State and politics
Eritrea under the leadership of Isaias Afwerki is in
practice a one-party state and one of the world's hardest
dictatorships. See ABBREVIATIONFINDER for how ER can stand for Eritrea.
After the 1993 referendum, there was uncertainty about
the constitution until 1997, when a new constitution was
adopted by the National Assembly. However, this has never
come into force in practice and the country is ruled by the
authoritarian President Isaias Afwerki and his party the
People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).
According to the constitution, the legislative power is
to be held by a parliament with 150 members. Elections are
to be held every four years, but some of them have not yet
taken place, which is why the PFDJ wholly dominated
parliament of the 1990s has still not been replaced.
The President shall be appointed by Parliament and may be
elected for a maximum of two five-year terms. As head of
state, the president has great powers of authority and
appoints, among others, members of the Supreme Court, the
heads of the National Audit Office and the central bank, as
well as all ministers. He is also commander in chief. The
President should be formally deprived of his powers if
two-thirds of the National Assembly so decides.
For the provincial administration, Eritrea is divided
into six regions.
Promised parliamentary elections have repeatedly been
postponed in the future. In contrast, regional elections
were held in 1997 and 2004, but only members of the PFDJ
were allowed to run for office. Since independence came into
force, Isaias Afwerki has been President. He was previously
active in the Eritrean People's Liberation Front
(EPLF), which after independence was transformed into PFDJ.
Relations with Ethiopia were good after independence and
up to 1997. A first sign of conflict was that Eritrea that
year introduced its own currency (nakfa), which in Ethiopian
view was assigned an unreasonably high exchange rate. The
currency conflict caused serious disruptions to Ethiopian
trade via Eritrean ports.
In 1998, an open war broke out after mutual accusations
of border violations. The war caused both great suffering
and immense losses in human life on both sides, and when it
ended in 2000 after extensive international mediation
efforts, neither party had won anything. Both countries
pledged to respect the boundary line proposed by a UN-led
commission, but when the Commission, in its final report in
2003, essentially stood on Eritrea's side, Ethiopia refused
to accept the ruling. Since then, hostilities between the
two countries have repeatedly been threateningly close to
culminating in a new war. A breakthrough took place in 2018,
when the country's leaders signed a peace deal and
reestablished diplomatic relations.
Vague promises of independence on political pluralism
have not been fulfilled. Fifteen high-ranking members of the
PFDJ were jailed in 2001 when, in an open letter, they
criticized the state leadership for failing democratic
reforms. The same fate has hit many other regime critics and
journalists (including Swedish citizen Dawit Isaak) who
helped to give the opposition a vote. Opposition magazines
were closed, and Eritrea has since been one of the few
countries in the world that completely lacks free media.
The legal system in Eritrea is under construction. It
basically consists of laws issued by the ruling party, the
People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), formerly
the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF). There are
also elements of Islamic law and local customary law. The
death penalty remains in the legislation but is de facto
abolished in 1989.
According to the UNHCR, in January 2010, over 200,000
Eritreans fled Eritrea, one of Africa's most undemocratic
and corrupt states. Torture, arbitrary detention and serious
restrictions on freedom of expression, freedom of
association and freedom of religion are still (2015) routine
in the country. Elections have not been held since Eritrea
gained independence in 1993 and political parties are not
allowed. President Isaias Afewerki and his ruling party
People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) have
been in total power for 20 years. The Eritrean parliament
has completely ceased to operate, and no opposition or
independent pressure is allowed in the country.
Although the Constitution provides for freedom of
expression and press, media freedom is extremely limited,
and the Reporters Without Borders (RUG) organization places
Eritrea last in the 2015 ranking of the media climate in the
world's countries. The Eritrean government has on several
occasions arrested journalists or forced them into military
service. In 2001, all privately owned newspapers were closed
due to their reporting on the political opposition.
Gender discrimination is illegal in Eritrea, but the
woman's position is still severely neglected. According to
data, violence against women is common and domestic violence
is usually not prosecuted. Together with UNICEF, the
Eritrean government has cooperated against female genital
mutilation with some positive results, but it remains a
widespread phenomenon. Homosexuality is prohibited and can
be punishable by imprisonment.
Eritrea has neither signed nor ratified the Convention
against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading
treatment or punishment. Interns are routinely tortured and
many prisoners die under the difficult conditions. The death
penalty can be punished for several crimes, for example
crimes against the country's security. Furthermore, it is
common for people to be deprived of liberty and deprived of
their jobs and homes because of their origin, religious
affiliation or political conviction.
The Constitution allows freedom of movement within the
country and opportunities to emigrate, but in reality this
right is severely limited. There is also information on
impunity for human rights violations carried out by police
or military personnel.
It is illegal in Eritrea to practice any religion other
than the four registered religions: Eritrean Orthodox
Christianity, Catholicism, Islam or Lutheran Protestantism.
Arrests of believers of all ages within unregistered