Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Embassy speaks on recent protest deaths, lauds security restraint In Ethiopia

[Photos] Massive anti-govt protest in Ethiopia's Oromia state
“The United States sees peaceful demonstrations as a legitimate means of expression and political participation.  We note with appreciation a number of recent events during which demonstrators expressed themselves peacefully, and during which security forces exercised restraint in allowing them to do so.
“We are saddened by reports that several recent protests ended in violence and deaths.  All such reports merit transparent investigation that allows those responsible for the violence to be held accountable.
“We encourage all Ethiopians to continue to express their views peacefully and encourage Ethiopian authorities to permit peaceful expression of views.  More generally, we encourage constructive, peaceful, and inclusive national discourse on matters of importance to Ethiopian citizens.”
Local media portals over the last two weeks have reported of renewed tension across the Oromia region where anti-government sentiments continue to simmer. Federal security agents killed four people last week.
There were a series of protests particularly in the town of Shashamane, about 250km south of the capital, Addis Ababa, leading the U.S. embassy to issue its last security message a week ago.

Ethiopia 'deliberately blocking' U.S. Congress resolution on human rights | Africanews

An international rights group is accusing the Ethiopian government of literally blackmailing United States as Congress moves to heighten human rights and political reform calls on Addis Ababa.
According to a statement released by Freedom House dated October 16, 2017 and titled “U.S. Congress Should Call Ethiopia’s Bluff,” Senior Program Officer for Africa, Joseph Badwaza, said Congress should go ahead with its efforts and discard the Ethiopian government’s “bullying tactics.”
A bi-partisan human rights resolution by U.S. lawmakers known as the H. Res 128 has been halted by Addis Ababa with the threat of severing security cooperation with the U.S. if it is pursued any further.
Experience shows that Ethiopia would never follow through on the threat to halt security cooperation. The government fully understands who would be the ultimate loser if it did.
The statement quoted Republican Congressman Mike Coffman as confirming that Ethiopia’s position was relayed by its ambassador in Washington who said the country will “stop counterterrorism cooperation with the United States if Congress went ahead with a planned vote on a resolution calling for human rights protections and inclusive governance in the country (H. Res. 128).”
Freedom House is, however, of the view that any such move by the government would be against its interest hence the need for Congress to box on with its efforts at securing the rights of suppressed Ethiopians and the opening of the country’s political space.
“Passing H. Res. 128 would send a powerful message to Addis Ababa to get serious about undertaking reforms, and the Ethiopian government’s bullying tactics should not derail it. Members of Congress should call the bluff, place the resolution back on the House agenda, and approve it.
“Experience shows that Ethiopia would never follow through on the threat to halt security cooperation. The government fully understands who would be the ultimate loser if it did,” Freedom House said.
What is the H. Res. 128 about?
H. Res. 128 is a human rights centered move with strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress, it has as many as 71 cosponsors.
The resolution passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously in late July 2017 and was scheduled for a vote by the full House on October 2.
One of its authors, Republican Congressman Chris Smith said during the committee mark-up, the resolution is like a mirror held up to the government of Ethiopia, and it is intended to encourage them to recognize how others see them and move forward with reforms.
“While the resolution contains provisions that call for sanctions—under the Global Magnitsky Act—against Ethiopian officials responsible for committing gross human rights violations, the more important reason why the government took the severe step of threatening the U.S. Congress is the damage that this resolution could do to the country’s image,” Freedom House averred.
Ethiopia’s regional and global security capacity and international profile
The country is largely seen as a security and political big boy in the restive Horn of Africa region. Aside Eritrea, it is on good terms with all its neighbours.
Ethiopia despite its security headache back home, also plays a huge role in global security circles, as one of the biggest contributors to international peacekeeping.
It is a current member of the UN’s Security and Human Rights Councils. It is engaged in the fight against Al-Shabaab in Somalia, it is at the forefront of regional diplomacy efforts to restore peace to South Sudan and also hosts the African Union headquarters.
Its legitimacy back home is, however, seen as shaky and highly unsteady. The government employed lethal force against anti-government protesters from late 2015 through the better part of 2016.
A situation that led to deaths and massive detentions even though Addis has refused to allow for an independent probe into the tensions which combine politics and security in a very restive region.
It took a 10 month state of emergency imposed in October 2016 with its draconian rules to quell the protests. There has been recent undercurrents in Oromia region where protests are gaining momentum.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Corruption Is Holding Back Democracy and Prosperity in Ethiopia

