November 12, 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) - Ahead of the UN Human Rights Council elections, a group of non governmental organisations (NGOs) from around the world have jointly urged Ethiopia, a standing candidate, to demonstrate its commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.
Ethiopia’s candidature has received some criticism from international rights groups.
Human Rights Watch published letter addressed to Ethiopian prime minister, Haile Mariam Desalegne is signed by Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP), Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), and Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The group said that being a candidate state and member to the UN rights council, Ethiopia should urgently make reforms to improve human rights conditions in the country.
The groups called on Ethiopian authorities to respect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association as per the constitution of land and international obligations.
The letter states that the organisations “are particularly concerned” about the Charities and Societies Proclamation also known as the “CSO law” as it “places excessive restrictions on the work, operations, and funding of independent human rights organizations. Since the CSO law was passed in 2009, the vast majority of independent nongovernmental organizations working on human rights issues in Ethiopia have been forced to discontinue their work, many prominent human rights activists have fled the country, and human rights groups that have attempted to continue their work are struggling to survive due to the funding restrictions contained in the law.”
The Ethiopian government endorsed the controversial CSO law in 2009 leading to worldwide condemnation from international human rights groups who argue that the law was intended to tighten control and restrict the activities of civil society.
Last month, Ethiopia’s Charities and Societies Agency (CSoA), shut down ten NGOs under the CSO law. The agency has also warned over 400 organisations that it said were operating against rules and regulations of the country.
The groups stress that the CSO law places restrictions on the funding of independent Ethiopian human rights organisations and criminalises them if the organisations receive more than 10 percent of their funding from abroad.
The NGOs also expressed their grave concern on the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009, which the NGOs in their letter said has been used to punish dissidents and journalists who are critical of the government.
The NGOs noted that 11 journalists have been convicted of terrorism-related offenses in Ethiopia.
The groups call on Ethiopian authorities to immediately release all journalists, jailed opposition members, and others arbitrarily detained or imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their views, notably under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.
They also called for the immediate end to all forms of attack and suppression against Ethiopian human rights defenders and civil society organisations.
The NGOs demanded the government in Ethiopia holds its security forces to account for the crimes they have committed across nation.
“Ethiopia’s security forces have committed serious abuses throughout the country that in some cases amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity, most notably in Gambela and Somali regions,” they said.
They have also expressed concern about government’s implementation of “villagization” programs which according to their investigation have led to large-scale forced resettlement, in the regions of Gambela, Benishangul-Gumuz, Afar, Somali, and the Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR).
According to UN General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which established the Human Rights Council, member sates “shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate with the Council.”
The African group candidates are Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.