Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2017, 12:01 GMT

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Ethiopia

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 18 June 2009
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Ethiopia, 18 June 2009, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

In April 2008, the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) won a landslide victory in the local elections, amid cases of violence and intimidation reported by opposition parties and NGOs.1 As a consequence, two parties, the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) and the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM), decided to pull out of the electoral process a few days before the poll. Local authorities are said to have prevented the registration of opposition candidates in many constituencies where the opposition had achieved good results in 2005. As a result, the EPRDF won 559 seats out of the 623 districts in the country and all but one of the 39 Parliament seats.

Even before the elections, frequent human rights violations in the country were reported, notably arrests and detentions without charge or trial of critics of the Government by the Ethiopian police, as well as the extrajudicial killing of a political activist.2 Many dissidents, members of the former regime or opponents to the present Government remained in detention at the end of 2008.3

Furthermore, the country was still facing ethnic tension in several regions where civil population were hostages of both the Ethiopian army and the rebels of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). NGOs documented severe abuses such as displacement of rural communities, burning villages, confiscation of livestock, restricted access to water or to food. Torture in custody, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial killings of civilians by the Ethiopian forces and non-State actors were also reported.4

2008 nonetheless witnessed some positive developments, with the release by a Presidential grace on March 28, of human rights defenders Messrs. Daniel Bekele, Head of Policy Research and Advocacy Department of Action Aid Ethiopia, and Netsanet Demissie, founder of the Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia (OSJE), who had been convicted of "incitement" related to the 2005 elections by the Federal High Court, as well as the release of all journalists detained in relation to their work since the November 2005 crackdown. However, about eight newspapers were still being denied licenses to operate and a number of Ethiopian journalists in exile were still afraid to return home for fear of reprisals.5 And if the New Media Law passed by the Parliament on July 1 eliminates the practice of pre-trial detention for journalists, it was not applied in 2008.

Obstacles to human rights defenders' access to information in zones of rebellion and arbitrary arrests

In 2008, the Government remained very suspicious of anyone who tried to collect information on human rights violations in zones of rebellion, in particular in the Oromia region. For instance, on October 30, 2008, Messrs. Obsa Wake, Fekadu Negri and Belay Korme, three members of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), an NGO that produced periodic reports on human rights violations committed as a result of ethnic clashes in the Oromia region, were arrested in Nekmte, before being released on November 2 without charges, on a 2,000 Birr bail each (around 140 Euros). They had been arrested on suspicion of having links with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and possession of firearms. Moreover, at the end of 2008, Mr. Abdi Abate, a member of EHRCO who had been arrested in July 2007 in Nekmte, remained detained and charged with the crime of supporting the OLF. His court case before the Federal High Court was adjourned until February 9, 2009.

Obstacles to humanitarian stakeholders operating in conflict zones

In 2008 again, the Ethiopian Government continued to put obstacles to humanitarian work in conflict zones. For example, in July, the Swiss branch of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans frontières – MSF) withdrew from Ethiopia's Somali region (Ogaden), condemning the authorities' attitude towards humanitarian organisations that led to recurrent arrests of MSF Switzerland staff without charge or explanation, and arguing that repeated administrative hurdles and intimidation had prevented the agency from bringing urgently needed medical aid to the population.6 Both the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and MSF Belgium had been expelled by the Government in August and September 2007.

Adoption of a law restricting freedom of association

On January 6, 2009, a new law on freedom of association, called the Law Charities and Societies, was adopted by Parliament, although it had been condemned by international observers.7 Even though the civil society was consulted in the elaboration of the text, the overwhelming majority of the elements submitted by NGOs throughout the consultations were ignored by the authorities. This new law creates a very restrictive environment for human rights defenders and seriously impairs the independence of civil society insofar as it aims at strictly controlling and monitoring civil society, in particular with the forthcoming elections of 2010. Thus, the text extends the definition of a "foreign NGO" to all NGOs in Ethiopia receiving more than 10% of foreign funding, and bans such NGOs from carrying out a high number of human rights related activities. It also strengthens the capacity of the executive to refuse registration, pronounce dissolution and interfere in the activities of associations.

1 See Human Rights Watch (HRW), World Report 2008, January 2009.

2 See in particular Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), Regular Report no. 31, July 2008.

3 See European Union Note on the situation in Ethiopia, Directorate-General for External Policies of the Union, DGEx Po/B/Pol Dep/Note/2008_183, October 2008.

4 See EHRCO, Regular Report no. 31, July 2008 and HRW Report, Collective Punishment: War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity in the Ogaden Area of Ethiopia's Somali Regional State, June 12, 2008.

5 See EHRCO.

6 See MSF Press Release, July 10, 2008.

7 See Council of the European Union, Document 14146/2/08 REV 2, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008, November 7, 2008, and Declaration of Ms. Mary Robinson, former UN Human Rights Commissioner, to IRIN News, January 6, 2009.

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