Annual Report: Eritrea 2013

May 23, 2013

Annual Report: Eritrea 2013

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  • Journalist Yirgalem Fisseha Mebrahtu, arrested in February 2009, was reportedly admitted to hospital in January, under permanent guard and with no visitors permitted. Her family was not told why she had been admitted.
  • Petros Solomon, a former Foreign Minister and one of the G15 group – 11 high-profile politicians detained arbitrarily since 2001 – was reportedly hospitalized in July due to a serious illness. However, adequate medical care was unavailable in Eritrea. His fate remained unknown.

A number of deaths in custody were reported.

  • In August, Yohannes Haile, a Jehovah’s Witness detained since September 2008, reportedly died at Me’eter prison from the effects of extreme heat after being confined underground since October 2011. Three others detained with him were reportedly in critical condition. Their fate remained unknown.

Military conscription

National service remained compulsory for all adult men and women. All schoolchildren were required to complete their final year of secondary education at Sawa military training camp, a policy which affected children as young as 15. At Sawa, children suffered poor conditions and harsh punishments for infractions.

The initial national service period of 18 months was frequently extended indefinitely, on minimal salaries that were inadequate to meet families’ essential needs. Conscripts continued to be used widely as forced labour in state projects, including agricultural production, or in private companies owned by military or ruling party elites. They faced harsh penalties for evasion, including arbitrary detention and ill-treatment.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Thousands of Eritreans fled the country during the year, mainly to evade indefinite national service. A “shoot to kill” policy remained in place for those caught attempting to cross into Ethiopia. People caught crossing into Sudan were arbitrarily detained and severely beaten. Family members of those who fled successfully were forced to pay fines or risk imprisonment.

Eritrean asylum-seekers forcibly returned faced a serious risk of arbitrary detention and torture. Despite this, several countries including Egypt, Sudan, Sweden, Ukraine and the UK, planned or carried out forced returns to Eritrea.

  • On 24 July, Sudan forcibly returned nine asylum-seekers and one refugee to Eritrea. They had been convicted of unlawful entry by a Sudanese court.

Trafficking in human beings

The July report of the UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group stated that Eritrean officials, including senior military officials, presided over weapons smuggling and people trafficking through criminal networks in Sudan and the Sinai, Egypt. According to the report, the scale of activity suggested the complicity of the Eritrean government.