Ethiopian political leadership must respect human rights; says Bizualem Beza
Posted by African Press International on August 13, 2013
Ethiopia, officially known as the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea to the north, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, Sudan and South Sudan to the west, and Kenya to the south. With over 91,000,000 inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world and the second-most populated nation on the African continent. It occupies a total area of 1,100,000 square kilometres (420,000 sq mi), and its capital and largest city is Addis Ababa.
The sudden death in August 2012 of Ethiopia’s long-serving and powerful prime minister, Meles Zenawi, provoked uncertainty over the country’s political transition, both domestically and among Ethiopia’s international partners. Ethiopia’s human rights record has sharply deteriorated, especially over the past few years, and although a new prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, took office in September, it remains to be seen whether the government under his leadership will undertake human rights reforms.
Ethiopian authorities continued to severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly in 2012. Thirty journalists and opposition members were convicted under the country’s vague Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009.The security forces responded to protests by the Muslim community in Oromia and Addis Ababa, the capital, with arbitrary arrests, detentions, and beatings.
The Ethiopian government continues to implement its “villagization” program: the resettlement of 1.5 million rural villagers in five regions of Ethiopia ostensibly to increase their access to basic services. Many villagers in Gambella region have been forcibly displaced, causing considerable hardship. The government is also forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley to make way for state-run sugar plantations.
Hostility for independent media
Since the promulgation in 2009 of the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO Law), which regulates nongovernmental organizations, and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, freedom of expression, assembly, and association have been increasingly restricted in Ethiopia. The effect of these two laws, coupled with the government’s widespread and persistent harassment, threats, and intimidation of civil society activists, journalists, and others who comment on sensitive issues or express views critical of government policy, has been severe.
“One on One with Bizualem Beza, Human Rights Activist: Part 1 of 2″
“One on One with Bizualem Beza, Human Rights Activist: Part 2 of 2”
Ethiopia’s most important human rights groups have been compelled to dramatically scale-down operations or remove human rights activities from their mandates, 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. The environment is equally hostile for independent media: more journalists have fled Ethiopia than any other country in the world due to threats and intimidation in the last decade—at least 79, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation is being used to target perceived opponents, stifle dissent, and silence journalists. In 2012, 30 political activists, opposition party members, and journalists were convicted on vaguely defined terrorism offenses. Eleven journalists have been convicted under the law since 2011.
On January 26, 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. Reeyot’s sentence was later reduced to five years upon appeal and most of the charges were dropped.
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. Andualem Arage, a member of the registered opposition party Unity for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), was sentenced to life for espionage, “disrupting the constitutional order,” and recruitment and training to commit terrorist acts.
Activists demand respect for human rightsin Ethiopia because the government is insensitive for good governance and allows corruption to be the order of the day. According to the U.S. Department of State‘s human rights report for 2004 and similar sources, the Ethiopian government’s human rights“remained poor; although there were improvements, serious problems remained.” The report listed numerous cases where police and security forces are said to have harassed, illegally detained, tortured, and/or killed individuals, who were members of opposition groups or accused of being insurgents. Thousands of suspects remained in detention without charge, and lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. Prison conditions were poor. The government often ignores citizens’ privacy rights and laws regarding search warrants. Although fewer journalists have been arrested, detained, or punished in 2004 than in previous years, the government nevertheless continues to restrict freedom of the press. The government limits freedom of assembly, particularly for members of opposition groups, and security forces have used excessive force to break up demonstrations. Violence and discrimination against women continue to be problems. Female genital mutilation is widespread, although efforts to curb the practice have had some effect. The economic and sexual exploitation of children continues, as does human trafficking. Forced labor, particularly among children, is a persistent problem. Low-level government interference with labor unions continues. Although the government generally respected the free exercise of religion, local authorities at times interfere with religious practice. In order to improve Ethiopia’s image, they hired US agencies to improve Ethiopia’s image for 2.5$ million.
During the late 19th-century Scramble for Africa, Ethiopia was the only African country to defeat an European colonial power and retain its sovereignty as an independent country. It was the first independent African member of the 20th-century League of Nations and the UN. When other African nations gained their independence following World War II, many of them adopted the colors of Ethiopia’s flag. In 1974, at the end of Haile Selassie I‘s reign, Ethiopia became a federal republic ruled by a communist military junta known as the Derg, until it was defeated by the EPRDF, which has ruled since 1991.
Ethiopia is a multilingual society with around 80 ethnic groups, with the two largest being the Oromo and the Amhara. It is one of the founding members of the UN, the Non-Aligned Movement, G-77 and the Organisation of African Unity, with Addis Ababa serving as the headquarters of theAfrican Union, the Pan African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the UNECA, theAfrican Standby Force and much of global NGOs focused on Africa. Despite being the main source of the Nile, the longest river on earth, Ethiopia underwent a series of famines in the 1980s, exacerbated by civil wars and adverse geopolitics. The country has begun to recover recently, and it now has the largest economy by GDP in East Africa and Central Africa