a non-affiliated independent Eritrean Centre








Report on the

State of human rights in Eritrea



Report on the

State of human rights in Eritrea



Eritrea declared itself as an independent state on May 24, 1993 after a political and military struggle that lasted for 30 years. Eritrea received the recognition of the international community and has become the 183rd member of the United Nations. The population of Eritrea is 4,000,000 (there has been no census since independence). It has an area of 119,000 square Kilometers. In spite of its small population, Eritrea is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country.

Eritrea has limited human and economic resources. Drought, war with Ethiopia, corruption, maladministration, political problems, prioritizing security expenses, control of the ruling party to commercial and investment activities in the country weakened the economy.

Following years of independence, Eritrea produced only 25% of its needs of food substances.last year production declined to 17% of its needs. According to a call released by the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) 2,200,000 Eritreans would not be able to secure their nutritional needs by themselves in 2005. This number approximately constitutes two-thirds of the population currently living inside the country. As the result of war with Ethiopia 56,300 citizens have been displaced from their homes and although the war ended 5 years ago they are still dependent on humanitarian aid. In addition, the lives of 18,700 refugees who returned to their homes last February under the government’s repatriation programme are haunted by the threat of land mines. Moreover, 118200 refugees who returned from Sudan under the voluntary repatriation program depend on humanitarian aid. The international humanitarian aid to Eritrea declined because of tension between the government and humanitarian organizations which suspect that the government transfers the humanitarian aid to the military.

Due to malnutrition and lack of health care, diseases are dangerously spread in the country. The rate of malnutrition among mothers in Eritrea is 53%, which is one of the highest rates in the world. Approximately one million citizens face lack of potable water and 70% of the villages lack water and only 18% of population has access to potable water. Among more than 2600 villages, only 40 are supplied with electricity.

Donors stopped their support to Eritrea except in the field of demobilization and humanitarian aid because of concern about the government's financial and economic policies as well as refusal of the government to carry out elections, permit freedom of press, allow political parties and improve the human right situation. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) criticized repeatedly the economic policies of the government especially restrictions on the private sector and monopoly by the institutions of the government and the ruling party over the economic activity as well as not conducting statistics and lack of transparency in passing the states' budget, which has never been discussed publicly since the independence.

In Eritrea, the per capita income is US $ 130 per year, which is one of the lowest rates in the world. The rate of inflation, which was stable for four years since independence, has increased after war with Ethiopia. The deficit in the budget has increased to 35% of the domestic production because of loosing the traditional export market in Ethiopia and food shortages as well as increase of weapons import. The exchange rate of national currency (Nekfa) declined since it was issued in 1997 from 8 to 24 Nekfas per US $ 1. Because of the government's economic policies and suppressing the internal opposition, the transfer of the migrants declined. These transfers constituted a major source for foreign currency reaching 37% of the total of foreign currency in the country. The national contribution of the migrants has declined for the same reasons and it became 0.2% in 2002 while it was 3.2% in 2000. The revenues from selling government's treasury bills declined from 3.1% of gross of domestic production in 1999 to 0.6% in year 2002. All that led to the decline of foreign currency reserve this year to cover only importing the needs of goods and services for 15 days while in 1997 it used to cover the needs of five months.

In spite of the tragic situation that resulted from natural conditions, maladministration and corruption that made life harsh, disappointing and humiliating, the government violates extensively human rights of the citizens. Although the government joined many international agreements on human rights, it does not adhere to these agreements' articles and breaches then disgracefully. For example, the Eritrean government recruits children and deprive them from schooling in contradiction to the Convention on the Right of the Child (CRC).[1] In contradiction to the Convention on the Elimination of all types of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), women are exposed to harsh practices in government institutions such as rape in army camps and military services.[2] In addition, in contradiction to articles 7 and 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC)[3], the government forces young people to work for long years with modest and unfair salaries as well as sometimes without salaries under the pretext of national military services although they finished the period of the service.

The government does not allow citizens to form independent syndicates. In contradiction to articles 7, 9, and 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [4], the Eritrean government arbitrarily detains thousands of people and it exposes them to torture and cruel treatment as well as humiliates their human dignity. In contradiction to articles 19, 21, and 22 of the above-mentioned Covenant; the government deprives citizens of their right to express opinion and freedom of belief as well as their right in participating in meeting and peaceful assembly. In contradiction to article 25 of the same Covenant, the government prevents citizens from participation in managing the country's public affairs as they have not elected their governors since independence and have no right to dismiss those governors. The government does not respect the laws that it enacts. It froze the constitution that it approved alone in 1997. Then the government froze law of press when it stopped independent newspapers and detained journalists in September 2001. The government does not commit to the application of the law of national military service that was issued in 1995 as it forces the recruited to spend time more than stated in the law.

This report is the first report released by Suwera Centre for Human Rights that was founded in September 2004 and launched its activities in February of this year. This is the first report of its kind about state of human rights in Eritrea. To our knowledge there is no comprehensive report about human rights situation in our country.

The team that prepared this report faced different obstacles, most important of which is obtaining and documenting information, as the Centre, which is newly established has no archives. The team could not find the needed information with the concerned bodies that supposed to keep it especially dates of arbitrarily detentions.

It was impossible to obtain information that should be collected through filed work to assess applications of human rights from places such as police centers, prisons, Eritrean governmental institutions that related to those applications. In this part, the team depended on reports, press releases and information released by international organizations such as World Food Program (WFP), United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), United Nation’s Mission in Ethiopia & Eritrea (UNMEE), IMF and other concerned organizations. The team consulted reports that are published by international organizations that defend human rights, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In addition, the team carried out many interviews with the Eritreans who recently escaped from Eritrea to Sudan and Ethiopia, with Eritrean refugees who fled to Sudan during national struggle for independence and with religious men. To document arbitrary detention, the team met some Sudanese who were detained in Eritrean prisons.

The Center decided to study the entire period following Eritrea's independence, while avoiding inconsistent or imprecise details. The Centre reported on the important violations that started before independence and individuals involved using accurate information. We hope that the next report includes more detailed information and is able to discuss all human rights applications in Eritrea.

Structure of the Report: The report is composed of five parts. The first covers public freedoms and civil rights .This part includes discussions of freedom of political activities, civil rights, independence of the judiciary, religious freedom and press freedom. The second part covers kidnapping and killing. The third part covers arbitrary detention and situations of prisons. The forth discusses national military service. The fifth part covers the situation of refugees including people who have experienced expulsion and internal displacement.

The Centre hopes that this report, in addition to uncovering the human rights violations of the Eritrean government, will further stimulate enlightened Eritreans to increase their involvement in the process of defending human rights in our home, including the creation of effective methods and efforts to stop these violations. Furthermore, the Centre intends for the report to draw attention from the international community and regional and international human rights organizations to help end the dangerous violations of the Eritrean government.

Finally, this report would not have been prepared without the financial and moral support of the Center's friends. They earned our thanks. Also we would like to thank people who participated in the field work, translation and editing. We would like to thank activist Lessan Aldeen Alkhateeb for his valuable help and information regarding arbitrary detention. In additional we would like to thank Mengstab Asmroum, who volunteered to translate many publications of the Centre into English and all publications into Tigrinya in spite of his busy schedule. We also thank Asmroum for translating parts of this report.


Yaseen Mohamed Abd allah

Chairman of Suwera Centre for Human Rights


[1] Eritrea joined CRC in 3/8/1994.

[2] Eritrea joined CEDAW in 5/9/1995.

[3] Eritrea joined ICESC in 17/4/2001.

[4] Eritrea joined ICCPR in 22/6/2202.









Public freedoms and civil rights


1/Freedom of practicing political activity:

Eritrea obtained its independence on May 1993. Since then Eritrea has been ruled by the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice. There is no separation between the authorities. The President is the head of the executive authority and chairman of the parliament. The president appoints and dismisses the judiciary chairperson. The ministerial cabinet does not meet regularly, instead it holds meeting when the President deems it necessary. All of the state's institutions operate under the direct supervision of the President's office. Since the date of Eritrea’s independence, no public elections have been carried out in the country.

The government does not allow any opposition groups to participate in political activities and it arrests all people who are suspected of opposing the government. The government has frozen the constitution, which was passed in 1997 upon single ratification by the government alone, without participation of other political forces. In the beginning the constitution was frozen without explanation and since 1998 because of war with Ethiopia.

In the beginning of 2001, some ministers, leaders in the ruling party and members of the parliament urged the President to enforce the constitution, but the President refused. When no settlement had been achieved by the President, those leaders sent a message to the President and another message to their party's members narrating their dispute with the President. They requested enforcement of the constitution and respect of state's institutions. The security forces, which work under the supervision of the President, arrested those 11 leaders in addition to civil, military and security cadres who were affiliated to the reform movement.

The ruling party i.e. People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, controls the economy as well as the political life. The organizations of the ruling party and units of the army administer important commercial institutions. The government considers all the army officers and the soldiers of the Eritrean Defense Forces as members of the ruling party, and it deducts 2% from their salaries as membership subscription fees.

The parliament is composed of 150 unelected members, with 50% of the members representing the central committee of the ruling party. The other 50% represents the country's regions. The parliament was formed in1994, the year of holding the ruling party's conference. The parliament has no power. It cannot question or dismiss the government and the nation’s budget is not presented to the parliament. Furthermore, the parliament has not held any meetings since 2002 when it held a meeting to discuss the issue of the reformers who were arrested. In that meeting, the parliament supported the accusation of the president that the reformers were guilty of high treason.

In May 2004, elections were carried out to select the regional parliaments. Non-ruling party members were not allowed to participate in that election. The candidates had no right to carry out any electoral campaigns to receive the support of the voters. There were no posters, pictures or electoral promises. The candidate was given the right to write his name, age, and services with the government on a paper posted at the center of voting. Some voting results were abolished in some areas because the candidates offered promises to the voters. The elections were carried out in the presence of the army, and it follows that most often the head of the military unit is elected to represent his unit in the regional parliament. The percentage of the military personnel constitutes 60% of the members in some regional councils.

The opposition includes various political and ideological ranges that represent secularists, extremists, nationalists and liberals…etc. Nonetheless, the government does not recognize the existence of the opposition. It considers them to be betraying and mercenary groups. Because of no recognition and suppression the activists by the government, the Eritrean opposition works from outside and it has no tangible role inside Eritrea. The government does not only fail to recognize the opposition, but it considers any member of the opposition to be a traitor. It treats those who carry weapons and those who protest peacefully as equal; a person who asks for radical changes in the structure of the state's political system is equal to a person who wants to carry out reforms.

The supporters of the opposition have increased in the last years to include groups that split from the ruling party. The opposition is active in neighboring countries where hundreds of thousands of the Eritreans live and in Western countries where the Eritreans have freedom to express their opinion. The opposition held a conference in the beginning of 2005. The conference resulted in forming a new alliance called the Eritrean Democratic Alliance. The Alliance specified its goal, which is forming a plural political system in the country, but it does not explain clearly the means that will be used to achieve that goal.

Some opposing organizations affiliated with the Alliance practice armed activities. However, these activities are very limited and are restricted to border areas. On the other hand, other opposing groups refuse to use violence, although it is not clear whether that is due to a matter of principle or because of other circumstances. A bombing operation in a hotel in Barinto town on 24/5/2004 was one of the operations implemented in cities last years. This bombing caused the death of two citizens and no one has declared responsibility.

It seems there is no opportunity for national reconciliation in the country because of the refusal of the government to recognize the existence of the opposition and its refusal to conduct any political reforms under the pretext of conflict with Ethiopia and under the pretext of the underdevelopment of the Eritrean society.


2/ The right of peaceful assembling, organization and privacy:

The government does not allow any forms of peaceful protest such as demonstrations, rallies, or presenting complaints. Any assembling of more than 5 persons is considered a crime punishable by law. The formation of political parties and independent syndicates is not permitted. The existing syndicates and civil society organizations in the country are affiliated with the ruling party.

Vehicles are forced to stop every 10 kilometers for searching. The government has also put tough restrictions on traveling outside the country, particularly people who are under 50 years of age.

The government monitors mail, e- mail and phone calls. There are some cases where authorities have arrested people only a few hours after they made calls to their sons in Sudan. Units from the security and police break into houses and climb the walls searching for people who escaped from military services without judicial permission stated in the law to do so. These forces constructed roadblocks to search for probable deserters and they will stop pedestrians from time to time to check that they have performed their military services and are not wanted.


3/ Independence of judiciary:

The judiciary is under the administrative and financial control of the executive authority. The executive authority intervenes in the work of the judiciary. It created special courts in 1996. The judges in these courts are army officers who are not qualified for the job. These courts hold sessions secretly, and people who are sent to these courts have neither right to legal consultation nor appeal against their sentences. The courts were formed under the premise of examining accumulated corruption cases and were given the authority to take quick decisions. Now, these courts look into all types of lawsuits and re-examine previous cases that were decided by the regular judiciary. Also, the courts issue directives to the regular judiciary.


4/ Religious Freedom

The record of the Eritrean government in respecting religious freedom is one of the worst records in the world. Restrictions affect all religions and sects, and some sects suffer more than others. In May 2002, the Eritrean Ministry of Information issued a decree under which small religious groups should register with the Department of Religious Affairs in local governments before practicing any activities in the country. The registration application should include the history of the sect in the country, its financial accounts and its external sources of support. Although the big religious sects (i.e. Islam, Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran Protestantism) are not required to register, their institutions' bank accounts are subjected to heightened governmental monitoring and the government intervenes in their administrative affairs in addition to practicing various types of restriction against their followers.

Muslims who constitute 50% of the population were exposed to large arrest campaigns during the last decade and their religious educational institutes and charity organizations were closed. The government intervenes in the administration of Muslim affairs. It appointed the current mufti, who is accused of supporting the government and who works to satisfying the government in the name of the Muslims and their religious institutions. The mufti does not spend the annual budget of Dar El Efta', office of mufti, but instead he reimburses a big part of the budget to the government, in spite of the need of the religious houses. The Mufti doesn’t appoint the Imams and mosques' speakers, especially in remote areas from Asmara. The government confiscated lands which belonged to the Islamic endowment, and it distributes the allowances of pilgrims sacred areas that are donated by the Saudi government in favor its party members.

The governmental departments do not allow the employees to pray collectively in the workplaces. One of the people who escaped from the national military services, Abd El Gadir Omar from Um Hagar Town, said that practicing religious rituals is not allowed in Sawa camp for Muslims and Christians, and in other army camps Muslims are not allowed to pray or fast in the camp. Whosoever does not obey these orders is exposed to different types of punishment, such as binding on trees. Mr. Abd El Gadir said that he bound some people on trees based on the order of the camp's general because they were found reading a bible or praying. Mr. Abd El Gadir himself was exposed to same punishment. Recently , the authorities launched big campaign against Ansar El Sona El Mohamadia Group and arrested some Imams and young males and females who work in the field of missionaries, even though this group does not involve itself in politics.

Christians generally are exposed to pressure similar to that of Muslims in practicing their religion, especially in national military camps and army. They are not allowed to have bibles. The officers in those camps burn bibles if they are found with a recruited person in addition to alternative punishments.

The government intervenes in the affairs of the Orthodox Church and it froze the membership of any member in the Council of Churches if he opposed the government policies. The government appointed Yafteh Demtros, former employer with the Ethiopian government during the occupation, as a supervisor of the Church to guarantee that the Church aid in the implementation of government policies, even though he is not a religious man. Using his power, Demtros forced the Council of Churches in last few years to freeze the membership of 11 priests because he was skeptical about their loyalty to the government. Also, he used the Council of Churches many times to hide the arbitrary detention of Orthodox priests by sending a priest to jail under the accusation that he had conducted religious violations. In jail the priest is exposed to interrogations by security about his political beliefs.

In the last few years, the government forced many priests of the Orthodox Church to leave the country. In a serious intervention of the government in the Church affairs, Demtros forced the Council of Churches in its meeting in 6th and 7th of last August to freeze the work of patriarch Antonious, president of the Orthodox Church in the country, without explaining the reason. It is worth mentioning that the patriarch was elected on 5/3/2004 by the Council of Churches in Asmara and in the presence of the Pope Shenoda, Pope of the Coptic Church on 25/4/2004. After this decision, the patriarch was prohibited from practicing his administrative role and was allowed only to practice his spiritual role.

