In Dialogue with Ethiopia, Experts of the Human Rights Committee Commend Efforts to Conduct Free and Fair Elections, Raise Issues Concerning Extrajudicial Killings and Arbitrary Arrests of Journalists
The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the second periodic report of Ethiopia on how it implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with Committee Experts commending the State’s efforts to conduct free and fair elections, and raising issues concerning extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests of journalists.
One Committee Expert welcomed measures taken to make elections transparent, fair and free, and commended the improvement of the representation of women in parliament, which had risen to 40 per cent. What plans were in place to conduct a census and develop a reliable electoral map? What measures had the State party taken to support the participation of internally displaced persons and persons with disabilities in elections?
A Committee Expert said that there were continued reports of extrajudicial killings by law enforcement and security officers. Had any perpetrators been apprehended, and what measures were in place to prevent extrajudicial killings? Had victims or their families been compensated?
Another Committee Expert said that at least 39 journalists had been arrested by security forces from June 2021 to June 2022 in Addis Ababa, Amhara and Oromia regions. What steps had been taken to stop the arbitrary arrests of political opponents and journalists, release and provide redress for those arrested, investigate all allegations of arbitrary arrest, and bring perpetrators to justice?
Concerning elections, the delegation said that the electoral board had taken significant steps to ensure that the most recent national elections were carried out fairly. The board had implemented incentives for political parties that registered a certain percentage of women representatives. A special polling station had been established for internally displaced persons. There were limitations in the development of an electoral map, but the Government was committed to developing this map in the coming years.
On extrajudicial killings, the delegation said that such killings were criminal offenses, and the Government condemned them in the strongest terms. The conflict in the north of the State had made it very difficult to determine accountability. However, investigations of attacks had been conducted where possible, and perpetrators, including State security forces, had been identified and prosecuted. The Government did not condone impunity for extrajudicial killings in any cases.
Steps had been taken to stop the arbitrary detention of journalists, the delegation said. No journalists or human rights defenders were arrested simply because of their role. However, certain persons were detained for inciting violence. The number of journalists and human rights defenders arrested was high, as there was a high number of persons threatening the safety of the State.
In concluding remarks, Alemante Agidew Wondimeneh, State Minister, Legal Affairs and Justice Service Division, Ministry of Justice of Ethiopia and Head of Delegation, said that Ethiopia had successfully amended legislation on terrorism, legal aid, hate speech, elections, intelligence, and security, among others. It had also restructured various institutions, including the Human Rights Commission. Through the work of the Commission, charges had been brought against officials responsible for human rights violations in the conflict in northern Ethiopia. The Government had supported exiled journalists to return to the country and operate freely. The delegation, he said, would reassess the State’s strengths and weaknesses in implementing the Covenant.
Photini Pazartzis, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, said that the Committee welcomed all positive developments in legal and institutional fields to improve the human rights situation in Ethiopia. There were issues that had been left unanswered regarding the consecutive states of emergency and whether they led to undue restrictions of rights; methods of implementing vague legislation on hate speech and terrorism; and the impact of the ongoing conflict on civil and political rights. Investigations of human rights violations, regardless of the perpetrator, needed to be carried out, she said, and the State should consider a comprehensive system for providing reparation and support for victims.
The delegation of Ethiopia was made up of representatives of the Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Planning and Development; Inter-Ministerial Taskforce Office; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Human Rights Committee’s one hundred and thirty-sixth session is being held from 10 October to 4 November. All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 19 October to begin its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Nicaragua (CCPR/C/NIC/4).
The Committee has before it the second periodic report of Ethiopia (CCPR/C/ETH/2).
Presentation of the Report
ALEMANTE AGIDEW WONDIMENEH, State Minister, Legal Affairs and Justice Service Division, Ministry of Justice of Ethiopia and Head of Delegation, said that despite the extremely challenging political and security setting, the Government had implemented political, institutional and legislative reforms to improve the human rights situation in Ethiopia, which had significantly advanced the enjoyment and protection of civil and political rights.
Four years ago, the Government began its tenure by acknowledging and apologising for all grave human rights violations perpetrated by security establishments, and by granting pardons and amnesties to thousands of detainees, especially those charged and convicted under the anti-terrorism proclamation. The anti-terrorism proclamation had been amended, and the designation of all previously banned opposition groups as terrorist organizations had been revoked.
