Eritrea & Religious Freedoms

One East African Country that has been trying to improve its image with Washington has to be Eritrea. Even though there has been a positive development by reducing tensions with neighbouring Ethiopia there are still concerns to be addressed.

By Scott Morgan

One of the main areas of concern currently is Religious Liberty. In recent weeks USCIRF (United States Commission on International Religious Freedom) released its annual report on Religious Freedom in the Countries that it monitors. Eritrea is one of those countries. It has been recommended as a Country of Particular Concern to the US State Department. The report issued by the State Department also has an entry regarding Eritrea that does not present a positive image of the situation in Eritrea.

It appears that the current leadership in Asmara is not worried about what the International Community may think. They are content with exerting control over the lives of the average Eritrean citizen.

There are now concerns regarding recent actions taken against Hospitals and Clinics that are operated by the Catholic Church. One report documented that 29 facilities have been confiscated by Eritrean Authorities over the last month since the order to seize them came out on June 12th. Aid to the Church in Need reports that this decision will affect more than 200,000 people every year that use these facilities to get access to Health Care. This is in essence punishing the poorest of the poor.

These actions have even garnered the attention of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights in Eritrea. In a statement the Special Rapporteur commented “By restricting the actions of the Catholic Church, the Eritrean Authorities are restricting the right of their citizens to enjoy quality health care.”

It appears that under the surface that the Government has an ulterior motive at work. On May 29th the Bishops in the country sent a pastoral letter to the leadership that called for a Peace and Reconciliation plan for the country. It appears that the actions that have been taken by the Government against the clinics and hospitals are the official response by Asmara to the pastoral letter.

In a statement that rebuked the comments by the UN Special Rapporteur the Eritrean Government stated that it took these steps on legal grounds that state there must be separation of powers therefore giving them the means to prevent religious institutions from conducting developmental projects of their choice or at their will. This translates into layman’s terms as the Government will decide how the Church will care for its flock not the Church per se.

Ever since gaining Independence from Ethiopia in the early 1990s Religious Freedom has been a contentious issue in Eritrea. The Government has seen to infringe on the right to Freely worship God by the Population. However, it wants the United States to lift sanctions. The US should not lift them for the upcoming future.