The 64-page report, “The Horn of Africa War: Mass Expulsions and the Nationality Issue,” recounts the plight of almost one hundred thousand citizens and residents of both countries who were uprooted and deprived of their residence and nationality without a semblance of due process. It documents cases of mistreatment typical of the mass expulsions, including prolonged detention, lack of food, water, and medical care, beatings, and other physical abuse.
With final demarcation of the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea set to take place in May, there is hope that peace will hold between the two countries. For tens of thousands of Ethiopians and Eritreans, though, the human rights consequences of the war are still devastating.
“The expulsions and ill-treatment was inhumane,” said Peter Takirambudde, executive director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch. “Unless the nationality status of those expelled is resolved, lasting peace and reconciliation in the Horn of Africa is unlikely.”
The plight of some 75,000 ethnic Eritreans who were living in Ethiopia when the war broke out in 1998 has yet to be resolved. Tens of thousands of civilians were summarily deported to the newly independent Eritrea in 1998. Their Ethiopian citizenship was revoked, their identity documents confiscated or marked “Expelled — never to return.” Many were interned and detained under harsh conditions and some were tortured. People were forced to leave their families behind, and many lost all their property. “I told them that I was an Ethiopian, and mother of Ethiopian children, but no one would listen to me,” one witness told Human Rights Watch.
Ethiopians living in Eritrea suffered a similar plight in 1998. A few months after the war broke out, the Eritrean government interned some 7,500 people and deported thousands. Some of those expelled reported torture, rape or other degrading treatment at the hands of Eritrean officials.
“There is no justification for the horrendous treatment these people suffered in 1998,” said Takirambudde. “What is worse is that, despite all the international assistance since the war’s end, they still have no resolution: property claims remain unresolved, families are still separated, and many now have no nationality.”
Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia after a referendum in 1993. Relations between the two countries deteriorated after that, culminating in the 1998-2000 border war. A December 2000 peace agreement ended the war and established a boundary commission and a claims commission and provided for release of prisoners of war, but failed to address the plight of those who had been deported. Since then, relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have remained calm but tense.
The human rights situation in both countries remains abysmal—near-total denial of freedom of expression, executive manipulation of judiciary, arbitrary detentions, abusive security forces, and use of torture. Mass expulsions have not been committed since 1998, but discrimination on ethnic grounds remains a problem.
Both countries are collaborating with the United States in its war against terrorism.