<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Untitled Document

War Resisters' International

HRW report denounces conscription in Eritrea

20 Apr 2009 — howclark

On 16 April 2009, Human Rights Watch produced a 95-page report - Service for Life - which includes a detailed description of human rights abuses involved in the practice of conscription in Eritrea, not only against the conscripts themselves but also their families, and not only during the period of military service but in forced labour afterwards.

The report in full is available here.

The text on conscription follows with the footnotes underneath. (They are not linked.)

Indefinite Forced Conscription

Enforced indefinite national service is an increasingly important element of Eritrea’s human rights crisis. Conscripts undergo military training, in itself not illegal. However, they are subjected to cruel military punishments and torture, already described above. Many may be deployed in what constitutes illegal forced labor. Those who try and evade national service are treated cruelly. Evaders are detained in terrible conditions, and heavy penalties are imposed on the families of those who evade service or flee the country.

Eritrea’s success in its 30-year armed struggle for independence from Ethiopia was due in some measure to extraordinary discipline on the part of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and the effective mobilization of the whole adult population in the service of the liberation war effort.[150] Since the border war with Ethiopia ended in 2000, however, increasing numbers of Eritreans—especially youth—voice frustration with the continuing military mobilization and the fact that the democratic transition has been shelved, along with the population’s human rights.

An officer who fled the country told Human Rights Watch: “In the first war the Eritrean people were coming by themselves [volunteering] to the army and the hope then was to return quickly to civilian life. Then the Ethiopian offensive into Eritrea made all the Eritrean people rise up. But now the reality has changed... Everyone is in national service.”[151]One young man who had recently fled Eritrea told Human Right Watch, “It’s okay to do national service, it’s fair to serve one’s country but not always. It’s not fair when it’s indefinite.”[152]

After peace in 1991 and independence in 1993, the new government formalized its commitment to national service in a 1995 proclamation.[153]According to that proclamation, the objectives of national service are:

    The establishment of a strong defence force based on the people to ensure a free and sovereign Eritrea;
    To preserve and entrust future generations [with] the courage, resoluteness [and] heroic episodes shown by our people in the past thirty years;
    Create a new generation characterized by love of work, discipline, ready to participate and serve in the reconstruction of the nation;
    To develop and enforce the economy of the nation by investing in development work our people as a potential wealth;
    To develop professional capacity and physical fitness by giving regular military training and continuous practice to participants in Training Centers;
    To foster national unity among our people by eliminating sub-national feelings.


The law states that all Eritrean citizens, men and women between the ages of 18 and 50, have the obligation to perform national service. In normal circumstances, national service is supposed to last 18 months (article 8). This consists of six months military training and 12 months deployment either on military duties or some other national development project. However, article 13 (2) states that even after completing the compulsory 18 months, national service can be extended until 50 years of age “under mobilization or emergency situation directives given by the government.”[155]

During the first four rounds of the national service, those who were called up were demobilized after 18 months, but after war broke out with Ethiopia in 1998, everything changed. Former fighters were called up again, reservists who had been demobilized were conscripted, and all national service recruits were retained under emergency directives.

Although the war with Ethiopia ended in 2000, in May 2002 the government introduced the Warsai Yekalo Development Campaign (WYDC), a proclamation that indefinitely extended national service. The government had promised to demobilize thousands of conscripts after the war, and did demobilize some, but by 2007 it reportedly suspended the demobilization program.[156]The WYDC was a national effort in which the generation that had fought for independence would join with new recruits to build the nation. In effect, it meant the forced conscription of every adult male up to the age of 50, although some refugees claim 55 is now the upper limit, with other sources claiming up to 57 for men and 47 for women. [157]

Not all national service is military service, since many conscripts are not deployed in the army but on civilian development projects, or are assigned to commercial enterprises with their salary paid to the Ministry of Defense.[158] However, the Ministry of Defense is in control of the national service program and if someone working on a construction project were to abscond they are still be regarded as a deserter under military law.[159]

Refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch emphasized that there was no difference between military and civilian national service—conscripts are equally at the mercy of the state.[160] One Eritrean academic notes that, “What people do not realise is that in Eritrea, there is no military service. There is only Hagerawi Agelglot (National Service) which is much more ambitious and broader than common Military Service.”[161] Military duties are only one of a number of different assignments that conscripts can be tasked with, although it is the most common.

