BREAKING NEWS: Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans Summons EU to Stop Supporting Use of Forced Labour in Eritrean Project

BREAKING NEWS: Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans Summons EU to Stop Supporting Use of Forced Labour in Eritrean Project

Brussels, 1 April 2019 – The Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans, a Netherlands-based organization of exiled Eritreans, is taking legal action against the European Union. The EU is financing activities in Eritrea for which forced labour is used, as is stated in the EU’s project description: a project of 20 million euros. This is a clear violation of human rights and the EU’s adherence to international legal obligations, states the Foundation. On 1 April, today, the lawyer supporting the Foundation sent letters to the EU institutions in charge of the project. The letters call upon the EU to immediately stop financing these actions, or legal action will follow.

Emiel Jurjens, lawyer at Kennedy van der Laan (Amsterdam) representing the case, stated: “People in the national service are working on these roads. The EU recently announced that it is providing 20 million Euros for this projects.” He continued, “the EU admits to using national service labour.” The letters to the EU were sent today, he states: “Just an hour ago, I sent letters to various EU institutions dealing with this project. In these letters, there is a very clear demand: stop this project immediately.”

Mulueberhan, Chairman of the Foundation, recalled how he was employed in the national service, having no choice in the work and being separated from his family. “You can find Eritreans in every place in the world. We are fleeing because we have no human rights in our country.”

Professor Conny Rijken, expert on human trafficking, stated:  “In the EU’s aim to fight irregular migration, they disregard the human rights situation. That is what is happening now in this case.” She continued, “In this case, there is a clear violation of international law […]. The EU is violating its own laws […]. If they continue with these kind of practices, how can they state that they are the promotors of human rights?”

Professor Mirjam van Reisen, Eritrea expert, added: “The national service does not just relate to a military service, but all kinds of labour situations in the country, for example teachers or people working in the ministries […]; there is no free will involved.” She continued to describe that the payment in the national service was not enough to sustain a person and/or their family. Prof. van Reisen is surprised that the EU has approved this project, while it has previously avoided using national service labour, which is clearly against its laws and principles. Van Reisen ended by saying: “There can only be one conclusion: this activity has to be stopped.”

More information

Foundation Human Rights for Eritrean Summons EU to Stop Supporting Use of Forced Labour in Eritrean Project
Media coverage:

UN Human Rights Committee criticizes ongoing human rights abuses in Eritrea 
The UN Human Rights Committee published its critical findings on Eritrea, in the context of the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Committee criticized ongoing human rights abuses in Eritrea. It also stated that Eritrea should limit the national service to 18 months and “refrain from subjecting persons in military service to activities that may amount to forced labour.”

The role of aid in Eritrea: EU and international NGOs normalize human rights abuses
An article by Makeda Saba describes how international aid to Eritrea, through the EU and the three international NGOs operating in the country, reinforces human rights abuses. The EU and the NGOs, VITA, Finn Church Aid (FCA) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), operate under the conditions set by the Eritrean regime, states Saba. The aid normalizes the human rights abuses in the country and aid projects are implemented by those in the national service, which is characterized as forced labour and enslavement.

Dutch radio: slavery in Eritrea financed by the EU
Dutch radio programme “Bureau Buitenland”, on Dutch national radio station Radio 1, covers the letter of summons by the Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans to the EU. In the programme, lawyer Emiel Jurjens explains that the use of the indefinite national service labour, which has been defined by the UN as forced labour and enslavement, is against EU laws. Eritrea expert Prof. Mirjam van Reisen explains the human rights abuses in the national service and the link to Eritreans fleeing the country.