Religion, Repression, and Human Rights in Eritrea and the Diaspora

In: Journal of Religion in Africa
View More View Less
  • 1 Department of Anthropology, 250 South Stadium Hall, USA

Abstract

This paper analyzes the logic of the Eritrean state’s repression of religious identities and institutions from a historical and transnational perspective. It argues that contemporary religious repression expresses cultural, political, and generational conflicts related to the internal dynamics of Eritrea’s postrevolutionary transition, the transnational configuration of the nation-state, and larger preoccupations with the pressures of globalization. A key proposition is that repression of religion is related to both the modernist secularism of the nationalist regime and the ways in which human rights discourse intersects simultaneously with northern interventionism and transnational diaspora opposition to the Eritrean regime. Analyzing the Eritrean case with respect to contemporary critical scholarship on the tensions and contradictions inherent in secularism and human rights discourse highlights how their emancipatory potentials can be co-opted by regimes of power.

  • Agrama Hussein Ali ‘Reflections on Secularism, Democracy, and Politics in Egypt’ American Ethnologist 2012 39 1 26 31

  • Al-Jazeera (English) ‘Talk to Al Jazeera: Interview with Isaias Afwerki’ 2009 February 20

  • Amnesty International (AI) ‘“You Have No Right to Ask”: Government Resists Scrutiny on Human Rights’ 2004 AI Index: AFR 64/003/2004

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Amnesty International (AI) ‘Eritrea: Religious Persecution’ 2005 AI Index: AFR 64/013/2005.

  • Amnesty International (AI) ‘On 6th anniversary of mass detentions of dissidents, human rights violations continue unabated’ 2007 AI Index AFR 64/009/2007.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Anderson Allan Heaton ‘Eritrean Pentecostals as Asylum Seekers in Britain’ Journal of Religion in Africa 2013 43 2 167 195

  • Asad Talal Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam 1993 Baltimore, MD The Johns Hopkins University Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Asad Talal Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity 2003 Stanford, CA Stanford University Press

  • British Broadcasting System (BBC) News ‘Eritrea Silences Critics’ 2001a September 18

  • British Broadcasting System (BBC) News ‘Yemane Gebremeskel: “People were going beyond the law”’ [Audio File]. ‘Eritrea Defends Political Crackdown’ 2001b October 10

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Brown Wendy ‘The Most We Can Hope For . . .’: Human rights and the Politics of Fatalism South Atlantic Quarterly 2004 103 2-3 451 463

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Bernal Victoria ‘Eritrea On-line: Diaspora, Cyberspace, and the Public Sphere’ American Ethnologist 2005 32 4 660 675

  • Bernal Victoria ‘Diaspora, Cyberspace, and Political Imagination: The Eritrean Diaspora Online’ Global Networks 2006 6 2 161 179

  • Christian Solidarity Worldwide/Human Rights Concern Eritrea (CSW/HRCE) ‘Stakeholder Report on the Human Rights Situation in Eritrea, Universal Periodic Review, April 2009’ 2009 http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session6/ER/CSWHRCE_ERI_UPR_S06_2009.pdf . Accessed 23 July 2009.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Comaroff Jean Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People 1985 Chicago, IL University of Chicago Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Comaroff John L. & Comaroff Jean Of Revelation and Revolution, Vol. 1: Christianity, Colonialism and Consciousness in South Africa 1991 Chicago, IL University of Chicago Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Connell Dan Conversations with Eritrean Political Prisoners 2005 Lawrenceville, NJ The Red Sea Press, Inc.

  • Cowan Jane, Dembour Marie-Bénédicte & Wilson Richard A. Culture and Rights: Anthropological Perspectives 2001 Cambridge Cambridge University Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Dea Data ‘Christianity and Spirit Mediums: Experiencing Post-socialist Religious Freedom in Southern Ethiopia’ 2005 Halle/Saale Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Working Paper No. 75.

    • Export Citation
  • Derman William, Hellum Anne & Sandvik Kristin B. Worlds of Human Rights: The Ambiguities of Rights Claiming in Africa Leiden Brill Publishers

  • Donham Donald L. Marxist Modern: An Ethnographic History of the Ethiopian Revolution 1999 Berkeley University of California Press

  • Douzinas Costas Human Rights and Empire: The Political Philosophy of Cosmopolitanism 2007 Abingdon, UK Routledge-Cavendish

