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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]

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