retour article original
par Graham PEEBLES
Life in Eritrea is brutal and shrouded in secrecy. The world is indifferent. The regime trusts nobody –even the United Nation’s special rapporteur on Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, has been denied a visa. Last year Keetharuth said : “Basic tenets of the rule of law are not respected". Following this, the UN Security Council “strongly condemned” Eritrea’s “continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”}. Violations include forced and child labour, “arbitrary detention, and severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and religion” as well as violence against women, gender inequality, gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and economic discrimination.
Eritrea is beset by fundamental problems, yet President Isaias Afwerki blindly rejects all foreign intervention, including urgent food aid. Eritrea was ranked 77th (out of 78) in the 2013 Global Hunger Index, and over 60 % of its population is malnourished. In a report by risk analysis firm Maplecroft, it was identified as the country where child labour is most rampant. Children as young as 15 are routinely conscripted into the military where, according to Human Rights Watch, they are “subject to violence and ill-treatment. Beatings, torture, and prolonged incarcerations are common”.
Military service is compulsory and, although it is officially 18 months long, many men, women and children spend their entire working lives in uniform, and are used as forced labour on essentially civilian jobs. Women recruits are victims of rape and sexual violence by officers. There is no constitution, functioning legislature or independent judiciary –thousands are arrested and detained without trial, denied access to lawyers and their families, and have no appeal against sweeping judgments. According to Human Rights Watch, “Death in captivity is not unusual. Many prisoners disappear, their whereabouts and health unknown. Former prisoners describe being confined in vastly overcrowded underground cells or shipping containers, with no space to lie down, little or no light, oppressive heat or cold, and vermin”.
In 2001 all independent media outlets were closed and journalists arrested. There is no free press, radio or television. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are banned, telecommunications and the internet are monitored and restricted, and parliamentary/presidential elections remain a dream. All power is concentrated in the hands of Afwerki who with the help of the military has held office since independence from Ethiopia in 1991. As the Guardian newspaper says, all “promises of democracy, the foundation stone of the independence struggle, went out of the window… a gap was quickly created between ex-fighters and civilians, the diaspora were systematically prohibited from returning, and draconian measures were taken against the educated and those who voiced complaints”.