a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
Contrary to prior years, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
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 make efforts to prevent the disappearances, or investigate or punish those responsible for such disappearances. 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 and foreign or dual 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.
There were no known developments regarding the situation or well-being of members of the G-15, a group of former ruling party members and officials who called for reforms, and journalists whom the government detained in 2001.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law and the unimplemented constitution prohibit torture. Reports of torture, however, continued.
In August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report documenting that security forces tortured and beat prisoners, army deserters, national service evaders, persons attempting to flee the country without travel documents, and members of certain religious groups.
Former prisoners described two specific forms of punishment by security forces known as “helicopter” and “8.” For “helicopter,” prisoners lie face down on the ground and their hands and legs are tied behind them. For “8,” they are tied to a tree. Prisoners were often forced to stay in either position for 24-48 hours, in some cases longer, and only released to eat or relieve themselves.
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.
In June a man in his thirties reportedly died after being tortured and medical assistance being delayed. He had been arrested for participating in the March 2018 burial of Hajji Musa Mohammed Nur, the director of an Islamic school.
In June the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea presented her report, which included testimonies indicating female detainees were at risk of rape, sexual abuse, and humiliation, particularly from prison guards.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Detention conditions reportedly remained harsh, leading to serious health damage and, in some instances, death, but the lack of independent access made accurate reporting problematic.
Physical Conditions: There were numerous official and unofficial detention centers, some located in military camps. The Ministry of Justice oversees prisons run by police, and the Ministry of Defense oversees those run by the military. 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 that center. 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. The government did not take action against persons responsible for detainee deaths.
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, although a Western visitor reported seeing groups of prisoners at a private eye doctor for regular six-month check-ups. Food, sanitation, ventilation, and lighting were inadequate, and potable water was sometimes available only for purchase.
Former prisoners described prolonged food shortages that sometimes led to anemia or even the need for hospitalization. One former prisoner stated daily rations consisted of two onions and two cans of tomato paste per person and six loaves of bread to be shared among 40 inmates. In another case food was not provided, and prisoners needed to rely upon family to provide food or for food to be smuggled in.
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.
Administration: Prisoners and detainees could not submit complaints to judicial authorities, and authorities did not adequately investigate or monitor prison or detention center conditions. There were no prison ombudsmen to respond to complaints.
Prisoners and detainees did not have consistent access to visitors. The government did not inform foreign embassies when their respective citizens were arrested, nor did it 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 it 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. Former prisoners reported some religious literature was considered contraband, and its possession could result in torture if a prisoner was caught with it. International religious organizations claimed authorities interrogated detainees regarding their religious affiliation and asked them to identify members of unauthorized religious groups.
Independent Monitoring: The government did not permit monitoring by independent government or nongovernmental observers or permit international bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to monitor prison conditions during the year. The government also did not provide the ICRC with information about or access to Ethiopian and Djiboutian prisoners of war detained in the country.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law and unimplemented constitution prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but such acts remained widespread.
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 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. In March the UN Human Rights Committee reviewed the country for the first time since 2002 and inquired about detainees, some of whom had been held since 2001, but it received no response from the government.
The law provides for a bail system, but bail was arbitrarily denied, bail amounts were capriciously set or not set, and release 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.
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, including for their refusal to perform national service. On May 10, police reportedly arrested 127 evangelical Christians from unregistered denominations. On May 17, a total of 30 Pentecostal Christians were reportedly arrested during prayer meetings. Many of these individuals were reportedly released soon thereafter, but it was unknown how many, if any, remained in detention.
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 identify those unwilling to participate in the militia.
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 were not always 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.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
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. There are special courts charged with handling corruption cases, but there was no clarity on their structure or implementation. 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 unimplemented constitution provides for the right to a fair, timely, and public trial, with an exception that allows the court to exclude the press and public for reasons relating to morals or national security. In practice, however, the right to such a trial was generally not respected.
The unimplemented constitution provides for the presumption of innocence and for defendants to be informed promptly and in detail of charges in a language they understand. The law does not specifically address the provision of adequate time or facilities to prepare one’s defense, 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. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with attorneys or to present their own evidence if they do not wish to have an attorney. Prosecution and defense lawyers have the right to present evidence and witnesses. Defendants can choose their attorney or else they will have one assigned to them. Those who are unable to pay for an attorney are not provided one at public expense.
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 both corruption and national security cases. Judges serve as prosecutors and may request that individuals involved in cases testify. Special court judges are predominantly 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. Judges are elected by the community.
In 2015 the government published revised penal, criminal procedure, civil, and civil procedure codes. The codes had yet to be put into full effect by year’s end. Some judges applied the new codes while others did not.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The government continued to hold an unknown number of detainees without charge or trial, including politicians, journalists, members of registered and unregistered religious groups, and persons suspected of not completing national service or evading militia practice (see also section 1.b., Disappearance). Amnesty International estimated there were thousands of “prisoners of conscience and political prisoners.” As with other prisoners, the government did not permit any access to political detainees.
In September 2018 security agents apprehended former finance minister Berhane Abrehe after he published a book criticizing the government. (His wife had previously been arrested for helping family members leave the country, but she was released in August.) In March the UN Human Rights Committee reviewed the country and asked specifically about Berhane’s condition, but the government did not respond.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
There are no civil judicial procedures for individuals claiming human rights violations by the government.
In June the government seized without restitution 22 health centers operated by the Catholic Church. In September the government seized without restitution three secondary schools run by the Catholic Church. There were reports of illegal property seizure by military or security officials.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
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. Authorities required permits to use subscriber identity module (SIM) cards.
The government used an extensive informer system to gather information.
Without notice, authorities reportedly entered homes, threatened family members, and sometimes took fathers away without explanation. Reports stated that security forces detained and interrogated the parents, spouses, or siblings of individuals who evaded national service or fled the country.
Ruling party administration offices and their associated local militia units, composed of persons who had finished their national service but were still required to assist with security matters, reportedly checked homes or whole neighborhoods to confirm residents’ attendance at national service projects.