10 March 1997


Eritreans must have read "The 1996 Human Rights Report on Eritrea", issued by the US Department of State in January 30 1997, with a sense of shock and bitterness. Also, concerned circles who have been closely following developments in Eritrean, but who are well aware of the gloomy political and human rights situation in the country, must have been shocked and taken it as an insult to their intelligence to have known of the deplorable assertions and distortions made by the report with regard to the policies of the dictatorial regime in Eritrea and the reality lived under its tyrannical rule.

The document, in letter and spirit, cries for drastic revision and correction. Far from reflecting the hard facts on the ground, and the human rights concerns of the Eritrean people and human rights monitoring organizations, it didn't even use the accepted norms and proper language normally required of a report on such sensitive issues as human life, human rights and political freedoms in all their aspects. Indeed, the overall presentation doesn't give one the impression that this has ever been the concern of the report at all.

Much smoke and mist had covered our arena in the early nineties, partly as a result of the natural euphoria of victory we all shared, but largely due to the propaganda smoke-screen disseminated with calculation by the propaganda machinery of the EPLF & Co. to conceal their real intentions by confusing the atmosphere. The fog did not, however, take long to clear and the hard facts and real intentions were there in bold features; our people who aspired to and made heavy sacrifices for recovering their long lost human and political rights, felt betrayed and the euphoria soon gave way to dismay. Also friends, including erstwhile admirers of the EPLF who stood in solidarity our revolution through the thick of it all, were very disappointed. Other circles who had, for this or that consideration, given the regime the benefit of doubt have gradually come to learn and admit the truth. How was it then that the US Dep. of State remained so 'ignorant' about the situation in Eritrea and come up with such assertions and distortions that by themselves amount to gross violations of human rights.

Thus, as each and every sentence in the report cries for, to say the least, comment and correction, we shall be obliged to take up the provisions of the report point by point.


To begin with, we find it positive that the US has at last learned to accept and recognize the independence of a country, which it had fought hard against until this became inevitable in 1991. The report takes note of this in its introductory remarks. It has, however, tried to misrepresent the history of the Eritrean Revolution by claiming that the EPLF led the 30-year war for Independence. We don't have an iota of doubt that anyone with a sound memory could be misled by such a blunder. We only wish to point out, in passing, to the possible motive behind it and 'remind' the US Administration of an entire epoch of Eritrean history it sought to forget, or tried to rewrite. The EPLF, an organization that did not exist at all before 1972, and was not even a force to be reckoned with until the mid-seventies, could not have been in a position to lead the prolonged liberation war that started in 1961 and ended in 1991. Why try to deny the shining historical fact that the Eritrean liberation war was started by the ELF in 1961 and led until the beginning of the eighties, when it suffered a severe military setback, not at the hands of the occupation forces (over which it had always emerged victorious), but as a result of a broadly orchestrated internal and external conspiracy and the joint offensive of the "contras" in the region, whose motives the US Administration knows better than any other. Such false allegation need not have been necessary even for the purpose the US Administration seems to have had in mind, that of providing cover for EPLF human rights violations and its Macchiavellian politics. It should have been self-evident that the history of a nation or political movement written with the blood of so many of its compatriots could never be undone by paper and ink, whatever the power and influence of the author. It is simply historically indelible.

The report makes its misguided approach clear from the outset. Skipping over the most serious human rights violations that took place under the EPLF government, it quickly passed on to its intended objective, that of propagating or advertising for the 'constitution' the ruling party is poised to impose on the people. Had its concern really been human rights, the US Department of State would have cared to 'remember' the developments that unfolded in the country, and the policies of the regime that lie at the root of gross human rights violations being continually perpetrated. Does the US Department really need to be reminded that:

  1. The EPLF leader lost no time to clarify his government's intentions, and that in his first address to the people. He had early outlined the fundamental components of his tyrannical policies in a number of proclamations. Those proclamations have been at the root of all EPLF's power abuses inflicted on all aspects of our national life.
  2. All existing national political organizations are banned from operating legally in the country. They had no alternative but to go underground, and remain so to this day. Dismissing other political leaders as criminals wanted by 'law', the EPLF has since declared itself as the only legitimate and viable political force in the country. Ironically, despite their role in the liberation of the country, it didn't hesitate to brand all members of other national organizations as outlaws. Without shame, it even granted 'amnesty' to whoever was willing to hand himself /herself over to the EPLF authorities!
  3. Following those policy declarations, the dictatorship embarked on a massive crackdown on supporters and members of the other political forces. ELF people in particular were rounded up in the urban and rural areas by the hundreds and have since been left to rot in the notorious EPLF underground prisons under the most intolerable conditions. Extrajudicial measures were taken against a number of activists as well. The EPLF government stepped up its terrorist activities and sent death and kidnap squads to the Sudan and Ethiopia and elsewhere to hunt out opposition leaders and elements. Mr. Weldemariam Bahlebi and Tekleberhan Ghebretsadik, both top leaders of the ELF-RC, as well as Ghebrehiwet Keleta leader to another ELF group, and recently Weldeselassie Chachue, a former member of the central council of the ELF-affiliated General Union Of Eritrean Peasants, and scores of other senior elements were kidnapped from Kassala and have since been languishing in remote and secret prisons.
  4. Most of the political prisoners and prisoners of conscience remain in detention to this day. The Eritrean Newsletter, Tsenat, and Democratic Eritrea have continually been monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in the country. International human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have also from time to time reported on a number of cases. The US Department of State, however, remains silent about them. why? Could it be because they were found not to constitute as human rights cases, or has, as hinted in its report, the Department of State simply chosen to dismiss them as terrorists? Here, we are talking about people who have never been charged, for that matter even of those things the US Administration is accustomed to identify as "terrorism", or anything else. They are political figures who have formed an opinion and a vision about the future of their country different from that of the EPLF, persons who believed in national reconciliation and democracy as well as dialogue as peaceful means of solving problems. How the US Department of State could have dared to assert, as callously and bluntly as it did, that "there are no political prisoners in Eritrea" is not understandable. While the EPLF government continues to persecute them, this report has not only literally buried them alive but has deprived them of their cry for help as well. What a cold-blooded violation of human rights!

Regarding the so-called Draft Constitution and the debates the Dep. of State alleges are being undertaken, and the democratic freedoms it professes will be provided by the draft, the concerned authors appear to have not put the minimum of effort into their research before writing it, making not only a mess of their report but utterly distorting the real situation in our country. In doing so, they must have had other motives in mind, thus hopelessly missing the target.

Had the US Dep. of State been serious about the human and political rights situation in Eritrea, it would not have thought of writing a report of this magnitude without prior formation of opinion about questions relating to the issues at hand. It failed to note the basic elements common to all democratic and durable national constitutions or CONSTITUTIONALISM, the essences of the human and political rights atmosphere conducive to free and fruitful popular debate on any issue of national concern, particularly more so on a constitution, if the process of constitution writing is to contribute to conciliation and democracy, justice and genuine stability. And last but not least, the authors of the report should have asked themselves as to who makes the constitution and how; and who is expected to abide by it and why? These are questions that even the most elementary report, let alone one by a super power claiming to champion the causes of democracy and human rights, could not have overlooked.

We are, however, the people directly concerned with the destiny of our nation and affected by developments there. It is our human and national duty, therefore, to bring to light what the report has apparently tried to conceal or ignore.

  1. No constitution could be conceived of as national, democratic or viable unless it is drafted and debated upon in an atmosphere where freedom of thought and expression and peaceable assembly, etc. are acknowledged and respected.
  2. No matter how flowery its provisions might look, no constitution could prove viable, contribute to national conciliation and guarantee human rights unless it takes national consensus as its basis.
  3. No constitution could be binding on national level where the people concerned and existing political and social forces are not allowed to genuinely and decisively join in its making. The defunct dictatorial Menghistu regime, too, had claimed to have opened up popular debate on a draft constitution which was full of flowery provisions! For that matter, which dictator hadn't ? And why not, especially when a super power which claims to champion the causes of democracy and human rights is ready to offer its blessing for considerations relating to "vital and strategic interests", regardless of whether those interests are compatible with the vital interests of the people concerned. Indeed, what could be more vital and strategic for a people than democracy and justice which constitute the basis of stability and prosperity?

The US Administration is well aware of the course and form constitution writing has taken under EPLF's Eritrea. It is also cognisant of the critical position the opposition has taken on this and other issues, particularly the democratic alternative put forth by the ELF-RC on constitution writing and the peaceful transition to democracy. It may as well have also been aware that the imposition of such a process of constitution writing by the EPLF would inevitably contribute to instability, and precipitate the country towards more internal conflict. Why propagate then on behalf of such a practice in its human rights report, without alluding to the flaws and pitfalls it embodies and giving due consideration to other opinions in the country? No doubt, far from being concerned on the human rights situation, the report constitutes an exposition on the erroneous political position taken by the US on the situation in Eritrea.

The ELF-RC international relations office has continued to maintain contacts with the US Administrations through its embassies in a number of countries with the purpose of exchanging views on a number of issues which our organization still believes are of common concern to our peoples. In those contacts and discussions, we have to the best of our ability tried to update them with regard to the disastrous developments in our country and the position of our movement, hoping this would help avoid possible mistakes in the formulation of policies relating to the situation, and sparing all concerned the consequences of mutual misunderstanding and non-compatibility with the aspirations of our people. Yet, by rewarding the tyrants at the helm of power, and increasing the burden on the democratic struggle of our people, the US Administration seems to continue repeating its old cold-war mistakes.


The report alleges that the Eritrean regime made a sustained effort to reduce the armed forces. It is true that there had been a lot of talk and smoke about the need for reducing the size of the army; it is true also that a sizeable number of ex-freedom fighters were demobilised. The regime tried to obtain as much money as it could from the impoverished people, as well as foreign donors, allegedly for the rehabilitation of demobilized ex-fighters. But isn't it true also that the demobilization was power-oriented more than anything else? Indeed, their intention was to gradually replace the politically conscious, organizationally positioned and potentially critical elements within the army with new and more malleable recruits and groom more yes-men for the ruling regime. Several political observers and other concerned circles have also time and again made similar observations in a number of papers, including African Confidential. But, in the face of prevailing facts, why does the US Administration prefer to forget and ignore the human rights abuses that were inflicted on the ex-fighters and the people in the process? Indeed, why does it want to ignore the fact that militarisation and not demobilization was what had actually followed, and that the financial resources obtained in the name of rehabilitation was actually used in the training and arming of many more recruits under the cover of "national service?"

  1. The regime took this as the golden opportunity for exploiting the already impoverished people, who were forced to pay for the "demobilization and rehabilitation" programme, and that at a time when they themselves depended on relief supplies. Eritrean emigrants were equally required to pay 10% of their income, and refused entry to the country if they didn't.
  2. Forced military recruitment in particular took a big toll on the people's rights and the country's human resources. The youth were scared by the programme as they knew the regime was preparing to wage its own war inside and outside the country. Those who tried to dodge the draft, and many did, were denied their civil rights, thrown into prison or sent to infamous labour camps. Those who fled into Ethiopia and the Sudan, or by sea to the countries of the Arabian Gulf, are numerous. Out of desperation, many have even boarded boats that are not seaworthy and taken risky routes to escape forced recruitment and persecution. Hundreds of youth had already perished in the Red Sea this way. In 1995, over one hundred drowned when their boat hit a storm and capsized while trying to cross the sea for safety. In February 1997, another boat sank with 95 people aboard, 89 of which perished in the storm.
  3. Parents whose sons and daughters had fled the country were arrested and interrogated, and are in most cases put under torture to give out information as to the whereabouts of their siblings, and are also in many cases held responsible for their escape. Even heads of families in their late forties have not been spared; they are gang-recruited to join the programme and taken to the military camps, abandoning their children. The children are in most cases left without anyone to care for them. Recently, the regime has introduced even more harsher measures in its desperate attempt at subduing the people by confiscating their properties as punishment for non-compliance. Land use is denied to households whose members have refused to serve in the national service. But the report simply ignores all the human rights cost of demobilization and militarisation imposed by a government with no popular mandate. Is it not in the interest of the US Administration to raise such cases? Indeed, what could be the reason behind their silence about things that are happening in the open?
  1. The report claims that the "Government continued to enjoy strong public support and generally respects the rights of its citizens." Nothing could be farther from the truth. Unless the US has adopted human rights standards "special" for Eritrea, there is no way of understanding this allegation other than take it as gross misrepresentation of the reality in the country. Moreover, the means it used to gauge the alleged "popularity" of the a government are not understandable in terms of the known platforms where popular will is expressed, as there have been none so far, excepting the independence referendum which doesn't necessarily imply support for, or rejection to, a particular government. Have there been free and fair elections to allow of such an assessment? None whatsoever. How could the US Department then declare this with such degree of certainty?

