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The lack of independent and transparent investigation of human rights violations in Ethiopia strongly implies that the Ethiopian government’s investigation of the ongoing human rights crisis will not be independent, impartial and transparent
Sarah Jackson, Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
On 8 July, Bulti Tesema -another active member of HRCO – was arrested in Nejo, Oromia. He had been working with HRCO to monitor and document violent repression of the protests. Sources told DefendDefenders that his whereabouts remained unknown for several weeks after his arrest, until they found out that he had been transferred to the capital’s Kilinto prison and charged with terrorist offences. He has not been given access to either his family or his lawyer. The court has adjourned the hearing to 12 October.
“New levels of violence are being reported in the crackdown on the largely peaceful protests that have taken place across Oromia and Amhara regions in recent weeks,” said Hassan Shire, Executive Director of DefendDefenders. “Instead of investigating and holding accountable those responsible for rights violations, the government is jailing the few independent human rights defenders left working in the country.”
HRCO’s human rights monitors were arrested for attempting to document the large-scale pro-democracy protests and the following violent crackdown by the authorities in the Oromia and Amhara regions, as well as in the capital Addis Ababa on 6 and 7 August. Amnesty International reported that close to 100 protesters were killed and scores more arrested during the largely peaceful protests.
Three journalists were also arrested and detained by Ethiopian security officials for 24 hours on 8 August 2016 in the Shashemene area of the Oromo region. According to the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Ethiopia, Hadra Ahmed, a correspondent with Africa News Agency, was arrested along with Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) reporters Fred de Sam Lazaro and Thomas Adair, despite having proper accreditation. They were reporting on the government’s response to the drought in the Oromia region, where protests have been ongoing since November 2015. Their passports and equipment wereconfiscated and they were forced to return to Addis Ababa.
“Despite the systematic repression of peaceful protestors, political dissents, journalists and human rights defenders, the absence of efficient and effective grievance redress mechanisms risks plunging the country into further turmoil,” said Yared Hailemariam, Executive Director of AHRE.”
In response to the on-going crackdown, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has called for “access for independent observers to the country to assess the human rights situation”. Ethiopia’s government, however, has rejected the call and promised to launch its own investigation.
Ethiopia’s National Human Rights Commission, which has the mandate to investigate rights violations in Ethiopia, has failed to make public its own June report on the Oromo protests, while concluding in its oral report to Parliament that the lethal force used by security forces in Oromia was proportionate to the risk they faced from the protesters. Since November 2015, at least 500 demonstrators have been killed and thousands of others arrested in largely peaceful protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions and other locations across the country.
“The lack of independent and transparent investigation of human rights violations in Ethiopia strongly implies that the Ethiopian government’s investigation of the ongoing human rights crisis will not be independent, impartial and transparent” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. “It is time to step up efforts for an international and independent investigation in Ethiopia.”
DefendDefenders, AHRE, Amnesty International, EHRP, Front Line Defenders, and FIDH urge the Ethiopian authorities to (i) immediately and unconditionally release civil society members targeted for their work and (ii) facilitate access for international human rights monitoring bodies including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to conduct thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigations into the ongoing human rights violations in the Oromia, Amhara and Addis Ababa areas.
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Ethiopia’s government, led by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, has contended with protests for nearly a year. The government’s efforts to quell the unrest have made headlines and drawn international criticism of late, but its problems go well beyond humanitarian concerns. Since the mid-1970s, Ethiopia underwent several periods of upheaval that changed not just the leaders of the country but also the political system and institutions that govern it. Now, with ethnic discontent reaching a new high and the tendrils of insurgency starting to re-emerge, Desalegn’s administration faces the greatest challenge to its rule yet.
The protests erupted over a land reform measure, but the roots of discontent go much deeper. Ethiopia’s Tigray ethnic population makes up just 6 percent of the country’s population, yet it enjoys disproportionate influence and representation in government institutions. When the Tigray-dominated government proposed to develop farmland predominantly used by the Oromo people, who make up 34 percent of the population, protests broke out across Oromo regions from November 2015 onward.
Eventually, the government decided against the planned reform, hoping that the protests would dissipate. Instead, protesters continued to turn out, driven by the imprisonment of demonstrators. Then, in recent weeks, the Amhara people — another large ethnic group, accounting for 29 percent of the population — joined in, and the focus of the protests shifted to demands for political equality and an end to the Tigray-dominated ruling coalition’s reign. The protests have now surpassed any grievances about specific legislation, or any specific law enforcement action. Instead, there is a rising resistance to the Tigray’s outsize power and enough pent-up discontent to challenge Ethiopia’s current government.
Together, the Oromo and Amhara are a more serious threat to Ethiopia’s leadership than the Oromo on their own. Furthermore, the Amhara people are more concentrated in urban areas than the Oromo, which has led to protests in population centers. Facing mounting dissent from two of the country’s largest ethnic groups, the government has attempted to suppress the unrest through force. During the weekend of Aug. 7, reports emerged that over 100 civilians had been killed in protests, which led to outcry over the Ethiopian security services’ brutal methods to control the demonstrations. Because the Ethiopian government exercises strict control over media activity in the country and restricts internet access, reports of what exactly happened are slow to emerge. But information from local hospitals suggests that another 100 civilians have been killed since that weekend; at least 55 of these deaths have been confirmed. The rise of urban protests has also led to greater media coverage of the turmoil, despite the government’s attempts to control information.
A History of Upheaval
Ethiopia is no stranger to political unrest. For many centuries the country was run by a monarchy, the Solomonic dynasty, whose rule ended with emperor Haile Selassie. In 1974, a military council brought the first regime change, installing a communist-inspired military council, the Dergue, to lead the country. Eventually, popular support for the new administration began to erode, leading to civil war. The Dergue’s most prominent officer, Mengistu Haile Mariam, tried to reform the Dergue into the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in 1987, but just four years later, several ethnic rebel groups overthrew the government. The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, led by Meles Zenawi, eventually gained control of Ethiopia and installed the element that rules to this day.
The government in Addis Ababa has been challenged before. Unlike the ongoing protests, however, previous uprisings such as the Ogaden rebellion were isolated to smaller ethnic groups acting alone, and the government dealt with them decisively and successfully. By joining forces across ethnic lines to oppose the ruling powers, the Oromo and Amhara present a more formidable problem for Ethiopia’s leadership. Additionally, under Desalegn’s rule, the government has faced internal unrest and may not be as strong as it was during Zenawi’s rule, which lasted until 2012. As the chairman of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front — the dominant party in the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition — Zenawi led the fight against the communist government that preceded it and installed the Tigray-dominated government in Addis Ababa. His parliament consisted of fellow rebel veterans who had all fought and won together in the war against the Dergue, while Desalegn’s administration lacks the same unity and solidarity. The Oromo and Amhara protests will test whether the Tigrayan administration can endure without Zenawi.
A Budding Insurrection
At this point, the protests and limited rebel activity do not even approach the situation Ethiopia faced in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Dergue countered multiple severe rebellions. Nonetheless, given the size of the Amhara and Oromo populations in Ethiopia, the threat they present should not be taken lightly. As strong as they appear, the Tigray-dominated institutions in Ethiopia are not monolithic. And, because of their small number, the Tigray have had to co-opt members of smaller ethnicities (such as the Wolayta, from which Desalegn hails), and even the Amhara and Oromo, to serve in government and man the security forces. If opposition to the government increases along ethnic lines, the ruling elite or even Ethiopia’s security forces could fracture.
Since the bloody Aug. 7 weekend, protesters in some areas have turned to less violent forms of civil disobedience. For instance, in the Amhara city of Gondar — once the capital of an ancient Ethiopian empire — civilians have gone on a general strike, turning the city into a ghost town despite calls from the government to resume business as usual. Some reports even claim that local militia or rebel groups near Gondar have attacked convoys and bases belonging to the security forces. Though these incidents seem to be few and far between at this point, several latent insurgencies linger in Ethiopia, and growing ethnic dissent could rejuvenate and galvanize support for these simmering rebellions. In the past week, two rebel groups announced their alliance. If these groups increase their attacks, or if other groups join the movement opposing the government, the current administration could face a similar fate to the one it brought upon its predecessors.
