Enforced Labour of Conscripts at International Mining Sites in Eritrea

Human Rights Concern-Eritrea (HRCE) maintains without any reservations that enforced labour by Eritrean conscripts engaged under the compulsory National Service programme continues in internationally owned mines in Eritrea.

Recent interviews conducted by HRCE amongst over 50 conscripts who managed to escape to safe countries reveals that as recently as January 2016, Eritrean conscripts were subjected to forced labour at Bisha Mine, owned jointly by the Canadian company Nevsun and the Eritrean state. Equally, forced labour has been used at mines owned jointly by the Eritrean Government and Zara Mining Share Company, and by Colluli Mining Share Company and the Eritrean Government.

Thousands of Eritreans have been forced to do the most dangerous and excessively demanding work in appalling conditions, including in temperatures of up to 47 Centigrade. Evidence obtained by HRCE indicates that these workers are often forced to work 6 and half days a week without respite, and the working day can often be up to 12 hours long.

The net pay of a conscript after deduction for food, is 450 Nakfa a month (about $10- $40 US dollar per month as it fluctuate with the exchange rate), and the payment has to be shared with their families. Former conscripts report that their living quarters in the mine sites are situated far from the mine in a make-shift camp made of flimsy material, vulnerable to the harsh winds of the desert. Such housing is also susceptible to the extreme desert temperatures – unbearably hot during the day and very cold during the night. Forced labourers frequently fall ill due to poor nutrition and hazardous working conditions. Those who do not return to work after a few days of sick leave their pay docked, regardless of whether or not they are medically fit to return to work.

Conscripts are not allowed to leave this employment; there is rigid enforcement of compulsory labour. Any attempt to escape is punished severely by military-type supervisors. Punishments include various forms of torture, including beatings, tying and leaving them in the heat,... The entire forced labour operation is closely supervised by agents of the Eritrean Government’s national security network Hagerawi Dehneti (National Security), who are present at mining sites. These agents are also present among the workers themselves. An environment of fear and suspicion prevails among the workforce because of the presence of minders and spies. Anyone who is seen talking to the foreigners is a prime suspect. Reprisals include imprisonment.                        

Why do mining companies claim to be unaware of the use of conscripts in their respective workforces?

They know the nature of government with which they are partnering. The government with which they have chosen to work has been committing crimes against its own people since it came to power, and this is now known to the entire world, due to the work of the mandates established by the Human Rights Council.

Each of the witnesses interviewed by HRCE was personally warned by agents of the Eritrean authorities and the sub-contractor, SEGEN (a government owned construction company), not to reveal that they were employed at the mine as conscripts and against their will. Mining companies do not have any system in place to enquire about or monitor the status of the Eritrean nationals working in its mine.

They are therefore deliberately choosing to look the other way in order to be able to plausibly deny all knowledge of the conscripted nature of a major section of its workforce.

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)


For further information on the issue, please check the following links:

Report by Human Rights Watch: Hear No Evil Forced Labour and Corporate Responsibility in Eritrea’s Mining Sector

Canadian mining company accused of exploiting Eritrea's forced labour

Documentary: Nevsun in Eritrea: Dealing With a Dictator - the fifth estate - CBC News