Raising My Voice to #BringBackOurGirls

 

Jennifer Prestholdt's son at the Mother's Day march to #BringBackOurGirls
Jennifer Prestholdt’s son at the Mother’s Day march to #BringBackOurGirls

On Mother’s Day, I spoke at a local march and rally to show support for the nearly 300 school girls abducted a month ago in Nigeria. Here’s what I said:

Bring Back Our Girls Twin Cities March
May 11, 2014

“Thanks to organizers and to all of you for being here.

“I’m here as a lawyer and deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights, a non-profit based in Minneapolis that works on human rights issues around the world.

“But I’m also here as a mother. My kids Simon and Eliza are here today as well to stand in honor of the nearly 300 girls abducted simply because they were pursuing their human right to education. I think that’s pretty much the best Mother’s Day gift they could give me.

“There are a lot of things that we don’t know about the situation in Nigeria. We don’t know where the girls are or what is happening to them. We don’t even know the exact number abducted and we only know a few of their names. We can only imagine the agony their families are going through.

“But the tragedy of the nearly 300 girls in Chibok shines a spotlight on the systemic human rights abuses against faced by women and girls worldwide.

“And there are many things we do know about violations of the rights of girls and women:

  • “We know that girls around the world lack equal access to basic education (in the NE region of Nigeria where these girls lived, girl enrollment is the lowest in the country –  only 22%). In part, they were targeted because they were seeking an education that would change their lives.
  • “Educating girls, we know, is one of the strongest ways to improve gender equality. It is also one the best ways to reduce poverty and promote economic growth and development
  • “We know that girls and women are not valued equally as boys and men in many parts of the world. The Nigerian government’s lack of action both before and after certainly makes it seem that these girls were not deemed worthy of protection.
  • “We know that when these girls are found and hopefully rescued, they will need support in the form of psychosocial and health care. Women’s access to health care is woefully limited.
  • “We know that 1 in 3 girls under age 18 are still being forced into marriage too early. By some estimates, that’s about 14 million girls a year. Too many girls still endure harmful traditional cultural practices such as FGM.
  • “We know that girls and women suffer the most in times of conflict. What these girls have experienced is likely a war crime. Trafficking remains a huge problem around the world and in our own community.
  • “We know that 1 in 3 of the world’s women experience violence, including domestic violence (The Advocates for Human Rights works on domestic violence legal reform around the world);

“And we know that these are all things that have to change.

“We need to do more to push our governments to make this change a priority. We can’t stop with just these 276 girls.

#BringBackOurGirls' Mother's Day march, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota
#BringBackOurGirls’ Mother’s Day march, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota

“Now these are human rights abuses that may seem intractable. It may seem like you are powerless to make a difference. But you can:

  • “Continue to educate yourself about girls and women’s rights. Here in the Twin Cities, there are many opportunities. Through The Advocates for Human Rights alone, you can attend the free St. Paul Public Library Women’s Rights Film series, learn more about the issues on www.StopVAW.org, or participate in our Human Rights Book Club.
  • “Support the NGOs that work on issues you care about. No amount is too small – a little money really does go a long way in this area.
  • “Write to our members of Congress and the President to encourage support for women’s rights as a critical part of our US foreign policy.
  • “For those of you with young people in your lives, teach them about the world around them so that they will grow up to continue the fight to ensure that every child, wherever he or she lives in the world, has the chance to live in safety and dignity and to achieve their greatest human potential.

“For those of you doubting whether sharing this story on social media really makes a difference, I’d like to share a message I got on my blog from a woman named Winnie in Nigeria:

“‘we here in nigeria are so angry and feel very helpless, the government and opposition leaders have politicized this, while our daughters are still in captivity. the government officials do not want to listen to ‘ordinary’ people. and word  has it that the Nigerian press have been ordered to kill the story (as the have killed other stories in the past).  pls this is a passionate plea to the international community to keep this story alive until our girls are returned home safely.’

Jennifer Prestholdt speaking at the Mother’s Day March to #BringBackOurGirls

“Here in the Twin Cities and all around the world, we are working to keep this story alive until our girls are returned home safely.

“And after our girls come home, I hope we can keep working together for a future where all girls around the world can go to school in safety and grow up to reach their full human potential.”

By: Jennifer Prestholdt is the deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights and the director of the organization’s International Justice Program. She has a B.A. in political science from Yale and a M.A.L.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where she studied international human rights law and international refugee policy. She graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1996.

Ms. Prestholdt has worked on refugee and asylum issues for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland. She has also interned for the Reebok Human Rights Program and the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination Against and Protection of Minorities. Prior to becoming Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, she practiced asylum law for five years as the director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program. As The Advocates’ deputy director, she assists in fundraising for and directing organizational operations. Ms. Prestholdt also supervises the development and administration of International Justice programming. She has also taught International Human Rights Law as an adjunct faculty member at the University of St. Thomas School of Law.