At the time of writing, most of the able-bodied adult population is on active, indefinite, compulsory national service or on reserve duty. The only exceptions are on health grounds, or, for women, pregnancy.[162] In discussions with visiting members of the European Parliament, Eritrean government officials, “admitted that military service, although formally to last 18 months, often extends over decades, reducing both the active workforce and the individual freedom and choices of the citizens.”[163]

Eritrea has also used its conscription policy to harass and detain UN and NGO staff, purportedly on the grounds that they have not fulfilled their national service obligations.[164] In 2005, seven Eritrean UNMEE staff were under arrest[165] and the number rose to 27 in early 2006,[166] some of whom were later released.[167]

For a country to enforce conscription laws may not be a violation of human rights. However, the way this is done in Eritrea—the violent methods used, the lack of any right to conscientious objection, and the lack of any mechanism to enable a challenge to the arbitrary enforcement of conscription constitutes abuse. Furthermore, although national service and conscription at times of genuine national emergency may be permitted as a limited exception to the prohibition on forced labor, the indefinite nature of national service in Eritrea, the threat of penalty (and collective punishment of families of those who desert), the use of recruits for forced labor, and the abuses associated with punishing those who do not participate violate Eritreans’ basic human rights, various provisions of the Eritrean constitution, and international human rights law.[168]

The consequences for Eritrea are disastrous in that the more the government seeks to compel the population, the more people flee the country. Eritrea is now in the grip of a refugee crisis with thousands of people fleeing or attempting to flee every month (see below, “The Experience of Refugees.”)[169] And since everyone must serve, no family in Eritrea is unaffected by the consequences of the national service policy.

Collective punishment of deserters’ families

There are strict penalties for those who try and escape national service as well as for any Eritreans who leave the country without government authorization. Families are collectively punished if their relatives flee national service, usually by being jailed or forced to pay fines. An officer formerly responsible for chasing down deserters explained how if the soldier could not be found then the family was arbitrarily detained instead:

If one of the men escapes, you have to go to his home and find him. If you don’t find him you have to capture his family and take them to prison. Since 1998, it’s standard to collect a family member if someone flees. The Administration gives the order to take family members if the national service member is not around. If you disappear inside Eritrea then the family is put in prison for some time and often then the child will return. If you cross the border, then [your family] pays 50,000 Nakfa [about US$3,050]. If there’s no money then it can be a long time in prison. I know people who are in prison for six months.[170]

All of the deserters interviewed by Human Rights Watch were fearful for the safety of their families and anxious that they would face the crippling 50,000 Nakfa fines, detention, or some other retribution such as the denial of business permits or the forfeiting of land in lieu of a cash fine.[171]Three former conscripts said their mothers had been imprisoned for four months, two months, and two weeks respectively because they could not afford to pay the 50,000 Nakfa fine.[172] One man, now in Italy, heard that his family’s farm had been taken because he had fled the army:

All the families of those who fled had to pay 50,000 or have their land taken away. This happened to a lot of people I knew. About half of the town suffered this. The area is usually a vegetable-growing area—tomatoes and spinach. When people lose their land they depend on God. If they pay 50,000 they get their land back. The memehidar [local administration] of the town demands the land. Sometimes security officials also take matters into their own hands.[173]

Abuse of female conscripts

Refugees told Human Rights Watch that women are conscripted less now than previously.[174]However, those who are recruited are more at risk of rights violations, rape, and sexual harassment in particular. As one female recruit who served as a conscript for 10 years explained, “First you do your military training then they hold you forever without your rights. 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.”[175] When she was approached by a commanding officer he punished her when she refused his advances:

