“Not knowing the law will not absolve you from being responsible” is a saying we always hear when crimes are committed by people who are absolutely oblivious to the law. Available statistics show that some offenses stem from lack of knowledge on the law. In an attempt to increase the public’s awareness about legal matters and the legal system in Eritrea, The Ministry of Justice organized events that lasted for a week, 6-11 December. Following is an interview with a participant at the events held during the ‘Law Week’.
- Thank you for making time and agreeing to this interview; let’s get you acquainted with our readers?
Thank you! My name is Luwam Mogos. I was born in 1996 in Asmara and enrolled in several schools in Asmara. I went to Sawa in the 27th round, sat for the matriculation exams, and scored a grade to study for a first degree. I joined the College of Arts and Social Sciences at Adi Keih and then attended the School of Law in Asmara. I wrote my senior thesis on international law, under the title ‘When Politics Tampers with Law: The Withdrawal of Qatar from the Eritrea-Djibouti Mediation Agreement and Its Responsibility under International Law’ which was awarded as the Best Senior Thesis at the School of Law, Class of 2020. I graduated with distinction and am now working as a public prosecutor at Adi Quala, Southern Region.
- You are one of the people who participated at the ‘Law Week’. Please tell us what the program was and your role in it?
‘Law Week’ was a week-long program conducted by the Ministry of Justice, and it aimed at raising the legal awareness of Eritrean citizens. As part of that, many law-oriented seminars were conducted and pro-bono legal services were given. As part of the legal awareness seminars, one was conducted under the title ‘Eritrea and International Law’. It aimed to inform the public on the encounters of Eritrea with international law and the overall development of the relationship of Eritrea with International law. So, my role was to give a presentation on the process of the incorporation of international treaties and agreements into the national laws of Eritrea. I prepared the presentation based on research papers written on the issue, one written by Ali Osman Ali and the other by Senay Woldeab.
- You are a female Public Prosecutor working at a region considered rich in cultural traditions; how do you explain the customary laws of Eritrea towards women?
The Customary Laws of Eritrea are the laws that dictated the lives of our ancestors. They had so much significance in ensuring the coherence and tranquility of the societies that created them because they reflected their traditions and way of living. In spite of their great contribution toward safeguarding the peace and unity of the societies, most of the customary laws did not give a favorable place to the woman. This was not necessarily meant to belittle women or deride their significance but only because the traditions and culture of the forefathers back then dictated as such.
Many examples can be mentioned to show how women were not taken as credible witnesses in any dispute settlement (the testimony of one man equals that of two women), women were not allowed to get land in their own village (they were entitled only to land in the village of their husband). Of course, this is not without exception because in special circumstances women were granted land in their own villages. In addition to this, women were subjected to brutal treatments like FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) because it was part of the custom and tradition of the forefathers. The customary laws in this regard gave no support to eradicate such a practice because they could only reflect the custom and tradition of the societies that created them.
Of course, there exist some customary laws (like the Kunama customary laws) where women are entitled to many privileges and are treated in equal terms with men (or sometimes even greater than men). However, speaking of the majority of the Eritrean customary laws, as much as they had great use, wisdom and significance, they did not put the woman in a favorable position in society.
- Since the Customary Laws were not favorable to women, what changes have the Current Eritrean Laws introduced to promote the empowerment of women?
Protecting the rights of women and women’s empowerment are some of the principal objectives that the Eritrean government has been working to achieve, including during the armed struggle for independence. The Eritrean government has made several reforms to ensure the equality and wellbeing of Eritrean women. The main pillars for the empowerment of women in a country are: supporting women’s right to education, paving the way for women to participate in economic activities and entrepreneurship, and ending any kind of violence against women and girls. In ensuring the wellbeing of women, the policies and laws of a country play a great role, and the Eritrean government has reflected its aim on achieving the all-around empowerment of the Eritrean women. The Macro-Policy of Eritrea states that the government holds as its aim the availability of education for all citizens, with no distinction based on gender or ethnicity.
In the area of economic activities, the Eritrean Macro policy upholds the equal rights of women to participate in economic activities and employment. The Labour Proclamation No. 118/2001 dictates that there shall be no discrimination as regards opportunity or treatment in employment and remuneration, on the basis of gender and sex. Coming further, the availability of land proves to be a significant factor in increasing the participation of women in economic activities and entrepreneurship. To ensure this, the Land Proclamation states that every Eritrean citizen is entitled to the right over land whether it be Tiessa or farming land regardless of his/her gender, ethnicity, or faith. Therefore, Eritrean women are granted the right to land, thereby expanding their opportunity to participate in economic activities. When we come to ending violence against women, the main area that the Eritrean government has succeeded in is the prevention and criminalization of FGM. Proclamation no. 158/2007 criminalizes the performance, participation in, and even failure to report incidents of FGM. Therefore, it can be said that the Eritrean government has gone a long way in ensuring the overall empowerment of Eritrean women.
Thank you for your time again!