Somebody's Martyrs? The Atrocities of 18 June, 1997




By "Selam Fithi" - Jun 19, 2004   

Many have written about this dreadful incident that took place just two days before Martyrs Day 1997. About 150 Eritrean prisoners were executed in the night of 18-19 June that year. TV Zete in Sweden and Awate.Com's Investigative Report of 13 March 2003 were among those that tried to shed some light on the incident.


For my part, I've met people who have credible knowledge of the circumstances of the night of 18 June 1997. The following brief narration is a synthesis (amalgam) of accounts, deliberately presented in this way to protect the identity of those who reported them.


In the afternoon hours of June 18, the prisoners (who were in Cere, Asmara) were told to get ready for an outing. Some of them were asking "do we need to take our blankets and little belongings with us?" The prison guards told them there was no need for that. The whole afternoon and up to the early evening hours each prisoner was photographed from various angles (front shot, profile etc.). They were subsequently taken, in batches, to the outskirts of Asmara. A large pit ("Abi gahsi") had been dug in an area near Kushet village west of Asmara where a military squad was waiting.


All the prisoners were gunned down and buried in the pit.



This is one of many sad events in Eritrea's recent past. It is unfortunate that there is no system of justice in Eritrea at present, and, therefore, many witnesses are unable to testify openly. The onus is on all human rights, particularly Eritrean, organizations to research and document the countless human rights abuses and crimes perpetuated against Eritrean citizens. The day will come when these will be of vital importance be it in the court of law or in the context of a "truth and reconciliation" process, whichever Eritrea's future political developments may institute.