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TITLE:  ERITREA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995









                            ERITREA


Eritrea became an independent single-party State in May l993, 
following a U.N.-supervised election in which Eritreans voted 
overwhelmingly for independence from Ethiopia.  President 
Isaias Afwerki and the Eritrean People's Liberation Front 
(EPLF), renamed in February the People's Front for Democracy 
and Justice (PFDJ), remained the dominating political and 
military force.  The Government has been in de facto control of 
the country since l991, when EPLF forces decisively defeated 
the Ethiopian army of then dictator Colonel Mengistu.  At the 
1994 Third Party Congress, the President and the EPLF/PFDJ 
outlined an ambitious program for establishing a democratic 
form of government by 1996.  In April the party-controlled 
National Assembly created a 50-member National Constitution 
Commission to draft a constitution.

The ELPF armed forces, which in 1992 comprised over 100,000 
regulars, continued to serve as the main internal security 
force in 1994.  There are intelligence components within the 
Ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs.  The Government 
began in late 1993 to demobilize this force and by the end of 
1994 had released over 40,000 persons, some of whom formed the 
cadre for a new police force.  At the same time, the Government 
began to face a new security threat by the fundamentalist 
Eritrean Islamic Jihad rebels who attacked Eritrea from base 
camps in Sudan in December 1993.  President Isaias announced 
that his soldiers had killed 20 Jihad fighters in the December 
encounter, and there were several deaths on both sides as a 
result of additional Jihad forays.  Sporadic terrorist attacks 
by fundamentalist groups continue, but there has been no 
notable increase in the number of incidents.  There were no 
known human rights abuses committed by the military forces.

Approximately 95 percent of the population is engaged in 
subsistence agriculture.  The economy was decimated by years of 
war, but excellent rains have produced an abundant harvest of 
four grains.  The commercial (wage) sector is small and largely 
centered in Asmara, the capital, and the Red Sea ports of 
Massawa and Assab.  The Government continued to provide liberal 
access to the ports for the now landlocked Ethiopia.  Port fees 
are an important source of revenue for the Government.

The Government continued to have strong popular support, and it 
generally respected human rights.  As in the past 3 years, the 
Government promised eventually to institute a democratic, 
multiparty political system.  However, it is carefully 
controlling the political process and allows little opportunity 
for dissenting voices to be heard in the controlled media.  
Although the Eritrean Liberation Front-Revolutionary Council 
(ELF-RC) complained that the Government had excluded it from 
the constitutional review process, individual members of the 
ELF-RC and other opposition groups actively participated in the 
work of the Constitutional Commission.  The Government's 
continuing refusal to recognize the sole human rights 
organization, the Regional Center for Human Rights and 
Development, does not bode well for the Government's 
willingness to tolerate the expression of independent views 
(see Section 4).  The Government continued to detain without 
charge or trial at least 50 persons for association with 
radical Islamic political elements or suspected terrorist 
organizations.  There were reliable reports that local police 
regularly picked up private citizens and sometimes held them 
for long periods without charging them.  The President pardoned 
130 (of the remaining 137) persons detained without charge 
since 1991 for alleged human rights violations during the 
Mengistu period.

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 politically motivated killings.  There 
was, however, an incident in which two persons died, when 
ex-fighters took hostages and hijacked vehicles in a protest 
over demobilization benefits.  During attempts to quell the 
protest, security forces killed two of the protestors.  Under 
the circumstances, the use of force was not excessive.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.  There was no further 
information on the whereabouts of several officials of the 
ELF-RC, who allegedly had been abducted in Ethiopia or Sudan 
and secretly detained in Eritrea since 1992.  A government 
official denied that they were in Eritrea.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

There were no reports of torture by security forces.  There 
was, however, one case in which an Eritrean-American woman 
alleged that police beat her while in detention.  The woman was 
released and never filed a formal complaint.  This is the first 
known incident of alleged abuse by security forces.

Prison conditions are generally Spartan but not inhuman.  
Adequate food, bedding material, and sanitation facilities are 
available, and family members are allowed to provide food, 
clothing, and medicine to prisoners.  There have been no 
instances of death due to prison conditions.  In traditional 
prison facilities, the Government does not permit prisoners to 
correspond with family or friends and limits family visits to 
one a month, and then for only 10 minutes.  It also does not 
permit independent monitoring groups, such as the International 
Committee of the Red Cross, to visit prisons although the 
Government did allow a U.S. diplomatic official to visit one of 
the prisons and conduct interviews with both male and female 
inmates.  There is no evidence that political and security 
prisoners are treated differently from the general prison 
population.  Rape does not appear to be a problem in prisons.

