This month, the US State Department issued its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report” and Eritrea is classified as Tier-3 (the worst of the worst). Tier-3 countries are, according to the State Department, countries “whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s [Trafficking Victims Protection Act] minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.” The additional factors considered are whether the country is “a country of origin, transit, or destination for severe forms of trafficking” and “the extent to which the country’s government does not comply with TVPA’s minimum standards and, in particular, the extent to which officials or government employees have been complicit in severe forms of trafficking.”
The negative report comes on the heels of a recent State Department “country reports on human rights” which characterized Eritrea’s totalitarian regime as “an authoritarian regime under the control of President Isaias Afwerki.” This regime, said the executive summary of the report, practices abuses which “included, but were not limited to, harsh and life-threatening prison conditions that included torture and incommunicado detention, which sometimes resulted in death; forced labor of indefinite duration through the mandatory national service program; and the severe restriction of civil liberties including freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion. Other abuses included the following: unlawful killings by security forces; politically motivated disappearances; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of national service evaders and their family members; executive interference in the judiciary and the use of a special court system to limit due process; the detention of political prisoners and detainees; and infringement of privacy rights. They also included a lack of due process and excessive pretrial detention, and severe limits on freedom of movement and travel for all citizens, residents, and humanitarian agencies.”
The Eritrean regime’s rebuttal was to accuse the US government of being a “Washington gang” and the United States a country which, among other things, has “37 million of its citizens languish in prisons.”
What tools does the US use to moderate the behavior of Tier 3 countries? According the State Department, “governments of countries on Tier 3 may be subject to certain sanctions, whereby the U.S. government may withhold or withdraw nonhumanitarian, non-trade-related foreign assistance.” In addition, countries on Tier 3 “would also face U.S. opposition to assistance (except for humanitarian, trade-related, and certain development-related assistance) from international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.”
Only 17 countries in the world are classified as Tier 3 and they are (in alphabetical order):
Central African Republic
Papau New Guinea
Here’s an excerpt from the country report on Eritrea [emphasis ours]:
Eritrea is a source country for men, women, and children subjected forced labor and, to a lesser extent, sex trafficking. During the reporting period, forced labor occurred in Eritrea, particularly due to the country’s national service program. Under the Proclamation of National Service (No. 82/1995), men aged 18 to 54 and women aged 18 to 47 are required to provide 18 months of military and non-military service in any location or capacity chosen by the government. Some national service conscripts, however, are required to continue their service indefinitely, beyond the duration specified by law, with many required to serve in their positions for more than 10 years under the threat of inhuman treatment, including harsh working conditions, torture, or punishment of their families. There continue to be reports that some Eritrean conscripts are forced to build private homes for army officers, as well as to perform agricultural labor on farms and construction activities for firms owned by the state, the ruling party, senior army officers, and private investors, functions that fall outside
the scope of the proclamation.
Over the past decade, large numbers of Eritreans have fled thecountry to find work or escape indefinite conscription. During the past three years, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Eritreans have escaped to refugee camps in eastern Sudan each month; traffickers seek out vulnerable Eritreans in the camps, some of whom were extorted and tortured as they were transported through the Sinai Peninsula. A significant number of fleeing Eritreans encounter serious risks of being shot and killed by
Eritrean authorities, or forcibly repatriated to Eritrea, where they are at times tortured or killed by the Eritrean government. Adolescent children that attempt to leave Eritrea have been forced into military service despite being younger than the minimum service age of 18. As part of the requirements to complete their senior year of high school, adolescent children are also sent to Sawa, Eritrea’s military academy, prior to their eighteenth birthday. Over the reporting period, there were numerous reports of Eritrean nationals being brutalized by smugglers operating in the Sinai; victims were often chained together, whipped and beaten regularly, deprived of food, raped, and forced to do construction work at gunpoint at smugglers’ personal homes. Eritrean refugees were concerned that Eritrean and Sudanese officials colluded with smugglers to abduct Eritreans from Sudanese refugee camps, targeting those refugees that voiced dissent against the government or were prominent military figures…
You can read the full report here.