Country Profile

Eritreans continue to be victimized by forced conscription laws which contribute significantly to the flow of eritrean migrants exiting the country for socio-economic purposes. Since the 9 July 2018 peace agreement was signed by Eritrean president Isaias Afreki and Ethiopian Prime minister Abiy Ahmed some progress has been made in alleviating tensions at the border regions. However, the deal itself does not work to counter the system of military conscription which can require up to 20 years of service, often overlapping with peak employment ages and hence depriving nationals of a means to self sufficiency. Aside from the repressive system of forced service, Isaias Afreki has been accused of several human rights violations which, according to the comments of the special rapporteur for the United Nations human rights council amount conclusively to crimes against humanity. Techniques used by the eritrean government to evade justice include the avoidance of constitutionally mandated elections, the last of which took place in 1993 and continue to be postponed time and time again by state authorities without reasonable justification. Eritrea’s refusal to comply with UN mechanisms combined with an essentially non existent HRD network contributes to a dire situation for eritreans who seek access to their rights. The situation has led to mass emigration and the subsequent displacement of eritreans in neighboring countries such as Sudan and Ethiopia.

Freedom of Association

The Eritrean government continues to repress religious freedom for unregistered – and in some cases registered – religious communities. In early May 2017, ten Christians, four women and six men, were reportedly arrested by security officers from a home in Ginda, about 45 kilometres northeast of Asmara. According to Open Door USA, they were being held at the Ginda Police Station without charge. The Christian persecution watchdog noted that many Christian prisoners in Eritrea are locked up in shipping containers with little ventilation and have died as a result.[1] 

Freedom of Expression

On 3 May 2017, World Press Freedom Day, UNESCO awarded its prestigious Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize to Dawit Isaak, a journalist with Swedish and Eritrean dual nationality who has been imprisoned in Eritrea for 15 years without ever speaking to a lawyer or seeing a judge. In 1993, Dawit founded the independent newspaper Setit, in the capital, Asmara. In 2001, his newspaper published an open letter calling for elections and the implementation of the promised constitution. The ensuing crackdown saw Dawit and ten other journalists arrested, seven of whom have since died in detention. The fate of Dawit and the other three – Emanuel Asrat, Temesgen Gebreyesus, and Seyoum Tsehaye – remains unclear, despite repeated requests from his family and the Swedish government.[2] On 6 July 2017, the European Parliament voted through a resolution calling for the immediate release of Dawit Isaak.[3]

On 6 June 2017, London-based charity One World Media presented Radio Erena with an award for their commitment to reporting politics, social issues, and local culture in the face of great adversity. The station, created by exiled HRD Biniam Simon, has broadcast by satellite from France since 2009.[4]

[1]     Open Door USA, “10 Christians Arrested in Eritrea,” 13 May 2017,, Accessed 26 September 2017.

[2]     Reporters Without Borders, “Jailed Eritrean journalist awarded UNESCO press freedom prize,” 30 March 2017,, Accessed 26 September 2017

[3] Parliament of the European Union, “European Parliament resolution of 6 July 2017 on Eritrea, notably the cases of Abune Antonios and Dawit Isaak,” 6 July 2017,, Accessed 20 October 2017.

[4]     Reporters Without Borders, “Radio Erena receives 2017 One World Media special award,” 6 June 2017,, Accessed 26 September 2017.

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The UN offers a way forward for human rights in Eritrea

DefendDefenders welcomes the adoption of a resolution on Eritrea today at the UN Human Rights Council (“Council”). While making clear that diplomatic pro­gress in the Horn of Africa has not translated into domestic human rights pro­g­ress in Eri­t­rea, the Council offers a way forward for human rights reforms in the country by stream­lining its approach and providing the Eritrean government with an opportunity to engage.