Met and discussed with detained opposition official
Zeid bin Ra’ad Al Hussein, a Jordanian prince and the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who paid an official visit to Ethiopia this week, expressed his concern over the misuse of legislations in Ethiopia to suppress human rights and basic freedoms. He noted that his team was not commissioned to assess the human rights situation in Oromia and Amhara regional states.
During his official visit, the commissioner discussed issues related to human rights in the country with government officials, opposition leaders and civic society representatives.
On Thursday afternoon, during a press briefing he gave at the UNECA, Al Hussein said that his team was unable to access and investigate concerns related to human rights in Oromia and Amhara regions where there were widespread accusations of arrests and rights violations starting from the end of 2015.
He expressed his concern that his staff, as a team, was not commissioned to go to the mentioned locals and confirm or disprove the facts indicated in the recent report released by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.
However, he appreciated the report of the commission that was presented before the parliament a month ago. Accordingly, he urged the PM to stick to the implementation of recommendations of the report and hold accountable the security forces, which were alleged to have used excessive force during the protest.
Over the past few days that he spent in Ethiopia, the commissioner said that he discussed issues of human rights with all stakeholders including Abadula Gemeda, speaker of the House of People’s Representatives, Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD), minister of Foreign Affairs, Getachew Ambaye, Federal the Attorney General, and other higher officials including the minister of Government Communication.
He also discussed issues of the same concern with Addisu Gebregziabher (PhD), Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, opposition leaders, civics society representatives and other personalities.
“I carefully listened to many voices,” he said. “I held vibrant dialogue with the opposition and the ruling party as well.”
He also said that he held extensive discussion with detainees in Klinto correctional facility, among whom he said he has met a top opposition leader.
As a result of the discussion he held with the government officials, the commissioner said that he signed a memorandum of intent to strengthen the Commission’s regional office opened in Addis Ababa, so that his office will be able to closely work with the region including Ethiopia.
He also said that he was highly impressed with the improvements Ethiopia has made in the area of education, health, infrastructure and reducing poverty. Furthermore, he appreciated the government for the due attention it has given to the human rights of citizens and its intent to improve conditions.
“However, as in much countries, the central challenge lies with translating the commitment in to action,” he emphasized. He noted that some commitments made by the country to improve human right situations in Ethiopia still remains in deficiency.
He stated that the unrest in Oromia and Amhara reflects the frustration and dissatisfaction of the people with local the administration. “I believe the incident renews the need for policy adjustments,” he said.
“A failure to ensure fundamental freedoms and Rule of law always bears high cost downstream. They led to tension and violence”.
The Commissioner also expressed concern over some of the Ethiopian legislations which he dubbed to be contradictory to the universal HR conventions and those ensured within the Ethiopian constitution itself. He listed the Charities and Societies law, anti -terrorism and mass media law in this regard.
“I’m also concerned about the excessive meaning given to terrorism and its misuse to attack journalists and activists”.
Questions related to concerns over independence of Human Rights Commission and the implementations of the National Human Rights Action Plan were also raised to the Commissioner. A question was also forwarded to him if his office is aware of the attack against Ethnic Tigrians in the Amhara region and particularly in Gondar, which was cited under commission report and less investigated.
The commissioner said he and his staff may privately know the incidents happened here and there during the apprising. However, he said that there is a need for the government to reconsider to allow access to these and other areas and independently investigate the situation.
He also urged the Ethiopian government renewing his request to get access to the areas mentioned above. Till then, he said his office will study and review the Report released by HRC and follow up the progress to implement the recommendations.