We are used to see the armed forces as the highest example of attachment to one’s country, as a lifestyle choice ready to meet death as the highest example of self-denial. But that is not always the case, or at least, not everywhere around the world.
When being a military man is not a free choice, but compulsory, when conscription does not last a year, but a lifetime, when survival conditions are put at risk in daily life more than in battle, it is no longer about belonging to a military body, but about a new form of slavery. Or perhaps I should say a “renewed” one, because there have already been example of men forced to fight against their own will in human history.
This is what UN says, mentioning one of the many outskirts of the world, Eritrea. In the latter, unlimited military service is the exact equivalent of a form of slavery and is, therefore, “a crime against humanity.” “About 400,000 people in Eritrea are slaves of unlimited military service” said Mike Smith, president of the Commission for Eritrea of the UN Council for Human Rights. In 2015, over 47 thousand Eritreans tried to flee to Europe in search of asylum, whereas tens of thousands of other Eritreans headed to South Africa and other neighboring countries.
“Eritrean officials – says the UN Commission report – exercise a genuine right of ownership over the citizens; “There are good reasons to believe – the Commission says – that Eritrean officials have committed the crime of enslavement, a crime against humanity, which they have been perpetrating systematically and persistently since 2002”. “There are very few people who are not forced to serve their State in the armed forces” Smith said at a news conference. And this is one reason why the Eritreans are fleeing in their thousands to this small country in the Horn of Africa, with 6.5 million people.
According to the Commission of Inquiry, military service should be reduced to a year and a half at the most, as expected. But things are very different in the real world: according to the report, “in the last 25 years, everything boiled down to detention centers, military training camps and other locations around the country.” The President of the Committee of Inquiry has asked the Council to adopt “targeted safety measures” against the perpetrators of these crimes.
Among the recommendations to be presented to the Human Rights Council, there will be also a request to the Eritrean government to implement the 1997 Constitution and ratify a number of conventions that guarantee human rights; as well as the application of the Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure, and Civil Procedure drafted in May 2015. The situation in the country degenerated after 1993, when under the UN’s aegis was held a referendum to decide if Eritrea were to finally become an independent country or stay in the federation with Ethiopia. 99% of Eritreans voted for independence, which was officially declared 24 May 1993. Since then, the country is in the hands of Isaias Afewerki, President-master who heavily exploits regional conflicts. Aferwerki has isolated and militarized Eritrea. People are very poor and corruption is skyrocketing.
According to the latest annual Amnesty International report, the human rights situation in the country is tragic: “Military training is still compulsory for children. Recruits have been used to carry out forced labor. Thousands of conscience prisoners and political prisoners continued to be arbitrarily detained in appalling conditions. The use of torture and ill-treatment are a widespread phenomenon.” Exactly one year ago, the United Nations spread a document that summarizes survey results on the situation concerning rights. The conclusions of this UN document were terrible. A year has passed… An insult to freedom, but we are in one of the peripheries of the world, one of those places where no one has a specific interest. An invisible place; in fact, nothing has changed.