Ethiopia, a huge and beautiful country that straddles the Great Rift Valley just north of the equator in Africa, traces its history to biblical times.
Blessed with a long growing season and rich agricultural land, it is also a nation in political turmoil—albeit also one that is a key U.S. ally and partner in the fight against terrorism throughout that turbulent region of the world.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s political coalition claimed all 547 seats in May 2015 parliamentary elections that critics charge were conducted in an atmosphere of government intimidation.
Little remains of democracy in Ethiopia, especially since the hardening (beginning in 2015) of enforcement of laws that repress political opposition, tighten control of civil society, suppress independent media, and control online activity.
Although robust economic growth has reduced the percentage of the population living in poverty, the government’s violent repression of demonstrations in the past 12 months by the large Oromo tribe has claimed hundreds of lives.
In response to domestic and international pressure, in 2016 the government established the Ethiopia Human Rights Commission to investigate abuses.
Regarding the police’s aggressive use of teargas at a festival that triggered a stampede that killed dozens, the head of the Commission, Addisu Gebre-Egziabher, said that the state actors were “negligent.”
Speaking at an event attended by Heritage Foundation analysts in July 2017 at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, Gebre-Egziabher promised that those in power using excessive force are “being held accountable.”
This is a step in the right direction, but only time will tell if it is truly effective.
The commission is still largely connected to and dependent upon the government for substantial action. Freedom House reports that the media remains severely restricted in the country and that some journalists are among the political prisoners held by the state in grueling conditions.
Ethiopia’s overall score in The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index of Economic Freedom has risen by more than three points during the past five years, but if human rights conditions deteriorate, continued progress could be jeopardized.
Hopefully, the Ethiopia Human Rights Commission will be empowered to hold corrupt leaders accountable and lay a foundation for greater respect for the rule of law in the country to foster greater economic growth.
It is imperative, though, that the commission be more than just a public relations exercise by the government.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct a misquotation of Addisu Gebre-Egziabher, head of the Ethiopia Human Rights 


Charles Busch is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.
Portrait of James M. Roberts

James M. Roberts is the research fellow in freedom and growth at The Heritage Foundation's Center for International Trade and Economics. Roberts' primary responsibility is to produce the Index of Economic Freedom, an influential annual analysis of the economic climate of countries throughout the world.Commission. Gebre-Egziabher only stated that security forces had been “negligent.” The remainder of the sentence came from a Reuters report.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Migrants in France Say Police Abuse Is Common - The New York Times

