The Human Truth Foundation

Human Rights and Freedom in Eritrea

By Vexen Crabtree 2018


#equality #eritrea #freedom #human_rights #politics #tolerance

State of Eritrea

[Country Profile Page]
StatusIndependent State
Land Area 101 000km21
Population5.6m (2011)2
Life Expectancy64.19yrs (2017)3
GNI$1 490 (2017)4
ISO3166-1 CodesER, ERI, 2325
Internet Domain.er6
CurrencyNakfa (ERN)7

Eritrea is amongst the worst places in the world at ensuring human rights and freedom, and it has severe cultural issues when it comes to tolerance and equality. Eritrea does worse than average in its Global Peace Index rating9, LGBT equality10 and in its nominal commitment to Human Rights11. It falls into the bottom 20 in commentary from Human Rights Watch12 and in fighting corruption13. It is second-from-the-bottom in eliminating modern slavery14. And finally, it is the worst in supporting press freedom15. In 2001, "the government closed all independent newspapers and arrested their editors and leading journalists. None were brought to trial. They remain in solitary detention. There are reliable reports that about half of them had died"16. "Eritreans are subject to arbitrary imprisonment. Arrest and harsh punishment including torture, are at the whim of security force commanders without trial or appeal"16.

1. Politics and Freedom

#burundi #corruption #Eritrea #france #human_development #human_rights #indonesia #mass_media #peace #politics #slavery

Eritrea remains a one-man dictatorship under President Isaias Afewerki, now in his 26th year in power. It has no legislature, no independent civil society organizations or media outlets, and no independent judiciary. [...] Eritreans are subject to arbitrary imprisonment. Arrest and harsh punishment including torture, are at the whim of security force commanders without trial or appeal. Few are told the reason for their arrests. Imprisonment is indefinite and often incommunicado; some arrestees disappear altogether.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)16

Corruption (2012-2016)13
Pos.Higher is better
Avg Score13
2New Zealand90.6
World Avg43.05
Global Peace Index (2012)9
Pos.Lower is better9
2New Zealand1.24
World Avg2.02
Human Rights Watch Comments (2017)12
Pos.Higher is better
109Central African Rep.-8
110Myanmar (Burma)-9
World Avg-1.9

Nominal Commitment to HR (2009)11
Pos.Higher is better
3Costa Rica23
177N. Korea7
178Sao Tome & Principe7
World Avg15.1
Press Freedom (2013)15
Pos.Lower is better15
177N. Korea8390
World Avg3249

In September 2001, the government closed all independent newspapers and arrested their editors and leading journalists. None were brought to trial. They remain in solitary detention. There are reliable reports that about half of them had died.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)16

Slavery (2018)14
Pos.Lower is better
% Victims14
161S. Sudan2.05
164Central African Rep.2.23
167N. Korea10.46
World Avg0.65

The taking of slaves has been an unwholesome feature of Human cultures since prehistory17. Private households and national endeavours have frequently been augmented with the use of slaves. The Egyptian and Roman empires both thrived on them for both purposes. Aside from labourers they are often abused sexually by their owners and their owners' friends18. The era of colonialism and the beginnings of globalisation changed nothing: the imprisonment and forced movements of labour continued to destroy many lives except that new justifications were invented based on Christian doctrine and the effort to convert non-Christians. By 1786 over 12 million slaves had been extracted from Africa and sent to colonial labour camps, with a truly atrocious condition of life19. But they were not the only ones to blame; in Africa internal nations such as the Asantes sold and bought tens of thousands of slaves20.

The abolition of the slave trade was a long and slow process. Until a relatively modern time, even philosophers, religious leaders and those concerned with ethics justified, or ignored, the problem of slavery21. The first abolitionists were always the slaves themselves. Their protests and rebellions caused the industry to become too expensive to continue. After that, it was the economic costs of maintain slave colonies that led the British to reject and then oppose the slave trade globally. Finally, the enlightenment-era thinkers of France encouraged moral and ethical thinking including the declaration of the inherent value of human life and human dignity22. A long-overdue wave of compassionate and conscientious movements swept across the West, eliminating public support for slavery, until the industries and churches that supported it had no choice but to back down.

