(Geneva 14-05-2014) Eritreans previously made to face a lifetime of forced conscription have likened conditions in the conflicted country to modern slavery. As part of a new campaign to end indefinite national service in Eritrea, hundreds of Eritreans speak out for the first time against the brutality and oppression of the regime, where every citizen over the age of 17 is forced to build the assets of the ruling party PFDJ.

In a briefing presented to members of the UN Human Rights Council, campaigners outline the devastating political, economic, social and psychological impact that the National Service is having on recruits, their families and communities.

The briefing shows direct links between national service and the ongoing refugee crisis across the region, where every month 3-5 thousand Eritrean refugees are risking their lives to escape, rather than face conditions in their home country. Campaigners reveal the perils of the journey across Africa putting their lives in the hands of ruthless human traffickers and smugglers, often with devastating consequences.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 305,000 Eritreans (more than 5 percent of the population) have fled during the past decade. Majority of those who leave Eritrea are young people often fleeing the indefinite national service

Despite the UN Human Rights Council’s deep concern at the ongoing reports of grave violations of human rights in Eritrea, the Special Rapporteur, appointed to look into the situation has been denied an entry into the country to make due assessments.

In February 2014 Eritrea’s second Universal Periodic Review on human rights was adopted and discussions highlighted the level of concern on a wide range of issues, including the indefinite national service that is causing the unprecedented levels of forced migration of Eritreans.

Next month the UN Human Rights Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur and adopt resolutions based on the Universal Periodic Review. The Stop National Service Slavery Campaign calls on the United Nations and Member States to use this opportunity to recognise Eritrea’s National Service as Modern Slavery and immediately undertake to put an end to the practise which threatens to put thousands more young lives in jeopardy.

On the 19th and 20th of June campaigners, many of whom are former recruits, will be holding several events including a meeting at the UN during the Human Rights Council’s 26th regular session and a public rally in Geneva, to highlight their concerns and speak out on behalf of thousands of their compatriots left behind.