Overview of the UN Special Rapporteur’s new report on Eritrea’s human rights situation

On May 11, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation on human rights in Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, published her latest report on the human rights situation in Eritrea. Kravetz’ mandate was extended for one year and was requested to present a report on the situation in Eritrea to the Human Rights Council at its 44 session. The report does not show any improvement in the human rights situation in Eritrea and the high number of Eritreans fleeing the country confirms this. Kravetz is still unable to visit the country. This article provides an overview on updates on the human rights situation and highlights specific areas of concern. In addition the most important recommendations for the Government of Eritrea for achieving sustainable progress in human rights are highlighted in this article.


The five benchmarks established by the Special Rapporteurs on Eritrea represent minimum human rights standards and aim to help the government in developing its human rights agenda. However, Kravetz sees no substantial improvement on the human rights situation in Eritrea. She remains concerned by widespread and systematic violations of human rights, especially the civil and political rights.

The first benchmark represents the “improvement in the promotion of the rule of law and strengthening of national justice and law enforcement institutions”.

Kravetz remains concerned about the practices of indefinite and arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances. Many arbitrary arrests are targeted at practitioners of various religious groups or persons suspected of opposing the government.  Prisoners are often not granted basic rights, such as legal counsel, judicial review, family visits or medical attention and stay in inhumane prison conditions.

Kravetz asks to stop these arbitrary arrests, indefinite detention and to improve the treatment of detainees. She asks to release all the people detained without charge, especially now with the risks related to COVID-19.  

The second benchmark represents “demonstrated commitment to introducing reforms to the national/military service. The Special Rapporteur found no improvements in conditions or duration of the national/military service compared to previous years”.

The indefinite national service remains one of the main reasons for fleeing from Eritrea. The Eritrean government tries to justify it by stating that there are not enough job opportunities for the conscripts. However, despite the government’s justifications, Kravetz notes that there are at least four steps that could immediately be taken to improve the national service.

Kravetz states that these include a stop to forcibly rounding up young people for conscription. In addition, she recommends separating high-school education from military conscription and to stop using the education system to recruit new conscripts. The Eritrean government should put n place an independent mechanism to monitor, investigate and prevent abuses against conscripts and take steps necessary to prevent forced or exploitative labour, in particular child labour, within the national/military service. Kravetz encourages Eritrea to seek technical assistance from international partners, including the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Kravetz warns that international actors seeking to implement projects in Eritrea must take proactive steps to avoid contributing to human rights abuses, particularly in relation to labour under the national service. 

The third benchmark represents “extended efforts to guarantee freedom of religion, association, expression and the press, and extended efforts to end religious and ethnic discrimination”.

Kravetz expresses her concern regarding the severe restrictions imposed by the Eritrean government on civil liberties.

First, the restrictions on religious communities and church-based organizations are a great area of concern. There have been arrests of members of different communities and restriction on the activities of the Catholic Church. Kravetz states the importance of improving the protection of religious and faith-based communities and ensuring their protection by ending interference in religious practice and releasing all prisoners detained for their religious practices.

The second area of concern remains the restriction on freedom of association, expression and the press. Kravetz sees no improvement in the working environment for independent human rights defenders, members of the political opposition and independent journalists. Kravetz asks for measures to ensure full respect for the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association in practice, as well as for the freedoms of press and media.

The third and last area of concern is the marginalization of the Afar communities. The subsistence and livelihood of Afar communities remains under threat in the Dankalia region. There have been reports on harassment, arbitrary arrest and disappearances of members of the Afar communities. Kravetz asks the Eritrean government to promote the rights of the communities and provide adequate follow-up to arbitrary arrests and disappearances.

The fourth benchmark represents “demonstrated commitment to addressing all forms of gender-based violence and to promoting the rights of women and gender equality”. 

Kravetz urges the Eritrean government to adopt a constitutional and legislative framework to guarantee the rights of women and address all forms of discrimination and violence against women. She also urges Eritrea to improve the situation of women in detention and strengthen the independence, professionalism and gender sensitivity at all levels. The national/military service still has a severe impact on women and girls ability to determine their own life plan. There is still a high number of Eritrean women and girls who are exposed to trafficking in persons and sexual exploitation.

The fifth and last benchmark represents “strengthened cooperation with international and regional agencies”. 

Eritrea remains a challenging operating environment for international humanitarian organizations. 

Apart from Eritrea’s refusal to cooperate with the mandate, Kravetz has received no answer from the governments of Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya or Uganda as to whether she may visit the countries.

The engagement with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) remains the same. Therefore, Kravetz encourages Eritrea to increase its cooperation with OHCHR and other UN human rights mechanisms. Kravetz also encouraged Eritrea to strengthen the cooperation with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. By improving its engagement, Eritrea would show a sign of commitment to improve the human rights situation, states Kravetz.

Situation of Eritrean migrants and refugees

Kravetz notes that Eritrean asylum seekers transiting through Ethiopia, Sudan and other countries are often forced to rely on smuggling networks, which exposes them to violence and exploitation.

She also expresses concern for the situation of Eritrean refugees caught up in the ongoing conflict in Libya. There are numerous cases in which Eritreans were kidnapped by traffickers and tortured, mistreated and sold. Women, girls and boys are particularly vulnerable to rape, sexual slavery and other forms of violence.  

A significant number of Eritreans continue to seek asylum in Europe. Kravetz stresses the importance for countries to take the rehabilitation needs of Eritrean asylum seekers into account in asylum processes.

Regional developments

There were various bilateral meetings between Eritrea and Ethiopia but as yet, there is no framework to institutionalize their 2018 peace agreement. The closure of the border on the Eritrean side and the tensions between the regional authorities of the Ethiopian Tigray region, bordering Eritrea, are making the negotiations more complex. 

Two years on from the peace deal, the agreement has yet to materialize for the Eritrean people. The human rights situation in Eritrea is still as dire as several years ago. The Eritrean authorities have to implement much needed human rights reforms to improve this situation, as per the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur.