The Protection of Eritreans in International Law: Eritrean Military Service as a Modern Form of Slavery?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Law


Research Outline and Background:
Eritrea is among the largest producers of asylum-seekers in the world. UNHCR estimates that, since 2014, over 5,000 people leave the country each month to flee the mandatory and open-ended Eritrean military/national service (hereinafter ENS), for which conscientious objection or alternative service is not permitted. Deserting or evading the ENS, and exiting the country illegally, are criminal offences under Eritrean domestic law. However, Eritrea is not experiencing a situation of emergency capable of justifying the ENS in its current form. Conversely, conscript labour is unlawfully used for purposes of national economic development, namely for services of non-military character and for the private benefit of the government and companies (Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea, 2015).

Yet, in order to be entitled to protection under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (hereinafter Refugee Convention), victims must fall within the definition of "refugee", that is, they must demonstrate a 'well-founded fear of being persecuted'. The Refugee Convention, however, does not elaborate on the notion of "persecution". As a result of this, together with the fact that information relating to the human rights situation in Eritrea is limited, EU asylum determination procedures often limit the protection available for Eritreans fleeing the ENS (European Migration Network, 2010) or refuse their asylum claims altogether.
My research aims to address the gaps in the persecution analysis, looking at whether the concept of "persecution" could be understood more broadly, by interpreting international refugee law in light of any subsequent practice in the application of international human rights law and in the context of the wider system of international law. Within the specific context of Eritrea, my research seeks to ascertain whether the ENS could be conceptualised as modern slavery and hence as persecution in its own right, thereby leading to the granting of international protection in asylum determination proceedings.

Research Questions:
How can international refugee law, international human rights law, and the wider system of international law complement each other in order to reach a common international understanding of "persecution" for the purposes of adjudicating refugee status? Can these bodies of law synergically delineate the existence of the ENS as persecution in the form of slavery, thus leading to the granting of refugee status in EU asylum determination proceedings?

Doctrinal legal research, empirical and comparative scholarship will be used simultaneously to examine the current legal issues in the persecution analysis, particularly within the context of the ENS. The research will combine the study of primary and secondary legal sources, policy and practice, analysing not only legal texts, but also their implementation and implications. The research will also include an empirical study comprising interviews with relevant stakeholders, such as legal practitioners and asylum decision-makers (with the aim to illuminate the legal reasoning behind Eritrean asylum decisions) and discussions with relevant NGOs and members of Eritrean diaspora groups.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000711/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
1927756 Studentship ES/P000711/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2021 Sara Palacios Arapiles