The truth is, contrary to the allegations of the report, even in absence of freedom of expression, our people's opposition to the policies of the regime has been evident and, depending on the circumstances, has taken many forms. What are the means of the expression of popular will under a dictatorship where repression, slander and blackmail are the order of the day? To illustrate our point, we shall now take the reaction of the people at different times and in different parts of the country to the policies and practices of the regime:

  1. The decision of the EPLF to form its own government to the exclusion of all other national forces in the country, denying the people of the basic political and civic freedoms lies at the root of all the increasingly worsening problems of the country. Popular protests to the EPLF government's decision was aired in almost all meetings held by the ruling party to promote its dictatorial programme. The people continued to question EPLF's insistence of ruling the country with a government exclusively of its own, despite identifying themselves with a number of other national organizations. They have never refrained from emphasizing the need for national unity, and acknowledging the importance of the role of those organizations in nation building. The need to find the proper mechanisms to integrate the military wings of all organizations in one national army was always raised. Questions about the position of the governing EPLF vis-a` vis the proposal of the ELF-RC on holding a national conference to promote national dialogue and reconciliation has been raised in almost all of the meetings called by the regime. A number of attendants in those meetings, who had the audacity to raise such issues and ideas, had at different times been abducted by the secret police and never heard of since. Those measures were taken to weed out opposition elements and terrorize the population into submission. In the wake of liberation, students had attempted to stage peaceful demonstration to express the people's anger were crashed by commando units. Yet, despite the risks, the policies of the regime continue to be questioned and confronted unabated. Alarmed at the growing opposition, EPLF leaders have quite often lost their temper and behaved shamefully in meetings they had normally called to intimidate the public and serve warnings whenever questions about multi-party democracy are raised.
  2. Popular reaction arose when the regime arbitrarily passed decrees on nationality and citizenship rights, and embarked on its sinister programme of isolating the national political organizations from the process of reconstruction and nation building. Protests were raised in all the meetings held by the regime to propagate for its policies. Meetings held by the people in the cities and the rural areas were closely monitored by the secret police to muzzle the voice of dissent. At times, it even grew inconvenient for the regime to crack down on popular opposition, because their position had already won considerable sympathy among the army. It was compelled to hold special sessions to representatives of the army units to solve its problem without success. Soon after, the massive purges it unleashed within the rank and file of the Popular Army began to take dangerous forms: mysterious disappearances, assassination of suspected senior military cadres and political activists of the EPLF, all of which were attributed to suicides or alcohol abuse by the government!
  3. The people's opposition to the power-oriented military recruitment programme has grown wide spread. To begin with, the regime had no mandate whatsoever to decide on such issues. Equally, there was neither the need nor justification for militarizing the entire population and herding the youth to the military camps. As noted earlier, the social, economic and political implications were serious and far-reaching. In different corners of the country, the people have been pushed to the extreme by these and other policies. They had no choice but to take up arms, albeit spontaneously, in order to defend themselves from the cruelty of the regime's commando units whose main task is to ambush and kidnap new recruits, enforce the take-over of land, or confiscate other belongings such as cattle etc. The crisis has now developed into of an armed resistance which is rapidly escalating. Worse, the regime has now and again involved Ethiopian Government forces in crushing internal opposition.
  4. The land decree, which was arbitrarily proclaimed in 1994, has virtually uprooted and dispossessed everyone from the most basic asset of social and economic life - the land - and has put the people at the mercy of a Mafia-style ruling party. This has provoked widespread outrage and opposition both in the rural and urban areas, including the armed forces, constituting an additional provocation for the spread of armed uprising. Although three years have passed since its proclamation, the regime has not as yet dared to implement it on a large scale because of the growing opposition. In fact, it doesn't appear likely that the regime will go ahead with the plan without seriously endangering its hold on power.
  5. The regime has, once again, arbitrarily declared the long-standing provincial borders as null and void, and curved new and larger administrative zones in their place. The old provinces are supposed to break up and disappear in the process. The secret behind such an irresponsible measure is clear to everyone; It has long recognized the provinces as bases of traditionally organized and democratically oriented cultural and administrative units. As such, having made considerable political, administrative and socio-economic achievements during the armed struggle, they constitute potential source of opposition to its dictatorial rule, to its land policy in particular.
  6. The ruling party's growing control of all commercial and industrial sectors, as well as other sources of income, has met with widespread opposition. Discontent among concerned social groups and the people in general led in 1994 and 1995 to widespread mobilization aimed at organizing protests. That was the time when the regime went into the open, and used all the media at its disposal to intimidate people from participating in these protests. Warnings were served on a daily basis of the consequences, and its secret police were dispatched to crush the movement at its cradle. Among the measures taken were the arrest of several trade union activists, students, teachers and traders. As it was happening right in front of their eyes, the American diplomatic mission in Asmara could not have surely missed the government crackdown.