  • Douzinas Costas ‘Seven Theses on Human Rights (3): Neoliberal Capitalism and Voluntary Imperialism’ Critical Legal Thinking: Law and the Political 2013 May 23 http://criticallegalthinking.com/2013/05/23/seven-theses-on-human-rights-3-neoliberal-capitalism-voluntary-imperialism/#fn-14638-2.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Eide Oyvind M. Revolution and Religion in Ethiopia: The Growth and Persecution of the Mekane Yesus Church 1974-1985 2000 Oxford James Currey

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Englund Harri ‘The Dead Hand of Human Rights: Contrasting Christianities in Post-transition Malawi’ Journal of Modern African Studies 2000 38 4 579 603

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Eritrean Anti-militarism Initiative (EAI) ‘Eritrea: Conscientious Objection and Desertion. A Documentation by Connection e.V., Germany; War Resisters International; and the Eritrean Anti-Militarism Initiative’ 2005 [English version]

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF) National Democratic Program of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front 1977

  • Feinstein Yuval ‘The Double-Edge Sword of Human Rights Discourse: Paradox of Universalism and Particularism in Contentions over the Construction of a Separation Barrier between Israel and Palestinian Occupied Territories’ 2005 Paper presented at the Reframing Human Rights conference October 4, 2005 Berlin: WZB Social Science Research Center and Humboldt University

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ferguson James Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order 2006 Durham, NC Duke University Press

  • Goodale Mark Surrendering to Utopia: An Anthropology of Human Rights 2009 Stanford, CA Stanford University Press

  • Goodale Mark & Merry Sally Engle The Practice of Human Rights: Tracking Law Between the Local and the Global 2007 Cambridge Cambridge University Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hackett Rosalind I.J. Hackett Rosalind I.J. ‘Revisiting Proselytization in the Context of Rights Talk, Free Markets and Culture Wars’ Proselytization Revisited: Rights Talk, Free Markets, and Culture Wars 2008 London Equinox Publishers 1 34

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hayman Rachel ‘Reconciling Ownership of Development & External Assistance: Aid and Nation-building in Eritrea’ 2003 Centre of African Studies, Occasional Papers Series No. 95 Edinburgh University of Edinburgh

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hepner Tricia Redeker ‘Religion, Nationalism, and Transnational Civil Society in the Eritrean Diaspora’ Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 2003 10 269 293

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hepner Tricia Redeker ‘Transnational Governance and the Centralization of State Power in Eritrea and Exile’ Ethnic and Racial Studies 2008 31 3 476 502

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hepner Tricia Redeker Soldiers, Martyrs, Traitors, and Exiles: Political Conflict in Eritrea and the Diaspora 2009a Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hepner Tricia Redeker O’Kane David & Hepner Tricia Redeker ‘Seeking Asylum in a Transnational Social Field: New Refugees and Struggles for Autonomy and Human Rights’ Biopolitics, Militarism, and Development: Eritrea in the Twenty-First Century 2009b New York Berghahn Books 115 133

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hepner Tricia Redeker Ensor Marisa O. ‘Militarization, Generational Conflict, and the Eritrean Refugee Crisis’ African Childhoods: Education, Development, Peacebuilding, and the Youngest Continent 2012 New York Palgrave MacMillan 109 123

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hepner Tricia Redeker Derman William, Hellum Anne & Sandvik Kristin B. ‘Emergent Eritrean Human Rights Movements: Politics, Law and Culture in Transnational Perspective’ Worlds of Human Rights: The Ambiguities of Rights Claiming in Africa 2013 Leiden Brill Publishers 277 302

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hepner Tricia Redeker & Fredriksson Lynn ‘Regional Politics, Human Rights, and U.S. Policy in the Horn of Africa’ Africa Policy Journal of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University 2007 spring 3 22 48

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hepner Tricia Redeker & Tecle Samia ‘New Refugees, Development-Forced Displacement, and Transnational Governance in Eritrea and Exile’ Urban Anthropology 2013 42 3-4 377 410

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hirschkind Charles ‘Is There a Secular Body?’ Cultural Anthropology 2011 26 4 633 647

  • Hirt Nicole ‘Dreams Don’t Come True in Eritrea: Anomie and Family Disintegration due to the Structural Militarization of Society’ 2010 German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA) Working Papers, 119/2010

    • Export Citation
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) Human Rights Watch Press Release, ‘Escalating Crackdown in Eritrea: Reformists, Journalists, Students at Risk’ 2001 September 21 New York Human Rights Watch

    • Export Citation
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) ‘Service for Life: State Repression and Indefinite Conscription in Eritrea’ 2009 April 16 New York Human Rights Watch

    • Export Citation
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW) ‘World Report 2012: Eritrea’ 2013 New York Human Rights Watch