The officer who asked me [for sex] was married. I said, ‘You are married,’ and he gave me military punishment and made me work without any break. I was tied in otto for three hours in the sun... this disturbed my mind. He was the commander of 100 [a company]. His official rank is marehai. After he untied me he asked, ‘Do you know this is your fault?’ I said, ‘This is not my fault.’ That’s when he made me work.[176]

No right of conscientious objection

The National Service Proclamation of 1995 makes no provision for conscientious objection to military service. Exemptions are provided for disability (article 15), and those considered unfit for military training must serve “in any public and government organ according to their profession.”[177] But in reality, as one Eritrean refugee said, “the only people who don’t go to military service are blind or missing their trigger fingers.”[178]

Human Rights Watch takes no position on conscription; indeed in many countries it is legal and well-regulated. However, the right of conscientious objection to military service has become an established international norm—a legitimate exercise of the right of freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, as laid down in article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[179] It is possible, acceptable, and, in most other countries, normal, for individuals to undertake non-military forms of national service, such as community work, construction, or service in the health and education sectors. Many national service conscripts go on to do this kind of service in Eritrea, however their national service begins with a mandatory six months military training.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are particularly affected by the lack of a right to conscientious objection because their faith forbids them to bear arms. Since independence adherents of this faith have been systematically persecuted for what the authorities have treated as their questionable commitment to the national struggle.[180]

Some unlucky youths are viewed by the government as, literally, born to fight. During the war for independence, children born to EPLF fighters were given over to the movement to be raised in communal crèches while the parents fought in the army. These children, called “red flowers” or keyahti embaba in Tigrinya, are not only expected to participate in national service, but are apparently given no choice but to join the military in their parents’ footsteps. One man born during the struggle fled Eritrea because he had no future there except as a soldier: “The government says that the children of yekalo [independence fighters] must join the military; they have to follow their fathers.... I told them I don’t want to be a soldier. They told me I must be because my parents died in the war.”[181]

“Psychological derangement” (article 14, 5.1) is also a ground for exemption from military service, and this appears to be a popular way to try and evade service. Recruits who have recently been in Sawa describe a dramatic increase in the number of people in the camp showing signs of severe mental illness. Recruits describe a new disease that has sprung up among young women drafted into Sawa and Wi’a training camps, called “lewt,” and only known in the camps. One male draftee explained: “In every cohort at least 10 girls die. The girls cannot handle the pressure and the punishment. The symptoms are a bent back, walking backwards, and some of them shake and fall down. They become like zombies, they just stare at you.”[182]But as one said, “I’m not sure if they are genuinely crazy or if they are just pretending to be crazy in order to be demobilized.”[183]

“Giffa”: press-ganging conscripts

Conscription is generally managed by local councils, the smallest units of local administration, sometimes referred to as kebelle, sometimes as memehidar, a general word meaning “administration.” These council officials maintain detailed records on the individual families in their area and ensure that those of age are conscripted. But in larger towns, the police or military also try to capture evaders or deserters through ad hoc round-ups. Round-ups of the population in towns and villages—known as giffa in Tigrinya— are common and constitute a kind of modern press-ganging. Anyone of age found without the relevant documents exempting them from national service is taken to the military camps of Sawa and Wi’a for training.[184]

Even aside from evaders and deserters, any civilian who forgets their identification or travel documents is at particular risk of being rounded up in a giffa and arbitrarily detained. As a young student who was put in Adi Abeto prison for 22 days described: “It was a Saturday and I was having coffee with friends. The police came and asked for papers, I said I would return to Mai Nehfi to get them but instead they took me to prison.”[185]

Human Rights Watch spoke to many men who had been apprehended by police or military through giffas.[186]A man who was conscripted in 1998 said he had asked dozens of times to be demobilized. “I have not seen the situation change for 10 years. I asked to leave the military but they tell you, ‘we are at war, you cannot leave.’”[187] He did not return after a scheduled vacation but was caught in a giffa and jailed in Aderser prison.

