UNHRC : Systematic censorship enables ongoing crimes against humanity in Eritrea

At the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in Eritrea has presented its second report, documenting on going crimes against humanity and other human rights violations in the country.

ARTICLE 19 agrees with the Commission’s finding that the denial of freedom of expression, assembly and association rights is “systematically entrenched” in Eritrea, and that there has been no improvement in the promotion and protection of these rights since its last report.

The silencing of independent media and critical voices has been central to and enabled the Eritrean government’s apparatus of repression, sustaining a climate of impunity worsened by a perpetual “state of emergency” and 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 a collective known as G-15) were arrested on the pretext of ‘national security’. We estimate a total of 69 journalists have been arbitrarily arrested and detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression since 2001, without charge or fair trial. While eight journalists are reported to have died in detention, a wall of silence means it is impossible to know how many others remain in prison, where they are detained, or information about their well being.

We agree with the Commission’s assessment that 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 is limited, including through the Internet: the ITU ranked Eritrea 166 out of 167 countries in its Information and Communication Technology development index and Eritrea’s sole and government owned telecommunications provider routinely blocks online news sources.

The lack of any advancement in freedom of association and assembly rights for civil society organisations and trade unions is also concerning. Rare peaceful protests in the country have met lethal and disproportionate force and arbitrary arrests and detentions.

In light of this report, the Eritrean government’s continuing policy of non-cooperation with the United Nations’ and regional human rights mechanisms, including this Commission of Inquiry, is unacceptable and reprehensible.

ARTICLE 19 fully supports the Commission’s recommendations, and calls on the international community to ensure full accountability for the on going crimes against humanity and other human rights violations the Commission has identified, including through the UN Security Council and African Union.  

In particular, the Eritrean government must account for journalists and political prisoners who have been detained, and ensure the unconditional release of those that are still alive.  Eritrea must also implement its 1997 Constitution, and establish credible institutions to ensure the protection of the right to freedom of expression.