    • Export Citation
  • Humphris Rachel ‘Refugees and the Rashaida: Human Smuggling and Trafficking from Eritrea to Sudan and Egypt’ 2012 New Issues in Refugee Research, Research Paper No. 247 Geneva: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hurd Elizabeth Shakman & Sullivan Winnifred Fallers ‘The Politics of Religion Freedom’ The Immanent Frame: Secularism, Religion, and the Public Sphere 2013 New York Social Science Research Council http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/the-politics-of-religious-freedom/

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jopson Barney ‘Inside the Insular and Secretive Eritrea’ Financial Times 2009 September 19

  • Kagan Michael ‘Refugee Credibility Assessment and the “Religious Imposter” Problem: A Case Study of Eritrean Pentecostal Claims in Egypt’ 2009 CRMS Working Paper No. 9. Cairo Center for Migration and Refugee Studies

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Keck Margaret & Sikkink Kathryn Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics 1998 Ithaca, NY Cornell University Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kibreab Gaim Critical Reflections on the Eritrean War of Independence: Social Capital, Associational Life, Religion, Ethnicity, and Sowing Seeds of Dictatorship 2008 Trenton, NJ The Red Sea Press, Inc.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kibreab Gaim ‘Forced Labour in Eritrea’ Journal of Modern African Studies 2009 47 1 41 72

  • Kifleyesus Abbebe ‘Cosmologies in Collision: Pentecostal Conversion and Christian Cults in Asmara’ African Studies Review 2006 49 1 75 92

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Killion Tom Historical Dictionary of Eritrea 1998 Lanham, MD Scarecrow Press

  • Langlois Anthony J. ‘Human Rights in Crisis? A Critical Polemic Against Polemical Critics’ Journal of Human Rights 2012 11 558 570

  • Larebo Haile Mariam ‘The Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Politics in the Twentieth Century: Part II’ Northeast African Studies 1988 10 1 1 23

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Levitt Peggy The Transnational Villagers 2001 Berkeley University of California Press

  • Mahmood Saba ‘Sectarian Conflict and Family Law in Contemporary Egypt’ American Ethnologist 2012 39 1 54 62

  • Marcus Harold G. A History of Ethiopia 1994 Berkeley University of California Press

  • Markakis John ‘The Nationalist Revolution in Eritrea’ Journal of Modern African Studies 1988 26 1 51 70

  • Mejlis Ibrahim Muktar (MIM) ‘The Eritrean Covenant: Towards Sustainable Justice and Peace’ 2009 Unpublished document on file with the author.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mekonnen Daniel Rezene & van Reisen Mirjam ‘Religious Persecution in Eritrea and the Role of the European Union on Tackling the Challenge’ 2011 Paper presented at ESF-LiU Conference on Religion, Gender and Human Rights: Challenges for Multicultural and Democratic Societies 21-25 June Scandic Linköping Vast, Sweden

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mengisteab Kidane & Yohannes Okbazghi Anatomy of an African Tragedy: Political, Economic, and Foreign Policy Crisis in Post-Independence Eritrea 2005 Trenton The Red Sea Press, Inc.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Merry Sally Engle ‘Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism: Mapping the Middle’ American Anthropologist 2006 108 1 38 51

  • Miran Jonathan ‘A Historical Overview of Islam in Eritrea’ Die Welt Des Islams 2005 45 2 177 215

  • Müller Tanja R. ‘From Rebel Governance to State Consolidation—Dynamics of Loyalty and the Securitisation of the State in Eritrea’ Geoforum 2012 43 4 793 803

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mutua Makau Human Rights: A Political and Cultural Critique 2002 Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press

  • Nash Kate The Cultural Politics of Human Rights: Comparing the US and UK 2009 Cambridge Cambridge University Press

  • O’Kane David & Hepner Tricia Redeker Biopolitics, Militarism, and Development: Eritrea in the Twenty-First Century 2009 New York Berghahn Books

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Pool David From Guerrillas to Government: The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front 2001 Oxford James Currey

  • Ratha Dilip, Mohapatra Sanket, Özden Çağlar, Plaza Sonia, Shaw William & Shimeles Abebe Leveraging Migration for Africa: Remittances, Skills, and Investments 2011 Washington, DC The World Bank

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Reid Richard ‘The Politics of Silence: Interpreting Stasis in Contemporary Eritrea’ Review of African Political Economy 2009 36 120 209 221

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Scherer Matthew ‘Landmarks in the Critical Study of Secularism’ Cultural Anthropology 2011 26 4 621 632

  • Scott James C. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts 1990 New Haven, CT Yale University Press