One young man had absconded from training at Sawa camp but was picked up again during a giffa in Adi Keyh town during 2007:

I remember the day because it was a Saturday, a market day. The soldiers surrounded the town the evening before and on Saturday people came to the market for shopping, around 11 a.m. Many people were caught. They ask you for ID card. I tried to escape but because of the crowd I couldn’t get away. They beat me and put me in a military vehicle. Soldiers don’t have any education, they have no respect, they simply take you away. We waited an hour or so in the truck while the soldiers were catching other people. People were crying.

After an hour or two we were taken to Track B [prison] in Asmara. We spent one day there without food except for a single biscuit. Then [we were] taken to Sawa, about 320 of us, almost all men except two or three women. In Sawa, men and women were divided, we were made to kneel down when we got out of the bus, you do it otherwise you will have the stick.[188]

Conscription from school

The preferred method of the Eritrean government is to conscript students into national service straight from school, unless they are continuing higher education. To this end, the final year of secondary school was moved to Sawa military camp in 2003. This 12th grade takes place only in Sawa, under military authority, and incorporating military training. Although many 12th grade students are 18 years old, or less, some are older because they take longer to finish high school.[189] Each round or intake of students incorporates 8,000 to 9,000 students.[190]

Once they are in the camp, however, military service effectively starts then and there. A teacher whose national service involved teaching in Sawa told Human Rights Watch, “The students could not study. They were always being forced to leave the class for some kind of military service.”[191] A former student said he did not even enter 12th grade but was ordered straight into national service in July 2007 even though he was less than 18 years old.[192]

National service is deeply unpopular, especially because new recruits know that there is no prospect of it ending. Students have started escaping from Sawa camp during their 12th grade year without completing school.[193] Escape is no mean feat, because, as described above, Sawa is in effect a huge prison. Those who made it described braving machine gun fire, barbed wire fences, and several days of walking through the desert without food and water.[194]

Some students, aware of their fate once they reach 12th grade have begun to deliberately fail classes so that they can remain in the lower grades.[195] Government awareness of this practice has been to simply pull anyone of military age—18 and above—out of school altogether, even though it is normal for some students to take extra years to finish school because they are poor or work on family farms. Several students described being taken to a military camp under false pretences.[196] One of them explained:

I was a student in Adi Keyh in 10th grade. The government told me I was overage and I was forced to leave the school in January 2006. They took 200 of us on a bus to Wi’a, telling us that we would continue our education there. They took everyone from all schools, not just those in secondary school but also those from junior and elementary school, everyone above 19 years. But in fact it was military training. The director of the school had told us that we would be going to school in Wi’a. We were surprised, we did not believe that we would be schooling in Wi’a, in the hot desert. When we got there to the camp, everyone was sad. It was very hot, people were dying from the sun, we buried about five. After four months I was deployed near Assab, a place called Klima. It was very hot too and people were dying there. I was given a vacation and then I escaped.[197]

Wi’a is reportedly the camp where the “not so clever” students go. If it appears that a student will not graduate high school anyway, then the government will send him to Wi’a even before he has finished. One former student who was sent to Sawa explained, “In school, if you are absent more than two weeks, you get sent to Wi’a—for whatever reason. Sawa is supposed to be for educated people. If you get kicked out of school, you are not fit for education anyway, so you go to Wi’a.”[198]

Forced Labor

After six months of compulsory military training, national service conscripts are deployed indefinitely in one of several possible activities. Many conscripts are simply drafted into military service and are deployed in regular military units.[199]One refugee interviewed by Human Rights Watch was sent to work as a clerk in a court in Asmara, another was sent to work as a mechanic in a civilian garage repairing trucks in Asmara.[200] Others described working on farms or mines owned by the state or the PFDJ ruling party, or building roads and bridges. Regular military units, conscripted military personnel, and prisoners are all also engaged in similar activities—building, mining, and farming.[201]

