News from the Eritrean Democratic Party

News from the Eritrean Democratic Party

Remembering the Eritrean dream on Independence Day

NewsPosted by Admin Jul 30, 2017 16:11:33

by Abraham T Zere
Abraham T. Zere is the executive director of PEN Eritrea in exile.

Twenty-six years ago today, Eritrea's 30-year war of independence against Ethiopiaended with Eritrean freedom fighters marching to the capital, Asmara. Unfortunately, it took less than a decade for the grand hopes and ideals that Eritreans initially had for the future of their country to evaporate into thin air.

The international media has limited access to the country and, as a result, their coverage of Eritrea is limited to a shallow narrative focusing on "indefinite military conscription" and "refugees".

But the Eritrean story is far more complicated than these one-dimentional labels.

Afer independence the country gradually descended into a fiefdom, serving as a grand laboratory for the negligent and oppressive government experiments of President Isaias Afwerki and his clique. Over the past two and a half decades Eritrean authorities have been accused of a variety of abuses. These accusations culminated in a report by the the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea in 2016, which declared the Eritrean state guilty of "crimes against humanity".

As a result of short-sighted economic policies, the country has been mired in abject poverty. Citizens are left with two options - flee at any cost or stay and slowly rot in their homeland. In a country that is not even close to supporting itself on local commodities, importation of goods has been outlawed since 2003. The ruling party (PFDJ) and its organs are allowed to import and ration basic food items - they ration chewing gum at the party's stores and alcoholic drinks at bars.

There is no rule of law or constitutional underpinning in the country. The president long ago shelved the national constitution that was ratified in 1997 after a four-year drafting process. Yet, in his Independence Day address in 2014, he announced that another constitution would be drafted. This ended up being just another excuse to buy time and divert attention from the country's problems.

A prison state

Eritrea has devolved into a prison state where military commanders maintain underground prison centres to extort money from innocent citizens. More than 360 prison facilities operate in this small country with a population of fewer than five million people.

Apart from the extortionary prison centres, the other means of generating money is human trafficking, with some Eritreans paying as much as $6,000 to be smuggled out of the country.

This is a nation ranked last (No 180) eight years (2009-2016) in a row on the Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index, and named the most censored country on earth by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

As they have done for many years, Eritrean authorities continue to ruthlessly restrict and punish both independent and state journalists. Denial of freedom also extends to religious practices, where all Protestant denominations of Christianity have been banned since 2002. State interference also extends to the Coptic Orthodox Church, which is supposed to be permitted to operate in the country. The church's 3rd Patriarch, Abune Antonios, was ousted and placed under house arrest in defiance of Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria in 2007.

Education in tatters

Although Eritrea boasts about expanding basic education and building schools, various factors effectively have turned the schools into ghost houses. Some schools operate with a single teacher who is expected to do all the teaching as well as covering administrative chores. Eritrea has been applauded for achieving some of the UN's Millennium Development Goals, yet most Eritreans who can afford it seek basic medications in neighbouring countries. All private clinics have been banned since 2010. Most government clinics and hospitals are regularly short of basic supplies, and patients are often asked to get intravenous drips and other medical supplies from private pharmacies.

Construction of new houses has been outlawed since 2005 despite acute shortages, and so is fishing in coastal areas where locals depend on it for their food and livelihood.

In a society that places a high value on education, the state wages a systematic war against education.

This started in 2001 when the regime ordered most teachers to work on national service salary, and the decline was exacerbated two years later when the government moved the final year of secondary school to a military training centre, Sawa, where students combine military training with regular studies. As another impediment to education, the only university in the country, the University of Asmara, was closed in 2006, replaced by underequipped, semi-military colleges.

With the systematic discouragement and prohibition of business, construction, private clinics and the university, much of the country's productive human resources and capital have fled. As a result, many of the remaining citizens, those with a small amount of capital, have started investing in farms that aren't reliant on imported goods. Yet, the state makes this difficult, too, by frequently fixing prices and confiscating privately owned tractors during the high season.

Apart from the trivial exercise of democracy in schools (electing class monitors), free elections have never been permitted in Eritrea. From the smallest unit to the highest ministerial level, all officials are appointed, not elected.

Recycling state propoganda
The national media ceaselessly recycle state propaganda. Print and online media have deteriorated into private photo albums of the president, while the national TV station, ERI-TV, is essentially a giant selfie-stick for the president.

