“Eritrea will wait three or four decades, maybe more, before it holds elections. Who knows?” – President Isaias Afwerki
As you read the quotes from the UN Human Rights Council on Eritrea, the amount of paperwork and people involved in the report, there we’re alone 44,000 submissions and also interviews from the Eritrean diaspora in Europe and United States. Just as the report says: “the Commission received 44,267 submissions from 39 countries. Of these, 30,517 arrived by mail and 13,750 by email. The submissions were mostly in Tigrinya and English but a sizeable number were in Arabic” (UN HRC, P: 11, 2016). So there are lots of material and an edge to the evidence in the report, it is not hearsay when those amounts of people are describing certain situations and the state of affairs in a country. I will take out what I see as most interesting findings in this report. As I am sure I am not alone in discussing the findings.
Why the information came from the Diaspora and not inside Eritrea:
“The Commission recalls that it has repeatedly sought permission from the Government of Eritrea to visit the country. The Government of Eritrea has failed to respond despite calls by the Human Rights Council to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry. The Commission was nonetheless able to interview Eritreans in 13 countries with significant Eritrean populations” (UN HRC, P: 13, 2016).
“Eritrea is one of the least developed countries in the world, and most of the country’s economic enterprises are state controlled” (…)”As Eritrea does not publish a budget, it remains to be seen whether this substantial new income will be used to enhance implementation of social, economic and cultural rights in the country” (UN HRC, P: 17, 2016). “With respect to sources of Government income, the source added “that is a mystery. Money is deposited at the National Bank. The Ministry of Finance does not know where the money comes from. Only the President knows.” (UN HRC, P: 37, 2016). “For example, witnesses told the Commission that a bank account with 40 million USD in mining revenue had been opened in Qatar in the name of the Director of the PFDJ Economic Affairs department” (…)”Other information suggests that there may be private accounts belonging to the president or members of his inner circle in the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Cyprus, and /or China” (UN HRC, P: 38, 2016).
Freedom of Speech and the independence of the Media:
On Freedom of Speech and Media: “…since the media is Government-owned, you clearly are not supposed to cover anti-government issues. If interviewees say something anti-governmental, you listen but do not use it in your broadcast. A lot of items you didn’t broadcast. At first the bosses told me not to use such material, and then there’s self-censorship.” (UN HCR, P: 34, 2016). “Restrictions on freedom of speech are not limited to just those physically in Eritrea. A witness in Ethiopia told the Commission that after he had participated in a demonstration in Addis Ababa in late June 2015 in support of the Commission’s first report, his mother was arrested in Eritrea” (UN HRC, P: 35, 2016).
On Religious Freedom:
“Government control of authorised religious groups also persists. The Government of Eritrea continues to detain under house arrest Orthodox Patriarch Abune Antonio, who was arrested over ten years ago for calling for the release of political prisoners and failing to excommunicate church members opposed to the Government” (UN HCR, P: 30, 2016).
On future Elections:
President Isaias Afwerki has regularly expressed his disdain for what he refers to as “western-style” democracy. In a 2008 interview with Al Jazeera, for example, the President stated that “Eritrea will wait three or four decades, maybe more, before it holds elections. Who knows?” The Eritrean delegation to the 2014 Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review stated that national elections would not be held until “the threats to national security and sovereignty had been eliminated” (UN HRC, P: 19, 2016).
Rule of Law:
“Although low level community courts exist, most Eritreans interviewed immediately dismissed any suggestion that they could file a complaint for a rights violation. There was a palpable resignation among people towards the endemic injustices in Eritrea, as well as a fear of re-victimisation. In the absence of a constitution, an independent judiciary, a national assembly, and other democratic institutions, the Commission has found no progress in establishing the rule of law” (UN HCR, P: 20, 2016). The Cost of freedom from detention: “Witnesses cited costs of avoiding imprisonment ranging from 50,000 Nakfa to 2,000, 000 Nakfa, as well as confiscation of property, including homes, suggesting that the assessment of “fines” may depend on the wealth of the family” (UN HRC; P: 40, 2016).
