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Eritrea's location in Africa.
Yet twenty-five years into his party's rule, Isaias Afwerki is still the president of Eritrea. Elections were scheduled for 2001, but have yet to take place. It is no wonder that Eritrea is often nicknamed the “North Korea of Africa.”
—Asma Saad, consicely explaining Eritrea[1]

North Ethiopia Eritrea, formally the State of Eritrea, also sometimes called "Africa's North Korea", is a horrifyingly corrupt, impoverished, and oppressive East African country, demolished by decades of conflict with Ethiopia.[2] Located in the northern Horn of Africa, it has a long southern border with Ethiopia, a nation which it had historically been a part of,[3] before Italy purchased the region from a local Sultan and turned it into a colony.[2][4] Ethiopia got it back after World War II,[5] but by then ethnic Eritreans were longing for independence, and Ethiopia's annexation of the region would trigger a three-decade-long war.[6] After Eritrea successfully won this war and held a referendum, they gained national sovereignty under a heavily authoritarian single-party state.[2] Five years later, a border clash would lead to the Eritrean-Ethiopian War,Wikipedia which settled nothing and only resulted in two of the world's poorest countries wasting money and lives. Since then, Ethiopia has become a highly corrupt, de-facto one-party state,[7] and Eritrea is still a sovereign, totalitarian military dictatorship.[2]

Eritrea is so dangerous and unstable that the Australian[8] and US[9] governments recommend their respective citizens avoid travelling there. It is utterly entrenched in Military, with such spending being 6.3% of their entire GDP as of 2006.[10] Even the USA only spent 3.85% that year, and a 2010 peak couldn't even top that.[11] The big difference, however, is that Eritrea has no money to throw about, all while an absurd amount of people live in poverty and corruption. It's certainly a powerful army, in part because of such a large membership credit to slave labour, but nowadays President Afwerki seems to have other uses for such an army (that is, oppressing the public), perhaps like throwing people into shipping containers to die, among other kinds of torture, and frank violations of human rights. The fact that it's also being compared to Eritrea's prisons seems also a major crimson red flag.[12] Oh, and don't feel like you can escape army service; the government can easily pull you back in when they want to. As long as you breathe, you are in the army, end of.

One of the most censored nations in the world, period. The Press Freedom IndexWikipedia ranks the country at third least free press, surpassed only by Turkmenistan and, obviously, North Korea. It's also period to say that Eritrea may hold the the joint title for the most horrifyingly totalitarian, undemocratic state. It's easily worse than DAESH and Saudi Arabia, and, you guessed it, it's only competitor is North Korea. The similarities are terrifying: Only actual job is military service, mass surveillance, extreme violations of human rights (Which the Eritrean government denies as politically motivated accusations)[13], incredibly poor, an extremely fortified border, and just so happens to be north of a country that it was once part of. There's just one difference only, and that is Eritrea doesn't have a Personality cult... yet. Perhaps, if Eritrea sticks around for much longer, they will go as insane as North Korea, and Afwerki (and successors) will claim they are sent from above to be with us all, and the country will become a Necrocracy. Gazing into the current state of the country, it may not be long before the insanity ensues.

Oh, and you thought the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was poor? The State of Eritrea has an even lower GDP per capita. What an achievement...

So Eritrea is, conclusively, just an all-around terrible place to live. A cursory internet search will bring up dozens of articles from a variety of sources all describing in graphic detail why this is the case. There's a reason why the North Korea comparison is just so easy. It's that bad; to be compared to a country known for being so utterly dysfunctional and backwards. Political and civil freedom in the nation is dismal in just about every metric, and no matter how good from outside the country could look, it shadows an abhorrent totalitarianism that could drive you pale.

Political and civil rights[edit]

Elections and the democratic process[edit]

President Afwerki all the way back in 2002.

Ha! made you look!

There are no elections.

This is not an exaggeration. There has not been one single election since the Eritrean independence referendum of 1993.[14] The International Foundation for Electoral Systems has a very strikingly blank page for displaying the results of past Eritrean elections.[15] For comparison, here's the page for North Korea.[16]

President Isaias Afwerki has been around since 1993, when he was appointed by the National Assembly, which was itself in a transitional phase where it was almost entirely comprised of old Eritrean People's Liberation Front leaders.[14] Of course, the constitution they ratified mandated that free and open elections by secret ballot would be held once the country had been stabilized. Those elections were scheduled for December 2001.[17] Needless to say, they never happened. Currently, the only party allowed to be within sniffing range of power is the totalitarian nationalist People's Front for Democracy and Justice.[18] Note the similar name to the EPLF.