Recently, hype has been generated about the booming mining sector in Eritrea, yet every day the country is being pushed closer to abject poverty. Eritrea's share of mining income and the way it is spent is closely controlled by the president and his close associates.

While every Eritrean state action since independence has disregarded the rule of law and worsened living conditions, the negative effect of these policies has intensified since 2012. In addition to the regular military conscription, the regime decreed a "popular army" programme that requires all civilians between the ages of 18 and 70 to be armed and available to perform free manual labour at a moment's notice.

These draconian policies were coupled with local currency redemption at the beginning of 2016. According to the new policy, Eritrean nationals can withdraw no more than 5,000 Nakfa (about the cost of a month's rent for a two-bedroom house in the capital) in a single month from their savings. This rule is in effect despite the fact that the nation's economy absolutely relies on cashflow.

With the resulting severe lack of currency flow and other extreme restrictions, prices for most items have been skyrocketing. Yet the government, in an attempt to balance the market, forces local farmers in Eritrea to sell their products at fixed prices. For example, during the most recent Easter holiday, police were deployed to the marketplace to make sure consumable products such as tomato and onions were being sold at fixed prices.

While the opposition to the Eritrean government from the international community and the Eritrean diaspora has gradually been increasing, geological developments in the region have been strenghtening the regime's hand. At a high cost to local residents who have been pushed away from fishing and other jobs in the port of Assab, Eritrean authorities have leased that port to the United Arab Emirates for coalition forces to conduct their joint military operation against Yemen. Another island has been leased to Egypt to destabilise Ethiopia. Apart from President Afwerki and his group, nobody in Eritrea benefits from such dealings.

For the past three to four years, the president has been isolating himself and growing increasingly paranoid, depending more and more on his military and security forces. Afwerki has launched poorly planned and researched capital projects that drain material resources and manpower from the small nation. A blatant example of this is the many dam projects for which the whole nation is required to provide free labour and the president serves as site manager. He moved his office to the construction site and handles daily presidential tasks from his new location.

This is the exceedingly gloomy situation in which Eritrea found itself while celebrating its hard-won independence. Happy Independence Day, Eritrea … anyways.

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China would consider sending troops for Djibouti-Eritrea

NewsPosted by Admin Jul 30, 2017 07:07:18
China would consider sending troops for Djibouti-Eritrea

By ELIAS MESERET Published July 21, 2017 Associated Press

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – China would consider sending peacekeeping troops to a disputed Djibouti-Eritrea border region after Qatar pulled out its troops last month, China's top diplomat to the African Union said Friday, as the Asian giant's military role overseas grows.

China also would consider stepping in to mediate the dispute between the East African nations if asked, Kuang Weilin told The Associated Press.

This month, China dispatched members of its army to Djibouti to man its first overseas military base. The move is a key in a wide-ranging expansion of China's armed forces in step with the country's growing economic and political footprint.

Qatar withdrew 450 peacekeeping troops from the contested Dumeriah mountain area in June while caught up in its own diplomatic clash with other Arab nations. It had mediated the territorial dispute and its peacekeepers had been deployed after a 2010 cease-fire deal.

China hopes the Djibouti-Eritrea border issue will be "solved amicably," Kuang said.

China is relatively new to peacekeeping but already is the biggest contributor of peacekeepers among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, with more than 2,500 deployed on U.N. missions as of the end of June.

There currently is no U.N. mission in Djibouti or Eritrea.

Djibouti is already home to the United States' only permanent military base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier, while France, Britain, Japan and other nations also maintain a military presence in the small but strategically located Horn of Africa nation.

China's base in Djibouti "will only have logistical purposes, not defense capabilities," Kuang said. China has said the logistics center will support anti-piracy, U.N. peacekeeping and humanitarian relief missions in Africa and western Asia.

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Protesters gathered in Bucharest despite the government's backdown

NewsPosted by Admin Feb 05, 2017 21:53:42

Protesters hold EU flag during a demonstration in Bucharest, Romania, February 5, 2017.
Protesters gathered in Bucharest despite the government's backdown

Romania's government has scrapped a controversial decree that would have

shielded many politicians from prosecution for corruption.

The decision came at an emergency meeting on the issue, following days of large street


One of those behind the move said it was to restore calm in Romania, but also strongly

criticised the judiciary.

Protesters have vowed to keep the pressure on the cabinet, with some demanding the

entire government quits.

"I hope that this is a real repeal... We are going to keep an eye on them to make sure we are not being had," one protester, Daniel, told the news agency AFP.

