Eritrea: Oral statement to HRC37 interactive dialogue on Eritrea

Madam Vice-President,

ARTICLE 19 regrets that the situation for freedom of expression has not improved since the publication of the Commission of Inquiry’s findings in 2016. It remains true that the denial of freedom of expression, assembly and association rights remains “systematically entrenched” in Eritrea.

We further regret that the government of Eritrea has chosen not to engage in this enhanced interactive dialogue, in particular to respond to the concerns of civil society.

We condemn the recent and severe crackdown on protests against a government decree to close religious schools in Eritrea. This includes alleged use of lethal force against a student protest in Asmara in November 2017, and the arbitrary detention of an unknown number of persons, including

the chairperson of Al Dia Islamic School Sheikh Hajji Musa Mohamed Nur, who we understand has died in custody. 

Since 2001, Eritrea has not had private media after the arrest of at least 18 journalists and 11 former government officials (part of a collective known as G-15) on the pretext of ‘national security’. These detentions have been condemned by two ACHPR decisions, the most recent in 2016 concerning Dawit Isaak.

ARTICLE 19 notes that there are an estimate of a total of 69 journalists who have been arbitrarily arrested and detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression since 2001, without charge or fair trial. While at least eight journalists are thought to have died in detention, a wall of silence means it is impossible to know how many others remain in prison, where they are, and what their condition is.

Government-controlled media is the only type of local media in Eritrea: they act as a mouthpiece of the Ministry of Information. Access to alternative information sources, including online, is limited. We share the Special Rapporteur’s previously stated concerns that since 2016, new regulations require Internet cafes to register customers before they can use the Internet. We also note that Eritrea’s sole and government owned telecommunications provider continues to routinely block online news sources. Internet penetration levels, and Internet speeds, remain woefully slow.

We again call on the Eritrean government to account for the whereabouts and wellbeing of detained journalists and G-15 political prisoners, and ensure the unconditional release of those that are still alive, and reparations made to victims or their families.

We also call on the Eritrean government to end its policy of non-cooperation with the United Nations, including the Special Rapporteur, and to facilitate access to the country at the earliest possibility. The institutions that are needed in Eritrea to safeguard human rights can only be established with technical assistance, which will directly benefit the Eritrean people.

This Council must renew the Special Rapporteur’s mandate at its upcoming 38th session, and ensure accountability for human rights violations in the country.

Thank you.