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UN human rights commissioner demands access to Oromia, Amhara regions

UN human rights commissioner demands access to Oromia, Amhara regions

MoFA inks agreement to open office

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that it is demanding the Government of Ethiopia to grant it access to the Oromia and Amhara Regional States.

Having arrived in the country on Sunday for a four-day official visit, Zeid bin Ra’ad, High Commissioner met with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) on Wednesday.

During the meeting, bin Ra’ad praised the Government of Ethiopia for the recent peaceful transition of power and the mass release of prisoners.

According to the Office of the Prime Minister, the two have had discussions mainly on issues related with Human Rights and Democracy.

For bin Ra’ad, this was his second visit to Ethiopia since he took office upon the government’s invitation.

“We all want to see an Ethiopia with continuous economic development where all people benefit, where people express their views on public policies; unafraid,” bin Ra’ad, at the end of his official visit to Ethiopia, said.

“During my last visit in May 2017, I had listened attentively to many voices – the governments, oppositions, civil societies and detainees at the Kilinto remand center. I found much to praise but also gave a frank assessment of the human rights issues and challenges in Ethiopia and called for my Office to be given access to Oromia and Amhara, the two regions most affected by the protests, many of which were suppressed violently.

 “I am encouraged that the Government viewed my initial visit in a constructive, friendly spirit it was intended to convey,” he said adding, “this is certainly not always the case with all States. So, when I received an invitation to conduct a follow-up mission, which included visiting the Oromia region, I accepted.”

“Moments of transition are rarely ever smooth. Ethiopia has struggled with a heavy history, but has the wisdom of a tolerant, vibrant, youthful population to harness,” bin Ra’ad said, encouraging government officials to keep the positive momentum going and put the inspiring words of the Prime Minister’s inaugural address speech into action.

Zeid bin Ra’ad was also referring to the new PM’s recognition of a need to address existing inequities that led to recent unrest. That democracy cannot be realized in the absence of rights – be it civil or economic rights. The right of people to express opinions, the right to organize themselves, engage in an effective dialogue and participate in governance is inherent in our humanity not for any government to bestow as it sees fit.”

In addition, he welcomed the release of detainees including bloggers, political opponents and others jailed for participating in protests and their criticism of the Government in a bid to widen the political space.

“There was tremendous hope, but also anxiety,” he said, citing the words of a former political detainee, who said “we have repeatedly been victims of broken promises.”

Besides the meeting he held with top government officials, bin Ra’ad also visited the Oromia regional state where he conferred with regional officials as well as Aba Gadas [ traditional leaders], who he said spoke about how they will continue to push for the truth to be told.

“They demanded investigations and accountability for excessive use of force by the authorities. They expressed their desire for justice and human rights for all Ethiopians and for their voices to be heard without fear of reprisal,” bin Ra’ad said.

 “I look forward to getting further access for the UN Human Rights Office into the Oromo and Amhara regions so that my colleagues will be able to conduct more in-depth conversations with a variety of people. This will enable us to better assess the human rights situation, assist the Government in widening the democratic space and in efforts to ensure accountability for human rights violations. The expectations of meaningful accountability for alleged serious human rights violations must not be allowed to fester.”

In a related news, on Wednesday, the commissioner inked a landmark agreement [a Memorandum of Understanding] with Workneh Gebeyehu (PhD) the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This enables the high commission to open its regional office in Addis Ababa. The agreement plays a vital role to strengthen the Office’s ability to do human rights work in Ethiopia and East Africa.

According to bin Ra’ad, the Office has already offered assistance to revise certain laws. He said,

“I welcome the Government’s recognition of the important role the Office can play in helping advance the promotion and protection of human rights. We have already offered our assistance in revising the Charities and Societies Proclamation, the Anti-Terrorism legislation and the Mass Media Laws, which are in desperate need of reform.

During his stay in Addis, he also visited Addis Ababa University where he discussed with students on human rights issues. Similarly, he attended the AU-UN high-level meeting at the African Union Headquarter where he co-chaired the meeting along with AUC Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat.