Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
The government reportedly committed arbitrary killings with impunity and subjected detainees to harsh and life-threatening prison conditions. Prisoners who disappeared often were presumed dead.
The COI found that authorities had widely committed extrajudicial executions and arbitrary killings since independence. The COI’s findings–based on interviews conducted outside of the country (see section 5, United Nations and Other International Bodies)–included extrajudicial killings before the border war of veterans with disabilities and political opponents, including Muslim scholars and others; extrajudicial executions of political opponents, smugglers, and others for less serious or “speculative” crimes; mass killings of members of certain ethnic groups; and systematic execution by the armed forces of soldiers accused of cowardice or desertion during the border war.
The COI found the government, largely the armed forces and particularly the border surveillance division, implemented a shoot-to-kill policy to prevent its citizens from crossing the border into Ethiopia. According to the COI, this policy had been in effect for a “considerable period of time.” The COI’s June 8 report stated it had “reliable evidence” that the policy still existed but was “not implemented as rigorously as it was in the past.”
An unknown number of persons disappeared during the year and were believed to be in government detention or to have died while in detention. The government did not regularly notify family members or respond to requests for information regarding the status of detainees, including locally employed staff of foreign embassies or foreign nationals. Disappeared persons included those detained for political and religious beliefs, journalists, individuals suspected of evading national service and militia duties, and persons not known to have committed any offense.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law and the unimplemented constitution prohibit torture. According to the COI, the government engaged in the widespread use of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. The COI found that officials used mistreatment such as extreme forms of restraint, rape, or beatings to cause severe physical and psychological pain during interrogations and to punish detainees and conscripts, and this mistreatment constituted torture. The COI found that officials had either directly ordered torture or it was inflicted with their consent and acquiescence. According to the COI, “The recurrence, coherence, and similarities of the many torture incidents… is a clear indication of the existence of a deliberate policy to inflict torture in a routine manner in the context of investigations and interrogations as well as during national service.” The COI received approximately three hundred accounts of torture and mistreatment occurring between 1991 and June 2015.
Lack of transparency and access to information made it impossible to determine the numbers or circumstances of deaths due to torture or poor detention conditions.
Security forces tortured and beat army deserters, national service and militia evaders, persons attempting to flee the country without travel documents, and members of certain religious groups.
The COI reported sexual violence against women and girls was widespread in military training camps, the sexual violence by military personnel in camps and the army amounted to torture, and the forced domestic service of women and girls in training camps amounted to sexual slavery. In a March 2015 report, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) expressed concern regarding reports of women in national service frequently being subjected to sexual violence, including rape.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening.
Physical Conditions: There were numerous official and unofficial detention centers, some located in military camps. The law requires juveniles be held separately from adults. There is a juvenile detention center in Asmara, but authorities held some juveniles, particularly teenagers, with adults, due to overcrowding in juvenile facilities. When police arrested mothers, their young children sometimes were held with them. Severe overcrowding was common.
Data on the prevalence of death in prison and detention facilities were not available, although persons reportedly died from harsh conditions, including lack of medical care and use of excessive force. Authorities held some detainees incommunicado in metal shipping containers and underground cells without toilets or beds. Use of psychological torture was common, according to inmates held in prior years. Some former prisoners reported authorities conducted interrogations and beatings within hearing distance of other prisoners to intimidate them. The government did not provide adequate basic or emergency medical care in prisons or detention centers. Food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate, and potable water was sometimes available only for purchase.
Former detainees and other sources reported harsh detention conditions in police stations and in prisons for persons held for evading national service and militia duties.
Authorities placed political prisoners in solitary confinement more often than other detainees (see section 1.d., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
Administration: It was impossible to verify whether authorities released prisoners after they served their sentences. Recordkeeping procedures were not transparent, and the government did not routinely announce the release of prisoners. There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints.
