UK finds ‘no improvement’ in Eritrean human rights – accuses regime of ‘modern slavery’

The British government has just published its 2017 Human Rights Report.

Eritrea

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

arbitrary detention.

 

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *