Eritrea: Conscription System’s Toll on Education – Spurs Dropouts and Exodus by Students, Teachers

Satellite Imagery of the Sawa military camp, including the Warsai Yikealo Secondary School, recorded in January 2015.Imagery © DigitalGlobe - Maxar Technologies 2019; Source: Google Earth (Nairobi) – Eritrea’s use of secondary school to channel students

Satellite Imagery of the Sawa military camp, including the Warsai Yikealo Secondary School, recorded in January 2015.Imagery © DigitalGlobe – Maxar Technologies 2019; Source: Google Earth

(Nairobi) – Eritrea’s use of secondary school to channel students into indefinite government service and its conscription of teachers subjects students and teachers to forced labor and physical abuse, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 84-page report, “‘They Are Making Us into Slaves, Not Educating Us’: How Indefinite Conscription Restricts Young People’s Rights, Access to Education in Eritrea,” documents how the Eritrean government forcibly channels thousands of young people, some still children, each year into military training even before they finish their schooling. Instead of developing a pool of committed, well-trained, career secondary school teachers, the government conscripts teachers, also for indefinite service, giving them no choice about whether, what, or where to teach. These policies have a devastating impact on education and lead many young people to flee the country.

“Eritrea’s secondary schools are at the heart of its repressive system of control over its population,” said Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Now that peace with Ethiopia is restored, reforms on human rights, starting with the rights and freedom of the country’s youth, need to follow.”

The future for education in Eritrea was not always as bleak. The post-independence government supported free education for all, including at the secondary and post-secondary level. But the bloody two-year border conflict with Ethiopia in 1998 and the stalemate that ensued had a devastating impact on the secondary education system. The government used the “no war, no peace” situation to force a significant percentage of the adult population into open-ended service for the government – both in military and civilian roles.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 73 high school students and teachers who have attended or were conscripted in secondary schools in Eritrea between 2014 and late 2018 and who now live in exile in Sudan, Ethiopia, Italy, and Switzerland, as well as 18 Eritrean and international experts to examine the abusive nature of national service and its impact on young people’s access to secondary education.

While the government has initiated some education reforms, primarily in elementary and vocational training, it has refused to dismantle the repressive system that undermines students’ rights and their access to quality education, Human Rights Watch found. Each year, the government sends all final year secondary school students to the isolated Sawa military camp.

Military officials control and run Sawa and subject students to military-style discipline, ill-treatment, and physical punishments for minor infractions, and forced labor. A young man who attended Sawa in 2015 summed up his experience: “When you go to Sawa, you use their head, and not your own. I just couldn’t see a future there. I lost all hope.”

Some secondary school students intentionally fail classes to stay in the lower grades. Others drop out, but live in fear of government roundups in which youth without student cards risk being sent directly into military training and service.

When students graduate, they are sent either directly into indefinite military service or to college, from which they are funneled into government jobs, including secondary school teaching positions where they also remain indefinitely. While the government has started to pay all national service teachers wages since 2015, teachers told Human Rights Watch that they still struggle to meet their basic financial needs, especially if they have a family.

“It’s unlimited service,” said a 25-year-old assigned to teach in Sawa before fleeing in 2018. “If you are conscripted to teach physics, you will be a physics teacher for life.”

In many cases, the quality of instruction in secondary schools is poor because of a largely absent or unmotivated teaching corps, with many teachers fleeing abroad, Human Rights Watch found. Sometimes students are without any teacher at all for weeks.

For most students and teachers, ultimately one of the only options available to evade the system is to flee the country. Students and teachers caught fleeing risk lengthy detention in dire conditions, and, on occasion, physical abuse including torture. Students and teachers make up a significant proportion of the thousands of Eritreans fleeing into exile each year. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, many of those arriving in Europe from Eritrea are unaccompanied minors.

The Eritrean government should ensure that current education reforms include concrete steps to dismantle this repressive system. It should end compulsory military training for secondary school students, ensure that no one under age 18 is forcibly conscripted, and ensure teaching positions are filled by qualified people who choose to teach.