Prisoners and detainees did not have consistent access to visitors. The government did not grant consular access to detained dual-national citizens. Authorities generally did not permit family visits with persons detained, arrested, or convicted for reasons purportedly involving national security but permitted visits with those held for other reasons. Authorities did not permit religious observance for some prisoners and detainees, although at least one detention center had a facility where authorities permitted inmates to conduct religious observances. International religious organizations claimed authorities interrogated detainees regarding their religious affiliation and asked them to identify members of unauthorized religious groups. Prisoners and detainees could not submit complaints to judicial authorities, and authorities did not adequately investigate or monitor prison or detention center conditions.
Independent Monitoring: The government rarely permitted monitoring by independent government or nongovernmental observers. The government did not permit international bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to monitor prison conditions. The government also did not provide the ICRC with information about or access to Ethiopian and Djiboutian prisoners of war detained in the country.
The June 8 COI report noted that in February representatives of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights were able to visit the Sembel Prison and Rehabilitation Center. It noted, however, the visit was short and did not allow for a full assessment.
The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but such acts remained widespread.
Mass arrests of persons suspected of evading national service continued.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Police are responsible for maintaining internal security, and the armed forces are responsible for external security, but the government sometimes used the armed forces, the reserves, demobilized soldiers, or the civilian militia to meet domestic and external security requirements. Agents of the National Security Office, which reports to the Office of the President, are responsible for detaining persons suspected of threatening national security. The armed forces have authority to arrest and detain civilians. Police generally do not have a role in cases involving national security.
Impunity for abuse was the norm. There were no known internal or external mechanisms to investigate security force abuse, or government actions to reform the security forces.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law stipulates that unless there is a crime in progress, police must conduct an investigation and obtain a warrant prior to making an arrest, but this seldom occurred. In cases involving national security, police may waive the process. Detainees must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest and may not be held more than 28 days without being charged with a crime. Authorities generally detained suspects generally for longer periods without bringing them before a judge, charging them with a crime, or telling them the reason for detention. Authorities sometimes arbitrarily changed charges during detention. The government promoted the assumption that they detained persons held without charge due to national security concerns.
The law provides for a bail system, but bail was arbitrarily denied, bail amounts were capriciously set or not set, and being released on bail sometimes involved paying bribes.
Detainees held on national security grounds did not have access to counsel. Other detainees, including indigent persons, often did not have such access either. Incommunicado detention was widespread. Detainees did not have routine access to visitors. Authorities generally did not permit family visits for persons detained or arrested for reasons purportedly involving national security but usually permitted weekly visits with those held for other reasons.
Arbitrary Arrest: Arbitrary arrest occurred frequently. Security force personnel detained individuals for reasons that included suspicion of intent to evade national and militia service, criticizing the government, attempting to leave the country, and unspecified national security threats. Authorities also continued to arrest members of unregistered Christian groups.
Authorities sometimes arrested persons whose papers were not in order and detained them until they were able to provide evidence of their militia status or demobilization from national service. The government contacted places of employment and used informers to attempt to identify those unwilling to participate in the militia.
There were occasional reports, particularly from rural areas, that security forces detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country.
Persons arrested in previous years for refusing to bear arms on grounds of conscience and for participating in unregistered religious groups remained in detention.
Pretrial Detention: The government held numerous detainees without charge or due process. Detainees might not be told the reason for their arrest. Authorities brought few, if any, persons detained purportedly on national security grounds to trial. The percentage of the prison and detention center population in pretrial detention was not available.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Detainees were not able to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court.
Amnesty: There were reports of dual-national citizens who authorities released after serving their sentences being rearrested days later when they attempted to depart the country.
The law and unimplemented constitution provide for an independent judiciary, but executive control of the judiciary continued, and the judiciary was neither independent nor impartial. Judicial corruption remained a problem. The Office of the President served as a clearinghouse for citizens’ petitions to some courts. It also acted as an arbitrator or a facilitator in civil matters for some courts. The judiciary suffered from lack of trained personnel, inadequate funding, and poor infrastructure.
The law and unimplemented constitution provide for the presumption of innocence and for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of charges in a language they understand. The constitution provides for a fair, speedy, and public hearing by a court of law, but it allows the court to exclude the press and public for reasons relating to morals or national security. The law does not specifically address the provision of adequate time or facilities to prepare one’s defense, access to government-held evidence, the right of defendants to confront witnesses, or the provision of free interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals, although courts generally accorded these rights to defendants in cases courts did not deem related to national security. There is no right for defendants to refuse to testify.
In civil and criminal courts, defendants have the right to be present and to consult with attorneys or to present their own evidence if they do not wish an attorney. Prosecution and defense lawyers are court appointed and have the right to present evidence and witnesses. Courts of first instance are at the regional level. Each party to a case has the right to one appeal. Decisions rendered by any regional court may be appealed to the next appellate court. Should the appellate court reverse a decision of the lower court, the party whose petition was not sustained may appeal to the five-judge upper appellate court. If the lower appellate court upholds the decision of a regional court, there is no second appeal.
Special courts have jurisdiction over corruption and national security cases. During the year authorities did not try persons detained on national security grounds or for political reasons. Authorities did not inform persons detained on national security grounds of charges against them. Special courts did not protect the rights of defendants. They did not provide defendants with access to a lawyer. Judges serve as prosecutors and may request that individuals involved in cases testify. Special court judges are military officials. The special courts report to the Ministry of Defense and the Office of the President. Trials in special courts are not open to the public, and the court’s decisions are final, without appeal.
Community courts headed by elected officials were widely used in rural areas and generally followed traditional and customary law rather than formal law. Local administrators in rural areas encouraged citizens to reconcile outside the court system for less serious cases. Trials in community courts were open to the public and heard by a panel of judges.
In May 2015 the government published revised penal, criminal procedure, civil, and civil procedure codes. The codes had yet to be put into effect by year’s end.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
According to Amnesty International, the government held thousands of detainees without charges or trial, including suspected political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, opposition politicians, journalists, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, and persons suspected of not completing national service or evading militia practice. Authorities subjected such persons to harsher treatment in detention than were other detainees. The government did not permit access to detainees by international human rights or humanitarian organizations. The government continued to hold members of the G-15, a group of former ruling party members and officials who called for reforms, and journalists detained in 2001. It did not provide family members with information regarding their well-being or whereabouts.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There are no civil judicial procedures for individuals claiming human rights violations by the government.
The COI noted it received uncorroborated information on continuing demolitions and evictions.
The law and the unimplemented constitution prohibit arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but the government did not respect these rights.
Many citizens believed the government monitored cell phones in particular, since authorities required permits to use SIM cards.
The government used an extensive informer system to gather information.
Membership in the PFDJ, the only legal political party, was not mandatory, but authorities pressured some categories of individuals, particularly those occupying government positions, to join the party. Authorities occasionally convoked citizens to attend political indoctrination meetings as part of mandatory participation in the militia irrespective of PFDJ membership. Authorities denied benefits such as ration coupons to those who did not attend. Some citizens in the diaspora claimed convocations occurred at Eritrean embassies, with the names of those who did not attend reported to government officials, sometimes resulting in denial of benefits such as passport services.
Obligatory national service influenced the choices of men and women to marry and have children. Some girls and women married and had children to avoid national service or being mobilized.
There were occasional reports, particularly from rural areas, that security forces detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of speech and press, the government severely restricted these rights.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: The government severely restricted the ability of individuals to criticize the government in public or in private through intimidation by national security forces.
Press and Media Freedoms: The law bans private broadcast media and foreign ownership of the media and requires that documents, including books, be submitted to the government for approval prior to publication. The government controlled all domestic media, including a newspaper published in three languages, three radio stations, and all local television broadcasters.
The law requires journalists to be licensed. The law restricts printing and publication of materials. The printing of a publication by anyone lacking a permit and the printing or dissemination of prohibited foreign publications are both punishable by law. Government approval is required for distribution of publications from religious or international organizations.