Having, on our part, examined the allegations of the report about the "popular support" supposedly enjoyed by the regime, it would be relevant to see what Mr. Isayas had to say to the same question.

Asked by an attendant at a meeting he presided personally about his assessment of the measure of support to the ruling EPLF, he replied: "There is no definite means of giving an assessment on the measure of support for us; it is difficult to say. If we take the dissatisfaction and resentment prevalent in the urban centers, we can even say support is declining. But no matter we do, the people in the towns will never accept it as positive. They seem to have all the same made up their mind to continue voicing their resentment and dissatisfaction about our policies. The picture is, however, somewhat different in the rural areas, where the people admit of some positive changes and an appreciable improvement in their life. This doesn't necessarily mean, however, that the same feeling exists in all the rural areas; it differs from place to place". He concluded by saying that "he doesn't care whether the extent of popular support goes up or down". Doesn't this seem more objective than the allegation of the report? Whoever is interested in verifying this could check the video cassette on the president's questions and answers session held on the occasion of September one (Revolution Day) 1997.

Having disastrously misrepresented the reality lived in the country beyond recognition, the report has in a way served the dictatorship in Eritrea to bolster its position. The allegation by the US Administration that the regime generally respected the rights of its citizens with the exception of Jehovah's Witnesses is totally unfounded. While trying to cover up EPLF's crimes it has, in actual fact, exposed its own weaknesses. We have not set human rights standards of our own, nor are we ready to accept anyone setting special standards for us. The rights of citizens anywhere - human, political and civil rights - are embodied in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Human Rights Bill. But, could we really say Eritreans enjoy the right to free thought and expression, the right to peaceable assembly and organized movement? Do they enjoy the right to free economic opportunities? Are the ELF-RC and other political organizations allowed to operate legally in the country? Are independent trade unions allowed to exist and operate? None at all. Thus, far from proving the "democratic" nature of EPLF policies, the authors of the report have, with such misguided allegations, instead offended the Eritrean people and done untold harm to their struggle for democracy.


Here, the report appears to be more promising than the draft "constitution" provides, or the EPLF has ever been willing to allow. It implies that there is freedom of speech and press claiming, inter alias, that "citizens were generally free to express opinions in various forums. "Strange, isn't it? While reluctantly admitting that the government controls all media, it nonetheless tries to apologize for the harsh reality that stands on its way. In fact, it speaks with a forked-tongue claiming that freedom of press is allowed and not allowed at the same time. The reality, however, speaks for itself. The Government controls all media, meaning there is no freedom of press whatsoever. Having confirmed that, all talks about the prevalence of "mild criticism", or the practice of "self-censorship", makes hardly any sense at all; there is no grey area for that. In a country under the grip of a dictatorship and reign of terror, freedom of expression is non-existent and the voice of the people stifled. No other language fits the situation, or help make the plight of the betrayed people any better.

Having thus failed to substantiate any of its allegations on the subject, the report proceeds to another equally misguided assessment. It accords undeserved credit to the EPLF government for non-existent "full academic freedoms" currently "enjoyed" by the University of Asmara. Should we remind the Department of State of the massive purges which, in line of its ant-democratic policies, the government undertook shortly after liberation against the staff and administration of the University and its constitution to bring it firmly under the control of the ruling party? The fact that the staff was composed of intellectuals who had demonstrated unquestioned national integrity during the struggle, as well as having undisputed qualifications in their fields, did not matter to the EPLF. To be relied on, they had to satisfy the basic requirement, that of proving their loyalty to the ruling party and its head. They did not; so they were fired with the poorest justification that was dismissed by all observers. A group of yes-men were appointed in their place so that the Eritrean dictator could rest at ease from the kind of nightmares the Ethiopian rulers had experienced with Addis Abeba University. Even worse, one finds it incredible to believe the report's baseless allegation that there could ever be full academic freedom under a dictatorship which rules the country through terror, terror that is bound to affect all aspects of the people's social, cultural, economic and political life. They seem to have forgotten that academic freedom in any educational institution is inextricably bound with the overall political and cultural freedom enjoyed by the society at large. In the absence of the freedom of thought and expression, it is virtually impossible to imagine, let alone expect, full academic freedom unless the report has something else in mind - a standard of academic freedom set especially for Eritrea!

  1. The report alleges that 'no political demonstrations have occurred', and that 'there were no reports that permits for political demonstrations were denied.' Demonstrations are highly advanced ways of exercising the right to collective expression. They embody the right to freedom of thought, expression and peaceful assembly in one package. This could be realized only under a democratic system, where those fundamental freedoms are respected and guaranteed by law. Yet, dictatorial and tyrannical regimes have never been known to allow those basic human liberties, or tolerate any political demonstration staged by the opposition, except those which are organized and sponsored by them in support of their policies. Under the circumstances, asking permission from tyrants to stage a demonstration becomes unthinkable. As experience has amply shown, the only way this can happen is by taking the inevitable risk of repression and their consequences.

Nonetheless, there have been a number of street protests that were mercilessly crashed by commando units and the secret police. Student protests surfaced on the streets in 1991-92 and where violently dealt with. At the time, two students died at the hands of the army and several others were wounded. Ironically, parents and close relatives were warned of the consequences if information is leaked about the fate of their sons and daughters.

