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UN expert urges Eritrea to allow religious institutions to operate freely and respect the right of freedom of religion

GENEVA (21 June 2019) ‑ The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea has expressed serious concern over the curtailment of Catholic Church activities in the country and the arbitrary arrest and detention of members of Orthodox and Christian congregations in recent weeks.

“These actions show that, despite the improved regional climate for peace and security, the human rights situation in Eritrea remains unchanged,” said Daniela Kravetz. “I urge Eritrea to live up to its international commitments as a member of the Human Rights Council and allow religious institutions to operate freely and all Eritreans to exercise their right to freedom of religion within the country.”

On 12 June 2019, the Eritrean authorities ordered the seizure of all health centres managed by the Catholic Church. According to the information received, in some instances, soldiers were posted outside the health facilities, patients were ordered to go home, and health staff threatened.

“The seizure of these health facilities will negatively impact the right to health of the affected populations, in particular those in remote rural areas. By curtailing the activities of the Catholic Church, the Eritrean authorities are restricting the right of their citizens to enjoy quality health care,” the UN expert said.

The Catholic Church manages some 40 hospitals and health centres in the country, mainly in rural areas, and some of these centres operate inside monasteries. Most provide free health services and many have operated since the 1990s.

The Special Rapporteur said the move by the authorities follows a call by the Catholic Church for genuine dialogue on peace and reconciliation in Eritrea. In a pastoral letter issued on 29 April, Eritrea’s four Catholic bishops had called on the authorities to adopt a comprehensive truth and reconciliation plan to promote dialogue and strengthen peacebuilding. The letter also urged the authorities to implement reforms so that Eritreans would stop fleeing their country.

The Special Rapporteur also received reports that, on 13 June, security forces arrested five Orthodox priests from the Debre Bizen monastery. The priests ‑ three over 70 years old ‑ were allegedly arrested for opposing the government’s interference in the affairs of the Church.

In addition, Kravetz received reports that, last month, the Eritrean authorities arrested Christians for practicing their faith. On 17 May, around 30 Pentecostal Christians were reportedly arrested during prayer meetings at different locations in Godeif, south of the capital Asmara. Around 10 May, security agents reportedly arrested around 141 Christians, including 104 women and 14 children, during a private gathering in the Mai Temenai district of Asmara. Some of those arrested were reportedly taken to Adi Abeito prison, while others were held by the police. Around 50 of these detainees have reportedly since been released, and the remaining individuals are said to still be in prison without charge.

Kravetz stressed that the arrest of individuals for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion and belief is a clear violation of Eritrea’s obligations under international human rights law. She recalled that freedom of religion is central to the ability of Eritreans to live together peacefully. “I urge the Government to allow the Eritrean people to exercise their right to freedom of religion and to release those who have been imprisoned for their religious beliefs.”

The Special Rapporteur will share her findings in relation to the situation of human rights in Eritrea during an interactive dialogue scheduled to take place on 2 July 2019 at the Human Rights Council in Geneva.


Ms. Daniela Kravetz (Chile) was appointed in October 2018 as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea. She is an attorney with extensive experience in human rights, accountability, gender-based violence and access to justice in conflict and post-conflict settings. Her experience covers countries in Latin America, Africa, and the former Yugoslavia

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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