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The Brief: Outrage over reports EU-funding linked to forced labour in Eritrea

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By Stefan Grobe, Shona Murray
The Brief: Outrage over reports EU-funding linked to forced labour in Eritrea
Copyright  Associated Press

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticised the European Union over its funding of an infrastructure project in the brutal dictatorship of Eritrea.

The scheme, which received €20 million from Brussels, was partially built by forced labour, according to the New York Times.

The newspaper also claimed the EU had no way of monitoring the project.

"For the EU to rely on the government to do its monitoring, I think it is incredibly problematic, especially when obviously some of the issues the EU will be discussing with the government are around labour force," said Laetitia Bader from HRW.

"And as we know the government has quite bluntly said that it will continue to rely on national service conscripts."

The funding of the road project in Eritrea is part of the EU Trust Fund for Africa, created to address the root causes of migration.

Yet Eritrea has an elaborate system of indefinite forced "national service" that makes people try to flee, especially youngsters.

For the EU, democratic reforms are no longer a condition for financial aid.

"The EU has made support for democracy a more prominent objective in its relations with African countries since the early 2000s, I would say," said Christine Hackenesch from the German Development Institute.

"And the EU has put more emphasis on developing its instruments to support democratic reforms. But the context now for democracy support in Africa and globally is a very different one because there is more of a competition of political models with China and other actors."

The EU Commission said that it was aware that conscripts were used for the road project - but that Brussels funded only material and equipment, not labour.