Amnesty International reported in December that "the Eritrean government has arrested over 500 relatives, mostly parents, of young men and women who have either deserted the army or avoided conscription". According to Amnesty International, "the arrests have taken place in the region of Asmara, the capital city, in a sweep that started on 6 December. None of those arrested has been charged with a criminal offence or taken to court within the 48 hours stipulated by the Constitution and laws of Eritrea. The authorities have stated that the detainees must either produce the missing conscripts or pay a fine of 50,000 nafka (approximately US$1,200). Relatives who fail to do so will be forced to serve six months in the army in place of their missing family member."
This is not the first time the Eritrean authorities arrest parents and relatives of conscripts who deserted. In July 2005, Amnesty International reported a similar incident: the arrest of several hundred relatives of people who have evaded or deserted from the military in the Debug region of southern Eritrea since 15 July 2005.
Amnesty reported: "Those arrested were the fathers, mothers or other relatives of men or women over the age of 18 who have either failed to report for national service since 1994, failed to attend the compulsory final school year at Sawa military training camp, abandoned their army unit, or left the country illegally. The relatives have been accused of facilitating their evasion of conscription or flight abroad. Officials reportedly offered them release on bail of between 10,000 and 50,000 nakfa (US$660 to US$3,300), if they guaranteed that they would produce their missing relative."
Those arrested are held incommunicado in different prisons. "Many held in Adi Keih town prison reportedly began a hunger strike in protest at their detention and have been moved to Mai Serwa military camp near the capital Asmara", Amnesty reported.
Thousands of young men and women have fled Eritrea and sought asylum in Sudan and other countries since Eritrea's war with Ethiopia between 1998 and 2000, in an effort to avoid conscription or after deserting the army. National service, compulsory for all men and women aged between 18 and 40, has been extended indefinitely from the original 18 month term instituted in 1994. It consists of military service and labour on army-related construction projects.
All high school students, female and male, are forced to finish their 12th year of study in a school within the military camp of Sawa. None of them have returned for further eduation at university once they completed national service. The University of Asmara, Eritrea's only university, has only third and fourth year students who had entered before the draft came into effect.
The government has militarised the country completely. Forced recruitment of young people, underage children and adults under 50 is a daily event. Recruits are treated brutally and there is evidence of sexual abuse of women. Nobody has a right to question the miliary authorities. Nobody has a right to conscientious objection.
Sources: Amnesty International: Eritrea: Over 500 parents of conscripts arrested, AI Index AFR 64/015/2006, 21 December 2006, Amnesty International: Urgent Action, AFR 64/011/2005, 28 July 2005, Yohannes Kidane: Conscientious objection in Eritrea, The Broken Rifle No 68, November 2005