The patriarch is known for his objection to the intervention of the government in the internal affairs of the Church and for requesting the release of the Orthodox priests: Dr. Fazom Gabr Georges, Dr. Takhlab Mengestab, and Gabre Medhen Gabregeorges. The Eritrean Orthodox Bishopric in North America, which includes 24 Churches, wrote to the Patriarch on 30/7/2004, one week before he was dismissed, a message protesting the intervention of the Eritrean government in the Church affairs and refusing any directions from Eritrea unless signed and stamped by the Patriarch. The message of the Bishopric refused in particular the directives of Yafteh Demtros who was appointed by the government as a supervisor of the Orthodox Church and who later froze the work of the Patriarch.

The Catholic Church is exposed to different harassments by the authorities. At the end of last July, according to a catholic priest who talked to the center and requested that his name be withheld, the authorities prohibited the travel of a priest from the Catholic Church outside of the country, even though his age is 50 years old. The government controls the relief assistance of the Catholic Church. The Church runs many schools in the country and the government intervenes especially in administering two schools in (Hagat) and the other in (Degi Amhery). Both are technical schools that teach computer science and other modern sciences. Currently, the authorities select the students of the school.

The Lutheran protestant sect faces the same harassments that affect other sects, including government intervention in financial and administrative affairs and arbitrary detention of its members. Unregistered protestant groups face increased harassment and their members are not allowed to practice their rituals and ceremonies. There are many priests of the sects in prisons because of their leadership in religious rituals or their supervision of the weddings of their parishioners.

Small religious sects are also persecuted, such as Jehovah, Bahai and others. Because members of Jehovah sect did not participate in the referendum of the independence of Eritrea in 1993 and refused to perform the national military service for religious reasons, the Jehovah sectarian members (Shehod Yehoh) are exposed to violent persecution. There are three members of this sect who have been in prison since 1994 because they refused to perform the national military service, even though the maximum punishment is three year according to law. Because they did not participate in the referendum, the government denaturalized them and fired them from jobs. Many of their children were expelled from schools and the members of the sect have no opportunity to obtain commercial or driving licenses. In addition, they were prohibited from issuing travel documents and buying or renting houses. Although the government requested small sects to register with the religious department of the Ministry of Local Governments, it prevented this sect from registration. The government issued in 1998 a decree to review all properties of Churches including financial accounts, but it did not apply the decree because of war with Ethiopia in the same year.


4. Freedom of press

The situation of freedom press in Eritrea is the worst in Africa according to international organizations that work in the field of observing freedoms, such as Reporters without Borders and the Committee for Protecting Journalists, New York. Although decree no. 90 for the year 1996 related to press and publications guarantees freedom of the press, as stated in paragraph A of the first article, there is no independent press in the country. The government stopped the publication of eight Tigrinya-language newspapers that operated in accordance with this law. The government arrested a number of publishers and journalists when it launched a campaign in September 2001 against reform leaders who called for enforcing the constitution.

In the last meeting in February 2002, the parliament formed a committee to revise the decree of press and publications to assess the experience of private press in the country. The Minister of Information said that his government would allow the publication of independent newspapers upon the committee accomplishing its task. However, more than three years after its formation, the committee has not published any report and still the private newspapers are closed. Only three newspapers are published in Eritrea: Modern Eritrea, in Arabic and Tigrinya, the Eritrea profile, in English, and the newspaper of the ruling party. The ruling party has full control of the only radio and TV stations in the county. Eritrea is the only country in Africa without private press. The governmental newspapers are characterized by articles that are heavily censored by officials. Some journalists who work in these newspapers were arrested under the pretext that they did not follow the general policies of the government. The Eritreans have no opportunity to access information from independent sources, as foreign newspapers are rarely allowed in the country. The government even monitors the Internet under the pretence of protecting young people from pornographic websites.

The government puts pressure on foreign correspondents and takes action against them if they disagree with its policies. Consequently, the county is without foreign correspondents. On 13/9/2004, the government expelled BBC correspondent John Fisher for writing an article for the Independent, a British newspaper, on the 11th anniversary of Eritrean independence. He said that "Freedom for some Eritreans has become synonymous with prison and torture."

In Eritrean prisons there are 14 journalists who were detained in September 2001 (see the list of the detained journalists in the part on arbitrary detention in this report). As a result, Eritrea has become the biggest prison for journalists in Africa. The locations of nine of the 10 journalists who were arrested in September 2001 are unknown. They were moved from a police centre in Asmara to an unknown place after they went on a hunger strike in protest against their illegal detention. The prison of the journalist Gabr Hewt Galta who was kidnapped from Sudan in 1989 and released in 2000 and arrested again in the same year is unknown. The place of detention of journalist Aklilo Salmon the correspondent of Voice of America (VOA) who was arrested in July 2003 is unknown. There are three journalists detained in Wangel Marmara prison in Asmara: Dawit Isaak, Salih Gazaeiri and Hamed Mohamed Saeed.






















Part 2

Kidnappings and Using Killing force


The Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) was practicing kidnappings before the realization of Eritrea’s independence in 1991. Ghebrehiwet Keleta, a journalist, was kidnapped from Kessela, a Sudanese town on the western border of Eritrea, in 1989. Similarly, two members of the Executive Committee of the Eritrean Liberation Front- Revolutionary Council (ELF-RC), Tekleberhan Ghebretsadk (wedi bashai) and Woldemariam Bahlbi, were kidnapped on 26 April 1992 from the same town Ghebrehiwet Keleta was kidnapped. Keleta was released in 1997 and was detained again in 2000 and the whereabouts of Keleta, wedi bashai and bahlbi are not known. There are others besides the above-mentioned individuals who were kidnapped before and after the liberation of the country whose fates are not yet known.

Kidnappings continued even after the liberation of the country, whereby, Ghebrebrhan Zere, Chairman of The Eritrean Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Eritrea was kidnapped on 5 February 1997 from Humera, an Ethiopian town bordering Eritrea. His fate and his whereabouts are not yet known. There are others, such as Mogos Tesfamariam, who was kidnapped from Ethiopia without any political charges. Some of them have been set free while others are still languishing in Eritrean prisons.

On 5 January 2001 there was an attempt by the security agents of the Eritrean government to kill Adem Khier, a member of Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), in the refugee camp of Shegerab, situated near the western border of Eritrea. Adem Khier, the main target, escaped injury but his two children, Munteser (8 years old) and Sabrin (6 months old) were killed in the operation.

Using killing force:

The Eritrean security forces use violent means of killings without any objective reasons. Tens of individuals have been shot while demonstrating peacefully or while trying to flee from the compulsory national service. The two worst incidents were the criminal killings of the war wounded at Mai Habar and the killings at Adi Abeyto prison, where thousands of deserters from the compulsory national service were detained.

Mai Habar’s Crime:

On 12 July 1995 about 1500 war wounded began a march from their camp at Mai Haber with the intention of going all the way to Asmara to hand over a memorandum expressing their miserable to President Issayas Afewerki. When they moved 10 Km from their camp they were stopped by an army unit and asked to return to their camp. The demonstrators rejected the offer to return to their camp and insisted to continue their journey to Asmara to deliver their memorandum to the president. The unit opened fire at the demonstrators killing 6 and wounding 15 of them. Later, the authorities rounded up 50 individuals from the war wounded and their whereabouts are not known to this date.


Adi Abeyto’s Crimes:

Tens of thousands of Eritreans, including government employees, youth who completed the national service or have been exempted from it, were rounded up at the end of October 2004 and detained in Adi Abeyto prison. In November 2004, one week after their detention, they were shot at by the prison guards while trying to flee by breaking the prison walls because they could not withstand the suffocation arising from heat and bad smell in the narrow space where they were kept. The prison does not have enough bathrooms for such a large number of prisoners. Twenty-eight prisoners were killed and many were wounded in the shoot out. The authorities have not, to this date, exposed the place where the dead were buried and the relatives of the wounded are not allowed to visit them in the hospitals. The authorities have arrested the majority of the prisoners who attempted to flee but a number of them are still in hiding or fled to neighbouring countries. According to the authorities, some, who were mistakenly detained, have been released.






















Part 3

Arbitrary Detentions and Situation in prisons and types of torture


1/Arbitrary Detentions:

The Eritrean government is carrying on wide spread arbitrary detentions since the liberation of the country in 1991. General Biteweded Abrha, a former Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front’s (EPLF) fighter, the organisation currently governing Eritrea, is detained without trial in a solitary cell since 1992. It is said that he has become mentally disturbed as the result of his long solitary confinement. Biteweded was charged with corruption but people who know the story say he was detained because of his open criticisms of the president of the state. The government had released him for a short period of time during the 1998 war with Ethiopia to detain him once again because he continued criticizing the president, Issayas Afewerki, openly. Because the authorities do not allow visits and the manner by which detentions take place, often during the nighttime to avoid presence of witnesses, it is difficult to differentiate between forceful disappearances and arbitrary detentions.