According to escaped conscripts, the normal “allowance” during training is 50 Eritrean Nakfa per month (about US$3).[202] After 18 months training while on national service, this is increased to 150 Nakfa a month ($9).[203]This is the same amount paid to former soldiers recalled for service during the 1998-2000 war and still mobilized as well as for the over-50s who have been mobilized to serve in a reserve militia. Some of those conscripted prior to 1998 appear to have been incorporated into the regular army and receive salaries accordingly. Regular soldiers are paid a salary of 330 to 3,000 Nakfa ($20 to $183) depending on rank.[204]

All walks of life have been transformed into national service, so that, in essence, an Eritrean is conscripted, subjected to military training for six months, then assigned to any job by the state. As one young man said, “The government is trying to do every single business in the country. National service people are employed in government enterprises, and every person below 40 is a member of national service. So if I’m assigned to work in a shop, then I’ll be working in a shop and serving my country.”[205]

In another example, a professional footballer was told to report for national service. When he finished six months of military training he was assigned to play football again, but as part of his national service. Before military training he was earning 3,600 Nakfa a month ($220). Afterwards, as part of national service, he was paid an allowance of 400 Nakfa a month ($24).[206] He said, “I kept playing because if I didn’t I would have been taken to the military again.”[207]

For regular recruits on national service, 150 Nakfa does not constitute a living wage, nor is their labor given freely. Refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch refused to refer to the money they were paid as a salary, preferring instead to call it “pocket money.”[208] All complained that it was insufficient to live on and completely inadequate to feed a family. Western diplomats and UN officials confirmed that making ends meet on such amounts was impossible in Eritrea.[209] Nevertheless, an official with an agency that provides significant development assistance to Eritrea argued that national service labor is not necessarily forced labor, but “mobilizing people in a low wage environment.”[210]

Under international law—the Forced Labour Conventions and ILO Convention 29—the key points when considering the definition of forced labor are the extent to which: “(i) the works or services are exacted involuntarily; (ii) the exaction of labor or services takes place under the menace of penalty; and (iii) these are used as a means of political coercion, education or as a method of mobilising and using labor for purposes of economic development, as well as means of labor discipline.”[211]This is most certainly the case in Eritrea, and it would thus appear that forced labor on the Eritrean scale and for indefinite periods is a gross human rights violation.[212]

Human Rights Watch spoke to dozens of men and one woman who described being forced to do back-breaking work and who were punished when they refused.[213] One man conscripted at the age of 16 in 1996 described doing many different jobs in the military until he fled at the beginning of 2008. After the 1998-2000 war, “when the fighting stopped I did different jobs in the army, planting, agriculture... after that we were collecting stones to build the Asmara-Assab road.”[214]

Another conscript finished his training at Sawa camp and was then deployed in Dekemhare on a construction site building houses for military leaders: “We were paid very little, whereas as a civilian builder you can earn. Some other soldiers refused to work and were jailed. If you don’t work you go to prison. You lose your vacation time and your pay—150 Nakfa—is stopped. If you refuse they see it as a political problem.”[215]

In its report of a mission to Eritrea, the European Parliament noted, “Via the ‘Cash for Work Programme,’ citizens contribute to the public works—such as the building of dams—against payments from the government. While this scheme was described as being voluntary, there is a risk of people being forced to work for the government in order to ensure they can earn their living.”[216] Most conscripts don’t openly refuse to work but they vote with their feet, either escaping from the military camps or waiting until their annual leave and then fleeing the country instead of reporting for duty once more.

