It is bizarre to imagine a huge and multi-dimensional human rights action plan of such magnitude without a reasonable amount of financial resource to put it into fruition on the ground, writes Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh.
It was in the presence of Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn that the 2nd National Human Rights’ Action Plan had been launched at the ECA’s meeting hall in Addis Ababa on April 26 2017, exactly four months after its consideration and adoption by the nation’s House of People’s Representatives. This grand blueprint is supposed to have been prepared by having it backdated so that it would be harmonized with the Ethiopia’s 2nd Growth and Transformation Plan, which is already in implementation as of 2015 through 2020. In fact, some of the debate raging amongst the participants at the conference revolves around its timing and compatibility with the said macro and comprehensive plan itself.
While opening the launching ceremony, Prime Minister Hailemariam unhesitatingly underlined on the country’s fundamental break from the past in terms of the constitutional recognition and protection of the human and people’s rights with special emphasis on the transformed status of its relegated nations and nationalities sidelined for long due to official discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin, language, religion and the like. Against the numerous achievements which he says the country has registered, however, he did not flatly deny that the track-record of our performance in terms of the promotion and protection of human rights and freedoms is not without its comparable limitations and shortcomings purportedly attributable to the young and still developing democracy in its formative stage. “Nobody ever listens to whosoever claims to the contrary” the Prime Minister said, calling on citizens, political groupings and civic society organizations to join hands in the implementation of the three-year action plan focusing on broader interests irrespective of isolated and marginal differences on other areas.
Having been prepared by a team of experts from the Office of the Federal Attorney General and other core institutions such as the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, the 2nd National Human Rights Action Plan tries, as always, to spell out a dozen of human and democratic rights and freedoms enshrined in the 1995 constitution, definitely starting with the right to life. The document also maps out possible strategies likely to assist implementation across the nation together with intended revisited structural setups from top to bottom both at the national and regional/city administration levels.
The crucial bone of contention amidst the heated deliberation at the conference was the capacity and suitability of the hierarchically-structured machinery proposed for the possible implementation of the crosscutting plan. It was suggested that the regional cabinets and head institutions to be clustered on the basis of the category of rights ought to be responsible for the overall implementation of the action plan with a secretarial support from either the justice bureau or any other department that might be designated for the purpose, as appropriate. Likewise, the regional executive councils or mayoral committees are expected to regularly submit separate and periodic performance reports to their respective legislative chambers in an effort to impress upon and activate the government and the citizenry concerning the promotion and protection of human right and put the issue at the desired forefront. Nevertheless, details on how to realize this scheme seem to be so scanty that we were unable to identify and grasp at the time. We were simply left to figure out the actual possibilities and impossibilities as we go back to our respective localities and proceed with the task ahead in a ‘learning-by-doing’ process short of proper and reliable guidance.
The other area of deliberation has been the availability of the resource that needs to be set aside for the implementation of the action plan; no matter how limited it might be, given the economic situation of the country. Unfortunately, this vital component of the instrument does not seem to have impressed upon the senior statesmen in charge of presiding over the conference at the time. In my view, they saw it as an obstructive idea and wanted to shy away from the issue of financial element of the package fearing that it shall somehow cost highly on the government treasury in a certain way.
Until entering into the heart of the debate, I originally thought that we were engaged in a serious and constructive business. Late into the discourse, though, I realized that it is bizarre to imagine a huge and multi-dimensional action plan of such magnitude without a reasonable amount of financial resource to put it into fruition on the ground.
Getachew Ambaye, the Federal Attorney General openly and vehemently argued that the 2nd National Human Rights Action Plan on the table is not a plan which is rather distinct from the sectoral plans which both the federal and regional governments have to formulate and implement in connection with their statutory mandates and various fields of engagement and henceforth need not be backed up by a different budgeting whatsoever. But I am not sure that this kind of enticing rhetoric would justifiably satisfy the genuine actors in the real field of multiple sectoral engagements. For instance, it is ironic to assume that a budget appropriation strictly earmarked and specifically allocated for the construction and normal functioning of a health clinic in a certain locality could also be used simultaneously for the delivery of a human rights’ education which, in a way, constitutes part and parcel of the National Human Rights’ Action Plan, so to speak.
Understandably, our resource is pretty meager and has to be administered and utilized in unprecedented order of clearly and responsibly defined priorities and procedures. Yet, one cannot boast in the open of any credible, achievable and concrete plan of action of paramount importance to the nation at large without having to equally worry and ponder about its resource side as well. Honestly speaking, it is not a big deal to at least think of initial seed money to get started with the process which usually attracts a modest support from the international community such as the UN Agencies concerned. Empty and blanket promises on a large blueprint alone do not amount to a true political dedication on the part of the government committing itself to the overall promotion and protection of human and fundamental rights and freedoms as per the country’s ratification of most of the international and regional treaties. An old proverb reminds us of the fact that:
If wishes were horses, beggars would ride first.
Ed.’s Note: Merhatsidk Mekonnen Abayneh is a senior expert in law as well as peace and security studies. He is currently the Chief Legal Advisor to the President of the Amhara Regional State. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected].