The Human Truth Foundation

Human Rights and Freedom in Eritrea

By Vexen Crabtree 2018

#conscription #eritrea #eritrea_human_rights #human_rights #international_law #politics

State of Eritrea

[Country Profile Page]
StatusIndependent State
Social and Moral Index190th best
Life Expectancy66.54yrs (2017)2

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 better than average when it comes to speed of uptake of HR treaties3. However Eritrea performs less well in most areas. It does worse than average in LGBT equality4, its nominal commitment to Human Rights5 (amongst the lowest in Africa) and in freethought6 (one of the highest in Africa). It falls into the worst 20 in terms of commentary in Human Rights Watch reports7. And finally, it is the worst in supporting press freedom8. 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"9. "Eritreans are subject to arbitrary imprisonment. Arrest and harsh punishment including torture, are at the whim of security force commanders without trial or appeal"9.

1. Eritrea's Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance

#equality #gender_equality #human_rights #morals #politics #prejudice #tolerance

Compared to Africa (2020)10
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank10
1S. Africa56.1
Africa Avg108.2
Human Rights, Equality & Tolerance (2020)10
Pos.Lower is better
Avg Rank10
World Avg87.9

The best countries in the world at ensuring human rights, fostering equality and promoting tolerance, are Sweden, Norway and Denmark11. These countries are displaying the best traits that humanity has to offer. The worst countries are The Solomon Islands, Somalia and Tuvalu11.

The data sets used to calculate points for each country are statistics on commentary in Human Rights Watch reports, its nominal commitment to Human Rights, speed of uptake of HR treaties, supporting personal, civil & economic freedoms, supporting press freedom, eliminating modern slavery, opposing gender inequality, the rate of gender bias (from 7 indicators), the year from which women could participate in democracy, its success in fighting anti-semitic prejudice, LGBT equality and freethought. The regions with the best average results per country are Scandinavia, Baltic States and Europe11, whereas the worst are Melanesia, Micronesia and Australasia11.

For more, see:

Amnesty International's 2023-23 summary on human rights in Eritrea stated:

The authorities continued to subject journalists, political dissidents, leaders and members of religious congregations to arbitrary detention, in some cases amounting to enforced disappearance. Conscripts to mandatory national service were forced to serve for indefinite periods. Allegations of sexual violence by military commanders against conscripts in the Sawa training camp persisted.

"The State of the World's Human Rights 2022/23" by Amnesty International (2023)12

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)9

2. Human Rights & Tolerance

2.1. Human Rights Watch Comments


Human Rights Watch Comments
Higher is better7
109=Central African Rep.-8
110Myanmar (Burma)-9
Africa Avg-5.6
World Avg-1.9
Eritrea ranks 5th-worst in the world in terms of commentary in Human Rights Watch reports.

Human Rights Watch comments concentrate mostly on negative issues, however, they also make positive comments for those countries that engage in human rights defence around the world, or who make improvements at home. By adding up positive and negative comments (including double-points for negatives that involve large scales and crimes against humanity), the Social and Moral Index turns HRW commentary into quantified values. Some countries may be unfairly penalized because HRW have not examined them, and, some countries "get away" with abuses if they manage to hide it, or if it goes unnoticed - a negative point has been given for those countries in which HRW specifically state that access to investigators has been barred. The points were limited to a minimum of -10 because there are some points at which things are so bad, with abuses affecting so many, it is difficult to be more specific about the depths of the issues.

2.2. Nominal Commitment to HR


Nominal Commitment to HR
Higher is better5
2=Costa Rica23
177=N. Korea7
177=Sao Tome & Principe7
Africa Avg14.8
World Avg15.1
(one of the worst in Africa)Regarding its nominal commitment to Human Rights, Eritrea comes 172nd in the world.

There are many international agreements on human rights, and, many mechanisms by which countries can be brought to account for their actions. Together, these have been the biggest historical movement in the fight against oppression and inhumanity. Or, putting it another way: these are rejected mostly by those who wish to oppress inhumanely. None of them are perfect and many people object to various components and wordings, but, no-one has come up with, and enforced, better methods of controlling the occasional desires that states and peoples have of causing angst for other states and peoples in a violent, unjust or inhumane way. Points are awarded for the number of human rights agreements ratified by the country, plus the acceptance of the petition mechanisms for disputes. The maximum possible score in 2009 was 24.

2.3. HR Treaties Lag

#human_rights #international_law #micronesia #politics #small_islands

HR Treaties Lag
Lower is better3
Avg Yrs/Treaty3
72=Burkina Faso8.78
Africa Avg9.88
World Avg10.02
Eritrea comes 71st in the world when it comes to speed of uptake of HR treaties.

Human Rights (HR) Treaties Lag is a count of how long it took each country to sign each of 11 key HR treaties. From the date of the first signatory of each treaty, all other countries have one point added to their score for each day they delayed in signing. Results are presented as average time in years to sign each one. The lower a country's score, the more enthusiastically it has taken on international Human Rights Treaties - which are, of course, minimal standards of good governance. The slowest are the countries of Micronesia, Melanesia, Australasia and Polynesia all lagged by over 12 years per treaty. The best regions are The Americas, Scandinavia and the Mediterranean.

