Luwam Estifanos at One Young World Summit 2014
More than 1,240 delegates from 190 countries are meeting in Dublin for the One Young World Summit 2014. Over a period of four days, delegates will have the unique opportunity to hear and be heard by global leaders from business, politics, arts, science and sport.
Counsellors for this year’s Summit include the former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, Antony Jenkins, the CEO of Barclays, Jimmy Wales, founder and CEO of Wikipedia, Paul Polman, the CEO of Unilever and global sports stars Boris Becker and Dame Ellen MacArthur.
One of the delegates is Luwam Estifanos, a young women from Eritrea who addressed delegates in her speech on Friday. Luwam escaped from Eritrea four years ago and is now campaigning against human rights violations.
Her speech opened with the words,
“I represent a humble but nevertheless oppressed and enslaved people. I represent a nation whose current human rights record is beyond poor. I represent Eritrea, a country known otherwise as an open prison referred to as the North Korea of Africa by the Human Rights Watch.”
In an era where human rights is highly valued and guarded Eritreans suffer severe human rights abuse in all forms. The youth is forcibly conscripted to an indefinite military service where their labor is exploited and they service with only 10 dollar a month. Worse, women conscripts are subject to sexual assault by high ranks in the military and under-age conscription to the open ended military service is a standard practice.
Round-ups and arbitrary arrest of civilians is a common occurrence, freedom of press is non-existent and mere uttering of displeasure against the regime can land you in prison. Conscripts are prohibited from exercising their faith; and possessing holy books can lead to severe punishment. As a result the youth is fleeing the country on mass.
This is also my story, I was conscripted in the military at the age of sixteen. I fled through a dangerous route from my country surviving the shoot to kill policy at the border.
In the past decade many leaders including the orthodox pope have been kept behind bars. The four official religions operate limited freedom and the followers of minority religions, in particular members of the religious cells and Jehova’s Witnesses have been detained in high security underground prisons, merely for practicing and refusing to deny their faith.
The hostile policy towards religious minority groups partly reflects the societies attitude towards religious minority. As a result members of the society have a facilitating role in the persecution of religious minority groups.
This and the absence of the freedom of assembly and expression have created a negative atmosphere in Eritrea. The brutality makes us easier victims of fear and submission or very intolerant towards injustice.
The focus of my activism has been on exposing the human rights violation in Eritrea. In July this year my colleagues and I initiated a campaign against the national slavery in Eritrea.
I gave my testimony at the UN headquarters in Geneva in the process leading up to the establishment of the Commission of Enquiry – its job is to investigate the human rights violations in Eritrea. This is only the second time that this commission has been established on a country not engaged in civil war and the second time after North Korea.
I do all this for the young Eritrean man who is vanishing in jail and who could have been Meb, the Eritrean American outlet who recently won the Boston Marathon inspiring thousand. And for the young women serving in the military while being sexually harassed – she could have been Meraf winner of the 2014 European Championship who escaped to Sweden.
Or the young girl who got shot at the border, trying to escape – she could have been me.
Dear delegates, I urge you to assist us in raising awareness of human rights violations in Eritrea through media and other channels you have access to. Campaign and lobby your respective governments to protect and rescue refuges and put pressure on the Government of Eritrea to end indefinite national service and religious persecution fight modern day slavery everywhere.
Remember, it too could have been you, thank you.