Human Rights Day 2019: Abraham Zere’s perspective on Eritrea

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Eritrea: Forget “rights” and speak of duties and responsibilities

Abraham T. Zere*

The concept of “rights” doesn’t meaningfully exist in the state vocabulary of today’s Eritrea. The idea has been replaced by “duty and responsibility.” The state media apparatus constantly pounds into citizens the need to carry out their duties rather than wasting time by asking about rights.

For insight, try googling without quotes <expressed readiness,> (Shabait is the government’s official news organ) and skim the headlines. Alternatively, enter keywords such as “duty” or “responsibility” and look at the results. Then enter “rights.” The latter search mostly produces results in relation to the website’s “copyrights”.

Although the comprehensive repression applies to all sectors, let’s pick, say, “freedom of expression.” Eritrea has been ranked by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as the “most censored country in the world” (2015 and 2019). It anchored the bottom of Reporters Without Borders’ annual survey of Press Freedom Index for 10 consecutive years (2007-2017). All independent media have been banned in Eritrea since September 2001 and those outlets’ editors have been kept in incommunicado detention since then. The country gradually slipped into a boundless abyss, expelling all international correspondents, banning NGOs and barring civil society organisations, effectively keeping the populace in total isolation.

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