Samuel Gebre, 3 December 2015, Bloomberg
Indefinite service seen as main factor spurring people to flee
Eritreans third-biggest group trying to crossing Mediterranean
Eritrea’s use of indefinite national conscription is still the main factor spurring thousands of people to flee the Horn of Africa country every month, even after the government said it would scrap the practice, Amnesty International said.
A conscription system established in 1995 requires all adults to perform 18 months of national service, a period that’s “extended indefinitely” for “a significant proportion” of people, the London-based rights group said in a report. Amnesty interviewed people who’d been in service for more than 10 or 15 years before fleeing over the past 18 months, and others with husbands and fathers still conscripted after two decades.
“Conscripts continue to be deployed in a range of civilian as well as military roles,” Amnesty said. “The system therefore continues to amount to forced labor, in violation of international law.”
Eritrean Information Minister Yemane G. Meskel said Amnesty had “neither the qualifications nor the moral authority” to advise the country on organizing its defenses.
“All those who condone violation of international law and tolerate occupation have no rights whatsoever to accuse Eritrea of prolonged service,” he said on Twitter, in reference to Ethiopia’s presence in Badme, a disputed territory that triggered a 1998-2000 conflict. A UN boundary commission ruled in 2002 that Badme belonged to Eritrea. Ethiopia has rejected that ruling and still occupies the town.