ASMARA — Eritrea is a small African nation on the north-eastern coast by the Red Sea. Modern history dictates the rocky journey to modern-day Eritrea. After being granted its liberation from Italy in 1947, it was swiftly annexed by its neighbor, Ethiopia. Following thirty years of war for its independence, the United Nations moderated referendum saw Eritrea become its own nation in April 1993.
In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front grabbed political power and established a one-party state. Since then, there has not been another election. Human rights in Eritrea were abused during war time, but even under its independent government, it still saw huge human rights violations on various accounts.
National legislative elections have consistently been postponed by the current leader and only leader since 1993, President Isaias Afwerki. In 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council declared the Eritrean government’s dictatorial actions a violation of its citizen’s rights to liberty. Lacking national elections, formal legislature and independent organizations there is a serious reason to bring into question the soundness of President Afwerki’s ruling.
Instability and lack of infrastructure and resources see Eritrea fall somewhere in between the harsh rule of a totalitarian government and the disorganization of anarchy. According to Amnesty International, there were reportedly thousands of Eritreans who monthly attempt to cross the border to avoid the arbitrary “national service” which was extended from 18 months to indefinite participation.
This national service, which is mandatory for all men and women, was extended to children who were forced to finish their final year of secondary education at a military training camp in Sawa, where adequate conditions for living and education were not met.
Once conscripted, Eritrean citizens have been forced into the labor market with inadequate or no pay. These projects have all either been state-owned or for the military and its high-ranking elites. Forcing a cycle of poverty and gross injustice, this kind of rampant violation of human rights in Eritrea has been reported for over a decade, but unfortunately, little international attention has been paid to the abysmal state of the country’s domestic affairs.
The extent of international engagement with Eritrean political actions has largely entailed economic sanctions by the United Nations on grounds of purchasing weapons from North Korea and funding a Somalian-based extremist group, al-Shabaab in 2009. The Eritrean government has repeatedly denied these accusations through its state-owned media outlets.
In an era where information is supposed to be a tool for democratization, Eritrean citizens are privy only to media disseminated by the state. No independent media outlets have the liberty to run in the country, and currently, Eritrea sits at 179 in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index. Journalists and political activists who speak out against the government have been detained in jail, some for over a decade.
Human rights in Eritrea are severely lacking, and it will require a great deal of pressure from the international community and nations with political pull to improve this situation.
– Sydney Nam