Conscientious objection and desertion in Eritrea
Eritrea is the focus of this years' Prisoners for Peace Day - 1 December. Eritrea is one of the few countries with an extensive conscription system for men and women. In fact, military training is an integral part of the education system, with the last school year being “served” at the military training camp. In addition, military service doesn't end – all those recruited in the last few years are still serving, unless they deserted and are presently in hiding or fled the country.
“Arbitrary detention, torture, deployment at the front line, forced labour – all without any hearing – have been common ways to punish deserters and objectors. ... Furthermore, relatives of deserters are threatened to push their children to send them to their units”, said Abraham Gebreyesus Mehreteab from the Eritrean Antimilitarism Initiative in a statement to the United Nations' Human Rights Commission in Geneva in April this year. Only a few months later, Amnesty International reported the arrest of hundreds of relatives of deserters and draft evaders. “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”, wrote Amnesty International in an urgent action on 28 July 2005.
War Resisters' International is working with the Eritrean Antimilitarism Initiative and other groups to support conscientious objectors in Eritrea. As part of this work, we produced an English language version of a documentation on conscientious objection and desertion in Eritrea (available on our website), and asked Abraham Gebreyesus Mehreteab to address the United Nations' Human Rights Commission on WRI's behalf. The focus on Eritrea for this years' Prisoners for Peace Day is another step in this ongoing effort to highlight the situation in Eritrea.
We ask you to support our efforts to support Eritrean objectors and deserters. Take some time on 1 December – Prisoners for Peace Day – to write letters to prisoners (see the list in the special edition of The Broken Rifle). Ask for extra copies of the Broken Rifle for distribution among your friends, or in your local peace group. And – for us to be able to continue our work – give generously to support WRI's work in support of Eritrean objectors and deserters, and for Prisoners for Peace.
- On 1 December, put aside at least one hour and write at least four cards to prisoners;
- Get your peace group or class or meeting place to organise a card-writing session;
- Set up a stall in your town centre, perform a bit of street theatre, or do whatever else it takes to attract attention and interest.
- Always send your card in an envelope;
- Include a return name and address on the envelope;
- Be chatty and creative: send photos from your life, drawings;
- Tell prisoners what you are doing to stop war and war preparations;
- Don't write anything that might get the prisoner into trouble;
- Think about the sort of thing you'd like to receive if you were in prison;
- Don't begin, "You are so brave, I could never do what you have done";
- Don't expect the prisoner to reply;
- Remember -- next year it could be you ...