An Eritrean former high court judge Mr. Abdalla Khiyar, highlighted the absence of independence in the judiciary system in Eritrea .
As a former judge of the Supreme Court until 2010, allow me to give you first-hand information on the judiciary system in Eritrea. Since independence in 1991, The Government of Eritrea (GoE) kept interfering in the function of the judiciary through arbitrary arrests and forced disappearance carried out by the security forces. At the begging, the Government justified these extra-legal arrests by saying that the arrested are members of Jihadist movements. Soon, the practice was so rampant that Eritreans from different walks of life were arrested for no legal reasons. This led to the increase of number of persons who forcedly disappeared all over the country. None of the arrested had been presented to a legal body and the whereabouts of the arrested always kept secret even from families and relatives.
Some the arrested were kept in police stations for long periods of time, judges and prosecutors were not allowed to ask about the arrested or demand reasons for the their arrests. These arrested are called (Hadera), a deposit, placed in police stations by the security forces.
The most flagrant interference in the judiciary took place in April 1996, when the GoE issued the Special Courts Decree. By virtue of this executive decree, the GoE, formed what became known as (The Special Courts), these courts were give penal jurisdiction thus minimizing the penal jurisdiction of courts. The motive behind such practice was to extend the interference of the executive body in judiciary system and provide impunity for person committing crimes against citizens.
In Eritrea there is no independent judiciary system. Even in terms of administration, the judiciary is considered part and parcel of the Ministry of Justice. The judges are of limited authority, and they are under continuous threat and intimidation and forced disappearance as it happened to some of my colleagues, who disappeared in 1995 until today.
Personally, I was threatened several times by the security forces, the matter which forced my later to escape from the country. Security agents always wanted to influence my decisions in relations to their relatives. The overall situation of liberties in Eritrea is at its lowest ebb because of the lack of a constitution. Twenty-five years after independence, the county is still using Ethiopian laws, which were modified after independence. Lack of institutions is another factor of absence of the rule of law. Such dire situation created a legal vacuum because of the marginalization of the Judiciary system particularly after the Presidentâ€™s decision of annulling the constitution of 1997.
As a result, there exists no separation of powers in the country in addition to non-existing of a constitutional court to overlook the practices of the executive body of the government.
From my experience, many people who filed cases in the courts disappeared and some of them reappeared later to withdraw the cases under intimidation. We realized that most of them were imprisoned and forced by security agents to change their minds and withdraw the files. People are now reluctant to go to courts because of the threat and intimidation. Therefore they are deprived of their basic legal rights. Recently, the GoE allowed some international associations to visit some prisons in Asmara, such as Sembel prison. Sembel prison is a prison for those who committed some petty-crimes and has no prisoners of conscious. Victims of force disappearance would not be placed in Sembel prison, rather they are kept in prisons of unbearable inhuman situation, such as the prison of my home town. Families and relatives of the imprisoned are not allowed to visit or even to ask about their incarceration conditions.
I appeal to this august council to instantly interfere to solve the problems of those persons who are living under inhuman incarceration situations: underground solitary cells deprived of any decent or dignified prison rights.