The decree was passed on Tuesday and was due to come into effect on 10 February.

The protests have been the country's largest since the fall of communism in 1989.

pro-government supporters outside the presidential residence, Cotroceni Palace, in Bucharest on 5 February

There was also a demonstration by government supporters

Calin Tariceanu, leader of the Senate and a former prime minister, told the BBC the decree was well-intentioned, but had to be withdrawn to re-establish calm in the country.

He also strongly criticised the judiciary, saying he did not consider it to be independent.

"This is a clear issue which has to be addressed in future," he said.

The tricky road ahead, by the BBC's Nick Thorpe in Bucharest

The decision to back down was made on Saturday by Liviu Dragnea, leader of the

governing Social Democratic Party, at the suggestion of Calin Tariceanu, leader of the

junior coalition partners, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats.

Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu approved and then announced the decision.

The justice ministry has been instructed to draft a new law to tackle the issues raised by the original decree, and to initiate a wide public debate.

The government will have to steer a careful line between provoking more protests, and

losing as little face as possible among the four million people who voted for them in the

December elections.

Strategic retreat or surrender for government?

A planned conference to announce the repeal was cancelled, with sources saying an

official statement would be released soon.

The decree would have decriminalised abuse of power offences where sums of less than

€44,000 (£38,000; $47,500) were involved.

The constitutional court has still to rule, later this week, on the legality of the original


One immediate beneficiary would have been Liviu Dragnea, head of the governing Social Democrats (PSD), who faces charges of defrauding the state of €24,000.

The government had earlier argued that the changes were needed to reduce prison

overcrowding and align certain laws with the constitution.

But critics saw it as a way for the PSD to absolve officials convicted or accused of



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Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh

NewsPosted by Admin Feb 05, 2017 21:08:48

Profile: Former Gambian President Yahya


• 22 January 2017

• Africa
Yahya Jammeh (file photo)

The 22 years in power of former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh

came to an inglorious end.

Initially he surprised his critics by accepting defeat after 22 years in power, but then

backtracked by announcing he would contest the result, only to backtrack again and

leave the country.

Mr Jammeh departed on 21 January 2017 surrounded by cheering supporters and

accompanying ceremonial music. He walked down a long red carpet surrounded by

dignitaries before climbing the steps to the plane, waving to his admirers and saluting

them with a Koran.

While soldiers, supporters and dignitaries despaired at his departure, many others in

The Gambia are glad to see the end of what they considered a dictatorship, where

there was little respect for human rights or freedom of speech

How he was persuaded to leave it not yet known. But the threat of military intervention

from regional states was real enough.

He finally became the first president to peacefully hand over power in The Gambia

since independence from Britain in 1965.

Portly president

Known for walking around with his trademark prayer beads and a stick, he was one of

the world's most eccentric and ruthless leaders.

Born in May 1965, he came to power in 1994 as a 29-year-old army lieutenant in a

country portrayed in tourist brochures as an idyllic holiday destination.

He became a portly president who portrayed himself as a devout Muslim with

miraculous powers, such as the power to cure people of Aids and infertility. He also

believed that homosexuality threatens human existence.

Mr Jammeh divorced his first wife Tuti Faal and subsequently married two other

women, though his official website referred only to Zineb Yahya Jammeh,

who held the title of First Lady.

According to The Gambia's privately owned Point newspaper, he married his second

wife, Alima Sallah, in 2010, but Mr Jammeh's office issued an instruction that she

should not be referred to as First Lady - in contrast to South Africa where all four wives

of President Jacob Zuma hold the title.

"She is not to be addressed as the First Lady because, according to protocol, there

can only be one First Lady and, in this case, that is Madam Zineb Yahya

Jammeh," the newspaper quoted the presidency as saying at the time.

Mr Jammeh won four multi-party elections before he was finally defeated.

Yahya Jammeh and his wife waves at the White House in 2014.

Zineb Yahya Jammeh, one of the president's two wives, officially holds the First Lady title

After his 2011 victory, in a sign that his credibility among African leaders had

plummeted, the regional body, the Economic Community of West African States

(Ecowas), refused to endorse his victory, saying voters and the opposition had been

"cowed by repression and intimidation".

His decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth in 2013, which had been pushing for

reforms in the tiny West African state, was a further sign of Mr Jammeh's growing


'Rule for a billion years'

In an interview in 2011 with the BBC's Focus on Africa radio programme, Mr Jammeh

said he did not fear a fate similar to Libya's killed leader Muammar Gaddafi or Egypt's

ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

"My fate is in the hands of almighty Allah," he told the BBC.