 

Take Notice: Nigeria Abductions Are Not an Anomaly

Photo: Twitter.WomenGirlsLead
Photo: Twitter.WomenGirlsLead

Like many other people, I am outraged by the April 14 abduction of hundreds of young girls from their school in northeastern Nigeria by the insurgent group Boko Haram. The group attacked again on May 6, kidnapping eight more girls–this time from their homes–to prevent them from attending school. While we do not know exactly where the girls were taken or how they are being treated, it is likely that many of them will be raped and sold into sexual slavery. Some of the girls are as young as 12, and as a mother I can only imagine the nightmare the girls and their parents must be living.

I join the calls to the Nigerian government, the Obama administration, and other world leaders demanding that they do what needs to be done to free the girls and bring those responsible to justice. But bringing the girls home is only the first step in answering the contorted message the kidnappings were designed to send: that women are property and girls should not be educated.

The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, who has spoken out against the kidnappings, reportedly asserted at a conference in March that the Boko Haram insurgency is an “anomaly” in the socio-religious environment of Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims live in harmony with each other and with people of other faiths. I do not dispute that position and sincerely hope that he is right. But while extremist organizations such as Boko Haram may be anomalous in Nigerian society, the assault on girls’ education globally is not.

We live in a world where, for some girls, simply learning to read is a courageous and life-threatening act of defiance.In March 2013, a principal in Karachi, Pakistan was killed when grenades were hurled into his school, which specialized in enrolling girls. A teacher in a different part of Pakistan was gunned down in front of the all-girls school where she had taught only a week earlier. In the spring and summer of 2013, over 400 girls in Afghanistan fell ill from suspected gas poisonings in at least half a dozen schools. The assassination attempt against Malala Yousafzai for promoting girls’ education in Pakistan is well-known.

The net enrollment rate in 2008 for girls in secondary school in Nigeria was just 22%. In northern Nigeria, where the kidnappings occurred, only 3% of girls finish secondary school and more than 50% are married by the age of 16.  The situation in Nigeria is sadly representative of a wider pattern. According to the World Economic Forum’s 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, girls in Pakistan had a secondary school enrollment rate of 29%, as compared to 40% for boys. Rates are even lower in Chad, where only 5% of girls received a secondary education, as compared to 16% of boys. Nor is the problem endemic only to countries with a majority Muslim population. In Nepal, school enrollment rates for boys are 14 percentage points higher than for girls. These statistics reflect a cultural undercurrent that creates powerful disincentives for girls to educate themselves, ensuring that women remain powerless, objectified, and vulnerable to forced marriages and sexual slavery.

I do not mean to suggest that we have it all figured out here in the United States. Sexual assaults on U.S. college campuses are on the rise, femicides are seventh in line as causes of early death among females in the United States, and our most recent census report confirmed that—despite decades of working for equality—women still earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. But I know that I am lucky. I am a shareholder in a successful law firm that not only supports me, but has been lauded as one of the best in the nation for women attorneys. I have been successful, first and foremost, because I was born into a family that never questioned whether I would go to college; it was simply assumed.

But is it possible to change cultural norms in other countries? And even if we could, what place is it of ours? To answer the second question, we are no longer isolated on this planet. The diminution of women everywhere affects all of us, by preventing economic growth, destabilizing societies and even planting the seeds that allow terrorism to flourish. Education is a fundamental human right that belongs to everyone, boys and girls, everywhere. It is everyone’s responsibility to address harmful cultural practices that result in human rights violations. We can and should work towards universal education in all parts of the world.

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Student of The Advocates for Human Rights’ Sankhu-Palubari Community School, near Kathmandu, Nepal

The notion that there is nothing we can really do is wrong. Since the fall of the Taliban, the enrollment of girls in primary school in Afghanistan has risen from virtually none to approximately 37%.

I know from personal experience that norms against educating girls can be changed. In 1999, the Advocates for Human Rights founded a school in a village in Nepal where education rates for children were extremely low. The school’s basic admission criteria were that the students must be low income, and the student body must be 50% girls. Parents of these children, when interviewed, expressed sincere doubts about the value of education for their children—especially the girls. Over time these views have changed dramatically. When I visited the school in 2011, the parents  no longer questioned why they should educate their children. Instead, they demanded that The Advocates expand the school to include more grades. Many of the girls who have graduated from our school are now studying at the University. It’s only a drop in the global bucket, but it’s a start.

By: Dulce Foster, attorney with Fredrikson and Byron, is a long-time volunteer and supporter of the Advocates for Human Rights. She has provided immeasurable leadership for the organization’s Nepal School Project and for the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Project.

In her legal practice with Fredrikson and Byron, Foster defends, investigates, and advises clients in criminal and civil matters involving financial fraud, healthcare fraud, corruption, FCPA, trade secrets theft, illegal immigration, False Claims Act and other regulatory concerns.

“Little Oromia” Unites to Advocate for Justice and Human Rights in Ethiopia

hunger strike

Last Sunday afternoon, a steady stream of people poured into the Oromo Community of Minnesota’s meeting hall in St. Paul. They gathered for a forum to discuss how the Oromo people living outside Ethiopia–the Oromo diaspora–could show solidarity with Oromo students in Ethiopia, whose peaceful protests over the past two weeks have been met with gunfire and loss of life.

