Attacks on Human Rights Defenders in Ethiopia

EAST AND HORN OF AFRICA HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS NETWORK

Geneva: End attacks on human rights defenders in Ethiopia

The East and Horn of African Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) called on the Ethiopian delegation present at UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva today for the country’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process to end attacks on human rights defenders and to repeal new legislation significantly restricting the work of defenders.

In its intervention to the Council, EHAHRDP stressed the failure of the Ethiopian authorities to protect, promote and fulfil the rights of human rights defenders and sought to disavow claims made by the Ethiopian delegation during the first part of the UPR session in December 2009 that restrictive legislation passed in 2009 would not have an impact on the scope of defenders’ work.

Mr Hassan Shire, Executive Director of EHAHRDP, started off by highlighting the impact that the Proclamation on Charities and Societies, by far the most restrictive of such laws in the region, is currently having on the ground: organisations choosing to register as Ethiopian charities in order to be able to continue their human rights work have had to significantly scale down both in terms of staff and scope of their activities and have had their bank accounts frozen.

Reducing the capacity of human rights monitors at the national level at such a crucial time is concerning and risks to further undermine the fairness and freeness of this year’s elections” said Mr Shire Sheikh in his intervention to the Council.

Mr Shire then described how the new Anti-Terrorism Proclamation with its very broad definition of what constitutes encouragement of terrorism, notably including writing and editing on terrorist acts, is also being used, both directly and indirectly, against defenders. Giving the example of campaign of intimidation in October/November 2009 against the Addis Neger, an independent weekly, by the government affiliated Addis Zemen that accused Addis Neger and its staff of terrorism, he stressed: “Given the attack on the independent press following the 2005 election in which journalists were charged of anti-state actions, such intimidation can only have a chilling effect on the very small independent media sector”.

Mr. Shire went on to question the Ethiopian delegations’ previous claims that there were no harassment of civil society in Ethiopia by describing how human rights NGOs engaged in the drafting of the UPR stakeholders’ report last year had been publicly criticised by members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice when they presented their report to these same authorities.

The ever increasing number of defenders leaving the country, including most of the staff of
Addis Neger which has shut down, was given as a final example of the extent of the repression facing defenders on the ground.

Mr. Shire therefore concluded his intervention by calling on the Ethiopian authorities “to respect and promote the rights of human rights defenders, notably by significantly amending, or repealing, the legislations mentioned above and by actively refraining from the harassment, arbitrarily arrest and detention, and intimidation of defenders.

For more information please do not hesitate to contact Mr Hassan Shire Sheikh, Executive
Director of EHAHRDP on + 256 772 753 753 or Ms Laetitia Bader, Human Rights Officer at
EHAHRDP on + 256 775 141 756 or [email protected] (for French speakers).

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