"I will deliver to the Gambian people and if I have to rule this country for one billion

years, I will, if Allah says so."

Mr Jammeh said he was not bothered by the criticism of human rights groups.

"I will not bow down before anybody, except the almighty Allah and if they don't like

that they can go to hell," he said.


Mr Jammeh was known for expressing bizarre views. In 2007, he claimed that he

could cure Aids with a herbal concoction - a view condemned by health experts.

Later, he also claimed that he could cure infertility among women.

Mr Jammeh was also known for his virulent opposition to gay rights, having once

threatened to behead gay people.

In a 2014 address to the UN General Assembly, Mr Jammeh lamented that Western

governments were pushing for homosexuality to be legalised.

"Homosexuality in all its forms and manifestations which, though very evil, anti-human

as well as anti-Allah, is being promoted as a human right by some powers," he said.

Yahya Jammeh waves as he walks on a red carpet
Yahya Jammeh is known for walking around with his trademark prayer beads and a stick

The Gambian government's treatment of journalists and opposition parties during his

tenure in power also caused huge concern among human rights groups.

Mr Jammeh's government was under intense pressure to solve the murder of the

editor of The Point newspaper, Deyda Hydara.

Gunned down in 2004, he has become a symbol of the campaign for press freedom in

The Gambia.

The international media group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said there was

"absolute intolerance of any form of criticism" in The Gambia, with death threats,

surveillance and arbitrary night-time arrests of journalists "who do not sing the

government's praises".

In the BBC interview, Mr Jammeh denied his security agents had killed Mr Hydara.

"Other people have also died in this country. So why is Deyda Hydara so special?" he


Yahya Jammeh: At a glance

• Born in May 1965

• Seized power in a coup in 1994

• In 2013, he vowed to stay in power for "a billion years" if God wills

• He also ordered the execution of criminals and political opponents on death row

• Claimed in 2007 he could cure Aids and infertility with herbal concoctions

• Warned in 2008 that gay people would be beheaded

• Denied his security agents killed journalist Deyda Hydara in 2004

In August 2013, Mr Jammeh used a speech to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid to

announce that all prisoners on death row would be executed, effectively ending a

moratorium that had been in place for 27 years.

"There is no way my government will allow 99% of the population to be held to ransom

by criminals," Mr Jammeh said at the time.

Nine people were executed, including Alieu Bah, a former lieutenant in the army who

was arrested and jailed in 1997 for plotting to oust Mr Jammeh.

He agreed to halt further executions, following unprecedented pressure from the

African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU).

His defeat came as a huge surprise, given that he ran one of the most feared

intelligence agencies in Africa, with its tentacles spread across the country - so much

so that until the election, people in cities and villages feared speaking ill of the man

who was officially referred to as his "His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor

Yahya AJJ Jammeh Babili Mansa".

In 2015, he added the title "Babili Mansa" - a Mandinka-language honorific which can

be translated as "chief bridge builder" or "conqueror of rivers"


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Has Eritrea’s Self-Reliant Economy Run Out of Puff?

NewsPosted by Admin Jul 16, 2016 12:50:24

Has Eritrea’s Self-Reliant Economy Run Out of Puff?

By Mary Harper | | July 14, 2016

A “go it alone” culture has long been central to Eritrea, including its economy. It is slowly opening up to foreign investment, but recent policies, especially acurrency reform, mean many people are now struggling in what was already one of the poorest countries on earth.

In a dusty corner of the capital, Asmara, is a walled market. It assaults the senses as soon as you enter, for it deals in just two things: Chillies and metal.

Big chillies, medium-sized chillies and, fiercest of all, the tiny chillies, draw tears, itches and sneezes.

There is a deafening cacophony as old metal is bashed from rusty, useless scraps into shiny cutlery, hairpins, gates, gutters and religious artefacts.

“I am rewinding the metal,” says a man as he bangs out a large serving dish from an old oil drum.

The market is basically a giant recycling centre and represents the country’s fierce spirit of “self-reliance”, a phrase I hear often in Eritrea.

Eritrean metal worker:
"I am rewinding the metal."

This culture started during the 30-year war of independence from Ethiopia, when rebels produced almost everything they needed in underground factories, including clothes, shoes and medicine.

