Annual Report: Eritrea 2011

Report
May 28, 2011

Annual Report: Eritrea 2011

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Head of state and government: Isaias Afewerki
Death penalty: abolitionist in practice
Population: 5.2 million
Life expectancy: 60.4 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 78/71 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 65.3 per cent

Widespread human rights violations were routine. The government severely restricted freedom of expression and freedom of religion. No opposition parties, independent journalism or civil society organizations, or unregistered faith groups were allowed. The authorities used arbitrary arrests, detentions and torture to stifle opposition, holding thousands of political prisoners in dire conditions, many in secret detention. Military conscription was compulsory and deserters, draft evaders and their families were harassed, imprisoned and ill-treated. A "shoot to kill" policy against anyone attempting to flee across the border remained in place.

Background

President Isaias Afewerki and the ruling People's Front for Democracy and Justice, the only permitted political party, exerted complete control over the state without a hint of indefinitely delayed elections. There was no independent judiciary.

Eritrean society remained highly militarized. All adults faced compulsory national service which was frequently extended indefinitely.

The costs of mass military conscription contributed to a crippling of the national economy. Food shortages increased. The UN estimated that as many as two in every three Eritreans were malnourished, but the government restricted food aid and humanitarian access, apparently as a way of controlling and punishing the population, and limiting external influence.

Large numbers of mainly young Eritreans fled the country. The government continued to implement a "shoot to kill" policy for those caught trying to cross the border.

The UN Security Council continued to apply sanctions against Eritrea, including an arms embargo, on the grounds that it was supporting Somali armed groups and for failing to resolve a border dispute with Djibouti.

For the first half of the year Eritrea maintained a troop presence in the disputed Ras Doumeira area and Doumeira island of Djibouti, despite a Security Council resolution calling for Eritrean withdrawal. In June, Eritrea agreed to withdraw its troops and resolve the dispute with Djibouti through mediation by Qatar.

The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission decision of 2002 requiring Ethiopia's withdrawal from the border village of Badme was not enforced; and the damages set out by the 2009 Claims Commission to be paid by both sides were not paid. The government used the pretext of the border dispute, and possible threat of future conflict, as justification for the severe curtailment of civil and political rights.

Freedom of religion

Only members of permitted faiths - the Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches, and Islam - were allowed to practise their religion. Members of banned minority faiths faced harassment, arrest, incommunicado detention and torture. Many were arrested while worshipping clandestinely in private homes or at weddings or funerals.

Up to 3,000 Christians from unregistered church groups were held in detention during the year, including 60 Jehovah's Witnesses who were known to be in detention in May. Among the 60 were Paulos Eyassu, Isaac Mogos and Negede Teklemariam, detained since 1994 without trial.

A clampdown on Evangelical Christians, in particular the Full Gospel Church, in the Southern Zone (province) was reported in October. Up to 40 men and women were arrested and detained incommunicado, reportedly on the orders of the governor of the Southern Zone.