The Oromo and Amhara protest movements could change the course of Ethiopia’s future, but it is not yet clear what the result of their uprising will be. A change of leadership could bring greater political freedoms, such as allowing outlawed opposition groups to take part in free and fair elections. On the other hand, it could also lead to prolonged conflict and instability. If the resistance against the government reaches critical levels, Desalegn could decide against an armed struggle and instead take political measures to liberalize or transfer power. Regardless of how this situation develops, Ethiopia’s Tigray-dominated government may not be able to sustain its hold on power for much longer. And though the current protests may be Desalegn’s first major challenge, they will likely not be his last.
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The article posted by Reprieve International, a registered charity in the UK, has somehow revealed the kind of challenges and the level of influence that EPRDF holds against the UK. The consistent refusal of the Ethiopian Government to give consular access and fair trial for Andargachew Tsegie, a 62 year old Briton, prominent critic of the Ethiopian regime, who was detained unlawfully in 2014 while transiting through Yemen, has caused uproars in the UK and among Ethiopian diaspora.
The email leak from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) obtained by Reprieve regarding the consistent refusal to give consular access is an eye opening.The fact that the soft approach taken by UK has proved what Reprieve described as an “insensitivity” towards Tisge. Rather, contrary to the later’s assumption, EPRDF is actually bullying UK for its request to follow Andargachew’s case.
In Bible, Proverb 22:7 says “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” All African countries are indebted which, though indirectly, have shape their policy direction. Ethiopia too is among the heavily indebted country that is rapidly reducing itself as a “servant” to its lenders. Although, Ethiopia more than its national interest cares for the interests of its lenders; it also caters its dubious service in containing terrorism to barter for aid. EPRDF renders its service as along as receives financial and political support to its illegitimate rule. Foreign support is sought non-other-than to achieve the twin goals of regime security and development assistance.
Although, U.K is the highest lender/financier next to UN and WB its influence over the latter seems waning. EPRDF’s conscious bulling towards UK, particularly with regard to Andargchew, is a clear indication that the later actually do lost its influence or will to encourage the regime for democratic reform.The reason why still tolerated the bulling as part of diplomatic business called non-intervention needs further analysis. However, Reprieve’s quote shows the level of frustration that the FCO in the words of Philip Hammond, UK secretary for FCO, saying “lack of progress risks undermining the UK’s much valued bilateral relationship with Ethiopia”. still, despite warning and declarations, there is no any progress.
In 2015 for the third year running, the government of UK met its commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of gross national income on foreign aid, with the official budget rising to £12.2bn and the biggest regional beneficiary of bilateral aid is Africa. Out of a total of £2.54bn last year Ethiopia alone received the £334m -the single largest amount in the continent. Why Ethiopia, even not a member of a commonwealth, receives such highest amount second to none? And yet Presumptuously give such huge amount to enable the regime.
The Department for International Development(DfID) Operational Plan 2011-2016 sets the reason for giving UK Official Development Assistance as “a stable, Secure and prosperous Ethiopia is critical to UK’s interest”. The literal meaning of the text gives how Britain sees Ethiopia and its role in the region. It matters in a range of Development, Foreign Policy and security reasons. Therefore, any negative change or disruption in the status quo would affect UK’s either real or imagined interest in the region. Therefore, continued existence of the regime is despite all its bad records and blatant refusal to heed reform calls, the west appeases using euphemisms like “anchor state” for being their satellite and ” development with purpose” for dictatorship.
DfID’s annual review of aid effectiveness in 2014 has summarized the reason why UK is giving such colossal amount of aid. The reasons mentioned are some genuine and others hoax; particularly when a country like UK which prides itself being democratic funds a regime which becomes an epitome of torture.
The Human Right context of the review reads as follows:
Ethiopia’s second Universal Periodic Review was in May 2014. Of 252 recommendations, Ethiopia accepted 188 (including that the government will take steps to ensure the 2015 elections are more representative and participative than those in 2010), rejected 11 and noted 53 (including to invite the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to Ethiopia).
Then one can see how a regime despite being the highest recipient of fund refused to be reviewed in almost all the programs pertaining vital human and democratic rights. Satirically enough, the regime’s commitment to make political space open to ensure 2015 elections to be more representative than the pervious, has absolutely controlled parliamentary seats which left nothing to the opposition. One would seriously question why the UK keeps funding a regime which is consistently disregards any recommendations that are vital to democratic reforms. Sadly keeps financing the regime despite lack of progress in core democratic values.
