Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ethiopia: Survival Uncovers Shocking Human Rights Abuses

22 FEBRUARY 2012

Survival has uncovered shocking new evidence of human rights abuses against tribes in Ethiopia's Omo Valley, as government efforts to develop lucrative sugar cane plantations in the region intensify.

Bulldozers are flattening land near a UNESCO World Heritage Site, destroying villages and forcing local communities to give up their pastoral way of life.

Fear is growing as violence becomes commonplace and reports of beatings, rapes and arrests spread among tribes close to the Omo River.

As recently as January 2012, Survival received reports of three Bodi men being beaten to death in an Ethiopian jail.

The government is also ordering families to sell their livestock. One man told Survival, 'My money is my cattle. My bank account is my cattle.'

Survival has exclusive photographs of a road Ethiopia's government is building, which cuts straight through tribal land, to improve access to land clearance sites.

One Mursi man said, 'The government is building sugar cane plantations on my land. When you see it you will cry - there are no bushes in the Omo Valley now.'

Two UN bodies have already asked Ethiopia to provide evidence that tribes are being consulted, and that current developments are not damaging the area's cultural and natural heritage. However, Ethiopia has ignored such calls.

Survival has also received disturbing reports that Ethiopia has begun the process of forcibly resettling tribes in the Omo Valley, a tactic known as 'villagization'.

Communities have been given one year to relocate, in a programme similar to that reported by Human Rights Watch in Ethiopia's western Gambella region.

One Mursi man told Survival, 'It (the government) came, took our land and told us it wants to move all the people in the Omo valley to stay in one place like a camp.'

Survival International said today, 'The Ethiopian government is responsible for some of the most flagrant and violent human rights abuses that Survival has seen in years. By dressing up the theft of tribal land as 'development', it expects to get away with such atrocities. State and private investors will be the only ones to benefit from the Omo Valley sell-off, while self-sufficient tribes face destruction.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Laws Must Not Be Misused to Curb Rights-UN

2 February 2012

A group of independent United Nations human rights experts today spoke out against the ongoing use of anti-terrorism laws to curb freedom of expression in Ethiopia, where several journalists were recently given prison sentences under such legislation.

"Journalists play a crucial role in promoting accountability of public officials by investigating and informing the public about human rights violations," said Frank La Rue, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression. "They should not face criminal proceedings for carrying out their legitimate work, let alone be severely punished."

A week ago, three journalists and two opposition politicians were given prison sentences ranging from 14 years to life imprisonment under Ethiopia's anti-terrorism laws. This followed the sentencing of two Swedish journalists to 11 years in prison in December, a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated.

Another 24 defendants are scheduled to appear in court next month, for various charges under the anti-terrorism law, several of whom may face the death sentence if convicted.

Ben Emmerson, the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights, said that "the anti-terrorism provisions should not be abused and need to be clearly defined in Ethiopian criminal law to ensure that they do not go counter to internationally guaranteed human rights."

The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, emphasized that "journalists, bloggers and others advocating for increased respect for human rights should not be subject to pressure for the mere fact that their views are not in alignment with those of the Government."

She voiced concern at the case of Eskinder Nega, a blogger and human rights defender who may face the death penalty if convicted. Mr. Nega has been advocating for reform on the issue of the right to assemble peacefully in public.

Similarly, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, cautioned against the ongoing campaign of harassment against associations expressing dissenting views, while Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, deplored the reported failure to ensure the defendants' right to a fair trial.

The experts called on the Ethiopian Government to respect the concerned individuals' fundamental rights, especially their right to a fair trial, and reiterated the need to apply anti-terrorism legislation cautiously and in accordance with the country's international human rights obligations.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ethiopia: Future of Last Remaining Human Rights Monitoring NGO in the Balance

Human Rights Watch
Press Release
February 1, 2012

On February 3, 2012, the Cassation Bench of the Federal Supreme Court of Ethiopia will hear a petition by the Human Rights Council (HRCO), Ethiopia's oldest human rights organization, to admit an appeal against the freezing of its bank accounts. Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and Human Rights Watch express deep concern at the obstacles and restrictions to which HRCO and other human rights organizations in Ethiopia are now subjected, as illustrated by this case. The decision of the Supreme Court will be of great significance for the future of HRCO's vital work and for the wider promotion and protection of human rights in Ethiopia.

HRCO's bank accounts were frozen after the introduction of the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO law), adopted by the Ethiopian parliament in 2009 to regulate domestic and international civil society organizations. The CSO law prohibits human rights organizations in Ethiopia from receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources. As a result, the majority of independent Ethiopian civil society organizations working on human rights issues have had to discontinue their work. The CSO law has been widely criticized for failing to meet international human rights standards.

In December 2009, the Charities and Societies Agency (CSA), a new regulatory body established under the CSO law, granted HRCO its license as an Ethiopian charity, but, in a letter dated three days before the registration, the CSA ordered four private banks to freeze all of HRCO's assets including its private bank accounts and reserve funds.

HRCO (formerly known as the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, EHRCO) has been the leading human rights voice in the country, with a strong track record of investigating and reporting on violations and promoting human rights in the country since its establishment in 1991. As a result of the restrictions in the CSO law and the freezing of its accounts, HRCO has been forced to close nine of its twelve offices and cut 85 per cent of its staff.[1]

The CSO law does not allow for retroactive application, meaning the restrictions in the law cannot be applied to funds collected before the passing of the law. Further, the CSA did not secure a court-ordered warrant permitting it to freeze HRCO's assets and nor does the CSO law contain any provision permitting the CSA to block an organization's accounts. On these bases HRCO challenged the lawfulness of the freeze to the Board of the CSA, and subsequently to the Federal High Court in April 2010. The High Court upheld the decision of the regulatory body on October 24, 2011.

HRCO is now petitioning the Supreme Court, the highest adjudicating body in the country, to hear its appeal against the decision of the Federal High Court.

Ethiopia's once vibrant civil society has been severely decimated due to various legal and other impediments to its work imposed by the government. The CSO law is just one in a series of laws passed since 2008 to give legal grounding to restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of association. The broad provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009, for example, have been used in the arrest and prosecution of a large number journalists and members of the political opposition in 2011.[2] This has severely affected freedom of speech and the ability to criticize governmental policies without fear of negative consequences. Most recently, on 19 January, 2012, three journalists, an opposition leader and a former opposition supporter were convicted under the anti-terrorism law for writing online articles critical of the government and for having telephone conversations discussing peaceful protest actions.[3]

Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, CIVICUS, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and Human Rights Watch urge the Supreme Court to protect the rights of HRCO and all human rights organizations in Ethiopia to conduct their legitimate and essential work, including through unrestricted access to their funds. The organizations further urge the Government of Ethiopia to create an enabling environment for civil society in accordance with its constitutional provisions and obligations under international law, to uphold the rights to freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society across the world

[1]See Impact of the CSO Proclamation on the Human Rights Council, Human Rights Council July 2011