By Mary Lawlor
Last week the government and people of Eritrea celebrated 25 years since independence. No one can deny the courage, resilience and sacrifice of those Eritreans who fought for the independence of their country, yet sadly this very fact prompts the question as to what exactly there is to celebrate 25 years on. According to the United Nations, an estimated quarter of Eritreans live outside the country, while every month, according to the EU, approximately 5,000, mainly young, Eritreans flee the country, preferring to face the dangers of crossing the desert to the north, a sea journey from Libya and uncertainly abroad rather than endure poverty and oppression at home. Eritrea has been referred to as the ‘North Korea of Africa‘.
A United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea concluded in 2015 that the Eritrean government engages in “systemic, widespread and gross human rights violations” carried out in a “context of a total lack of rule of law.” Among the most common forms of abuse are forced labour during conscription, arbitrary arrests, detentions, and enforced disappearances. Other abuses include torture, degrading treatment in detention, restrictions on freedoms of expression and movement, and repression of religious freedom. There is no parliament, no independent media and no sign of an independent civil society which might challenge the power or policies of President Afewerki.
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