July 16, 2018 Martin Plaut News
The British government has just published its 2017 Human Rights Report.
The human rights situation in Eritrea showed no improvement in 2017. The main problems related to civil and political rights. The authorities restricted freedom of expression: Eritrea is a one-party state with no political opposition or independent media. Citizens continued to be subject to arbitrary extension of national service, a form of modern slavery. The
right to freedom of religion or belief was violated. Citizens suffered arbitrary detention on religious grounds, with a lack of due process in subsequent criminal proceedings.
This contrasts with the progress which Eritrea made in 2017 on social, cultural and economic rights. The UK has supported the work of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the government of Eritrea to address gender inequality in education and wellbeing. The UNDP assess that more girls are now in school compared with 15 years ago, and most
regions have reached gender parity in primary education. Eritrea achieved antenatal care attendance of 98% of pregnant mothers, skilled delivery of 60% of births, and immunisation coverage of 95% of babies.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, was continually denied access to the country by the government and was therefore unable to fulfil the mandate given by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). However, we welcome the Government of Eritrea’s continued cooperation with the UN OHCHR, including with representatives who visited Eritrea for the second year in succession, in October. Despite cooperating with this visit, the government gave no update regarding progress made on the four-year implementation programme agreed with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) following Eritrea’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2014.
The UK continued to work bilaterally and with international partners in the EU and the UN to press Eritrea to improve its human rights record. The UK made statements in human rights dialogues on 14 June in the HRC in Geneva and at the UN General Assembly Third Committee meeting in New York on 27 October. On both occasions, the UK stressed the need
to ensure that those engaged in the national military service system had a clearly defined limit to their period of service, and received financial compensation commensurate to their duties. We also reiterated calls for the Government of Eritrea to implement the Eritrean Constitution, to respect fully the right to freedom of religion or belief, and to release individuals held in
Severe constraints on media freedoms have resulted in the absence of independent media in the country. The diaspora radio station, Radio Erena, received an award from the London-based charity World One Media on 6 June, in recognition of the continued absence of a free press and media in Eritrea. The station provides an alternative voice through its cultural, social, political and entertainment programmes. A number of journalists and politicians remained in long-term detention. Among these is Dawit Isaac, who was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in absentia on 31 March.
In late October, several senior Catholic and Muslim figures were arrested as the government sought to exert influence over religious schools and colleges. This led to protests on 31 October by between 100 and 200 students, parents and administrators from a Muslim school in Asmara, who were dispersed by gunfire from the Eritrean security forces. The UK will continue to monitor closely reports of the excessive use of force, of arbitrary arrests, including of minors, and of the lack of clear due process. FCO officials raised these
issues in November with the Eritrean Ambassador to London.
On 26 June, the UK joined international partners in calling attention to the prolonged detention of Patriarch Abune Antonios, the former head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church. The Patriarch has been under house arrest since 2007. For the first time since his detention, he was allowed on 16 July to attend mass. However, he has not been seen in public since, and he
appears to remain under house arrest. The European Parliament, in a resolution on 6 July, condemned human rights violations in Eritrea and in particular highlighted the cases of Dawit Isaac and Patriarch Antonios.
In 2018, the UK will continue to press the Government of Eritrea to improve its human rights record. Alongside international partners, the UK will seek to work constructively with Eritrea, encouraging engagement with the UPR process and OHCHR, and urging improved cooperation with the HRC and any Special Rapporteur appointed.