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Update on Eritrea

eritrean soldiers
Eritrea female soldiers

When it comes to the top countries that typically are accused of human rights violations North Korea always jumped to the top of my list.  Recently, however, a small African country located in the top eastern part of the continent was brought to my attention and now I am considering it a toss up between the two nations.  After my research, the jury is still out on the country of Eritrea.  You will understand why after my conclusion is presented.

The small county with a population just over six million, is bordered with Sudan on the North, Ethiopia on the South and the Red Sea to the east.  Eritrea has a colorful history which we will not be able to cover in this short article suffice it to say they are currently independent.  Originally, the Italians created the colony of Eritrea in the nineteenth century.  Following World War II, it was annexed to Ethiopia until 1991 when it won its independence and celebrated its first anniversary of independence in 1993.

The capital, Asmara, was populated by the Italians early in its history and as a result acquired an Italian architectural look.  Today Asmara is known for its early twentieth century Italian buildings and is littered with Italian villas and mansions.  Most of Asmara was built between 1935 and 1941 where the Italians managed to build almost an entire city in just six years.  At that time in 1936, the population was around 98,000 with 53,000 Italians. Today the population is over seven million with few Italians present.

Although their constitution was ratified in 1996, it has yet to be implemented.  And here comes the rub.  Because of a shaky relationship with Ethiopia, President Isaias Afewerki, originally appointed president by the United Nations in 1991, has maintained his presidency since then.  So is this a Presidency or a dictatorship?  In September 2012 the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, published an expose on Eritrea where it accused President Afewerki as one of the “harshest dictatorships in the world.”  It ranked Eritrea last in freedom of expression since 2007 lower than North Korea.

One of the reasons for this accusation is due to the mandatory military service that citizens are required to serve anywhere from age 18 to 55.  This commits some adults to spend almost all of their lives in the army with an average life expectancy of 62 years of age.  During this service to their country, they are expected to face hard labor and receive meager wages.  Women are especially at risk and are fleeing the country in droves because they are not allowed to begin a family if they are serving in the Eritrean military.  In addition, army officers have the right to have sex with subordinate female soldiers since it is not considered rape.

It is estimated that there are 3,000 refugees a month that flee the country to other nations.  There is not room in this article to list the many atrocities that are taking place in this small nation under President Afewerki, but rest assured the world is watching and, hopefully, his time will come.

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