Last year, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea published an extensive 484-page report documenting the human rights atrocities facing those in Eritrea. As corruption and perils persist today, many are fleeing as refugees to seek a place where they can live in safety and freedom. Below is an update on the conditions of Eritrea, including a link to a brand new website launched by the UN Refugee Agency to provide real-life stories from those who have fled from both Eritrea and Somalia.
The small East African countries of Eritrea and Somalia have produced thousands upon thousands of refugees who have fled to other African countries and Europe. The large masses of people who are fleeing these countries stems from a wide array of atrocities that make it too dangerous for them to stay. Reports have estimated that nearly 5,000 people flee Eritrea each month.
The Eritrean government treats its people so poorly that it has been compared to North Korea. However, Eritrea has gotten very little attention or compassion from the international community. The Eritrean government is extremely controlling of its people. The Committee to Protect Journalists stated Eritrea is “the most censored country in the world.” Only 1 percent of Eritreans can access the Internet, while 23 journalists remain in jail, the highest number in all of Africa. What’s more, as the Eritrean government is so strongly guarded against its citizens, any public gathering of seven or more requires a permit from the government.
Eritrea also has extreme restrictions placed on religious groups. Currently, only four religious denominations are officially recognized by the government of Eritrea: Sunni Islam, the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Eritrea, and the Roman Catholic Church. Any unregistered group found practicing their faith may be arrested and detained without charge or trial and can face torture or even death. In many cases, those belonging to recognized groups also face repression.
Thousands of mostly Evangelical Christians are thought to be detained indefinitely, some of which are held in metal shipping containers. Although some were initially released after pledging to renounce their faith, none have been formally charged or tried and all are held until they provide similar denials of faith. During the past 15 years, these deplorable detention conditions have been inflicted upon tens of thousands of Evangelical Christians caught during Bible studies in private homes or otherwise seeking to practice their faith outside of the registered denominations. Consequently, tens of thousands have fled and many of those suffered even more brutal conditions as refugees, including death.
There have also been accounts of forced labor in both government operations and private businesses backed by the Eritrean government. Elsa Chyrum, Director of Human Rights Concern- Eritrea, interviewed Eritrean refugees who claimed they had been forced to work for the military and at the Bisha mine. If they refused, they would be killed, tortured, or detained. The interviewees reported that they worked in extreme heat and often experienced malaria, diarrhea, and collapsing due to their circumstances.
Situations such as these have created the harsh conditions that require people to flee. Unfortunately, many flee based on false hopes and rumors they have heard that promise security and hope. Often times, their attempts to reach safer grounds bring much suffering as they face corrupt smugglers along the way and then unwelcoming countries once they arrive. Many times, receiving countries refuse to treat Eritreans as refugees and instead declare them to be migrants and send them back to Eritrea with no protection.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has launched a website-tellingtherealstory.org-with the purpose of getting more accurate information to Eritreans and Somalis to prevent them from embarking on their journeys as refugees uninformed. The website gives real-life stories from people who faced immense dangers as they traveled as refugees with the hope of finding safety. Please take a moment to browse this site and pray for Eritreans and Somalis who have fled their countries or who have stayed and continue to face injustice.
To see more on human rights abuses in Eritrean mining, please see the following broadcast: http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/episodes/2015-2016/nevsun-in-eritrea-dealing-with-a-dictator
Jubilee Campaign recently partnered with Boat People SOS and others to initiate a NGO sign-on letter to President Obama calling for him to make human rights a priority at the U.S.-ASEAN summit on February 15th & 16th in Sunnylands, California. Exactly two months ago, Nguyen Van Dai, a human rights lawyer, was arrested by the Vietnamese government for his constant speaking up against the human rights abuses committed by the government. Unfortunately, this is not Mr. Nguyen’s first arrest by the government. The letter below calls on the immediate release of Mr. Nguyen and other prisoners of conscience. Vietnam also continues to restrict religious liberty. Despite its efforts to draft a new law on religion and belief, the government continues to require religious organizations to submit to onerous registration and seek approval from the government; in addition, the government continues to interfere with the internal affairs and operations of religious groups. It’s time for the United States to push harder for human rights worldwide, especially with countries it has a long-standing diplomatic and economic relationship.
Members of Congress also sent letters to President Obama raising these important issues.
Letter from Senator Cassidy: http://jubileecampaign.org/advocacy-letters/senator-cassidys-letter-to-president-obama-ahead-of-us-asean-summit/
Letter from Representatives: http://jubileecampaign.org/advocacy-letters/letter-from-representatives-to-president-obama-ahead-of-us-asean-summit/
February 10, 2016
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama:
We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are writing to ask that you make human
rights a priority at the upcoming U.S.-ASEAN summit in Sunnylands, California. Specifically,
we urge you to raise concerns with the Vietnamese delegation over their government’s pattern of
serious violations of internationally recognized human rights, particularly the right to freedom of
religion or belief.