Minnesota’s Oromo diaspora movement embraces diversity, is united by a common cause

The Oromo Community of Minnesota hall was packed for the forum on Sunday.
The Oromo Community of Minnesota hall was packed for the forum on Sunday.

The people who had gathered represented great diversity, but were also united by a common cause. As best I understood at the time (I had not yet enlisted Kinini Jegeno, the young man sitting next to me, to interpret), the gathering began with three different religious leaders–a Muslim, a Seventh Day Adventist, and another Christian–leading prayers for the people who had been killed and injured. (As I noted in my first blog post in this series, the Oromo people are split almost equally between the Muslim and Christian faiths.)

One speaker asked all of the women in the audience to raise their hands, noting that they were well-represented and should make their voices heard. And one of my former students remarked that many Oromo youths were also actively engaged in the forum, and were not deferring to their elders as is often the case in such gatherings.

Global Oromo diaspora looks to Minnesota’s “Little Oromia” to take the lead

The stakes were high. Jaafar Ali, a journalist in the Oromo diaspora who lives in Norway, reminded the audience that the Oromo diaspora calls Minnesota “Little Oromia” because it is home to the largest Oromo population outside of Ethiopia. Ali emphasized that Oromos around the world were hoping Minnesota could lay the groundwork for a successful response.

Community adopts a grassroots approach

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My tireless volunteer interpreter, Kinini Jegeno, summarized much of the 3-hour meeting for me.

Although the President of the Oromo Community of Minnesota, Mathias T. Gudina, convened the meeting, he made it clear that he was there to facilitate, not to lead or tell the group what to do. He encouraged members of the community to come forward and share their ideas for showing solidarity with the protesters and responding to the mass arrests, restrictions on free expression and assembly, and federal security forces’ use of lethal force.

Each speaker had up to 2 minutes to take the microphone and offer suggestions. Several dozen people took the floor, and many called for the Oromo community to set aside differences and work together toward their common goals. The audience sat in rapt attention, eagerly hearing each suggestion, and sometimes breaking out in applause or cheers of support.

Oromos unite to advocate for victims, justice

After nearly three hours of comments, the organizers took a brief recess and then reported back with a list of all the ideas that members of the community had offered. By consensus, they arrived at several concrete action steps.

Nearly every action step could be supported by resources in The Advocates for Human Rights’ diaspora toolkit, Paving Pathways for Justice & Accountability: Human Rights Tools for Diaspora Communities. That’s no coincidence. We developed the toolkit in response to decades of requests from diaspora communities about how they can be more effective advocates for human rights in their countries of origin or ancestry. In considering advocacy strategies, diaspora communities may want to consult the first part of Chapter 7: Advocacy, which discusses the importance of defining advocacy goals, the steps to developing an advocacy strategy, leadership and organization, framing messages, mobilization, and measuring progress.

Here are some of the action steps the group selected, along with some relevant resources from Paving Pathways that might be of assistance as the Oromo diaspora works on implementing its plans:

1. Hold a rally on Friday, May 9, at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, starting at 9:00 am

May 7, 2014 rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt (Photo credit: Caaya Tokkummaa Oromoo Masrii, facebook)
May 7, 2014 rally in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt (Photo credit: Caaya Tokkummaa Oromoo Masrii, facebook)

The group discussed whether to shift the rally to Thursday to accommodate religious observances, but instead they decided that the rally would begin on Friday and continue on throughout the weekend, so people of all faiths could participate. Indeed, most Oromo diaspora groups around the world are staging rallies on Friday, including groups in 11 U.S. cities (Chicago, Columbus,  Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Portland, St. Paul, San Francisco, and Washington, DC), 6 Canadian cities (Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Saskatoon, Vancouver, and Winnipeg), and 10 other countries: Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and Yemen.

The Oromo diaspora in Egypt elected to hold its rally on Wednesday, generating some initial media interest. And in conjunction with the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia’s human rights record, on Tuesday Oromos in the Washington, DC area rallied in front of the Ethiopian Embassy:

Paving Pathways’ advocacy chapter includes a section on public advocacy that explains the role of rallies and other actions designed to raise public awareness about human rights issues.

2. Hold a hunger strike May 9-12

Hunger strikes have gained attention as an important part of the immigration reform movement over the past few years. Diasporans may want to take a look at the strategies developed by the “Fast for Families” campaign.

Amane Bedaso, President of the International-Oromo Youth-Association, posted a photo on facebook (top) to announce her plans to participate in the hunger strike May 9-12. Photos on social media sites like facebook, twitter, and instagram can help generate awareness about a hunger strike or similar campaign. See Appendix C of Paving Pathways for best practices on using social media for effective human rights advocacy.

3. Raise funds for medical and burial expenses for victims and their families

Remittances from diasporans to the Global South amounted to over $400 billion in 2012, with $656 million flowing into Ethiopia in 2013. Many remittances assist friends and family members with living expenses, school fees, and business start-up costs. But in times of tragedy, remittances can help victims of human rights violations regain their health or mourn their dead.

