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    Human Rights Day: an international day that really matters

    Working with the international community, Ethiopia has done so much to protect the rights and the dignity of over 800,000 refugees who have fled neighboring countries. Now a new and exciting phase is beginning with the launch of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and Ethiopia’s commitment to allow progressively more refugees to live, work and access services outside camps, in line with global best practice. This creates opportunities for refugees to benefit from Ethiopia’s development successes and ambitious plans, writes Susanna Moorehead.

    In the United Nations calendar, almost every date marks something – from World Tuna Day (2nd May) to World Radio Day (13th February), and my personal favorite, the International Day of Yoga (21st June). I have nothing against tuna or the radio and am a yoga fan. But having so many international days can devalue those that really matter – such as today – International Human Rights Day.

    For much of history, Human Rights were not acknowledged, let alone respected. After the atrocities of the Second World War, 48 countries came together to support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was passed by the UN General Assembly 69 years ago today. It was a groundbreaking document that set out for the first time the rights that all human beings – irrespective of gender, race and background – were entitled to. It is the basis of modern international human rights law.

    Both the United Kingdom and Ethiopia were among those 48 countries. This gives us a special responsibility to stand up for the rights in the Declaration and the values of freedom, equality and dignity that underpin it. Recent horrifying footage of slave markets in Libya means we must redouble our efforts to take a stand. And we are doing so – both our Prime Ministers recently signed up to the international ‘Call to Action’ to end human trafficking, forced labor and modern slavery by 2030. When we see the right to life and security of persons, threatened in war zones from Syria to South Sudan, we must use our positions on the UN Security Council to press for an end to the violence and the bloodshed. The British government will continue to support the IGAD Revitalization Forum for the South Sudan Peace Agreement, in which Ethiopia is playing such a major role.

    Our responsibilities as initial adopters stretch beyond the international arena. The Declaration’s introduction commits us to striving for the universal implementation of human rights, which means being willing to learn from and challenge our friends about what we are all doing to support the aims of this incredible document. As the UK does in many countries around the world, we sought to do this here through a formal UK-Ethiopia Human Rights Dialogue last month. Such dialogues are a great opportunity to delve in to the detail and to discuss the opportunities and the risks. We met both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the technical experts from relevant government bodies. We talked for three hours. We could have talked a lot longer.

    Although the dialogue took place before the shocking scenes from Libya hit our screens, migration was a key theme. Working with the international community, Ethiopia has done so much to protect the rights and the dignity of over 800,000 refugees who have fled neighboring countries. Now a new and exciting phase is beginning with the launch of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and Ethiopia’s commitment to allow progressively more refugees to live, work and access services outside camps, in line with global best practice. This creates opportunities for refugees to benefit from Ethiopia’s development successes and ambitious plans. The UK is helping as one of the largest international donors to the refugee response in Ethiopia, including mobilizing funding for the jobs compact that will create work for at least 30,000 refugees and 70,000 Ethiopians. But there are also risks:  within the relatively controlled environment of a refugee camp, it is easier to protect physical security and to ensure refugees do not fall foul of traffickers. Managing these risks will be critical to the success of Ethiopia’s new policy and the UK stands ready to support.

    We also discussed a range of civil and political rights, such as freedom of expression and the rule of law. In these areas too Ethiopia has set out many excellent aims, not least in the constitution which enshrines many of the Universal Declaration’s rights into Ethiopian law. But there is more to do. I am proud that our relationship is strong enough that we can be honest about our concerns – whether it be shutdowns of the internet, Ethiopia’s position in the World Press Freedom Rankings, or transparency in judicial processes. Ultimately, we share the view of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, when he said during his visit earlier this year that he was “convinced the Ethiopian government will find its most important and productive investment will be in the rights of the people, which build strong and safe societies.” The UK is committed to helping with that.

    This is not easy, not a case of what we Brits would call a walk in the park. Rather it is a tough slog, more akin to climbing a big hill at high altitude. Perhaps just as well then that tomorrow is International Mountain Day.

    Ed.’s Note: Susanna Moorehead is the British Ambassador to Ethiopia. The article was provided to The Reporter by the British Embassy in Addis Ababa. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.

    Human Rights Day: an international day that really matters

     

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