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Last updated on 17.01.2019 at 09:16

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Eritrea Elected to Human Rights Council Despite Abysmal Human Rights Record

Eritrea Elected to Human Rights Council Despite Abysmal Human Rights Record

Despite strong opposition from civil society organisations, on 12th October 2018, Eritrea was elected as a new member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, dealing a significant blow to the Council’s reputation given the country’s abysmal human rights record. The Council has adopted yearly resolutions on Eritrea’s grave human rights situation since 2012. In 2016, an independent Commission of Inquiry set up by the Council concluded that it had “reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity, namely, enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, other inhumane acts, persecution, rape and murder, had been committed in Eritrea since 1991".

Has­san Shire, Execu­tive Director of DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Def­en­ders Project) said:

“Eritrea is unfit for membership in the Human Rights Council, not the least because of its dreadful rights record and attacks against the UN human rights system.... The government should know that because of its election, its behavior will be more, not less, scru­ti­nised.”

On 14th November, the UN Security Council unanimously agreed to lift sanctions it imposed on Eritrea in 2009, which included an international arms embargo, travel bans and the freezing of assets of high-profile Eritrean officials.

Association in Eritrea

The brutality meted out by the Eritrean state means that no human rights organisations or activists are able to operate openly from within Eritrea.

The brutality meted out by the Eritrean state means that no human rights organisations or activists are able to operate openly from within Eritrea. Human rights organisations operating from outside Eritrea have described the country as ‘a big prison for its own people.’ People attempting to flee the country risk arrest and detention in one of Eritrea’s networks of secret detention centres across the country, in which detainees are kept in inhumane conditions and regularly tortured. As noted by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea, individual liberties are also denied through the continuing practice of forced and indefinite conscription into the armed forces, whereby conscripts are forced into harsh conditions, low pay and forced labour. A 2005 proclamation provides a regulatory framework for nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), but their activities are strictly limited to implementing relief and rehabilitation activities and those that seek to engage in other activities can be held criminally liable.

Peaceful Assembly in Eritrea

Eritrea’s constitution says that ‘all persons shall have the right to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peaceably.’ In practice, this right is completely denied...

Eritrea’s constitution says that ‘all persons shall have the right to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peaceably.’ In practice, this right is completely denied, and given the huge risks involved for protestors, most demonstrations against the state take place in other countries. Groups, including student unions, which were likely to stage protests against increasing repression, have been disbanded and their leaders arrested. Faced with the threat of attack, in 2013 and 2014 activists distributed posters calling for Eritreans to demonstrate their opposition to the state by staying at home and emptying the streets on Fridays.

Expression in Eritrea

For eight years, Eritrea has been ranked the worst country in the world on the World Press Freedom Index.

For eight years, Eritrea has been ranked the worst country in the world on the World Press Freedom Index. Human rights groups in the region report that at least 23 journalists are imprisoned in Eritrea, including Dawit Isaak and Seyoum Tshehaye, who have been held incommunicado since 2001; fifteen years later, their families do not know if they are still alive. The last foreign journalist was expelled from Eritrea in 2004, having reported on human rights issues. The government controls the only printing house in Eritrea and according to the International Telecommunications Union, less than 1% of people had access to the Internet in 2014. Despite the high risks, activists continue to try to circulate independent information, even distributing an underground newspaper in Asmara in 2013.