The Oromo Community of Minnesota is a 501(c)(3).
The Oromo Community of Minnesota is a 501(c)(3).

Diaspora organizations that gather funds and send them to individuals or groups in their countries of origin should be mindful of the relevant laws, both in the country where the diaspora group is based and in the country where the funds are sent. For example, the Oromo Community of Minnesota, as a registered 501(c)(3) organization, can offer donors certain tax benefits.

Chapter 11 of Paving Pathways, on capacity-building, includes information about forming a non-profit, financial management, fundraising, and complying with the law. Ethiopia’s Charities and Societies Proclamation–roundly criticized during Tuesday’s UN review and described on page 309 of Chapter 11–subjects Ethiopian organizations to harsh sanctions if they work on certain human rights issues and receive more than 10% of their funding from outside the country. So diaspora groups should be careful to avoid triggering those sanctions when they provide funding to groups inside Ethiopia.

4. Engage in advocacy with elected officials

Community members offered their advocacy suggestions for nearly 3 hours (Photo credit: Big Z, facebook)
Community members offered their advocacy suggestions for nearly 3 hours (Photo credit: Big Z, facebook)

The Oromo community members at the forum agreed that they needed to engage in advocacy targeting their federal lawmakers in the United States, particularly because the US government provides substantial funding to the government of Ethiopia. The Advocacy chapter of Paving Pathways includes a section on how diaspora groups can conduct advocacy targeting the government of the country where they live. Those strategies include: writing to elected officials; meeting with officials or their staff; legislative advocacy; and holding a congressional briefing to educate lawmakers and legislative staff about an issue of concern.

5. Work on bringing the perpetrators to justice

Chapter 8 of Paving Pathways explores strategies for promoting accountability for human rights violations. The most accessible accountability mechanism is often in the country where the human rights violations occurred. But as Botswana pointed out at the UN review on Tuesday, Ethiopia does not have an independent judicial system. And as Finland and Montenegro noted, Ethiopia lacks effective, independent complaint mechanisms for individuals to raise allegations of mistreatment by security, military, and law enforcement authorities.

Chapter 8 describes alternative accountability mechanisms that may be available outside the country where the violations occur, including criminal prosecutions and civil litigation under the laws of other countries, travel restrictions, and international criminal tribunals.

6. Establish a crisis response team

One thoughtful young Oromo woman, an alumna of South High, encouraged the group to establish a worldwide crisis response team that would be in place to respond to urgent situations such as the recent violence and arrests in Oromia. She noted that if a team were in place, it could be deployed more quickly to implement effective strategies to address breaking events.

Human rights defenders like the students and other protesters in Oromia often face threats, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence from security forces. Appendix Q is a toolkit of resources for human rights defenders on the ground. It includes information about emergency grants, advocacy tools, intergovernmental emergency response mechanisms, regional networks of human rights defenders, and international non-governmental organizations that assist human rights defenders who are in need. Part D of Chapter 11, on capacity-building, goes into more depth on safety and security issues, and explains how to use emergency response procedures at the United Nations and at regional mechanisms like the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to protect human rights defenders and enlist help when serious human rights violations are happening or imminent.

7. Create committees on media outreach, finance, and legal advocacy

It’s important for people involved in an advocacy campaign to collaborate, share expertise, and organize their work so the campaign does not rest on the shoulders of just a few people. Chapter 7 of Paving Pathways includes a section on media advocacy, and Chapter 11 covers financial matters. Chapters 8, 9, and 10 explore avenues for legal advocacy in the context of accountability, advocacy with the United Nations, and advocacy with regional human rights mechanisms. A legal advocacy team might also lead the important work of conducting systematic remote monitoring of human rights violations, and of documenting them in a report–topics covered in Chapters 5 and 6 of Paving Pathways.

8. Write a press release

As many governments recognized at the UN on Tuesday, journalists in Ethiopia are not allowed to operate freely, and many have been jailed for their work. Diasporans from closed societies like Ethiopia can help get the facts out by acting as liasons between their personal contacts in their country of origin and the media in the country where they live. In addition to a section on media advocacy, Paving Pathways includes a sample press release.

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Little Oromia is united and ready to show the world the strength of its ideas, enthusiasm, and passion as it moves forward. We at The Advocates for Human Rights hope Paving Pathways will serve as a helpful resource as the Oromo diaspora comes together to advocate for justice, accountability, and human rights in Ethiopia.

This post is the third in a four-part series about human rights in Ethiopia. Part 1 describes the important role the Oromo diaspora is playing in remotely monitoring recent human rights developments in Ethiopia. Part 2 highlights the May 6 Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia at the United Nations. Part 4 tells the stories of Oromos in the diaspora who have spoken with friends and family members on the ground in Oromia about events over the past three weeks, and recaps the Ethiopian Government’s response to the UN review.

By Amy Bergquist, staff attorney for the International Justice Program of The Advocates for Human Rights.