Forced labor for private gain

The projects on which conscripts are deployed are not just public works for the national good. They are often sent to work on private construction projects, building houses for military leaders, and working on private farms. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both previously documented the use of conscript labor for the benefit of ranking members of the military and the government.[217]

Diplomats admitted that aid projects are implemented by national service labor working for private construction firms with good connections to the government.[218] “All companies are owned by the military or the party,” said one diplomat, and another complained that aid projects, “are meant to be allocated through an open bidding process, but in reality only those using conscript labor stand a chance.”[219] Several scholars concurred with this analysis.[220]As one wrote:

Since April 2006, only PFDJ construction firms are allowed to engage in construction activities after private firms and individual entrepreneurs were banned from the construction industry as part of the government’s crackdown on the private sector. On 3 April 2006, the government issued a directive ordering all “contractors, consultants, practicing professionals and studio operators” to submit to the Technical Office of the Central Region: their original licenses, detailed accounts, addresses, types and sizes of their projects, owners’ names, estimated total costs, on the day after (4 April 2006) the directive was issued. On 7 April 2006, the government also ordered all of them to cease their activities within ten days. The prohibition is still in force. The major beneficiaries of the ban are the ruling party’s more than forty enterprises which dominate every aspect of the country’s economy, the enterprises of the PFDJ’s mass organizations and the mushrooming construction firms belonging to the Ministry of Defence.[221]

One former EPLF fighter who was in the military administration told Human Rights Watch, “the senior officers have their own capital like shops, bars; they run businesses and the workers are the national service. The conscripts are working for the benefit of the higher ranks: Colonel, Brigadier, Major-General.”[222] A scholar who has conducted research in Eritrea over many years noted, “there is a whole class of people whose wealth rests on National Service labor.”[223]

Dozens of former prisoners who had escaped and fled the country described being put to work on military construction projects; some built military installations such as barracks and ports, others built properties owned by military leaders.[224] The conscripts deployed to work on commercial farms, mines, or construction projects were often housed in appalling conditions with bad nutrition and minimal pay. One national service soldier who had requested to be demobilized many times since independence in 1993 was deployed in a mine for two months. He explained:

Bad things happened. I had to do work on the houses of the leadership, had to collect sand crystals [some kind of crystalline sand], inside the earth. You use a stick to push the earth...The crystal sand is sharp and when you dig it out of the soil it creates infection in the fingers. When I complained that the fingers were injured they said, ‘you have to take punishment for that.’ At one point when I was tired and my fingers were bleeding I stood up and said I couldn’t do more. They asked why I was standing, and took me away. After beating me they asked me ‘Why don’t you work?’ I said, I came here accidentally because I didn’t have my ID card and I can’t do more work because my fingers are injured. At last when I said I had been a fighter, [in the liberation war] they stopped the punishment.[225]

It is not just conscripts who are providing cheap labor for the benefit of military leaders. Prisoners are regularly employed and school children are made to work during their school holidays. The national program for school children is called Mahtot. For two months during the break, children in 9th grade and above must report to work camps where they, “plant trees, clean houses, pick cotton and help with other agricultural projects,” in the words of one student.[226]Normally the children stay in schools in the area. During the two months their compensation is 150 Nakfa ($9) for their family; the fee is euphemistically called “soap money.”[227]


[150]See Gaim Kibreab, “Forced Labour in Eritrea,” Journal of Modern African Studies, 47, 1 (2009), pp. 41-72, and Pool, From Guerillas to Government.

[151]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean military deserter, Djibouti, September 16, 2008.

[152]Human Rights Watch interview, Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 29, 2008.

[153]Government of Eritrea, ‘Proclamation of National Service No.82/1995,’ Eritrean Gazette, No.11 October 23, 1995.

[154]Ibid., article 5.

[155]Ibid., article 13 (2).

[156]See Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Eritrea, 20 May 2008. Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/486cb0fdc.html (accessed March 3, 2009).

[157]Human Rights Watch interview with academic, London, January 11, 2009, also Human Rights Watch interviews with refugees Djibouti, Italy, and Britain, September, October, and November, 2008. One witness said, “They say 50 but it’s not really,” Djibouti, Italy, September 16, 2008. See also, UK Border Agency, ‘Country of Origin Report,’ Home Office, September 13, 2008, p. 47 for a presentation of some of the source material, at: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/country_reports.html#ecuador (accessed January 29, 2009).

