CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Eritrea

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Last updated on 16.05.2019 at 14:19

Eritrea Overview

Few countries on Earth provide worse conditions for civic space than Eritrea. For well over a decade authorities in Eritrea have sustained one of the worst crackdowns on civil liberties ever documented.

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No tangible change despite peace with Ethiopia

No tangible change despite peace with Ethiopia

serious human rights violations continue to be reported in Eritrea despite peace deal with Ethiopia, 3 Ethiopian refugees obtain positive judgment to proceed institute a case in a Canadian court for violations suffered while working in a foreign company based in Eritrea.

Association

Despite the peace deal with longtime Ethiopia rival, this rapprochement has ushered in very little tangible change in Eritrea. Organisations such as Human Rights Concern Eritrea continue to document serious violations of human rights, including forced military service, arbitrary detention, and torture. Over 10,000 prisoners of conscience are incarcerated in inhumane conditions, without charge or trial as the state considers them a threat to “national security.” There are currently no democratic reforms taking place, and no sign of the implementation of the 1997 Constitution. The government continues to show no political willingness to stop forcing its youth into indefinite national service, a conscription policy that continues to drive the youth to seek migration to Europe and other African countries. At least 5000 people flee from Eritrea every month according to the United Nations. 

In a positive development, as previously reported in The Monitor, three Ethiopian refugees took Nevsun Resources, a mining company operating in Eritrea, to court in Canada on allegations of slavery, torture, and forced labour. On 23rd January 2019, Nevsun presented arguments to the Supreme Court where it attempted to use the Act of State doctrine and forum non conveniens, which restrict courts from questioning the actions of a sovereign state within its own borders. Nevsun’s lawyers presented an argument not for impunity, but for justice through international tribunals, or through an act of parliament. The Supreme Court found that neither the Act of State doctrine nor forum non conveniens is relevant and applicable in this case, reasserting the ruling of the court of appeals. 

Expression

Eritrea remains a dictatorship in which media operations are severely restricted. All news outlets inside the country are state-owned, and many journalists imprisoned without trial or charge. However, despite these challenges, an anonymous reporter known as ‘J’ has over the years taken this issue into his own hands to become the editor of the largest Facebook group reporting news in Eritrea, one of the few and rare voices independently reporting news in a country where there is virtually no press freedom. He gave a rare interview to BBC in January. 

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.