Top photo credit: Amane Bedaso, facebook

More posts in this series:

Oromo Diaspora Mobilizes to Shine Spotlight on Student Protests in Ethiopia

Ethiopian Government Faces Grilling at UN

Diaspora Speaks for Deliberately Silenced Oromos; Ethiopian Government Responds to UN Review

Ethiopian Government Faces Grilling at UN

UN flags_HighRes

Update: This blog post was updated on May 30, 2014, after the Armenian Mission to the UN in Geneva contacted The Advocates with the final, official version of the statement that was delivered on May 6. The changes do not have any particular relevance to the substance of this post. To see the statement that was uploaded to the UN website and included in the original post, please click here.

We often say at The Advocates for Human Rights that making progress on human rights is running a marathon, not a sprint. For example, the United Nations’ newest human rights mechanism, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), takes place just once every four and a half years for each country.

The Ethiopian Government's delegation to the Universal Periodic Review on May 6, 2014, chaired by State Minister of Foreign Affairs Berhane Gebre-Christos
The Ethiopian Government’s delegation to the Universal Periodic Review on May 6, 2014, chaired by State Minister of Foreign Affairs Berhane Gebre-Christos

So it was particularly fortuitous that the UPR of Ethiopia took place this morning, as Oromo students continue a second week of demonstrations across the federal state of Oromia to protest the Ethiopian Government’s plans to annex that state’s lands in order to expand the territory of Addis Ababa, and as the Oromo diaspora gears up for protests around the world on Friday to show their support for the students on the ground.

Despite the UPR’s early hour–2:00 this morning here in Minnesota, or “Little Oromia” as the diaspora calls it–social media have been buzzing about the review. And as the 3 1/2 hour review progressed, the Oromo diaspora reported on breaking news of more student protests in Oromia.

A quick primer on the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review
Every country that is a member of the United Nations participates in the UPR once every 4 1/2 years. Unlike the opt-in treaty-body review processes, where independent human rights experts conduct the examination, the UPR is a peer-to-peer diplomatic process. Governments comment on the human rights records of other governments. As you might expect, some governments shower their allies with praise, while other governments use the UPR to offer sharp criticism. Each statement typically includes some words of praise, some statements of concern, and some recommendations for the government under review. Later, the government under review must respond to each recommendation, stating whether it accepts or rejects it.

Like other UN human rights mechanisms, the UPR process has a role for civil society. Last September civil society organizations around the world submitted “stakeholder reports” about human rights conditions on the ground in Ethiopia. These reports are supposed to cover: (1) what progress the government has made on any recommendations it accepted during the last round of review; and (2) any developments since the last review.

Members of the Ogaden ethnic group from Ethiopia, living in diaspora in Europe, protest in front of the United Nations in March 2014
Members of the Ogaden ethnic group from Ethiopia, living in diaspora in Europe, protest in front of the United Nations in March 2014

Diaspora civil society groups play critical role in UN reviews
Diaspora advocacy is critical when the UN reviews the human rights records of closed societies like Ethiopia, where local groups may not feel free to criticize the government openly. The Advocates worked with the Oromo diaspora in Minnesota to prepare a stakeholder report for Ethiopia’s UPR, just as we have done for some of the UN’s treaty body review mechanisms. Other diaspora groups are also engaged in the process. For example, groups like the International Oromo Women’s Organization, the UK and Australia and branches of the Oromia Support Group, and the Toronto-based Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa also submitted stakeholder reports for today’s UPR.

Earlier this year, we did in-person and email advocacy with the Geneva missions of governments that we thought might be receptive to the issues we raised in our report. And over the weekend, we followed up with an update on the student protests and government crack-down in Oromia. Watching the live webcast this morning, we were relieved to see that many governments took up some of the Oromo diaspora’s concerns.

The Advocates’ new diaspora toolkit, Paving Pathways, includes a chapter on how to conduct advocacy at the United Nations, and another on advocacy with regional human rights mechanisms like the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Armenia draws attention to diaspora ties, recent casualties in Oromia

Lilia Petrosyan delivers Armenia's statement at the UPR on May 6, 2014
Lilia Petrosyan delivers Armenia’s statement at the UPR on May 6, 2014

A whopping 119 governments signed up to make statements during the review. Because of the limited time and intense interest, each government had just 65 seconds to make its points.You can watch the full review here.

The Armenian government offered the most direct commentary on the student protests in Oromia, and also referenced the Armenian diaspora in Ethiopia:

We would like to stress the friendly relations existing between our 2 nations. The presence of the Armenian community in Ethiopia has a centuries old history. Armenia particularly appreciates the generosity of the Ethiopian people and government, who hosted and integrated the survivors of the Armenian Genocide at the beginning of the 20th century.

Armenia commends the commitment of Ethiopia to the promotion of human rights, including respect for minority rights, cultural diversity and tolerance. In this regard, we are concerned about the reports of recent casualties in the state of Oromia. Armenia hopes that Ethiopia will continue to make efforts to further promote human rights, as a basis for encouraging tolerance and diversity in the country. . . .We have 2 recommendations for Ethiopia:

1) To further promote tolerance and dialogue between different ethnic and religious groups.

2) To further develop and expand human rights awareness-raising programs in the country.

