CIVICUS

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Eritrea

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Last updated on 29.04.2020 at 10:14

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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The Civic Space Developments

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Ruling may vindicate conscripts of forced labour, as EU cautioned against facilitating the vice

Ruling may vindicate conscripts of forced labour, as EU cautioned against facilitating the vice

Canada’s Supreme Court rules that Nevsun Resources Ltd, a Canadian mining company that owned 60% of the Bisha mineral mine in Eritrea, could be sued in Canada for alleged abuses abroad; European Commission's proposed fund to Eritrea for a new development project in the construction sector raises concerns that it may place the Commission in a position that facilitates the abusive system of forced labour for many conscripts under the national service system who are assigned to work in state-owned construction companies where they face particularly abusive and harsh conditions.

Association

In a positive development, on 28th February 2020, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that Nevsun Resources Ltd, a Canadian mining company that owned 60% of the Bisha mineral mine in Eritrea, could be sued in Canada for alleged abuses abroad. As previously reported on the Monitor, the lawsuit against the company was brought by three Eritreans who claimed they were forced to work at the Bisha mine as part of their national service, and were forced to provide labour in harsh and dangerous conditions for years, in addition to being subjected to a variety of punishments. In January 2019, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed a ruling by a Canadian court which had dismissed a case by the company to block the case from being heard in Canadian courts.

In Eritrea, much of the population is forced to work for the government under the country’s national service system, which legally lasts 18 months but in reality can last indefinitely. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea described the practice as “enslavement”.

In a separate development which raises similar issues as the above, the European Commission intends to provide a fund to Eritrea for a new development project which will focus largely on the construction sector. The fund however raises concerns that it may place the European Commission in a position that facilitates the abusive system of forced labour for many conscripts under the Eritrean national service system who are assigned to work in state-owned construction companies where they face particularly abusive and harsh conditions.In a statement issued on 20th February 2020, Human Rights Watch said in part:

“Measures should be put in place to ensure that EU funding and other activities do not contribute to the abusive system of forced labour in Eritrea... [the EU] should not rely on the Eritrean government to monitor its projects or take any government commitments at face value; independent safeguards are needed… Eritreans deserve to be free and to have their basic rights respected”.

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.