[158]Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomat, Asmara, by phone, January 13, 2009; with Gaim Kibreab, London, December 4, 2008; and with Eritrean refugees in Djibouti and Italy, September and October 2008.


[160]Human Rights Watch interviews with Eritrean refugees in Djibouti and Italy, September and October 2008.

[161]Human Rights Watch interview with Gaim Kibreab, London, December 4, 2008.

[162]Human Rights Watch interviews with Eritrean refugees in Djibouti and Italy, September and October 2008. See also Government of Eritrea, ‘Proclamation of National Service No.82/1995,’ Eritrean Gazette, No.11 October 23, 1995, articles 12 and 14. See note 140, above.

[163]Report of the fact-finding mission of a Delegation of the Development Committee of the European Parliament to the Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia) (25 October-2 November 2008), p. 5.

[164] United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on Ethiopia and Eritrea, S/2007/33, January 22, 2007, p. 3.

[165] United Nations, “Safety and Security of humanitarian personnel and protection of United Nations personnel,” A/60/223/Corr.1, November 10, 2005, http://www.iom.ch/jahia/webdav/shared/shared/mainsite/policy_and_research/un/60/A_60_223_corr_1_en.pdf (accessed March 3, 2009).

[166]“UN peacekeeping mission voices hope Eritrea will release 11 arrested local staff,” UN news, May 12, 2006, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2006/05/mil-060512-unnews03.htm (accessed March 3, 2009).

[167] Ibid.

[168]Eritrea ratified the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29) and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105) on 22 February 2000, The Constitution of Eritrea, Chapter III ‘Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, Articles 13-29.’

[169]It is unclear exactly how many Eritreans are fleeing every month but the numbers have steadily increased over the past few years. See “Sudan asks UN for aid for Eritrean, Somali refugees,’” Reuters, December 22, 2008, http://lite.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LM314868.htm (accessed March 3, 2009). Ethiopia claims there are more than 30,000 Eritrean refugees in the Shimelba camp but the US Committee for Refugees put the number of Eritreans in Shimelba at 16,800 in 2008. See Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “A Week in the Horn,” Jan. 23, 2009, http://www.mfa.gov.et/Press_Section/Week_Horn_Africa_January_23_2009.htm and United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Ethiopia, June 19, 2008. Online. UNHCR Refworld, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/485f50d171.html (accessed March 3, 2009).

[170]Human Rights Watch interview, Djibouti, September 17, 2008.

[171]Human Rights Watch interviews, Djibouti and Sicily, Italy, September and October 2008.

[172]Human Rights Watch interview with refugees, Sicily, Italy, October 24 and 26, 2008.

[173]Human Rights Watch interview with deserter, Italy, October 30, 2008.

[174]Human Rights Watch interview with refugees, Italy and Djibouti, September and October 2008.

[175]Human Rights Watch interview with former conscript, Sicily, Italy, October 26, 2008.

[176]Human Rights Watch interview with former conscript, Sicily, Italy, October 26, 2008.

[177]Government of Eritrea, ‘Proclamation of National Service No.82/1995,’ Eritrean Gazette, No.11 October 23, 1995, article 13 (1).

[178]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 25, 2008.

[179]See for example UN Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1989/59.

[180]For further details on the persecution of Christians and Jehovah’s witnesses in Eritrea, see Amnesty International, Eritrea: Religious Persecution, December 7, 2005, at http://asiapacific.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAFR640132005?open&of=ENG-ERI (accessed February 26, 2009). See also US State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “International Religious Freedom Report – 2008: Eritrea,” http://2001-2009.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2008/108367.htm (accessed February 26, 2009).

[181]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 25, 2008.


[183]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, London, November 13, 2008.

[184] Human Rights Watch interviews with refugees, Djibouti and Italy, September and October 2008.

[185]Human Rights Watch interview with former student, Sicily, Italy, October 29, 2008.

[186]Human Rights Watch interviews with Eritrean refugees, Sicily, Italy, October 24-31, 2008.

[187] Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 25, 2008.

