the dialogue, it regrets the lack of specific information about investigations, prosecutions, or the identification and protection of any victim of trafficking (art. 8 and 12).
  1. The State party should ensure freedom of movement, including the right to leave the country, by repealing all restrictions incompatible with article 12 of the Covenant. It should ensure that persons trying to leave the State party are not subject to arbitrary arrest and detention for exercising their right to freedom of movement, and under no circumstances are subject to shooting for crossing the border illegally. The State party should intensify its efforts to prevent, combat and punish trafficking in persons and to punish those responsible, as well as to identify victims and provide them with full reparation and appropriate protection and assistance.

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion 

  1. The Committee is concerned about reports of severe restrictions of freedom of thought, conscience and religion in the State party. It is concerned that all religious groups, except Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Islam, are barred from exercising their freedom of religion owing to refusal of their registration by the State party, including due to receipt of funds from external sources. The Committee is concerned about allegations of arrest and detention of persons practising religions non-recognized by the State party. The Committee is concerned about reported persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses who were stripped of their citizenship rights, following their alleged refusal to vote in 1993 referendum and many of whom have been reportedly arrested and detained because of their conscientious objection to the military service (arts. 9 and 18).
  1. The State party should guarantee the effective exercise of freedom of religion and belief and refrain from any action that may restrict it beyond the narrowly construed restrictions permitted under article 18 of the Covenant. It should bring its legislation and practices into conformity with article 18 of the Covenant and investigate all acts of undue interference with the freedom of religion of religious communities. It should release all persons arrested or detained for exercising their freedom of religion, including Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Military and national service programme 

  1. The Committee is concerned that the length of the national service, which, initially stipulated by the National Service Proclamation No. 82/1995 for the period of 18 months, has been extended by a mandatory national service programme called the “Warsai Yikealo Development Campaign” for an indefinite period. It is further concerned that indefinite duration of military/civil service reportedly remains one of the main causes for the departure of Eritreans from the State party. It is also concerned about allegations that national service conscripts are deployed for labour in various posts, including mining and construction plants owned by private companies, while receiving no or very little salary. The Committee is further concerned that the State party does not recognize a right to conscientious objection to military service and does not provide for alternative military service (arts. 6, 8 and 18).
  1. The State party should limit the length of mandatory military and national service to a maximum period of 18 months, in accordance with international standards. It should ensure the legal recognition of conscientious objection to military service and provide for alternative service of a civilian nature for conscientious objectors. It should also refrain from subjecting persons in military service to activities that may amount to forced labour.

Freedom of expression 

  1. The Committee in concerned about particularly severe restrictions on freedom of expression in the State party. The Committee is concerned about reports of ongoing harassment, arrest and detention of persons for merely expressing their opinion, including political figures, journalists, religious and community leaders. The Committee is further concerned that access to information is restricted since the withdrawal of licences of all independent newspapers in 2001, and ongoing censorship and government control of media (art. 19).
  1. The State party should take all measures necessary to guarantee the enjoyment of freedom of opinion and expression in all their forms, in accordance with article 19 of the Covenant. Any restriction should comply with the strict requirements of article 19 (3), as further developed in the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) on the freedoms of opinion and expression, including the strict tests of necessity and proportionality. The State party should (a) put an end to harassment, arrest and detention of persons for expressing their opinion, including criticising the government; (b) immediately release all persons detained for exercising their right to freedom of opinion; (c) allow journalist and media workers to operate freely and independently; and (d) permit the establishment and operation of private media institutions and services.

Freedom of assembly and association 

  1. The Committee is concerned about severe restrictions of freedom of assembly and association placed on independent human rights defenders and civil society organizations. It is concerned that Proclamation 145/2005 limits the operation of civil society organizations only to relief and rehabilitation organizations and that civil society organizations can implement projects only in partnership with government ministries (arts. 21 and 22).


  1. The State party should take all necessary steps, including legislative measures, to ensure that all individuals and political parties fully enjoy the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association in practice and to ensure that all restrictions on the exercise of these rights comply with the strict conditions laid down in the Covenant.

Protection of minors 

  1. The Committee is concerned that all high school students, boys and girls, must enroll for their twelfth grade at the Sawa Military Training Center, where they undergo stringent military training. The Committee is also concerned that many students drop out of school, and some of them flee the country, to avoid such enrolment. The Committee is further concerned about reports of alleged forced underage recruitment, including through the practice of round-ups (giffa), and allegation of violence against children, including sexual violence, including at the Sawa Military Training Center (arts. 7 and 24).
  1. The State party should (a) discontinue the forced enrolment of high school students at the Sawa Military Training Center and ensure that students in the twelfth grade have the option to receive education at civilian high schools; (b) ensure that all alleged perpetrators of violence against children, including sexual violence, in particular at the Sawa Military Training Center, are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions, and that victims have an access to an effective remedy and full reparation; (c) ensure strict compliance with the minimum age of recruitment for military service of 18 years.

