Damning Commision of Enquiry report finds indications of crimes against humanity
Freedom of association, like most other fundamental freedoms, is heavily curtailed within Eritrea. There are currently no independent domestic or international NGOs permitted to operate in the country. In 2005, the government issued the Non-Governmental Organisation Administration Proclamation, which placed severe restrictions on NGOs effectively making it impossible for them to operate independently. The Eritrean government has acknowledged that the “formation of political parties has been deferred pending the enactment of relevant laws” and the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), led by President Isaias Afwerki, is currently the only legal political party in the country. Indefinite military conscription has been a major factor in the mass exodus of Eritreans from the country. Most recently, on 3 April 2016, armed forces opened fire in the centre of the capital, Asmara, killing an unconfirmed number of young conscripts who attempted to visit their families.
Despite protections guaranteeing freedom of peaceful assembly in the Eritrean constitution, and government claims that “freedom of association and assembly in Eritrea is respected by law and deeds”, the right to publicly and peacefully assemble is heavily restricted. Groups of more than seven individuals cannot gather without prior approval, and the constitution includes limitations on the right to peaceful assembly in cases where it may be in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, health or morals, for the prevention of public disorder or crime or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Even those participating in demonstrations outside of Eritrea have faced risks. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea's latest report gave the example of the arrest of a mother in Eritrea after her son joined a demonstration in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in June 2015. In June 2016, the Commission of Inquiry found that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed in Eritrea since 1991,” and that Eritrean government officials are responsible for crimes of enslavement, imprisonment, enforced disappearance, torture, other inhumane acts, persecution, rape and murder.
Since the shutdown of eight newspapers and the arrest of 18 journalists in 2001, no independent media houses have been able to operate in Eritrea. The only remaining media outlets are state-owned, and the country is regarded as the most censored nation in the world by many human rights and free speech groups. Since 2010, at least 32 Eritrean journalists have gone into exile and at least eight of those arrested in 2001 have died in detention. An estimated 15 journalists remain detained incommunicado since 2001 without access to legal representation. The Eritrean Government has also attempted to limit freedom of expression outside of the country through intimidation and harassment of those speaking out against the regime. For example, a Dutch representative of the Eritrean regime sued three staff members of De Volkskrant, a leading Dutch newspaper, for libel after the paper published an article critical of the regime’s activities among the diaspora in January 2016. In May 2016, a verdict was issued rejecting the libel claims.