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  • Growing Protests Bring Ethiopia to the Tipping Point - Sept. 2016

    The past weeks have seen an escalation of ongoing protests across Ethiopia—including widespread acts of resistance like citizens shaving their heads in solidarity with jailed opposition leader Bekele Gerba and stay-at-home protests that have turned bustling cities into near ghost-towns. Despite the undeniable peacefulness of these actions, state violence and repression has continued. Earlier this month, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister authorized the National Defence Force to use “its full force to bring rule of law” in the country. Internet shut downs by the government have been used to silence critics. And,  Addis Standard reported, security forces have broken into the homes of those who are “staying in.”

    Land Grabs: Genesis of Ethiopia Protests

    While much of this has gone unreported by the international press, news of attacks against at least nine foreign-owned horticultural companies, including those from the Netherlands, Israel, Italy, India, and Belgium—did generate coverage. The attacks caused nearly $8 million in damages to one company alone, Esmeralda Flower Company. A statement released by Esmeralda suggests that many businesses—both local and internationally-owned—with ties to the Ethiopian government are targets. This is not a surprise given take over of lands in the name of promoting development, much against the will and consent of the local populations, generated these protests in late 2015, which are now manifesting themselves as a movement for democracy and freedom.

    As discussed in a previous post, the United States has been noticeably silent with regard to recent protests. In early August, after nearly 100 protesters were gunned down by the Ethiopian security forces, the US Embassy in Ethiopia released a paltry statement with the absurd suggestion that protesters should engage in “constructive dialogue” with the government. Less than two weeks later, the State Department issued a travel advisory, but still failed to condemn government’s use of excessive force on the protestors and its role in the political upheaval on the ground.

    The Government’s “Self-Defeating Tactics”

    But then, on August 21st, US Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Tom Malinowski, released an op-ed, calling the abuses by government officials as “self-defeating tactics.” The strongly worded statement explains that the protests are “a manifestation of Ethiopian citizens’ expectation of more responsive governance and political pluralism” and that protesters are “exercising their right under Ethiopia’s constitution to express their views.” If that isn’t a strong enough endorsement of the protesters, Malinowski then rips apart the myth that the protests are being perpetuated by outside forces—a myth spread far and wide by the Ethiopian government itself.

    “When thousands of people, in dozens of locations, in multiple regions come out on the streets to ask for a bigger say in the decisions that affect their lives, this cannot be dismissed as the handiwork of external enemies.”

    The Obama Administration’s Responsibility

    Last week, according to the Ethiopian government, 23 inmates at the high-security prison, Qilinto, died after a fire where anti-government protesters and political prisoners, including Bekele GerbaPastor OmotEthiopian Muslim leaders, and many others are being held. The identity of the dead prisoners has not been made public, while the fate of the political leaders remains unknown. At a grave time like this, the importance of a statement from the US government, cannot go understated. However, it is not enough. As the single largest country donor to Ethiopia, the US has huge power and influence in the country. Until recently, the Obama administration may have accepted the lack of democracy, muzzling of media and civil society, and widespread violations of human rights as the price to pay for ensuring stability and strong rule in a country that has been a critical ally in a highly unstable region. Recent developments may prove this to be a miscalculation as growing resentment against the regime’s abuses has ignited instability and violence in the country, with many fearing political unrest, as seen in neighbouring South Sudan and Somalia.  

    To date, silent complicity of the United States has signaled that violent repression on the part of the Ethiopian government is permissible. Time and time again, the Oakland Institute has called the US government out for not taking a stronger stance, asking how much blood must be shed before the US is willing to stand up for human rights and true development in Ethiopia.

    With renewed calls for protests against the Ethiopian regime both within and outside the country gaining momentum, perhaps we are at a tipping point. Perhaps this will be the turning of the tide.

    Anuradha Mittal is the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

     

     

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  • Joint letter to UN Human Rights Council on Ethiopia

    Geneva, 8 September 2016

    To Permanent Representatives of
    Members and Observer States of the
    UN Human Rights Council
     

    RE: Addressing the escalating human rights crisis in Ethiopia

    Your Excellency,

    The undersigned civil society organisations write to draw your attention to grave violations of human rights in Ethiopia, including the recent crackdown on largely peaceful protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions.

    As the UN Human Rights Council prepares to convene for its 33rd session between 13 – 30 September 2016, we urge your delegation to prioritise and address through joint and individual statements the escalating human rights crisis in Ethiopia.

    An escalating human rights crisis in Oromia and Amhara Regions

    The situation in Ethiopia has become increasingly unstable since security forces repeatedly fired upon protests in the Amhara and Oromia regions in August 2016. On 6 and 7 August alone, Amnesty International reported at least 100 killings and scores of arrests during protests that took place across multiple towns in both regions. Protesters had taken to the streets throughout the Amhara and Oromia regions to express discontent over the ruling party’s dominance in government affairs, the lack of rule of law, and grave human rights violations for which there has been no accountability.

    Protests in the Amhara region began peacefully in Gondar a month ago and spread to other towns in the region. A protest in Bahir Dar, the region’s capital, on 7 August turned violent when security forces shot and killed at least 30 people. Recently, on 30 August, stay-at-home strikers took to the streets of Bahir Dar again and were violently dispersed by security forces. According to the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE), in the week of 29 August alone, security forces killed more than 70 protesters and injured many more in cities and towns across Northern Amhara region.

    Since November 2015, Ethiopian security forces have routinely used excessive and unnecessary lethal force to disperse and suppress the largely peaceful protests in the Oromia region. The protesters, who originally advocated against the dispossession of land without adequate compensation under the government’s Addis Ababa Integrated Development Master Plan, have been subjected to widespread rights violations. According to international and national human rights groups, at least 500 demonstrators have been killed and hundreds have suffered bullet wounds and beatings by police and military during the protests.

    Authorities have also arbitrarily arrested thousands of people throughout Oromia and Amhara during and after protests, including journalists and human rights defenders. Many of those detained are being held without charge and without access to family members or legal representation. Many of those who have been released report torture in detention. The continued use of unlawful force to repress the movement has broadened the grievances of the protesters to human rights and rule of law issues.

    The need for international, independent, thorough, impartial and transparent investigations

    Following the attacks by security forces on protesters in Oromia earlier this year, five UN Special Procedures issued ajoint statement noting that “the sheer number of people killed and arrested suggests that the Government of Ethiopia views the citizens as a hindrance, rather than a partner”, and underlining that “Impunity … only perpetuates distrust, violence and more oppression”.

    In response to the recent crackdown, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has called for “access for independent observers to the country to assess the human rights situation”. Ethiopia’s government, however, has rejected the call, instead indicating it would launch its own investigation. On 2 September, in a public media statement, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights reiterated the UN High Commissioner’s call to allow a prompt and impartial investigation led by regional or international human rights bodies into the crackdown.

    There are no effective avenues to pursue accountability for abuses given the lack of independence of the judiciary and legislative constraints. During the May 2015 general elections, the ruling EPRDF party won all 547 seats in the Ethiopian Parliament.

    Ethiopia’s National Human Rights Commission, which has a mandate to investigate rights violations, has failed to make public its June report on the Oromia protests, while concluding in its oral report to Parliament that the lethal force used by security forces in Oromia was proportionate to the risk they faced from the protesters. The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions has rated the Ethiopian National Human Rights Commission as B, meaning the latter has failed to meet fully the Paris Principles.

    The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, who met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn at the margins of the European Development Days in June 2016, has called on all parties to refrain from the use of force and for a constructive dialogue and engagement to take place without delay. On 28 August, after the EPRDF party’s general assembly, Prime Minister Hailemariam reportedly ordered the country’s military to take any appropriate measures to quell the protests, which he described as illegal and aimed at destabilising the nation. Following a similar call regarding the Oromia protests, security forces intensified the use of excessive force against protesters.

    A highly restrictive environment for dialogue

    Numerous human rights activists, journalists, opposition political party leaders and supporters have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Since August 2016, four members of one of Ethiopia’s most prominent human rights organisations, the Human Rights Council (HRCO), were arrested and detained in the Amhara and Oromia regions. HRCO believes these arrests are related to the members’ monitoring and documentation of the crackdown of on-going protests in these regions.

    Among those arrested since the protests began and still in detention are Colonel Demeke Zewdu (Member, Wolkait Identity Committee (WIC)), Getachew Ademe (Chairperson, WIC), Atalay Zafe (Member, WIC), Mebratu Getahun (Member, WIC), Alene Shama (Member, WIC), Addisu Serebe (Member, WIC), Bekele Gerba (Deputy Chair, Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC)), Dejene Tufa (Deputy General Secretary, OFC), Getachew Shiferaw (Editor-in-Chief of the online newspaper Negere Ethiopia), Yonathan Teressa (human rights defender) and Fikadu Mirkana (reporter with the state-owned Oromia Radio and TV). 


    Prominent human rights experts and groups, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, have repeatedly condemned the highly restrictive legal framework in Ethiopia. The deliberate misuse of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation’s overbroad and vague provisions to target journalists and activists has increased as protests have intensified. The law permits up to four months of pre-trial detention and prescribes long prison sentences for a range of activities protected under international human rights law. Dozens of human rights defenders as well as journalists, bloggers, peaceful demonstrators and opposition party members have been subjected to harassment and politically motivated prosecution under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, making Ethiopia one of the leading jailers of journalists in the world.

    In addition, domestic civil society organisations are severely hindered by one of the most restrictive NGO laws in the world. Specifically, under the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation, the vast majority of Ethiopian organisations have been forced to stop working on human rights and governance issues, a matter of great concern that has been repeatedly raised in international forums including at Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

    This restrictive and worsening environment underscores the limited avenues available for dialogue and accountability in the country. It is essential that the UN Human Rights Council take a strong position urging the Ethiopian government to immediately allow an international, thorough, independent, transparent and impartial investigation into alleged human rights abuses committed in the context of the government’s response to the largely peaceful protests.

    As a member – and Vice-President – of the Human Rights Council, Ethiopia has an obligation to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights, and “fully cooperate” with the Council and its mechanisms (GA Resolution 60/251, OP 9). Yet for the past ten years, it has consistently failed to accept country visit requests by numerous Special Procedures.

    During the upcoming 33rd session of the Human Rights Council, we urge your delegation to make joint and individual statements reinforcing and building upon the expressions of concern by the High Commissioner, UN Special Procedures, and others.

    Specifically, the undersigned organisations request your delegation to urge Ethiopia to:

    1. immediately cease the use of excessive and unnecessary lethal force by security forces against protesters in Oromia and Amhara regions and elsewhere in Ethiopia;
    2. immediately and unconditionally release journalists, human rights defenders, political opposition leaders and members as well as protesters arbitrarily detained during and in the aftermath of the protests;
    3. respond favourably to country visit requests by UN Special Procedures;
    4. urgently allow access to an international, thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into all of the deaths resulting from alleged excessive use of force by the security forces, and other violations of human rights in the context of the protests;
    5. ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are prosecuted in proceedings which comply with international law and standards on fair trials and without resort to the death penalty; and
    6. fully comply with its international legal obligations and commitments including under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and its own Constitution.

    Amnesty International
    Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia
    CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
    Civil Rights Defenders
    DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
    Ethiopian Human Rights Project
    FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights)
    Foundation for Human Rights Initiative
    Freedom House
    Front Line Defenders
    Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect
    Human Rights Watch
    International Service for Human Rights
    Reporters Without Borders
    World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

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  • Ethiopia: Protests in Oromia, Amhara Regions Present 'Critical Challenge' - U.S.

    The Obama administration's top official promoting democracy and human rights,Tom Malinowski, says the Ethiopian government's tactics in response to protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions of the country are "self-defeating". Writing ahead of the arrival of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Nairobi for talks on East African issues, including security, Malinowski says Addis Ababa's "next great national task is to master the challenge of political openness." The United States and Ethiopia have years of strong partnership, based on a recognition that we need each other. Ethiopia is a major contributor to peace and security in Africa, the U.S.'s ally in the fight against violent extremists, and has shown incredible generosity to those escaping violence and repression, admitting more refugees than any country in the world. The United States has meanwhile been the main contributor to Ethiopia's impressive fight to end poverty, to protect its environment and to develop its economy. Because of the friendship and common interests our two nations share, the U.S. has a stake in Ethiopia's prosperity, stability and success. When Ethiopia does well, it is able to inspire and help others. On the other hand, a protracted crisis in Ethiopia would undermine the goals that both nations are trying to achieve together. The recent protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions present a critical challenge. They appear to be a manifestation of Ethiopian citizens' expectation of more responsive governance and political pluralism, as laid out in their constitution. Almost every Ethiopian I have met during my three recent trips to the country, including government officials, has told me that as Ethiopians become more prosperous and educated, they demand a greater political voice, and that such demands must be met. While a few of the protests may have been used as a vehicle for violence, we are convinced that the vast majority of participants were exercising their right under Ethiopia's constitution to express their views. Any counsel that the United States might offer is intended to help find solutions, and is given with humility. As President Barack Obama said during his July, 2015 visit to Addis Ababa, the U.S. is not perfect, and we have learned hard lessons from our own experiences in addressing popular grievances. We also know Ethiopia faces real external threats. Ethiopia has bravely confronted Al-Shabaab, a ruthless terrorist group based on its border. Individuals and groups outside Ethiopia, often backed by countries that have no respect for human rights themselves, sometimes recklessly call for violent change. Ethiopia rightly condemns such rhetoric, and the United States joins that condemnation. But Ethiopia has made far too much progress to be undone by the jabs of scattered antagonists who have little support among the Ethiopian people. And it is from within that Ethiopia faces the greatest challenges to its stability and unity. When thousands of people, in dozens of locations, in multiple regions come out on the streets to ask for a bigger say in the decisions that affect their lives, this cannot be dismissed as the handiwork of external enemies. Ethiopian officials have acknowledged that protestors have genuine grievances that deserve sincere answers. They are working to address issues such as corruption and a lack of job opportunities. Yet security forces have continued to use excessive force to prevent Ethiopians from congregating peacefully, killing and injuring many people and arresting thousands. We believe thousands of Ethiopians remain in detention for alleged involvement in the protests - in most cases without having been brought before a court, provided access to legal counsel, or formally charged with a crime. These are self-defeating tactics. Arresting opposition leaders and restricting civil society will not stop people from protesting, but it can create leaderless movements that leave no one with whom the government can mediate a peaceful way forward. Shutting down the Internet will not silence opposition, but it will scare away foreign investors and tourists. Using force may temporarily deter some protesters, but it will exacerbate their anger and make them more uncompromising when they inevitably return to the streets. Every government has a duty to protect its citizens; but every legitimate and successful government also listens to its citizens, admits mistakes, and offers redress to those it has unjustly harmed. Responding openly and peacefully to criticism shows confidence and wisdom, not weakness. Ethiopia would also be stronger if it had more independent voices in government, parliament and society, and if civil society organizations could legally channel popular grievances and propose policy solutions. Those who are critical of the government would then have to share responsibility, and accountability, for finding those solutions. Progress in reforming the system would moderate demands to reject it altogether. Ethiopia's next great national task is to master the challenge of political openness, just as it has been mastering the challenge of economic development. Given how far Ethiopia has traveled since the days of terror and famine, the United States is confident that its people can meet this challenge - not to satisfy any foreign country, but to fulfill their own aspirations. The U.S. and all of Ethiopia's friends are ready to help. Tom Malinowski is the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