Detention of Islamists and Eritrean Liberation Front’s fighters:

After the break up of diplomatic relations with Sudan in 1994, the Eritrean security apparatus waged wide-ranging campaign of detentions among the Eritrean Moslems. It detained several hundreds individuals with the pretext of having contacts with the Islamic Jihad Movement. The majority of the detainees were teachers in religious colleges and employees of Islamic aid organisations. Ali Mohammed Musa, a member of an International aid organisation, was detained on 5 December 1995 and since his detention the authorities prevented his relatives from visiting him and did not expose the place where he is detained. In addition, the same authority detained Mohammed Saeed, a shop owner in Asmara, and many others with the pretext of having cooperated with the Islamic Jihad Movement.

In 1995 the security apparatus waged large scale campaigns of detentions against members of Eritrean Liberation Front, the organisation that started the armed struggle for liberation of Eritrea and its role diminished lately due to civil war with EPLF, which was supported by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the leading party in the coalition governing party in Ethiopia today. It is said that those individuals were detained under the pretext of their wrong doings during the struggle for national liberation in the sixties. Among the detainees are:

  1. Mohammed Osman Dayr:- Detained on 25 May 1995. He left his hotel in Asmara during the night to buy things he needs and did not return back to his hotel. Dayr was a veteran who joined the ELF in 1964 to fight for the freedom of his country. He returned to Eritrea immediately after its liberation. He was suffering from diabetis and he was at the end of his fifties at the time of his detention. The authorities do not allow his relatives to visit him, his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.
  2. Mahmud Dinai:- He joined the ELF in the beginning of the sixties of the past century to fight for the freedom of his country. During the years of the formation of ELF military zones, he was appointed as commander of the first zone, representing Gash and Barka. He was detained on 10 October 1995 while he was serving as the president of Parliament in Gash-Barka zone. He was on his early sixties at the time of his detention. The authorities do not allow his relatives to visit him, his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.
  3. Suleiman Zekaria:- He was a fighter in the same zone where the above mentioned, Mahmud Dinai, was the commander. He was detained on 16 October 1995 and was in his sixties at that time of his detention. The authorities do not allow his relatives to visit him, his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.

Within the framework of detentions of members of Eritrean Liberation Front-United Organisations (ELF-UO) and Eritrean Liberation Front-National Council (ELF-NC) the Eritrean authorities detained the following individuals:

  1. Saleh Osman Arey: was a longtime fighter in ELF-NC and returned to Eritrea after independence. He was detained on 3 October 1995 in the town of Keren and he was in his forties at the time of his detention. His family is not allowed to visit him. His wife, residing in the Sudan, visited Eritrea three times with the intention of getting a chance to see her husband and contacted several officials to ask them to give her a chance but did not succeed. He has no yet appeared before the court.
  2. Mohammed Khier Musa: a veteran member of the Eritrean Liberation Front-National Council (ELF-NC), was detained on 10 October 1995 in the town of Keren while serving as an official in the Labor Office in Anseba zone. He was on his late fifties at the time of his detention. The authorities do not allow members of his family to visit him, his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.
  3. Ibrahim Mohammed Ibrahim: a former fighter in Eritrean Liberation Front-Unified Organization (ELF-UO), was detained on 10 October 1995 in the town of Agordat while serving as a judge in Gash-Barka zonal court. He was in his early fifties at the time of his detention. The authorities do not allow visits by members of his family; his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.
  4. Mohammed Saleh Mahmud: a former fighter in ELF-UO, joined the revolution at the end of the seventies. He was detained on 10 October 1995 in the town of Agordat while serving as a judge in Gash_barka zonal court. The authorities do not allow visits by members of his family, his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.
  5. Mahmud Khaled: former fighter in ELF, was detained on 10 October 1995 in the town of Agordat while serving as employee in the town’s municipality. The authorities do not allow visits by members of his family; his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.
  6. Alamin Hamed Kerar: the director of a cooperative in Gash-Barka zone, was detained on 10 October 1995. The authorities do not allow visits by members of his family; his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.
  7. Mohammed Idris Abu Ajaj: a veteran of the Eritrean revolution, joined the ELF on early sixties. He was detained on 10 October 1995 in the town of Agordat and was on his early sixties during the time of his detention. The authorities do not allow visits by members of his family, his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.
  8. Mohammed Ali Ibrahim: a veteran fighter for freedom, was detained on 10 October 1995. The authorities do not allow visits by members of his family, his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.
  9. Ismail Idris Kerkas: former fighter in ELF-NC, returned to Eritrea after independence. He was detained at the end of November 1995. The authorities do not allow visits by members of his family, his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.
  10. Idris Dynai: joined the ELF in the eighties. He returned to Eritrea after independence and was detained at the end of November 1995. He was on his thirties at the time of his detention. The authorities do not allow him visits, his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.
  11. Mohammed Banni: a former fighter in ELF, was detained in 1996 in the town of Senafe. The authorities do not allow visit by members of his family, his where about is not known and has not appeared before the court.

The detentions of hundreds of Eritreans continued throughout the nineties of the past century and its main targets were members of ELF and the Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement. One could say that none of the detained members of these two organisations were set free. There are unconfirmed reports of 150 of these detainees being executed.


Detention of the Reformists:

While the world was occupied with the 11 September explosions in the USA, the Eritrean security apparatus waged wide-ranging campaigns of detentions involving members of leadership of the governing party who called for introduction of reforms and the application of the suspended constitution, which was endorsed in 1997. On 18 September 2001 eleven leaders and tens of party and government cadres were detained in an undisclosed place. Their families are not allowed to visit them and none of them has been brought to court despite accusations of high treason levied upon them by the president and other officials of the government and the party. The Eritrean Ministry of foreign affairs has, in response to the suit filed by a citizen, Mussie Ephrem, against the government and in defense of the detained reformists, confirmed in its message of 22 March 2004 addressed to the African Committee for Human and Peoples Rights that the detained members of G-11 were charged with treason. It is stated, in the above-mentioned message, that the individuals were detained for conspiring and attempting to remove the legitimate government through illegal means and of forging ties with foreign countries that compromises Eritrea’s sovereignty and endanger the security of the country and its people. Mussie Ephrem himself is accused of being part of the conspiracy.e Hehhhwehhhhhhhh

Concerning the suit Mussie Ephrem filed, the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights in its thirty fourth session held in Gambia on 20 November 2003 concluded the Eritrean government failure to abide to paragraphs 2,6, 7(1), and 9(2) of the African Charter for Human and Peoples Rights and demanded the government to release the 11 members of the Reformist group and recommended for compensation for time and opportunities lost during the period of their detention.


The eleven individuals are:

  1. Petros Solomon: a veteran fighter of the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF), was the head of Security Office in the organisation for several years. He headed various ministries after independence among them the Minstry of Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defense. He was the head of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources at the time of his detention. He is married and has 4 children.
  2. Mahmoud Ahmed Sherifo: a veteran fighter who joined the revolution in mid-sixties. He is one of the founders of EPLF. He had hold various important posts during the struggle for liberation and after independence he was head of various ministries the latest of which was the Ministry of Zonal Administration and was considered to be the second man to the President in the bureaucracy. He is married and has several children.
  3. Haile Woldetensae: a veteran fighter of EPLF. He held the Ministry of Economic Affairs before becoming the Minister of Foreign Office. He was the signatory representing Eritrea in the December 2000 peace agreement in Algiers. He is married and has children and he is diabetic.
  4. Uqbe Abrha: was heading the military staff. Unconfirmed reports, reaching Swuera Center for Human Rights from escaping army recruits, indicate the death of General Uqbe Abrha last year as the result of lack of proper medical treatment. It is said that he was buried at the martyr’s burial place in the town of Ghinda, 45 Km outside Asmara.
  5. Berhane Gherezghihier: was a member of the EPLF leadership since 1977. He was a General and former head of the reserve army. There are unconfirmed reports that indicate his death as the result of torture.
  6. Astier Fessehatsion: former wife of Mahmud Sherifo, was the director of the Labour and Social Affairs. She is suffering from gastritis.
  7. Saleh Kekia: former director in the Office of the President, was the minister of Communication and Transportation. He is married and has children.
  8. Hamed Himd: former ambassador in Saudi-Arabia and the Sudan, was the head of the Middle East desk. He is married and has children.
  9. Estifanos Seyoum: a former General, was the head of the Ministry of Internal Revenue.
  10. Germano Natti: former administrator of Gash-Barke.
  11. Beraki Ghebreselassie: former minister of information and later was ambassador of Eritrea in Germany.