Although the Government has refused to describe it as a prison, 
security forces used the "Disabled Center" in Asmara to detain 
people in conditions bordering on cruel and inhuman.  The 
Center is ostensibly a temporary holding facility for street 
beggars and a permanent shelter for the homeless and the 
mentally ill.  However, those arrested by urban police for 
other reasons are routinely held at the Center for long periods 
in overcrowded holding rooms.  Detainees are left in 
semi-isolation and are not allowed to exercise or receive 
visitors.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Criminal Code provides that detainees may be held for a 
maximum period of 30 days without being charged with a crime.  
In practice, the authorities frequently hold suspected persons 
for much longer periods without charge, in part due to a 
seriously overloaded judicial system.  Police in Asmara have 
arrested and arbitrarily detained ordinary citizens at the 
Disabled Center for up to 14 months without formal charges or a 
trial.  The percentage of the total prison population 
consisting of pretrial detainees was unknown.

Since coming to power in 1991, the Government has detained two 
special categories of people:  those suspected of human rights 
violations under the Mengistu regime; and persons allegedly 
associated with certain political or terrorist organizations.  
In the first category, the Government pardoned 130 of the 
remaining 137 such persons on the occasion of the first 
anniversary of independence.  There were no new arrests of 
persons suspected of human rights violations under Mengistu.  
The Government continued to hold on security grounds a number 
of detainees, but the exact number of these detainees at year's 
end was unknown.

It was also unknown if the Government continued to detain, 
without charge, three Eritreans, who had returned in 1993 from 
Saudi Arabia, to propagate political Islam.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

Until a constitution is adopted, the current civil law system, 
borrowed from Ethiopia, is derived from the Napoleonic Code.  
Most crimes are brought to the lower court which is presided 
over by a single judge.  Serious crimes are tried publicly by a 
panel of three judges, and defendants have access to legal 
counsel at their own expense.  There are no attorneys available 
at public expense, although the Government has asked attorneys 
to work pro bono to represent defendants accused of serious 
crimes who cannot afford attorneys.  Defendants may appeal 
verdicts to the Appellate Court, which is composed of five 
judges and presided over by the President of the High Court.

Crimes committed by members of the military are handled by 
military courts.  Although the Government did state that a 
special court would be established in Asmara to try all 
remaining political and security detainees by early 1995, it 
took no implementing steps to establish this special court by 
year's end.

The judiciary is independent, and there were no known incidents 
of executive interference in the judicial process.  However, 
the underdeveloped judicial system suffers from a severe lack 
of trained personnel, legal resources, and infrastructure.  Of 
the 20 practicing judges assigned to the High Court, only 3 
have law degrees.  In the summer, 80 new trainees received a 
2-month crash course in law before being assigned to rural 
areas to begin judicial duties.  The Justice Ministry assigned 
others for internship with practicing magistrates.

Since the population is largely rural, most citizens' only 
contact with the legal system is through traditional "courts."  
The village judges, appointed by a panel of government 
magistrates, provide justice in civil matters.  Criminal cases 
are transferred to magistrates versed in criminal law.  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 cannot 
give sentences involving physical punishment.

The Government held no known political prisoners at the end of 
the year (see Section 1.d.).  No trials for political or 
security detainees have been conducted in the regular courts.

     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.  Warrants are 
required in routine searches and seizures, except in cases 
where authorities believe individuals may attempt to escape or 
destroy evidence.  In the past this restriction has often not 
been observed, but there were no reports of illegal 
surveillance or searches in 1994.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Although Eritreans continue to express their opinions openly on 
various issues, there is some self-censorship, especially with 
regard to the President and the Government.  The Government has 
not enacted any laws regarding press freedom, but in March the 
National Assembly extensively debated the role of the press and 
formed a committee to reformulate a draft press law.

The Government controls the tiny media, which includes the 
biweekly government-financed newspaper Hadas Eritrea and one 
radio and television station.  Hadas Eritrea carefully avoids 
criticism of the President or other government figures.  
Eritrea Profile, a weekly English-language newspaper, owned by 
the Ministry of Information and Culture, appeared in 1994.  The 
print media criticized the Government on numerous occasions but 
carefully avoided criticism of the President.  There is no 
formal government censorship body.  According to international 
human rights monitors, government reluctance to grant the 
Regional Center for Human Rights official registration as a 
nongovernmental organization has hampered the Regional Center's 
efforts to publish a private newspaper.

