Freedom in the World 2017 - Eritrea

Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 

Eritrea is an authoritarian, highly militarized state that has not held a national election since independence in 1993. The ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), headed by President Isaias Afwerki, is the sole political party. Rule of law is flouted, arbitrary detention is commonplace, and citizens are required to perform national service, often for their entire working lives. The government shut down all independent media in 2001, and freedoms of assembly and association are not recognized.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • In June, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) recommended that the UN Security Council refer the situation in Eritrea to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The council’s commission of inquiry urged the ICC to investigate what it described as systematic and gross human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity.
  • The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) estimated that 17 journalists remained in prison in Eritrea at the end of the year, the highest number in sub-Saharan Africa.
Executive Summary: 

The June 2016 UNHRC commission of inquiry report on human rights conditions in Eritrea found that the government continued to enforce indefinite military service and was responsible for arbitrary detention, torture, rape, murder, persecution, imprisonment in violation of international law, and enforced disappearances. The report said the systematic nature of these actions suggested that crimes against humanity had been committed. Due to the refusal of the Eritrean government to cooperate with the commission, the report relied on first-hand testimony from 550 Eritreans who had fled the country. Eritrea’s government rejected the findings, alleging that the commission had relied on biased testimony.

Despite these findings, the European Union (EU) signaled its readiness for more constructive relations with Eritrea. In January 2016, it signed a 200-million-euro ($222-million) development deal with Asmara. EU officials expressed hope that the deal would lead to improved conditions inside Eritrea and stem the flow of Eritreans fleeing for Europe. However, according to Human Rights Watch, there is little evidence that the Eritrean government had implemented promised reforms such as time limits and pay increases for conscripts. And Eritreans continued to flee to Europe in large numbers: according to the EU, there were more than 33,000 first-time asylum seekers in 2016.

Tensions remained high between Eritrea and Ethiopia, following armed confrontations by rival troops on their contested border in June. Eritrea accused it neighbor of instigating a series of artillery attacks.

Political Rights

Political Rights 1 / 40

A. Electoral Process 0 / 12

A1. Is the head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
A2. Are the national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair?


B. Political Pluralism and Participation 0 / 16

B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
B2. Is there a significant opposition vote and a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
B4. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?


C. Functioning of Government 1 / 12

C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
C2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
C3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?


Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties 2 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief 0 / 16

D1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
D2. Are religious institutions and communities free to practice their faith and express themselves in public and private?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
D4. Is there open and free private discussion?


E. Associational and Organizational Rights 0 / 12

E1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations?
E3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining? Are there free professional and other private organizations?


F. Rule of Law 0 / 16

F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
F2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
F3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights 2 / 16

G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of travel or choice of residence, employment, or institution of higher education?
G2. Do individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, political parties/organizations, or organized crime?
G3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
G4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation?


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

Explanatory Note: 

This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Eritrea, see Freedom in the World 2016.