By Betre Yacob.
The human rights situation in Ethiopia, the most important strategic and security ally of the Western powers, has worsened drastically, according to the 2013 Human Rights Watch’s World Report, which summarizes the human rights situation of more than 90 countries worldwide—drawing on events from the end of 2011 through November 2012.
The 665 page report says that Ethiopia’s dictatorial regime has deliberately continued to severely restrict fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly. In addition, the report indicates that intimidation, arbitrary arrest, torture, forced displacement, and killing remain routine throughout the country.
The report, which reflects extensive investigative work that Human Rights Watch undertook in collaboration with local human rights activists, was released in the beginning of February 2013. Providing heartbreaking examples, cases, and photographs, the report explains enough how dramatically the human rights crisis in Ethiopia has been worsening.
“Freedom of Expression, Association, and Assembly”
According to the report, the Anti-Terrorism Law and the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO Law), which criminalize independent reporting on opposition and human rights activities, have severely restricted freedom of expression, assembly, and association in Ethiopia. The report says that as a result of these two draconian laws—independent journalists, opposition politicians, human rights activists have been subjected to persistent harassment, threats, intimidation and persecution by the government authorities.
The report explains: “Ethiopia’s most important human rights groups have been compelled to dramatically scale-down operations or remove human rights activities from their man-dates, and an unknown number of organizations have closed entirely. Several of the country’s most experienced and reputable human rights activists have fled the country due to threats.”
Mentioning the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the report says that Ethiopia has now become a very dangerous country for independent journalists. This is why, the report says, “more journalists have fled Ethiopia than any other country in the world due to threats and intimidation in the last decade.”
The report, which says the Anti-Terrorism Law is misused by the government to silence opponents and repress dissent, states that only in 2012 30 journalists, political activists, and opposition party members were convicted miserably on unclear terrorism offenses under the Law. According to the report, 11 journalists in total have been convicted under the same law— since 2011.
The report explains: “On January 26, 2012, a court in Addis Ababa sentenced both deputy editor Woubshet Taye and columnist Reeyot Alemu of the now-defunct weekly Awramaba Times to 14 years in prison. On July 13, veteran journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega, who won the prestigious PEN America Freedom to Write Award in April, was sentenced to 18 years in prison along with other journalists, opposition party members, and political activists. Exiled journalists Abiye Teklemariam and Mesfin Negash were sentenced to eight years each in absentia under a provision of the Anti-Terrorism Law that has so far only been used against journalists.”
It further says: “On July 20, after the government claimed that reports by the newspaper Feteh on Muslim protests and the prime minister’s health would endanger national security, it seized the entire print run of the paper. On August 24, Feteh’s editor, Temesghen Desalegn was arrested and denied bail. He was released on August 28, and all the charges were withdrawn pending further investigation.”
The report also reveals that the government of Ethiopia is committing human rights violations in response to the ongoing Muslim protest movement in the country. It says federal police use excessive force, including beatings, to disperse peaceful protesters.
With regard to this, the report, for instance, says: “On July 13, police forcibly entered the Awalia Mosque in Addis Ababa, smashing windows and firing tear gas inside the mosque. On July 21, they forcibly broke up a sit-in at the mosque. From July 19 to 21, dozens of people were rounded up and 17 prominent leaders were held without charge for over a week. Many of the detainees complained of mistreatment in detention.”
“Extrajudicial Executions, Torture and other Abuses in Detention”
The 665 page report says that there have been so far widespread extrajudicial executions, torture and other brutal abuses in different detention centers and military barracks of the tyrannical regime in Ethiopia. It notes that Human Rights Watch has continued to document such executions and abuses.
The report explains: “An Ethiopian government-backed paramilitary force known as the “Liyu Police”, for instance, executed at least 10 men who were in their custody and killed 9 other villagers in Somali Region on March 16 and 17 in Raqda village, Gashaamo district.”
It further says: “In April, unknown gunmen attacked a commercial farm owned by the Saudi Star company in Gambella that was close to areas that had suffered a high proportion of abuses during the villagization process. In responding to the attack, Ethiopian soldiers went house to house looking for suspected perpetrators and threatening villagers to disclose the whereabouts of the ‘rebels’. The military arbitrarily arrested many young men and committed torture, rape, and other abuses against scores of villagers while attempting to extract information.”
Additionally, the report states that there is what it says “erratic access” to legal counsel and insufficient respect for other due process during custody, pre-trial detention, and even during trial phases, when the cases are politically related. “This places detainees at risk of abuse”, the report says.
The report notes that although the government maintain that “villagization” is a voluntary program designed to improve access to basic services by bringing scattered people all together in new villages, the reality is that the program is involuntary and mainly designed to make way for huge agriculture investments.
The report explains: “In Gambella and in the South Omo Valley, forced displacement is taking place without adequate consultation and compensation. In Gambella, Human Rights Watch found that relocations were often forced and that villagers were being moved from fertile to unfertile areas. People sent to the new villages frequently have to clear the land and build their own huts under military supervision, while the promised services (schools, clinics, water pumps) often have not been put in place.”
According to the report, indigenous peoples, amount about 200,000, are being relocated in South Omo and their land expropriated to make way for sugar plantations. It says: “Residents reported being moved by force, seeing their grazing lands flooded or ploughed up, and their access to the Omo River, essential for their survival and way of life, curtailed.”
“Key International Actors”
The report, which finally examines the response of international actors to the human rights crisis in Ethiopia, strongly criticizes donors. It says that donor countries and development agencies are failed to take into account the deteriorating human right situation and the brutality of the regime, and act responsibly.
The report explains: “The World Bank, for instance, approved a new Country Partnership Strategy in September that takes little account of the human rights or good governance principles that it and other development agencies say are essential for sustainable development. It also approved a third phase of the Protection of Basic Services program (PBS III) without triggering safeguards on involuntary resettlement and indigenous peoples.”