[188]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 24, 2008.

[189]Eritrea acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on February 16, 2005, with a declaration that the minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces is 18. http://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&id=135&chapter=4&lang=en (accessed February 26, 2009).

[190]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 30, 2008, see also UK Border Agency, ‘Country of Origin Report: Eritrea,’ Home Office, September 13, 2008, p. 44.

[191]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 24, 2008.

[192]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 27, 2008.

[193]Human Rights Watch interviews with Eritrean refugees, Sicily, Italy, October 24-31, 2008.

[194]Human Rights Watch interviews with Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 24-31, 2008.

[195]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 26, 2008.

[196]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 25, 2008 and Djibouti, September 19, 2008.

[197]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 25, 2008.

[198]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, London, November 13, 2008.

[199]Human Rights Watch interviews with Eritrean refugees, Sicily, Italy, October 24-31, 2008.

[200]Human Rights Watch interviews with Eritrean refugees, Sicily, Italy, October 26 and 29, 2008.

[201]Human Rights Watch interviews with Eritrean refugees, Sicily, Italy, October 24-31, 2008, and Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats, by phone, January 13 and 22, 2009. See also Amnesty International, You have no right to ask.

[202] At time of writing, the Eritrean Nafka was worth US$0.06.

[203]Human Rights Watch interviews with Eritrean refugees, Sicily, Italy, October 24-31, 2008.

[204]Human Rights Watch interview with former army accountant, Sicily, Italy, October 27, 2008, and with former conscripts, Sicily, Italy, October 24-31, 2008.

[205]Human Rights Watch interview with refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 28, 2008. See above for a discussion about the upper age limits for national service.

[206]Human Rights Watch interview with refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 25, 2008.


[208]Human Rights Watch interviews with refugees, Sicily, Italy, October 2008.

[209]Human Rights Watch interviews by phone, December 19, 2008 and January 12 and 14, 2009.

[210]Human Rights Watch interview with diplomat by phone, January 22, 2009.

[211]See ‘Eritrea’s Legal Obligations’, below.

[212]The ICCPR exemption from the prohibition on “forced or compulsory labour” only applies to service of “a military character”, or that required of conscientious objectors, or “normal civil obligations”. (ICCPR article 8(3)).

[213]Human Rights Watch interviews with former Eritrean conscripts, Sicily, Italy, October 24-31, 2008.

[214]Human Rights Watch interview with former Eritrean conscript (name withheld), Sicily, Italy, October 27, 2008.

[215]Human Rights Watch interview with former Eritrean conscript, Sicily, Italy, October 24, 2008.

[216]Report of the fact-finding mission of a Delegation of the Development Committee of the European Parliament to the Horn of Africa (Eritrea, Djibouti, Ethiopia) (25 October-2 November 2008), p. 5.

[217]Human Rights Watch, World Report 2007, p. 117, Amnesty, You have no right to ask - Government resists scrutiny on human rights, 2004, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AFR64/003/2004/en (accessed, December 8, 2008).

[218]Human Rights Watch interviews with diplomats by phone, January 12, 14, and 22, 2009.


[220] Human Rights Watch interview with scholar, London, January 11, 2009.

[221]Gaim Kibreab, “Forced Labour in Eritrea,” Journal of Modern African Studies, 47, 1 (2009), pp. 41-72.

[222]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, Sicily, Italy, October 27, 2008.

[223]Human Rights Watch interview with academic, January 11, 2009.

[224]Human Rights Watch interviews with former detainees, Sicily, Italy, October 24-31, 2008.

[225]Human Rights Watch interview with former soldier, Djibouti, September 18, 2008.

[226]Human Rights Watch interview with Eritrean refugee, London, UK, November 13, 2008.


War Resisters' International, 5 Caledonian Rd, London N1 9DX, Britain
tel +44-20-7278 4040 & +44-20-3355 2364, skype: warresisters, fax +44-20-7278 0444
email info@wri-irg.org (encryption key), web http://wri-irg.org