“On the issue of duration of military/national service, a witness who was conscripted in 2003 and remained in national service until he fled Eritrea in 2015 stated that: “…the national service is still for an indefinite period; in fact when I joined the national service I was never informed as to when I was going to be released from service. The Government has not announced that it will reduce the service period to 18 months; it is still indefinite and we are all very aware of this.” (UN HRC, P: 22, 2016). “According to an expert on Eritrea, those discharged from national service remain in the People’s Army or militia or “reserve army” after their discharge, and must be available at any time the Government chooses to call them. Thus, most cannot qualify for Eritrean exit visas, and those who opt to leave without such a visa remain liable for the crime of “desertion.” (UN HRC, P: 22, 2016).
Using Military Service as a Working force for the state:
“According to one witness, “the Generals receive salaries, but also receive income from agriculture [and other commodities] that is not accounted for. Production costs are low because they use free conscript labour. This income is not disclosed to the Ministry of Defence. The President knows about this but does not interfere” (UN HRC, P: 41, 2016).
““Air Force planes are outdated and there is no proper maintenance. So, the Air Force has shifted to plantation activities. For example, there was a piece of land near the airport… [The Chief of the Air Force] took that land for plantations. [He] would bring almost three quarters of Air Force conscripts to work on the plantations, and the equipment used on the plantation comes from the Air Force and Ministry of Agriculture. It was very hot on the plantations. [Conscripts] were not paid any money for this work. They were told it is part of our duties. If they refused to work there, they would be sent to the [nearby detention facility].” (UN HRC, P: 23, 2016).
Generals are handpicking woman who are on subscription to be their “Wife’s” and solitary responsibility to please the General: “One day, …a female soldier…from my unit was…assigned to General […] to prepare food and do cleaning; it was also made clear to her that she [was] supposed to please [the General] in bed whenever he wanted. […] She provided this service to [the General] for many years. [Three years after it started], she got pregnant [from] him and gave birth to a baby girl… She told me that she did not do this voluntarily but [because] she was afraid. She said she was not allowed to leave the house and sometimes she was locked up.” (UN HRC, P: 58, 2016). A former female trainee in Sawa, who described the situation of these young women stated that “[t]hey are their personal slave.” Another female military trainee reported a typical day to her friend: “Dreadful life starts in the morning: I prepare his breakfast, wash his clothes, prepare lunch, prepare coffee ceremony, prepare dinner, and then prepare to be ‘his wife’. I have had this life for the last six years.” And more from the Sawa: “We watched sexual abuses. Systematically, they forced girls to obey their instructions; to have a relationship with them. If she doesn’t obey, they find any kind of military punishment. It is commonly the [d]ivision leaders, the highest ranks who would do that. All people would go back to their [d]ivision at the end of the day. The leaders select girls personally. After six months, he would change her, take a newly arrived. The 11th grade students…have to pass their last year’s exam in Sawa. They take them. Once a woman is assigned to a General, they stay there [to] do office work, chores, etc. ‘there is no rule, no law.’ Sometimes when the girls see the car of the General approaching they hide. What if they become pregnant? […] When it happens, they make abortion traditionally. The girl doesn’t even want to let the colonel know. One of my best friends was a ‘personnel’ of the Colonel. He told me that the nick name used to get a girl is ‘goat’. Sometimes when newcomers arrive they asked assistants to bring new ones.” (UN HRC, P: 56-57).
Another said that “in 2014, there was military training. I was sick and even had papers certifying that I was sick. But they didn’t believe me and I was [detained] for six months without due process.” (UN HRC, P: 23, 2016).
What the Government says about the Military Service and their work:
“Indeed, Presidential Advisor Yemane Gebreab himself has stated that: “the challenge for us is to be able to find jobs, skills, training, and business opportunities for [conscripts] when they are released,”100 suggesting that prolonged military/national service is not, or is no longer, motivated primarily by national security concerns” (UN HRC, P: 24, 2016).