It endured after Eritrea won the war in 1991, with the country periodically expelling aid agencies, saying they promoted dependency.

Unlike most African countries, there is a lack of large UN and NGO land cruisers zooming around the place.

Although education up to tertiary level is free, young Eritreans are not free to pursue their own dream careers. They become locked into a system of obligatory national service, mainly in civilian roles, and have no idea when they will be released.

In the spice and metal market, a man proudly shows me a storage container he has made from broken bits of mirror and steel.

“I have been in national service for nine years. The pay is very low – less than $50 [£37]a month – so I supplement it by working here.”

‘Remittances plunging’

Eritrea came third bottom in the United Nations Human Development Index for 2015. Time and again, I hear similar stories of people doing two or even three jobs to make ends meet.

On the plane to Asmara, I meet a man who imports mobile phones, televisions and satellite dishes from Dubai.

“I have been in national service for 12 years. But I sort of ‘dropped out’ to become a trader.”

National service has another economic effect, as it is one of the main reasons so many young Eritreans flee their country for Europe, draining the country of much of its productive workforce.

However, if they get there safely, instead of dying in the desert or drowning in the sea on the way, many end up as “useful” members of the diaspora, sending money home.

In 2005, remittances were estimated to account for about a third of Eritrea’s GDP.

“However, that figure is plunging. The diaspora is now spending the money on helping people leave Eritrea instead of supporting relatives at home,” says one official.

The Eritrean authorities used to be quite happy for disaffected youth to leave, says a diplomat.

A potential threat to stability was out of the way, and they were likely to end up sending remittances.

But, the diplomat says, the country now faces a serious capacity shortage and is doing more to encourage them to stay.

Hagos Ghebrehiwet, the economic adviser to the president, says the amount paid to those in national service is increasing from about $50 to $130-$300 a month, depending on education levels.

Government ministers tell me they earn about $200 a month, plus some allowances.

How 40% of the money disappeared

Most of the complaints I hear in Eritrea are about the skyrocketing cost of living, plus chronic shortages of electricity and water.

Depending on their size, families receive a certain quantity of basic foodstuffs, such as cereals, oil and sugar, at highly reduced prices. But other items cost a lot. For example, a litre of milk costs more than $2.

Business people, including taxi drivers, shopkeepers and hoteliers, say their incomes have halved since a new form of currency was introduced at the end of last year in an attempt to control smuggling, the parallel market and human trafficking.

They complain that restrictions on imports and tight limits on the amount of money they can withdraw from banks are strangling their businesses.

Finance Minister Berhane Habtemariam says people were given six weeks to swap their old notes for new ones, at par.

“We had no choice. The coffers of our banks were literally empty. When people came to exchange their notes, they had to explain how they had earned the money.

As so much of it was illegal, only 40% of the old notes were handed in, leading to a 60% contraction in the money supply.”

The introduction of the new notes has had an impact on the parallel market. The fixed exchange rate has remained at 15 Eritrean nakfa for $1, but Eritreans say they now only receive about 18-20 nakfa for the dollar on the unofficial market, instead of nearly 60.

It is very difficult to work out what is going on in Eritrea’s economy because the government does not release figures for its GDP and other key indicators.

“We have not given out any information about our budget for seven years because our enemies will use it against us,” says the finance minister.

Mines and fashion

Despite this secretive behaviour and the allegations of human rights abuses in the labour force, there are signs of growing interest from foreign investors.

Some have been in Eritrea for years, such as the Italian-run Dolce Vitagarment factory in Asmara.

The mainly Eritrean workforce makes designer shirts for Giorgio Armani and Pierre Cardin, as well as uniforms for Italian scouts and jeans for the local market.

Another hope for the Eritrean economy is mining.

Canada’s Nevsun, in joint venture with the government, began producing gold at Bisha mine in 2011. The mine also exploits copper and zinc deposits.

Human rights groups criticised Bisha for using conscripts during the construction phase, but Nevsun and the government deny national service labour is used in commercial mining.

Nevsun says Bisha contributed about $800m (£550m) to the Eritrean economy in its first five years of operation.

A Chinese mining company has recently started operations, and two more mines are expected to come online in the next few years.

But mining, although potentially lucrative, does not generate much employment.

The population is predominantly rural, working the harsh, dry land.

But Eritreans and foreign investors are looking towards the country’s 1,200km (745-mile) Red Sea coastline, with its hundreds of unspoiled islands, rich fish stocks and ports, all of which have significant economic potential.