'Modern slavery' includes forced labour (often of the under-age), debt bondage (especially generational), sexual slavery, chattel slavery and other forms of abuse, some of which can be surprisingly difficult to detect, but often target those fleeing from warzones and the vulnerable.23. Some industries (diamond, clothing, coal) from some countries (Burundi14, Eritrea14, Indonesia24) are a particular concern. The Walk Free Foundation, say that in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery25.

The horribly large number of Eritreans subject to slavery are largely a result of the state's abuse of its conscription system; all citizens must serve a period of "national service" and many are forced to do so for decades26,16. "Most are placed in military units, where they effectively work as forced laborers on private and public works projects"16.

Conscripts are subjected to 72-hour work weeks, severe arbitrary punishment, rape by commanders if female, and grossly inadequate food rations. Pay increased after 2014, but deductions for food limited the increase, and net pay remained inadequate to support a family.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)16

2. Gender Equality

#Eritrea #politics #women

Year Women Can Vote27
Pos.Lower is better
1New Zealand1893
World Avg1930

The 1950s saw a late rush of 43 countries, including Eritrea and many developing nations, move to cease preventing women from voting.


3. LGBT Equality and Tolerance

#equality #Eritrea #homosexuality #human_rights #intolerance #sexuality #tolerance

LGBT Equality (2017)10
Pos.Higher is better
142Myanmar (Burma)-10
World Avg12.6

Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk is rife across the world. Legal restrictions co-exist alongside social stigmatisation and physical violence28. LGBT tolerance and equal rights have been fought for country-by-country across the world, often against tightly entrenched cultural and religious opposition. Adult consensual sexual activity is a Human Right, protected by privacy laws29. Despite this, homosexual activity is outlawed in around 80 countries28. The Social & Moral LGBT Equality Index was created to compare countries and regions, granting points to each country for a variety of factors including how long gay sex has been criminalized and the extent of LGBT legal rights. Graded negative points are given for criminality of homosexuality, unequal ages of consent, legal punishments and for not signing international accords on LGBT tolerance. The signs in many developed countries are positive, and things are gradually improving. Europe is by far the least prejudiced region (Scandinavia in particular being exemplary). The Middle East and then Africa are the least morally developed, where cultural bias goes hand-in-hand with state intolerance, all too often including physical violence.

4. Eritrea Overall National and Social Development

#Eritrea #human_development

Social & Moral
Development Index
Pos.Higher is better
173S. Sudan41.0
176Ivory Coast40.3
179Papua New Guinea39.9
World Avg53.8

The Social and Moral Development Index concentrates on moral issues and human rights, violence, public health, equality, tolerance, freedom and effectiveness in climate change mitigation and environmentalism, and on some technological issues. A country scores higher for achieving well in those areas, and for sustaining that achievement in the long term. Those countries towards the top of this index can truly said to be setting good examples and leading humankind onwards into a bright, humane, and free future. See: What is the Best Country in the World? An Index of Morality, Conscience and Good Life.

5. Freedom of Belief and Religion


The government does not respect its peoples' right to freedom of religion and belief. In recent years there has been an "increase in serious government violations of religious freedom, including mass arrests, torture and death for members of minority belief groups"31. Since 2002, only four official religious groups have been allowed to exist (Sunni Islam, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical (Lutheran)16,32 and the government controls them closely. Failure to be a member of one of them is enough to be denied government services, and sometimes even arrested on the spot31.

The government exercises strict control over these religious groups. It deposed the Eritrean Orthodox patriarch in 2006, placed him under house arrest, and imposed a successor on the church. In July 2017, the octogenarian former patriarch was brought to a church service for the first time in 11 years but not allowed to speak. A contemporaneous church announcement blamed the patriarch for association with heresy but claimed the “issue” had been resolved. He has not been seen since.

