U.S. Department of States Human Rights report on Ethiopia

Internet Freedom

The government restricted access to the Internet and blocked opposition Web sites, including the sites of the OLF, ONLF, Ginbot 7, and several news blogs and sites run by opposition diaspora groups, such as the Ethiopian Review, CyberEthiopia.com, Quatero Amharic Magazine, Tensae Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Media Forum.

On August 29, a statement by the New York-based NGO Center Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) stated that reliable sources reported that its servers were inaccessible to users, and that emails were not coming through to CPJ. These reports emerged at the same time CPJ was investigating the detention of The Reporter editor Amare Aregawi. The Reporter also alleged blocking of its Web site for four days during this time. CPJ’s Web site was also inaccessible at other times during the year.

The Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC), the state-run monopoly telecom and Internet provider, had approximately 30,000 Internet subscribers. Citizens in urban areas had ready access to Internet cafes; however, rural access remained extremely limited. Mobile telephone text messaging, which restarted in September 2007, was available. The number of mobile telephone subscribers reached 1.9 million.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

The government restricted academic freedom during the year, maintaining that professors could not espouse political sentiments. Authorities did not permit teachers at any level to deviate from official lesson plans and discouraged political activity and association of any kind on university campuses. Reports continued of uniformed and plainclothes police officers on and around university and high school campuses. Professors and students were discouraged from taking positions not in accordance with government positions or practices. College students were reportedly pressured to pledge allegiance to the EPRDF to secure enrollment in universities or post-graduation government jobs. There was a lack of transparency in academic staffing decisions, with numerous complaints from individuals in the academic community of bias based on ethnicity or religion. Speech, expression, and assembly were frequently restricted on university and high school campuses.

In June the government banned the first exhibition of nude photography scheduled to open on June 27 in Addis Ababa. The private photographer who organized the exhibition, Biniam Mengesha, told the media that culture ministry officials wanted to preview the photos, did so, then banned them for being pornography, not art.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Assembly

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; however, the government restricted this right. Organizers of large public meetings or demonstrations must notify the government 72 hours in advance and obtain a permit. The government issued permits to political parties to assemble in halls but has barred street demonstrations since 2005.

Opposition political parties reported that during the year their supporters were targets of frequent and systematic harassment and violence by government security forces, particularly in the lead up to the local elections (see section 3). Regional governments, including the Addis Ababa regional administration, are reluctant to grant permits or provide security for large meetings. For example, police refused to permit Unity for Democracy and Justice’s (UDJ) general assembly to meet in a hotel in Addis Ababa, despite a letter from the NEB stating no license was needed.

There were few attacks by police and militia against demonstrators since no public assembly permits were issued and illegal demonstrations were infrequent.

On August 21, residents of Dejen town, Amhara Region, gathered to protest local officials’ stalling on the residents’ application for use of nearby farmland. Local police and militia surrounded the demonstrators, beating dozens. A few protestors required hospitalization. No legal action was taken against the perpetrators.

There were no developments in the April 2007 police shooting of two demonstrators in Damot Weyde District and none in the 2006 killing of 15 demonstrators by police in the East Wallega zone, Guduru District.

The Independent Inquiry Commission, established in late 2006 by the government to investigate the use of excessive force by security forces in violent 2005 antigovernment demonstrations, found that security forces did not use excessive force, given demonstration violence; however, prior to the release of the report, the chairman and deputy chairman of the commission fled the country, allegedly in response to threats made against them by government forces. After fleeing, both stated publicly and showed video evidence that, at an official meeting in 2006, the commission had originally decided, by a vote of eight to two, that excessive force was used and that the total number of killed and injured was the same as eventually reported. Following this vote, government officials allegedly urged commission members to change their votes to indicate that excessive force was not used. At year’s end, the government had taken no action to investigate or prosecute perpetrators of the excessive force.

Freedom of Association

Although the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government in practice limited this right. Opposition parties reported receiving no government subsidies for their political activities despite laws providing for them. The MOJ technically registers and licenses NGOs, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)screens applications for international NGOs and submits a recommendation to the MOJ whether to approve or deny registration. The MFA recommended that some international NGOs’ registration be denied absent a deposit of two million birr ($195,000), effectively preventing them from registering.

As provided by law, the government required political parties to register with the NEB, which continued to limit political activity by the CUDP. For example, on January 3, the NEB awarded the CUDP name to a renegade member and the CUDP party symbol to another breakaway group, the United Ethiopian Democratic Party (UEDP)-Medhin, forcing the bulk of the CUDP’s leaders to establish new parties.

During the year the UEDF, UDJ, OFDM, and Oromo People’s Congress (OPC) reported arrests of members and the forced closure of political party offices throughout the country and intimidation of landlords to force them to evict the political groups (see sections 1.d. and 3).

During the year some political leaders, including federal and regional MPs, were discouraged from traveling to their constituencies to meet with supporters, although others visited constituents without incident. For example, OFDM chairman Bulcha Demeksa was persuaded not to visit his constituency in Wellega district, Oromiya Region, because the government told him his security could not be guaranteed. Some local officials blocked some opposition MPs access to their constituencies, arguing that as federal MPs they had no reason to visit.

The ETA has operated since 1967, but in 1993, after the EPRDF took power, an alternate, pro-EPRDF ETA was established. In 1993 the original ETA and the government-supported ETA began prolonged legal battles over the organization’s name and property rights. On June 26, the Court of Cassation ruled against ETA and awarded its name and property to the pro-EPRDF ETA (see section 6.a.).

c. Freedom of Religion

The constitution and law provide for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice; however, local authorities and members of society occasionally infringed on this right. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) and Sufi Islam are the dominant religions; nearly 90 percent of the population adhered to one or the other faith.

While the government required that religious institutions annually register with the MOJ, there were no reports of government action against institutions that chose not to register. Under the law, a religious organization that undertakes development activities must register its development wing separately as an NGO. The government did not issue work visas to foreign religious workers unless they were associated with the development wing of a religious organization.

Some religious property confiscated under the Mengistu (Derg) regime had not been returned by year’s end.

Minority religious groups reported discrimination in the allocation of government land for religious sites. Authorities continued to ban Waka-Feta, a traditional animist Oromo religious group, because it suspected that the group’s leaders had close links to the OLF. Protestant groups occasionally reported that local officials discriminated against them when they sought land for churches and cemeteries. Evangelical leaders stated that because authorities perceived them as “newcomers,” they were at a disadvantage compared with the EOC and the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC) in the allocation of land. The EIASC claimed it had more difficulty obtaining land from the government than did the EOC; others charged that the government favored the EIASC.

On May 6, the MFA hosted a conference for religious, regional, and NGO leaders to promote religious tolerance. Also, an interfaith dialogue involving leaders from the Orthodox Church, EIASC, and other religious institutions meets regularly to discuss such issues as interfaith cooperation, religious tolerance, health, and community development.

On December 1, police opened fire at a public gathering near a church in Arba-Minch (Gamo Gofa Zone), wounding three individuals. Police were reportedly attempting to disperse a crowd following a disagreement between Orthodox priests. [Continued on next page]

13 comments on “U.S. Department of States Human Rights report on Ethiopia

  1. Good report by the U.S. State Department.

    The only problem is that U.S. government needs to stop supporting these thugs and criminals from inflicting so much pain and suffering on 77 million Ethiopians.

    Secretary of State Clinton — what are you going to do about these abuses? Actions speak louder than words.

  2. I believe Meles is worse than what is reported here. I do not judge people by their looks, but in Meles’s case, he looks and acts like the devil. Instead of living in the palace this heartless, evil personified man that has killed countless innocent people needs to live in the psychiatric ward.

  3. Acheferew on

    Ay Amaricanoch , echi min alat , abayin bechilifa ende malet new, ye woyane gif , teworito , tetsifo yemiyalik ayidelem , reportu lay yekerebew ende ene gimit woyane kemiseraw gif 1% enkuwan yemihon ayidelem,

  4. Solomon on

    The US government every year makes such reports of abuses of human rights in Ethiopia. I am not even clear why such kind of reports are required as they have never influenced the decisions of the US government about its relationship with the reportedly abusive government of Ethiopia. The whole purpose appears to be similar to the sympolic act of PONTIUS PILATE WHEN HE WASHES HIS HAND AFTER SIGNING THE CRUCIFICTION OF JESUS. The US only want to show that it has disclosed the unlawful, dictatorial, and abusive acts of the Ethiopian government. That is all.

    The US government works hand in glove with such governments but at the same time wants to posture as a defender of human rights.

  5. In the most ironic display of hypocrisy, the US state department requests the 2009 budget to include funding Ethiopia’s despotic dictator to a tune of $472 million. The summary overview concludes “The FY 2009 budget reflects a substantial increase in Governing Justly and Democratically activities including rule of law, political competition and consensus-building as well as civil society programs that are needed to build institutional capacity and facilitate restructuring of political processes to help prepare for national elections in 2010.”

    This means, In less than 2 short months since requesting this aid, the same state department is now forced to show this stinging report and admit they have been subsidizing genocidal thugs with US taxpayer’s money. Now the US must be forced to recognize its utter failure in its policy towards Ethiopia by supporting human right violators at the expense of democratic system for the last 18 years. In light of this acknowledgement the US has no choice but change its stance and support the opposition political group by forcing the current regime in accepting internationally recognized democratic openness for the national election next year.