  1. On the eve of independence day, and in the wake of the arbitrary formation of an exclusively EPLF-led "transitional government", members of the popular army moved into the capital and seized strategic posts including the banks, the airport, etc. In a coup d'etat style of operation, they brought the capital to a standing still and raised protest on a number of political, social and economic policies of their government. The government immediately sensed danger in facing such uprisings by force. Instead, it managed to diffuse the explosive situation by sending the army units to their barracks with flowery promises of reforms, but soon began to take a series of measures to regain control of the army: Army commanders were reshuffled, mysterious deaths of key elements of the movement occurred, cadres and elements of the popular army which, according to the regime, made the core of the underground opposition within the army were arrested; others were altogether dismissed without explanation. In fact the purge has never ended to this day, and far bloodier confrontation between the pros and cons within the Popular Army are likely to come.
  1. The disabled war veterans were the next . When the regime felt that their protest was brewing, it initially tried to employ heavy-handed means to quell the dissension by weeding out key elements. But, after sensing that their protest was inevitable despite its efforts, they were moved away from the urban centers for fear that the people and representatives of foreign missions might witness its impending crackdown. They were sent to a camp at Mai-Habar and denied permission to stage a political demonstration. They decided to go ahead. The rest of the story is well known; they were mercilessly and indiscriminately machine-gunned. 21 were killed at the Asmara-Massawa road, and many others were wounded. The rest were arrested and kept in a concentration camp at Hazhaz; some of them have never been heard of since. Though they were severely handicapped, and some of them couldn't even use their legs, scores of others were later released and simply left to their fate. This was the reward that the disabled war veterans got from a regime that has betrayed the nation.
  1. In the Gash, the south west of the country, peasants spontaneously gathered at their village to protest against the arbitrary seizure of their land without consultation and prior notification. The authorities were not even ready to listen to their complaints. Instead, they were indiscriminately machine-gunned, killing a number of them. The rest took to the mountains and began an armed resistance which has since been gathering strength and momentum with each day. The EPLF army has been bogged down in daily skirmishes with the people's uprising ever since.
  1. In the eastern coastal areas of Eritrea a large number of people were gathered one day for prayer at the village cemetery to bury a fellow villager. The commando units arrived at the spot all of a sudden and opened fire on the gathering; a number were killed and many others wounded. The perpetrators later claimed to have taken pre-emptive measure based on information that the gathering was about to stage a demonstration. So allergic has the regime, in fact, become of any protest that orders have been given to the police and army to deal with any gathering of people by force; No matter how peaceful, any gathering of people now faces the risk being attacked by the army or, in some, being rounded up and taken to custody. The people of Addi Kaieh suffered similar experience when they went one Thursday morning to the market (Edaga-Hamus) in the town. Without prior warning, the place was raided by army units; all the people in the market were round up and taken. In the pandemonium, people lost the commodities they had displayed for sale, and a number of buyers were stolen of their money. In the end, those above fifty and below 18 were released and the rest were sent to the hellish Sawa Camps.

Following the announcement of the new administrative demarcation by the EPLF, people were naturally outraged and began to gather here and there to exchange information about the matter. Orders were passed to disperse any such gatherings. Representatives who were sent to the government to convey the complaints of the people were arrested and interrogated. Some have since "evaporated" in the hands of the secret police.

  1. With the worsening of the housing situation, the rise of prices and the dismissal of thousands of workers, who were summarily discharged from their jobs without any explanation or compensation, certain circles from among the workers began to raise the need of staging demonstrations in order to press the government to address the increasingly worsening social and economic problems. After having gotten wind of the development, the regime began spreading intimidating messages to silence the people, warning them of the consequences that would follow by joining such demonstrations. At the time, this was broadcast day and night to make sure they have reached everybody's ears and minds!

This, we believe, would not only suffice to update and correct the report's misguided suggestion that "permits for political demonstrations are not denied by the dictatorial regime", but would also make the report pointless and irrelevant. On the contrary, the situation has in fact become so bad that it is driving the people to extreme desperation. Despite their patience, they have come to learn the hard way that they have no alternative but defend themselves from the terrorist activities of those in power. In a country where the regime and the people are already on a collision course because of the arrogance, selfish policies, contemptuous attitude and humiliating practices of the regime, such talk of whether or not the ruling party permits peaceful demonstrations becomes hollow and pointless.


Though the report reluctantly admits about the persecution perpetrated against the Jehovah's Witnesses, yet it stresses more on the reasons that led to those measures, thus subtly apologizing for the stance the regime had taken. In doing so, it has completely ignored the grave consequences that such attitude and policy of the government would have on freedom of religion in general. Instead, the report seems to be rather more eager to dismiss its wider implications by repeatedly implying that no other religious groups have been affected "except the Witnesses." By the way, the ELF-RC was the first organisation to expose and condemn the measures taken against the "Witnesses" despite their unpopularity among our people. For us, far from being a game for political gains, it is a matter of principle and human rights. But, where does the case of the Witnesses lead us to? Unfortunately, the report did not want to say it because, as it turned out, human rights was not its primary concern. The measures taken against the "Jehovah Witnesses" have revealed, however, that a very dangerous development has indeed taken place in the regime's attitude towards all religions. Their status and freedom will be determined by whether or not they comply with the ruling party's policies and interests. There is no other explanation for such behaviour of the regime which is manifestly reflected in all of its policies and proclamations - it is anti democratic, anti-people and tyrannical. Today, the Witnesses might appear to be facing the brunt of the government's persecussion, but the other religions are also sure to follow next.

Despite overwhelming evidence, why does the report then keep on beating around the bush? It is clear already that not only the Witnesses, but Moslem religious schools in general, and those in Keren in particular, are known to have been harassed. Those schools were closed many times and several of their teachers abducted and thrown in prison. Despite its foreign backing and influence, the Catholic Church and its institutions have not been spared either. They have been put under strict surveillance for fear that they might initiate a human rights campaign. The EPLF might have claimed to stand for religious freedom in many of its boastful statements and proclamations, but this have proven to be nothing more than smoke-screen intended to cover its real intentions. Indeed, how could it have "escaped" the authors of the report that religious freedom, equality of the sexes and races, etc. are integral part of the basic human and political rights of citizens, and could be materialized only with the democratization of the political life of a nation. Simply put, where there is no democracy, there is no genuine freedom of religion. Why, indeed, have the said authors gone to the extreme of apologizing and finding a way out for the regime in Eritrea?