PARIS — New allegations of routine police harassment of migrants in Calais surfaced Wednesday in a report detailing officers’ nearly daily use of pepper spray as well as limited access to food and the destruction of migrant shelters.
Human rights workers and around 60 migrants, nearly half under 18, told Human Rights Watch of daily identity checks, shortened hours for aid agencies to distribute food and unsanitary conditions caused by a lack of toilets and water.
They also accused officers of using pepper spray with abandon.
“There’s nowhere else that I can think of where I’ve encountered to this extent the use of pepper spray on people who were sleeping and especially on sleeping children,” said Michael Bochenek, senior counsel to the children’s rights division of Human Rights Watch.
The report documented many complaints about the treatment of migrants that have arisen since the razing of “the Jungle,” an area in Calais where 6,000 to 10,000 migrants, many from Africa, Afghanistan and elsewhere, were living in often squalid surroundings. It was dismantled in October and the migrants were bused to other places around France.
Despite efforts to discourage them, migrants still travel in large numbers to Calais, an English Channel city, hopeful that despite many new safeguards intended to stop them from boarding trucks or the Eurostar train bound for England, they will be among the lucky ones to make it to better lives. While they wait, they camp outdoors in scattered groups, sleeping in the underbrush and under highway bridges. There are now an estimated 400 to 500 migrants in the Calais area and perhaps more, Mr. Bochenek said.
Continue reading the main story
Calais’s prefecture, the local government that oversees the police, disputed their depiction in the Human Rights Watch report and said the allegations that the police “gratuitously and systematically” used pepper spray were “calumnious.”
“The police in Calais work, as they do elsewhere in France, within a legal framework which allows them to conduct identity checks,” Fabien Sudry, prefect of the department of Pas-de-Calais, said in a statement. “In keeping with the prosecutor’s mandate, they can disperse groups and unauthorized gatherings and they can remove people who are in France illegally.”
Mr. Sudry said the police were also permitted to stop migrants from boarding the Eurostar train or from entering Calais’s port area. There have been 17,867 attempts so far this year, he said.


A police officer confronted migrants in Calais in June. CreditPhilippe Huguen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Sudry said his office had received only three complaints about police conduct since the end of 2016, and he encouraged people who believe their rights have been violated to file complaints. Migrants living in insecure circumstances rarely have the wherewithal or the necessary language skills to do so, however, suggesting that number of formal complaints is not an accurate indicator of police abuse.
Migrants and aid workers complain that the police often take an aggressive stance toward migrants without provocation. Of the 61 migrants interviewed for the Human Rights Watch report, 57 said they had been hit with pepper spray at some point; 55 said they had been sprayed in the last two weeks. A day after being sprayed, aid workers say, children still suffer eye problems.
A 17-year-old identified in the report as Moti W., an Oromo from Ethiopia, told the rights group’s researchers: “This morning I was sleeping under the bridge. The police came. They sprayed all over our face, hair, eyes, clothes, sleeping bag, food. Many people were sleeping then. The police sprayed everything.”
It is also routine for the police to confiscate sleeping bags and extra clothes and to disrupt food distributions, especially those that occur at night, Mr. Bochenek said.
Pierre Henry, the director general of France Terre d’Asile, an aid organization that helps migrants applying for asylum, denounced the abuse. “Nothing justifies such degrading treatment,” he said.
Mr. Henry said the government should make a coordinated effort to handle the migrant influx, rather than relying on the police. More welcome centers are needed where migrants can stay, bathe and eat safely and apply for asylum, he said.
A government proposal would create more lodgings for people seeking asylum and greatly speed up the application process. But it would also hasten expulsion of those found not to have met France’s asylum requirements.
France’s ombudsman for human rights, Jacques Toubon, said the plan did not go far enough. Like Mr. Henry, he recommended that the government open many more welcome centers to process the thousands who are arriving in France.
“When you ask the police to manage migration problems and you don’t offer all the responses possible to permit the migrants to have their rights, you have difficulties,” Mr. Henry said. From a police perspective, he said, the only solution is “dispersing the migrants.”

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ethiopia's Oromo people are protesting new taxes in the Oromia region — Quartz

Demonstrators chant slogans while flashing the Oromo protest gesture during Irreecha, the thanksgiving festival of the Oromo people, in Bishoftu town, Oromia region, Ethiopia