  • Shabait.com ‘Our Religious Holidays Are Part of Our National Holidays’ 2006 April 25

  • Smith James Howard Smith James Howard & Hackett Rosalind I.J. ‘Religious Dimensions of Conflict and Peace in Neoliberal Africa: An Introduction’ Displacing the State: Religion and Conflict in Neoliberal Africa 2012 Notre Dame, IN University of Notre Dame Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Smith James Howard & Hackett Rosalind I.J. Displacing the State: Religion and Conflict in Neoliberal Africa 2012 Notre Dame, IN University of Notre Dame Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Speed Shannon ‘At the Crossroads of Human Rights and Anthropology: Towards a Critically-Engaged Activist Research’ American Anthropologist 2006 108 1 66 76

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tate Winifred Counting the Dead: The Culture and Politics of Human Rights Activism in Colombia 2007 Berkeley University of California Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tesfamariam Sophia ‘Eritrea: Challenges and Threats Posed by New Religious Movements’ American Chronicle 2009 11 March 2009

  • Thiranagama Sharika & Kelly Tobias Traitors: Suspicion, Intimacy, and the Ethics of State Building 2009 Philadelphia University of Pennsylvania Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Treiber Magnus O’Kane David & Hepner Tricia Redeker ‘Trapped in Adolescence: The Postwar Urban Generation’ Biopolitics, Militarism, and Development: Eritrea in theTwenty-first Century 2009 New York Berghahn Books 92 114

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Treiber Magnus Triulzi Alessandro & MacKenzie Robert ‘Lessons for Life: Two Migratory Portraits from Eritrea’ Long Journeys: African Migrants on the Road 2013 Leiden Brill 187 211

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tronvoll Kjetil ‘The Process of a Nation-building in Eritrea: Created from Below or Directed from Above?’ Journal of Modern African Studies 1998a 36 3 461 482

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tronvoll Kjetil Mai Weini: A Highland Village in Eritrea 1998b Lawrenceville, NJ The Red Sea Press

  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 2008 Online Statistical Population Database. Data extracted 3 April 2008

  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ‘UNHCR Global Trends 2001: A Year of Crises’ 2011 Accessed 23 August 2012

  • United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) ‘Annual Report 2012’ 2012 Washington, DC USCIRF

    • Export Citation
  • Van Reisen Mirjam, Estefanos Meron & Rijken Conny ‘Human Trafficking in the Sinai: Refugees between Life and Death’ 2012 Brussels Tilburg University and European External Policy Advisors 1 85

    • Export Citation
  • Verdery Katherine The Political Lives of Dead Bodies: Reburial and Post-Socialist Change 1999 New York Columbia University Press

  • Wikileaks ‘Containers are a Luxury: Eritrea Responds to CPC Designation’ 2011 Cable reference ID: #06ASMARA967.http://wikileaks.org/cable/2006/11/06ASMARA967.html.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Wilson Richard A. Human Rights, Culture and Context: Anthropological Perspectives 1997 London Pluto Press

  • Woldemikael Tekle M. Crawford Young ‘The Cultural Construction of Eritrean Nationalist Movements’ The Rising Tide of Cultural Pluralism: The Nation-State at Bay? 1993 Madison University of Wisconsin Press

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Woldemikael Tekle M. Hepner Tricia Redeker & Conrad Bettina ‘Bridging the Divide: Eritrean Muslims and Christians in Orange County, California.’ Eritrean Studies Review 2005 4 2 143 164 ‘Eritrea Abroad: Critical Perspectives on the Global Diaspora’

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • 8

    As Harri Englund (2002) discusses with respect to the Catholic Church in Malawi, whose bishops released pastoral letters in the 1990s commenting on social and political issues, the Church’s critical response and engagement with rights-based concerns was part of the transnational character of the Church generally and its post-Vatican II mandates as they unfolded in neoliberal Africa.

  • 11

    According to Mejlis Ibrahim Muktar (2009), ‘Only two Islamic civil societies (Qur’an Recitation Group that teaches children the Qur’an and Awqaf (Endowments) Committee that provides funeral services) that have been in existence since the Italian rule have been allowed to operate in Eritrea while there are dozens of international and domestic Christian civil societies in Eritrea. Muslim Awqaf, administering real estate properties, has been long nationalized by the state under the pretext of inability to pay taxes. Christian institutions were able to claim their properties because they were able to raise funds from overseas while Muslims are banned from funding any kind of social or development projects in Eritrea.’ (mim 2009, Section IV, item 18).

  • 17

    Interview, 28 June 2009.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 307 175 7
Full Text Views 242 16 2
PDF Downloads 27 13 2