The Government also identified and brought charges against members of security and law enforcement agencies who were suspected of overseeing and perpetrating human rights violations.
To enhance the independence of the judiciary, the Government had amended the Judicial Administration Proclamation and the Federal Courts Establishment Proclamation. The Federal Prison Administration was also reformed to bring the treatment of prisoners in line with international standards.
Political and democratic transformation had not been without difficulties. Regrettably, three rounds of vicious wars had been ignited in northern Ethiopia by a former ruling political party, the now designated terrorist group Tigray Peoples Liberation Front. In addition, ethnically motivated violent armed violence in some localities had resulted in the death and displacement, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, torture and degrading treatment, and mass destruction of properties and means of livelihoods of a considerable number of citizens.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had launched a joint investigation into all allegations of violations committed in Tigray in March 2021. The Joint Investigation Team's report attributed varied levels of responsibility in all actors of the conflict, but did not find that the crime of genocide or the use of starvation as means of warfare was committed. The Government was committed to addressing the human rights violations of all parties to the conflict through its Inter-ministerial Task Force on Accountability and Redress. The Government had also carried out criminal investigations of the most tragic violations of rights committed in Tigray, Amhara, Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz regions by different actors, including by members of its own agencies. Various criminal investigations were currently underway, and 25 convictions had so far been issued.
The Government had encouraged increased women's representation in various key positions. Women held 36 per cent of ministerial positions at the federal level, and 33 per cent of cabinet positions. Following the 2021 General Election, the number of women parliamentarians holding seats in parliament reached 42 per cent, up from 38.7 per cent under the previous parliament.
The Government was continuing its policy of accommodating refugees; 9,900 refugees had been successfully relocated from conflict prone areas in the State to safer places, and 15,000 refugees had been relocated to a new camp established in Alem Wach in Gondar. Over 50,000 asylum cases had been assessed since the start of the pandemic. There had been no drastic or discriminatory change of policy regarding prima facie recognition of refugee status.
The conflict in Ethiopia had caused tremendous suffering of Ethiopians at the hands of fellow Ethiopians. The senseless conflict was started by the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front and imposed on the Government. Human rights had become the first casualty. The Government had the will, the determination and the institutional capability and experience to investigate all alleged violations of human rights in the country and bring the perpetrators to justice, regardless of the actors. The international community had only a complementary role that could be availed under the right circumstances. Ethiopia had a proud track record of fighting for human dignity and for the observance of human rights by all.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said that there had been a widening of civic space since the new Government took power. However, the conflict in the north of the country and discrimination of minority groups were serious causes for concern.
The Expert said that there had been several positive developments as regards the legal and institutional framework in the State party, such as Proclamation 1234/2021. However, several regional states excluded minority groups from protection under equality provisions. How did such exclusions co-exist with the Constitution, which guaranteed equality? What measures were in place to eliminate discrimination at the regional level, and to provide redress to victims of human rights violations?
How was the membership for the National Mechanism for Reporting and Follow-up determined? Did it consult with civil society in preparing treaty reports?
How was civil society involved in determining policy regarding the national human rights action plan? Had progress been made on the consideration of the first Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?
The Expert congratulated the State party for the Ethiopia Human Rights Commission having been upgraded to “A” status, a remarkable achievement. What resources was it provided with? Was it adequately funded? What progress had been made in implementing the Commission’s recommendations, and who oversaw this process?
Another Committee Expert said that there had been three states of emergency declared in 2016, 2018 and 2020. What was the need and proportionality for the measures implemented that derogated from the Covenant? What judicial guarantees were in place for affected persons? Between November 2020 and February 2024, there was a state of emergency in the regions of Tigray, Ahmara and Afar. What measures were in place to prevent violations of non-derogable rights such as the prohibition of torture and enslavement or forced labour, and to report derogations of the Covenant?
The Committee had received disturbing reports of at least nine criminal convictions of adults who had had sexual relations with persons of the same sex; no protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people who were attacked, abused, stigmatised and marginalised; no condemnation of hate speech against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; a lack of access to care for people infected with HIV; and the intentional spread of HIV as a means of terrorising the population during the conflict. Had the State party made progress on decriminalisation of sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex? What measures were in place to combat stereotypes and hate speech against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; to guarantee effective access to justice for this group; and to combat stigmatisation and marginalisation of persons with HIV?