Forecasting the regime’s behavior the review concluded: “Civil and political rights: long-term trends suggest that commitment is consistently low. (Behaviors and practices in the security and justice sector, a restricted electoral environment, restrictions on freedom of expression.)”
The review clearly shows that the government of UK are fully aware of the regime’s nature and mode of operations in stifling democratic participation. In spirit and letter, the document albite in a limited way, tries to encourage the regime to become more tolerant and accommodative. Nevertheless, what the problem appears is the UK’s soft approach, contrary to its cherished human rights and democratic values, has intentionally emboldened regimes’s resolve to remain in power.
The generous chasing enabled the regime to cling into power through the usual authoritarian means. And it seems perfectly working for the moment as the outcome of the 2015 election is endorsed half heartedly by the International Community.
DfID has explicitly affirms the importance of Ethiopia for its national security and believed a stable Ethiopia is critical to the region and beyond. Cooperations forged on security, migration and terrorism. Therefore, interests are intertwined and fears shared.
The rise of fundamentalism and lack of political control in the Horn of Africa has strengthened UK’s perpetual fear of terrorist attacks. All the incidents in the past: the London car, transit and subways bombs were organized by British citizens adopted from East Africa. Hussein Osman, with his Ethiopian born wife and sister in law, Yasmin Omar, and Mukhtar Said Ibrahim are from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia respectively.
A recent study suggested the demographic composition of Muslims in the UK is set to rise from 2.9 m now to 5.6 m in 2030 from its current 2% of UK population to 4.6 %. As the majority of its Muslim community originated in Africa and its sizable numbers are from the Horn of Africa the strategic cooperation in security and terrorism is one major reason that the UK despite the later’s appalling Human Rights record keeps funding.
The US has its AFRICOM with modern technological gadgets to track-down terrorist from its base in Djibouti and Ethiopia. Chinese also establishing its base in Djibouti. It appears for the UK the only way to keep its interest served is through establishing a satellite state. So Ethiopia, as its leaders are quick to align their interest with donors, are ready to serve in whatever capacity. So the genesis of unholy alliance is their mutual desire to control the flow of information, people and fundamentalism in the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia, an arch rival to Somalia with historical enmity is keen to monitor the movements of fundamentalism and U.K on the other hand, having a sizable Muslims from the Horn of Africa, have strong desire to contain terrorist threats.
Unconscious collaboration or Connivance?
Mohamed Ardous an Ethiopian born Briton arrested and convicted in Ethiopia is another example. Mr. Ardous has requested the United Nation to probe into his detention. His lawyer said his client has subjected to various tortures including electric shocks and depriving sleeps to extract confession at the infamous Maekelawi-which is dubbed Ethiopian Gulag. The Independent in its publication has wrote the detainee suspects that the British intelligence either unconsciously collaborated or connivance in his arrest which prompted the head of the MI5, Andrew Parker, to respond by saying: “we do not participate, incite, encourage or condone mistreatment or torture.”
The Ethiopian government, what both the opposition and donors have failed to know about is, it operated based on premeditated and a well thought diplomatic manipulations. The arrest of other two Britons ( Mohamed Sharif and Mohamed Ahmed, from somaliland ) were very instrumental in convincing the UK that the Ethiopian government is a reliable partner in witch-hunting persons suspected as terrorist. As three Ethiopian born Britons were arrested since the Ethiopian Muslims started demonstrations. Later, the court passed a seven year prison term for the trio for an attempt to establish Muslim brotherhood and Islamic State and dozens of Ethiopian Muslim, notable Imams and journalists, are also convicted on similar trumped up charges based on a confession acquired through torture.
The documentary which was aired in the national TV shows the inhuman technics of interrogations being conducted on the detainees and how diligently the charges politically corrected to suite both domestic and foreign propaganda consumptions.
The reasons why UK hesitates to use its influence to free it’s citizens from the grip of an iron fist remains to be questionable. What exactly rendered UK to appease in face of such excesses is not a mystery that needs revelations.
UK should see its interest from the perspectives of the public than the regime which is neither permanent nor stable to depend on. The only way to forge sustainable cooperation is to base relation based on democratic values and principles that would reflect the aspiration of both nations. Development aid also should be evaluated from such approach than narrow and temporary interests.