The human rights situation in Eritrea is dire. The participants of a recent meeting of parliament’s subcommittee on human rights stressed that there are basically no opposition political parties, independent media or civil society organisations permitted to operate. Sheila Keetharuth, the UN special rapporteur on Eritrea, spoke of a wide range of human rights violations, such as “indefinite national service, arbitrary arrests and detention, extrajudicial killings, torture, inhumane prison conditions, restricted freedom of movement and expression, assembly, and religious belief; sexual and gender-based violence, and violations of children’s rights.”
What does this mean for EU relations with Eritrea? This country, which some politicians refer to as ‘Africa’s North Korea’ is a one party state run by the dictator Isaias Afwerki. There have been no national elections since independence in 1993 and regional elections scheduled to take place in 2009 have not yet been held.
Nevertheless the EU maintains intensive development programs in Eritrea, in the areas of agriculture, construction of solar pumps and measures to enable conservation of ground and water. We are talking about initiatives totalling €60m, executed together with the Eritrean government.