CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Eritrea

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Last updated on 04.11.2019 at 17:46

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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UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea Mandate Renewed as Human Rights Fail to Improve

UN Special Rapporteur on Eritrea Mandate Renewed as Human Rights Fail to Improve

UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, reported that human rights had not improved and expressed regret that the peace deal failed to bring widespread abuse and violations to an end, government dismantles twenty two Catholic hospitals and clinics, allegedly in response to the church’s criticism of President Isaias Afwerki’s rule., A damning report issued by Human Rights Watch in August 2019 found that many Eritreans have spent their entire working lives at the service of the government in either a military or civilian capacity, which has had visible and lasting impact on the rights, freedom and lives of Eritreans,

Association

9th July 2019 marked the one-year anniversary of the historic peace deal that ended more than 20 years of latent conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Yet, despite positive promise, little has changed in Eritrea and the country remains bogged down by isolationism and high rates of illegal emigration in the face of indefinite national service tantamount to slavery. On 2nd July, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, reported that human rights had not improved and expressed regret that the peace deal failed to bring widespread abuse and violations to an end. On 4th July, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) voted to extend Kravetz’s mandate for another year, and called on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to present an oral update on Eritrea in March 2020. Of note, no African country on the HRC voted for the mandate renewal - eight countries abstained while Eritrea and four others actively voted against it. No Special Rapporteur has beenallowed to visit the country since the mandate began in 2012.

In separate developments, in mid-June 2019 the Eritrean government dismantled twenty two Catholic hospitals and clinics, allegedly in response to the church’s criticism of President Isaias Afwerki’s rule. Catholic nuns were allegedly evicted from the hospitals and were forbidden to take any equipment with them as the military smashed windows and doors and harassed staff. Speaking about the incidents, sources outside Eritrea suggested that the government was ill at ease with the church’s involvement in efforts to further the peace process with Ethiopia and was keen to control the social sector. Three months later, in early September, seven secondary schools run by religious groups were seized by the government. The government said that the seizures were in line with regulations they introduced in 1995, which restrict the activities of religious institutions.

A damning report issued by Human Rights Watch in August 2019 found that many Eritreans have spent their entire working lives at the service of the government in either a military or civilian capacity, which has had visible and lasting impact on the rights, freedom and lives of Eritreans. As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, the Eritrean government runs a programme for the indefinite conscription of recruits to the National Service - a compulsory but indefinite programme for all citizens aged between 18 and 50 years old that includes military service. Introduced in 1995, it has been likened to modern day slavery by human rights actors.

In more positive developments, Eritrea and Sudan agreed to reopen border crossings following talks in Asmara in early July 2019. Sudan had closed the border in 2018, citing concerns over illegal crossings and human trafficking. Sudan is a major corridor through which illegal Eritrean migrants are often smuggled out of the country.

Expression

On the 18th anniversary of their arrest, Amnesty International called for the immediate release of 28 Eritrean prisoners who have never been charged or heard of since. The 11 politicians and 17 journalists were arrested in an infamous 2001 crackdown after criticising President Isaias Afwerki, who has governed since Eritrea became an independent country in 1993. The politicians were arrested for writing an open letter to the president asking him to hold elections and respect the constitution, which was ratified in 1997 but never implemented.

Seif Magango, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes said:

It is a travesty that this appalling injustice persists almost two decades on, more so now that Eritrea is a member of the UN Human Rights Council… Like hundreds of other prisoners of conscience in arbitrary detention in Eritrea, these 28 men and women are prisoners of conscience and must be released immediately and unconditionally. 

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.