Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-846f6c7c4f-xq4m6 Total loading time: 0.476 Render date: 2022-07-07T04:22:55.929Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Sexual Violence in the Eritrean National Service

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 March 2017


Claims of sexual violence against female conscripts by military commanders abound in the Eritrean National Service (ENS), but hitherto there has been no attempt to subject these claims to rigorous empirical scrutiny. This article is a partial attempt to fill the gap. Based on data collected through snowball sampling from 190 former conscripts in the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, South Africa, Kenya, and Sweden who fled from the ENS, supplemented by data from systematically selected key informants who were interviewed in depth, it examines the extent to which female conscripts serving in the ENS were subjected to sexual violence and harassment by their commanders, including at the Sawa military training camp. The extensive data, based on the perceptions and experiences of respondents who served on average about six years, suggest that sexual abuse is rampant throughout the ENS, particularly among female conscripts who are assigned to work at the camp subsequent to the six months of military training.


Les allégations de violence sexuelle contre les femmes conscrits par les commandants militaires abondent au service national érythréen (ENS). Jusqu’ici, il n’y a eu aucune tentative de soumettre ces plaintes à un examen empirique rigoureux. Cet article est une tentative partielle pour combler ces lacunes. Selon les données recueillies par le biais d’échantillonnage de boule de neige de 190 anciens conscrits dans le Royaume Uni, la Suisse, la Norvège, l’Afrique du Sud, au Kenya et en Suède, qui avaient fui l’ENS, et complétés par des données systématiquement sélectionnées de répondants clés qui ont été interrogés de façon approfondie, cet article examine dans quelle mesure les femmes conscrits servant dans l’ENS ont été victime de harcèlement et de violences sexuelles par leurs commandants, y compris dans le camp d’entraînement militaire de Sawa. Les nombreuses données, basées sur les perceptions et les expériences des répondants qui ont servi en moyenne environ six ans, suggèrent que l’abus sexuel est répandu sur l’ensemble du ENS. L’exposition à la violence sexuelle semble être la plus grande parmi les conscrits féminins qui sont assignés au camp de Sawa à la suite des six mois de formation militaire.