“The Commission received credible evidence that a shoot-to-kill policy was issued and that it has not been rescinded. The writers denying the existence of a shoot-to-kill policy did not explain the basis on which they concluded that such a policy does not exist. Very few, for example, said that they had passed through a border without interference or without the assistance of smugglers. The Commission is aware that the policy has been implemented in a less rigorous manner in recent years” (UN HRC, P: 15, 2016). “An example of extrajudicial killing reportedly took place on 3 April 2016, as military/national service conscripts were being transported through the city centre of Asmara. When several conscripts tried to jump from the trucks, soldiers reportedly fired into the crowd, killing and injuring a considerable but unconfirmed number of conscripts and bystanders” (UN HRC, P: 32, 2016). A witness said this: ““In September 2015, the battalion commander told me if anyone attempts to cross the border to Ethiopia just shoot at them. He told us to shoot people down if we see them crossing. I couldn’t ask about this order because I would have been killed or jailed; I had to implement it. If you don’t implement it you won’t be seen again. I know 3 soldiers who spent 20 years in service. They told me I had to implement the order.” (UN HRC, P: 33, 2016).
This happen to some of fleeing Eritreans:
“On May 22 2016, Sudan collectively expelled 313 Eritreans back to Eritrea. Another 129 were similarly sent back from Sudan several days earlier. According to UNHCR, the prior to the forcible returns, the Eritreans had been tried and convicted in Sudanese courts of “illegal entry” into Sudan. According to corroborated reports by unrelated witnesses, in the days prior to the expulsions, Eritrean authorities visited Eritreans in a Sudanese prison to register the identities of those to be returned. The witnesses also reported that upon arrival in Eritrea, the returnees were arrested and detained. They further indicated that those who were in the national service, prior to leaving the country, were detained at Adi Abeito prison on the outskirts of Asmara, and that those who had not yet undergone military training are currently detained elsewhere, including in Tessenei and Hashferay, apparently awaiting transfer to military training centres” (UN HRC, P: 25, 2016).
There is so much evidence that come into a 94 page UN report; this one shows so much of it, I have focused on the witness reports and their testimonies, as this is Eritrean citizens who have fled the regime in haste to Europe or America. There even some men and woman who are creating issues for their families left behind.
The Eritrean state is all controlled around the President Isaias Afwerki, as he knows all about the finances, state media and the military. The Military or the Army is both “free working force” as the extensive breaches human rights and committed to keep away the state from lawful activities, as the Generals and Army Officials are themselves skimming of the system and use woman and men, as they please. This creates unlawfulness in the militarized society of Eritrea. The witness reports are a sad sight and the totalitarian control from the President Afwerki shows the extent to how they control their citizens and uses their manpower to earn money for the Government, but not support or being there for their citizens.
And if they try to flee or desert from the military or the country, the other army command can shoot-to-kill fellow citizens, as they do not follow orders from above, as they are in the hands of the government and the army. This together with the torture of fellow citizens; they are detained without trial and kept in jail to infinite, as there are no constitution or rule of law in the nation.
The damning evidence is clear, the Eritrean government cannot just silence this, as there are over 400,000 who has fled from the country, and 44,000 have written in to the United Nation Human Rights Council, with their experience and witness reports shows the level of system behind these actions, it is not just one rare coincidence that certain people are detained, tortured or becoming slaves for the Generals of the Military. That even the Air-Force is so depleted that the men who are assigned work on labor unites instead of becoming air-men for the Eritrean Air-Force.
That is enough for now. It is not grand state of affairs, the level of impunity and lawlessness and the attitude of how the Eritrean State are treating their fellow citizens and keeping their records only in the hand of the President Afwerki and nobody else. Peace.
UN Human Rights Council – ‘Detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea’ (08.06.2016) – A/HRC/32/CRP.1