The state of Eritrea was established on April 27, 1993 after 99.8 percent of its population voted in a United Nations-sponsored referendum to separate from Ethiopia which annexed it in 1962. The country, with a population of 3.2 million people, is ruled under a one-party system by the Eritrean Peoples' Liberation Front (EPLF) headed by Isaias Afewerki. There are as yet no plans for elections.
In Eritrea fundamental human rights are legally guaranteed and most of the violations of human rights are non-systematic instances of police abuse, poor prison conditions, etc. However, citizens are under pressure to respect and not challenge the authorities. There is widespread feeling and official hints that dissent is "unpatriotic", especially at this early stage of political independence. At the moment, the government has suspended the activities of several non-governmental organisations, including the Regional Centre for Human Rights and Development in Asmara, on the pretext that there is no law regulating their operations. The suspension order is expected to be lifted early in 1994 when the law is expected to go into effect. Details of the only human rights group surveyed in this report are provided below.
THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANISATIONS
At this stage the only known human rights group in the country is not in a position to provide training to other human rights NGO's and activists in the region, because it is still new and is presently non-operational.
The Regional Centre for Human Rights and Development was established in April 1992 to promote human rights and social and economic development. It undertakes education, research, communications and advocacy.
The Centre is headed by an Executive Director, Paulos Tesfagiorgis and has the following other staff: Karen Hausser, Programme Co-ordinator; Abebe Kidane, Assistant Director; a Communication Director; and an Executive Secretary. The Board of the Centre is not fully established.
The Centre is currently located in an office space of seven rooms.
Early in 1993, the interim government of Eritrea suspended the operations of the Centre. Since then its activities have been limited. The Centre expects to begin full activities as soon as the government enacts a law to regulate the activities of non-governmental groups in the country. This law is expected to be enacted at the end of 1993 or early in 1994.
In 1992, the Centre held a workshop on "Consultation on NGO Policy, Multilateral Policy and Rural Credit in Eritrea". The idea of the workshop was to facilitate and promote analysis and development of NGO strategies. In 1993, the Centre set up an independent project known as the Citizen's Referendum Monitoring Group, which trained 215 domestic monitors to observe the referendum for independence held in Eritrea.
In November 1993, the Centre co-sponsored a workshop on Institution Building Strategies for Human Rights and Women's Rights Organisations in East Africa in cooperation with Canada-based Human Rights Internet and Banjul-based African Centre for Human Rights and Democracy Studies. The Centre plans to establish a newspaper and printing press early in 1994 when the government is expected to enact a press law. The Centre plans to become involved in human rights education in schools.
- Clement Nwankwo
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