Rights group says Eritrea high schools center of repression

A report by the Human Rights Watch says Eritrean secondary schools are the heart of the country's repressive system

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Eritrea's secondary schools are at the center of the government's efforts to control the population, a human rights organization charged on Friday.

In a new report, "They Are Making us Into Slaves, Not Educating Us: How indefinite conscription restricts young people's rights, access to education," Human Rights Watch alleged that the education system subjects both students and teachers to forced labor and physical abuse, causing many to flee the country.

The report says the Eritrean government forcibly channels thousands of young people, some still children, each year into military training even before they finish their schooling.

The report claims that instead of developing a pool of committed, well-trained secondary school teachers, the government conscripts teachers for indefinite service, giving them no choice about whether, what, or where to teach.

The Eritrean government denies the charges. Eritrea's Information Minister rejected the allegations in the report, calling it a "new smear campaign."

"Eritrea's rabid detractors seem to desperately latch on to 'indefinite' National Service for a new smear campaign as their old tools of harassment have crumbled like a deck of cards on the rock of Eritrea's resilience and the prevailing climate of regional peace and cooperation," the country's Information Minister Yemane G. Meskel said on Twitter Friday.

Meskel said the national service is for just 18 months according to the country's law and it is illegal to extend it beyond that period.

"If it was prolonged, this did not stem from deliberate GOE (Government of Eritrea) policy choice. It was imposed by belligerent party which violated international law with impunity; with active/tacit external support," he claimed.