Participation in public affairs and the right to vote and to be elected

  1. While noting the holding of regional elections, the Committee is concerned that national elections have not been held in the State party since 1997, and that the National Assembly has been suspended. The Committee is further concerned that the current political system in the State party does not allow for pluralism and the participation of citizens in public affairs (art. 25).
  1. The State party should bring its electoral legal framework into compliance with the Covenant, including with article 25, by (a) holding national elections that allow for political pluralism; (b) refraining from arbitrarily denying registration to opposition political parties and preventing their participation in elections; (c) ensuring freedom of genuine and pluralistic political debate; and (d) revising legal and practical limitations on the right to stand for election and on the right to vote, with a view to ensuring compatibility with the Covenant.
  1. Dissemination and follow-up 
  1. The State party should widely disseminate the Covenant and the present concluding observations with a view to raising awareness of the rights enshrined in the Covenant among the judicial, legislative and administrative authorities, civil society and non-governmental organizations operating in the country and the general public.
  1. The Committee requests the State party to submit its initial report by 26 March 2021 and to include in that report specific up-to-date information on the implementation of the recommendations made in the present concluding observations and of the Covenant as a whole, in particular on paragraphs 8 (constitutional and legal framework), 28 (enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention) and 38 (military and national service programme) in accordance with the rule 75, paragraph 1, of the Committee’s rules of procedure. The Committee also requests the State party, in preparing the report, to broadly consult civil society and non-governmental organizations operating in the country. In accordance with General Assembly resolution 68/268, the word limit for the report is 31,800 words.

March 29, 2019 News, United Nations Human Rights Commission


GENEVA (Reuters) – Eritrea must investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings by its security forces and resolve the fate of dozens of missing detainees, including a former finance minister, a United Nations human rights watchdog said on Thursday.

Military conscripts should not be to subjected to forced labor in mining or construction “while receiving no or very little salary” during indefinite national service, it said.

A separate U.N. Commission of Inquiry accused Eritrean leaders in 2016 of crimes against humanity including murder, torture, rape, and enslaving hundreds of thousands.

The government immediately rejected that report, which called for the case to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

This month, Eritrea appeared before the U.N. Human Rights Committee for the first time since 2002, but did not submit an overdue report on its compliance with civil and political rights, the panel said.

Tesfamicael Gerahtu of the foreign affairs ministry told the panel that Eritrea never violated the commitment to its citizens’ human rights. He urged it to take into account its struggle for liberation and “unjust sanctions” imposed in 2009 and removed last November after a rapprochement with Ethiopia.

“There are many allegations of extrajudicial executions, torture, and disappearances — some of the most serious violations,” panel member Christof Heyns told a news briefing.

The independent U.N. experts voiced concern over alleged detentions of political critics, journalists and Muslim clerics.

During the review, they sought information on the whereabouts of 18 journalists detained in 2001 and on 11 former top officials of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, known as the G15, arrested the same year.

“We asked them in so many terms, ‘are these people still alive?’ They did not answer to that, which is of course a worrying sign,” Heyns said.

“We also asked about the former minister of finance, Berhane Abrehe and his wife, Almaz Habtemariam. They were detained last year in 2018, and we also asked whether they were alive and there was no response to that,” he added.

A rights group and a U.N. official said last September that Eritrea had arrested Abrehe, minister from 2000 to 2012, who wrote books critical of President Isaias Afwerki, who has led Eritrea since independence from Ethiopia in 1991.


March 25, 2019 Ethiopia, News

A senior Ethiopian official has confirmed that the numbers of Eritreans seeking sanctuary in Ethiopia continues to remain high.

Hitsats Refugee Camp Ethiopia

As many as 300 are crossing every day and the refugee facilities are close to their capacity.

Many of the new arrivals are unaccompanied children and 20-25% are Eritrean soldiers escaping from indefinite National Service.

The Ethiopian refugee authorities are struggling to cope with the exodus.

Refugees are having to wait for about 2 days in collection centers before they are transported to the screening center.

They are then being sent to one of the four existing camps, but all are having to be expanded to cope with the influx.