Perhaps reflecting last-minute changes to incorporate a reference to the government’s use of lethal force against student protesters in Oromia last week, the version of Armenia’s statement originally uploaded to the UN website includes the words “New Version” in handwriting at the top.

Governments press Ethiopia to address inter-ethnic conflict, allow free expression, open up civil society
Governments raised a variety of important human rights issues, many of which directly concern the Oromo people, as reflected in our stakeholder report. (Click the country name to read the full text of the country’s statement.)

  • Violence and mistreatment by security forces
    • Costa Rica urged Ethiopia to take urgent measures to investigate torture and extrajudicial killings committed by the national defense forces of Ethiopia.
    • Finland and Montenegro recommended that Ethiopia ensure that is has clear, independent, and effective complaints mechanisms in place for individuals to raise allegations of mistreatment by security, military, and law enforcement authorities and prison officials.
    • Rwanda called on Ethiopia to set up police and military training on human rights.
  • Forcible resettlement of farmers and pastoralists
    • Austria recommended that Ethiopia’s national human rights institutions be equipped with the resources and capacities needed to independently investigate, and provide appeals and redress for, alleged human rights violations in relation to the resettlement of communities through Ethiopia’s Commune Development Program. The United Kingdom also expressed support for credible mechanisms to investigate allegations of abuses by special police in relation to relocation programs.
    • Bolivia encouraged Ethiopia to protect the rights of farmers and other rural workers.
    • Rwanda called on Ethiopia to strengthen measures to ensure food security.
    • Malaysia and Thailand urged Ethiopia to step up efforts to improve health services, especially in rural areas.
    • Morocco recommended that Ethiopia ensure that all segments of society benefit from economic growth.
  • Ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution
    • Namibia urged Ethiopia to enhance the institutional and financial capacities of the Ethiopia Human Rights Commission to effectively carry out its mandate, especially with regard to its working relations with the Oromo, Ogaden, Gambella, and Somali communities.
    • The Holy See urged Ethiopia to improve its outreach to all ethnic communities to actively participate in the political process.
    • Argentina, Bolivia, and Nicaragua urged the Ethiopian Government to combat racism, intolerance, and other forms of discrimination directed at vulnerable groups.
    • Burundi and the Holy See, like Armenia, recommended that Ethiopia expand activities to promote inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue. Canada made a similar recommendation to address inter-religious tensions.
    • Tunisia called on Ethiopia to address education discrimination, and Sudan recommended that Ethiopia expand primary education in students’ mother tongue.
    • Malaysia, the Maldives, and Namibia encouraged Ethiopia to improve the quality of education for children, especially in rural areas.
  • Freedom of expression and association for opposition political parties, human rights defenders
    • Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States recommended that Ethiopia fully implement its constitutional guarantees of freedom of association, expression, and assembly for independent political parties, ethnic and religious groups, and non-governmental organizations.
    • Canada urged Ethiopia to fully protect members of opposition groups, political activists, and journalists from arbitrary detention. Estonia called on Ethiopia to end harassment of political opposition party members, journalists, and human rights defenders. Finland recommended that Ethiopia take further measures to ensure the safety and freedom of action of human rights defenders.
  • Restrictions on civil society, media; anti-terrorism measures
    • Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United States recommended that Ethiopia abolish or amend its Charities and Societies Proclamation to allow non-governmental organizations to operate more effectively and to receive funding from outside the country.
    • Australia, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland urged Ethiopia to narrow its definition of terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and exclude the practice of journalism from the definition, to ensure protections for freedom of expression and assembly, and to better allow non-governmental organizations to function. The United States called for Ethiopia to ensure that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation is applied apolitically.
    • The Czech Republic also called on Ethiopia to immediately release all journalists detained for their professional activities, including the bloggers and journalists arrested in April 2014 and those jailed earlier, such as Mr. Nega and Ms Alemu.
    • Estonia, Ireland and South Korea urged Ethiopia to stop online censorship and respect freedom of the press. Ghana recommended that Ethiopia decriminalize defamation.
    • Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, and France encouraged Ethiopia to amend its Mass Media Proclamation to bring it in line with international human rights standards.
  • Due process and judicial independence
    • Botswana expressed concern about intimidation, harassment, threats, and firing of judges who resist political pressure, and called on Ethiopia to ensure the full independence and impartiality of the judiciary.
    • Switzerland called on Ethiopia to ensure the right to a fair trial.
  • Disappearances, torture in detention facilities
    • Argentina, France, Japan, Paraguay, and Tunisia recommended that the Ethiopian Government take further actions to address enforced disappearances, such as ratifying the Convention on Enforced Disappearances.
    • Austria and recommended that Ethiopia train all personnel in detention facilities to investigate and prosecute all alleged cases of torture. Paraguay and Spain also called for efforts to prevent torture in detention. The United Kingdom expressed support for credible mechanisms to investigate allegations of mistreatment of prisoners. Bhutan and Russia recommended that Ethiopia improve prison conditions. Kyrgyzstan called on Ethiopia to add a definition of torture to its criminal code that includes all elements contained in the Convention Against Torture.
    • Hungary, Paraguay, and Tunisia urged Ethiopia to grant the Red Cross and other independent international mechanisms immediate, full, and genuine access to all detention facilities in Ethiopia, and Hungary expressed concern about allegations of arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of detainees, including torture, rape, and prolonged incommunicado detention.

