This is no magic trick: I can make you disappear

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance: 30 August 2014

To cite magic here wrongly alludes to fantasy and enchantment. The reality is people disappear without warning and information in Eritrea. There is no make-believe; from one day to the next, a person can vanish into thin air.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2006) defines enforced disappearances as:

“… the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State”.

Enforced disappearances are followed by the State’s refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or the concealment of the fate or whereabouts of disappeared persons. Enforced disappearances, which constitute a crime against humanity, in effect place the ‘disappeared’ outside the protection of the law.

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A hijacked youth that wants to go home

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

International Youth Day: 12 August 2014

Blurred lines come to mind when defining the word “youth” in Eritrea.

There are multiple global ranges afforded to the term “youth”; the United Nations (UN) declares a range of 15 to 24 years old, and the African Youth Charter settles for 15 to 35 years of age. One common definition is to observe youth as a transitional phase from dependent childhood to independent adulthood, a time when parental guidance and experience are equipping children with the tools to construct an independent adult self.

When interviewing young people who left Eritrea, it troubles me that I cannot capture that moment, that space reserved for such transition. I asked 18 year old Hermon* when she first recalled hearing about the compulsory national service introduced in 1995, which systematically recruits people from the ages of 18 to serve their country. Her response was:

I knew what national service was when I was eight years old because there was a round-up [known as giffa] and they took my mother during the night.

By the time Hermon was 12 years old, her mother came to her at night and asked if she would be prepared to “take a long and difficult trip”. She agreed, not knowing that what lay ahead was three days and nights of travel to arrive in Khartoum, Sudan and live for four-years as a member of a nameless, faceless and poor refugee mob. Hermon did not comprehend the risk she and her mother took: the risk of being detained for desertion or the risk of becoming victims of the ‘shoot to kill’ policy at the borders. At 12 years, she could not have possibly understood but saw the fear in her mother’s eyes, who arranged this journey for her daughter so she would never have to go to Sawa or any other military training camp.

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Eritrea’s support of torture

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

Day in Support of Victims of Torture: 26 June 2014

It is called the “helicopter”. You are stripped, hands and feet bound and tied to a tree, hanging or raised above the ground so you are forced to stand on your toes for hours on end. With hands still bound to the tree you are then forced to the ground to endure up to 24 hours of the unbearably hot sun and cold night, desperately willing your punisher to have mercy. If you are lucky the punisher will allow you a short break for meals or to use the toilet.

What human being deserves this?

Torture is defined by the United Nations as: “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person…”
[The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, 1984]

We are told there is never a justification for inflicting torture, degrading treatment or punishment on a human being. The Eritrean government, conveniently not party to this Convention, disregards this absolute prohibition – and as a result torture, both physical and psychological, is widespread in Eritrea.

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Eritrea: They leave because their government has failed them

thato_motaungAuthor: Thato Motaung
Researcher, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria

World Refugee Day – 20 June 2014

The number is 313 375, more specifically, as of mid-2013 the number we gathered from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was 313 375. That is the number of people from a population of 5 million who have at great risk to their lives, left their country to become refugees and asylum seekers in unknown lands. Since independence Eritrea has lost 6% of its population and is currently notoriously known as the tenth highest refugee producing nation in the world (UNHCR). Why are Eritreans fleeing their homeland by the thousands every month? According to the latest figures, 4 000 flee Eritrea every month.

Firstly, let it be asserted from the onset that Eritrea is not at war, but, its current default mode of perpetual war preparedness has proven as destabilising and terrifying to the country as an actual state of war. Having bravely “liberated” itself from Ethiopia in 1991, Eritrea found itself in a bitter border dispute with Ethiopia only 7 years later with a war lasting from 1998 to 2000.This dispute is a historical turning point for Eritrea as it created the platform from which to justify the sustained creation of a militarised society. In 1995 a government decree applied national service which was both compulsory for anyone from the age of 18 to 50 years. Many people were forcibly rounded-up from the streets, from their homes and torn away from their children to report for military service.

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Survival rights of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia: The Shimelba refugee camp case

Kbrom AlemaAuthor: Kbrom Alema Germay
Candidate Judge at the Aga’ezi Justice Organs Professional Training Center and Legal Research Institute

Currently, Ethiopia is among the developing countries that are hosting thousands of refugees from Eritrea, Kenya, Somali and Sudan, and that mandates refugee to reside in camps. Some of the refugees in Ethiopia live in the northern parts of the country in a camp called the Shimelba refugee camp. Refugees in this particular camp lived in Eritrea and fled to avoid military service, religious persecution and ethnic discrimination. This camp is situated is in a place widely recognised for its diverse settings and agro-ecosystems, displaying a wide array of environmental problems and vulnerabilities. To this end, the lands are fragile and vulnerable to both natural and human generated calamities, ranging from the shortage of or unpredictable rainfall to species and resource base depletion and degradation rendered more acute by the effects of drought. The location of the camp site is isolated. The environmental conditions are difficult, with temperature ranging up to 42 degree Celsius. The Ethiopian government in collaboration with the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), oversight and manages Shimelba.

Ethiopia is signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol. Regionally, Ethiopia is also a party to the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention). Besides these refugee-specific instruments, Ethiopia is also a party to most of international and regional human rights instruments such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the International Convention on Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment; the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, therefore reinforcing the protection for refugees.

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Freedom of the press? Not for the Ugandan press

william_asekaAuthor: William Aseka
Program Assistant (Human Rights Advocacy for Children with Disabilities), Governance Consulting

The freedom to form opinions and express them without fear of repression is a fundamental tenet for the development of a pluralistic, tolerant, and democratic society. This right represents not only the right to privacy of individuals to hold opinions and formulate thoughts, but also to express them in a public forum, especially as part of exercising the right to political participation. In addition, the right to access information, that is the right to seek and receive information, which also forms an important component of this right and which has added significance in the current age of information technology, is intrinsic to the transparent functioning of a democratic government and the effective and well-informed participation of civil society. In this context, freedom of opinion, expression and information is one of the core civil and political rights as it is essential for the exercise of all other human rights.

The right to freedom of opinion, expression and information is well-established and protected at both international and regional levels both legally and institutionally. The right is enshrined in various international instruments, namely: the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19), the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (Article 5(d)(viii)), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 13) and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (Article 6). The main international human rights body within the United Nations system, the Human Rights Council, also provides through its system of special procedures for a Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, which was established in 1993.

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Restrictions on the operation of civil society organizations in Africa violate freedom of association

Esete B FarisAuthor: Esete B Faris
LLM (Human Rights & Democratisation in Africa) student, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

The role of civil society cannot be underestimated in Africa. Despite the fact that several governments are suppressive, there is widespread circulation of information on human rights abuses and successes. This is attributable to the immense role that civil society plays. Without a civil society in Africa, the world would not hastily recognise the shortcomings of African leaders’ regimes.

It is undeniable that an independent and effective civil society contributes to the protection and promotion of democracy and human rights in a country. The role of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) is to serve as a watchdog at the domestic level and international level. This implies that the right to freedom of association is essential for CSOs to operate effectively and efficiently.

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