Whether any of this will be realised will depend on two main factors. Eritrea’s willingness to adopt a more flexible attitude towards its economy, and foreign investors’ readiness to engage with a country that has recently been accused of crimes against humanity and has spent years in international isolation.

  • Nation of between 3.5 million and 6 million (the figures are disputed) on Red Sea – one of Africa’s poorest countries
  • One-party state – no functioning constitution or independent media
  • Former Italian colony, later formed loose federation with Ethiopia
  • 1962 – Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie dissolved Eritrean parliament, seized Eritrea
  • Eritrean separatists – the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front – fought guerrilla war until 1991, when they captured capital Asmara
  • Eritrea voted for independence in 1993
  • May 1998 border dispute with Ethiopia led to two-year war costing 100,000 lives
  • Still no peace settlement – thousands of troops face each other along 1,000km (620-mile) border


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Eritreans still denied freedom 25 years after independence

NewsPosted by Admin Jun 12, 2016 21:47:39

Eritreans still denied freedom 25 years after independence

Young people are fleeing at an alarming rate, preferring to face uncertainty in Europe rather than oppression at home,

The Conversation reports

Eritreans celebrate during the war with neighbouring Ethiopia in 1998.

Photograph: Sami Sallinen/AP

Valerie Frank for the Conversation, part of the Guardian Africa Network

Wednesday 25 May 201608.30

Twenty-five years ago the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front marched into

Asmara, sending the Ethiopian forces they had been fighting for 30 years

scrambling out of the city to safety.

People were elated. The underdogs had triumphed and the streets were

filled with war-wearied citizens, who were free at last.

But this excitement was short-lived. The liberation forces quickly morphed

into the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, a political party that has

ruled ever since. It turned Eritrea into one of the most isolated countries

and saddled it with the nickname: “Africa’s North Korea”.

Hundreds of young people are fleeing each week, from a country of just 5.1

million, and Eritreans now make up a significant number of those entering

Europe on dangerous crossings from Libya. What was once a relatively

unknown and underreported country is now at the forefront of the EU’s

mind, as it scrabbles for a way to “stem” the movement of people to Europe.

But how did it come to this?


Ex-fighters of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front depart from Asmara to the Ethiopian border in 1998.

Photograph: Sami Sallinen/AP

Optimism for Eritrea’s future was high in the 1990s. The Liberation Front’s

discipline and impressive achievements in undermining the Ethiopian

forces resulted in a strong belief that the new government could produce

similar successes.

But the outbreak of the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea in

1998 fundamentally altered the nation’s course. It wreaked devastation

around the countries’ shared borders and entrenched Eritrea’s


To this day, senior members of the ruling party maintain that the border

conflict is still unresolved, and that Eritreans must remain in

indefinite national and military service in case of Ethiopian aggression.

Young people feel smothered by the lack of opportunities within the country

This sense of constant threat has been used to legitimise the government’s

restrictions on freedom of speech, association, movement and the press.

With tens of journalists in jail, many held in secret prisons for decades, the

country ranks among the worst in the world for press freedom.

More recently, the UN imposed sanctions on the country over its alleged

support for al-Shabaab and refusals to withdraw its troops from Djibouti

following an inter-state conflict. Though no recent evidence suggests Eritrea

backs the terrorist group, the UN appears reluctant to drop the sanctions

until the government permits observers to enter the country.

Restrictions on movement into and around Eritrea makes understanding its

conditions extremely difficult. More foreign journalists have visited in

recent years, but reports of what is going on inside are largely provided by

state-controlled sources, who closely follow the party line . Laudable

successes in reducing child mortality, improving maternal health and

combating infectious diseases must therefore be viewed with caution.

What we do know is that people are leaving Eritrea at an alarming rate: an

estimated 5,000 young people a month.

This is driven by harsh conditions, poor pay across civil and military

employment and disproportionate punishment associated with national

service, where individuals are condemned to a life of

debilitating servitude in the interests of “national security”.

Beyond this, young people feel smothered by the lack of opportunities in the

country. Obtaining exit visas to study elsewhere is notoriously difficult even

though further education within the country is under-resourced.

Young Eritrean refugees are the third-biggest group trying to reach Europe, after Afghans and Syrians.

