In an open letter today to President Gidada, the Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom Committee calls on the Ethiopian government to release over eighty Eritrean exchange students currently being held at an Ethiopian military base outside Addis Ababa.

At the time of the outbreak of armed hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea in early June 1998, forty-six Ethiopian students were studying in Eritrea and eighty-five Eritrean students were studying in Ethiopia under a bilateral student exchange agreement between the two countries. On July 3, the Eritrean government allowed the Ethiopian students to return home. The Ethiopian government, however, citing security concerns, has so far refused to do the same for the Eritrean students that it had been hosting.

The letter calls the detentions "fundamentally inconsistent with the principles underlying academic exchanges worldwide," and calls on the Ethiopian government to facilitate the students' safe return home or travel to a third-party country. "The Ethiopian government's security rationale cannot mask the injustice of the detentions," said Human Rights Watch academic freedom specialist Joseph Saunders.

The letter was signed on behalf of the committee by Jonathan F. Fanton, president of the New School for Social Research in New York. The committee membership includes internationally prominent academic leaders and scholars, including presidents of Harvard University, Columbia University and over a dozen other universities in the United States, and figures such as Lord Ralf Dahrendorf of St. Antony's College at Oxford, Krzysztof Michalski of the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, Ariel Dorfman of Duke University, John Kenneth Galbraith of Harvard University, and Fang Lizhi of the University of Arizona