Sadly, there isn't much hope for any elections in the future, either. President Afwerki has rather transparently been using the constant threat of Ethiopia to justify his postponement of national elections.[19] Naturally, another violently hostile border dispute popped up in 2008, this time with Djibouti,[20] just in case Ethiopia wasn't enough.

The point is, that IFES Election Guide page for Eritrea will likely stay blank for a long time.

Freedom of religion[edit]

The unfortunate Eritrean people.

Eritrea officially recognizes the Roman Catholic Church, the Coptic Orthodox Church, Sunni Islam, and the Evangelical Church of Eritrea as valid religions.[21] Unregistered faiths, particularly Jehovah's Witnesses and Pentecostals, face brutal persecution, including routine beatings and imprisonment in deliberately harsh environments such as shipping containers.[21] Religious gatherings are banned for unregistered faiths, and the punishment often involves prolonged and arbitrary prison sentences without trial. As of 2013, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom estimates that Eritrea has roughly 3,000 people imprisoned due to their religious beliefs, with many survivors reporting being tortured.[22]

Of course, you can't sleep easy if you're a member of a recognized religion either. The Eritrean government is more than happy to interfere in the internal affairs of these religions as well for the purpose of controlling their populace and purging dissenters.[23]

How Christlike.

Press freedom[edit]

You didn't expect Eritrea to have a free press, did you?

Let's start with the big one: The Committee to Protect Journalists rated Eritrea as the most censored nation in the world in 2012. Even more censored than North Korea.[24] They cite the nation's disturbing willingness to arrest journalists for almost no reason, and the President's even more disturbing refusal to account for the whereabouts, health, or legal status of the prisoners.

Much of this activity occurs under the 1996 Press Proclamation Law, which mandates that all publications must be approved by the Information Ministry before release, and also bans reprinting material from banned publications, of which there are many.[25] Foreign journalists are also not permitted to enter the country.

All of this began with a ban on independent media on September 18th, 2001, when the government banned all private publications, arrested eleven people, and ordered all printing houses in the country to stop printing everything including wedding invitations and nightclub posters. [26] After this, President Afwerki successfully centralized the entire national press under his control, with the consequence of reducing the nation's newspapers to little more than vehicles for ads and obituaries.

LGBT rights[edit]

Sexual intercourse between members of the same gender is illegal in Eritrea which can lead to jail time from 10 days to 3 years.[27] There are also reports of suspected gay individuals being rounded up for imprisonment or death, although the general environment in the country makes these reports difficult to confirm.[28] There are also no legal protections for gay or transgender individuals against any form of discrimination, and changing gender is illegal.[29] Discourse in Eritrea is so suppressed that the very existence of sexual minorities is probably unknown to much of the nation's population.

There may be some hope, however. Although Eritrean Penal Code Article 600 bans homosexual activity (referring to "unnatural carnal offenses"), the constitution the nation adopted in 1997 likely protects the legal rights of homosexual individuals. This was found by the British case of YF Eritrea v Secretary of State for the Home Department (2003), where British legal experts reviewed the Eritrean constitution and concluded that, if it were ever to be implemented, the document would legalize homosexuality.[30] The problem is, of course, the fact that President Afwerki has kept the constitution suspended ever since its adoption.

Crimes against humanity[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Crimes against humanity

Given the indefinite suspension of Eritrea's constitution for more than twenty years, it's hardly surprising that the nation has no real rule of law. Its lack of a judiciary, a real national assembly, or any kind of democratic institution has created a climate where the government is completely free to brutalize its citizens with absolute impunity.[31] Nothing and no one can hold Eritrea's president accountable, which is, of course, the point.

