ARTICLE 19 welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur. We deeply regret that six years since the establishment of this mandate, and two years since the Commission of Inquiry’s findings were published, the denial of freedom of expression, assembly, and association rights remains “systematically entrenched” in Eritrea, with no tangible progress forthcoming.
We remain disturbed that those who are seen or perceived to speak out against the government or its policies, continue to face harsh reprisals, including against their family members.
We condemn the use of force against peaceful protesters in Akhria, and the mass arrests which followed in October 2017. We further regret the mass arrests of those who attended the funeral of the late Haji Musa Mohammed Nur, including of 2 journalists, in March 2018. We agree with the Special Rapporteur that indiscriminate mass arrests are used ‘to instil fear, quell any kind of dissent, protest or resistance’ and prevent demonstrators from exercising their rights. This practice must end.
The systematic silencing of independent media and critical voices has been central to, and has enabled, the government’s apparatus of repression, sustaining a climate of impunity worsened by a perpetual “state of emergency” and the absence of the rule of law.
No private media have existed in Eritrea since the last eight private newspapers were forced to close in 2001, when at least 18 journalists and 11 former government officials (part of the G-15 collective) were arrested on the pretext of ‘national security’.
Estimates suggest that 69 journalists 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 are concerned by reports of targeted Internet shutdowns in response to protests in October 2017, as well as the jamming of other communications channels, in efforts to further restrict the free flow of information in the country.
We call on the Eritrean government to account for the whereabouts and wellbeing of G-15 political prisoners, all detained journalists, and those detained during demonstrations, and ensure the unconditional release of those that are still alive, and reparations made to victims or their families.
We urge this Council to maintain its scrutiny of the human rights situation in Eritrea, and renew the vital mandate of the Special Rapporteur. We further call on the Eritrean government to cooperate constructively with the United Nations, in particular the incoming mandate-holder, and to facilitate access to the country at the earliest opportunity. The institutions that are needed in Eritrea to safeguard human rights can only be established with technical assistance, which will benefit the Eritrean people.