Situation of human rights: Report of Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, the UN Special Rapporteur
The report covers the period from 5 May 2020 to 28 April 2021. Owing to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the related restrictions of movement, and to the lack of cooperation of the Government of Eritrea, the Special Rapporteur was unable to conduct a field visit to Eritrea during the period under review.
The report is based on information gathered by the Special Rapporteur by monitoring the human rights situation remotely and on information provided by other sources, including civil society organizations, United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, and the donor community. In compliance with the Code of Conduct for Special Procedure Mandate Holders of the Human Rights Council, a draft report was shared with the Government of Eritrea in order to provide it with an opportunity to comment on the observations and findings of the Special Rapporteur.
The Special Rapporteur wishes to thank the previous mandate holder, Daniela Kravetz, for her invaluable support and the exchanges held with her on the implementation of the mandate.
Situation of religious freedom
“44. The Special Rapporteur remains concerned by the lack of tangible progress in relation to the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information, assembly and association, conscience and religion, and movement within the country. According to reports received, widespread arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention create a climate of fear that deters any expression of dissent in the country.
45. The Government recognizes only four religions: the Evangelical, Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches and Sunni Islam. For as long as followers of unrecognized religions are prohibited from practising their religion and systematically arrested and detained, the religious freedoms of Eritreans of all faiths are curtailed. It is estimated that there are thousands of prisoners being detained for their religious beliefs, including conscientious objectors.
46. The Special Rapporteur welcomes some positive developments in recent months. In August 2020, a large group of Muslim men was released. In January and February 2021, a total of 70 Evangelical and Orthodox Christians were released from three Eritrean prisons: on 27 January 2021, six female prisoners were released, having been detained for worshipping in public in September 2020 in Dekemhare, south-east of Asmara; and on 1 February 2021, 21 female and 43 male prisoners were released from Mai Serwa and Adi Abeito prisons, near Asmara. The prisoners had been held for between 2 and 12 years. Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur notes at the same time that the Eritrean authorities have yet to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
47. In this regard, the Special Rapporteur has received information about 13 Eritrean Christians who remain imprisoned after the authorities raided two separate prayer meetings in March 2021 and took 35 people into custody, including women(11). The Special Rapporteur has been informed of the release from Mai Serwa prison on 11 April 2021 of 22 of the 23 Christians who were arrested at a prayer meeting in Asmara, most of whom were women. However, all 12 of the Christians arrested in Assab, to the south-east of Asmara, remain in Assab prison, where conditions are reported to be harsh. The Special Rapporteur notes with concern that this latest wave of arrests is proof that there has been no change in the repressive government policy towards religious freedom in the country.
48. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the release on 4 December 2020 of 28 Jehovah’s Witnesses (26 men and 2 women), after being imprisoned for their faith for periods ranging from 5 to 26 years. They include three conscientious objectors – Paulos Eyasu, Isaac Mogos and Negede Teklemariam – whose cases were highlighted by the former Special Rapporteur (12). One male Jehovah’s Witness was released on 29 January 2021 after having been imprisoned for more than 12 years, and an additional three were released on 1 February 2021 (one man and two women), who had been imprisoned for between four and nine years. The Special Rapporteur notes at the same time that the Eritrean authorities have yet to release 20 Jehovah’s Witnesses who remain in prison (14 men and 6 women), one of whom is more than 75 years old. He received information about their names, gender, age and dates of imprisonment, and reports that they were stripped of their citizenship because of their religious affiliation.(13)
49. The Special Rapporteur urges the Eritrean authorities to ensure full respect for their human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Special Rapporteur calls on Eritrea to respect the concluding observations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, namely the Commission’s recommendations to ensure that Jehovah’s Witnesses retain their citizenship rights, take urgent measures to address the denial of basic rights of all detained persons, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, and investigate the reported deaths in detention of Jehovah’s Witnesses.(14)”
11. See International Christian Concern, “35 Christians arrested during prayer meetings in Eritrea”, 16 April 2021.
12. See, for example, A/HRC/44/23.
13. See Jehovah’s Witnesses, “Special report: the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrea”, 30 August 2019.
14. African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, “Concluding observations and recommendations on the initial and combined periodic report of the State of Eritrea on the implementation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights”, adopted at its sixty-third ordinary session, October–November 2018, para. 120 (x), (xviii) and (xxviii).