By Abdul Rahman Suagibu –
NEW AFRICA DAILY NEWS, Freetown, Sierra Leone- Educational system in Eritrea deepens to conscript school pupils into military or government jobs, a news report says. Human Rights Watch distributed an 87 – page on Friday portrays Eritrean secondary education as a compulsorily enrolled machinery that subjects pupils to forced labor and physical abuse as they are groomed for indefinite government services.
In spite of a peace deal with Ethiopia in July 2018 which gave hope for reform, the government – headed by President Isaias Afwerki since 1993 has not enacted meaningful changes in the system, the report said.
The Horn of Africa country, home to nearly 4.5 million people, has previously been condemned by the United Nations for abuses that include extrajudicial killings, torture and slave like conditions for citizens. The Global Slavery Index estimates that 93 out of every 1,000 citizens are living in a form of modern slavery in Eritrea, which it ranked second – worst in the world.
“Human Rights Watch research finds that many Eritreans have spent their entire working lives at the service of the government in either a military or civilian capacity”, the HRW report stated.
“This indefinite national service has had a visible and lasting impact on the rights, freedom and lives of Eritreans”.
From 2003, pupils in their final year of secondary school are forced to go for training at the isolated Sawa Military Camp closest to the Sudan boarder. Here, the students are subjected to poor treatment, military – style discipline, physical punishments and forced labor. Eritrea between 2014 and 2018 are currently living in Exile in Sudan, Ethiopia, Italy and Switzerland.
“When you go to Sawa, you use their head, and not your own”, are student who attended the camp in 2015 told HRlas investigations.
After the compulsory training, some Eritrea students are sent directly into the military service. Others are sent to college, from which they are funneled into government jobs, according to report. Those who reject this future have few choices beyond fleeing the country. Some students intentionally fail classes in a futile attempt to delay the conscription. Those who attempt to flee, often face lengthy detention in dismal circumstances. Some face physical abuse and torture. An estimated 507,300 Eritreans including unaccompanied minors, attempt to travel to Europe every year.
A former Italian colony, Eritrea was annexed by Ethiopia after the Second World War. It gained independence in 1991, but a bloody border conflict in 1998 led to an extended standoff between the two countries. The government has previously used the stalemate and the need to remain on a “war footing” to justify its repressive regime and system of conscription. The two governments signed a peace deal in 2018.
HRW said, recent reforms since the peace deal have not gone far enough, specifically the report called for an end compulsory military training for students, ensuring that no one under the age of 18 is forcibly conscripted and make sure education positions are filled by those who are qualified and choose to teach.
“Eritreas’s secondary schools are at the heart of its repressive system of control over its population”, Said Laetitia Bader – Senior Africa Researcher at HRW.
“Now that peace with Ethiopia is restored, reforms on human rights, starting with the rights and freedom of the country’s youth, need to follow”.
For New Africa Daily News Abdul Rahman Suagibu Reports, Africa Correspondent