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  • ‘No Ethiopians wanted’ job ad sparks outrage

     

    Justice Ministry officials expressed outrage on Wednesday over a recruitment ad that stated that Israelis of Ethiopian descent were not wanted.

    The ad, published by the LM manpower company, called for warehouse workers to fold clothes at a Caesarea-based fashion company, Walla reported. The ad noted that the job was 7 a.m.-5 p.m. and paid minimum wage (NIS 25 an hour, or $6.50), and specified that the employer “does not want Ethiopians.”

    Justice Ministry Director Emi Palmor said that, if true, the ad was “a blatant case of discrimination and racism.” Palmor, who also heads a ministerial committee seeking to uproot racism against Ethiopian Israelis, noted that testimony submitted to the committee indicated “this is not the first case, and certainly not the only case.”

    Palmor said the case would be investigated by the commissioner for equal employment opportunities in the Economy Ministry.

    The fashion company, Expose, said in response that it had nothing to do with the offensive caveat, and that the ad was published without its knowledge. “This wasn’t published by us and certainly isn’t acceptable according to our values,” a spokeswoman said. “This doesn’t reflect our opinions at all.”

    The manpower company said the ad was a result of “human error” and that it was removed “the moment we found out.” Notably, the company did not deny the actual request by the client.

    “This was not for publication. It was somehow leaked out. It was supposed to stay inside the company and be dealt with inside the company,” a statement by LM said. “This is not something we promote. Apparently it was a human error. We don’t support racist statements. We believe in recruitment for all ethnic groups and communities.”

    The ad was blasted by Israeli officials.

    Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel called it “appalling” and said she would bring the matter before the cabinet on Thursday.

    “Racism and discrimination cut through sectors and groups in Israeli society. We must put an end to it once and for all,” she said.

    MK Omer Barlev of the Zionist Union said it was “unacceptable for people of the Ethiopian community to be a punching bag for lowly racists. Not in the State of Israel and not on our watch.” He vowed to promote legislation to prevent such incidents from recurring.

    MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid) said it was “shameful… we mustn’t allow this to be a part of society,” while Michal Biran (Zionist Union) said it was shocking to find such displays of racism in present-day Israel.

    In July Palmor submitted a major report to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on ways to combat racism against Israelis of Ethiopian heritage.

    The report was produced by the committee chaired by Palmor, which was established in response to recent public street protests by Ethiopian Israeli activists against what they said was the rampant prejudice they face in Israeli society.

    The issue rose to the fore last year amid accusations by Ethiopian Israelis of rampant police brutality and abuse against members of the community. The community staged a series of demonstrations across the country, triggered by video footage showing a seemingly unprovoked police assault on an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier in April 2015.

