Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans Summons EU to Stop Supporting Use of Forced Labour in Eritrean Project
(01.04.2019) The Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans, a Netherlandsbased 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. This is a clear violation of human rights and the EU’s adherence to international legal obligations. Today, the EU received a letter in which the Foundation asked the EU to immediately stop financing these actions.
The EU is providing €20 million to companies owned by the Eritrean government. The funds, provided through the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, are for road construction. Labour will be provided by ‘national service’ conscripts, who are trapped for an indefinite period within the service. This has been described as “enslavement” and a “crime against humanity” by the UN. The European Parliament has called it “forced labour” and “a form of slavery”. The EU is therefore financing activities in which active use is made of this ‘form of slavery’.
The conditions under which Eritrean people are forced to work in the national service were described by the UN Human Rights Commission in graphic detail: “Thousands of conscripts are subjected to forced labour that effectively abuses, exploits and enslaves them for years. Women conscripts are at extreme risk of sexual violence during national service.”1
Eritrea is a dictatorship without democratic institutions, elections, the rule of law or respect for human rights. The aid is directly subsidising the dictatorial regime, as the EU funds will go to companies fully owned by individuals of the regime’s ruling party. No assurances relating to human rights have been given.
EU violates its own charter and human rights undertakings
The EU is committed in countless ways to upholding human rights in all its activities. Article 5 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights provides that “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude” and “No one shall be required to perform forced or compulsory labour”. Financing projects which make use of the forced labour of Eritreans is in direct contradiction of the EU’s principles, undertakings and obligations.
The Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans, which helps Eritreans whose human rights are being violated, is challenging these unlawful acts. Human rights lawyer Mr. Emiel Jurjens of the Amsterdam-based law firm Kennedy Van der Laan has been instructed to take legal steps against the EU. On 1 April, a letter will be sent to the EU demanding an immediate halt to the financing of this scheme, and seek urgent discussion.
Mulueberhan Temelso, Director of the Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans, says: “Eritrea is an open-air prison. Every person in national service is trapped in extremely harsh conditions. There are more than 365 secret and hidden prisons across the country and the European Union is well aware of this. The EU must immediately stop aid to the country. It is totally unacceptable for the EU to finance the use of slave labour.”
Makeda Saba, a university researcher of Eritrean origin, points out that the EU’s aid programme with Eritrea cannot be implemented without the involvement of the country’s leadership. She says: “The EU states it will work with the Red Sea Trading Corporation – which is fully owned and operated by the ruling party. It has been established by several well-informed reports that this entity is involved in illegal activity in the Horn of Africa, including illegal arms trade.” The UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea defined the Red Sea Trading Corporation as “….[a] labyrinthine multinational network of companies, individuals and bank accounts…….. [and] routinely engaged in ‘grey’ of ‘illicit ‘activities”.2 In 2017, The Monitoring Group linked the Corporation to breaking of the arms embargo on Eritrea in place at that time.3
Mr. Emiel Jurjens, human rights attorney-at-law at Kennedy Van der Laan (Amsterdam): “Financing projects which make use of forced labour is a clear violation of human rights. The EU must stop these activities immediately and fundamentally rethink its approach to Eritrea, taking into account all evidence which points towards serious human rights violations in the country. We will also ask the EU for all documents relating to this project to further investigate how this decision could have been taken.”
Professor Mirjam van Reisen, expert on Eritrea and the role of the EU in Eritrea, states: “The European Union is fighting human trafficking through normalization of its relations with regimes who are themselves deeply involved in human trafficking. This is not only a complicit involvement with the illegal actions, but is totally counterproductive.”
Project – €20 million Road Rehabilitation in Eritrea: https://ec.europa.eu/trustfundforafrica/sites/euetfa/files/t05-eutf-hoa-er-66_-_eritrea_road_rehabilitation.pdf
The National Service: www.eepa.be/?attachment_id=2753
EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa: https://ec.europa.eu/trustfundforafrica/content/homepage_en
Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans: Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans Summons EU to Stop Supporting Use of Forced Labour in Eritrean Project. April 1, 2019