Recommendations to engage with UN Special Procedures

Some of the recommendations had to do with other United Nations procedures:

  • Ghana and Hungary, Japan, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Uruguay recommended that Ethiopia permit visits from all UN special procedures mandate-holders.
  • The United States called on Ethiopia to allow the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Assembly and Association to conduct a country visit, and the United Kingdom recommended that Ethiopia invite the Special Rapporteur on Torture to visit the country.
  • Spain also urged Ethiopia to respond to individual communications from special procedures mandate-holders.

The Oromo diaspora may want to use some of these special procedures, described in more detail in our chapters of Paving Pathways on UN advocacy and capacity-building, to submit urgent action letters and request country visits to investigate the situation on the ground in Oromia.

What’s next?
The Ethiopian Government will have several months to examine the recommendations, but then it will have to say definitively whether it accepts or rejects each one. Civil society in Ethiopia, with support from the diaspora, can then lobby for implementation of any accepted recommendations. And the diaspora can engage in remote monitoring of rejected recommendations to continue to shed light on ongoing human rights violations.

There’s also an upcoming opportunity for advocacy at the United Nations specifically relating to the rights of children in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and July 1 is the deadline for civil society groups to share information with the human rights experts on the Committee on the Rights of the Child as they prepare for their 2015 review of Ethiopia. Oromos in the diaspora who are concerned about students in Oromia who are under age 18 and who have faced violence, threats, and arrests because of their participation in protests may want to engage in more systematic remote monitoring and then write a report to bring the issue to the attention of the Committee. They may also want to raise other human rights concerns relevant to children in Ethiopia.

Advocacy at the UN is a long process, but when governments stifle dissent and ignore civil society, sometimes international pressure can prompt incremental reforms. Persistent advocacy from diaspora groups is essential to the process.  The Oromo diaspora is up to the task. We know, after all, that the Oromo people are particularly talented distance runners and can run the marathon needed to improve human rights in Ethiopia.

This post is the second in a four-part series about human rights in Ethiopia. Part 1 describes the important role the Oromo diaspora is playing in remotely monitoring recent human rights developments in Ethiopia. Part 3 explores the Oromo diaspora’s strategies for showing solidarity with the Oromo students while pushing for human rights and holding perpetrators accountable for the violence against peaceful demonstrators. Part 4 tells the stories of Oromos in the diaspora who have spoken with friends and family members on the ground in Oromia about events over the past three weeks, and recaps the Ethiopian Government’s response to the UN review.

By Amy Bergquist, staff attorney for the International Justice Program of The Advocates for Human Rights.

More posts in this series:

Oromo Diaspora Mobilizes to Shine Spotlight on Student Protests in Ethiopia

“Little Oromia” Unites to Advocate for Justice and Human Rights in Ethiopia

Diaspora Speaks for Deliberately Silenced Oromos; Ethiopian Government Responds to UN Review

Nightmare for Nigeria’s School Girls

Girls in school in Nigeria Image: Naija247News
Girls in school in Nigeria
Image: Naija247News

On the night of April 14, dozens of armed men showed up at the dormitory of the Government Girls Secondary school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria.  Dressed in Nigerian military uniforms, they told the girls that they were there to take them to safety and herded the girls into trucks and onto motorcycles.  At first, the girls believed them. But when the men started shooting their guns into the air and shouting, “Allahu Akbar,”  they realized that the men were militants from Boko Haram and that they were in serious danger.

Forty-three girls managed to escape by running away or jumping out of the trucks. But as many as 234 school girls between the ages of 12 and 17 were kidnapped, disappearing into the night without a trace. Two weeks later, their parents still have no idea where they are. And yesterday, village elders from Chibok told reporters that they had received information that the abducted girls were taken across the borders to Chad and Cameroon and sold as brides to Islamist militants for 2,000 naira (about $12). While unconfirmed, these reports are a chilling reminder of the threat of sexual violence faced by women and girls in conflict zones. 

The girls who were abducted were targeted simply because they were exercising their right to go to school, out of the ordinary for a girl in Nigeria. Access to basic education for girls has remained low, particularly in the northern region which has the  lowest girl child enrollment in Nigeria —in 2008 the net enrollment rate for girls into secondary school was only 22 percent.  The girls (who were both Christian and Muslim) at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok must each have been determined to get an education in spite of tremendous odds.  The fact that these girls were also risking violence to be in school illustrates how important the right to education was to each of them.

How could this happen? And why?
Boko Haram is a violent insurgent group that has killed thousands of people since 2009, purportedly in an attempt to establish an Islamist state in northern Nigeria. Although the Nigerian government has issued a state of emergency in three northern states, attacks on villages in northern Nigeria have displaced more than 470,000 people—mostly women and children, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Since early 2014, Boko Haram’s attacks have been increasingly violent, targeting remote villages, markets, hospitals, and schools.  Boko Haramis responsible for at least 1500 deaths so far in 2014.