    Thousands took to the streets demanding the government address the alleged systematic and institutionalized racism faced by the Ethiopian Israeli community. Activists also expressed their frustration with what they said was the state’s shortcomings in addressing the social and economic needs of their community.

    The latest report marks the conclusion of months of deliberations that resulted from last year’s tensions. It offers 53 detailed recommendations for tackling racism throughout Israeli society, mainly through the education system.

    Upon receiving the report Netanyahu promised to take “further steps” in the wake of the report. Racism, he said, “is unbecoming of our country, our citizens and our nation.”

    Source :http://www.timesofisrael.com/no-ethiopians-wanted-job-ad-sparks-outrage/

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  • Unprecedented Ethiopia protests far from over: analysts

     

     

    Regional protests that began last year in Ethiopia have spread across the country, and despite successive crackdowns analysts say dissatisfaction with the authoritarian government is driving ever greater unrest.

    Demonstrations began popping up in November 2015 in the Oromia region, which surrounds the capital, due to a government plan to expand the boundaries of Addis Ababa.

    The region's Oromo people feared their farmland would be seized, and though the authorities soon dropped the urban enlargement project and brutally suppressed the protests, they badly misjudged the anger it triggered.

    Protests have since swept other parts of Oromia, and more recently to the northern Amhara region, causing disquiet in the corridors of power of a key US ally and crucial partner in east Africa's fight against terrorism.

    "Since it came to power in 1991, the regime has never witnessed such a bad stretch... Ethiopia resembles a plane going through a zone of extreme turbulence," independent Horn of Africa researcher Rene Lafort told AFP.

    Despite what he described as the "state of siege" imposed on the Oromia region in recent weeks, the protests have refused to die down, and demonstrators have been challenging government more and more openly.

    - Minority rule -

    One rally was even held in Addis Ababa on Saturday, a rare event for the seat of power of a nation ruled by a regime considered among the most repressive in Africa.

    More than 140 people were killed when security forces put down the original Oromia land protests, shot or tortured to death, according to rights groups.

    A fresh crackdown over the weekend led to the deaths of almost 100 more, according to an Amnesty International toll, with live fire used on the crowds.

    "This crisis is systemic because it shakes the foundations of the model of government put into place 25 years ago, which is authoritarian and centralised," Lafort explained.

    The protesters have different grievances but are united by their disaffection with the country's leaders, who largely hail from the northern Tigray region and represent less than 10 percent of the population.

    Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn heads the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which won all the seats in parliament in elections last year.

    Although he comes from the minority Wolayta people, he is surrounded in government by Tigreans, who also dominate the security forces and positions of economic power.

    Getachew Metaferia, professor of political science at Morgan State University in the United States, described the state as "controlled by an ethnic minority imposing its will on the majority," a crucial factor in understanding the protests.

    More than 60 percent of the country's almost 100 million people are either Amhara or Oromo.

    "There is no fundamental discussion with the people, no dialogue... the level of frustration is increasing. I don't think there will be a return back to normal," the professor added.

    The country's rulers have cultivated the skyrocketing growth and rapidly improving health outcomes that have changed the face of a nation whose famines weighed on the world's conscience in 1980s.

    But their grip on civil liberties has tightened: Ethiopia ranked 142 of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index this year, and social media used to organise rallies is regularly blocked by the authorities.

    The use of anti-terror laws to jail opposition critics has also provoked ire, combined with more local issues such as the targeting of Amharan politicians campaigning for a referendum on a district absorbed into Tigrean territory.

    - Reclaiming freedoms -

    The West has largely avoided direct criticism of the country's rights record because Ethiopia is credited with beating back Al-Qaeda-affiliated Shabaab militants in Somalia, but the protests put its allies in an awkward spot.

    "Ethiopia's leaders have lost the vision of Meles. They are showing signs of nervousness and don't place trust in their own people," said one European diplomat on condition of anonymity.

    After toppling dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991, Meles Zenawi ruled with an iron fist until he died in 2012, and Hailemariam took over.

    More used to its image as an oasis of calm in a troubled region, the government is swift to blame foreign "terrorist groups" for the unrest, usually pointing the finger at neighbouring Eritrea.

    Hailemariam last Friday announced a ban on demonstrations which "threaten national unity" and called on police to use all means at their disposal to prevent them.

    Merera Gudina, leader of the opposition Oromo People's Congress, said the nebulous movements were not affiliated with traditional political parties and were focused above all on claiming back freedoms the government has long denied.

    "We are nine months into this protest. I don't think it will stop," he told AFP. "This is an intifada," he said, using a term which means uprising.

    Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-3732964/Unprecedented-Ethiopia-protests-far-analysts.html

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