Human Rights Council: 21st Session
Item 4: General Debate
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP)
17th September 2012
Delivered by Mr. Hassan Shire Sheikh Ahmed, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project
With Ethiopia standing as a candidate for election to this Council and with the change in leadership in the country following the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, EHAHRDP calls on the government to carry out important reforms to re-establish respect for the freedoms of association, assembly and expression as a matter of priority.
The High Commissioner has expressed serious alarm about the “climate of intimidation” against human rights defenders and journalists in Ethiopia. Ambiguous provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, adopted in 2009, have been used to silence dissenting voices. For example, on 13 July 2012, the blogger Eskinder Nega was sentenced to 18 years in prison, on terrorism charges and accused of trying to spark an Arab Spring style revolt through his articles. While EHAHRDP welcomes the release of the two Swedish journalists granted pardon last week, we urge the government to overturn the convictions of other journalists still in prison for the expression of their views.
Since the adoption of the Charities and Societies Proclamation three years ago, independent human rights activity has almost completely ceased in Ethiopia. The law imposes heavy restrictions on fundraising by national human rights organisations – only 10% of their funding may come from external sources and permission must be granted for any domestic fundraising events. Some NGOs have had their bank accounts frozen. The appeal of HRCO (the former Ethiopian Human Rights Council) against the freezing has been repeatedly delayed, with the latest hearing postponed from July to October.
In relation to Ethiopia’s candidature for this Council, General Assembly resolution 60/251 states that Council members are to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights,” and allows voluntary pledges and commitments to be taken into account. EHAHRDP calls on Ethiopia to voice clear commitments for the promotion and protection of human rights. In particular, EHAHRDP urges Ethiopia to make reforms to allow for the functioning of an independent and vibrant civil society. It should:
- Amend the Charities and Societies Proclamation and the Anti-terrorism Proclamation to bring them in line with international human rights standards on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression (as also called for by resolution 218 of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in May 2012);
- Accept the High Commissioner’s offer of technical assistance for the review of these two proclamations;
- Issue a standing invitation to the UN Special Procedures.