The government permitted satellite dishes that provided access to international cable television networks and programs. The use of satellite dishes was common in Asmara, Massawa, and other cities and increasingly in the countryside. Satellite radio stations operated by diaspora Eritreans reached listeners in the country. Citizens could also receive radio broadcasts originating in Ethiopia.
Violence and Harassment: The government did not provide information on the location or health of journalists it detained in previous years and who were held incommunicado.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Most independent journalists remained in detention or lived abroad, which limited domestic media criticism of the government. Authorities required journalists to obtain government permission to take photographs. Journalists practiced self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.
National Security: The government repeatedly asserted national security concerns were the basis of limitations on free speech and expression.
The government monitored some internet communications, including e-mail, without obtaining warrants. Government informants frequented internet cafes. The government discouraged citizens from viewing some opposition websites by labeling the sites and their developers as saboteurs. Some citizens expressed fear of arrest if caught viewing such sites. Nonetheless, the sites were generally available.
Eritel, a government-owned corporation, has a monopoly on land-based internet service provision. The use of internet cafes with limited bandwidth in Asmara and other large communities was widespread, but the vast majority of persons did not have access to the internet. According to the most recent data released by the International Telecommunication Union, 1.1 percent of the population used the internet in 2015. Internet users who needed larger bandwidth paid prices beyond the reach of most individuals.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government restricted academic freedom and cultural events.
Authorities monitored activities at private secondary schools and in some cases arbitrarily denied visas to foreign teachers or presented impediments to school administration, including restricting the import of teaching materials. Some parents of students in private schools charged that educational quality suffered because of disputes between government officials and school administrators.
With few exceptions, secondary school students must complete their final year of high school at the government’s Sawa National Training and Education Center. Students had to complete military training at Sawa before being allowed to take entrance exams for institutions of higher education (see section 6, Children).
The government sometimes denied passports or exit visas to students and faculty who wanted to study or do research abroad. The government discouraged students from seeking information on international study and exchange programs and frequently denied them passports or exit visas. Some persons claimed authorities scrutinized academic travel for consistency of intent with government policies.
The government censored film showings and other cultural activities. It monitored libraries and cultural centers maintained by foreign embassies and in some instances questioned employees and users. The government directly sponsored most major cultural events or collaborated with various embassies and foreign cultural institutions in sponsoring musical performances by international performers.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. For some public gatherings, the government intermittently required those assembling to obtain permits. Authorities subjected gatherings of large groups of persons without prior approval to investigation and interference, with the exception of events that occurred in the context of meetings of government-affiliated organizations, were social in nature, or were events such as weddings, funerals, and religious observances of the four officially registered religious groups.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
Although the law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of association, the government did not respect this right. The government did not allow any political parties other than the PFDJ. It also prohibited the formation of civil society organizations except those with official sponsorship. The government generally did not allow local organizations to receive funding and resources from or to associate with foreign and international organizations.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law and unimplemented constitution provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but the government restricted all these rights. It often denied citizens passports and exit visas because they had not completed their military duties or arbitrarily for no given reason.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide protection and assistance in some areas, but it restricted UNHCR activities in others. The government defined refugee status differently than do the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. It did not recognize Ethiopians or Sudanese as refugees, although it allowed them to remain in the country and granted them residency permits. It routinely provided protection to Somali refugees.
UNHCR reported that in May the government halted all resettlement of Somali refugees from the Umkulu Refugee Camp. It ceased issuing exit visas for Somali refugees who were already approved for resettlement in third countries. Additionally, the government prevented Somali refugees in Umkulu from voluntarily repatriating to Somalia, prevented officials from resettlement countries from entering the country to screen additional resettlement candidates, and prevented candidates from exiting the country to be screened in resettlement countries. In November without explanation, the government expelled the UNHCR associate refugee protection officer.
In-country Movement: The government requires citizens to notify local authorities when they change residence, although many did not. When traveling within the country, particularly in remote regions or near borders, authorities required citizens to provide justification for travel at the few checkpoints in the country.
