United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (Addis Ababa)n Ethiopia, after meeting and discussing with government officials, opposition politicians and civil society representatives in the country.
“During the course of my discussions I was told of legislation and policies which seemingly severely restrict rights to freedom of expression, information, association and peaceful assembly, as well as independent human rights monitoring,” Said Mr. Hussein. “I am concerned about this series of crucial issues.”
The High Commissioner was speaking during a press conference on Thursday at the ECA, wrapping up his two-day visit to Ethiopia. He told journalists that the Charities and Societies Proclamation, Anti-Terrorism and Mass Media laws in Ethiopia “do not appear aligned with relevant international legal norms, and should be reformed.”
Mr. Hussein cited the November 2015 and August 2016 unrests in Ethiopia as indicative of the need for continuing and carefully planned adjustments in policy, adding that the government should consider releasing some individuals arrested during the unrests.
“I am requesting the Government to consider, where possible, the release of a number of individuals whose arrest or conviction appears to have been motivated by fear of criticism rather than evidence of intent to spark violent overthrow.”
The UN rights chief described Ethiopia as “a landscape of sudden, rapid and impressive economic growth,” where there appears to be a “clear need for a much wider and freer civic space, with broader latitude for the contributions of critical or dissenting views to decision-making.”
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also stated that the Ethiopian government has made some laudable progress and seems to be headed the right direction.
“I have seen indications the Government is on the cusp of a new understanding of these issues, with clear signs that some positive changes may be underway. Last week the country’s second National Human Rights Action Plan was launched, including plans to train police forces, prison officials, lawyers, judges and justice personnel in human rights and due process guarantees.”
He also made reference to the current drafting of new guidelines on the permissible use of force by security personnel, and noted that “major restrictions have been lifted in the context of the continuing state of emergency, and there are indications that all remaining restrictions could be brought to a close at the end of July, when the current extension of the decree of emergency will end.”
Over 26,000 arrests were allegedly made during the 2015 and 2016 unrests in Ethiopia. Two separate investigations into the uprisings and responses by security forces were conducted by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. The High Commissioner stated, however, that the findings of the investigations cannot be corroborated or confirmed by his office because “my staff has not received permission to travel to the affected regions in order to ascertain the facts of these events for ourselves.”
During his visit to Ethiopia, the UN official also met with the chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), the AUC Commissioner for Peace and Security, AUC Commissioner for Political Affairs, and other key policy-makers. Mr. Hussein described his visit to the African Union as “a significant opportunity for me to discuss human rights priorities with the AU at the highest levels, as the new leadership develops its vision and frameworks for impact across the continent.”