After twenty years of diplomatic relations with the United States and billions of dollars in U.S.
trade and investment, the government of Vietnam continues to treat its own citizens –
particularly those who promote respect for human rights and democracy– in ways that suggest a
renewed US commitment to stand up for human rights in Vietnam is needed. Particularly
troubling is the recent arrest of human rights lawyer and former prisoner of conscience Nguyen
Van Dai. He was first arrested and imprisoned in 2007 for defending freedom of religion and
calling for the democratization of Vietnamese society. Ironically, not long before his most recent
arrest on December 16, 2015, Dai publicly supported Vietnam’s participation in the Trans-
As Vietnam aggressively seeks to expand trade with the United States, your administration
should insist that Vietnam unconditionally free all of the hundreds of people imprisoned for
peaceful expression of their opinions and beliefs, such as religious freedom activists Father
Nguyen Van Ly, Pastor Nguyen Cong Chinh, Hoa Hao Buddhists Bui Van Trung and Nguyen
Van Minh, and Khmer Krom Buddhist monks Lieu Ny and Thach Thuol; democracy
campaigners Bui Thi Minh Hang and Tran Huynh Duy Thuc; labor rights activists Doan Huy
Chuong and Nguyen Hoang Quoc Hung; and Montagnard Christians Runh, Jonh, and Y Ngun
Knul; young Catholic activists Dang Xuan Dieu, Ho Duc Hoa, and Nguyen Dang Minh Man;
cyber dissident Ngo Hao. We also request that you press Vietnam to honor its obligations as a
state party to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN
Convention Against Torture by taking immediate steps to end pervasive police torture and
mistreatment of prisoners and detainees.
We also urge you to press Vietnam to repeal all laws and administrative decrees that deny
freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religious belief, and that serve as the
basis for the detention and imprisonment of religious leaders and human rights advocates – such
as the provisions that criminalize “propaganda against the state,” “undermining national unity”
and “taking advantage of the rights to democracy and freedom to infringe upon the interests of
the state.” Instead, Vietnam should enact laws codifying and protecting the fundamental human
rights the government now routinely violates. We hope you will also make clear that Vietnam
must stop arresting pro-democracy bloggers and others who use the Internet to criticize the
government and that it must release those who have been imprisoned.
Persecution of those who are members of independent religious communities is also an alarming
issue. Types of persecution vary, and range from harassment tactics, such as the government
shutting off electricity in a village dominated by a particular religion or religious community, to
physical beatings of leaders by the police. Local authorities have at times reportedly resorted to
using beatings and torture to force people to renounce their faith. Vietnam should be encouraged
to create a safe environment for all to freely practice their faith without interference, and should
punish government officials who fail to protect freedom of conscience and religion.
A new Law on Religion and Belief currently under consideration by Vietnam’s National
Assembly will perpetuate the already repressive situation. The draft law places burdensome
registration requirements on religious organizations, while allowing excessive state control and
interference by the government into the affairs of religious organizations.
The draft law also includes ambiguous language that we fear could be used to further religious
discrimination. The draft law allows authorities to suspend religious festivities and activities for
the reason of “national defense or security, public order, social order, or public health.” The
draft law does not outline the circumstances under which this can be enforced, and we fear this
vague language may lead to arbitrary suspensions of religious activities, particularly by ethnic
minority and independent religious groups.
It is essential that the Vietnam government eliminate the onerous requirement that all religious
organizations submit to close supervision by the government as a precondition for conducting
worship services and other activities. The government should not determine the content of
religious education and training, nor should it be allowed to appoint religious leadership. We ask
that you urge the Vietnam government to redraft the law in ways that recognize freedom of
religion is a basic human right that is not conditional on approval by the government; otherwise
that draft law should be completely abandoned.
Similarly, we urge you to press the Vietnamese government to permit the existence of genuinely
independent non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Should Vietnam move forward with its
first-ever law on association, provisions allowing genuinely-independent NGOs must be
included in the law. Civil society in Vietnam continues to be constrained through various
restrictions on civil society groups, and by government efforts to cement control over civil
society by creating dozens of sympathetic government-organized NGOs (GONGOs) controlled
by the Communist Party or its constituent entities including the Fatherland Front and the
Vietnam Union of Friendship Organizations (VUFO).
Finally, the Vietnam government must also allow workers to form labor unions that are truly
independent of the government and of the Communist Party. It must also end the practice of
forced labor and prosecute officials of state-owned labor export companies that are involved in
human trafficking. The Vietnam government uses forced labor in “rehabilitation” centers,
detention centers, and prisons, and looks the other way at abuses in its labor export program that
result in some of its citizens being forced into modern-day slavery in countries around the world,
and fails to protect victims from retaliation when they object to such treatment.
We hope you will make clear to the Vietnamese leaders attending the U.S.-ASEAN Summit in
Sunnylands that further expansion of the United States trade and security relationship with
Vietnam will not be acceptable to your administration, to Congress, or to the American people
unless it is contingent upon significant, verifiable and irreversible improvements in human rights
Thank you for your consideration of these requests.
21st Century Wilberforce Initiative
Advisory Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam
Boat People SOS (BPSOS)
Campaign to Abolish Torture in Vietnam (CAT-VN)
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)
Church of Scientology National Affairs Office
Coalition for a Free and Democratic Vietnam
Coalition to Abolish Modern-day Slavery in Asia (CAMSA)
Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam
Con Dau Parishioners Association
Council of Indigenous Peoples in Today’s Vietnam
Human Rights Lawyers Network Without Frontiers
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Without Frontiers International
International Office of Champa
Jubilee Campaign USA
Montagnard Human Rights Organization
National Vietnam & Gulf War Veterans Coalition
Popular Bloc of Cao Dai Religion, Overseas Representative Office
Red Eagle Enterprises
The Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church of America
Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)
VETO! Human Rights Defenders Network
Vietnamese American Community of the USA
Vietnam Human Rights Network
Vietnamese Women for Human Rights, Overseas Representative Office
Women for Human Rights in Vietnam
Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu, former political prisoner
Northwestern University School of Law
Le Thi Kim Thu, land rights activist and former prisoner of conscience
San Diego, California
Pham Tran Anh, Friendship Association of Former Political and Religious Prisoners
Orange County, California
Ta Phong Tan, independent blogger and former prisoner of conscience
Orange County, California
Vu Hoang Hai, Bloc 8406 member and former prisoner of conscience
Orange County, California
William C. Walsh, Human Rights Attorney