Eritrea is a highly centralized, authoritarian regime under the control of President Isaias Afwerki. A constitution drafted in 1997 was never implemented. The People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, headed by the president, is the sole political party. There have been no national-level elections since an independence referendum in 1993.
Police are responsible for maintaining internal security, and the armed forces are responsible for external security, but the government sometimes used the armed forces, reserves, demobilized soldiers, or civilian militia to meet domestic as well as external security requirements. Agents of the national security service, a separate agency that reports to the Office of the President, are responsible for detaining persons suspected of threatening national security. The armed forces have authority to arrest and detain civilians. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over most security forces. Members of the security forces committed numerous abuses.
The country continued to experience significant adverse changes in its human rights situation due to its intervention in the conflict in northern Ethiopia, which began in November 2020 and continued throughout the year. The Eritrean Defense Forces were responsible for widespread and serious human rights abuses, including execution, rape, and torture of civilians within Ethiopia.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; serious problems with judicial independence; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious abuses in a conflict, including reportedly unlawful and widespread civilian harm, rape, and enforced disappearances; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including censorship and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including overly restrictive laws on the organization, funding, or operation of nongovernmental organizations and civil society organizations; severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement and residence within the territory of the state and on the right to leave the country; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government restrictions on domestic and international human rights organizations; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence; trafficking in persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; outlawing of independent trade unions; and the worst forms of child labor.
The government did not generally take steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish officials who committed human rights abuses. Impunity for such abuses was the norm.