A United Nations press release, as well as many other NGOs, have repeatedly exposed a multitude of crimes against humanity committed by the Eritrean government in its detention facilities, its military camps, and other locations. These crimes include slavery, torture, political murder, judicial rape, indefinite national service, and arbitrary detention.[32]

Government slavery[edit]

The compulsory military service is 18 months, but in reality those drafted by it often spend the rest of their lives in government slave labor completely unrelated to the military.[33][34] They really have no reason to still have the draft going on, as they aren't in conflict with anyone right now. Eritrean children are forced to become child soldiers, usually when they are in their last year of school.[35]


Eritrean asylum seekers at Levinsky park Tel Aviv.

As can be expected with such horrific conditions, more than 400,000[33] (try to) flee Eritrea, making them one of the biggest sources of refugees in 2001-2010.[36] Unfortunately, Eritrea has some draconian laws, forcing citizens to pay income tax even while living abroad (the US is the only other country to do this)[37] and allegedly employs spies to intimidate Eritrean refugees.[38]

In 2014, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Israel purposely mistreats Eritrean asylum seekers to force them to leave.[39]

Denmark has tactics for deterring Eritrean asylum seekers. Danish Immigration Service used to, in November 2014, state that Eritrean asylum seekers don't face persecution for illegally leaving Eritrea.[40] They hastily switched their position in December 2014 after the HRW and UN complained.[40] In 2016, Denmark legalized police taking money and expensive personal possessions from asylum seekers in searches.[41]

Britain's asylum officials had an increase in rejected Eritrean asylum seekers, who led in an increase of successful appeals.[42] The waiting process to officially claim asylum is long; asylum seekers may have to wait for years.


See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Eritrea's Silent Totalitarianism
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Eritrea profile - overview (May 4, 2016) BBC
  3. See the Wikipedia article on Kingdom of Aksum.
  4. Text of Encyclopedia Britannica 1911.
  5. History of Eritrea
  6. Ethiopia and Eritrea Global Policy Forum
  7. Ethiopia needs a multi-party democracy to end the crushing impact of corruption Asayehgn Desta. The Conversation. April 17, 2017.
  8. Eritrea Smartraveller
  9. Eritrea Travel Warning U.S. Passports & International Travel
  12. Eritrea's Capital Is Lovely. But Scratch the Surface and You'll Find a Terrifying Reality
  14. 14.0 14.1 Elections in Eritrea Last Updated: 23 January 2011
  15. [1] IFES Election Guide State of Eritrea
  16. [2] IFES Election Guide Democratic People's Republic of Korea
  17. Freedom House Report|Eritrea 2001
  18. Eritrea country profile BBC
  19. Isaias Afwerki Encyclopedia Britannica
  20. What is behind tension between Eritrea and Djibouti? BBC 20 June 2017
  21. 21.0 21.1 Religious persecution in Eritrea BBC Jonah Fisher, 17 September, 2004
  22. The country that's never had an election Tiffany Lynch, Foreign Policy. Nov 6, 2013
  23. [3] US Commission on International Religious Freedom "Eritrea Annual Reports: Key Findings"
  24. Attacks on the Press: Eritrea The Committee to Protect Journalists
  25. Eritrea Freedom House 2015.
  26. Remembering the day the Eritrean press died Al Jazeera SEP.18.17
  27. Homosexuality "against Eritrean values" afrol News
  28. [
  29. [
  31. Crimes against humanity committed in Eritrea, warns UN group UN News 8 June 2016
  32. UN Inquiry finds crimes against humanity in Eritrea UN Human Rights: Office of the High Commissioner 8 June 2016
  33. 33.0 33.1 Eritrea: events of 2016 HRW
  34. EU accused of funding project in Eritrea using 'forced labour' BBC
  35. It's not at war, but up to 3% of its people have fled. What is going on in Eritrea? by Patrick Kingsley The Guardian
  36. UNHCR Glocal Trends 2010
  37. Eritrea "intimidates emigrants into paying tax" afrol News
  38. How Eritrea controls its exiles by Daniel Campos i24NEWS
  39. "Make Their Lives Miserable" HRW
  40. 40.0 40.1 Dispatches: Denmark’s Deterrence Tactics on Refugees HRW
  41. Danish parliament approves plan to seize assets from refugees by David Crouch and Patrick Kingsley The Guardian
  42. Young Eritreans are victims of poor decision making by British asylum officials by Jo Wilding The Conversation