Continued human rights violations in the world's "fastest emptying country"

International concern continues to grow over the worsening human rights and humanitarian crisis in Eritrea that is driving approximately 5,000 Eritreans to flee every month, making it the world's "fastest emptying country".

On 15th June 2017, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Sheila B. Keetharuth, presented her report to the UN Human Rights Council. In the report, Keetharuth concludes that the government of Eritrea has made no effort to address the human rights concerns highlighted by the Commission of Inquiry. She states that:

"The time for Eritrea to take bold action for human rights protection is long overdue, and the Government has not delivered on any of its promises".

Given the concerning situation in the country and the need for increased international pressure on the Eritrean regime, several organisations, including CIVICUS and Defend Defenders, have urged the UN Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea.

In addition, on 6th July 2017 the European Parliament (EP) expressed its deep concern by adopting a resolution that condemns, among other issues, Eritrea’s systematic, widespread, and gross human rights violations. The EP called on the Eritrean government to put an end to the arbitrary detention of opposition members, journalists, religious leaders and innocent citizens. 

Association

As Eritrean Patriarch Abune Antonios marked ten years in detention, security forces in Eritrea reportedly rounded up and arrested 177 Christians, along with 20 children, as reported in April 2017. It is estimated that a total of 3,000 Christians are imprisoned in Eritrea and suffer in degrading and inhumane conditions. The arbitrary arrest and detention of people based on their religious beliefs, especially members of unregistered religious denominations, is a violation of citizens' freedom of association in the country. Rights groups are worried that the persecution is escalating, as Release International partner Dr Berhane Asmelash stated with concern: 

"People used to be arrested for conducting unauthorised meetings, such as Bible studies or prayers. But this is new for us when they go from house to house. They are arresting people for their beliefs, not for their actions. This is getting worse. Many Christians are in hiding".

Expression

On 6th June 2017, Radio Erena, created by exiled Eritrean human rights defender Biniam Simon, received an award from the London-based charity World One Media for providing "cultural, social, political and entertainment programmes that enable Eritreans living under the dictatorship to hear a different story to the one forcibly imposed by the regime". The station has been broadcasting into the country from France since 2009. The government has cracked down on independent media outlets to such an extent that they have closed down or now broadcast from abroad, leaving Eritreans with little access to information, as Simon reported in an interview with The Guardian

"You have to understand: Eritrea is completely closed. No information is available there at all, about the outside world or what is going on internally".

In March 2017, imprisoned Eritrean journalist Dawit Isaak was awarded in absentia the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize 2017 in recognition of his courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression. Dawit was arrested during the crackdown on independent media in September 2001 and has been in detention since then and without being formally charged or facing trial. His location remains unknown to this day.