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

Elias Kifle | February 27th, 2009

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

The Jewish community numbered approximately 2,000, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/irf/rpt.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

Although the law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government restricted some of these rights in practice.

Throughout the year the government severely restricted the movement of persons into and within the Ogaden areas of Somali Region, arguing that the counterinsurgency operation against the ONLF posed a security threat (see section 1.g.).

The law prohibits forced exile; and the government did not employ it. A steadily increasing number of citizens sought political asylum or remained abroad in self‑imposed exile, including more than 55 journalists (see section 2.a.).

During the year the ICRC repatriated 1,023 citizens from Eritrea and repatriated 27 Eritreans. Most Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin registered with the government and received identity cards and six‑month renewable residence permits that allowed them to gain access to hospitals and other public services.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

The conflict between government and insurgent forces in the Ogaden area of the Somali Region resulted in the displacement of thousands of persons (see section 1.g.). During the year violent clashes between different clans, often over competition for scarce resources or resulting from disputes over territorial boundaries, displaced persons and resulted in deaths and injuries.

UNHCR estimated there were approximately 200,000 IDPs in the country, including an estimated 62,000 in the Tigray Region, 44,700 in the Gambella Region, 30,000 in the Borena area of the Oromiya Region, and 50,000 on the border of the Oromiya and Somali regions.

Protection of Refugees

The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 protocol, and the 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government provided protection against “refoulement,” the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened, and it granted refugee status and asylum. The government generally cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and returning citizens. There were anecdotal reports that deported Ethiopian asylum seekers from Yemen were detained upon return.

During the year the government, in cooperation with UNHCR, opened two new refugee camps: Sheder, northeast of the town of Jijiga, to accommodate a steady influx of Somali refugees, and My Ayni, in Tigray National Regional State, to accommodate up to 10,000 new Eritrean refugees. An average of 400 to 500 new Eritrean refugees arrived monthly during the year. However, approximately 200 to 300 Eritrean refugees departed monthly on secondary migration through Egypt and Sudan to go to Europe and other final destinations. UNHCR assisted in the reception and transportation back to My Ayni of over 150 Eritrean refugees who had been detained in Egypt and deported by the Egyptian authorities.

The government required that all refugees reside and remain in designated camps, most of which were located near the Eritrean, Somaliland, and Sudanese borders, unless granted permission to live elsewhere in the country. Such permission was given primarily to attend higher education institutions, undergo medical treatment, or avoid security threats at the camps. During the year, the government expanded its policy to provide greater freedom of movement to some Eritrean refugees with family members living outside of the camps. Almost 1,500 urban refugees are currently registered with the UNHCR and the government, the majority of them from Somalia, Eritrea, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Unlike in the previous year, conflict between ethnic groups in the Gambella Region did not directly interfere with UNHCR’s refugee protection activities.

The government, in cooperation with UNHCR, continued to provide temporary protection to individuals from Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol.

During the year UNHCR processed 334 refugees who departed for resettlement abroad. UNHCR and the government also assisted the safe, voluntary return of more than 10,215 Sudanese refugees to their homes during the year, allowing UNHCR to close two Sudanese refugee camps in May.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no allegations of government cooperation with the government of Sudan in the forcible repatriation of Ethiopian refugees.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The constitution and law provide citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through partially free and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. In practice the ruling EPRDF and its allies dominated the government. In local and by-elections held in April, the ruling EPRDF and allied parties won virtually all of the more than three million seats contested, severely diminishing opportunities for mainstream political opposition. Prior to the vote, ruling party agents and supporters engaged in coercive tactics and manipulation of the electoral process, including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters during the run-up to the vote. Citing these obstacles, two leading opposition parties withdrew from the elections shortly beforehand.

The government policy of ethnic federalism led to the creation of individual constituencies to ensure representation of all major ethnic groups in the House of Peoples’ Representatives. Nevertheless, small ethnic groups lacked representation in the legislature. There were 23 nationality groups in six regional states that did not have a sufficient population to qualify for constituency seats; however, in the 2005 elections, individuals from these nationality groups competed for 23 special seats in the 547‑seat House of Peoples’ Representatives. Additionally, these 23 nationality groups have one seat each in the 112-seat House of Federation, the upper house of parliament.

Elections and Political Participation

The constitution provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully and to freely join a political organization of their choice; however, in practice these rights were restricted through bureaucratic obstacles and government and ruling party intimidation and arrests.

The local and by-elections on April 13 and April 20, respectively, were the first nationwide elections since the historic 2005 national elections, which ended in heavy postelection violence and large-scale arrests. According to domestic and international observers, the 2005 elections, in which the EPRDF coalition won 372 of 547 seats, generally reflected the will of the people and were an important step forward in the country’s democratization efforts. However, irregularities in 2005 marred polling in many areas. For instance, observers reported vote count fraud, improper handling of ballot boxes, and barring of party agents from polling stations and ballot counts. Observers also reported killings, disappearances, voter intimidation and harassment, unlawful detentions of opposition party supporters, and bribery. Opposition parties accused the NEB of ruling party bias and of failing to address the complaints it received. Following an ad hoc complaints resolution process, the NEB decided to hold new elections in 31 constituencies in 2005; however, opposition parties boycotted due to perceived flaws in the review process.

Opposition parties made an unexpectedly strong showing in the 2005 elections, increasing their parliamentary representation from 12 to 172 seats and earning 137 of 138 Addis Ababa City Council seats. Despite this, some opposition members refused to take their seats and instead boycotted. Violent antigovernment protests then erupted in November 2005 and led to a government crackdown including arrests of several dozen opposition leaders, journalists, and civil society group members, as well as between 30,000 and 50,000 demonstrators. Most prisoners were released in three months, but many prominent individuals spent almost two years in prison, with an unknown number of individuals still in custody. Military intervention also led to widespread abuses such as arbitrary detention and killings.

These events in 2005 formed the backdrop for this year’s local and by-elections held on April 13 and 20, as the first nationwide elections since 2005. Unlike in 2005, polling went smoothly and peacefully and there were no postelection mass arrests or violence. However, the prepolling weeks and months were marred by reports of harassment, intimidation, arrests, and killings of opposition party candidates and their supporters, and incomplete compliance by the NEB with the Electoral Law, prompting some of the major opposition parties such as UEDF and OFDM to boycott the election. Ruling party, regional, federal, and NEB officials mostly denied these incidents and, with few exceptions, neither investigated such allegations nor held perpetrators responsible. Other opposition parties remained in disarray and did not have enough time to take part in the elections.

This climate, along with a dearth of opposition candidates, contributed to starkly different election results from those in 2005. Of the 3.6 million local and by-election seats contested, opposition parties won three: a federal parliament seat, an Addis Ababa city council seat, and a Gambella town council seat. According to the NEB, the EPRDF coalition won more than 3.5 million seats with the remainder going to noncoalition but EPRDF-allied parties. For instance, EPRDF won 38 of 39 contested federal parliament seats and 137 of 138 Addis city council seats; this latter result was an exact reversal of 2005.

The EPRDF, its affiliates, and its supporters controlled 408 seats in the 547-member House of People’s Representatives and all seats in the 112‑member House of Federation, whose members were appointed by regional governments and by the federal government. Membership in the EPRDF conferred advantages upon its members; the party owned many businesses and was broadly perceived to award jobs and business contracts to loyal supporters.

The NEB reported a 93 percent voter turnout, approximately 24.5 million of 26.3 million registered voters. However, the government refused to allow foreign election observers, and this turnout rate was inconsistent with observed voter presence levels and posted polling station tallies.

Opposition parties fielded very few candidates in some regions. This was due in part to widespread harassment of opposition candidates and supporters as well as the delayed reopening of party offices in November 2007, following forced closures after the 2005 elections. Together opposition parties were able to register only an estimated 16,000 candidates countrywide. For example, in one area of Oromiya where the opposition won overwhelmingly in 2005, there were 60,955 EPRDF candidates running against seven opposition candidates. Given a lack of capacity, some opposition groups chose not to contest town seats and instead focus on district and zonal seats.

On April 10, the UEDF, a coalition of opposition parties from SNNP and Oromiya regions, announced their withdrawal from the elections. This followed their delivery to the NEB of a list of seven preconditions to their electoral participation based on incomplete implementation of the Electoral Law, including proper elections of poll observers, an end to candidate harassment, and registration of all denied UEDF candidates.