Eritrea’s international and regional partners should press the government for human rights reform, Human Rights Watch said. They should seek concrete measures to limit the duration of national service, allow secondary school students to choose where they complete Grade 12, unlink secondary education from mandatory military training, and create a cohort of trained, committed teachers who freely choose to teach.

“Ending abusive and open-ended national service, reining in military officials responsible for abuse, and allowing students to determine their futures will be key to Eritrea’s prospects,” Bader said. “People who see that they have a bright future in Eritrea are less likely to need to flee.”

www.hrw.org

 

aseye.asena@gmail.com

Review overview
8 COMMENTS
  • k.tewolde August 10, 2019

    30 something years(rounds) and counting,Sawa is a hollowed ground of HGDEF’s human laboratory where a prototype of a new Eritrean genome is experimented by coercion,brainwashing and indoctrination,this is what defines the kleptocratic authoritarian rogue regime and its moribund tenets………”.’The Eritrean government’ should ensure that current education reforms include concrete steps to dismantle this repressive system. It should end compulsory military training for secondary school students, ensure that no one under age 18 is forcibly conscripted, and ensure teaching positions are filled by qualified people who choose to teach.”>>>In other words you are suggesting the ruling clique to commit political suicide and hoist a white flag surrendering its decades old brutally repressive system voluntarily? HRW, are you watching this nation closely?

  • tewelde gebremariam August 11, 2019

    “…. Eritrea’s use of secondary school to channel students into indefinite government service ”

    I cannot fathom the depth of our ignorance. Just because the Genocidal –the impostor isaias afewerk…… christened his criminal enterprise, as ” national service”, we follow him suit and repeat his lies knowing full well that, despite the twenty five years of the existence of this alleged program, there is no evidence on the ground to substantiate of the services the alleged program delivered or produced. None whatsoever!! It is therefore, purely euphemism to hide the heinous crimes he has been perpetrating on our people, of which the testaments are glaringly manifest. If we do not select the right words and phrases to portray the facts on the ground, we will never be able to rally our people to the cause. He will win and we lose. Remember, by using words haphazardly and not precisely, we are affording him precious time to bring his hidden agenda to fruition.

  • natu August 12, 2019

    “human laboratory ” ,Word of the year !

    Best phrase ever, wenn not too mild expressed, Tewelde !
    The ‘wala tinfer Tiyel iya’ dummed puppe group of DIA will not understand such heavy words, too ignorant for it !

    Tewelde, please simplify your text through using easier word that are simple so that also the DIA-followers can understand.

  • Haben August 12, 2019

    Religion, Awraja or Qebila nothing will divide us. Your master Isaias has been hiding in those elements for decades. So you better leave this forum. This is for Eritreans and Eritreans only.
    Enough is enough to be pretending as Eritreans because you know that you are not.
    Your identity crises is eating deep to your bones.
    Entetelemalemkum yiHshekym
    Elfi eryray

  • Haben August 12, 2019

    Natu,
    I do not think for a second that these people are Eritreans by origin because if they were, they would not have insulted their own people even if they are supporting the regime. These people are sent and/or paid by the dictator to incite hatred amongst us. So do you think Eritreans do this to their own people
    My ANSWER IS NO!!!!!!

    With kind regards

    • k.tewolde August 13, 2019

      Haben and natu admiring your civility,these whiff of rancid halitosis we smell here comes from the GMO’s of the tyrant,he has been working on this Mendelian project for few decades now.The original,pure,authentic Eritrean who can recite a few weledo back,who can tell a unique familial story,has a tract of farm land or property which defines the clans identity like you and me….is an endangered species.These termites have been gnawing at us alive for years.It is called the desecration of an identity,the undoing of a nation.We fought for Lamborghini,he gave us carrossa. If my asmarino father was alive,he would have belted out,’Ma vafancoolo,discraciato,testa di gallina..’ fortunately,he is in a better place,far away from this hell hole he once called sweet home.

POST A COMMENT