Eritrea: Army rounds up draft evaders / Connection e.V. releases booklet on Eritrea

Amnesty International reported on 9 November that thousands of people arrested on suspicion of evading military conscription and held at the Adi Abeto army prison are thought to be at serious risk of torture and ill-treatment. According to an AFP report, the military rounded up and arrested thousands of youths and others suspected of evading military conscription on Thursday, 4 November 2004. Amnesty International reports:

"Those arrested were taken to Adi Abeto army prison just outside Asmara. Conditions in this military holding centre are harsh, with severe overcrowding, little food or sanitation. Many detainees have reportedly been forced to sleep outside in the very cold weather without blankets or shoes. Prisoners have no access either to their families or to lawyers.
Towards midnight on 4 November, a prison wall was apparently pushed over by some prisoners, possibly in an escape attempt. Soldiers opened fire and shot dead a number of the prisoners, wounding many more. On 8 November, the Minister of Information said that two prisoners had been killed. Other sources claim at least a dozen people were killed, and that bodies were buried without being returned to their families. Those wounded were taken to hospital and held incommunicado under military guard.
"

Several young Eritreans, who asked not to be named, told AFP on Thursday (4 November 2004): "These roundups started in 1998. They were severe during the war. Since 2002, they had been declining, but right now they're increasing. Soldiers go into offices, houses, stop cars, taxis, buses, and ask for identity cards."

Many young men and women flee the country to avoid military service, and UPI reported only a few days later that Yemeni security forces have arrested 10 Eritrean army deserters after they illegally entered Yemen from the Red Sea (UPI, 13 November 2004).

The German-based organisation Connection e.V. joined forces with Eritrean refugees in Germany who formed an Eritrean Anti-militarism Initiative, and published a booklet on desertion and conscientious objection in Eritrea. The core of the booklet are interviews with refugees about the situation in the Eritrean military.

The UNHCR describes the situation in Eritrea regarding military service as follows:

"According to the Eritrean law, national military and development service is compulsory for 18 months for both men and women aged between 18 and 40. In practice, it has become indefinite as no meaningful demobilisation has taken place so far. There is no right to conscientious objection. The government has deployed military police throughout the country using roadblocks, street sweeps, and house to house searches to find deserters and draft evaders. The government has also reportedly authorised the use of extreme force against anyone resisting or attempting to flee. There have been reports of resistance, especially by parents of draft age girls, which resulted in deaths of both soldiers and civilians. In some instances, authorities are said to have arrested or detained for several hours or even days individuals, including pregnant women, children under age 18, and citizens of other countries, who were not subject to national service obligations or had proper documentation showing they had completed or were exempt from national service. It is reported that the army resorted to various forms of severe physical punishment to force objectors, including some Jehovah's Witnesses, to perform the military service. The punishments used against deserters, conscription evaders and army offenders reportedly included such measures as the tying of hands and feet for extended periods of time and prolonged sun exposure at high temperatures."
Sources: Amnesty International Urgent Action, UA 301/04, 9 November 2004
UNHCR: Position on return of rejected asylum seekers to Eritrea, January 2004
Connection e.V./Eritrean Anti-militarism Initiative: "Es gibt keine Möglichkeit, Widerstand zu leisten - nur abzuhauen". Eritrea: Desertion und Kriegsdienstverweigerung, 2004.