Death penalty abolitionist in practice
Population 5.1 million
Life expectancy 59.2 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 78/71 per 1,000
Adult literacy 64.2 per cent
Freedom of expression was severely restricted and legitimate criticism of the government suppressed. Independent journalism, political opposition, unregistered religious groups and civil society were highly restricted. Perceived critics of the government remained in detention. Deserters from the armed forces, those evading mandatory military conscription, and their families, were harassed, imprisoned and subjected to ill-treatment. Family members of detainees reported that international communication was monitored by the government and could lead to reprisals.
Despite government claims of self-sufficiency, the local population remained heavily dependent on international food aid. Donor countries and intergovernmental institutions contributed millions of dollars in aid, including the European Union which gave 122 million euros in 2009. Food shortages were exacerbated by drought and desertification in certain areas. The government became increasingly reliant on a 2 per cent tax levied on most members of the Eritrean diaspora.
Large numbers of mainly young Eritreans fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan to avoid conscription into national service.
UN Security Council (UNSC) members, the African Union and the USA accused Eritrea of supporting Somali armed opposition groups. In December, the UNSC passed Resolution 1907 imposing sanctions on Eritrea, including an arms embargo, and an assets freeze and travel ban on individuals and organizations to be determined. Eritrea maintained a troop presence in the disputed Ras Doumeira area and Doumeira Island of Djibouti, despite a UNSC resolution calling for Eritrean withdrawal.
The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruling of October 2008 was not enforced. However, Eritrea stated that it would respect a decision by the Eritrea- Ethiopia Claims Commission which required the government to pay Ethiopia US$12.6 million in damages over the border war of 1998 to 2000.
Freedom of religion
Members of banned religious groups remained at risk of harassment, arrest and incommunicado detention. Only four religious institutions are officially recognized in Eritrea since 2002, namely the Eritrean Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, Lutheran Church and Islam.
- Some 3,000 Christians from non-state sanctioned religions remained in detention.
- The home of Pastor Tewelde Hailom, an elder of the Full Gospel Church, was raided by Eritrean security personnel on 15 October. Pastor Hailom was not placed in detention because of ill health but three others who were with him were detained. Two days later, another seven members of his congregation were also detained.
At least 22 Jehovah's Witnesses were reportedly arrested, bringing the number of those detained due to conscientious objection and religious activities to at least 61.
Prisoners of conscience and other political prisoners
The government reacted with hostility to any form of criticism and placed severe restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association.
Political prisoners imprisoned since the government clampdown of 2001 remained in incommunicado detention. In most cases, their whereabouts and health status remained unknown.
Prisoners of conscience included draft evaders and military deserters. Some prisoners of conscience were also failed asylum-seekers forcibly returned to Eritrea.