According to the Human Rights Watch, Eritrea remains a one-man dictatorship under President Isaias Afewerki, now in his 27th year in power. It has no legislature, no independent civil society organizations or media outlets, and no independent judiciary. The government restricts religious freedoms, banning all but four groups.
Every Eritrean must serve an indeterminate period of “national service” after turning 18, with many ending up serving for well over a decade. Some are assigned to civil service positions, while most are placed in military units, where they effectively work as forced laborers on private and public works projects.
Largely because of the oppressive nature of the Isaias rule and the prolonged national service, about 12 percent of Eritrea’s population has fled the country. In 2016 alone, 52,000 escaped, according to the latest United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report.
In June 2017, the United Nations special rapporteur on Eritrea reported to the Human Rights Council that there can be “no sustainable solution to the refugee outflows until the government complies with its human rights obligations.” The council echoed her call for reform in a resolution calling on Eritrea to end indefinite conscription and forced labor. It also urged the African Union (AU) to investigate government abuses so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.
On these grounds, the United Kingdom says it has no evidence of human rights reforms in Eritrea since the last session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. It added that it had raised the situation with the Eritrean government.
In a written question and answer session in parliament, David Patrick Paul Alton of Liverpool asked the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, FCO, about Eritrea.
His question posed on 10th October was responded to eight days later by Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, Minister of State, FCO, who said UK’s Minister for Africa had raised human rights concerns with Eritrean foreign minister Osman Saleh as recently as September 2018.
The Minister for Africa raised our concerns on the human rights situation with the Eritrean Foreign Minister when they met on 25 September, and expressed our hope for an improvement in light of political developments in the region.
Alton’s question was as follows: “To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have seen any evidence of substantive Human Rights reforms in Eritrea since the most recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea to the thirty-eighth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.”
The October 18 response read: “The UK has seen no evidence of any human rights reforms in Eritrea since the last session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
“The Minister for Africa raised our concerns on the human rights situation with the Eritrean Foreign Minister when they met on 25 September and expressed our hope for an improvement in light of political developments in the region.”
Minister of Africa, Harriet Baldwin met with Osman Saleh on the sidelines of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in New York. Eritrea dedicated its address to demand for the lifting of sanctions imposed by the security council.
Eritrea was late last week elected to serve on the United Nations Human Rights Council, a move that attracted condemnation from rights groups that have long condemned Asmara for systemic right abuses.
The UN special rapporteur for the region has in the past called for the government to be held for crimes against humanity. Many political dissidents are believed to be in jails along with journalists and pro-democracy activists.
The government justified their election to the council by saying it would afford the country the opportunity to deal with human rights issues.
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Photo Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak (Foreign Minister Osman Mohammed Saleh of the State of Eritrea addresses the seventy-third session of the United Nations General Assembly.)
Credit: UNHCR, Human Rights Watch, Africa News