Eritrean rights advocates on Wednesday sued the EU and asked it to halt 80 million euros (US$86.5 million) in aid to the east African nation, saying that the money funded a scheme built on forced labor.
The Netherlands-based foundation Human Rights for Eritreans (FHRE) filed a lawsuit in the Amsterdam District Court, accusing the EU of financing a major road renovation project that relies on forced labor and of failing to carry out due diligence.
Some of the laborers belong to the national service, condemned to forced labor and slavery by the UN and the European Parliament, lawyers backing the suit said.
The Netherlands is host to a large number of Eritrean migrants and pays toward the project as a member of the EU.
The EU last year said that it would monitor the work to ensure that laborers were paid and treated well.
Eritrean Minister of Information Yemane Ghebremeskel questioned the credibility of the FHRE, saying that the suit was typical of its “demonization campaigns.”
“The accusations emanate from a very small, but vocal group, mostly foreigners who have an agenda of ‘regime change’ against Eritrea,” he told reporters.
Eritrea signed a peace deal with Ethiopia in 2018, raising expectations that a longstanding system of universal conscription would be scaled back, but Human Rights Watch last year said that no changes had been made to a “system of repression.”
The Dutch law firm backing the lawsuit — Kennedy Van der Laan (KVDL) — said that it is seeking a court ruling that the roads project is unlawful and that the EU should cease supporting it.
“The EU has normalized and given an acceptable face to a practice which has been universally condemned by the international community and is a clear violation of the most fundamental human rights norms,” the firm said.
KVDL attorney Emiel Jurjens said that the FHRE raised the issue in April last year with the EU, which rejected its criticism before announcing further funding for the project in December.
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