    Long Live Ethiopia

  6. O’ My God!!! This is really incriminating. I hope and pray that Hillary and Obama will have the chance to read this report. In the era of ‘Yes We can’, this is not a type of a friend we want to be seen with. I also hope that all these alleged killings, disappearances and beatings are factual and well backed by credible witnesses. Africa!!! Cry O’ My Beloved Country!!!! I am saddened by this and depressed. It looks that the country is run by ruthless shadowy mob. If so, then it is too late. Just look at Nigeria and Kenya. Just look at them!!!

  7. Aba Jaffar on

    The friends of the USA should be ashamed, though lie or falsified the truth. They covered what has hapened in Ethiopia in reality and still hapening today. The state dept did not mention the genocide, murder and crime against humanity that have been published by amnesty, Human Right Watch.

    Shame on you USA, We shall never trust you.

  8. Assta B. Gettu on

    The U.S. Department of States Human Rights report on Ethiopia is meticulously exclusive, purposely misleading, and intentionally limited to certain human rights violations in Ethiopia.

    It is understandable, however, a person cannot fully investigate his own family for the crime the family has committed, if he does, his family will condemn him for doing so and expel him from his family roots. In the same way, Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi) and his wife Azeb Mesfin are considered by all standards families of the U.S. Department of States, so they are excluded from being investigated by their own family – the State Department Human Rights – for the slaughters of hundreds of innocent Ethiopians in various times, and for such merciless killings, the U.S. Department of States Human Rights has refrained from making Meles Seitanawi and his wife Azeb responsible.

    Most of us already know the many abuses that are being committed every day in Ethiopia – abuses such as denying Ethiopian children perishable food donated by responsible organizations, the untimely deaths of the Ethiopian girls in the Arab world, the sell of Ethiopian children for sex and money, the deaths of prisoners in the hands of the prison guards, the disappearances of Ethiopian prisoners, and the arbitrary killings of innocent Ethiopian civilians.

    However, I would like to see the U.S. department of States Human Rights implicate Meles and his wife in all the abuses committed in Ethiopia. It is these two individuals who brought all these untold atrocities against the Ethiopian people.

    Only these two, these two only – Meles and Azeb – must be persecuted on the evidences the U.S. Department of States Human Rights has just outlined even though it has failed to mention their names as bunch of criminals.

    When someone tries to find the main causes of the abuses committed in Ethiopia, one can easily conclude that it is the millions and millions of money that Meles receives from Washington that has created all these abuses. If Washington suddenly stops giving so much money to Meles Seitanawi, most of the abuses in Ethiopia will gradually disappear.

    It is ironic that the U. S. Department of States Human Rights is concerned about the abuses of human rights in Ethiopia, and at the same time supporting this ruthless dictator – Meles Seitanawi to run the country, using terror, intimidation, and arbitrary killings.

    It is true, historically, America has been very friendly to dictators, such as Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, Duvalier of Haiti, the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcus of Philippine, and Augusto Pinochet of Chile. So, it is unimaginable for U.S. Department of States Human Rights to do a good job on human rights abuses committed in Ethiopia by one of Washington’s friend – Meles Seitanawi.

  9. Eritrawi on

    HYPOCRITICAL!!! That’s what this report is, for my Ethiopian brothers and sisters, administrations change in the US, with them the tactics may change but the objective stays the same, HELP THE US PUPPET AT ALL COSTS. What the Ethiopian people in the diaspora think doesn’t matter to them, all they care about is US interests. Now is the time to wake up, join in the sturggle for true freedom, support all the armed Ethiopian opposition groups, urge them to form a firm united front to save Ethiopia from perpetual slavery to wesern powers. Peace, prosperity and democracy will not come from outside, they are the result of hard struggle only gained by the people themselves.

  10. Mesfin on

    I sincerely believe that Ethiopian Review’s take on this issue is misguided. I do not believe Woyane responded to the State Department’s report. What Woyane responded is to its own inability to block to opposition propaganda. Woyane’s dollar reserves are its historic low, and it is compelled to cut on its expenses. Its expenses to jamm Ginbot 7 radio has become unbearable. As a result it has stopped its jamming. If it cannot jamm the main opposition radio that reaches the rural areas, the army and its security forces, then why should Woyane block web sites that are written in English and reach a very small minority of the elite? Hence Woyane’s decision resulted if it cannot stop opposition radio, it might as well free web sites and get support from the West. As Ethiopians we should be in the look out to see our good accomplishments and give credit where it is due, rather than giving it to the West, which works hand in glove with the ethnic dictatorship. Hence all of us should sustain the pressure by giving more support to Ginbot 7 Radio, by sending news and articles, poetry, and of course money.

  11. Jegnaw Kesheger on

    We who reside in Ethiopia are not facinated by the content of this message because these are those to which the department got evidences. Extrajudicial killings are rampant here and we all know that it is only a matter of time for these kinds of killings to reveal themselves and the killer to face the court. Though we are pleased with the content of this comprehensive report and we appreciate the effort of the state department, we still look forward to hearing for many other hidden murders commited by the government. It is as i said a matter of time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.