Last month, the US officially removed Eritrea from the list of non-cooperating countries with counterterror efforts. This announcement marked a diplomatic breakthrough for Eritrea. Eritrea’s effort in building relations with its neighbouring countries and the international community can be traced back to last year, when Ethiopia and Eritrea normalised the diplomatic relations. The UN Security Council even lifted the sanctions against Eritrea.
(Photo credit to: Asmarion.com)
Eritrea’s Fight for Independence
After World War II, Eritrea was federated with Ethiopia although the link between Ethiopia and Eritrea was loose. Eritrea had its own judicial and governance over its domestic politics. The federal government promised to give Eritrea autonomy but Eritrea then went on a 30 years independence war from 1961 to 1991.
A referendum held in 1993 revealed that Eritrean people’s wish for independence. However, border conflict with Ethiopia and US accusation of supporting terrorism in Somalia made Eritrea difficult on its independence and peace. News reported that the US filed a case to the UN that Eritrea sent a troop of fighters to Somalia causing further violence and conflict, while Eritrea denied and claimed that such case was fabricated. In fact, “Eritrea proved itself a reliable partner in fighting of extremists and terrorists, ” said by Ted Dagne, an Africa specialist for the Congressional Research Service.
Eritrean people pled for more open communication to the international community; they should have a stand to say in the circumstances where they are accused. Some human rights groups claimed that Eritrea harshly violated human rights and mistreated human. “Reporters without borders” even rated Eritrea last in freedom of expression in 2007. Eritrea responded that the country is suffering from fighting for independence and normalization relations with the international community and hence the war continued in hope for survival.
Peace and Freedom
Eritrea celebrated its hard earned independence after 30 year civil war and conflict with Ethiopia. The Eritrean regime signed all kinds of justifications from the international community including peace deal with Ethiopia, UN’s lift of sanctions and admission to UN Human Rights Council, which Eritrea is telling the world that it is no longer a threat but a country sets in peace and wants freedom.
However, news had it that border crossings were shut down without official reasons and short-term trade activities were terminated. Suffering from limited economic progression and stale prosperity as the people expected, Eritrean people attempted to flee from the country but were not able to find shelter crossing the border for not being issued an official document.
The peace deal with Ethiopia raised Eritrean people’s hope of freeing political prisoners but the regime has failed people’s hope again. The president, Isaias Afwerki, is accused of dictatorship. Strict rules were imposed on people for their religion. Those who are not affiliated with Roman Catholic, Lutheran Protestant, Sunni Islam have to register and give up personal information of the members. Failing to do so will be persecuted.
Not just to the people but also to the civil servants, the regime requires mandatory military conscription both men and women. When they finish the regular government jobs, they have to attend military drills, carry guns and guard government buildings in night shifts.
Waiting for changes
Eritrean people are waiting for changes. Despite social media and internet were blocked and kept slow in Eritrea, people strained to find their way voicing out their opinions. They are tired of being silenced and the disappointment of peace and freedom. A social media campaign #EnoughIsEnough encouraged Eritrean people to share their stories and opinions on social media platform. Some believe that this shall not induce the regime’s punitive actions as the social media campaign was only a showcase of defiance and solidarity. In the end, it has succeeded to connect the voice between inside and outside of the country.
With remaining jailed political opponents, mandatory military service, closed border crossings, limited economic activities and even the biggest sources of African refugees in Europe, Eritrea’s way toward human right seems unstable and doubtful.
ICRD stands for human right no matter in what religion or country. Human right should be a global issue. ICRD hopes Eritrea can gradually build its step toward Eritrean people’s expectations for peace, freedom and human right. ICRD also hopes that the international community can pay attention to such internet-isolated state for there are 5 million people in hope for human rights.
Author: Yung Lin, Researcher at ICRD