Photograph: Vincent Defait/AFP/Getty Images

Given this rather grim picture of conditions in Eritrea, are there any silver


Success stories

In the past few years, the Eritrean regime has suggested that it will reduce

the length of national service, pay conscripts more and draft a new

constitution. As yet there is no evidence of developments on any of these


Eritrea’s modernist capital city, Asmara, is edging closer to being

givenUnesco World Heritage status in recognition of its unique

architectural style. This would provide money for much-needed restoration

work and, perhaps, put Eritrea on the tourist map.

But the greatest success stories are arguably on the sporting front. Eritrean

middle- and long-distance runners are gaining podium placesin major

international races. The nation’s cyclists have also shot to global fame after

two riders – Daniel Teklehaimanot and Merhawi Kudus – became the first

black Africans to race in the Tour de France last year.

But if emigration from the country continues at the current pace, it is hard

to imagine where Eritrea will stand in the coming years. Those leaving may

provide vital remittances to their families back home, which in 2006 were

understood to constitute just under 40% of gross domestic product, but

their loss is depriving the country of its youth.

Tour de France rider Daniel Teklehaimanot has become an Eritrean success story against a backdrop of mass emigration. Photograph: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images


Agitation for political change from those who have left appears to have

achieved little, though some insurrection has been documented within the


The most notable were the events of Forto 2013, when the country’s

Ministry of Information was surrounded by disgruntled soldiers demanding

political reform, and the Freedom Friday Movement, which encourages

citizens to undermine the government through small, subversive acts.

For now, 25 years after it gained freedom, Eritrea’s political system remains

unchanged. It is unclear who or what will follow President Isaias Afewerki,

who is 70 years old and unlikely to stand down.

For many of those celebrating 25 years since independence there is thus a

heart-breaking truth being simultaneously acknowledged: that the

respected fighters who so valiantly won them their freedom after decades in

the trenches are so painfully and egregiously failing the next generation


Valerie Frank is a pseudonym to protect the identity of the author. A

version of this article first appeared on the Conversation

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Eritrea has committed widespread crimes against humanity

NewsPosted by Admin Jun 12, 2016 16:42:23

Eritrea has committed widespread crimes against humanity, says UN

Up to 400,000 people in Eritrea enslaved by authoritarian government, UN inquiry finds. Eritreans are one of the largest groups crossing the Mediterranean

The chair of the Eritrea inquiry, Mike Smith, says the international community must ensure there is accountability for the atrocities being committed. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

The Eritrean government has committed crimes against humanity in a widespread and systematic manner, according to a UN inquiry that calls for perpetrators to be tried by the international criminal court.

Officials in Eritrea, the biggest source of African refugees in Europe in recent years, have enslaved up to 400,000 people, the inquiry says. The government used murder, forced disappearances, rape and torture “to instil fear in, deter opposition from and ultimately to control the Eritrean civilian population since Eritrean authorities took control of Eritrean territory [from Ethiopia] in 1991”, the UN Commission of Inquiry for Eritrea announced on Wednesday.

The report is an expanded version of a preliminary investigation last year.

Mike Smith, the Australian diplomat who chaired the inquiry, said: “Eritrea is an authoritarian state. There is no independent judiciary, no national assembly and there are no other democratic institutions. This has created a governance and rule of law vacuum, resulting in a climate of impunity for crimes against humanity to be perpetrated over a quarter of a century. These crimes are still occurring today.

“There is no genuine prospect of the Eritrean judicial system holding perpetrators to account in a fair and transparent manner. The perpetrators of these crimes must face justice and the victims’ voices must be heard. The international community should now take steps, including using the international criminal court, national courts and other available mechanisms, to ensure there is accountability for the atrocities being committed in Eritrea.”

The government issued an immediate rebuttal, saying the inquiry lacked “the minimum standards of rigour and professionalism”.

Yemane Gebreab, a spokesman for the government, said in a statement that the report “has no solid evidence or firm legal basis to support its extreme and unfounded charges … The methodology the [inquiry] followed in its work is so deeply flawed as to seriously compromise its findings and render its conclusions null and void.”

Based on testimony from 833 Eritreans, the report alleges that the president, Isaias Afwerki, and his aides have eradicated all forms of political opposition and independent media, collapsed the judiciary and abandoned the rule of law. Many described how Eritrea’s unique system of lifelong military service amounts to modern-day slavery.

Some revealed how they were tortured (pdf) inside government detention centres. Speaking anonymously, one man claimed to have been jailed after expressing dissent at a public meeting.

In prison, he said: “I was repeatedly beaten and tortured. Each time two people held me down and two others beat me with stakes and rubbers. They submerged my head in a deep container with dirty water. They beat me on my testicles many times. I fainted each time they did this. I have no testicles now, they disappeared.”

