By Joseph K. Grieboski, contributor
As one of the world’s most oppressive regimes, the Eritrean government has committed extensive crimes against humanity over the past 25 years, according to a report released June 8 by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. President Isaias Afwerki, in power since Eritrea’s independence in 1991 following the 30-year war with Ethiopia, has led an increasingly repressive authoritarian regime. The U.N. commission found that enslavement, enforced disappearance, rape, murder, torture and religious persecution are systematically used to instill fear in Eritreans and maintain the regime’s power. These blatant violations of international law clearly constitute crimes against humanity as widespread, systematic attacks against the civilian population.
The Eritrean leadership’s brutality is particularly evident in its enslavement of up to 400,000 people, primarily through military conscription. Eritrea’s system of open-ended service forces conscripts to serve indefinitely, often for decades at a time. This deprivation of liberty amounts to modern-day slavery and allows for inhumane treatment, which Eritrea currently has no legal mechanisms to redress. In military camps, conscripts are frequently subjected to torture, sexual and gender-based violence, forced labor and domestic servitude. Recent developments could further exacerbate their situation. On June 21, Eritrea accused Ethiopia of contemplating full-scale war, strengthening the Eritrean regime’s justification for compulsory military service as a necessary response to perceived Ethiopian aggression.