41 British Parliamentarians – from all political parties – have backed a motion condemning the abuse of human rights in Eritrea and the role of mining companies in exploiting the forced labour that results from compulsory military service.
“That this House condemns the human rights abuses perpetuated by the government of Eritrea, including arbitrary arrest and detention and compulsory military service imposed on all able-bodied men, women and even children, which has led to an unprecedented exodus of Eritreans, now reaching 5,000 a month, fleeing their country as refugees to Europe on a precarious journey, including the recent tragedy at Lampedusa, which is costing hundred of lives; notes with concern the collusion between the government of Eritrea and the international mining companies from the UK, Canada and Australia, which is using the forced labour of Eritreans for work in extractive industries in conditions which have been described as abject slavery by Human Rights Watch and other campaigning non-governmental organisations; and calls on the government of Eritrea to honour the international human rights treaties to which it is a party and allow, without further prevarication and delay, a visit from the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, 18th December 2014
Forced labour and the international mining industry
International mining companies from the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, involved in mining activities in the East African state of Eritrea, have been accused by British parliamentarians of using forced labour in conditions which have been described as “abject slavery”, in a parliamentary motion before the House of Commons. Early Day Motion 544, Human Rights in Eritrea, has now been signed by 41 Members of Parliament from all political parties.
The parliamentarians condemn Eritrea’s human rights abuses, which include “arbitrary arrest and detention and compulsory military service imposed on all able-bodied men, women and even children”. They point out that this has led to an “unprecedented exodus of Eritreans, now reaching 5,000 a month, fleeing their country as refugees to Europe on a precarious journey, including the recent tragedy at Lampedusa, which is costing hundreds of lives”. Over the last decade nearly ten percent of the Eritrean population, which now stands at a little over six million, have fled the country.
In response, three Eritrean refugees have filed a lawsuit against the Canadian mining firm, Nevsun Resources, over claims that it conspired with the Eritrean government to force them, and other conscripted workers, to work in a copper mine while receiving little pay and living in atrocious conditions. They worked for the Bisha Mining Share Company, operated by Nevsun Resources and Segen Construction, an Eritrean state-owned contractor.
Similar accusations of forced labour are being made against South Boulder Mines, an Australian company mining high grade potassium sulphate in Colluli, South East Eritrea. This joint venture between South Boulder and the Eritrean National Mining Company is using forced labour to build a road to the mine.
The British company, Andiamo Exploration, is involved in copper, zinc and gold exploration in Eritrea. The former Conservative Party chairman, Lord Howard (formerly Michael Howard) also seems closely involved. He led a business delegation to Eritrea early this year to explore investment opportunities. The announcement that another UK-based exploration and development company, Ortac Resources, had bought into Andiamo, was made soon after Lord Howard’s return from Eritrea.
Yet another mining company, Canada-based Sunridge Gold, has repeatedly refused to answer questions about its activities in Eritrea and policy towards the use of forced labour. It has been exploring for precious metal deposits in Eritrea since 2003.
Eritrea, sometimes described as the North Korea of Africa, has been censured by the General Assembly of the United Nations which has called on Eritrea “to put an end to the system of indefinite national service by demobilising the national service conscripts who have completed their mandatory 18 months of service, and by effectively engaging them in forced labour after such a period…”
In its 2014 report, the US-based Human Rights Watch describes Eritrea as “among the most closed countries in the world; human conditions remain dismal. Indefinite military service, torture, arbitrary detention, and severe restrictions on freedom of expression, association and religion provoke thousands of Eritreans to flee their country each month.”
Notes to editors
Eritrea achieved its independence in 1993 after a struggle lasting three decades. No national elections have been held since independence. In 2001, all personal liberties were removed after the power of the President, Isaias Afwerki, had been challenged. Sanctions against Eritrea were applied by the UN as a result of the regime’s support of Al Shabaab with the illegal supply of arms and training for conducting a border war with Djibouti. Under Isaias Afwerki wars have been carried out against Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen and Djibouti.
Eritrea Focus has been formed by Eritrean exiles, charities and NGOs to draw attention to the continued abuse of human rights in Eritrea. The group has made it clear that mining contracts, negotiated through the dictatorial and unrepresentative regime in Asmara, will not be honoured by a future democratically elected Eritrean government.
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