Eritrea is known by some as the “North Korea of Africa.” In 1993, after a 30-year long war of independence, Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia. In the U.S. Department of State’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, Eritrea received a tier-three rating, signifying that the Eritrean government has not engaged in any significant efforts to eliminate human trafficking in the country. Keep reading to learn the top nine facts about human rights in Eritrea.
9 Facts about Human Rights in Eritrea
- The Eritrean government is one of the last remaining dictatorships in the world. Since the country’s independence from Ethiopia in 1993, President Isaias Afewerki has served as the country’s leader. Forced labor, repression of free speech and restriction on the freedom of religion are common under the current regime.
- Human trafficking in Eritrea has its roots in the national service program. The program requires men ages 18 to 54 and women ages 18 to 47 to serve 18-months in the military and non-military service. However, there are records of people serving more than 10 years because they were threatened with detention, torture or harm to their families.
- Many Eritreans have fled their country to find better living conditions. In 2013, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 people were fleeing Eritrea every month to escape the country’s human rights abuses. Overall, the U.N. refugee agency has expressed concern that more than 300,000 Eritreans have fled over the past decade.
- Security forces in Eritrea torture and beat civilians or suspected criminals. Among the people tortured and beaten are army deserters, draft evaders, people living near mining camps and people attempting to flee the country. For Eritreans who are trying to flee the country, the Eritrean government issued a shoot-to-kill policy.
- Children and young people are vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking in Eritrea. All 12th-grade students are required to complete their final year of secondary education at the Sawa military and training academy. If the students refuse, they do not receive high school diplomas and are unable to attend universities or attain employment. Although the Eritrean law bans conscription of minors (younger than 18) into military service, many students sent to the academy are not of age.
- Many Eritrean refugees are facing repatriation. Repatriated refugees often face arrest and indefinite detention, which involves inhumane conditions and treatments. Eritrea’s inhumane treatment of its citizens is extensive, evidenced through Osman Ahmed Nur’s suicide in 2018. Ahmed Nur, who escaped to the U.K. after suffering torture, committed suicide in fear of repatriation after getting stopped and searched by the police.
- Many international organizations are coming together to give aid to Eritrea. In 2009, the EU, the U.S. and the African Union worked together to provide development aid for Eritrea. The EU provided 122 million euros in assistance to Eritrea despite “concerns that development projects in Eritrea are carried out by conscript or prison labor in violation of international law.”
- The Ethiopian soldiers and government give favorable support to the Eritrean refugees. This may surprise an outsider observer, given the history of conflicts between Eritrea and Ethiopia. In interviews conducted in 2017, Eritrean refugees stated they did not experience hostility from Ethiopian soldiers. While there are concerns about the living conditions in the refugee camps in Ethiopia, the U.N. Refugee Agency’s statistics highlight the refugees’ access to electricity and reuniting of over 1,600 children with their families in Ethiopia.
- Assistance is also provided to Eritreans living outside of the refugee camps. They receive help to formally register births, marriages and deaths which helps increase access to financial services such as bank accounts. Statistics show that 623 Eritreans living in urban centers benefit from the OCP. There are also 13,000 Eritrean refugees who benefit elsewhere in the country.
Above all, the Eritrean government’s treatment of its citizens paints a bleak picture. Repression of free speech, limiting the freedom of religion, the lack of due process and accounts of torture make up the grim narratives told by the Eritrean refugees. However, Eritrea’s recent peace agreement with Ethiopia is more hopeful. These nine facts about human rights in Eritrea tell us that, with the help of the international community and humanitarian assistance given by the Ethiopian government, a better future awaits the people of Eritrea.
– YongJin Yi