b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced labor and slavery, but forced labor occurred. The government enforced these laws within private industry; penalties were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes. The legal definition of forced labor excludes activities performed under national service or other civic obligations, compulsory labor for convicted prisoners, and “communal services rendered during an emergency.” Labor protections limiting hours of work and prohibiting harsh conditions do not apply to persons conscripted into national service.
The country’s national service obligation in some cases amounted to a form of forced labor. By law all citizens between ages 18 and 50, with limited exceptions, must perform national service. The national service obligation consists of six months of military training and 12 months of active military or civilian national service, for a total of 18 months, or, for those unfit to undergo military training, 18 months of service in any public and government organ. During times of emergency, however, the government can suspend the 18-month limit, which it did in 1998 with the outbreak of the war with Ethiopia. The government has not rescinded emergency rule. The result is an indefinite extension of the duration of national service, in some cases for more than 20 years. Pay for conscripts improved in recent years, but remained very low. The law provides for assignment to a job category according to the person’s capacity and profession, but this was not always followed in practice. There is no provision for alternative service for conscientious objectors.
Forced labor occurred. Despite the 18-month legal limit on national service, the government did not demobilize many conscripts from the military or from civilian national service as scheduled and forced some to serve indefinitely in national service under threats of detention, torture, or punishment of their families. Persons performing national service could not resign, generally received no promotions, and could rarely leave the country legally because authorities denied them passports or exit visas. Those conscripted into national service performed standard patrols and border monitoring in addition to labor such as agricultural terracing, planting, road maintenance, hotel work, teaching, construction, and laying power lines, as well as many office jobs in government ministries, agencies, and state-owned enterprises. There were reports that some conscripts were additionally required to perform manual labor on national service projects unrelated to their assignment and for which they received no overtime payment. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in Canada in 2014 alleged that, as conscripts in national service, they were required to work 72-hour weeks in a mine for between 11 and 17 years before fleeing the country.
The government required those not already in the military to attend civilian militia training and carry firearms, including many who were demobilized, the elderly, and persons otherwise exempted from military service. Failure to participate in the militia or national service could result in detention. Militia duties mostly involved security-related activities, such as airport or neighborhood patrolling. Militia training involved occasional marches and listening to patriotic lectures.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.