There is full academic freedom at the University of Asmara.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

At year's end, the new National Constitutional Commission had 
begun consideration, among many topics, of freedoms of assembly 
and association.  At present, a permit is required from the 
Ministry of Internal Affairs for a public meeting or 
demonstration.  In general, the authorities grant these permits 
for nonpolitical meetings or gatherings.

There is no legal provision for forming political parties, nor 
have any attempts been made to do so.  In particular, there is 
no evidence of activities in Eritrea by such opposition groups 
as the ELF-RC.  The Government asserts that the permanent 
constitution will provide for a multiparty system.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

All denominations and faiths practice freely without government 
restriction.  This includes the Jehovah's Witnesses, whom 
previous regimes had prohibited from worshiping publicly.  In 
October, however, a Presidential decree barred Jehovah's 
Witnesses from government employment and from possession of 
business licenses or identification papers--thereby restricting 
their ability to travel and to engage in other activities.  
This step was apparently taken in retaliation for their refusal 
to participate in the 1993 referendum and in the National Youth 
Service Program.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

In general, all persons may live and travel freely abroad and 
within Eritrea, except for some areas restricted for security 
reasons.  In particular, clashes between government forces and 
the Eritrean Islamic Jihad have left a tense security situation 
along the border with Sudan.  The Government does not 
arbitrarily restrict the right of citizens who have left the 
country to return.

Eritrea plays host to a small number of refugees, mainly 
Somalis residing in Asmara and Assab.  A pilot refugee program 
has begun, and 25,000 Eritreans are expected to return from the 
Sudan within the next several months.  Planning for a further 
135,000 returnees in 1995 is actively under way among the 
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the 
Governments of Eritrea and Sudan.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Citizens do not have this right although the Government has 
promised to introduce multiparty democracy by 1996.  At 
present, the President and the EPLF/PFDJ completely dominate 
the political scene, including the National Assembly.  The 
Government is especially sensitive to maintaining a balance in 
the Cabinet and top positions between Christians and Muslims, 
and ethnic groups (nine were represented in 1994).

The Third EPLF Party Congress's decision to change names was 
intended to signify its transition from an insurgent group 
fighting for independence to a political movement directed at 
the economic, social, and political development of the nation.  
To date, opposition groups--which often manifest themselves by 
sporadic terrorist attacks in rural areas--have received little 
support.  Eritrean Muslims in particular have opposed such 
violent opposition activities.

In April the National Assembly created a 50-member National 
Constitution Commission to draft a democratic constitution.  
The Assembly selected some 42 members, including 20 women, from 
a representative cross-section of Eritrean society.  The 
President appointed the remaining eight.  Although the ELF-RC 
complained that the Government had excluded it from the 
process, individual members of the ELF-RC and other opposition 
groups actively participated in the work of the Commission.  
The Commission formed four committees, including a governmental 
institutions and human rights committee.  It opened branch 
offices in the provinces and began a series of hearings to 
promote public participation in the constitution-making 
process.  The Commission is expected to prepare a draft 
document within the year and to complete the process within
2 years.

The Government in 1993 began to develop interim political 
institutions by holding local elections involving multiple 
candidates, but no parties, in all 10 provinces for local 
legislatures.  In turn, the provincial legislatures sent 3 
members, 1 of whom had to be a woman, to the 150-member 
National Assembly.  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.

In addition to the positions in the new legislative bodies, 
women hold senior positions in the Government, including the 
Ministers of Justice and Tourism.  To further include women in 
the political process, the Third Party Congress named 3 women 
to the party's Executive Council, and 12 women to the Central 
Council.  Women now occupy more than half the seats on the 
National Constitution Commission.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

The Government has not been receptive to the formation of 
domestic human rights groups.  Since 1991 it has repeatedly 
delayed recognition of the Regional Center for Human Rights and 
Development, a human rights organization based in Asmara.  As a 
result, the Regional Center has not become an effective 
organization for publicizing human rights abuses, and there are 
no other local human rights organizations in Eritrea.  However, 
the Government has given the leaders of the Regional Center a 
role in the work of the National Constitution Commission.

The Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs are 
responsible for all human rights inquiries but are frequently 
slow to respond to international inquiries concerning alleged 
human rights abuses.  In individual cases, the Government has 
been helpful.  For example, a senior Foreign Ministry official 
discussed a case involving missing Eritreans with a concerned 
human rights group in New York.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

     Women

The Government has taken a consistently strong stand in favor 
of improving the status of women, many of whom played a 
significant role as fighters in the struggle for independence.  
In 1991 the then provisional EPLF government codified a broad 
range of rights for women, including guarantees of equal 
educational opportunity, equal pay for equal work, and legal 
sanctions against domestic violence.  The Third Party Congress 
advocated additional rights and programs for women, including 
the right of women to equal rights to use of land and to other 
property.  A government proclamation confirmed that women have 
equal rights of land use, regardless of marital status; the 
proclamation specified that, while all land belongs to the 
State, it would grant leaseholds to all citizens on a 
nondiscriminatory basis.

Nevertheless, despite the Government's attitude and some legal 
changes, the larger Eritrean society remains traditional and 
patriarchal, and women generally play a subservient role in the 
family and in the community.  In practice, males remain 
privileged in terms of education, employment, and control of 
economic resources, including land.  This disparity is even 
more visible in predominantly rural Muslim areas.

The Government has taken a firm position against domestic 
violence.  Neither health, police, nor judicial sources 
consider the problem to be extensive.

     Children

The Department of Social Affairs is the agency responsible for 
government policies concerning the rights and welfare of 
children.  However, the Department has few funds, and the 
Government does not generally look on child welfare as a 
serious social problem.

Female genital mutilation, which is practiced widely on girls 
at an early age throughout Eritrea, is considered by 
international experts to be dangerous to both physical and 
psychological health.  The Government, through the Ministry of 
Health and the National Union of Eritrean Women, actively 
discourages the practice.

     People with Disabilities

As a result of the 30-year civil war, there are thousands of 
disabled male and female former fighters for whom the 
Government expends large amounts of money.  Most physically 
disadvantaged Eritreans are viewed as heroes; there is no 
discrimination in employment, education, or other state 
services against people with disabilities.  However, there are 
no laws that mandate access for the disabled to public 
thoroughfares or public and private buildings.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

There are no government restrictions regarding the formation of 
unions in any segment of Eritrean labor activities, including 
the military, the police, and other essential workers; and 
labor association is encouraged by the Government.  Under 
Proclamation Number 8 of the Transitional Labor Laws, workers 
now have the legal right to form unions and to strike and 
protect their interests.

The National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW), which 
was part of the EPLF during the civil war, underwent 
reorganization and became formally independent of the 
Government and the EPLF/PFDJ in September.  THe NCEW represents 
over 20,000 workers from 129 unions, and it began forming these 
unions into 5 worker federations during 1994.  The largest 
union is the Textile, Leather, and Shoe Federation.  There were 
no strikes in 1994.  Proclamation Number 8 prohibits 
retribution against strikers.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Both Proclamation number 8 and the 1993 draft labor code 
provide for free collective bargaining.  There were 41 
collective agreements in 1994.

Eritrea is a member of the International Labor Organization 
(ILO) and worked closely with the ILO in preparing the 1993 
draft, which, inter alia, prohibits antiunion discrimination by 
employers against union members and establishes a mechanism for 
resolving complaints of discrimination.

There are no export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

There is no law prohibiting forced or compulsory labor.  A 
government summer work program for 15,000 teenagers became 
controversial as it mandated the participation of all high 
school students.  Participants received $20 (120 birr) per 
month to work on community service projects, such as road 
repair, farm work, and the planting of trees.  In addition, all 
successful work program participants received a certificate 
that was later required for fall-term school registration.

     d.  Minimun Age for Employment of Children

The legal minimum age for employment is 18 years, although 
apprentices may be hired at age 14.  While the Commission on 
Social Welfare is responsible for enforcement, there is no 
random or systematic inspection of factories and shops for 
compliance.  Despite the high rate of adult unemployment in 
Eritrea, the number of children under 18 years of age working 
in commercial enterprises continued to grow.  Rural children 
often help on family farms.  Urban children often sell small 
wares, such as cigarettes, on the street.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no legally mandated minimum wage.  Wages vary from a 
minimum of $25 up to $200 per month (birr 150 up to birr 
1,200), with factory workers earning the highest amount.  
Former fighters are entitled to a monthly wage of at least $75 
(birr 450).

The workweek is now 48 hours, but many people work less.  While 
there is no legal provision, all employees receive at least 1 
day off per week, and most receive 1 1/2 days.  There are no 
mandated occupational health and safety laws or standards 
currently in force, although some larger companies enforce 
their own health and safety standards.  The draft law includes 
a number of provisions concerning women, including one that 
states that women, during pregnancy, will not be assigned to 
jobs that could endanger their lives or the lives of their 
unborn children.


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[end of document]

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