PFDJ?s Reign Of Terror (II) - Subjugation of the Eritrean Police Print E-mail
By Events Monitor, Asmara - Sep 18, 2005   

Subjugation of the Eritrean Police


In the late 1990s the Netherlands Ministry of foreign Affairs and the (now defunct) Eritrean Ministry of Local Government signed a grant agreement. The agreement pertains to providing assistance to the Eritrean Police Department to build its capacity as an institution fit to operate in a democratic society. It components included: training the various arms of the Eritrean police force, building of a police training centre (Dekemhare) and several police stations in various towns, as well as provision of equipment. The programme was one of several assistance projects extended to Eritrea by the Netherlands.


As indicated in one of the documents, the overall objective of the programme ? dubbed Eritrean Police Support Programme (EPSP) - was ?to support Eritrea to build a civilian and professional police force viable for functioning in a democratic society?. The aim, therefore, was to assist Eritrea build a law enforcement institution that protects the people, respects human rights and enforces the rule of law.


It was a fitting programme of assistance from a democratic country and a leading contributor of aid to developing countries, to a new, fledgling nation. The Netherlands government, known, along with the Nordic countries, for its earnest stance on development aid and its generous donations, was genuinely hoping that the EPSP would be a meaningful contribution to the process of building a democratic Eritrea. An expectation that was shared by many Eritreans. But, alas!


Today, the Eritrean police force, or what remains of it, is, at best, a mere shadow of the prevailing security system of military squads and secret jails controlled by the army generals. At worst, it is another claw in the hands of the terror enforcers. The Police force we have ended up having is neither professional nor civilian, as was hoped it would become according to the carefully prepared documents of the EPSP. Here are the facts:


1.   The de facto power of policing is now in the hands of the special forces under each of the five commanders of the ?operations command zones?. Just listen to Major General Gerezghiher Andemariam (Wuchu) as he responds, in the PFDJ seminar of 12-13 April in Expo, Asmara, to queries about the heavy-handed tactics of his forces. He told the meeting: ?look, we were asked to help because the police could not deal with the level of crime, lawlessness and draft dodging. Right now, I have about 4000 or 5000 prisoners in my custody.?


2.   All army units, from the highest level of the ?operations command zone? (srrHeet zoba), down to the divisions and brigades, have their own prison systems, which are not confined to those in uniform but are increasingly used for incarcerating civilians. These jails are secret, not authorised by any legal jurisdiction, and unfit for human beings.


3.   The same is said about the secret jails under the purview of the various security/intelligence units.


4.   The formal (authorised) prison system has also effectively come under the control of the army generals. The notorious ?wenjel mrmera? section of the ?Karshelli? prison in Asmara, for example, is, in reality, controlled by the secret police. Besides, all police stations around the country have special army units stationed within. These units are not accountable to the police officer in charge of the station but take their orders directly from the respective military commands.


5.  The Eritrean police are utterly uninformed about any political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience in the country. They don?t even have control over the so-called economic/corruption cases. Both categories are usually held in secret jails and unofficial detention centres all over Eritrea. If and when such prisoners need to be kept in one of the formal prisons, or need to be temporarily held in one of the police stations en route to their final detention place, they are put in the custody of the police as ?safe keeping?. ?Hadera? is the Tigrinya word used in such cases. Secret police or military agents, as the case may be, would visit/interrogate such detainees, with the police relegated to functioning merely as guards - opening the prison cells for the visitors and securing them afterwards. The regular police here are like storekeepers with no authority to know the contents of what they are told to keep.


The following story is typical: someone disappears without a trace. Family members/relatives start looking for the disappeared person and go around every police station in town.  The police always tell these family members they had never seen such a person. Later, information is leaked that the person in question was, indeed, held in one of the police stations at the time the family members were making the enquiries.


Under the kind of arrangement described above, the police have instructions not to disclose any information about any prisoners that are put in their custody.


6.   In many occasions, members of the police force are asked to accompany army units or security agents to assist in specific operations, mostly involving arrest. Examples are raiding wedding ceremonies or prayer services of suspected members of banned Christian denominations. In such cases, the participating members of the police operate under the command of the army/security officer leading the operation.


7.   The Eritrean police force has, form time to time, been purged, under various pretexts, from a large number of officers in whom considerable professional training had been invested since Independence. In recent years, all top positions have been filled with army officers with no legal or police training.


8.   Even the specifications of the new police stations, built with Dutch assistance, have been altered to fit the requirements of mass detentions as opposed to their originally envisaged function. One such place is the new Fifth Police Station in Asmara, near Space 2001, (which replaced the old Fifth Station on the Godaif road). Full with watch towers on its four corners, high walls and underground cells, this so-called police station evocates images of a medieval dungeon than any resemblance of rule of law.


The above are a few examples of the eroding of what little legal, institutional and professional characteristics that existed in the Eritrean Police Force.


This sorry state of the Eritrean Police Department led a visiting Dutch government official to tell a gathering of Eritrean police officers in a reception in Asmara that, given Eritrea?s dismal human rights situation, his government would not be able to continue the programme. ?As members of the European Union, there are principles that we have to abide by?, he told his audience.


A professional, legally trained, civilian police force is one of several ingredients of the rule of law. In the absence of all the other, all-important elements, including a constitutional government with an independent and adequately empowered judiciary that ensures due process of law, the current state of affairs of the Eritrean Police, therefore, hardly comes as a surprise.


This state of affairs is perfectly in sync with the total absence of constitutional governance, subjugation of the judiciary, lack of accountability and encroachment of the military on civilian life that we see today in Eritrea.

Next: PART III - Tip of the Iceberg



PART I: Brutalizing Families: A time-honoured PFDJ practice! 

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