Polygamy was prohibited in legislation but seemingly was very widely practiced. A national study on marital rape had been implemented in 2020. What measures were in place to combat polygamy and marital rape? What effect had measures to prevent female genital mutilation had? There were reports of very serious sexual violence inflicted on women detainees, including pregnant women, sometimes because they were suspected of being opponents of the Government. Sexual and gender-based violence was used on a large scale as a weapon of war by various armed groups, both State and private, in Tigray, Amhara, Afar and Oromia. Internally displaced people were particularly vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence. What measures were in place to ensure that all parties to the conflict protected civilian populations from sexual and gender-based violence; investigate and punish perpetrators; support victims’ access to health care; and prevent stigmatisation of victims and provide them with full reparation and rehabilitation?
One Committee Expert asked about measures to coordinate various institutions working to investigate, prosecute and retrieve mismanaged or ill-gotten funds. What progress had been made in preventing and combatting corruption at both federal and regional levels? The Expert commended steps taken to improve transparency in land use and allocation by enacting the Urban Lands Lease Holding Proclamation 721/2011. What other measures were foreseen to prevent corruptive practices, and to provide appropriate protection for whistle blowers?
What measures had the State party taken to implement legislation to protect citizens against all forms of discrimination, including discrimination of persons with disabilities? What effective remedies were available for victims of discrimination?
Between November 2021 and February 2022, there had been at least 11,527 cases of arbitrary arrests and detention across Ethiopia. Many of these people were still in custody. Some individual critics of the federal Government had been forcibly disappeared, detained or killed. At least 39 journalists had been arrested by security forces from June 2021 to June 2022 in Addis Ababa, Amhara and Oromia regions. What steps had been taken to stop the arbitrary arrests of political opponents and journalists, release and provide redress for those arrested, investigate all allegations of arbitrary arrest, and bring perpetrators to justice? Which organizations had full access to visit places of detention in the country?
Another Committee Expert asked about the status of criminal investigations into the past human rights violations committed by the law enforcement and security forces in the Somali region, specifically at the “Jail Ogaden”. Had charges been instituted against perpetrators and victims compensated and rehabilitated?
Six members of the National Defense Force were currently on trial for killing nine and wounding six civilians at Moyale Town on March 10, 2018. What was the current status of the trial? There were continued reports of extrajudicial killings by law enforcement and security officers. Had any perpetrators been apprehended, and what measures were in place to prevent extrajudicial killings? Had victims or their families been compensated?
What measures had the State party taken to prevent prolonged pretrial detention? The Expert applauded the efforts made by the State party to allow civil society organizations to provide free legal aid for the needy. Had the Office of Public Defenders increased their representation and facilitated the provision of free legal aid? How many defendants had benefited from free legal aid since 2020?
A Committee Expert said that there were 211 offenders sentenced to death from 2009 to 2018. However, there had been no executions during the reporting period. As of December 2020, there were 152 convicts on death row, but no inmate had been executed. The Committee appreciated the State party’s policy to keep a de facto moratorium on the death penalty. Had there been any discussion regarding abolition of the death penalty and accession to the Second Optional Protocol?
The Expert asked for updated information on the drafting process of a new law governing the use of force and firearms.
What measures had been taken to prevent torture and ill-treatment by the security forces, particularly in the conflict regions, including northern Ethiopia? How many perpetrators had been prosecuted? What remedies were provided to victims? What measures were in place to ensure that evidence illegally taken through torture was excluded without exception?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that civil society was not consulted regarding the preparation of the State report, but Ethiopia would consider this in the future. Ethiopia would also consider translating the Covenant into national languages.
The Government had developed new legislation to provide the Ethiopian Human Right Commission with autonomy and appropriate funding and personnel to effectively function as an institution. The recommendations of the Commission were considered seriously by the Government.
Steps had been taken to stop the arbitrary detention of journalists. No journalists or human rights defenders were arrested simply because of their role. However, certain persons were detained for inciting violence.
There had been various allegations of extrajudicial killings. The Government did not condone impunity for extrajudicial killings in any cases. It would continue to investigate all allegations of such killings. Track two of the Government’s response to the Joint Investigation Team’s report would focus on addressing extrajudicial killings, among other issues.
The Government was seriously considering the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol. However, the position of the Government regarding the death penalty had not changed, with the moratorium still in place.
In addition to prohibiting and criminalising polygamy, female genital mutilation and marital rape, the Government had implemented several initiatives, including awareness campaigns, to prevent these practices. It had also worked to prevent child marriage and forced marriage. A national project to end child marriage and female genital mutilation was running until 2024. The project encouraged the creation of protective environments at the community level. The Government had worked for decades to shape the public perception of female genital mutilation and polygamy, with communication campaigns targeting religious and community leaders. These strategies were bringing about positive change, with the practice of female genital mutilation declining to 65 per cent by 2016. The Government expected the rate to decline to below 20 per cent by 2030.
The prohibition of all forms of discrimination was a priority for the Government. Public awareness programmes were conducted to raise awareness of the rights of persons with disabilities and women. A roadmap on programmes for supporting persons with disabilities had been developed, and a comprehensive law on persons with disabilities was being drafted. A committee had been established to oversee the development of this law. Another study was underway to develop legislation on gender-based violence. Marital rape was currently considered an exception to the crime of rape, but a study was underway to develop legislation prohibiting marital rape.
A debate was underway concerning the age of criminal responsibility for children. The Government believed that 10 was an appropriate age.
Extrajudicial killings were criminal offenses, and the Government condemned such killings in the strongest terms. The conflict in the north of the State had made it very difficult to determine accountability. However, investigations of attacks had been conducted where possible, and perpetrators, including State security forces, had been identified and prosecuted. Trials of such cases took time, which was why some trials starting in 2021 were ongoing. Perpetrators had been issued with punishments of up to 22 years imprisonment. Around 3,500 individuals had so far been charged with aggravated homicide, robbery or torture related to the conflict, of which over 1,000 had been prosecuted.
The Constitution recognised the international treaties ratified by Ethiopia as law in the State.
Pre-trial detention was an exception in Ethiopia. Police were required to bring accused persons before a judge within 48 hours. Human rights institutions, including the Ethiopian Human Right Commission, conducted unannounced inspections of detention facilities, checking conditions of detention. Funding for detention centres had been raised to improve the conditions of detention and detainees’ access to health care. Prison officers had been offered training on the human rights of detainees. Numerous investigations had been carried out on violations of detainees’ rights, and certain officers had been prosecuted and punished with up to life imprisonment. The President had issued a public apology regarding past violations.
Legislative discrimination based on ethnicity was implemented by the former Tigray People's Liberation Front’s Government. The current Government had identified this group as a terrorist organisation, but this measure was not a form of ethnic discrimination.
Legislation on compensation funds for victims of terrorism and human trafficking was being drafted. The Government had also adopted legislation and provided protections for whistle blowers in corruption cases.
Ethiopia had been forced to enact state of emergency measures to address various crises. The state of emergency declarations in 2016 and 2018 were made to address widespread breakdowns of law and order, and the February 2020 measure was implemented to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 state of emergency was implemented to maintain peace and security in regions affected by conflict. This state of emergency allowed the detention of some persons to save the life of the nation. The measures implemented were in line with the Ethiopian Constitution.
The Government had been working to expand the provision of free legal aid. Pro-bono services by lawyers and civil society helped to improve access to legal aid, and the Government encouraged these groups to provide such aid.
The Constitution prohibited all forms of discrimination. Violence had occurred in some parts of the country along ethnic lines. Some investigations into cases of discrimination had been completed, while others were ongoing. Measures had been taken to encourage national dialogue between ethnic groups. To prevent discrimination on religious grounds, the Government was cooperating with religious groups and had established a national dialogue on religious issues. The Government was working to foster a culture of tolerance and trust between ethnic and religious groups.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said that extrajudicial killings seemed to not be isolated incidents, but were rather systematic offences. What measures were in place to prevent such systematic violations? The Expert called for information on the progress of legislation on the use of force and firearms.
Another Committee Expert asked for information on the progress of trials regarding extrajudicial killings, and on compensation provided to victims’ families.
One Committee Expert asked for information on the actions of the inquiry board into the state of emergency; on measures to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; and on measures to prevent violence against women.
A Committee Expert called for information on issues concerning arbitrary arrests. How many persons had been arbitrarily detained, and what measures were in place to efficiently conduct trials of these persons?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said the Constitution stipulated that a state of emergency could remain effective for six months, and could be renewed. When establishing the state of emergency, it was mandatory to establish an inquiry board to monitor its implementation. Regarding the state of emergency imposed in September 2021, the House of People’s Representatives had voted to lift it early in February 2022. There was currently no state of emergency imposed and therefore no inquiry board in place.
Sexual violence against women in detention centres was a reality. However, the Government took criminal measures whenever such incidences were reported. Such incidences had escalated in the past two years due to the conflict, and so the Government had stepped up efforts to investigate cases. The Joint Investigation Committee had identified over 200 cases of sexual violence in conflict regions. Over half of the convictions issued related to incidents in Tigray were sexual violence cases.
The Government did not condone any crimes committed by Government officials, including extrajudicial killings. The Government had promptly initiated criminal investigations into all reported cases of extrajudicial killings. Around 40 per cent of convictions issued related to the conflict were cases of extrajudicial killings.
The Government recognised gender-based violence as a violation of basic human rights, and had criminalised all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, including marital rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and early and forced marriage. Sexual violence was punished with up to life imprisonment when there were aggravating circumstances. The Government had taken various measures to prevent sexual violence and determine accountability in sexual violence cases. Inspections of detention centres were carried out by a specialised council. This council held perpetrators of sexual violence in detention centres accountable. Sexual violence in detention centres were isolated criminal acts that did not reflect the behaviour of the majority. Offenders would never enjoy impunity.
The Criminal Code prohibited homosexual acts. At the same time, hate speech and attacks directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons were also prohibited under legislation.
Arrests without a warrant were only permitted in high-priority cases. In normal cases, detainees were required to be brought before a court within 48 hours. Detainees were escorted and overseen in detention centres by officials of the same sex.
The draft use of force proclamation was still under consideration. Officers were currently liable under the current legislation on use of force. The Government would soon ratify the draft legislation.
Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert said that at detention centres, individuals were held in dark rooms, either in solitude or overcrowded conditions, and experienced regular beatings from guards; had no adequate food, leading to starvation; had no bathroom facilities; and had poor medical care. What progress had been made on constructing new prison facilities to address the challenge of overcrowding and poor material conditions in places of detention; and ensuring adequate access for detained persons to water, food and health care, including psychiatric care? Were juvenile offenders held strictly separately from adult detainees, without exception?
Legislation had been adopted to ensure the independence and accessibility of the federal courts. What measures were taken to ensure, both in law and in practice, the full independence and impartiality of judges and prosecutors? What were the current procedures and criteria for the appointment and removal of judges and prosecutors? Had the State party implemented recommendations made by the Judiciary Affairs Reform Task Force regarding the selection and appointment of judges?
Another Committee Expert asked for more information on measures taken to prevent trafficking and sexual exploitation. These problems were endemic and structural in the State. What penalties were issued for sexual exploitation? What measures were taken to protect against forced labour and exploitation in the private sector?
Since November 2020, there had been credible reports of child trafficking, particularly for the purpose of sexual exploitation, in conflict areas. Boys and men were often victims, but due to stigmatisation rarely filed complaints. The State party had reportedly taken no measures in response to this exploitation and enslavement. What measures would the State party take to respond?
The Expert said that the age of criminal responsibility was reportedly nine years, and children aged 15 to 18 were trialled as adults. Children continued to be subjected to female genital mutilation, forced marriages and infanticide in some rural areas, as well as abduction, sexual exploitation, and corporal punishment. School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic had had a dramatic effect on increasing domestic violence. Orphans and institutionalised children were reportedly subjected to ill-treatment and abuse. What measures were in place to protect the best interests of the child?
There were serious and systematic violations of children’s rights in the regions of Tigray, Amhara, Afar, and Oromia. There was forced recruitment of child soldiers; children were abducted, tortured, sexually and economically exploited, and forced to marry. In conflict zones, children had no access to school, adequate food and health care. What measures had the State party taken to prevent violations of children’s rights, to rehabilitate children, and to hold perpetrators accountable?
One Committee Expert said that Ethiopia hosted around 900,000 refugees, and the Committee highly appreciated the State party’s strong commitment to the protection of refugees. However, Eritrean refugees were reportedly targeted and placed in danger by parties to the ongoing armed conflict in northern Ethiopia. Many had been killed, displaced, disappeared and refouled. What measures were in place to protect refugees in camps in Tigray and other areas?
New arrivals from Eritrea were no longer offered prima facie refugee status and were assessed through individualised screening processes. This had led to a significant reduction in registered new arrivals of refugees from Eritrea. What was the current screening procedure and what effect did it have, including on refugees from Eritrea? How were the best interests of refugees protected through this procedure? What was the current state of the study on statelessness, and the measures taken to prevent statelessness?
About three million persons were displaced within Ethiopia due to armed conflicts and natural disasters, and most of them lived in dire humanitarian conditions. Internally displaced persons in some regions faced severe food shortages and a reduction in supply and availability of other services. What measures had the State party taken to conduct regular needs assessments, allocate adequate resources and ensure international organizations’ access to internally displaced persons, particularly in northern Ethiopia? Under what procedure did the State party return internally displaced persons to certain regions or subregions? Did the State party consult with internally displaced persons before returning them?
Some reports alleged that the domestication and implementation of the Kampala Convention in the national legal framework had been delayed, and no specific institution had been clearly designated regarding the protection of internally displaced persons. What measures were in place to implement the Convention and encourage voluntary return, and to designate an authority responsible for coordinating activities?
Another Committee Expert said that several statements issued by the Government appeared to infringe on the right to peaceful assembly. What would the State party do to follow the guidance given by the Committee’s general comment 37, which promoted the acceptance of the right to peaceful assembly? How would Ethiopia ensure the protection of this right for political opponents?
The Expert commended the improvement of the representation of women in parliament. The 40 per cent representation rate was a most welcome development, and the Expert expected further improvement in the legal position of women in society. The Committee also welcomed measures taken to make elections transparent, fair and free. However, there were reportedly incidents of violence that had resulted in the death and bodily injury of members and supporters of opposition political parties. More than 65 political party members and supporters had been arbitrarily and unlawfully detained during the run up to the election and were released later for election day, while more than 330 political party members and supporters remained in custody. How would the State party ensure that such actions did not occur again?
What plans were in place to conduct a census and develop a reliable electoral map? How many internally displaced persons had participated in the most recent election? What measures had the State party taken to support the participation of persons with disabilities in elections?
One Committee Expert said that there was ongoing harassment of journalists, political figures, and human rights defenders for purportedly inciting violence. There had been mass arrests following a crackdown on media outlets in Amhara region in May 2022, and prominent journalists critical of the Government had also been arrested in early 2022. How did the State party justify these arrests and detentions? Did it intend to free journalists and human rights defenders in prolonged detention? Would the State party cease the harassment of journalists and allow regulatory bodies to monitor the media?
Internet shutdowns in the State party were common. Some shutdowns were reportedly covert, aiming to suppress criticism and dissent. Under what law were Internet shutdowns imposed? Were affected persons given notice of the shutdowns?
Hate speech and anti-terrorism legislation had been criticised as being ambiguous and overly broad. The anti-terrorism law was reportedly being used to prevent free and fair reporting about the conflict. Would the State party consider reforming this legislation to ensure that essential elements were clearly defined, and that expression was only prohibited when it failed strict tests of necessity and proportionality.
Ethnic-based killings had become widespread in Ethiopia since 2018, perpetrated by rival security forces and militant groups. The slaughter of around 450 Amhara civilians in the Oromo region on 18 June this year had received international attention. There appeared to be no limit to the scale and nature of the violence. What measures had the State party taken to address ethnic tensions and conflicts, including the training of security forces and law enforcement officers on the use of force? What measures of accountability existed for victims of the various massacres, and had formal investigations been conducted? Would the State party ensure that regional Constitutions and laws were amended to conform to guarantees of equality contained within the National Constitution?
One non-governmental organization had estimated that millions of hectares of land with oil and gas reserves had been leased to foreign companies, dislocating as many as 15 million indigenous peoples. What measures were in place to protect indigenous peoples from displacement? There had reportedly been no prior consultations and no resettlement regarding the construction of the Gibe III Dam. What reparation was provided to communities and families displaced by this project?
Poor management of the LegaDembi gold mine had resulted in the contamination of the soil and water with dangerous levels of cyanide, arsenic and mercury, leading to “cataclysmic consequences” for adjacent communities, including high rates of miscarriage and infant mortality, debilitating illnesses in residents, and devastation of livestock, crops and wildlife. What consultations were held regarding the reopening of this mine? Had impact assessments been released to the public? What clean-up activities were conducted and what structural reforms were carried out prior to reopening the mine? Was air, water and soil quality around the mine monitored? Had affected persons been provided with adequate compensation and access to support services?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said 98 per cent of the refugees it hosted were from South Sudan and Eritrea. The State had a comprehensive and progressive refugee programme. The large number of refugees welcomed on a prima facie basis had led to an influx of unaccompanied minors. The best interests’ principle was respected regarding the determination of the status of unaccompanied minors. Slight adjustments in screening procedures did not indicate a change in the Government’s open-door policy. The proclamation on the use of prima facie had been issued in 2019 and was not related to the conflict in Ethiopia. It did not apply solely to Eritreans. The Government was providing protection and assistance to refugees in the country. Refugees were included in discussions involving policy decisions that affected them, enjoyed freedom of movement, and could engage in economic activities. Refugees were also included in the national COVID-19 vaccination plan. The Government was working to develop dedicated services for refugees.
The conflict in northern Ethiopia had affected the refugee camps in that region. Emergency relocation plans had been implemented to protect refugees in affected camps, and the supply of food to most refugee camps had been resumed within five days of the start of the conflict. Two northern camps had been severely affected by the conflict, causing the displacement of more than 19,000 people. The Government had successfully relocated at least 10,000 of these people, and issued other affected people with “out-of-camp” refugee status for five years, allowing them to move to towns, open bank accounts and access State services.
Legislation was in place that allowed for the provision of Ethiopian nationality to stateless persons who met certain requirements. Stateless persons were able to access State services. Refugees were able to apply for nationality when they had lived in the State for more than 20 years.
There had been various violations of the rights of internally displaced persons in the conflict. In response, the Government had ratified the Kampala Convention and set up a taskforce to spearhead its domestication. A national internally displaced persons’ strategy was also being developed. This included measures to support the resettlement and return of internally displaced persons. The Government was calling on the international community for assistance in addressing the needs of internally displaced persons in the country. Draft legislation domesticating the Kampala Convention had been concluded this week.
A secretariat had been established to collect data on trafficking in persons, and data collection tools had been distributed to all regions. Almost 500 cases of trafficking in persons and forced labour had been investigated in the past two years, and around 290 of these cases had led to convictions. Punishments imposed included imprisonment for up to 20 years.
Several laws on freedom of expression had been adopted, including the proclamations on hate speech, terrorism crimes and the media. The Government had yet to rigorously implement the law on hate speech, opting to first work on raising awareness about it. The comprehensive proclamation on the media had been adopted in 2021; it decriminalised defamation of members of the Government, and established a media regulatory board that did not include Government officials. The new anti-terrorism legislation allowed for the obstruction of public service when it was caused by people exercising rights guaranteed by law, such as the right to protest. Vague criteria in previous legislation on incitement had been made clearer. The Government needed to increase capacity to effectively implement the legislation; it was committed to improving the standard of implementation.
Dozens of previously blocked websites and television channels had been unblocked to promote freedom of expression. However, when individuals engaged in activities that threatened the safety and security of the State, the Government arrested such individuals. The number of journalists and human rights defenders arrested was high, as a high number of persons had threatened the safety of the State. The Government had investigated claims by non-governmental organizations that journalists had been arrested solely for criticising the Government, and found that these persons had incited violence, resulting in the injury and deaths of hundreds of citizens.
Internet shutdowns were not a common practice, but were implemented occasionally to protect the security of the people. Shutdowns had served to reduce the scale of conflicts. All interruptions were only for limited periods of time. The Government was committed to fully implementing all citizens’ rights regarding communication.
Most demonstrations were conducted peacefully. However, certain demonstrations had been restricted by State authorities to protect the safety of citizens. Draft legislation on the right to peaceful assembly was being developed, and capacity building programmes for the police force on ensuring this right were in place.
The Government had established a judicial affairs reform taskforce, which aimed to ensure the full independence of the judiciary. The taskforce had worked to develop two new laws to ensure transparency and accountability in the appointment and practices of the judiciary. Under these laws, judges were recruited by an independent council, which also designed judicial codes of conduct. The laws also included rules on budget requests. It was a challenge to implement reform initiatives across the country. There was no political influence on the courts however, and the independence of the courts would continue to be protected. Prosecutors also enjoyed independence and were appointed based on merits.
The Government had implemented a national children’s policy aiming to protect the rights of vulnerable children. Measures were being taken to prevent violence against children and child labour. A law prohibiting the worst forms of child labour had been implemented. The minimum age of employment had been increased to 15. Persons aged 15 to 18 were barred from employment in dangerous occupations, such as in mines and quarries.