The 2007 Electoral Law requires each polling station to have five nonpartisan observers elected from the community, or approximately 200,000 election observers for the more than 42,000 polling stations. There were, however, widespread reports that many of these poll observers were instead appointed directly by the NEB from EPRDF affiliates. The Electoral Law also allows NGOs to conduct either voter education or election observation, but not both. While the Electoral Law stipulates that election observers shall monitor the electoral process, the NEB finally released its election observation guidelines on February 29, three months after voter registration commenced and weeks after the conclusion of candidate registration. This came too late for some NGO monitors, and others did not even request permission to observe, due to a lack of confidence in the process. Still others, like EHRCO, simply didn’t receive an NEB response. In the end, the NEB approved 11 domestic NGOs as observers.

There were again reports that local officials used threats of land redistribution and withholding of food aid and fertilizer to garner support for the ruling coalition. There were many reports of ruling-party or government harassment intended to prevent individuals from joining opposition parties, registering their candidacies for elected office, or renting property. There were numerous reports of intimidation and violence directed against opposition party members and supporters, primarily in the months before the local and by-elections, including threats, beatings, arrests, and killings.

Registered political parties must receive permission from regional governments to open and occupy local offices. There were, however, widespread reports of opposition parties closing offices due to intimidation and coercion by local officials. A common tactic reported was to intimidate landlords into evicting their political party tenants. For example, ONC had only two remaining offices, down from more than 100 in 2005, and AEUP had only 25 offices, down from 280 in 2005.

On October 12, Bekele Girma, AEUP political organizer, left AEUP’s head office in Addis Ababa to open an office in Dilla town in the SNNPR. Despite possessing an NEB letter requesting every regional government to assist the bearer in opening a political office, Dilla town police chief Obsa Hundessa detained Bekele and refused to allow an AEUP office. Bekele was released in November.

Authorities often disrupted or unlawfully banned opposition party meetings. For instance, authorities banned as illegal a preplanned March 29 UEDF rally in a local constituency.

There were reports that authorities told opposition members to renounce their party membership and vote for EPRDF if they wanted access to fertilizer, agricultural services, food relief, continued employment, and other benefits controlled by the government.

There were reports of closed voter registration stations in pro-opposition rural areas and of prospective voters advised to return the following day after walking two or more miles. Opposition candidates also reported registration office closures and fraudulent dropping of opposition names from NEB candidate registration lists.

There were numerous reports of intimidation, harassment, abuse, and detention of opposition candidates and their supporters, particulary in the months leading up to the April elections. For example, in early April the OPC assembled a list of 189 willing candidates for zonal and district seats and sent a party officer to deliver it from Nekempt to the OPC chairman in Addis Ababa. Regional police stopped the bus he was riding on, confiscated the candidate list, detained each individual named on the list, and held most until after candidate registration closed.

On February 3, OPC member Terefe Tolossa, was assisting candidate registration in Bekke town, Oromiya Region. Police detained him for five days without charge and without trialat the Bekke police station, where he suffered leg and back injuries from their beatings. After his release, police and local militia rearrested him on February 14 at his home and again released him on February 23 without trial. He was rearrested twice more, on March 7 and March 9, never charged, and eventually released.

In February ruling party cadres detained an opposition candidate seven times in the 15 days after he registered as a district candidate in Western Oromiya. They alternately threatened to fire him from his teaching job, relocate him to a rural site, and kill him and his children.

On March 9, police and local officials beat federal parliamentarian Gutu Mulisa while he campaigned for the UEDF in Elfeta District, Oromiya Region. Gutu filed a complaint with Elfeta District Police. At year’s end the case was pending.

On March 24, police and plainclothes officers stopped Bilisuma Shuge, a resident of Bole Sub-City, Addis Ababa, at gunpoint on his way home from playing sports and beat him severely as a suspected CUD supporter.

There were credible reports that teachers and other government workers had their employment terminated if they belonged to opposition political parties. According to opposition groups OFDM and ONC, the Oromiya regional government continued to dismiss their members–particularly teachers–from their jobs. [Continued on next page]

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