The British government has just published its 2017 Human Rights Report.
The human rights situation in Eritrea showed no improvement in 2017.
The main problems related to civil and political rights. The authorities
restricted freedom of expression: Eritrea is a one-party state with no
political opposition or independent media. Citizens continued to be subject
to arbitrary extension of national service, a form of modern slavery. The
right to freedom of religion or belief was violated. Citizens suffered arbitrary
detention on religious grounds, with a lack of due process in subsequent
This contrasts with the progress which Eritrea made in 2017 on social, cultural
and economic rights. The UK has supported the work of the United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with the government of
Eritrea to address gender inequality in education and wellbeing. The UNDP
assess that more girls are now in school compared with 15 years ago, and most
regions have reached gender parity in primary education. Eritrea achieved
antenatal care attendance of 98% of pregnant mothers, skilled delivery
of 60% of births, and immunisation coverage of 95% of babies.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, was
continually denied access to the country by the government and was therefore
unable to fulfil the mandate given by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).
However, we welcome the Government of Eritrea’s continued cooperation
with the UN OHCHR, including with representatives who visited Eritrea
for the second year in succession, in October. Despite cooperating with this
visit, the government gave no update regarding progress made on the four-
year implementation programme agreed with the UN Development Programme
(UNDP) following Eritrea’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in 2014.
The UK continued to work bilaterally and with international partners in
the EU and the UN to press Eritrea to improve its human rights record.
The UK made statements in human rights dialogues on 14 June in the
HRC in Geneva and at the UN General Assembly Third Committee meeting
in New York on 27 October. On both occasions, the UK stressed the need
to ensure that those engaged in the national military service system had
a clearly defined limit to their period of service, and received financial
compensation commensurate to their duties. We also reiterated calls for the
Government of Eritrea to implement the Eritrean Constitution, to respect
fully the right to freedom of religion or belief, and to release individuals held in
Severe constraints on media freedoms have resulted in the absence of
independent media in the country. The diaspora radio station, Radio Erena,
received an award from the London-based charity World One Media on 6
June, in recognition of the continued absence of a free press and media
in Eritrea. The station provides an alternative voice through its cultural, social, political and entertainment programmes. A number of journalists and politicians remained in long-term detention. Among these is Dawit Isaac, who was awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize in absentia on 31 March.
In late October, several senior Catholic and Muslim figures were arrested as the
government sought to exert influence over religious schools and colleges.
This led to protests on 31 October by between 100 and 200 students, parents
and administrators from a Muslim school in Asmara, who were dispersed
by gunfire from the Eritrean security forces. The UK will continue to monitor
closely reports of the excessive use of force, of arbitrary arrests, including of
minors, and of the lack of clear due process. FCO officials raised these
issues in November with the Eritrean Ambassador to London.
On 26 June, the UK joined international partners in calling attention to the
prolonged detention of Patriarch Abune Antonios, the former head of
the Eritrean Orthodox Church. The Patriarch has been under house arrest
since 2007. For the first time since his detention, he was allowed on 16
July to attend mass. However, he has not been seen in public since, and he
appears to remain under house arrest. The European Parliament, in a resolution on 6 July, condemned human rights violations in Eritrea and in particular highlighted the cases of Dawit Isaac and Patriarch Antonios.
In 2018, the UK will continue to press the Government of Eritrea to improve
its human rights record. Alongside international partners, the UK will seek
to work constructively with Eritrea, encouraging engagement with the UPR process and OHCHR, and urging improved cooperation with the HRC and
any Special Rapporteur appointed.