 Quartz Africa
A new tax levied by authorities on small businesses and vendors has reportedly led to protests in Ethiopia’s Oromia region with the military and police deployed to bring the situation under control. The tax hike is being imposed on businesses with an annual turnover of up to 100,000 birr ($4,300), as part of a new government proposal to boost the tax base and raise much-needed government revenue.
Residents in Ambo city in Oromia damaged two state-owned vehicles, according to Addis Standard newspaper, while businesses in Woliso town shut their businesses in protest. The paper also quoted state officials saying that even though the situation was currently under control, there were plans for region-wide protests.
Like many sub Saharan Africa countries, tax collection in Ethiopia is still a low share of GDP when compared with the average for OECD countries of around 34%. Just 15.2% of Ethiopia GDP was generated by tax revenue as of 2015, according to the World Bank. Last year, a World Bank survey also showed that 54% of businesses thought the process of complying with taxation was more burdensome than the amount of due tax itself.
The new reports from Oromia are significant given that it was the genesis of anti-government protests that hit the country in Nov. 2015. The demonstrations initially began in response to the government’s master plan which sought to expand the capital Addis Ababa into neighboring towns and villages inhabited by the Oromo, the country’s largest ethnic group. The Oromo said the plan would displace farmers and stymie the growth of their culture and identity.
For Oromos, who make up at least a third of the population, they believe the federal capital, which they call Finfinne, belongs to Oromia. They recount a long history of grievance which casts Oromos as colonial subjects violently displaced from their land and alienated from their culture.
The Ethiopian government reacted with force to the protests, leading to the death of 669 protesters, according to a government-mandated investigation. Last October, the government also declared a still-ongoing state of emergency, shut down the mobile internet, and banned the use of social media networks to document the unrest.
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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

EU parliament probe Ethiopia for human rights investigation 39 signed

A new letter signed by 39 members of the European Union Parliament asks for a full inquiry into human rights violations in Ethiopia, while calling into question the accuracy and impartiality of a controversial report completed by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission in April.
The letter to Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, notes Ethiopia’s steadfast refusal to permit an independent investigation into human rights violations since the 2016 protests began, primarily among the Oromo people.
“We believe that an independent investigation would shed light on the real number of casualties and the extent of the military pressure,” the MP letter issued on Friday said. “The Ethiopian government must be held accountable for its human rights violations, and all those detained for exercising their legitimate freedom of expression must be released.”
In addition to specific concerns about systematic sexual violence committed against women and girls in the Oromo and Ogadeni communities, the letter recalls the detention of British citizen Andy Tsege, an Ethiopian rights activist facing a death sentence who was abducted and taken to Ethiopia in 2014.
“The European Union is a major partner for Ethiopia and among the most important donors of foreign aid to the country,” the letter concludes. “As a leader on human rights in the world, the EU should more publicly share its concerns regarding the fulfilment by Ethiopia of its human rights obligations, and act accordingly.”
Ethiopia remains under a state of emergency following a four-month extension of the decision made last October immediately after the Irreecha Festival crisis. The emergency declaration expires at the end of July unless the Ethiopian parliament approves another extension.

Friday, June 2, 2017


What Ethiopia did to the internet to stop exam cheats is one of the best tricks this year
Internet access had been blocked in Ethiopia
According to a government spokesman in Ethiopia, internet access has been blocked in order to prevent leaking on national exam papers online.
The spokesman said, "The shutdown is aimed at preventing a repeat of leaks that occurred last year,"
Such a case was witnessed in 2016, when access to all social media sites was blocked because university entrance exams we being shared online.

According to one Mr. Seid, the move to block internet access has a lot of queries. He said “"We want our students to concentrate and be free of the psychological pressure and distractions that this brings." He appears to suggest that blocking the internet will improve the concentration levels and performance of students in exams.
He has said that only social media sites were blocked but according to Ethiopian sources, the internet access blockage is countrywide, affecting fixed and mobile services.
Due to anti-government protests since October, a state of emergency was declared in the country, which was also a period in which access was blocked.
Websites that belonged to the Ethiopian government were also inaccessible on Thursday.
According to pilot data from Google, there has been a huge drop in internet traffic in Ethiopia since Wednesday.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Trafficked into slavery: The dark side of Addis Ababa's growth | Reuters