The situation has led hundreds of thousands to flee the country, and some to seek asylum in Europe following hellish journeys across the Sahara and the Mediterranean. Faced with this influx, some western countries, including Britain, are increasingly unwilling to offer Eritreans asylum.

Hundreds of Eritreans demonstrate in front of the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, asking for measures to be taken against Eritrea in June 2015. Photograph: Nichole Sobecki/AFP/Getty Images

Diplomatic dispatches and western reports from affluent parts of the capital, Asmara, have added to the perception that life is not as difficult as many Eritreans allege.

But the inquiry accuses such reports of whitewashing reality.

“The facade of calm and normality that is apparent to the occasional visitor to the country, and others confined to sections of the capital, belies the consistent patterns of serious human rights violations,” the report reads.

“The types of gross human rights violations in Eritrea documented by the commission … are not committed on the streets of Asmara, but rather behind the walls of detention facilities and in military training camps. Torture and rape are not normally perpetrated in the open.”

Following the report’s publication, the Refugee Council, a British charity for refugees, said the Home Office should rethink its asylum policy for Eritreans.

The Refugee Council’s head of advocacy, Lisa Doyle, said: “This report should send shockwaves throughout Whitehall. It confirms the ongoing gravity of the human rights situation in Eritrea; once again finding evidence of crimes against humanity.

“When a regime is on the verge of being referred to the international criminal court for gross human rights violations, it is dangerous and absurd that its citizens are being denied refuge in Britain.”

Source: Guardian Africa Network

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Giving money to Eritrea and Sudan to stop refugees is almost satire

NewsPosted by Admin Apr 26, 2016 20:15:51

African governments have been offered €1.8bn to help stem the flow of refugees to Europe. Yet the migrants European leaders want to “send back” are in many cases fleeing the governments the EU is now collaborating with.

It could almost be satire. Amongst those present at the Malta summit in Valletta were Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia – widely condemned for their disregard of human rights.

In Sudan, for example, according to the High Commission for Refugees there are currently 400,000 internally displaced people in Darfur, thanks to continued conflict between rebel groups and government forces. A further 6.9 million people are in need for humanitarian assistance. By the end of 2015, the UN estimates there could be up to 460,000 refugees in Sudan alone.

For many in Sudan, smuggling and trafficking has become a lucrative business. Reliable sources in the country allege that many National Intelligence and Security Service officers have been involved in human smuggling for financial gain. The security force are also alleged to be involved in trafficking operations in eastern Sudan and Darfur, transporting refugees up in to Libya.

Amnesty International was quick to point out these contradictions, arguing that the EU should not cooperate with those guilty of grave human rights abuses. “With the EU seemingly intent on enlisting African nations as proxy gatekeepers, the Valetta summit is likely to result in a one-sided border control contract dressed up as a cooperation agreement. Refugees and migrants deserve and are entitled to better,” said Iverna McGowan, acting director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office.

To date, there has been no evidence that the EU’s previous financial incentives to Omar al-Bashir’s government have made any positive impact on the crisis, so why will they now?

In November last year, the EU launched another controversial policy, known as the Khartoum Process. Announced in Rome, it pledged to tackle human smuggling from the Horn of Africa into Europe by providing countries in the region with financial, technical and political incentives to manage and control migration.

As part of this, the EU pledged to offer Sudan and Eritrea significant payments. However, in the absence of monitoring mechanisms and transparency, these funds will likely disappear without trace, swallowed by two governments who are currently under international sanctions for human rights abuses.

Writing in African Arguments, migration researchers Maimuna Mohamud and Cindy Horst said the Khartoum Process represented a “worrying precedent”.

“All participants of the Khartoum Process ... have policies and political systems that directly render them responsible for creating conditions that produce refugees and migrants in the first place,” they argued.

Last month, Mike Smith, chair of the commission of inquiry on human rights in Eritrea, emphasised the significant number of Eritreans arriving on the shores of Europe: after Syrians and Afghans, they made up the third biggest group of people attempting to enter in 2014.

But EU leaders seem to be turning a blind eye to this, once again turning to cash incentives as quick fixes.

For a meaningful solution to the problem, the EU should be forcing the issue of conflict in Darfur, or pressurising Isaias Afwerki’s government to end indefinite military service in Eritrea. Only this way will the root of the problem be addressed.

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