|The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001. Please see www.state.gov for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date. This site is not updated so external links may no longer function. Contact us with any questions about finding information. |
NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.
TITLE: ERITREA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993 DATE: JANUARY 31, 1994 AUTHOR: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE ERITREA Following a U.N.-supervised referendum in April--in which Eritreans voted overwhelmingly for independence from Ethiopia--Eritrea became an independent State on May 24 with a single party. The dominating political and military force in the long struggle for independence and in the Government is President Isaias Afwerki and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF). The Government, formerly known as the Provisional Government of Eritrea, has actually been in de facto control of the country since May 24, 1991, when EPLF forces entered Asmara in the culminating battle against the Ethiopian army of then dictator Colonel Mengistu. The EPLF Government has announced that it intends to introduce a democratic, multiparty system, embodied in a new constitution, in approximately 4 years. It has begun to develop interim institutions, including a National Legislative Assembly (see Section 3). In 1993 it held local elections in all provinces--involving multiple candidates but no parties, established local legislative bodies based on those elections, and in October formed a commission to begin work on preparing a new constitution. There is no interim constitution. The EPLF forces, which in 1992 comprised over 100,000 regulars, continued to serve as the main internal security force in 1993 and also served as the recruiting ground for the new police force being organized. A striking feature in 1993 was the virtual absence of security forces in the main cities. There were no reports of human rights abuses by these forces. The Eritrean economy, decimated by years of war, is based on subsistence agriculture, in which 95 percent of the population is engaged. Poor rains and insect infestation produced a notably bad harvest in 1993. The commercial (wage) sector is small and largely centered in Asmara, the capital, and the Red Sea ports of Massawa and Assab, through which most of Ethiopian imports and exports pass. With donor assistance, one of the Government's major reconstruction efforts is to rebuild the port of Massawa, which was badly damaged by Mengistu's air force in the war. As Ethiopia is now landlocked, the Government assured--as part of an understanding with the Transitional Government of Ethiopia--that it would not impede Ethiopian access to these ports. The Government generally respected human rights in 1993. The April referendum process was free and fair. During the year, the Government began to release many of the persons it had been holding for months for alleged human rights violations committed during the Mengistu period. In September it amnestied 260 prisoners in this category and reduced sentences for others. At the end of the year, it continued to hold approximately 137 persons for alleged past violations. It also held in detention about 50 persons who were being investigated for association with radical Islamic political elements or terrorist organizations. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from: a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killings. b. Disappearance There were no reports of disappearances in 1993. However, there was international concern for the whereabouts of several officials of the armed opposition Eritrean Liberation Front-Revolutionary Council (ELF-RC) who were alleged to have been abducted from Sudan in April 1992 and secretly detained in Eritrea. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment There have been no reports of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, including in prisons, where physical conditions appear to be acceptable, and families have good access to prisoners. As far as is known, the political detainees mentioned in Section 1.d. were not mistreated. d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile The Criminal Code presently in force is the Code used by previous governments of Ethiopia. Criminals are generally held without bail until their cases are heard, which usually is within 60 days of arrest. Since its advent to power in 1991, the EPLF has detained, without charge or trial, several categories of people: Those associated with the past Mengistu regime in Eritrea who are suspected of human rights violations; persons associated with Muslim fundamentalism; and non-Eritreans who have been detained by internal security forces for association with political or terrorist organizations. There was very little information available on the latter category. In the first category, the Government initiated in September an amnesty program, releasing over 260 persons suspected of violations during the Mengistu regime in Eritrea. At the end of the year, the Government still held approximately 137 persons for past violations and gave no indication when these persons would be brought to trial. According to credible reports, the Government released some ELF-RC members. Although it is possible that additional ELF-RC members are being held, none of those released reported the names of others being held, nor did they report physical abuse. The Government is carefully balanced to reflect the virtually even composition of the population between Muslims and Christians and is sensitive to outside efforts to influence this even division. For most of 1993, it detained without charge three Eritreans who returned from neighboring countries sponsored by religious or political entities in those countries to propagate political Islam. These persons were still detained at year's end. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The current civil law system, borrowed from Ethiopia, is derived from the Napoleonic Code. Serious crimes are brought before a panel of three judges in a public trial, where defendants have access to legal counsel. If the defendant is found guilty and wishes to appeal, he or she may appeal to the next highest court, the Court of Appeals. This Court, from which there is no further appeal, is composed of five judges. Crimes committed by members of the military are handled by military courts. Security cases, of which there are few, were not brought to trial. There are magistrate courts in the major cities. There are no special courts. The system suffers from a lack of trained personnel, legal resources, and infrastructure. The judiciary appears to be independent of the Government in most regular civil and criminal cases. Since the population is largely rural, traditional "courts" play a major role in the life of the citizens. Many local issues, e.g., property disputes, and most petty crimes are adjudicated by local elders according to custom or, in the case of Muslims, the Koran. These traditional courts have not given sentences involving physical punishment. f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence Under the Criminal Code, warrants are required to monitor mail, telephones, or other means of communication. While this restriction in the past has often been imperfectly observed, there were no reports in 1993 of such surveillance or of entering of homes to conduct searches. Technical limitations on security services and lack of necessity for such operations also contribute to the absence of surveillance activities. Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including: a. Freedom of Speech and Press People spoke freely in 1993, and, in open public meetings with President Isaias, persons expressed concern over various issues, including increased taxes, bureaucratic slowness, and return of refugees from Sudan. The President responded verbally at that time and in print over a period of weeks thereafter. The small press, consisting of a biweekly newspaper (in Tigrinya and Arabic), is government financed and controlled and covers such subjects as government policies and the return of property confiscated by the former regime. It does not criticize the President or his Government. At the end of the year, the Government was still preparing a press law in concert with the drafting of the constitution. The question of a privately owned, independent newspaper did not arise in 1993, largely because it was not yet commercially feasible. Foreign newspapers and publications entered the country without hindrance. b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association No permits are required for public meetings or demonstrations. There appear to be no restrictions on the formation of nongovernmental organizations, although the Government's permission is required, and there are long bureaucratic delays in granting these permits. c. Freedom of Religion There is religious freedom throughout Eritrea. All denominations and faiths are permitted to practice. There is no state religion, and no religion is supported over another. Religious groups may train clergy and children of the laity and may and do produce their own religious periodicals in their own language. Previous regimes did not allow the Jehovah's Witnesses to practice publicly. However, under the present Government, they are allowed full freedom of worship. There is still some animosity between members of the population and Jehovah's Witnesses over the latter's refusal to recognize certain state symbols and functions. This animosity surfaced in May after Witnesses publicly stated that, on religious grounds, they would not vote in the independence referendum. In several incidents, small crowds verbally attacked and stoned Jehovah's Witnesses. d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation By law, all persons, Eritrean and foreign, may travel freely within Eritrea and abroad without interference or permit. However, in practice, the Government maintained a restrictive policy concerning the return of up to 400,000 Eritrean refugees from Sudan, based on its asserted need for large-scale donor assistance to facilitate organized repatriation. The Government claims that some tens of thousands of such refugees have returned spontaneously. By year's end, it appeared the Government was considering a pilot repatriation and reintegration project for some 10,000 refugees in Sudan, using funds pledged at a July donor's conference. Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government While the Government has promised to introduce multiparty democracy within 4 years, citizens did not have this right in 1993. Under President Isaias, the EPLF controls the Government, and in 1993 it began to develop interim political institutions. To this end, the Government held local elections--involving multiple candidates but no parties--in all 10 provinces each for local legislatures. In turn, the provincial legislatures sent three members, one of whom had to be a woman, to the National Legislative Assembly. Those elected in the provinces were, in general, elders and notables from the region. Voting in all provincial elections was by secret ballot. Senior government officials expressed disappointment regarding the lack of women and young candidates and the low voter turnout of approximately 55 percent. The National Legislative Assembly is composed of approximately 137 members and met for the first time in September. In addition to the female members of the regional delegations, 10 additional places for women are reserved in the National Assembly, thus assuring 20 seats for women (see also Section 5.a.). To date President Isaias and the EPLF wield full power, although the National Assembly ostensibly is to be responsible ultimately for the passage of laws. The Government is almost equally divided between Muslim and Christian with Muslims holding at year's end seven Ministries, including that of Foreign Affairs, and many sensitive provincial governor positions. In addition to the positions in the new legislative bodies, women hold senior positions in the Government, including in the Ministry of Justice, as well as certain senior positions in the military. Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights There is a local human rights organization, the Regional Committee for Human Rights Development, which was in the process of obtaining recognition at the end of 1993. This organization is independent from the Government, but it was too early to tell how effective it would be in publicizing human rights abuses. The Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Interior handle human rights inquiries. The Government responds quickly to international inquiries about alleged human rights abuses, maintaining that it has not committed such abuses. During a trip to Eritrea in August, former President Carter presented the Government with a list of names of alleged detainees. The Government responded the next day. Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status There were no reported instances of official discrimination against any Eritrean because of race, religion, sex, disability, or social status. Women The Government has taken a consistently strong stand in favor of improving the status of women and including them in the political process (see Section 3). In part, this stems from the important role Eritrean women played in the war (one-third of the EPLF fighters were women). In 1991 the then Provisional EPLF Government codified a broad range of rights for women, including guarantees of equal educational opportunity, land ownership, equal pay for equal work, legal sanctions against domestic violence, and other economic and legal rights. A part of the EPLF, the National Union of Eritrean Women, has been in the vanguard in campaigns against such traditional practices as female genital mutilation (see Children below). Despite the strong policy positions of the Government, there are some elements of traditional discrimination against women in Eritrean culture. Women perform significant amounts of farm labor and almost all child-rearing. In schools, females are less obvious in lower grades than are males. This disparity is even more visible in predominantly rural Muslim areas. Notwithstanding strong pressure from Muslim clergy, the Government supports school attendance by Muslim females. Exact figures are not available, but a countrywide ratio of two boys in class for each girl is approximately correct. Domestic violence is not widespread. Wife-beating is the exception, not the rule, according to health officials and doctors. Police rarely intervene in such instances, and formal court cases are rare. Incidents of domestic violence are usually resolved through traditional processes at village level. Children There is little formal government commitment to children's human rights and welfare, as expressed in laws or established programs. Child welfare is not generally looked on as a serious social problem. There are few government funds devoted to this issue. The Government has taken a strong stand against female genital mutilation (circumcision) which is condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health. Nevertheless, it continues to be practiced in Eritrea and is usually performed at an early age. Health officials suggest that the experiences of the civil war, in which many young women left their families to serve in the Eritrean forces, have contributed to educating women against this practice. (Before the separation of Eritrea, an internatiional health expert estimated that 90 percent of the girls/women in Ethiopia had undergone this procedure.) People with Disabilities As a result of the recent extremely bloody civil war, there are thousands of disabled male and female former fighters. The Government expends large amounts for their care. Most physically disadvantaged Eritreans are viewed as heroes and are widely assisted by other citizens, as are those disabled for other reasons. There are no laws mandating access for the disabled to public buildings, although assistance is generally provided for those who need it. There is no discrimination in employment or education against people with disabilities. Section 6 Worker Rights a. The Right of Association Under Proclamation Number 8 of the transitional labor laws of Eritrea, workers have the legal right to form unions. There are no government restrictions on this right, and indeed the Government encourages labor association, but worker organization is only in its earliest stages. Approximately 95 percent of the population is involved in subsistence agriculture, and only a minuscule number of people work in commercial or government enterprises. The Government is the largest employer, including in the few state-owned enterprises. There have been few pressures for unionization, given the heavy competition among the large number of unemployed and still larger number of underemployed workers for the few wage jobs available. The most important "union" in Eritrea is a government-dominated union which seeks to represent worker rights in such areas as illegal firings and nonpayment of wages. It does not generally become involved in such traditional labor union issues as wage negotiations and working conditions. There were no strikes in 1993. The proposed new labor code will allow strikes. Eritrea became a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in 1993. In view of the limited state of worker organization, the question of Eritrean labor affiliation with international labor organizations has not yet arisen. None of the Eritrean unions has joined the Organization of African Trade Union Unity. b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively While labor has the theoretical right--but not yet the legal right--to organize and bargain collectively, such collective bargaining does not take place as a practical matter. The Government sets wages and working conditions. Because of the relative weakness of the organized labor movement and the high rate of unemployment, collective bargaining and similar legal protections, such as protection against antiunion discrimination, have yet to be established. There are no export processing zones. c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor While there is no legal prohibition in place, there is no forced or compulsory labor in Eritrea. d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children The legal minimum age for employment is 18, although apprentices may be hired at age 14. While the Commission on Social Welfare is responsible for enforcement, there is no random inspection of factories and shops for compliance. The number of children under 18 years old working in commercial enterprises is small, given the high rate of adult unemployment. However, children at an early age help on family farms, and there are a few children selling small wares on the street, such as cigarettes. e. Acceptable Conditions of Work The free market determines the level of wages, and there is no legal minimum wage in Eritrea. While there is no legal provision, all employees receive at least 1 day of rest per week, and most receive 1 1/2 days of rest per week. There are no occupational health and safety laws or standards currently in force.
[end of document]
to 1993 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.