By Tom Gardner

ADDIS ABABA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It was the promise of education in Addis Ababa that led 11- year-old Embet to take the fateful decision to leave home.
The young girl from Debat, a small town in Ethiopia's Amhara region, packed up and left for the capital in the company of her older neighbor, who said that her relatives there would welcome her into their home, pay her 200 Ethiopian birr ($8) a month to look after their young children, and send her to school.
"I thought I would enjoy Addis," said Embet, tearfully. "The woman told me fancy things about it. I thought everything would be okay."
But it wasn't. Despite the promises, Embet was never paid by her neighbor's relatives, and she was never sent to school. She slept on a mattress in the living room, was barely fed, and suffered abuse at the hands of her employers.
"I had to do everything," she said, including cleaning, cooking, and looking after the family's young children."
After two months living with the family, Embet fled - walking the streets of Addis Ababa until she was found and taken to the local police station.
Dembet's story is far from unusual: she is one of thousands of girls from all over Ethiopia who are trafficked to Addis Ababa to work in domestic service, some ending up in conditions comparable to slavery.
More than 400,000 Ethiopians are estimated to be trapped in slavery, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index by human rights group Walk Free Foundation.
The industry is fed by one of the world's highest rates of human trafficking. Each year, upwards of 20,000 Ethiopian children, some as young as 10, are sold by their parents, according to Humanium, a children's charity.
It is a trade driven by poverty.
Despite a state-led industrial push that has transformed Ethiopia, known for famine, into one of Africa's fastest-growing economies, a third of its 99 million citizens still survive on less than $1.90 a day - the World Bank's measure of extreme poverty.
Addis Ababa's population is now thought to be close to 4 million, and growing at a rate of nearly 4 percent per year —propelled by land shortages which force rural families to send their children to the capital to earn wages to send back home.
A World Bank study in 2010 found that 37 percent of Addis Ababa's residents were internal migrants, the vast majority of whom were drawn by the city's educational or employment opportunities. Wages in the cities are higher than in rural areas, sometimes as much as double.
But young children in particular often fall victim to exploitation.
"Deception is an important part of trafficking," said Lynn Kay, country director of Retrak Ethiopia, an organization that rescues street children in Addis Ababa and reunites them with their families.
"Children are lured with the promise of a better education in Addis."
Though Embet dreamt of a good education in Addis Ababa, her family - a mother and stepfather, who works as a farmer, as well as four brothers and three sisters - wanted her to find employment.
Before being sent to the capital she spent two months working for another family in a town nearer her home in Amhara, where she was babysitter to a two-year-old boy.
But the work was hard and she missed her school—so she ran away and returned to her family, only to be sent to Addis Ababa when it became clear that her parents could not afford to look after her.
"Things weren't as I expected when I arrived back," Embet told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "There was no food and my mother was having another child."
Under Ethiopian law, it is illegal for a child below the age of 14 years to be engaged in wage labor. But laws against child labor, especially domestic service, are rarely enforced.
"The problem is that the whole economy of a city like Addis Ababa is dependent on being able to access domestic labor - so that parents can go off to work," said Kay.
Whereas most of the street boys that Retrak rescues are runaways who come to Addis Ababa voluntarily, girls are more often victims of human trafficking.
Despite a wide-ranging anti-trafficking law introduced by the Ethiopian government in 2015, the U.S. State Department's 2016 Trafficking in Persons report found that girls as young as eight were working in brothels around Addis Ababa's central market.
The report also noted that while the government was making efforts to curb cross-border trafficking, there was "little evidence of investigation or prosecution of sex trafficking or internal labor trafficking."
Part of the problem is that "traffickers are often respected members of the community," said Kay. Parents pay them to take their children to Addis Ababa and find them employment.
"It can be a very open, public thing." she said. "They are often known as 'brokers' and it is almost like it is an acceptable job."
Some, like Embet's neighbor, are close to the family.
"But what happens is that these children are brought to Addis Ababa and then abandoned," said Kay. "They can come to Addis Ababa and just disappear."
(Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit