People's Front for Democracy and Justice

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People's Front for Democracy and Justice
ህዝባዊ ግንባር ንደሞክራስን ፍትሕን
الجبهة الشعبية للديمقراطية والعدالة
Fronte Popolare per la Democrazia e la Giustizia
ChairpersonIsaias Afewerki
SecretaryAl-Amin Mohammed Seid
SpokespersonYemane Gebreab
Founded1994 (1994)
Preceded byEritrean People's Liberation Front
HeadquartersAsmara, Zoba Maekel, Eritrea
Youth wingYoung People's Front for Democracy and Justice
IdeologyEritrean nationalism[1]
Big tent[1]
Left-wing nationalism[1]
Marxism-Leninism (formerly)
Seats in the National Assembly
75 / 150
Emblem of Eritrea (or argent azur).svg
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Constitution (not enforced)

The People's Front for Democracy and Justice (Tigrinya: ህዝባዊ ግንባር ንደሞክራስን ፍትሕን, Həzbawi Gənbar nəDämokrasən Fətəḥən, abbreviated ህግደፍ, Arabic: الجبهة الشعبية للديمقراطية والعدالةal-Jabhatu l-Shaʻabiyatu lil-Dīmuqrāṭiyati wāl-ʻIdālah, Italian: Fronte Popolare per la Democrazia e la Giustizia; abbreviated PFDJ) is the founding and ruling political party of the State of Eritrea. The successor to the formerly left-wing nationalist and Marxist–Leninist Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), the PFDJ holds itself open to nationalists of any political affiliation.[7]


The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), later (from 1994) People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, formed from the secessionist movement that successfully fought for the creation of an independent Eritrean nation out of the northernmost province of Ethiopia in 1993.

The historical region of Eritrea had joined Ethiopia as an autonomous unit in 1952. The Eritrean Liberation Movement was founded in 1958 and was succeeded by the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1961. The ELF grew in membership when the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie abolished Eritrea’s autonomous status, annexing it as a province in 1962. In the 1960s and ’70s the ELF undertook a systematic campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Ethiopian government. A faction of the ELF broke away in 1970 to form the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. The EPLF managed to secure control of much of the Eritrean countryside and build effective administrations in the areas it controlled. Fighting that broke out between the EPLF, ELF, and other Eritrean rebel groups in 1981 prevented further military gains, but the EPLF subsequently emerged as the principal Eritrean guerrilla group.

As Soviet support of Ethiopia’s socialist government collapsed in the late 1980s, the EPLF formed an alliance with guerrilla groups in Tigray province and other parts of Ethiopia, and, when these groups overthrew the central government and captured the Ethiopian capital in May 1991, the EPLF formed a separate provisional government for Eritrea. After the holding of a United Nations-supervised referendum on independence there in April 1993, the EPLF declared the new nation of Eritrea the following month. In February 1994 the EPLF renamed itself the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice as part of its transformation into Eritrea’s ruling political party.[8]

The leader of the PFDJ party and current President of Eritrea is Isaias Afewerki.


To mobilize the highest amount of people to contribute to the struggle of independence, EPLF worked to liberate women, workers and peasant farmers from chronical hunger and unspeakable oppression, by providing agriculture extension, primary education, adult literacy and public health service during the civil war era.

Food relief[edit]

The most decisive factor that won the EPLF its support of civilian population during the struggle is its ability to channel food provided by NGOs to the fighters and people. [9] The Eritrean Red Corss and Red Crescent Society (ERCCS) exclusively worked with the EPLF, created the EPLF's humanitarian wing, the Eritrean Relief Association (ERA). [10] Discussions with former EPLF fighters reveal that the establishement of the ERA accompanied with a significant improvement in term of food supplies. Even though the ERA was not set up for providing relief to non-militant individuals, in practice, it benefited both combatants and civilians in the liberated and semi-liberated areas. [9]

In the case of Eritrean independence, the humanitarian community violated its principle of political neutrality and worked with the ERA, although nominally independent, an offshoot of the EPLF. The reasoning is that Ethiopia was already openly using food as a political weapon. In 1984, Ethiopia's foreign minister said, "Food is a major element in our strategy against the secessionists." Ethiopia was reported to not allow food relief into certain areas to starve people into submission. [9]

At the peak of the war in 1984, drought and food shortages threatened most Eritrea's rural communities, causing an increasing number of refugees fleeing to Sudan. The EPLF, influenced by Maoist ideology, was compelled to work with the rural communities and considered the exodus a potential pool of recruitment. Therefore, the EPLF decided to feed the people and the international humanitarian community tacitly accepted the offer. [9]

Health services[edit]

During the struggle, Eritrea never had an adequate health service system while the conflicts damaged the limited infrastructure. There were few health posts existed in small towns and villages because Ethiopian armies deliberately destroyed them for their fear that rebels might use them. [9] Yet, the ERA and its international partners played an essential role in the health sector. The EPLF established a functional health service system that consists of a central hospital in the liberated area of Sahel, two regional hospitals, 25 health centers, 42 health posts, 320 village units and 40 mobile units behind enemy lines. [11]

The central hospital operated on a referral basis and was equipped with a modern laboratory, a radiology unit, and a three-roomed operating theatre. The surgery department was divided into neurology, cardiothoracic, orthopedics, ophthalmics, maxillo-facial, pediatrics, and gynecology and obstetrics. [11]

The health stations, on the other hand, supported ten village health clinics and each health center supported two to three health stations. Each health center covered ten thousand people while the regional hospitals covered two hundred thousand people. [11]

In addition to the equipments imported and health facilities built, the EPLF brought specialists and professional volunteers to train Eritrean doctors, pharmacists, and nurses who then train paramedics and barefoot doctors. [11] The EPLF established mobile units to provide frontline emergency services made up by a barefoot doctor, a health assistant, a health worker, a midwife, a nurse and a mobile laboratory. The unit was designed to be flexible and able to treat a wounded fighter in ten minutes. The ability to provide relatively advanced treatment had a significant impact on fighters' morale. [12]


Because Eritrea formed itself from a highly participated referendum and because of EPLF’s provision of education, health, and other public services to save women, workers, and peasants from poverty and oppression, both domestic and foreign media showed high hopes for Eritrea to develop a self-governed and democratic government. EPLF leaders, at the time, were perceived as a “new generation” of African leaders. They enjoyed high popularity rates among their constituents. They endorsed, at least theoretically, democracy, human rights, and free markets. They had clear development policies based on their priorities[13].

In 1994, the PFDJ established a transitional 150-member National Assembly to determine the pending constitutions and elections. The assembly later chose the PFDJ’s secretary-general and the former EPLF leader, Isaias Afwerki as Eritrea’s president and formed a cabinet around him. In 1997, the temporary National Assembly adopted a constitution for a multi-party democratic system. It scheduled multi-party elections for 1997 [14]. The new government appeared to have a separation of power. However, the political institutions other than the executive office - the cabinet of ministers, a temporary parliament and a nominally independent judiciary - did not pose actually checks on the executive power. The cabinet did not provide a platform for debates. The military remained under the president's control[15]. Isaias, at the same time, attempted to strengthen the president's power.

Turning point[edit]

Although Eritrea’s relationship with Ethiopia remained relatively friendly for the first few years after the independence, by 1997 the relationship broke down by the increasing economic tensions and border disputes. On May 12, 1998 two brigades of Eritrean regular troops attacked the small border town of Badme and nearby regions under Ethiopian governance. This attack had led to a two-year war, which ended by 2000 because of international pressure. On December 12, 2000, Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace agreement which enabled a commission of 5 neutral people to determine the borderline based on the colonial maps. In April 2002, since the commission concluded that Badme would fall under Eritrea, Ethiopia reengaged. Since then the tedious yet constant border conflicts have always been in place. [15]

Post-conflict oppositions to the President[edit]

Isaias and his cronies faced major challenges from within the government and civil society after the military conflicts. In August 2000, 2 months after the ceasefire, there were major differences and confrontation within the leadership of the PFDJ. The central council of the PFDJ and the national assembly both held closed sessions. The president, in these sessions, was heavily criticized for his role in this war and his hindering of Eritrea's democratic process. [16] The opposition within the party attempted to force Isaias to form two commisions, one to draw up a balance sheet of the border wars and one to establish guides to the democratization processes and national elections. [16] However, Isaias refused to convene these commisions until 2002, when the major oppositions within the government had already been purged. [16]

In 2001, a dissident group comprising 15 senior government and PFDJ official openly demands the president to keep his promises of democratisation while Isaias ignored their pleas in the form of a open letter that was handed over to the private press and published.[17] The letter, named "A Comprehensive Manifesto for Reform" was published on 12 April 2001. [16]The manifestio criticized the national assembly for being a 'mere puppet' and called for a implementation of the constitution and empowering the national assembly. [17]

The continuing hostilities at the border after the peace treaty offered Isaias and his cronies a rationale for a twofold authoritarian governance, suppressing public criticism of the regime and life-long forced conscription. First, Isaias has curtailed dissent tolerance since the summer and fall of 2001. Using Ethiopian penetration as an excuse, Isaias systematically crashed political opposition and public dissents.[14] The result was an increasingly outright oppressive rule unrestrained by the rule of law. In August 2000, several high-ranking PFDJ officials criticized Isaias’ resistance to a diplomatic approach to the border conflict and called for progress towards multi-party elections in a closed National Assembly meeting. The National Assembly was then never permitted to meet until the opposition was purged. [18] In the next five month, the opposition went public as the G15. Their manifesto triggered massive public debates over the country’s political future. On the 18 and 19 September 2001, 11 out of G-15 were arrested and all private newspapers were closed. Shortly after, the government began arresting others associated with G-15 and other dissents.[16] The justification was still a nationalist approach. The government claimed that the arrested has been the fifth column of Ethiopia, although there were no trials conducted.[16] The extensive arrests have been undermining public criticism not only because there was direct censorship but also because the crackdown has created self-censorship. According to visitors reported on the residents of Asmara by the middle of 2004, spoke of politics was only in a hushed sound. The urban center citizens believed that telephones are wiretapped and public conversations were monitored.[14]

Judicial development[edit]

After independence, the PFDJ regime adopted the law of the ousted Ethiopian regime with some amendments in order to maintain law and order and avoiding a legal vacuum. A committee of senior former fighters reviewed the old Ethiopian law regime to adapt the law to the newly formed state and make it compatible with the "values" and "principles of the EPLF. During the reviews, basic principles of human rights and procedures of due process and models of judicial independence were not emphasized.[19]

Legal pluralism prevails in Eritrea in a sense that there exist several socio-political bodies which produce laws. The formal state authorities, ethnic groups, religious groups, the norm and value system of the EPLF, and international society can all theoretically influence the formal legal regime in the country. However, this is merely theoretical discussion, aloof from the practice of law.[20]

The official sources of law are ranked in accordance with their statue. The Eritrean Constitution is ratified in 1997. It sits at the top of the hierarchy. 62% of the laws were issued in the name of Eritrea and 29% in the name of ministers and other government officials and departments. [20]


Currently the People's Front for Democracy and Justice is the sole legal party in Eritrea.

There is some debate as to whether PFDJ is a true political party or whether it is a broad governing association in transition. Eritrean National elections were set for 1995 and then postponed until 2001; it was then decided that because 20% of Eritrea's land was under occupation, elections would be postponed until the resolution of the conflict with Ethiopia. However, local elections continued in Eritrea. The most recent round of local government elections was held in May 2004. Though, as of 2018, Eritrea has not held any national elections.

Human rights[edit]

Crimes against humanity have been committed systematically in Eritrean detention facilities, military training camps and other locations according to the report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. [21] In order to deter opposition and control the population, the PFDJ regime has commited enslavement, torture, imprisonment and enforced disappearances. [21]

Despite requests, the Commission was denied access to visit the country. Eritrean Presidential Adviser Yemane Ghebreab denied the accusation, telling the UN Human Rights Council that there had been "individual transgressions of human rights" but no evidence of widespread crimes. He claimed that thee UN case to be unproven and indefensible while the government had taken significant measures to strengthen the judicial system. [21]


  1. ^ a b c O'Kane, David; Hepner, Tricia (2011), Biopolitics, Militarism, and Development: Eritrea in the Twenty-First Century, Berghahn Books, p. xx, ISBN 9780857453990, retrieved 15 January 2011
  2. ^ Joireman, Sandra Fullerton (2003), Nationalism and Political Identity, Continuum, p. 133, ISBN 9780826465917, retrieved 15 January 2011
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  7. ^ Markakis, John (March 1995). "Eritrea's National Charter". Review of African Political Economy. 22 (63): 126–129. doi:10.1080/03056249508704109. Archived from the original on 5 January 2007. Retrieved 20 October 2006.
  8. ^ "Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF)". Encyclopædia Britannica. Britannica. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d e Gaim., Kibreab, (2009). Eritrea : a dream deferred. Oxford: James Currey. pp. 107, 108. ISBN 9781846157226. OCLC 701053913.
  10. ^ Gaim., Kibreab, (2009). Eritrea : a dream deferred. Oxford: James Currey. p. 105. ISBN 9781846157226. OCLC 701053913.
  11. ^ a b c d Gaim., Kibreab, (2009). Eritrea : a dream deferred. Oxford: James Currey. p. 108. ISBN 9781846157226. OCLC 701053913.
  12. ^ Gaim., Kibreab, (2009). Eritrea : a dream deferred. Oxford: James Currey. p. 109. ISBN 9781846157226. OCLC 701053913.
  13. ^ African garrison state : human rights and political development in Eritrea. p. 7. ISBN 9781782043645.
  14. ^ a b c (Organization), Human Rights Watch. Service for life : state repression and indefinite conscription in Eritrea. Human Rights Watch. ISBN 978-1-56432-472-6.
  15. ^ a b Connell, Dan (30 June 2016). "Redeeming the failed promise of democracy in Eritrea". Race & Class. 46 (4): 68–79. doi:10.1177/0306396805052519.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Gaim., Kibreab, (2009). Eritrea : a dream deferred. Oxford: James Currey. p. 31. ISBN 9781846157226. OCLC 701053913.
  17. ^ a b Gaim., Kibreab, (2009). Eritrea : a dream deferred. Oxford: James Currey. p. 32. ISBN 9781846157226. OCLC 701053913.
  18. ^ Gaim., Kibreab, (2009). Eritrea : a dream deferred. Oxford: James Currey. ISBN 9781846157226. OCLC 701053913.
  19. ^ Kjetil,, Tronvoll,. African garrison state : human rights and political development in eritrea. Mekonnen, Daniel Rezene,. Suffolk. p. 25. ISBN 9781782043645. OCLC 884725791.
  20. ^ a b Kjetil,, Tronvoll,. African garrison state : human rights and political development in eritrea. Mekonnen, Daniel Rezene,. Suffolk. p. 32. ISBN 9781782043645. OCLC 884725791.
  21. ^ a b c "ERITREA: Human Rights Report". Africa Research Bulletin: Political, Social and Cultural Series. 53 (6): 21041A–21041B. 2016-07. doi:10.1111/j.1467-825x.2016.07119.x. ISSN 0001-9844. Check date values in: |date= (help)