Eritrean activists sue EU for funding roads built with 'forced labour'

Eritrean activists have sued the European Union (EU), demanding it stop funding a project which they say uses forced labour.

The Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans (FHRE) filed a lawsuit to the Amsterdam district court, accusing the EU of financing a major road renovation project that relies on forced labour and of failing to carry out due diligence.

The group, which is based in the Netherlands, accused the EU of failing to conduct adequate checks before it provided more than $85m (£70m) to finance a road linking Eritrea with Ethiopia.

The Netherlands is host to a large number of Eritrean migrants and pays toward the project as a member of the EU. The European Commission - the EU’s executive arm - said in response that it reserved the right to establish its legal and factual arguments before the Amsterdam court, in accordance with applicable law.

Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Ghebremeskel, questioned the credibility of the FHRE and said the lawsuit was typical of its opponents “demonisation campaigns”. The UN has described the system of indefinite conscription in Eritrea as slavery.

Eritrea signed a peace deal with Ethiopia in 2018, raising expectations that a long-standing system of universal conscription would be scaled back.