New Human Rights Watch report on Eritrea

Legal Updates

This month, the organisation Human Rights Watch have released a new report on Eritrea that may be useful for people seeking asylum from Eritrea, or those supporting them.

The report, “They are making us into slaves, not educating us” says that despite the signing of a peace agreement with Ethiopia in July 2018, indefinite military conscription continues. The long running border war has been used as a justification for the repressive system of enforced, indefinite conscription, described as “slavery-like” by the United Nations Commission of Enquiry on Eritrea.

“the signing of a peace agreement with Ethiopia in July 2018 and the lifting of United Nations sanctions in October removed the government’s excuse for maintaining the national service system indefinitely. It should have encouraged the government to offer its youth real employment opportunities of their choosing afforded by peace and the possible economic development that an opening up of Eritrea can bring. However, at time of writing, the government had not made any meaningful changes to national service or to its system of repression generally.”

The report is based on 73 interviews with former secondary school students and national service teachers who attended or taught in secondary school in Eritrea between 2014 and late 2018, and who have since fled Eritrea, as well as 18 interviews with Eritrean and international experts.

The report explains that “Each year, thousands of youth are forcefully bused from their homes all over the country” to “complete their final year at the Warsai Yekalo Secondary School, located in the Sawa military camp, an isolated location in the west of the country near the border with Sudan, and to undertake mandatory military training for approximately five months of their final secondary school year”.

At Sawa:

military officials subject students to ill-treatment and harsh punishments for minor infractions, military-style discipline, and forced labor, which at times violates their basic rights and cuts into students’ study and rest time. “They are making us into slaves, not educating us,” one former student said.

After one year at Sawa, youth are, largely based on how well they do in their exams, either forced to join the army, or channeled into vocational training programs or into further education and later conscripted to work for the government in a civilian capacity.

The report states that “It is almost impossible for young Eritreans, particularly boys and men, to avoid conscription … Many girls and young women opt for early marriage and motherhood as a means of evading Sawa and conscription”.

On the conscription of teachers, the report says:

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