The UN Com­mis­sion of inquiry on Eritrea (COI) received a large num­ber of tes­ti­monies and sub­mis­sions relat­ing to the rape and sex­ual abuse of young women con­scripts in mil­i­tary train­ing cen­tres. Despite the large num­ber of tes­ti­monies report­ing sex­ual vio­lence within mil­i­tary train­ing, the Com­mis­sion con­sid­ers that it may have only par­tially uncov­ered the full extent of the sex­ual vio­lence suf­fered by women and girls in mil­i­tary train­ing due to the cul­tural bar­ri­ers and chal­lenges asso­ci­ated with speak­ing about sex­ual vio­lence.

In light of these fac­tors, the Com­mis­sion is of the view that rape and other forms of sex­ual vio­lence are per­pe­trated with fre­quency against women in the mil­i­tary train­ing cen­tres. The preva­lence of such abuse in Sawa and Wi’a in par­tic­u­lar is extremely high, but it is also found in other mil­i­tary train­ing centres.

A for­mer trainer at Sawa mil­i­tary train­ing cen­tre told the Com­mis­sion that the sex­ual abuse of young women in Sawa mil­i­tary train­ing camp was “nor­mal.” The Com­mis­sion also heard from for­mer con­scripts that sug­gested that this prac­tice is pervasive.


“Over 70 per cent of the girls were vio­lated like that. Stu­dents are not allowed to go to the offi­cers’ rooms, but some­times the offi­cers ask them to come to their house. The girls can­not say no because they know what will hap­pen in train­ing if they say no. When they enter the room, the offi­cers tell them to take off their clothes and they abuse them. The girls do not report it.”


Another for­mer con­script reported: 90 per cent of the girls are destroyed. Girls don’t even dream about a bet­ter life in Eritrea”.


Offi­cers at the train­ing camps select the young women they find attrac­tive when the new con­scripts first arrive at the mil­i­tary train­ing cen­tre. They then have the young women allo­cated to their ser­vice or train­ing team, plac­ing the young women under their control.


A woman con­scripted in an early round of mil­i­tary train­ing described the prac­tice of train­ers select­ing those they found attrac­tive as exist­ing back then. Each trainer, pretty much, had a girl serv­ing him. … Most of the pretty girls were selected, they are always. They serve as their maids, they serve cof­fee, they never go out to do mil­i­tary work. They are their per­sonal slave. It’s pretty known by all that they serve these train­ers.”


Another for­mer con­script reported the prac­tice of high rank­ing offi­cers to have newly arrived young girls assigned to their per­sonal ser­vice. “It is com­monly the Divi­sion lead­ers, the high­est ranks who would do that. All peo­ple would go back to their Divi­sion at the end of the day. The lead­ers select girls per­son­ally. After six months, they would change her, take a newly arrived. The 11th grade stu­dents (1617 years old) have to pass their last year’s exam in Sawa. They take them then. Once a woman is assigned to a Gen­eral, they stay there do office work, chores, etc. there is no rule, no law. Some­times when the girls see the car of the Gen­eral approach­ing they hide. One of my best friends was a ‘an assis­tant’ of the Colonel. He told me that the nick­name used to get a girl is ‘goat’. Some­times when new­com­ers arrive they asked assis­tants to bring new goats.”


Another method employed by the offi­cials in the mil­i­tary train­ing camps is to instruct assis­tants to bring a par­tic­u­lar young woman to their quar­ters any time of day or night. Mil­i­tary per­son­nel serv­ing the leader are tasked with col­lect­ing the young woman from her sleep­ing quar­ters and deliv­er­ing her to the offi­cial. Young women who are col­lected in this man­ner have no way of refus­ing to go to the superior’s quar­ters or pro­tect them­selves from being sex­u­ally abused.


A for­mer trainer at Sawa con­firmed the dual method of selec­tion, select­ing girls to work in a leader’s cham­bers and sex­u­ally abus­ing them there, or tak­ing young women at night from their rooms.They bring girls from the train­ing cen­tre. They take them to their room and they have sex with them, against their will. The girls are cry­ing. I have seen at least 56 girls. [Officer’s name], who was in charge of the train­ing, was rap­ing them. It was hap­pen­ing at night time. His dri­ver was going in girls’ rooms, tak­ing them and then bring­ing them back. … There is a gar­ri­son of girls work­ing with the Colonels who were also abused sex­u­ally, and addi­tional girls were taken from the girls’ com­pound.