Copyright © African Studies Association 2017 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Afwerki, Isaias. 1999. “Speech in Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW), Asmara.” The Proceedings of the 20th Anniversary Conference of the National Union of Eritrean Women, November 27–29, Asmara, Eritrea.
Alternet. 2008. “Veterans Decry Institutional Sexism in Military.” March 16.
Amnesty International. 2003. “Submission of Interrights to the European Court of Human Rights in the Case of M.C. v Bulgaria,” April 12. Amnesty International Documents—Rape and Sexual Violence: Human Rights Law and Standards in the International Criminal Court.
Amnesty International. 2004. “Eritrea: ‘You Have No Right to Ask’—Government Resists Scrutiny on Human Rights.” May 19.
Amnesty International. 2011. “Rape and Sexual Violence: Human Rights Law and Standards in the International Criminal.”
Awate Team Eritrea 2015: “Isaias Afwerki and His Musical Chair.”
Bailliet, C. M. 2007. “Examining Sexual Violence in the Military Within the Context of Eritrean Asylum Claims Presented in Norway.” International Journal of Refugee Law 19 (3): 471510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Beyene, Teame. 1994. “Law and Women.” Paper presented at a conference of the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW), Asmara, July 17.
Buchhandler-Raphael, M. 2011. “The Failure of Consent: Re-Conceptualizing Rape as Sexual Abuse of Power.” Michigan Journal of Gender and Law 18 (1): 148228.Google Scholar
Burgess, D. 1989. “Women and War: Eritrea.” Review of African Political Economy 16 (45–46): 126–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Channel 4 News. 2013. “Soldiers Guilty of Sexual Offence Kept on by British Army.” May 2.
De Pauw, L. G. 1998. Battle Cry and Lullabies: Women in War from Prehistory to the Present. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.Google Scholar
Enloe, C. 1988. “Beyond ‘Rambo’: Women and the Varieties of Militarized Masculinity.” In Women and the Military System, edited by Isaksson, Eva. New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
Enloe, C. 1989. Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Ephrem, Sebhat. 1995. “Precedence to National Sovereignty.” Eritrea Profile, November 18. Asmara: Ministry of Information.Google Scholar
Eritrea Profile . 1994. “National Service—The Facts.” June 4. Asmara: Ministry of Information.
Eritrea Profile . 1995. Interview with Mahmoud Sherifo, Eritrean Television. January 28. Asmara: Ministry of Information.
Federal Negarit Gazeta. 1991. “Eritrean Transitional Laws.”
Gide, Debessai. 2004. Interview in Teateq [Get Armed] No. 7, July. Asmara: Ministry of Defence.
Glenton, Joe. 2014. “Rape and Sexual Assaults in the Military Need More Than ‘Kangaroo Court’ Justice.” The Guardian, March 3. n.d. “People’s Army.”
Hippler, T. 2008. Citizens, Soldiers and National Armies: Military Service in France and Germany, 1789–1830. Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge.Google Scholar
Human Rights Watch. 2009. “Service for Life: State Repression and Indefinite Conscription in Eritrea.” April 16.
Human Rights Watch. 2016. “World Report 2016: Eritrea–Events of 2015.”
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). n.d. “Definitions of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence.”
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). n.d. “Gender-Based Violence.”
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN). 2002. “Eritrea: Focus on Rapid Expansion of HIV/AIDS.” May 9.
International Criminal Court (ICC). 2013 (2005). “Rules of Procedure and Evidence.”
Kerber, L. 1980 Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar
Kibreab, G. 2009. “Forced Labour in Eritrea.” Journal of Modern African Studies 47 (1): 4172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kibreab, G. 2013. “The National Service/Warsai-Yikealo Development Campaign and Forced Migration in Post-Independence Eritrea.” Journal of Eastern African Studies 7 (4): 630–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kibreab, G. 2017. The Eritrean National Service: Servitude for “The Common Good” and the Youth Exodus. Melton, Suffolk, U.K.: James Currey.Google Scholar
Last, A. 2002. “Eritrea Cracks Down on Draft Dodgers.” BBC, July 18.
Make Every Woman Count. org. “Eritrea: Sexual Abuse of Women in the Military: Supplemental List of Supporting Documents.”
Muller, T. R. 2008. “Bare Life and the Developmental State: Implications of the Militarisation Of Higher Education in Eritrea.” Journal of Modern African Studies 46 (1): 111–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nhongo-Simbanegavi, Josephine. 1997. “Zimbabwean Women in the Liberation Struggle: ZANLA and Its Legacy, 1972–1985.” Ph.D. diss., St Anthony’s College, University of Oxford.
Provisional Government of Eritrea. 1991. “Eritrean Transitional Laws.” Negarit Gazette Eritrea 1 (1).
Reynolds, S. 1987. ‘“Marianne’s Citizens?’ Women, the Republic and Universal Suffrage in France.” In Women, the State and Revolution, edited by Reynolds, S., 101–22. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.Google Scholar
Rini, M. 2002. “Violence against Women: The Hell of Elsa, Lula and the Others at Sawa, the Rape Camp in Eritrea.” Africa ExPress, September 26.
Seferdjeli, R. (2005) “Fight with Us, Women, and We Will Emancipate You’: France, the FLN and the Struggle over Women during the Algerian War of National Liberation (1954–1962).” Ph.D. diss., London School of Economics and Political Science (University of London).
Steinhauer, J. 2012. “Reports of Military Sexual Assault Rise Sharply.” The New York Times, November 7.
Tronvoll, K., and Mekonnen, D.. 2014. The African Garrison State: Human Rights and Political Development in Eritrea. Oxford, U.K.: James Currey.Google Scholar
UNAIDS/WHO (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the World Health Organization). 2006. “Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic.”
United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COI). 2015. “Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea.”
United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW). 2010. Handbook for Legislation on Violence against Women. New York: United Nations.
United Nations Economic and Social Affairs. 2010. Handbook for Legislation on Violence Against Women. Division for the Advancement of Women.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 2005. “Draft Evaders in Eritrea.” Geneva: UNHCR.
War Resisters International (WRI). 2005. “Conscientious Objection and Desertion in Eritrea.”
Wertheimer, A. 2003. Consent to Sexual Relations. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
World Health Organization (WHO). n.d. “Best Practices in HIV/AIDS: Response in Eritrea.”
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Sexual Violence in the Eritrean National Service
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Sexual Violence in the Eritrean National Service
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Sexual Violence in the Eritrean National Service
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *