Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

Focus on Human Rights Abuses in Eritrea

Posted in African Politics, Eritrea by ruben eberlein on April 17, 2009

The government of Eritrea ‘is turning the country into a giant prison’, said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, while presenting an extensive report about the political situation in the country.

eritrea0409‘First you do your military training then they hold you forever without your rights’, a female recruit who served as a conscript for 10 years and suffered repeated sexual harassment in the Eritrean Army told Human Rights Watch (HRW). ‘The military leaders can ask you for anything and if you refuse their demands then you can be punished. Almost every woman in the military experiences this kind of problem.’ Here are excerpts from the press release by HRW.

(London, 16 April 2009) – Eritrea‘s extensive detention and torture of its citizens and its policy of prolonged military conscription are creating a human rights crisis and prompting increasing numbers of Eritreans to flee the country, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 95-page report, ‘Service for Life: State Repression and Indefinite Conscription in Eritrea’, documents serious human rights violations by the Eritrean government, including arbitrary arrest, torture, appalling detention conditions, forced labor, and severe restrictions on freedom of movement, expression, and worship. It also analyzes the difficult situation faced by Eritreans who succeed in escaping to other countries such as Libya, Sudan, Egypt, and Italy.

Eritrea‘s government is turning the country into a giant prison’, said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. ‘Eritrea should immediately account for hundreds of ‘disappeared’ prisoners and open its jails to independent scrutiny.’

Human Rights Watch called on the United States and European Union to coordinate with the UN and the African Union to resolve regional tensions and ensure that development aid to Eritrea is linked to progress on human rights.

The EU recently approved a €122 million assistance package to Eritrea despite concerns that development projects in Eritrea are carried out by conscript or prison labor in violation of international law.

Based on more than 50 interviews with Eritrean victims and eyewitnesses of abuses in three countries, the report describes how the Eritrean government uses a vast apparatus of official and secret detention facilities to incarcerate thousands of Eritreans without charge or trial. Many of the prisoners are detained for their political or religious beliefs, others because they tried to evade the indefinite national service or flee the country.

Torture, cruel and degrading treatment, and forced labor are routine for conscripts as well as detainees. Detention conditions are appalling, with detainees typically held in overcrowded cells – sometimes underground – or in shipping containers that reach searing temperatures by day and are freezing at night.

Those who try to flee risk severe punishments and the possibility of being shot while crossing the border. The government also punishes the families of those who escape or desert from national service with exorbitant fines or imprisonment. Despite these severe measures, thousands of Eritreans are trying to escape their country.

Read the complete press release here.

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