The Eritrean government remains among the worst human rights violators in the world. The report of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea confirms the patterns of abuses that Human Rights Watch and other independent observers have documented over the past 15 years. As the Rapporteur noted, there is a “blatant disrespect for human rights in Eritrea” that requires “fundamental reform.”
Eritrea will receive its Universal Periodic Review this year and, sadly, the concerns raised in 2009 remain all too relevant. No effort has been made by the government of Eritrea to address the concerns raised by states during the last UPR. International humanitarian and human rights organizations have almost no access to Eritrea and the country has no independent media or civil society. In this context, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur is essential to document the widespread violations affecting the Eritrean population, give a voice to the victims, and highlight the gravity of the situation at the UN Human Rights Council.
There are no institutional restraints on the Eritrean government’s abuse of power. The constitution has never been implemented, no parliament exists, and no national elections have been held. Courts have little authority and no independence. The private press was abolished in 2001; its journalists languish in incommunicado detention or have died in captivity. No civil society organization is allowed to exist; all are state or ruling party appendages.
Eritrea’s citizens are denied fundamental rights in virtually every sphere. The most pervasive instrument of control is Eritrea’s national service system. Initially intended to provide military training and service for two years, men are conscripted, some as young as 15 years old, for indefinite and involuntary service. They are used as forced labor, including for private enterprises and civilian projects, with long hours, inadequate pay, scantrations,andunsafe housing. Conscripts are subject to indefinite imprisonment, beatings, and torture if they question authority or commit even minor infractions.
Each month about 4000 Eritreans flee the country, most of them to avoid the oppression of indefinite national service.
National service members are not the only victims. Citizens are routinely arbitrarily arrested, detained for weeks, months, or years, sometimes without explanation, sometimes for espousing religious views that are not sanctioned by the government. There is little or no judicial review, appeal, or restraint. Eritrea’s jails, including the use of cargo containers, are severely overcrowded and conditions often amount to cruel and inhuman treatment. Torture and other ill-treatment are routine; enforced disappearances and custodial deaths are far too common.
Human Rights Watch supports the recommendations in the Special Rapporteur’s report and urges the government of Eritrea to implement them without delay. The scope of the abuses outlined in the Special Rapporteur’s report also demonstrates why a Special Rapporteur for Eritrea remains essential. We strongly urge the Council to renew the Rapporteur’s mandate so that she can continue to highlight this deeply troubling human rights situation and signal to Eritrea’s citizens that their plight has not been forgotten.