Eritrea remains one of the most oppressive and closed countries in the world. The situation in the country has significantly deteriorated since 2001, after a severe crackdown created an inhospitable environment for human rights defenders. Since then, the space for civil society organisations and independent media has been completely crushed, with journalists and activists facing a choice between exile and imprisonment in one of Eritrea’s infamous and insalubrious jails.
Despite shoot to kill orders along the border, the lack of basic civil liberties and forced life-long conscription in the army has led an estimated 5,000 Eritreans to flee the country on a monthly basis.
On 14 March 2016, Sheila Keetharuth, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea and a member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, submitted an oral update to the Human Rights Council. She noted that there is pervasive “fear of a future constrained by indefinite military conscription and arbitrary detention for exercising fundamental freedoms such as freedom of expression or religion.”
According to the Special Rapporteur, at least 3,092 unaccompanied children fled to Sudan in 2015. Many left as a result of indefinite conscription and forced labour, and while the Eritrean government claims the length of national service was reduced to 18 months, the Special Rapporteur noted that there has been no sign that this has taken place. National service is mandatory for all citizens between 18-50 years old, however it is also common practice to enlist children under the age of 18 years.
Even outside of the country, independent voices promoting human rights in Eritrea or critical of the government continue to face harassment and intimidation by authorities. Articles attacking and threatening human rights defenders in exile have been posted onto websites that are supportive of the current government. Several human rights activists have reported being threatened and followed by Eritreans working for the government in their new homes in Europe and in Africa. For example, in the Netherlands, eight court cases have been brought against academics, the Dutch government, a website and media houses by individuals and groups linked to the Eritrean regime. These court cases, which are costly and time consuming, generally target entities or individuals who have expressed themselves openly about Eritrea’s catastrophic human rights record.
Despite the abysmal conditions in Eritrea caused by the repressive policies of the government, in December 2015 the European Union announced it will provide €200 million to “promote poverty reduction and socio-economic development in Eritrea.” No mention was made of Dawit Isaac during the negotiations, Swedish-Eritrean journalist who has been detained incommunicado in Eritrea since 2001. Additionally, some European countries are considering returning asylum seekers and refugees, which would place them at high risk.
Freedom of association and peaceful assembly
The right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly remains tightly controlled in Eritrea. According to Freedom House, independent NGOs are not tolerated and there have been no international NGOs operating in the country since 2011. Since 1993, Eritrea has detained an estimated 10,000 prisoners of conscience without charge or trial. Prisoners are often detained indefinitely in inhumane conditions resulting in starvation, illness, and even death.
Freedom of expression
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Eritrea is the most censored country in the world. There are currently at least 15 journalists in prison and since 2010, at least 32 have gone into exile. Many of the detained journalists have been held incommunicado since 2001, such as Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist, and Seyoum Tsehaye, the former head of national television, who have yet to be given access to their lawyers, and whose families have not received any sign of life since their imprisonment.
 “Eritrea faces day of reckoning as UN weighs choice between sanctions or aid”, The Guardian, 9 October 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/oct/09/eritrea-un-monitoring-group-report-eu-sanctions-aid
 “Statement by Ms. Sheila B. Keetharuth, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea at the 31th session of the Human Rights Council”, OHCHR, 14 March 2016, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17224&LangID=E
 “How Eritrea is Turning to Dutch Courts to Silence its Critics”, The Guardian, 1 March 2016, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/01/how-eritrea-is-turning-to-dutch-courts-to-silence-its-critics
 “EU Announces Support for Poverty Eradication in Eritrea”, European Union, 11 December 2015, http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-15-6298_en.htm
 “EU aid to repressive Eritrea indefensible”, Africa Review, 14 March 2016, http://www.africareview.com/Opinion/EU-aid-to-repressive-Eritrea-indefensible/-/979188/3116218/-/ck9mj6z/-/index.html
 “Freedom in the World 2015”, Freedom House, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2015/eritrea
 “Map of Secret Prison Network in Eritrea Pinpoints “Infrastructure of Repression””, Amnesty International, 8 May 2013, http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/press-releases/map-of-secret-prison-network-in-eritrea-pinpoints-infrastructure-of-repression
 “10 Most Censored Countries”, Committee to Protect Journalists, 27 April 2015, https://cpj.org/2015/04/10-most-censored-countries.php
 “2016 Press Freedom Barometer”, Reporters Sans Frontières, http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-barometer-journalists-imprisoned.html?annee=2016
 “HRC31: Individual Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea (Oral Update)”, EHAHRDP, 14 March 2016, https://www.defenddefenders.org/2016/03/hrc31-individual-interactive-dialogue-with-the-special-rapporteur-on-eritrea/