Civil and political rights

Civil and political rights are a category of rights that prevent governments, organizations and private individuals from violating individual freedoms.

Civil rights are meant to protect the integrity, the life and the safety of the people.

How are civil and political rights being enjoyed in Eritrea?

Civil / Political Rights Current situation in Eritrea
The right to a fair trial
Governments have the key role to maintain law and order, to hold people accountable for the crimes committed and to ensure that justice is done is by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal.
Every individual is entitled to a fair public hearing. Any person charged with an offence should be presumed innocent until proven guilty. All defendants must have the right to representation by a competent and independent lawyer of their choice or to be self-represented.
Lack of legal certainty
In civil and criminal courts, the trials are public and defendants have the right to consult attorneys.
In Special Court, cases of individuals accused of opposing the Eritrean authorities or threatening the national security are handled*. In this Court, lawyer do not practice, judges are prosecutors and senior military officers appointed by the President are judges*. "The judiciary is not in a position to protect the fundamental rights of Eritrean citizens, in particular when they are infringed or violated by public officials. (…) Such dependence is in clear violation of the principle of independence of judges and their security of tenure. Similarly, the lack of independence of the Judiciary and prosecution contributes to the widespread impunity enjoyed by public officials in Eritrea, including in cases of gross human rights abuses."* reported the UN Commission of inquiry.
Sources: 1. Erythrée Rapport 2013 sur les droits de l'homme, Role of the Police and Security Apparatus 2. A/HRC/29/CRP.1 page 88 para. 329 3. A/HRC/29/CRP.1 page 191, para. 722
Civil / Political Rights Current situation in Eritrea
The right to an effective remedy
States have the obligation to ensure that individuals have access to effective and enforceable remedies when violations occur. Justice is of little use if an individual does not have the possibility to have his/her rights recognized before a court of law.
Failure of the Eritrean State to protect the right to an effective remedy
Conscripts who have been subject to grave abuse in the national/military lack of avenues to resort to justice. The judges in charge of such cases are, not independent and competent judges, but military officials without legal training.
  Civilians exempted from the national service who were subject to arbitrary decisions issued by the authorities (confiscation of commercial licenses, destruction of houses, appropriation of lands, etc.) are silenced. They often fear the judiciary, in this case, the Special Court handled by military commanders. The 2016-2017 Amnesty International report indicates: “The legal system in Eritrea fails to provide effective remedy to victims of human rights violations and lacks necessary laws and institutions to ensure implementation of the Covenant.”
Civil / Political Rights Current situation in Eritrea
The right to freedom of opinion and expression
Freedom of opinion and expression is one of the main public freedoms that can be enjoyed both individually and collectively. “Freedom of opinion and freedom of expression are indispensable conditions for the full development of the person. The dissemination of opinions is part of freedom of expression, which covers ideas and opinions conveyed during political discourse, discussions on human rights, commentaries on public affairs, journalist activities, cultural and artistic exhibitions, teaching sessions and religious discourse. It applies to all means of expressions, such as books, newspapers, pamphlets, posters, banners and legal submissions, audio-visual and electronic means of communications.” Human Rights Committee, General comment, n. 34, para. 2, 11 and 12
"Self-censorship of civilians in the majority of aspects of their lives" Several reports found that the Government of Eritrea systematically silences any individual who dares to question or express criticism against the policy of the Government. It generally uses the following means: arbitrary deprivation of life and liberty, inhumane and degrading treatment, confiscation of business licences for the political dissidents in the diaspora who have families in the country, etc. Generally, the views or statements expressed by individuals are legitimate considering the degree of oppression. The most striking sign of this repression is the arrests of the G-15 and their supporters during the political crackdown in 2001. These practices cannot be justified as legitimate grounds for the protection of the national security and have no legal basis. A system of mass surveillance targeting civilians within the country and individuals in the diaspora engages in the violation of the right to privacy. The UN Commission of inquiry highlighted that “Mass spying and surveillance in Eritrea go beyond the needs of national security or crime prevention and are arbitrary. (…) Eritreans live in constant fear that their conduct is or may be monitored by security agents and that information recorded by state agents may be used against them – to arrest them, detain them, torture, disappear or kill them. They therefore engage in self-censorship with regard to most aspects of their lives.”* Repression of expression against civilians The denial of the right to speak without fear considerably affects both the development of the Eritrean society and the development of personality of each individual. Any ordinary civilians or conscript can land in prison for expressing their opinion, even if it does not directly target the Government.Repression of expression was observed by the UN Commissioners in professional setting and ordinary places when an individual would claim social entitlements.Family members are not officially informed when their loved ones are arrested. Many persons have been detained for asking the place of detention of their relatives. Consequently, many people engage in self-censorship to avoid troubles. Repression of expression in the military service Self-censorship is more pronounced in this context. Conscripts are frequently sent to prison under the instructions of their military superior for asking leave to visit their family. Criticism against the Government leads to punishment such as detention or torture. The UN Commission of inquiry reported the following case : “When the President referred to a region as fertile on the occasion of the inauguration of water reservoir, the recruit retorted: “This is a lie! We are here, we know this is not a green area. This is a desert.” He was consequently taken away from group and punished in the otto position.”*Practices inside military camps are of high concerns. Conscripts must also engage in self-censorship even when they witness an inhumane practice on another conscript such torture or rape on young women conscripts. The UN Commission of inquiry collected a testimony in this regard: “A witness described that in 2011 a senior war veteran had been arrested after questioning the execution of a conscript: “He stood up for the boy. He asked why they killed him. He was upset and tried to find out why they killed him. He was threatened and the superiors were against him.” He was ultimately imprisoned; by the time witness left the camp, two years after the incident, he had not been released.”* Media The Government of Eritrea exclusively owns the radio and the television. Independent media were all shutdown in 2001 and many journalists arrested that year remain under Government custody in undisclosed locations.Newspapers are only published if a prior authorization was given by the Ministry of Information who also controls, twice a year, the financial accounts of the newspaper. Sources : 1. A/HRC/29/CRP.1 page 100, para.366 2. A/HRC/32/CRP.1 page 129, para. 488 3. A/HRC/32/CRP.1 page 130, para. 491
Civil / Political Rights Current situation in Eritrea
The right to freedom of assembly and association
Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights protects the right to freedom of assembly and association. Peaceful public meetings and demonstrations are usually organized in order to express an opinion about a policy or to voice a request to a government. The only admissible restrictions imposed on such meetings or demonstrations are if they compromise the interests of national security, public health, public order or the protections of other people’s freedoms and rights.
Peaceful assembly in Eritrea
Historically, there have only been a few recorded public demonstrations in the country:

