What Has Changed Concerning Human Rights in Eritrea?

Peace overtures between Ethiopia and Eritrea was welcomed by every country and a loud chorus of approval. The sad truth is that Peace with Ethiopia ushered no change whatsoever within Eritrea and crimes against humanity continue to be perpetrated. The endless suffering of Eritrean people continues.

None of the expected reciprocal peace-building changes assumed by friends of Eritrea have actually taken place in that country.

  • Peace at the border with Ethiopia has removed the only justification for indefinite military National Service in Eritrea. However, where are the indications that this situation of slave labour is about to end? There is no change – status quo.
  • Without the justification of border hostilities, young women are still forcibly recruited into the army and these female conscripts are still at risk of being subjected to sexual abuse and rape. Where are the legal and practical protections available to all women in nations ruled by law and at peace with their neighbours?  There are none.
  • Over 10,000 prisoners of conscience are incarcerated in inhumane conditions, without charge or trial because of their delusion regarding threat to “national security”. Now that “national security” is no longer threatened, why are they still detained? Where are the concrete signs that they may now receive justice and regain their freedom? There are none and justice still remains an illusion.  
  • For decades, thousands of Eritrean citizens have just “disappeared” without trace, and only years later did it become apparent that they were extra-judicially executed by government agents or the complicit approval of those in power, if not under specific orders from the authorities. Where is the evidence that this practice has ended? There is none.
  • Torture is endemic and widespread and goes unchecked throughout the Eritrean “Gulag” prison system. Has this practice stopped? And, if not, when will it stop?
  • Religious freedom is very severely restricted for Christians and Muslims, many of whom have been imprisoned and have died in detention. Where is the evidence that people of different faiths are able to practice their religion freely?  There is none.
  • There is no democratic constitution in place and no sign of the implementation of the 1997 Constitution.

Eritrea’s Membership of the UN Human Rights Council:

Eritrea was elected as a member of the Human Rights Council (HRC) last year. It would appear therefore, from its willingness to serve, that Eritrea has high regard for the HRC and great respect for its purposes, processes, and mechanisms. As a new member, Eritrea is under the obligations to cooperate with all the mechanisms of the HRC.

And indeed, during the recent Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Eritrea’s human rights at the HRC on 28 January 2019, the government of Eritrea promised “Engagement and international cooperation on human rights issues”.  It also stated that “Eritrea will work in collaboration with other members to maintain the effectiveness and credibility of the Council.”

However, given Eritrea’s track record, these promises beg the question: how genuine and sincere are these commitments taken by the government of Eritrea vis-à-vis the HRC?

During Eritrea’s UPR, no less than 18 UN member states prioritised a recommendation to the effect that Eritrea should “co-operate fully with the Special Procedures of the HRC”, “allow full free and unimpeded access to UN mandate holders”, and “extend a standing invitation to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea”.

Why did these 18 states emphasise the very same recommendation about free access to Eritrea for UN Special Rapporteurs and other UN mechanisms? Because in the past, Eritrea has never allowed UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders access to its territory; because it has consistently refused to reply to UN mandate holders’ requests for visits, or has found some excuse not to accept these visits, including the repeated requests sent by the former Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Eritrea

Why then has Eritrea repeatedly denied access to UN mandated special procedures mandate holders? There is only one motive, not too difficult to discern: because, as far as human rights abuses are concerned, Eritrea has a great deal to hide. The Eritrean government flouts the very purposes for which the UN Human Rights Council was created: to “uphold the highest standards, strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and to address situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them”.  One should remember that there are scores of human rights-related recommendations made to Eritrea through different processes (UPR, SR Eritrea Reports, Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea reports) which are unimplemented.

With all the hullabaloo around the congratulations to Eritrea on its new-found peace with Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti, what more has been forgotten and ignored? Well, those very persons who should be the first to benefit from such peace – specifically the ordinary people of Eritrea! Above all else, they should by now be enjoying the peace dividends of such a situation. But there is no change in their experience, no improvement in human rights, no return to constitutional democracy.

How do we know this? Because refugees continue to pour out of Eritrea in their hundreds.  What additional proof does the international community need to understand that nothing has changed in Eritrea’s human rights situation in spite of peach with Ethiopia?

Human Rights Concern – Eritrea (HRCE)



6 March 2019