Reliable sources reported as many as 170 arrests of Evangelical Christians in May to June alone. Some reportedly were sent to an infamous Red Sea Dahlak Island prison. It has become usual in Eritrea for security personnel to raid private homes where devotees of unrecognized religions meet for communal prayer. Repudiation of their religion is typically the price of release.

In October, the government suppressed protests by students at a private Islamic school in Asmara, Al Diaa, against a planned government takeover. The protests were triggered by the arrest of the school´s nonagenarian honorary president after he objected to the takeover. Arrests of other school officials followed. The government had previously announced it planned to convert all religious schools into government-administered institutions.

Jehovah´s Witnesses remain especially persecuted. As of August, 53 were imprisoned for attending religious meetings or for conscientious objection, including three arrested over 23 years ago, in 1994.

"World Report 2018" by Human Rights Watch (2018)16

The International Humanist and Ethical Union produced a report in 2012 entitled "Freedom of Thought" (2012)31, in which they document bias and prejudice at the national level that is based on religion, belief and/or lack of belief. Their entry for Eritrea states:

The 1997 constitution protects freedom of religion or belief. However, the government has yet to implement the constitution, and in practice it does not respect freedom of belief. [...] Religious facilities that did not belong to the four officially recognized religious groups were forced to close. The government retains significant control over the four registered religious groups, in most cases controlling their leadership and finances. Many places of worship have closed because of government intimidation and the mass conscription of religious workers and parishioners. The government routinely harasses and detains members of registered and unregistered religious groups, some of whom reportedly died as a result of torture and lack of medical treatment while in detention. By the end of 2011, many estimated that the population of religious prisoners remained at 2,000 to 3,000. Some arrestees reported that they were only released after they signed statements recanting their religious beliefs and agreeing to join an officially registered religion as a condition of their release.

The application for an exit visa requires a designation of religious affiliation, and members of unregistered religions or no religion require additional permission from the Office of Religious Affairs, which has been reported to grant permission, deny permission, or arrest applicants on the spot for practicing an unrecognized faith or being non-religious32.

"Freedom of Thought" by IHEU (2012)31

Current edition: 2018 Dec 24
Parent page: Eritrea (State of Eritrea)

All #tags used on this page - click for more:

#burundi #corruption #equality #Eritrea #france #freedom #homosexuality #human_development #human_rights #indonesia #intolerance #mass_media #peace #politics #sexuality #slavery #tolerance #women

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References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

Casely-Hayford, Gus
(2012) The Lost Kingdoms of Africa. Published by Bantram Press. A hardback book.

Crabtree, Vexen
(2019) "What is the Best Country in the World? An Index of Morality, Conscience and Good Life" (2019). Accessed 2019 Jan 13.

Donnelly, Jack
(2013) Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. 3rd edition. Published by Cornell University Press.

Human Rights Watch
(2018) World Report 2018. Covering the events of 2017.

IHEU. International Humanist and Ethical Union.
(2012) Freedom of Thought. A copy can be found on of Thought 2012.pdf, accessed 2013 Oct 28.

Klein, Naomi
(2004) No Logo. Originally published 2000, HarperCollins, London, UK. A paperback book.

McCall, Andrew
(1979) The Medieval Underworld. 2004 edition. Published by Sutton Publishing. A paperback book.

Thomson, Oliver
(1993) A History of Sin. Published by Canongate Press. A hardback book.

United Nations
(2011) Human Development Report. Published by the UN Development Programme. This edition had the theme of Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All. Available on UN Development Program: About the Human Development Index.
(2017) Human Development Report. Published by the UN Development Programme. Data for 2015. Available on

Walk Free Foundation
(2018) Global Slavery Index. Published on


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  29. Donnelly (2013). Chapter 16 "Nondiscrimination for All: The Case of Sexual Minorities" p289. According to a 1992 ruling of the Human Rights Committee, which declared that 'it is undisputed that adult consensual sexual activity in private is covered by the concept of privacy' when discussing Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. See Human Rights Committee, Communication 488/1992, paragraph 8.2.^
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