- 1993 and 1995 by war veterans;
- 1994 by Eritrean War Disabled Fighters’ Association for living in inadequate conditions of living (tents); and
- in 2001 by student opposing to the closure of the unique University in the country, the University of Asmara.

The four and only demonstrations above were followed with killings, torture or
incommunicado detention of the leaders as well as some participants. As a result, the Eritrean civil population lacks of avenues to channel their grievances. There is a blatant absence of independent groups which voice the legitimate needs, interests or concerns of the people. There is also an absence of consultation on decisions taken by the authorities that precisely affect the people. The record of punishment for peaceful assembly prevents any civilian to open a genuine dialogue with the authorities.

Political parties are not allowed in the country
Since the independence in 1991, the only political party allowed in the country is the one governing.

Restriction to participate in public affairs
The prohibition of political parties and independent trade unions by the Eritrean Government offer no avenues for the population to participate in the governance of the country or even to voice improvements in aspects of their lives.

Non-governmental organizations
Freedom of organization is severely curtailed by the Eritrean Government who since 2005, only permits the activity of GONGO’s (Governmental Organized Non-Governmental Organization). The UN Commissioners concluded that the restrictions imposed by the Eritrean Government on NGOs are not necessary for national security interests, public order, protections of public health or protection of the rights and freedoms of others.*

Source : A/HRC/29/CRP.1 page 158, para. 617  
Civil / Political Rights Current situation in Eritrea
Rights to Liberty and Security
Under international human rights law, arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of liberty is prohibited. Therefore, an arrest or detention is only legal if it has a legal ground. Such arrest must be conducted with transparent and legal procedures.
Violation of the rights to Liberty and Security
Considering the widespread use of spies by the Eritrean authorities, almost everyone in Eritrea risks to be arbitrarily arrested and detained. An immoderate word (to the standard of the country) in private conversation with friends or family can easily lead an individual to disappear, land in prison or to be tortured.
Individuals are mostly arrested because their conduct are perceived as a threat, as a treason or because they may appear to have the intention to commit an offence. Military or National Security Intelligence usually arrest and detain these individuals to unknown location and usually in the dire conditions.

The UN Commission of inquiry stated that: “
Testimonies indicate that the police, the military and agents of the National Security Office – which constitute the multiple layers of authority in Eritrea and report directly to the Office of the President – have the authority to arrest, detain and release both military conscripts and civilians. The legal foundation of this authority is, however, unclear. Anyone with authority can conduct an arrest.* The identity of the officers or the authority under which they conduct the arrests are usually unknown. The UN Commissioners reported that sometimes the officers operate under the authority of different agencies at the same time (police, military, or national security). Arresting officers usually carry arms or automatic weapons but it is often impossible to identify them as they can be dressed as civilians or driving unmarked vehicles without registration numbers.*
Sources 1. A/HRC/29/CRP.1, page 193, para. 729 2.) A/HRC/29/CRP.1, page 193, para. 730