Amnesty International Report 2020

ERITREA, State of

Head of state and government: Isaias Afwerki

The whereabouts of government critics and detained since 2001 remained unknown. The authorities continued to violate the rights to freedom of expression, religion and freedom of movement. Prisoners were denied their rights to health. Thousands continued to flee abroad as the repression and indefinite military conscription continued, even after Eritrea restored relations with its former arch-enemy Ethiopia.


There continued to be no independent press since the authorities banned all non-state media in 2001. In 2020, the Committee to Protect Journalists found Eritrea was the most censored country in the world and had more journalists in prison than any other country.


Hundreds of politicians, religious leaders, journalists and other government critics – some held for more than a decade without charge or trial – remained in arbitrary detention and continued to be denied access to their families and lawyers. The whereabouts and fate of 11 high-profile
politicians and 17 journalists who criticized President Afwerki’s rule in 2001 remained unknown at the end of the year. Former Finance Minister Berhane Abrehe remained in prison since his arrest in the capital Asmara in 2018. No charges had been brought against him by the end of the year. He was arrested after he had published a book calling for democratic reform and was
subjected to enforced disappearance.


Prisons and detention centres

Prisons and detention centres remained chronically overcrowded with unsanitary living conditions.1 Adi Abeto prison, north of Asmara, held about 2,500 inmates despite having capacity for only 800. The Mai Serwa Asmara Flowers detention camp near Asmara, where many Jehovah’s Witnesses were held, had no toilets for an estimated 700 detainees, and men and women inmates had to relieve themselves in the open. The Mai Serwa Maximum Security prison, close to Asmara, had only 20 toilets for 500 detainees. Prisons and detention facilities did not provide detainees with adequate water, food and hygiene products such as soap. Many detainees in Mai Serwa Maximum Security prison, Mai Serwa Asmara Flowers detention facility and the all-male Ala prison, near Asmara, relied on their families for supplementing the meager food that was provided to them. On 2 April, the authorities imposed a lockdown on prisons to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other diseases. No visitors were allowed in, cutting off necessary supplies from relatives, and putting detainees at even greater risk of malnutrition and disease.


Conscripts to the mandatory national service programme continued to be forced to serve
for indefinite periods extending far beyond the legal limit of 18 months. There was no provision for conscientious objection and thousands remained in open-ended conscription,many of them having already served for decades. The government continued to send final-year high-school
students to Sawa Defence Training Centre and made no commitment to release them from national service after they had served 18 months.Conscripts earned ERN800 (approximately
US$53) a month which was not enough to cover basic needs. The government used them to work on infrastructure projects such as irrigation, roads and agriculture. Working conditions could be degrading and inhumane, and in some cases amounted to torture. At the Mai Serwa Asmara Flowers detention facility, which in reality is a forced labour camp, Jehovahs Witnesses and other detainees were forced to work on the nearby flower farms.


The right to leave the country remained severely restricted and people were prevented from traveling abroad without government permission.


Thousands of Eritreans continued to flee the country, primarily to avoid indefinite national
service, and sought asylum in other countries. According to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency,
9,463 asylum-seekers from Eritrea crossed the border into Ethiopia during the first quarter of the year. After April, there was a marked reduction in the number of new arrivals in Ethiopia, due to COVID-19 restrictions on the movement of people.Eritrean refugees and asylum-seekers continued to face serious human rights including in transit countries, particularly Libya, where many were subjected to detention, abduction, sexual abuse, and torture and other ill-treatment.

1. Eritrea: Detainees in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions
defenceless against COVID-19 (Press release, 21 May)

Eritrea Newsroom

February 25, 2021 • Report

Eritrean Troops’ Massacre of Hundreds of Axum Civilians May Amount to Crime Against Humanity

Eritrean troops fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray state systematically killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the northern city of Axum on November 28-29, 2020, opening fire in the streets and conducting house-to-house raids in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity, Amnesty International said today in a new report.

June 17, 2018 • Report

Israel: African asylum-seeker deportations and “voluntary” transfers are forced and illegal

The Israeli government’s transfers of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers is cruel and illegal, Amnesty International said today, as it released a new report titled Forced and Unlawful: Israel’s Deportations of Eritrean and …

February 18, 2016 • Report

Amnesty International State of the World 2015-2016

International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. “Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

February 25, 2015 • Report

State of the World 2014/2015

This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change.

May 20, 2013 • Report

Annual Report: Eritrea 2013

Eritrea Head of state and government Isaias Afewerki National service conscription was compulsory and frequently extended indefinitely. Military training for children remained compulsory. Conscripts were used as forced labour. Thousands …

May 8, 2013 • Report

Eritrea: 20 years of Independence But Still No Freedom

This report highlights 20 years of widespread arbitrary arrest and detention without trial used against anyone in Eritrea who demonstrates dissent in any form.

April 4, 2013 • Report

Egypt/Sudan: Refugees face kidnapping for ransom, brutal treatment and human trafficking

Amnesty International is greatly concerned for the safety and security of refugees and asylum-seekers held captive in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt.

June 28, 2011 • Report

Annual Report: Eritrea 2011

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 …

March 19, 2011 • Report

Annual Report: Eritrea 2010

Head of state and government Issayas Afewerki 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 …

April 20, 2020 • Press Release

Protect Detainees at Risk of COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa, Unclog Prisons and Release Prisoners of Conscience

Authorities in Sub-Saharan Africa must take urgent action to protect people in detention from COVID-19, including releasing prisoners of conscience, reviewing cases of pre-trial detention, and guaranteeing access to healthcare and sanitation products in all facilities, Amnesty International said today.