HRC37: Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

Human Rights Council: 37th session
Item 4: General Debate

Oral Intervention
DefendDefenders (the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)

Delivered by Estella Kabachwezi on 14 March 2018

Thank you Mr. President.

The human rights situation in the East and Horn of Africa remains extremely precarious: of the eleven countries where our organisation works, six are currently the subject of country specific mechanisms mandated by this Council. This, however, cannot distract us from other alarming trends, and we thank the High Commissioner for voicing his concern about the situations in Ethiopia and Tanzania in his global update.

After being rocked by mass-protests for the last two years, Ethiopia finds itself at a critical junction. We welcome the release of several political prisoners as a sign of the Ethiopia’s willingness for progressive reform. However, the declaration of a new State of Emergency raises serious concerns about the Government’s commitment to fundamental human rights. On 8 March prominent blogger Seyoum Teshome was arrested and remains in detention. A thorough, impartial, independent, and international investigation into alleged human rights violations is essential in paving a path forward for all Ethiopians.

Since a new administration took power in 2015, civic space has shrunk dramatically in Tanzania. In the past year alone, at least 55 human rights defenders have been arbitrarily arrested while attending private gatherings, and two environmental activists have been killed. The violence has spilled over in the political realm, with two opposition leaders killed in February 2018.

In 2017, four newspapers were suspended for periods ranging between 3 and 24 months for allegedly violating journalistic ethics. On 2 January 2018, five television stations were fined a total of $27,000 US dollars for broadcasting “offensive and unethical content,” after airing a press statement issued by the prominent Legal Human Rights Centre.

Mr. President,

We call upon this Council to remind Ethiopia – a Member State of this Council – and Tanzania that civil society is an ally, not an adversary, in achieving the sustainable development goals.

I thank you.


Human Rights Defender of the Month: Anny Kapenga

As a young student, Anny Kapenga used to cringe at the cult-like worship of Mobutu Sese Seko, the then Zaire’s President. By then, in the early 1990s, Zaire was still under one party rule, and calls were increasing for Mobutu to open political space to allow other parties to operate. In the meantime, however, all Zairians were expected to show affection for Mobutu wherever they gathered in public.

Students across Zaire’s schools were required to sing and dance adoringly before his (Mobutu)’s portrait every morning before they went to class, and all school scholastic materials were emblemed with his portrait. A young Anny never really appreciated the obsession:


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