For more, see:

2.4. Press Freedom

#democracy #freedom #Freedom_of_Speech #Good_Governance #mass_media #politics #UK

Press Freedom
Lower is better8
177N. Korea8390
Africa Avg3511
World Avg3249
Eritrea comes last in the world regarding supporting press freedom.

The freedom to investigate, publish information, and have access to others' opinion is a fundamental part of today's information-driven world, and is linked with Freedom of Speech and Good Governance. Scores on the Press Freedom Index are calculated according to indicators including pluralism - the degree to which opinions are represented in the media, media independence of authorities, self-censorship, legislation, transparency and the infrastructure that supports news and information, and, the level of violence against journalists which includes lengths of imprisonments. The index "does not take direct account of the kind of political system but it is clear that democracies provide better protection for the freedom to produce and circulate accurate news and information than countries where human rights are flouted". The rankings are used as one of the datasets of the Social and Moral Development Index13

It must be noted that press freedom is not an indicator of press quality and the press itself can be abusive; the UK suffers in particular from a popular brand of nasty reporting that infuses several of its newspapers who are particularly prone to running destructive and often untrue campaigns against victims. The Press Freedom Index notes that "the index should in no way be taken as an indicator of the quality of the media in the countries concerned".

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)9

2.5. Slavery

#burundi #eritrea #france #human_rights #indonesia #slavery

Lower is better
% Victims14
161S. Sudan2.05
164Central African Rep.2.23
167N. Korea10.46
Africa Avg0.96
World Avg0.65
Eritrea is positioned 2nd-worst in the world, after Eritrea, when it comes to eliminating modern slavery.

The taking of slaves has been an unwholesome feature of Human cultures since prehistory15. 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' friends16. 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 life17. But they were not the only ones to blame; in Africa internal nations such as the Asantes sold and bought tens of thousands of slaves18.

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 slavery19. 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 dignity20. 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.21. Some industries (diamond, clothing, coal) from some countries (Burundi22, Eritrea22, Indonesia23) are a particular concern. The Walk Free Foundation, say that in 2016, 40.3 million people were living in modern slavery24.

For more, see:

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 decades25,9. "Most are placed in military units, where they effectively work as forced laborers on private and public works projects"9.

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)9

3. Gender Equality

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


3.1. Year Women Can Vote

#christianity #gender_equality #human_rights #politics #women

Year Women Can Vote
Lower is better
1New Zealand1893
Africa Avg1961
World Avg1930
Eritrea ranks 102nd in the world in terms of the year from which women could participate in democracy.

Women now have equal rights in the vast majority of countries across the world. Although academic literature oftens talks of when a country "grants women the right to vote", this enforces a backwards way of thinking. Women always had the right to vote, however, they were frequently denied that right. The opposition to women's ability to vote in equality with man was most consistently and powerfully opposed by the Catholic Church, other Christian organisations, Islamic authorities and some other religious and secular traditionalists.

For more, see:

4. Prejudice

4.1. LGBT Equality

#equality #homosexuality #human_rights #ICCPR #intolerance #sexuality #tolerance

LGBT Equality
Higher is better
142=Myanmar (Burma)-10
Africa Avg-10.4
World Avg12.6
Regarding LGBT equality, Eritrea is positioned 144th in the world.

Discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) folk is rife across the world. Legal restrictions co-exist alongside social stigmatisation and physical violence26. 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 laws27. Despite this, homosexual activity is outlawed in around 80 countries26. 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.

For more, see:

4.2. Freedom of Thought

#europe #freedom_of_belief #freethought #human_rights #netherlands #religion #religious_tolerance #secularism #the_enlightenment

Freedom of Thought
Lower is better
Africa Avg3.1
World Avg3.0
(amongst the worst in Africa)In terms of freethought, Eritrea ranks 21st-worst in the world.

Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Belief are upheld in Article 18 the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights28. It affirms that it is a basic human right that all people are free to change their beliefs and religion as they wish29. No countries voted against this (although eight abstained). This right was first recognized clearly in the policies of religious toleration of the Netherlands and elsewhere in Europe in the post-enlightenment era30 of the 19th century. In democratic countries, freedom of belief and religion is now taken for granted31. In 2016 a study found that over 180 countries in the world had come to guarantee freedom of religion and belief32. The best countries at doing so are Taiwan, Belgium and The Netherlands6,33 and the worst: Afghanistan, N. Korea, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia6,34.

Long-term studies have shown that religious violence and persecution both decrease in cultures where religious freedom is guaranteed35. Despite this, there still are many who are strongly against freedom of belief29, including entire cultures and many individual communities of religious believers. Their alternative is that you are not free to believe what you want and they often state that you cannot change religion without being punished (often including the death penalty): this is bemoaned as one of the most dangerous elements of religion36 and "the denial of religious freedoms is inevitably intertwined with the denial of other freedoms"37 and the solution is, everywhere, to allow religious freedom and the freedom of belief.

For more, see:

5. Freedom of Belief and Religion

#eritrea #religion_in_eritrea

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"38. Since 2002, only four official religious groups have been allowed to exist (Sunni Islam, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical (Lutheran)9,39 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 spot38.

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)9

The International Humanist and Ethical Union produced a report in 2012 entitled "Freedom of Thought" (2012)38, 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-religious39.

"Freedom of Thought" by IHEU (2012)38