The Eritrean government’s program of mandatory and indefinite national conscription traps its population in forced labor for long stretches of their adult lives. The system is aided and abetted by numerous international governments and companies.1
Originally enforced as part of a state of emergency during the border war with Ethiopia in the late 1990s, the National Service program has endured to the present day. Through the program Eritreans are forced to work in both military and civilian capacities in a variety of jobs, including hard labor in construction and mining. Despite the mandated length of service standing at 18 months, it is in practice indefinite, lasting in some cases for decades.2
The United Nations Human Rights Council has likened Eritrea’s system of forced labor to slavery and has called on Eritrea’s government to be referred to the ICC for crimes against humanity. According to a 2016 report, between 300,000 and 400,000 are currently conscripted out of Eritrea’s population of just over 6 million. 3
Hopes that the indefinite conscription would come to an end with the peace agreement signed with Ethiopia in 2018 were quickly dashed, and the system continues to this day despite its original justification no longer standing.4
The country’s system of indefinite national service is one of the main reasons Eritrea is among the top ten countries by number of refugees worldwide—indeed, it is the only country among the top ten that is not an active conflict zone.5 Those who leave are still very vulnerable to modern slavery, often falling into the hands of human smugglers and traffickers, for example in Libya.67
The country’s many refugees have garnered the attention of the European Union as large numbers attempt to enter from Libya across the Mediterranean Sea, while its rich mineral resources attract mining companies around the world.
As a result, private and public foreign organizations—among them the European Union and 17 mining companies—continue to bolster the government and its system of forced labor through their investments.
Because the Eritrean government is difficult to directly influence, the end of forced labor in the country is most achievable through these international governments and companies.
Therefore, our goal is for all foreign organizations that are complicit in the Eritrean government’s system of forced labor to divest and cease their support, and to publicly declare their opposition to forced conscription. This would make it both politically and economically costly for forced conscription to continue and thus incentivize the government to put a stop to it.