Travel restrictions on noncitizens lawfully in the country remained in effect. The government required all diplomats, international humanitarian workers, UN staff, and foreigners to request permission from the government at least 10 days in advance to travel more than 15.5 miles outside of Asmara. Authorities shortened this waiting period considerably for diplomats who had resided in country for an extended period. Authorities gave UNHCR staff a monthly permit to visit Umkulu Refugee Camp.
Foreign Travel: The government restricted foreign travel. The government required citizens, including dual nationals, to obtain exit visas to depart the country if they entered on an Eritrean passport or residency card. Requirements for obtaining passports and exit visas were inconsistent and nontransparent. Authorities generally did not give exit visas to children ages five and older. Authorities granted few adolescents exit permits; many parents avoided seeking exit permits for children approaching national service draft age due to concern authorities might also deny them permission to travel. Categories of persons most commonly denied exit visas included men under age 54, regardless of whether they had completed the military portion of national service, and women younger than 30, unless they had children. The government did not generally grant exit permits to members of the citizen militia, although some whom authorities demobilized from national service or who had permission from their zone commanders were able to obtain them.
Exile: There were reports of citizens who left the country without exit visas being denied reentry. Many other citizens who fled the country remained in self-imposed exile due to their religious and political views and fear they would be conscripted into national service if they returned. Others reported there were no consequences for returning citizens who had residency or citizenship in other countries.
Emigration and Repatriation: To prevent emigration the government generally did not grant exit visas to entire families or both spouses simultaneously. Authorities arrested persons who tried to cross the border and leave without exit visas.
The COI found the government, largely the armed forces and particularly the border surveillance division, had implemented a shoot-to-kill policy for a “considerable period of time.” In its June 8 report, the COI stated that it had “reliable evidence” that the policy still existed, but was “not implemented as rigorously as it was in the past.”
In general citizens had the right to return, but citizens residing abroad had to show proof they paid the 2 percent tax on foreign earned income to be eligible for some government services and documents, including exit permits, birth or marriage certificates, passport renewals, and real estate transactions. The government enforced this inconsistently. Persons known to have broken laws abroad, contracted serious contagious diseases, or to have been declared ineligible for political asylum by other governments had their visas and visa requests to enter the country considered with greater scrutiny.
Citizenship: In 1994 the government revoked the citizenship of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses due to their refusal to take part in the referendum on independence or participate in the military portion of national service. Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses who did not perform military service continued to be unable to obtain official identification documents. They were not eligible for jobs in the formal economy or for ration coupons to buy essentials at government-subsidized prices.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law does not specifically provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, although the government offered protection to some individuals from neighboring countries, predominantly Somali refugees. The government did not grant Ethiopians or Sudanese asylum, although it allowed them to remain in the country and granted them residency permits that enabled them to access government services. The government required Ethiopians to pay an annual fee of 600 nakfa ($40) for a residency card. The card demonstrated the holder was not indigent.
Employment: There did not appear to be discrimination based on nationality in terms of employment or entitlements with the exception of resident Ethiopians, some of whom the government viewed as potential security risks.
Access to Basic Services: Persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin living in the country sometimes claimed they received social entitlements commensurate with the perceived degree of their loyalty to the government, including eligibility for ration coupons to buy essentials at government-subsidized prices. Most Somalis were restricted to Umkulu Refugee Camp.
Ethiopians and Somalis were able to access basic government services upon procuring and presenting residency permits. UNHCR reported significant delays in the issuance of exit visas for Somali refugees in Umkulu Refugee Camp that caused it to raise concerns with the government regarding the implementation of durable solutions.
Durable Solutions: The government did not grant persons of Ethiopian and Sudanese origin asylum or refugee status; however, authorities permitted them to remain in the country and to live among the local population instead of in a refugee camp. Authorities granted them granted residency permits that enabled them to access government services. Authorities granted Sudanese and Ethiopians exit visas to leave the country for resettlement and study.