A discussion paper communicated to the European parliament briefing, 1 July 2008, Brussels, Belgium
By Meron Estefanos
mass media images of Eritrea’s youth center not on who they are or what
they have accomplished but on what they are trying to escape and how.
They appear in the press as draft evaders, illegal immigrants, asylum
seekers and worse. In coverage of the homeland, they are the victims of
road-blocks, round-ups and arbitrary house searches as the government
tries to capture them for open-ended “national service.” To be caught
is to face indefinite involuntary military conscription and servitude.
To resist is to face imprisonment or death. To escape is to take on
enormous costs and unimaginable risks.
Law governing military conscription
independent Eritrea’s experience is marked by increasing militarization
of the society and the country. In November 1991, the Provisional
Government of Eritrea enacted a National Service Proclamation
(Proclamation 11/91). The said proclamation obliged Eritrean youth
between the age of 18 and 40 to undertake compulsory military national
service, which includes six months military training and one year
military service. Later in May 1995, Proclamation No. 11/91 was revised
and replaced by Proclamation 82/95 to include an age group above 40 up
until 50. Thus far, more than 700,000 Eritrean youth have been
conscripted under the national service and many still continue. Some
accounts offer even a higher figure.
to the later proclamation, an individual is supposed to serve in the
military for 18 months. However, many have been under this yoke for
nearly ten years and some others for more than that. While some are
temporarily demobilized from the army due to medical and related
reasons, thousands remain regimented in battalions and newly
established ‘military colleges’
or ‘military boarding schools’, and still others work in government
civilian sectors, yet under Ministry of Defense supervision. In a
nutshell, the nation has become so effectively militarized due to the
persistent and successive conscriptions as well as due to the
establishment of or otherwise due to the replacement of academic and
civilian sectors by military institutions.
objection to the military service is not recognized by law. Refusing to
partake in the military is punishable by torture, prolonged
imprisonment and striping of one’s citizenship rights. The fate of
members of Jehovah Witness is a case in point.Lawlessness is the rule of the game
to what has been claimed via Eritrean official media outlets, the
military service has been a major cause for degrading levels of
innovativeness, creativity and adventurous nature of the youth, and not
“to raise healthy and productive citizens”.
are no clear laws and regulations governing the whole military system -
a law that precisely limits the powers and responsibilities of military
commanders, and that protects the rights of ordinary servicemen. Hence,
hole military system.tem. Technology.
in the society, hands and provide moral and material support, while at the samerape,
nepotism and opportunism are widespread. They are normally committed by
military commanders without impunity. What one normally learns in the
system is how to become “fearful and obedient” to immediate military
commanders. Hence, the massive youth outflow is the immediate result,
and a clear sing of an utter defiance against the ill-practiced
military service in particular and the increasing militarization of the
nation in general.
to reconsider its ill-practiced military conscription, the government
of Eritrea sadly resorted to the least effective method of securing
compliance – intimidation against and violent coercion upon Eritrea’s
youth. It opted to employ routine propaganda campaigns against young
draft evaders with an effort of labeling them as “tourists but not
refugees” or “traitors who failed to fulfill their national obligations”.
Moreover, it introduced or otherwise endorsed “arbitrary torture” and
“prolonged imprisonments without trial”, a “shoot-to-death”
on site policy against those who are found to flee the country; and it
even goes to the extent of arresting parents of the missing children –
an utterly irresponsible and flawed measure which seriously continue to
undermine Eritrea’s long-stayed rich culture of treating the elders
with respect and dignity.
how could it be morally acceptable to denigrate, intimidate or
otherwise to violently punish Eritrean youth for refusing to be part of
this unjust military service program? In fact, the
infamous malpractices and lawlessness within the military service is
seriously undermining their inherent desire of building their own
future, and serving their own family and the nation at large with
respect and dignity.
Increasing militarization: a threat to national and regional peace and security
rules continue to profess that the nation’s promising political and
economic processes has been “sabotaged by external forces”. They
therefore attempt to justify increasing militarization of Eritrea by
claiming “it is all in the interest of safeguarding the nation’s peace,
security and territorial integrity”. Yet today, peace and security
remain very far from Eritrean reality. Instead, with each passing day,
the nation continues degrading in all accounts.
reality, the all-embracing consequence of increasing militarization of
Eritrea has been “the suppression of the most dynamic section of the
society”. It continues to be a root cause for the proliferation of a
culture of amorality, massive human rights abuses and chronic poverty
and backwardness prevailing in our society. It is only serving the
interests of the few high-ranking political and military elites to stay
longer in power by providing them enough leverage to effectively
suppress any kind of dissent.
fact, by promoting militant and violent mentality within the society,
the increasing militarization of Eritrea remains to be a threat not
only to peace and development of the nation, but also to regional peace
and security as it is manifested by the destructive role Eritrea’s
regime is playing from time to time.On the way forward
in the EMDHR, in collaboration with other local and international human
rights and peace organizations are trying to build “a global
among the Eritrean public and the international community with the aim
of raising consciousness. Our efforts are largely directed at
empowering Eritrean youth to continue their “disobedience and defiance”
against the ill-practiced military service in an effort to undermine
the increasing militarization of our society. We want them to boldly
say “Eat my call up” - to drag their feet from executing unwarranted
military orders, or to completely refuse from getting conscripted.What can EU do to help?
On the above regard, we humbly request the European Union:
· to discourage any efforts that are sustaining the increasing militarization of our society;
provide moral and material support to indigenous efforts that are
courageously endeavoring to undermine the increasing militarization of
Eritrea; thereby contributing to the transformation of our society to a
withdraw diplomatic and material support to the regime in Eritrea, for
it is the one which is perpetuating the increasing militarization of
our society and the massive human rights abuses.