Eritrea Policy Paper

Dear Congress[wo]man,

Congratulations on being elected to the [United States Senate/House of Representatives]! We look forward to the contributions you will make in Congress and wish you the best as you begin your first term. We hope this policy paper will be informative to you as you navigate policies and issues your office will take up.

Jubilee Campaign USA is a non-profit organization operating in Fairfax, Virginia that promotes the human rights and religious liberty of ethnic and religious minorities. We assist individuals and families seeking asylum in the West from religious based persecution as well as promoting the care and well-being of larger groups of refugees fleeing religious and ethnic persecution. Jubilee Campaign also advocates for the release of prisoners of conscience, and others who are in prison or otherwise denied their basic human rights. It’s a main priority of ours to promote and protect vulnerable women and children from bodily harm and sexual exploitation, paying particular attention to the scourge of human trafficking or modern slavery which we oppose however we can, wherever we find it, in all of its forms. We hope your office will not hesitate in reaching out to us if you all ever need our assistance. This short paper is a summary about Eritrea’s government human rights violations, and our policy recommendations to end the violations.

Eritrea is a one-party state. The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) has been the sole political party since 1994. No political party besides the PFDJ is allowed to exist; and no national elections have been held since 1993. The country denies associational and organizational rights, freedom of expression and belief, political pluralism and participation and electoral processes. The government closed all independent press networks in 2001 and maintains a near complete monopoly on domestic sources of information.

Despite the fact that the 1997 constitution contains the freedom of religion, press, speech, the right to form political organization and peaceful assembly, and puts restraints on the arbitrary use of power, the government has refused to implement it. The government denies the right to religious freedom except for those affiliated with the Eritrean Orthodox church, Roman Catholic church, and Eritrean Evangelical (Lutheran) church and Sunni sect of Islam. Individuals practicing other faiths, in particular Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of Pentecostal or Evangelical churches have experienced discrimination, harassment, torture and imprisonment by the government.

Systematic and widespread human rights violations have been and are being committed by the government of Eritrea and there has been no accountability. The repressive systems used by the government to control, silence and isolate individuals include a pervasive domestic surveillance network in which neighbors spy on neighbors; occasionally even family members mistrust each other due to this system.

By law, each Eritrean is required to serve 18 months in the national service starting at age 18, but in practice the time conscripts serve is indefinite, though for many its over a decade. Conscripts are also subject to military discipline and are harshly treated throughout their long service. Perceived infractions result in incarceration and in physical abuse often amounting to torture. Sexual violence against women and girls is widespread and even notorious in military training camps. Female conscripts are frequently sexually abused by commanders.

Extrajudicial executions and arbitrary killings have been widespread since the country’s independence. This includes the mass killings that have been perpetrated against the pastoralist Kunama ethnic groups. The Kunama ethnic groups face severe discrimination for allegedly collaborating with Ethiopia in the 1990s war. They have been the victims of extrajudicial killings and have been denied access to their traditional land. Victims of extrajudicial killings include military members, religious leaders and followers. Some of the reported killings and executions may have resulted from personal initiatives or excessive use of force by officials. No one anywhere is able to investigate this.

As a result, Eritreans have fled the country in large numbers to escape indefinite conscription into military or national service, religious persecution, other human rights violations and economic hardship. Eritrea produces the largest refugee group after Syria and Afghanistan. And many Eritreans at home live in constant fear that their conduct is or may be monitored by security agents and that information gathered may be used against them, leading to arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, disappearance, or death.

Jubilee Campaign is deeply concerned by the Eritrean government’s human rights violations, and we believe that the atrocities committed by the Eritrean government needs to stop immediately. Having this concern, Jubilee Campaign USA suggests the following policy recommendations:

• Support UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea. The U.S. Government should support the efforts of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. Supporting this effort will help to investigate and appropriately prosecute senior Eritrean government and security force officials’ who are responsible for serious human rights violations.

• Dialogue and Economic Incentives. Engage a dialogue with the Eritrean government and offer varieties of incentives including economic and technical support for democratic institutions building in the country in general, and to respect the rights of minority ethnic groups, women, and universal human rights declarations including religious freedom in particular.

• Demand Justice and Accountability. The United States should insist the Eritrean government to respect its national service law, or to end indefinite conscription, and to make accountable those who committed sexual violence against female conscripts in the military camps.

• Targeted Sanction. Increase the pressure on the government of Eritrea by applying targeted sanctions moving further up the chain of the command against those implicated in abuses and blocking the democratization process.

• Paying Special Attentions to Eritrean Immigrants. Jubilee Campaign has a deep concern about for the thousands of Eritrean asylum seekers fleeing their country each month that may face a risk of forced return to persecution or other serious harm such as kidnapping, extortion and violence by smugglers and traffickers. Having this concern, Jubilee Campaign calls the U.S new administration, and all UN member states to pay attention and to respect Eritreans’ free movement rights, allow Eritreans to lodge asylum claims, fairly assess those claims and grant the UN refugee agency access to all detained Eritreans seeking protection.