Female con­scripts, some away from their home and fam­ily for the very first time are recruited into the indef­i­nite so called national ser­vice pro­gram at the ten­der age of 16 which makes them extremely vulen­er­a­ble to rape and sex­ual exploita­tion


A per­sonal assis­tant to an offi­cial at Wi’a train­ing camp con­firmed the prac­tice con­tin­ued there in the mid-​2000s. [Officer’s name] chose some women for house labour and for sex­ual inter­course. He would take them to Mas­sawa. I was ordered to bring girls to com­man­ders’ rooms. They would give me their names and I would go and col­lect them. They would ask me to do this any­time of the day. I also had the respon­si­bil­ity to take them back. If they had sex­ual inter­course with them, the girls would get favours such as being given milk. I was ordered to give them some­thing such as milk, oil and water. I can roughly esti­mate that there were about 1,200 women in three years. Dur­ing the one year I was at Wi’a, I brought about one to two girls in a day for a period of five months.”


A for­mer mil­i­tary police offi­cer at one of the train­ing cen­tres reported the sex­ual abuse of con­scripts: When girls are sent to the train­ing cen­tre, the guards sex­u­ally abuse them. [Officer’s name] lived there at the camp, he con­stantly took women from the train­ing cen­tre for sex. Every day a dif­fer­ent girl. Many other guards did too. Some are mar­ried, vir­gins etc. – many of the girls become very distressed.”


Young women under the age of 18 years have also been selected by offi­cials in the mil­i­tary train­ing camps for sex­ual intercourse.


On the topic of selec­tion, a for­mer con­script described it as being “a joke” it was so pre­dictable. If she is beau­ti­ful and young she will be for the top rank. Three to four were serv­ing the colonel. … A friend from my area was selected by a colonel when she was 1617 years old.”


A for­mer trainer in a mil­i­tary camp in the 1990s also con­firmed that the lead­ers “selected the most beau­ti­ful girls. They are cho­sen and then assigned to some­one.” He fur­ther noted the sub­jec­tiv­ity of beauty and the pref­er­ence of par­tic­u­lar lead­ers, “[officer’s name] abused lots of teenagers.”



The sex­ual exploita­tion of women and girls that are forced to per­form domes­tic duties in offi­cials’ pri­vate quar­ters and of the women and girls ordered there for the spe­cific pur­pose of sex­ual exploita­tion takes place within an over­all envi­ron­ment of con­trol, intim­i­da­tion and coer­cion. The national ser­vice struc­ture utilises the mil­i­tary hier­ar­chy in which sub­or­di­nates are con­di­tioned to obey and per­form the orders of supe­ri­ors and fail­ure to fol­low the orders of a supe­rior results in pun­ish­ment. The young women are pow­er­less to avoid or defend them­selves from the sex­ual preda­tory behav­iour of offi­cials. In this regard the Com­mis­sion notes the par­tic­u­lar pow­er­less­ness of the young women under 18 years.


Within the over­all envi­ron­ment of con­trol, the women and girls effec­tively detained in the quar­ters of offi­cials are faced with an addi­tional depri­va­tion of lib­erty to that of reg­u­lar recruits. The Com­mis­sion has received reports of offi­cials forc­ing women and girls into such a ser­vice sta­tus in an attempt to claim own­er­ship rights and sex­ual access thereby vio­lat­ing the right to lib­erty of these young women, forc­ing them into sex­ual enslavement.


A for­mer young woman con­script explained how the claims of own­er­ship by offi­cials can begin. The trainer can come to where you sleep, and they can come while we sleep. He asks us for exam­ple to go fetch wood for fire, and then asks a girl to stay. The next thing, you see the girls mak­ing cof­fee and tea for them. They have got their stuff at the dor­mi­tory, but most of the time they are hardly there. … There were hun­dreds of girls in that posi­tion.”


Another for­mer con­script explained Two to three girls were serv­ing the colonel. Even the lower ranks in charge of 10 peo­ple were also served by one or two girls. They were wash­ing clothes, cook­ing and forc­ing them to have sex. Some of the women refused and they were mak­ing their life very dif­fi­cult.”



A young woman forced into such a posi­tion explainedMany women are forced to clean the officer’s houses, make food and cof­fee for them. Usu­ally we were divided into teams of about 1820 peo­ple. There are usu­ally four or five women in each team and this is what they have to do, we have to wash their clothes, make their food, do every­thing for them. Many of the offi­cers use this oppor­tu­nity to sex­u­ally abuse the women, to rape them.”




The use of pun­ish­ment and fear of punishment


The Com­mis­sion received reports of young women and girls fear­ing pun­ish­ment if they did not sub­mit to orders to serve offi­cials in their pri­vate quar­ters or sub­mit to sex­ual attacks by offi­cials. Reports were also received of women and girls being sub­jected to phys­i­cal and men­tal pun­ish­ment, often amount­ing to tor­ture for fail­ure to sub­mit to a servile sta­tus or sex­ual abuse. Per­sons who try to assist young women to evade an officer’s demands, or assist them dur­ing pun­ish­ment for refus­ing sex­ual requests are also punished.


A for­mer trainer con­firmed the prac­tice of pun­ish­ing the young women who refused the sex­ual advances of lead­ers in the train­ing cen­tres.If the girl is not will­ing, they will send her to do hard work, as pun­ish­ment. … For exam­ple, there was one Chris­t­ian girl named XX … [Officer’s name] asked her to be his ‘friend’ and she refused so he sent her to ‘Ruba Sawa’, another camp which is very harsh. She was forced to work hard. When she came back … she was told that she spoiled her age and her beauty by being a Chris­t­ian. They treat girls very badly.”


The Com­mis­sion heard from a man speak­ing on behalf of his niece, a for­mer con­script who was too trau­ma­tised by her expe­ri­ence in mil­i­tary train­ing to speak her­self. The young woman was con­tin­u­ally pur­sued by her unit leader for sex­ual activ­ity. Her con­sis­tent refusal resulted in reg­u­lar beat­ings and being held in a tor­ture posi­tion. “[Officer’s name] asked her to pre­pare cof­fee which she reluc­tantly did, but insisted that she should be treated the same as every­one else. She refused his sex­ual advances. He used some of the sol­diers to beat her with Char’a (a thorny branch from an Aca­cia tree) and tie her hands behind her. She still has marks from the spikes of the branches and tie marks on her upper arms from being bound so tightly often. In front of him she did not want to show she was in pain, but after­wards cried with pain. She was con­stantly being tor­tured, tied, beaten and insulted. One day her arms were tied extremely tight above her elbows. She was in excru­ci­at­ing pain. A fel­low stu­dent (male) took pity on her and loosed the binds. In the morn­ing the offi­cer came and noticed that the rope was not as tight as he had tied it. He asked her to tell him who loos­ened it and she refused. He beat her with the Char’a, but she would not reveal who it was.”



The Com­mis­sion finds that women are at a dis­pro­por­tion­ate risk of dis­crim­i­na­tion and vio­lence within the mil­i­tary train­ing camps and are tar­geted for sex­ual abuse on account of their gen­der. The Com­mis­sion con­sid­ers the over­all cir­cum­stances of the mil­i­tary train­ing cen­tres to be sit­u­a­tions of con­trol in which con­scripts, par­tic­u­larly women and girls are denied their rights cre­at­ing a vul­ner­a­bil­ity to vio­lence. The Com­mis­sion is of the view that in addi­tion to women and girls being tar­geted to per­form domes­tic labour in offi­cials’ quar­ters which con­sti­tutes an addi­tional depri­va­tion of their lib­erty, they are also tar­geted for sex­ual abuse by offi­cials. Despite the fact that such dis­crim­i­na­tion is not per­mit­ted by the Eritrean domes­tic law or inter­na­tional human rights law, such behav­iour appears to be wide­spread within the train­ing camps. The State’s inabil­ity and/​or unwill­ing­ness to ful­fil its due dili­gence oblig­a­tions to pre­vent and address such dis­crim­i­na­tion and vio­lence against women in the train­ing camps con­firms that the prac­tices are a form of per­se­cu­tion of women and girls in this environment.

When rape is com­mit­ted by a pub­lic offi­cial at their insti­ga­tion or with their con­sent or acqui­es­cence, it con­sti­tutes tor­ture if it occurs in a con­text that includes pun­ish­ment, intim­i­da­tion, con­trol or coer­cion.

The Com­mis­sion finds that since the over­all cir­cum­stances of the mil­i­tary train­ing camps involve con­trol, intim­i­da­tion, coer­cion and pun­ish­ment, and the young women within the camps are pow­er­less, the rape of con­scripts in this envi­ron­ment by offi­cials amounts to tor­ture. Addi­tion­ally, the Com­mis­sion finds the sex­ual exploita­tion of con­scripts who are forced to per­form domes­tic labour in offi­cials’ quar­ters to amount to sex­ual slav­ery.



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