Rights and Rumors: Transnationalism and Human Rights in Eritrea and Diaspora
(University of Tennessee, Knoxville)
Paper short abstract:
Paper long abstract:
(Co-author: Bettina Conrad) The Eritrean transnational social field, comprised of the Eritrean state and its institutions, numerous diaspora-based organizations, and vibrant networks of individuals and kin groups, has historically been an important source of political-economic support for the former EPLF and current PFDJ government, as well as its strongest opposition. This transnational social field continues to diversify as new refugees leave Eritrea in response to intensifying repression and militarization in recent years. One notable feature is the emergence of newly-formed rights-based initiatives. From Germany and the United States to South Africa and Australia, Eritrean exiles of different backgrounds have begun articulating an agenda for socio-political change in Eritrea. Drawing on the discourse and strategies of human rights in particular, these groups both resist state power within the diaspora and seek to build linkages with one another and with non-Eritrean organizations. This paper draws on ethnographic data collected among Eritrean activists in Germany, the US, and South Africa, including interviews, primary documents, third-party reports, and current anthropological literature on human rights and transnationalism. We contextualize the growth of rights-based initiatives within historic transnational relations between the EPLF, the ELF, and exiles worldwide. We then explore how the deployment of human rights discourse and strategy become vernacularized and indigenized, as well as co-opted into specific political agendas. Linking rights-based initiatives to Eritrea's experience of both nationalism and transnationalism, we document a shift in state-exile relations that reflects differing ideas of the national future and Eritrea's place in the global order.
In and out of Eritrea: returnees, refugees, and renegades