Contrary to the claims of the report, which in many ways has desperately tried to overlook or minimize the regime's oppressive policies, peoples' movements are restricted and kept under surveillance. Until recently, people travelling from one town to another were even required to have permits for which they had to pay. This has now been replaced by harassment, intimidation and questioning of travellers. In addition, some areas and roads in some parts of the country are totally closed to the public. Among them include the sites of the notorious underground prisons, many Red Sea islands, areas allotted for the installation of foreign military bases, industrial plants as well as prohibited zones run by the EPLF whose purpose is not known to the public. Though the country is small already, it is becoming ever smaller for the people.

Foreign travel and emigration are as well made practically impossible through a myriad of preconditions, bureaucratic tangles and corruption. The report has pitifully tried to simplify the problem. But Eritreans who have travelled, and those trying to travel, are living witnesses of the problems they are facing.

The report talks about promises for the repatriation of refugees in the Sudan. On this point, we would like to make a couple of comments. Firstly, though the country has been under the rule of the EPLF for the past six years, the fact that there is still more talk than action about their repatriation under the auspices of the UNHCR raises a serious dilemma. The reason why we still have refugees in the Sudan is mainly due to the irresponsible and power-oriented position of the EPLF government. By making selfish demands, it has continued to frustrate UNHCR programme and practically blocked its implementation. Right from the beginning, the PFDJ government had been more after the financial support it was hoping to get from foreign sources in the name of refugee repatriation and, as later developments have shown, was hardly ever interested in the repatriation of the people. Equally, it was more interested in buying time for the consolidation of its monopoly of political power without being bothered about the refugees in the Sudan and elsewhere, who constitute a substantial portion of the population, and whom it suspects of being supporters of opposition organizations. The other important point we would like raise is the report's failure to note the new influx of refugees into the Sudan, Ethiopia and beyond the seas to neighbouring Arab countries, caused by the dictatorial policies of the government in Eritrea. In the Sudan alone, the number of registered and non registered refugees has now swollen to well over half a million. What does the US Department has to say about that?


It is positive to note, for a change, that the report has not only admitted the fact that the transitional government is dominated by the PFDJ, but that authority within the government is held by a narrow clique, and that the citizens do not enjoy the right to change their government. We agree with such assessment with some important modification: The government is formed exclusively by the PFDJ, and authority not only narrowly held but has in actual fact crystallized into a one man rule. To call things by their names, this is a dictatorship. In fact, in this connection, the report has given an adequate description of the dictatorship in place without saying the word. But why not? Yet, the Department of State has been more than eager to say it elsewhere in similar circumstances. Is it diplomacy or a cover up?


On this issue, too, the report goes back to its litany of EPLF claims and propaganda, making its own assessment more shallower than ever. The EPLF has never been tolerant of any political or syndical movement outside its control, neither during the liberation war nor in post independence era. As such, there simply isn't any room for independent trade unions to exist and operate legally. All independent associations have since long gone underground and are leading clandestine life. Despite difficulties, they have, to some extent, succeeded to influence the legally operating PFDJ-affiliated trade unions. At any rate, whatever the claims of the dictatorship in Eritrea, the workers do not as yet enjoy the right to organize themselves and bargain collectively.


The report unduly exaggerates about what it calls "...the transition from a centrally planned economy introduced by the former Ethiopian military dictatorship to a free-market economy introduced by the Eritrean government..." Though mainly for the consumption of foreign political and business circles, it is true that the ruling party in Eritrea has recently been claiming to have created conditions conducive to investment by "opening" a number of areas to interested investors. But is that true? What has actually happened here is neither a change of policy nor a transformation of a system, but adoption of a new tactic and mode of performance brought about by the failure of the ruling party to run and maintain the economic sectors it has arbitrarily taken under its control, failures that were markedly manifested in the technical and managerial areas. The authorities are now on the look out for companies that would provide this and share in the profits on the terms of the party, which will invariably continue to maintain its grip on the economy and remain the sole partner on the Eritrean side, thus opening not the door but the window to those who would collaborate in the exploitation of the already impoverished people, and stifling development opportunities of both national and foreign capital by blocking freedom of competition in the market. The fact that a number of American companies have been invited to share in the booty with the dictatorship doesn't necessarily make the market free and open either. Contrary to the propaganda disseminated by certain political and business circles who are poised to go along with the deal on EPLF terms, whose ethical justification the report amply serves, these are the hard facts that tell about the real intentions behind the regime's semblance of policy changes. Contrary to the report's allegation, the transition had been, if any, from Ethiopian military dictatorship to an equally repressive Eritrean military Dictatorship.

Indeed, despite the end of the war with Ethiopia and the liberation of the country, the past six years has been full of broken promises and profound disappointments; the nation stands betrayed and deeply outraged,. Though independent, Eritrea remains an oppressed nation. While some circles in the international community have preferred to bury their heads in the sand, and continue singing praises of peace and stability, democracy and CONSTITUTIONALISM allegedly taking roots under the EPLF-PFDJ, the country has been transformed into a fortress prison for its people. These are things our people have as yet to achieve through still more struggle and sacrifice.

The report has deplorably failed to reflect the picture the US likes to project of itself, nor did it succeed to live up with the standards it has set for others. It has not succeeded to provide a cover up for the dictatorship either. The latter stands as starkly naked as ever. In doing so, it has instead uncovered much about its unholy intentions in the region, which could be not only incompatible but detrimental to the vital interests of the Eritrean people in democracy, stability and prosperity. And above, all it failed to tell the truth about the reality in Eritrea to the American people. What we have in Eritrea is not simply dictatorial oppression, but state terrorism so callous and cold-blooded that it is doing its best to annihilate our people's deserved aspiration to democracy, justice and prosperity. If the US is really serious about its black list of states accused of sponsoring terrorism, then the Eritrean government would definitely qualify to occupy the top of the list more than any other, not only as a state sponsoring terrorism but one implementing it directly.

As the largest and most influential democracy in the world, we had expected from the US to put its pressure and influence on the dictatorship, which depends heavily on its support, to stop its terrorist activities among the people and help free the hundreds of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience (among whom are two top leaders of the ELF-RC, Weldemariam Bahlebi and Tekleberhan Ghebretsadik). As our people's struggle for change gains momentum, we had equally hoped that it would coax and influence events in the right direction, thus facilitating the democratisation of the political life in Eritrea. This has, unfortunately, not happened.

In conclusion, we would like to clarify the position of our organization with regard to the policies of the US and other concerned countries who are, in one form or another, involved in Eritrea in particular and the region in general. We have never been a threat to, or an instrument of, any big or small power's interests in Eritrea or, for that matter, in the region, and shall never be one. Without being against anyone's vital or strategic interests, we stand firmly for the legitimate interests of our people. We are deeply convinced that the strongest and most enduring of relations, relations that transcend governments and generations are those founded on people's mutual respect and interests and not on narrow governmental interests and conspiratorial relations. We are a problem to no one, unless the so-called vital interests of others prove to be incompatible with our people's legitimate interests. There we draw our line; and it is a line already drawn and enshrined in the UN, OAU and other charters, the right of a nation to determine its future, including its right to determine its internal life - political, economic, social etc. - and the obligation to respect, under any circumstance, the same right to other peoples.



  1. On April 26 1992. Woldemariam Bahlebi and Tekleberhan Ghebretsadik, both members of the Executive Committee of the ELF-RC were kidnapped by the EPLF from Kassala, a border town in Eastern Sudan. They were never heard of since.
  2. Tesfamichael Berhe, Hamid Remde, Ghebreleul Amdetsion , Ande Berhan are among the senior ELF-RC cadres who are languishing in prison since 1991 without charge or trial.
  3. Zeresennay Desta, Abdelkadir M.Negash, Nasser Ali, Musa Afendi, Hadish Guza, and Wad Berhane were among the ex-members of ELF-RC's popular militia who, in response to the amnesty announced by the EPLF, went back to their villages and lead peaceful life. The EPLF didn't keep its word; they were abducted and evaporated in the hands of the security.
  4. An unspecified number of teachers of the religious schools in Keren (Ma'ahid) were abducted by the security units one night and made to disappear, no one knows where.
  5. Weldeab Paulos, senior cadre of the ELF-CL, another opposition group, was similarly abducted from Kassala and there is no information about his whereabouts.
  6. Tunga Chachue Weldesellase, former member of leadership of the ELF-affiliated General Union of Eritrean Peasants and later an independent and leading activist among the Bazas in the Gash area, was kidnapped on 28 April 1996 by the secret police from Wad Sherifay, a refugee camp bordering Eritrea.
  7. Abdella Ali Nasser , Ibrahim Omer, Yuossef Ibrahim, Abubakar Gura, Mohamed Haj Adem, all former ELF-RC members, were abducted from their homes in late night hours. Fatma M.Ali , the wife of Youssef, was shot and killed with a silencer because she screamed loudly for help; they wanted to silence her, and they did.
  8. Seiday Ghebre, Beyene Fares, Saidna Natti and Mohamed Osman were abducted in Nov. 1996 from Kuweita and Regbet by an armed unit of the security organ and taken away; their whereabouts are not known.
  9. Ghebreberhan Zere, chairman of the Eritrean Democratic Liberation Movement (EDLM), an opposition organization operating from bases in Ethiopia, has reportedly been missing since 4 February 1997 while on a visit to Humera in the north-western part of Ethiopia. According to our sources, he is said to have been abducted by a group of armed elements whose identity and motive is not yet known.
  1. Tesfamichael Giorgio, former member of the ELF-RC, who was said to have been involved in the early contacts between Isayas Afewerki and the CIA authorities inside the American base in Asmara in the early 70's, in which a deal was struck between Mr. Isayas and the Americans, was killed in April 1992 in front of his house in Addis Abeba by EPLF's death squads. He simply knew too much for his own good.
  1. Abdalla Daud, former member of the Central Committee of the EPLF, was found killed under mysterious circumstances shortly after liberation in Asmara. At the time, the EPLF government claimed alcohol abuse to have caused his death. Some sources say, however, that he was never known to have had alcohol problems in his long service with the EPLF.
  2. Ammar Alsheik, a journalist in the government radio and broadcaster was found killed in front of his house in 1991. He, too, was simply ignored and buried without adequate inquiry or explanation. Inside sources claim, however, that he is believed to have met his death at the hands of government's thugs as part of the on-going purges within the ruling party.
  3. Mohamed Muftah, former ELF-RC freedom fighter who went back to his home town Adi Kaieh after liberation to lead a peaceful life, was killed in 1996. He is believed to have fallen victim to the act of terror the EPLF government has unleashed against ELF members.
  4. Zekarias Neguse, vice chairman of the EDLM, an opposition group based in Ethiopia, was reportedly killed on 31 August 1996 in the Ethiopian town of Dessie. Following his assassination, the suspiciuos silence of his organization about the circumstances of his death had raised the speculation, among other things, that it could have possibly been an inside job. Lately, however, the organization has officially accused EPLF's death squads currently roaming Ethiopia freely of the killing, and has come up with more details as well as names of those involved in the assassination.
  5. Mohamed Ali Said, assistant editor of the government daily Haddas Eritrea, was found killed in the town of Afabet under suspicious circumstances. He served in the foreign relations department of the EPLF in Paris, Beirut and Asmara. Following differences of opinion with the authorities in the 1994 party congress, he was suspended from his post till. He was another victim of the regime's "house-cleaning" campaign.
  6. Colonel Teklezghi Gulbet, who was in charge of the investigation of suspected corruption cases in the ruling party's Red Sea Corporation management, was found killed in the vicinity of Trungo Bar on Dec 10 1996. It is widely believed that he was silenced when his inquiries started to point at stinking heads higher up in the leadership of the party itself.
  7. Members of a military unit of the government army were taken from the training camp to Mount Mahkelay in the Western Lowlands and executed. They were singled out as mutineers, and as such a bad example to the new recruits.
  8. A group of villagers were gathered in a village in Dankalia on 5 May 1996 to mourn the death of their fellow villager when a commando unit opened fire on them. Five were killed and a number wounded. The army units in the area were under order to shoot any gathering in sight with the aim of aborting potential protests. Similar incidents have since happened in other parts of the country.
  9. Higo Ismail and Saleh Ismail were killed by the death squads of the ruling party in Senafe, Akeleguzai. Their bodies were found 2 km. outside the town.
  1. Ex-members of erstwhile opposition political forces who, after having dissolved their organization had joined the EPLF in the years of 1992 and 93, have been the target of a recent campaign of sweeping arrests and abductions. They have allegedly been suspected of involvement in clandestine political movement against the regime. They include:
  2. Mahmmud Dinai, formerly commander of the first division of the Eritrean Liberation Army (the ELA), and later at the time of his arrest chairman of the Barka Assembly
  3. Saleh Mohamed Idris( Abu Ajaj) ex-member of the National Council, assistant commander of the First Division of the ELA
  1. Mohamed Khier Musa ex-member of the Executive Committee of the NC head of the Worker's office in Keren
  2. Mahmud Khalid ex-member of the NC and responsible for the Public Relations Dep. in Barka.
  3. Ibrahim Mohamed Ibrahim Ex-member of the UO and a judge in Agordat Court.
  4. Mohamed Ali Ibrahim, Mohamed Osman Arei, both former UO members, later functionaries in government departments.
  5. Mohamed Osman Dayer, Saleh Ismail Bekhit, Raka Asenay all ex-members of the UO were among the earliest victims at the hands of the squads.


