Eritrea: serious concerns about the lack of rule of law

Human Rights Committee's 125th session - March 2019

Eritrean migrants after being caught by Sudanese border police in 2017. Photo credit: www.thelocal.ch

In the absence of the initial report by the State party, the Committee considered the situation of civil and political rights in Eritrea after 16 years of delay in the submission of the State report under the ICCPR. The review by the Committee took place on 12 and 13 March 2019.

The Committee expressed concerns about the fact that there is no Constitution in force since the 1997 Constitution was never adopted. While noting the plans of the State party to draft a new constitution, the Committee regretted lack of clarity about time frame and modalities of such drafting process. The Committee also expressed concerns about the suspension of the National Assembly since 2002, the lack of a national human rights institution, lack of independence of the judiciary and a general climate of impunity.

The State delegation replied that the priority for the country now is to consolidate the peace and trust, national development and political stability.

"Could the State at least inform the families of the incommunicado detainees about the whereabouts of their relatives? Are they still alive? Where are they?"

- Human Rights Committee member

Torture, detention and extrajudicial killings

The Committee referred to the allegations of extensive use of torture in civilian and military detention centres, including reports of torture to punish criticism of the government, practising of religions non-recognised by the government, attempting to leave the State party or failing to perform duties during national military service. The Committee also raised the reports of widespread arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention, failing to meet basic minimum legal safeguards. The Committee was also concerned about the reports that some unlawfully detained persons have died in detention and about the reports of underground cells, ship containers and other places used as unofficial centres of detention.

The State delegation denied the allegations raised by the Committee. However, it was unable to provide the number of persons in detention and did not provide a clear reply on the whereabouts of persons detained since 2001.

Military and national service programme

The Committee expressed concern regarding the length of the national service, which has been extended for an indefinite period. It expressed further concern that indefinite duration of national service reportedly remains one of the main causes for the departure of Eritreans from the State party. The Committee was also concerned about allegations that national service conscripts are forced to work in mining and construction plants owned by private companies, while receiving no or very little salary. The Committee also raised the fact that the State party does not recognise a right to conscientious objection to military service and does not provide for alternative military service.

The State delegation replied that a new remuneration system for civil service was declared in 2017 and there are plans to limit the duartion of the national service, but it will take time to implement them.

Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee

By 26 March 2021, the State party should provide information on the following recommendations from the Committee's Concluding Observations:

Constitutional and legal framework within which the Covenant is implemented 

  • ensure that the 1997 Constitution is put into effect pending its replacement by the new constitution
  • expedite the constitutional review process, within a clear time frame, and in a transparent and participatory manner
  • reconvene the National Assembly so that it may take necessary steps regarding implementation of the Covenant
  • ensure that the rights enshrined in the Covenant are fully incorporated into the Constitution and other relevant domestic legislation
  • take all measures necessary to ensure that all laws are interpreted and applied in full compliance with the Covenant and are enforceable in national courts
  • make efforts to train all legal professionals, including public officials and the public on the rights enshrined in the Covenant and their application

Enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention

  • ensure prompt, impartial and thorough investigations of all allegations and complaints concerning enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings
  • ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions and ensure that the victims are provided with full reparation, including satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition
  • clarify the fate or whereabouts of disappeared persons and ensure that their relatives are informed about the progress and the results of investigations
  • promptly make public the whereabouts of the 18 journalists detained since 19 September 2001, 11 former top officials of the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), known as “the G15”, detained since 18 September 2001, and former Minister of Finance, Berhane Abrehe, and his wife, Almaz Habtemariam, detained respectively since 17 September 2018 and January 2018
  • ensure that all persons deprived of their liberty are only detained in official places of detention and are provided with all legal safeguards, including access to a lawyer, a medical doctor and a family member, and that they are brought promptly before a judge
  • ensure that allegations of unlawful detention are promptly investigated and that the perpetrators are brought to justice
  • ensure that victims of arbitrary and unlawful detention are promptly released and provided with access to an effective remedy and full reparation
  • inform the relatives of the persons in detention about their whereabouts

Military and national service programme

  • limit the length of mandatory military and national service to a maximum period of 18 months, in accordance with international standards
  • ensure the legal recognition of conscientious objection to military service and provide for alternative service of a civilian nature for conscientious objectors
  • refrain from subjecting persons in military service to activities that may amount to forced labour

The next report of Eritrea is expected by 26 March 2021.

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