A manual on positive child disciplining had been developed by the Government, and awareness raising on this manual was conducted through brochures, posters and community radio. Campaigns portrayed the bad effects of corporal punishment.
The Government was committed to improving conditions in detention facilities. It had raised the budget per detainee and worked to improve access to health care. However, some issues remained due to the scarcity of resources. Human rights education was provided to prison officers. The Government had built new buildings that met international standards in various prisons across the State. All correction facilities provided meals three times a day and medical support, including psychosocial support. Prisoners with specific medical needs were given access to specialised medical facilities.
Free legal aid was provided to persons accused of serious crimes. In 2021 and 2022, pro-bono services were provided to around 40,000 persons. Pro-bono lawyers were expected to represent at least three clients each year. A strategy on strengthening free legal aid was being developed. The Government worked to provide legal protections in line with international standards, but was hindered by a lack of resources.
The electoral board had taken significant steps to ensure that the most recent national elections were carried out fairly. The board had implemented incentives for political parties that registered a certain percentage of women representatives. A special polling station had been established for internally displaced persons. There were limitations in the development of an electoral map, but the Government was committed to developing this map in the coming years.
Environmental and social surveys had been conducted regarding the planned construction of a major hydroelectric dam. Consultations with stakeholders and affected persons were carried out. Financial support was provided to assist affected persons’ relocation. The Government also provided finances for income restoration and community support schemes.
Regarding the LegaDembi gold mine, the Government had suspended its activities until environmental issues were addressed. After this suspension, environmental and social studies were carried out and the Government consulted with the local community. Compensation was paid to relocate affected persons. A mechanism was also implemented to ensure that the operations of the mine were transparent.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
A Committee Expert asked for statistics on the number of children aged 9, 10 and 11 who were convicted. Were these children deprived of their liberty?
Another Committee Expert said that inmates with psychosocial disabilities were sometimes imprisoned with other inmates, and children were sometimes imprisoned with adults. Many detention facilities were reportedly overcrowded. What measures were in place to address the situation?
One Committee Expert said that regulations concerning the media were vague, and thresholds for criminalisation were still below international best practice. There were reports of many journalists and human rights defenders who were arrested. Criticism of the Government was not a threat to national security, and shutting down websites did not solve the problem. The Expert called for the broadening of civic space.
The Expert also said that evidence indicated that the LegaDembi mine’s operations had been restarted. What clean-up of hazardous materials had been conducted?
ALEMANTE AGIDEW WONDIMENEH, State Minister, Legal Affairs and Justice Service Division, Ministry of Justice of Ethiopia and Head of Delegation, said that Ethiopia had not reached the heights envisioned by the Government’s reforms, with the promotion of civil and political rights made difficult by the previous Government. Institutions and the mindsets of public officials needed to be reformed. The current Government was committed to the promotion and protection of human rights. Tremendous progress had been made, but there was much more to do. In coming years, the progress that Ethiopia would achieve would be self-evident.
The Government had successfully amended legislation on terrorism, legal aid, hate speech, elections, intelligence, and security, among others. It had also restructured various institutions, including the Human Rights Commission. The Commission’s strengthened functions were demonstrated in its investigations into the violations occurring in the conflict in northern Ethiopia. Charges had been brought against officials responsible for human rights violations in the conflict. The Government had supported exiled journalists to return to the country and operate freely.
The State attached high importance to the work of the Committee. The delegation would reassess the State’s strengths and weaknesses in implementing the Covenant. Mr. Agidew Wondimeneh extended thanks to the Office of the High Commissioner for its support in ensuring the implementation of all human rights in the State.
PHOTINI PAZARTZIS, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for its participation in the constructive dialogue. The Committee welcomed all positive developments in legal and institutional fields to improve the human rights situation in Ethiopia. There were issues that had been left unanswered regarding the consecutive states of emergency and whether they led to undue restrictions of rights; methods of implementing vague legislation on hate speech and terrorism; and the impact of the ongoing conflict on civil and political rights. Investigations of human rights violations, regardless of the perpetrator, needed to be carried out, and the State should consider a comprehensive system for providing reparation and support for victims.
Produced by the United Nations Information Service in Geneva for use of the information media;
not an official record. English and French versions of our releases are different as they are the product of two separate coverage teams that work independently.