  1. All the inhabitants of a number of villages in the Gash area, namely in Kulwo, Ashagherewo, Kirkishan, were en masse fined 7000 Birr each for allegedly collaborating with the armed resistance in the region.
  2. All the inhabitants of the surrounding villages were indiscriminately charged 3500 Birr each when a government car was blown by a land mine in the vicinity of Kuwaita, Kewli,Gash.
  3. The security forces undertook massive arrests in Hadamdami (Gash). 47 persons were rounded up from four villages of the district,( Asfeda-Shegher, Kebabej, Maria, Tembelay) and kept in custody for a month and later accused of collaborating with rebels. They were summarily fined 77,000 Birr. To guarantee that this sum is paid within one month, the government kept two people from each village as hostages. There was no evidence of their collaboration. It was simply one of many acts of terror and robbery the regime is perpetrating throughout the country.
  4. Suspected of having allegedly played corrupt practices, over 160 employees of the PFDJ-owned Red Sea Corporation were summarily arrested recently from all branches of the Corporation, including those who were stationed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and other countries.

These are in a way reminiscent of the mass punishment and mass killings that were perpetrated by the Ethiopian forces of occupation.


  1. Hailemichael Hailesellasie(Lungo) a well known activist in the cultural troupes of the EPLF, and one who is said to have been among those who had a prominent role in the army's uprising that took place on the eve of Independence Day in 1993, has been in detention since then. Sources inside the EPLF confirm that he has suffered partial paralysis following torture and maltreatment in prison.
  2. Suspected of supporting the ELF-RC, Lej Abraha chief (meslene) of the Debrimela clan, Tesfamariam Hagos, chief (Meslene) of Zeri Mosi, Seltan Berhe and Abubakar Mohamed (both government employees) were among those abducted by the secret police and never heard of since. Former prison-mates, who were lucky enough to be released, say that they were beaten up to death while in prison.
  3. From over 3205 elements of the Popular army who were arrested and detained in the notorious Adi Quala Prison, an unspecified number have disappeared. According to some of their former colleagues, extrajudicial measures is believed to have been taken against them.

These are only a few of the numerous people who have been victimized by the state terrorism that has become the trademark of the EPLF Government in Eritrea today. No mention has been made here of the organization's notorious background during the liberation war, the numerous purges and liquidation of democratic intellectuals and other compatriots that took place within the organization, the assassination of leading ELF elements and the disappearance of hundreds of ELF followers from among the peasantry. As far as the Eritrean regime is concerned, this has since long become a matter of routine practice.

  1. The US Dep. of State report alleges that prison conditions "are Spartan but not inhuman." Yet this doesn't fit the account of prisoners who, buried in underground cells, had languished for years under the most horrible conditions imaginable. The Sahel underground continues to swallow hundreds of members of opposition elements, including dissidents from the EPLF itself. The regime has assigned some of the most vicious and inhuman of its members to make sure that prisoners once thrown into those hellholes do no make it out in one piece. Among the abuses to which they are subjected to are:
  2. They are subjected to daily physical and psychological tortures. A number have already gone insane, or died due to continued maltreatment.
  3. They never get proper medical attention when they need it, and are intentionally left to die of easily curable diseases.
  4. They are never allowed any visits, neither by relatives nor lawyers.
  5. They are never charged with any crimes, nor are they brought to trial, but simply left to rot in prison or lose their sanity.
  6. Information about their whereabouts is strictly suppressed. They are there to be forgotten. But as far as the US Dep. of State is concerned it is just 'Spartan and not inhuman!' allegations which in themselves constitute violations of the truth, of human rights and insult to human dignity and intelligence.
  1. All claims about the independence of the judiciary, fairness of trials, arrest warrants etc. are, given the policies and practices of the present regime, no more than idle talk and have nothing to do with the reality lived in the country. They are things in black and white and good reading material for the officials of the Department of State.
  1. In addition to the regime's refusal to allow monitoring of the human rights situation and prison conditions by independent humanitarian organizations and the suppression of information therein, the fact that the formation of Eritrean human rights groups have been prohibited should have sufficed as reliable leads to all concerned with common sense to find out the gravity of the situation in the country.

Based on this, we urgently call on the US Department of State to revise its notes and evaluate the situation in Eritrea anew, and tell its people the truth about the reality lived in Eritrea

As to the future of our nation, it lies primarily in the hands of the heroic Eritrean people, who are capable of retaking their destiny back to the safety of their own hands. We as a people had done it before despite overwhelming odds, and can do it once again with the solidarity of all peace, justice and democracy loving peoples.