The following cadres were detained on the ground of their alleged sympathies towards the Reformists:

  1. Idris Abu Are: author and former director in the Ministry of Labour.
  2. Kidane Kebreab.
  3. Tesfai Ghermai.
  4. Alazar Mesfun.
  5. Kiros (Awer): former director in the Ministry of Tourism.
  6. Beserat Yemane: former Counselor in Frankfurt.
  7. Firon Woldu: director in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
  8. Ibrahim Siraj: member of the diplomatic core.
  9. Berhe Tesfamariam: engineer.
  10. Aklilu Moges.
  11. Ermias Debessai, former ambassador in China. He was among the first few that were brought to the special military court in 1997 accused of corruption. He was released after finishing the sentence and was detained again in November 2003.
  12. Ghermai Yohannes was sportsman. He was detained in November 2003.
  13. Police Colonel Yemane Fesseha (Wedi Rego) was detained in November 2003
  14. Mohammed Osman, former Secreter of Gash-Barka Parilament.
  15. Solomon Habtom, former head of a department in the Ministry of Transportation.
  16. Ibrahim Saeed, former official in the Repatriation and Rehabilitation Programme.
  17. General Habtetsion Hadgu, former head of the Eritrean Air Force. He was detained in November 2003. His record indicates that he was detained before for a number of months.
  18. Meryem Hagos was detained on 6 October 2001 while she was the director of cinema.
  19. Tewelde Ghebremedhin ,trade union official. detained March 2005.
  20. Minase Andezion, trade union official. detained March 2005.
  21. , Habtom Weldemicael, trade union official. detained April 2005.

In addition, the Eritrean authorities detained two employees in the American Embassy in Asmara, in 2001, for alleged intelligence work in the service of the embassy. They are:

  1. Ali Alamin.
  2. Kflom Ghebremichael.

The authorities detained 10 independent journalists and banned the press at the time members of the Reformist Group were detained. When the detained journalists went on hunger strike at the end of March 2003 demanding their immediate release or get their sentence before the court the authorities transferred them from the police station where they were kept in Asmara to an undisclosed prison. They are not allowed to be visited by family members or any other concerned body and they have not appeared before the court until the end of last year. Many other journalists were detained in the following months among whom where two individuals working for official or government media.

In that same year, the government apprehended a number of elders who tried to mediate between the President and the detained members of the Reformist Group among which were Hassen Kekia, Sunabarra and Younis Abdu, all were business men known for their support of the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) during the years of armed struggle against Ethiopian occupation. The latter two were released while Hassen Kekia is still in jail in a prison called Wenjel Mermera, in Asmara.

Suleiman Mussa Haj, Ali Mohammed Saleh and Dr. Shumai were detained simply because they asked about the conditions of the above-mentioned detainees. The two latter detainees were released this year while the former, Suleiman Mussa Haj, was sentenced by a court and is still languishing in Wnjel Mermera prison, in Asmara. He is expected to be released in the near future after completion of his verdict.


Detentions Due To Other Reasons:

According to the information Swuera Center obtained from Lsane e’din Ketib, a released former Sudanese prisoner in Eritrea who was detained for almost two years from December 2002 until October 2004 at Wenjel Mermera prison in Asmara, there are other groups of prisoners. The Swuera Center has organised an evening for Lsane e’din Ketib where he talked about his experience in prison and some of the prisoners he met with were:

  1. Asnayit Debessai: a former fighter in EPLF and a guitar player, was detained because of her demand for divorce from her influential husband, an ambassador in Kenya, through a court. The government investigator visits Asnayit every three days and asks her if she had changed her mind with respect to her request for divorce. Every time she gives a negative response she was turned back to the jail. Asnayit says, she prefers to stay in prison rather than joining her husband who mistreats and beats her.
  2. Mogos Tesfamariam: detained since 1995, was kidnapped from Ethiopia and charged with embezzlement of government funds. When the investigation failed to indict him with any criminal act, he was asked to bring a custodian in order to be released. He rejected the offer to bring a custodian on the ground that he is innocent and the charge was not proven.
  3. Mohammed Jimee Abdulkader: detained in 1999 when the village committee informed the government security in the area while he was buying sugar for a group of armed members of the Jihad Movement. He was in his eighties at the time of his detention.
  4. Mahari Tesfamariam: detained in 1997.
  5. Mansour Walday: detained in 1998.
  6. Adem Burhan: detained in 1998.

On 11 December 2003, the Eritrean security arrested Astier Yowhannes, the wife of Petros Solomon, at the Asmara Airport. Her husband is among the Reformist Group detained since 2001. She was in the United States, studying for M.A degree, at the time her husband was jailed. She was not allowed to see her children who were waiting for her at the airport with their grandmother, who took the responsibility of taking care of the children after the detention of their father. The government has prevented both of them visits of close relatives and did not disclose the place of their detention.

Detention of Deserters from National Service:

After the end of the Ethio-Eritrean war one could say that charges of hiding from or deserting the compulsory national service are the main causes for detentions. There are thousands and thousands of detainees distibuted in different prisons, among which Adi Abeyto prison, near Asmara; Dahlak prison in the Dahlak archipelago and prisons belonging to the leaders of Military zones, under the pretext that they have tried to evade or escape from the national service.

In addition, any military unit has its special prisons where deserters, evaders and wrong doers are detained. The leader of the unit is the one who proclaims the sentences and the sentenced individuals do not know for how long they would stay in priosn until the date of their release, during which they will be told that the period of their detention has ended. In most cases, individuals who tried to flee to the Sudan are sentenced to three years in prison while those who try to flee to Ethiopia are sentenced to five years in prison as the result of the ongoing war tensions between the two countries.

On 15 July 2005 the authorities detained hundreds of fathers, mothers and relatives of youth, boys and girls, who fled to other countries or did not appear in the national service programme or fled from their army units, the majority of whom are detained in Adi Keyh prison or in Mai Serwa prison. The authorities gave the detainees to choose between staying in prison or be released on bail reaching 10,000-50,000 Nackfa to bring their children.


Detention of war released prisoners:

The Eritrean authorities detained more than 1,000 prisoners of war (1998-2000) , released from Ethiopian captivity as the result of the programme of exchange of prisoners sponsored by the International Red Cross, in Adi Abeyto and other prisons. They were charged with crimes of surrendering to the enemy and for abandoning their arms. Those who talked on Ethiopian mass media during their captivity were badly tortured and were forced to pay for the arms they lost. Even the war wounded, that could not retreat from the advancing Ethiopian army as the result of the wound inflicted upon them, were not spared from torture and paying money for lost arms. The majority of these detainees were released in 2004 after spending two years in prison and paying the money for the arms they abandoned.


Detentions on Religious Grounds:

Hundreds of followers, especially among the small Christian churches such as Jehovah Witnesses, have been detained for practicing their religious rituals. There are individuals in Eritrean prisons that have been detained for more than 10 years due their religious believes and the government pressurizes them to choose between staying in prison or refute their religious faith. Some of the detainees are:

The detainees for the reason of religious belief include:

    1. Helen Borhani: She is a Church singer affiliated with the Protestant Church. She was detained in May 2004.
    2. Haj Idirs: Mosque's Imam in Aderdi. He is affiliated with the Ansar El Suna group, a group that does not involve in politics. He was detained in November 2003 in Wengl Marmara prison and he was not presented to trial.
    3. Taha Abdel Gadir: In his twenties and affiliated to the Ansar El Suna group. He was active in missionary work in the Gaza Banda mosque in Asmara. He was detained in 2004 in Wengl Marmara prison and he was not presented to trail.
    4. Hayat Ibrahim Nour Hussein: She is affiliated with the Ansar El Suna group, and she was detained in November 2004 in the Wengl Marmara prison. She was not presented to trail.

5. Kedani Gabr Mosgal: One of priests of the Full Gospel Church. He was detained in March 2005 and he is in his fifties. He was transferred from a police center in Asmara to the Sempel prison.

6. Faonil Mehtrab: One of the priests of the Full Gospel Church. He was detained in March 2005. He was transferred from a police center in Asmara to the Sempel prison.

7. Gabr Medhin Gabr Gargis: A priest at the Orthodox Church, the biggest Church in the country.

8. Dr. Takhli Ab Mengstab: A priest at the Orthodox Church.

9. Dr. Fazom Gabri Negos: A priest at the Orthodox Church.



Detention of journalists:

According to international organizations concerned about press freedom, Eritrea is the biggest prison for journalists in Africa. There are 14 journalists in the Eritrean prisons. The authorities detained ten journalists when the government launched a campaign in September 2001 against reform leaders. The ten journalists who work for independent newspapers are:

    1. Yousuf Mohamed Ali: Editor-in-Chief of Segenai newspaper.
    2. Matiwos Habteab: Editor-in-Chief of Makaleh newspaper.
    3. Dawit Habtemichael: Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Makaleh newspaper.
    4. Medhanie Haile: Assistant to the Editor-in-Chief and Board member of Keste Demena newspaper.
    5. Temsghen Ghebresus: Assistant to Editor-in-Chief and Board member of Kesti Debana newspaper.
    6. Amanuel Asrat: Editor-in-Chief of Zemen newspaper.
    7. Dawit Isaak: Eritrean with Swedish nationality, Setit newspaper.
    8. Fessaye Yohannes: Setit newspaper.
    9. Saeed Abdel Gadir: Editor-in-Chief of Admas newspaper.
    10. Seyoum Tsehye: Freelance photographer.

Upon a hunger strike in the end of March 2002 and demanding to be released or presented to trial, the prisoners who were detained in a police center in Asmara were transferred to unknown place except journalist Dawet Ishak, who was in a hospital during the strike and was conveyed from the hospital to Wengel Asmara prison. The families of the journalists were not allowed to visit the detainees, neither were the detainees presented to trial. In March 2002 the security authorities arrested three journalists who work in government media:

    1. Hamid Mohamed Saeed: government's TV.
    2. Sadeya Ahmed: government TV. She was released in the beginning of October 2004.
    3. Salih El jazairi: government's Radio (voice of the public)

In July 2003, Aklilu Solmon, local correspondent of Voice of America was arrested under the pretext that he did not perform the national military service while he was accused of sending a report about the Eritrean families' reactions to declaration of the names of the martyrs of the two year war with Ethiopia (1998- 2000). The report was considered in the interest of Ethiopia. The place of detaining Akilu is unknown and he has not presented to trial. In addition, Ghebrehiwet Geleta was kidnapped from Kassala, Sudan in February 1988 and released; he was arrested again while working with one of the independent newspapers. Thus, the number of the detained journalists in Eritrea is 14 journalists.

Detention among the Sudanese in Eritrea

Arbitral detentions included a number of foreigners who live in the country or came for visit. The Sudanese are considered the most harmed as there are tens of them in prisons under different accusations, such as spying for the interest of the Sudanese government. The detainees include:

    1. Usama Talib Sala: detained in 2003, and he was not presented to trial.
    2. Mohamed Ismail Mousa: detained in 2000, and he was not presented to trial.
    3. Mousa Ismail Mousa: detained in 2003 when he was working in Zart Mosoa Boat, and he was not presented to trial.
    4. Abou Bakr El Tegani: detained in 2003, and was not presented to trial.
    5. Mohamed El Hassan Ehaimer: detained in 2004, and he was not presented to trial.
    6. Nasr Eldin Abo El Khairat: accused by the Eritrean government of attempting to assassinate President Assias Aforgi. He is in prison since his detention in 26/6/1997.
    7. Abd El Azim Mohamed: arrested in the mid of 2002, and he was not presented to trial.

There are some Sudanese whom their places of detention are unknown:

    1. Slaah Fdl Alla Hamed (Al hlawe): detained early 1995.
    2. Waleed El Toum: former officer in the Sudanese Army and later with Umma Party's Army. Waleed returned to Sudan with his party's return. Then he went to Egypt and got married to an Egyptian woman. He went to Eritrea for honey moon in 2003 where he was detained and his wife sent to the Egyptian Embassy in Asmara. He was not presented to trial.
    3. Ali Borai: arrested in August 2002, and was not presented to trial

4. Abd Allah Adaroub: arrested in 2003 in Garmaiaka close to Sudanese borders, his car (Lorry) was confiscated and he was not presented to trial.

5. Motaz Abd allh El Jak: arrested in 2000 and he was not presented to trial.


2/ Situation in prisons and types of torture

There are hundreds of prisons throughout Eritrea. In addition to the known prisons in police centers that are administered by Prison Department and those in army camps, there are a large number of secret prisons. Nekhra's prisons in Dahalak Island, Mai Sroa prison in Asmara suburbs and Ed Omer prison in Baraka-El Gash region are the worst and cruelest prisons in the country. In all the Eritrean prisons, there are vaults for political detainees for whom the authorities do not allow visits. Also, these vaults are used to punish other prisoners who disobey the authorities. There are open-space-prisons like prisons in army camps in Adi Abito near to Asmara, in Barnto and other places. There are prisons where containers are used as cells in Assab and Sawa camp, west of the country. More than 50 persons are put in one container and the prisoners must sleep in rotation. The detainees are not allowed to shower in prisons except once per week. In open-space-prisons, the prisoners take their bath in stagnant pools and whoever misses his turn for any reason he must wait until the next week. Prisoners are not allowed to use the bathroom except once per day which makes some prisoners use cans for urinating. Not showering and urinating inside cells cause the spread of lice among the detainees. In most prisons, there are no physicians and patients must be transferred to far-away places for medication. Because of malnutrition (a prisoner is given a loaf of bread and cup of tea two times per day), many prisoners arrive hospitals in a deteriorated condition and most patients who come from these prisons die.

Prisoners in Nekhra prison, the exiled and those accused of not performing the national service, are forced to work for the Eritrean Naval Forces without wearing shoes in high temperatures. Some prisoners who were expelled from Malta were afflicted with paralysis and relatives had to carry them when they were released. Most of the detainees got skin diseases and alopecia. Some Army generals force prisoners to work in their own farms or building their houses without payment. A former prisoner, Tsfai Tsfadhin, in a statement to Swuera Center said that during his detention he worked in a farm owned by a general in the army called Wody Gelta. Tsfai spent most of his prison duration in a cell underground in a place close to Barnto city.

The prisoners are exposed to various types of torture including standing under the sun until they went unconscious, beating with sticks, binding hands and legs in a figure-eight shape, binding in a way called "helicopter", and binding with trees.

Lesan Eldin El Khatib is a Sudanese national who had been detained from 4/12/2002 to 14/10/2004 without any accusation presented against him. He spent his detention in Wengl Marmara prison in Asmara. In his first days of detention, he was put in a cell underground and he did not know the day and the night until a small lamp was turned on. In his first day he heard voice of a woman screaming as she was beaten in the next door cell. He had been hearing that screaming for all the days he spent in the cell.

Punishment of beating and other types of torture is extensively used in the Eritrean prisons, especially to extract confessions of the prisoners. In a statement to Swuera Center, a Sudanese detainee, journalist Amir Babkir Abd Allah, said he was detained in Asmara on 1/4/2004 and transferred to the Headquarters of Eritrean Borders Forces in Asmara. He spent 24 hours in their office, his hands were bound to a chair and then he was transferred to Truck B prison in Asmara. He was put in a truck with another 150 Eritrean detainees and then they were transferred to the west of the country on 2/4/2004. Some prisoners were sent to prisons of Hicota, Sawa and Kiro. The truck arrived to the last destination the following day to a prison called Adr Sar close to Germaiaka administered by the Eritrean Intelligence. In this prison there are 50 detainees. Adr Sar prison was built underground and only the administrative offices can be seen. There are three rooms in the prison, the largest one is 12*4 meters square and the other two are 9*4 meters square. In addition, there are 12 cells for women; the largest one is 2*2 meter square. Amir said that he was one of 90 detainees who shared a cell of 9*4 meter square. The detainees were forced to work in prison, breaking stones from hills that surround the prison in the hottest times of the day and they were fed with dry bread and hot water.

There are reports about rape cases especially in Wengl Marmara prison in Asmara where officers summon the detained women to assault them sexually at night. This prison is supposed to be only for interrogation.



















Part 4

Violations in enforcing the law of national military services

The law of national military service was enacted in Eritrea in 1994. The period of military service is 18 months by law, but since 1997 the government has not let any of the recruited persons leave. While the law specifies the eligible age of performing the military service is from 18 to 40 years, the government recruits children less than 15 years old and elderly people over than 60 years. The authorities send a new group of people every six months for military training in Sawa camp in the west of the country. Following an increase in the escape rate, the authorities are preparing to establish another camp in Denkalia desert close to Assab for people from the west which will make escapes much harder. In addition, the recruited are treated as prisoners and are exposed to harsh punishment, such as standing under the sun for long hours until they go unconscious and binding their hands and legs with trees. The authorities specify times for bathing and showering, which normally occurs only once per week.

The recruited are deprived of performing their religious rituals, as they are considered by the authorities to encourage religious discrimination among the soldiers. Abd El Gadir, a former soldier escaped to Sudan, said that he was assigned to bind the recruited that were seen performing prayers or reading the bible. He was also exposed to the same punishment. The period of binding is specified according to the mood of the person who decides the punishment. Because of the harsh situation in this national military camp and the unlimited conscription period, thousands of young men fled to Sudan and Ethiopia after the war.

In 2003 the government forced many high school students to spend their last school year in a training camp in Sawa and sit for the university entrance exam from the camp. This decision has been applied in all high schools in the country. In the end of last March and beginning of April, around 500 students who were supposed to sit for the exam last June escaped from the camp to Sudan. This is the biggest number of people to escape outside the country and they represent 20% of the students who were supposed to sit for the university entrance exam. A team from the Swuera Center visited those students in '26' camp, where they were given refugee status be the Sudanese Commission of Refuges (COR) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

In the statements made to the representatives of the Center, the refugees said that the classes at the camp are run by army officers who subject students to military rules. The military training is imposed during the educational classes and the students who disobey orders, inside or outside classes, are punished by standing under the sun for long hours or creeping on sands in high-temperature times of the day. The camp is not prepared for educational activities. The electricity is supplied for limited hours and students must use candle light for studying. Furthermore, sleeping rooms are unhealthy: a 16 meter square room accommodates 15 students. Teaching is delivered by national military service's students who are not qualified academically for teaching. Those teachers are not trained for teaching and they are not qualified psychologically for the job because of their extensive stay in the military.

Diseases, such as malaria, meningitis and psychological disorders are widespread among the students in the military camp. The camp's hospital is open for limited hours each day and the doctors are from the national military service. The military supervisors, not the doctors, decided which patients to send to the hospital. As a result, a number of deaths occurred in the camp because of lack of health care and malnutrition. The students are fed bread and tea for breakfast, lentils for lunch and dinner, and rarely do meals include meat. The students are not allowed to practice their religious rituals or read Holy books. Accordingly, the students are forced to sit for exams in a harsh academic environment and away from their families. Some students intentionally fail in class no. 11 on purpose, to escape being sent to the military camp.

The security forces transfer any exiled Eritrean to the national military services after investigations and temporary detention. Mostly, the period of detention of people who escape to Ethiopian is longer than the detention of people who escaped to Sudan, because of war with the former country.

Children are recruited for military services in a camp close to Assab. One of the escapees from the camps said that he knows that three persons under 8 years old were sent to the camp to undergo training for military services. The authorities arrested the parents of the escapees to force them to surrender. The detained are not released unless their sons surrender or pay fine reaches 20000 Nekfa (one thousand US$). In the middle of last July, the authorities conducted a large campaign in the mountains to arrest the parents of people who did not do the military service. People who paid the fine were released and others who did not were sent to unknown places. Girls are being raped in the camps of the national military service. Many rape cases have been reported since the beginning of the military service. In addition, some military service recruited women are being raped in army's camps and they are forced to serve the army officers in their homes.



Part 5

Situations of refugees


Historical background:

The first group of Eritrean refugees was estimated to be around 30000 persons. They arrived in Sudan in 1967 when Ethiopia practiced scorched land policy. Ethiopia burnt villages and killed people in western areas of Eritrea. In the flowing years, the flow of refugee continued although it was less than the first groups. The big flow was in 1975 and the following years when hundreds of thousands of the Eritreans from different parts of the country fled to Sudan. The successive Sudanese governments, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Food Program (WFP), and organizations of the Eritrean revolution cooperated in providing protection, shelter, food and education for those refugees until Eritrea achieved its independence in 1993.

In Sudan, the Eritrean refugees were hosted in 26 camps in east of the country. Upon voluntary repatriation and legal examination, the number of camps was reduced to 17. Other refugee groups lived in Sudanese cities. There are Eritreans who fled to Yemen, most of them from areas across to Yemeni coasts as well as small numbers in other countries. Some of the refugees got opportunities to be resettled in North America, Europe and Australia while others got employment opportunities in Sudan and the Gulf countries. At present, after more than 14 years Eritrea’s liberation, the majority of those refugees who fled during the Ethiopian occupation live in countries of asylum. With consideration to the numbers of people who fled from Eritrea in last five years, one can say that the number of the Eritreans who live in exile today is more than those used to live in exile before liberation.


Voluntary repatriation program:

Upon liberation of Eritrea in 1991, some refugees took the initiative to return home. The numbers of the returning people were not big until the UNHCR signed two memorandums of understanding with the Eritrean government to apply the voluntary repatriation program for the Eritrean refugees from different countries in the world on 16/4/1994 and with the Sudanese government on 6/9/1994 for repatriation of the Eritrean refugees from Sudan. Concerning the part of Sudan where the majority of the Eritrean refugees live, it was planned to repatriate 430000 refugees from 1994 to 1997 according to the following schedule:

In the first year of implementing the program, 8728 refugees returned and in the second year 15013 refugees returned. The total was 23741 refugees, while it was supposed as the plan states 160000 refugee should be repatriated. The program stopped from 1996 to 1999 because of deterioration of the relationship between the Eritrean and Sudanese governments and later because of war with Ethiopia that lasted for two years from 1998 to 2000.

On 7/4/2000, the UNHCR, the Eritrean and the Sudanese governments singed an agreement in Geneva to repatriate Eritrean refugees to their home voluntarily. The program had been implemented from 2000 to 2004 based on which 94360 refugees returned to Eritrea. Thus, the total number of the returned refugees, according to the voluntary repatriation program implemented from 1994 until 2004, was 118101 refugees. This number constitutes approximately 36% of the target number of the program in 1994.

In March 2003, the UNHCR declared the cessation of the legal status for the Eritrean refugees in Sudan because of nonexistence of reasons for seeking asylum in Sudan although the Commissioner recognized the flow of new waves of refugees in the same period. The UNHCR in cooperation with Sudanese Department for Refugees organized a legal examination program to examine the state of each refugee individually to decide whether or not to extend his/her refugee status.


Legal screening program:

With the declaration of the cessation of refugee status of the Eritreans in Sudan, the process of registering refugees who do not want to return began. 29315 refugees registered for legal screening in different registration centers; 18785 refugees were interviewed and 7797 refugees had their refugee status extended in addition to 1871 refugees who appealed against the result of the first interview. Those whose refugee statuses were extended live in harsh situations, as they are afraid that the Sudanese authorities will expel them. Also, the humanitarian assistance was stopped from those who live in camps by a decision from the UNHCR as refugee status was not extended.


Notes on voluntary repatriation and legal screening:

1. The percentage of who returned under the voluntary repatriation program is 36% of the targeted number by the UNHCR and the Eritrean government in 1994 which was 430000. This percentage confirms the lack of refugees' desire to return to their home after 14 years of liberation. There are some refugees who returned to Sudan after being repatriated under the voluntary repatriation program arrived to Sudan. The lack of desire to return to Eritrea or fleeing again to Sudan or to other countries is attributed to harsh economic and living situations in the country where two third of the population face the danger of famine annually as well as lack of public freedoms, human rights violations of the government against citizens and the cruel and illegal application of national military service program.

2. The legal screening program for refugees who came to Sudan before the independence of Eritrea did not consider the harsh circumstances in Eritrea that push big numbers of the Eritreans to flee out side the country since implementing the second phase in 2000 while around 20000 refugees fled in the period from 2002 to 2004.

3. The legal screening program contradicts with voluntary repatriation program. The first program offers for who are not accepted under its rules one option which is forcible return.

4. Few carried out the legal screening (only 18785 refugees). If we assume that everyone screened has a four member family, the number of these screened would be 56255 which is less than 15% of the Eritrean refugees in Sudan who are estimated until last March to be 405200 according to the statistics of the Sudanese Department for Refugee.


Refugees after independence:

During the Eritrean-Ethiopian war and in 2000, 95000 Eritrean citizens fled to Sudan. Most of those returned after the war. In the same year, Eritreans started to flee to Sudan for political reasons or because of refusing to participate in war by soldiers or the recruited of the national military service. Since 2001, the year that witnessed the breakup of the ruling party and spread of human rights violations, the number of refugees who fled to Sudan has increased. Each day refugees cross the Sudanese borders because of violations against their political or religious freedom or because of facing other violations of the Eritrean government bureaus. The Sudanese Department for Refugees estimates that the rate of flow of refugees through Sudanese borders is 30 persons per day.

A group of 500 refugee students who were supposed to sit for university's entrance exams this year crossed the Sudanese borders in end of last March, and in the beginning of April were considered the largest group since the end of war with Ethiopia in 2000. The refugee students said that they were exposed to cruel treatment in Sawa camp where the Eritrean government forced them to spend the last year of high secondary education. The served food consisted of only lentils and there was no electricity except for limited hours. They were exhausted by the daily military training. They were exposed to military punishment. Teaching in classes was delivered by national military service's students who are not qualified academically for teaching. These harsh circumstances led to students' affliction with psychological disorder. Because of lack of suitable health care, the camp witnessed many cases of death. On 11/5/2005, Swuera Center released a call for solidarity with those students to push the Eritrean government to abolish the decision, which forces the students to spend their last year of the high school in military camp.


Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia:

The number of the Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia is around 15000, 9600 of them live in Shemlba camp while the rest live in other Ethiopian cities. Since last January to September 2005, 2000 refugees arrived in Ethiopia according to statements of the representative of the WFP in the area. Between 200 to 300 refugees cross the Ethiopian borders monthly, their age between 18 and 30 years old.

The Eritrean refugees used to live in Wala Nahbi camp, which is close to Badmi area and then for security reasons they were transfered in 2004 to Shemlba camp that is close to Sheraro town. The new camp is located in 60 kilometers from the Eritrean borders. There are buses to transport people between the camp and the town. As the last station of buses is too far from the camp, the people had to walk for 45 minutes to get to the station. Many refugees were exposed to robbery in the road between the camp and the bus station by veiled armed people. The camp lacks appropriate health care where there is no physician in the clinic, which is run by nurses. Patients have to wake up before 4 in the morning to meet the nurses. Some refugees complain about the shortage of food assistance and nonexistence of potable water. The UNHCR resettled some Eritrean refugees who live in the camp in Western countries


Refugees in other countries:

Thousands of the Eritrean refugees live in other countries, such as Yemen where 1500 refugees live in Khokha camp. There are big numbers of refugees and asylum seekers in Europe, North America, South Africa and other countries.


The expelled:

Because of harsh economic situations and human rights violations, some Eritreans who fled to Sudan or Ethiopia attempt to migrate to Europe illegally. Most of them use Libya as a crossing point to Europe. Illegal migration to Malta and Libya exposed hundreds of Eritreans to deportation back to their country in the last three years. In 2002, the Maltese authorities deported 220 Eritreans who entered Malta illegally. As soon as they arrived in Asmara's Airport they were received by the Eritrean Security authority and they were transferred by trucks to Adi Abeto detention centre, which is close to Asmara. Later the security authorities transfered those men to the Nekhra prisons in Dehak Island. The expelled were exposed to different types of torture and they were considered traitors, as they left the country during war with Ethiopia. Some were killed in their attempt to escape from prison and others were injured. Most of those detainees were released after they spent two years in prison. Many of them were infected by diseases, especially skin diseases, because of harsh situations in prison. Some escaped again to Sudan and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees resettled many of them in other countries.


The expelled from Libya:

In 2004, the Libyan authorities expelled 120 Eritreans who were detained in a prison in Tripoli to Asmara without paying attention to appeals of human rights organizations, although Libya is a party to the Convention against Torture, which strongly warns against returning people to a country practices torture. When this group arrived in Asmara, they were arrested and transferred to an unknown place. Their families were not allowed to visit them and they were not presented to trial. On 27/8/2004, the Libyan authorities assembled another group of the Eritreans, 76 persons, among them 39 women and children. They were detained in a prison in El Kafra city, and others were detained in a prison in Tripoli. They were put in a military plane to be taken to Eritrea.

The expelled inside the plane panicked as they considered the fate of people who were expelled from Malta in 2002 and from Libya in July 2004. When the military plane approached Khartoum, some of the expelled forced the plane's crew, who were military men, to land in Khartoum airport. The plane landed at 11:30 pm, 27/8/2004, without hurting the crew or the passengers. In the airport, the Sudanese authorities arrested the passengers for interrogations and after three days the authorities released 61 of them. The Sudanese Department for Refugees carried out legal screening for each one and gave them temporary protection in Sudan until they are resettled in a third country by the UNHCR. Fifteen persons were detained and accused of forcing the plane to land in Khartoum.

Concerning the period of detention in Kafra prison, Takhlo Seiom Zerai, one of the detainees expelled by the Libyan authorities, currently is imprisoned in Kober, a Sudanese prison, because of participating in forcing the plane to land in Khartoum. He commented regarding their detention in kafra that "we were detained in high temperature (40 centigrade) each hundred persons in a room 5×5 meter square, and prison's guards used to beat us frequently by electronic sticks." A TB-infected Eritrean citizen called Beniam Helli died in prison in Tripoli in November 2003 after being deprived of medications and subjected to three days of beating by prison's guards when they were trying to suppress rebellion of some African prisoners.

Until preparing this report, the sixty one refugees recognized by the Sudanese government and the UNHCR have not been resettled. On 13/6/2005, those refugees organized a sit-in in front of the UNHCR office in Khartoum after they felt that the office ignored their suffering and delayed their resettlement. The sit-in lasted for two months until an agreement was reached between the strikers and the UNHCR. According to the agreement, the UNHCR provides living needs until resettling them.

The Sudanese authorities sent 15 persons under the accusation of forcing the plane to land in Khartoum airport to court for crimes against the state in lawsuit no. G/A/671/2004) dated 29/8/2004. The Sudanese lawyers who volunteered to defend the accused were not allowed to participate except in the session of issuing the sentence. In 1/9/2004, the court issued a sentence to imprison the accused by five years and expulsion from the country after the period of imprisonment. The Sudanese volunteer lawyers appealed against the sentence before the court of appeal which lightened the sentence to four years in decision no. ASG/ 1465/2004. The volunteer lawyers included Mr. Mahmoud Shazali, Mr. Satie Mohamed El Hag and Mr. Adil Mohammad Abbas. Upon an appeal, the Supreme Court lightened the sentence to two years in decision no. MA/TG/641/2004, but the expulsion will be enforced. Suwera Centre visited those prisoners many times and wrote a memorandum to the representative of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Khartoum requesting hastening the process of legal screening to those Eritreans in order to be recognized as refugees. Also, the Centre's representatives met the officers at the Sudanese Commissioner for Refugees (COR) to guarantee that the prisoners enjoy the right of asylum in Sudan. The Centre addressed a call to the international community to urge the UNHCR to hasten carrying out the legal screening.

The lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court for reviewing the verdict, and on 18/9/2005 the Court issued a decision that dropped the charges against the prisoners and due to that the prison authorities handed them to the Sudanese migration authorities till the necessary documentation is prepared recognizing them refugees in Sudan.

The internally displaced in the war with Ethiopia:

War with Ethiopia from 1998 to 2000 caused the displacement of one million Eritreans to different areas inside the country. After the war, the majority of the displaced returned to their homes, except 75000 persons who used to live in the areas that are now occupied by Ethiopia or are within the closed security area. Those who have not been able to return to their homes live in camps. In the beginning of this year, the Eritrean government repatriated and resettled 18700 of the displaced from Adi Keshi camp. The government provided the displaced with health and education services and gave each family a hectare of land for farming. However, the displaced are exposed to mines that were laid in their areas. From 2000 (the year the war ended) until 2004, international monitoring mission to combat mines reported 257 mine explosions that led to 402 accidents in which 111 were dead and 291 were injured.