Eritrea, with a population of approximately 5.5 million, is a one‑party state that became independent in 1993 when citizens voted for independence from Ethiopia. The People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), previously known as the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, is the sole political party and has controlled the country since 1991. The country's president, Isaias Afwerki, who heads the PFDJ and the armed forces, dominated the country, and the government continued to postpone presidential and legislative elections; the latter have never been held. The border dispute with Ethiopia continued, despite international efforts at demarcation. The situation was used by the government to justify severe restrictions on civil liberties. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government's human rights record remained poor, and authorities continued to commit numerous, serious abuses, including: abridgement of citizens' right to change their government through a democratic process; unlawful killings by security forces; torture and beating of prisoners, sometimes resulting in death; abuse and torture of national service evaders, some of whom reportedly died of their injuries while in detention; harsh and life threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, including of national service evaders and their family members; executive interference in the judiciary and the use of a special court system to limit due process; and infringement on privacy rights, including roundups of young men and women for national service and the arrest and detention of the family members of service evaders. The government severely restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and religion. The government also limited freedom of movement and travel for expatriates, personnel of humanitarian and development agencies, and employees of the UN Mission to Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE). Restrictions continued on the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Female genital mutilation (FGM) was widespread, and there was societal abuse and discrimination against women, members of the Kunama ethnic group, homosexuals, and persons with HIV/AIDS. There were limitations on worker rights.