Boko Haram also has a history of taking hostages as “slaves.” In May 2013, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Sheku released a video saying that Boko Haram had taken women and children, including teenage girls, as hostages as part of its latest campaign. These hostages would be treated as “slaves,” he said.  This has raised concern among the family members of those abducted that “Boko Haram is adhering to the ancient Islamic belief that women captured during war are slaves with whom their ‘masters’ can have sex.  Regardless of alleged rationale, enslavement, imprisonment, forced labor, rape and sexual slavery are all serious violations of international law.  They are defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as crimes against humanity.

The group has repeatedly attacked schools in northern Nigeria. Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden”  in the Hausa language. Boko Haram has set schools on fire and detonated bombs at university campus churches. In early February, armed gunmen abducted 20 female students at Goverment Girls Science College in the village of Konduga. On February 24, 2014, members of Boko Haram attacked and killed more than 40 male students at Federal Government College in Buni Yadi village and abducted an unknown number of female students. After these attacks, many schools in northeastern Nigeria were closed. The school where the abductions took place was closed as well, but local education officials decided to briefly reopen the Chibok school to allow the girls to take their exams.  

The mass kidnapping  in April was unprecedented and shocking. Even more shocking – after more than two weeks, the Nigerian government has done very little to find and rescue the girls.

The lack of government response has provoked outrage in Nigeria. On Wednesday, several hundred participated in a “million-woman protest march” in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital to demand that more resources be put toward finding and securing the kidnapped girls. The protesters in Nigeria are joined on Twitter with a growing movement under the hashtags #BringBackOurGirls, #BringBackOurDaughters and #234Girls.

One man, whose daughter was abducted along with his two nieces, said his wife has hardly slept since the attack. She lies awake at night “thinking about our daughter”.  As the mother of a young school girl myself, I feel deeply for her. The continuing tragedy of these young Nigerian school girls is every parent’s worst nightmare.

It’s time for world to wake up to the escalating violence in Nigeria, as well as the Nigerian government’s lack of response.

By: Jennifer Prestholdt, deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights and the organization’s director of the International Justice Program. Ms. Prestholdt has a B.A. in political science from Yale and a M.A.L.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, where she studied international human rights law and international refugee policy. She graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Prestholdt has worked on refugee and asylum issues for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland and the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination Against and Protection of Minorities. Prior to becoming deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights, Prestholdt practiced asylum law for five years as the organization’s  director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program. She has also taught International Human Rights Law as an adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School. 

African Commission to Consider Violence Perpetrated Because of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

African Commission to Consider Violence Perpetrated Because of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

African Commission on Human and People's Rights

A delegation from the government of Cameroon is appearing this week before the 54th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to delve into human rights conditions in Cameroon and to respond to questions.

Reflecting grave concerns about violence that is based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Cameroon, the NGO Forum hosted by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies last weekend adopted a resolution condemning this human rights abuse. The resolution will therefore be presented to the African Commission for consideration during the closed portion of its session next week.

The Advocates for Human Rights’ partner organizations, Le Réseau des Défenseurs des Droits Humains en Afrique Centrale (REDHAC) and Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS (CAMFAIDS), participated in the NGO Forum. During the Commission’s review of Cameroon this week, Patience Ngo Mbe of REDHAC delivered an oral statement on the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Cameroon. Our friends at African Men for Sexual Health and Rights (AMSHeR) and Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) also released a report on violence based on perceived or real sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa in conjunction with the resolution being brought before the NGO forum.

Following the session, the African Commission will announce any resolutions it has adopted and will issue concluding observations and recommendations to the government of Cameroon about a myriad of human rights abuses in Cameroon. It is our hope that the Commission will home in on violence perpetrated because of actual and perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

The resolution adopted by the NGO Forum is the product of several years of planning and advocacy by African non-governmental organizations. It reads as follows:

Resolution on Violence and Human Rights Violations against Persons on the Basis of their Imputed or Real Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Africa

Recalling that Article 4[o] of the Constitutive Act of the African Union recognizes respect for the sanctity of human life, condemnation and rejection of impunity as a guiding principle of the African Union;

Recalling also that Articles 3 and 28 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights recognize the equality of every individual under the law and the right of every individual to equal protection of the law, and the duty of every individual to respect and consider his fellow human beings without discrimination, and to maintain relations aimed at promoting, safeguarding and reinforcing mutual respect and tolerance respectively;

Recalling further that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights affirm the inherent dignity of all human beings that everyone is entitled to the enjoyment of rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or any other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status;

Noting that Article 29[7] of the African Charter requires every individual to preserve and strengthen positive African cultural values in his relations with other members of society in the spirit of tolerance, dialogue and consultation;

Noting also that Article 45 of the African Charter, which mandates the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, protects human and peoples’ rights in Africa;

Noting further that Article 60 of the African Charter requires the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to draw inspiration from the content of other international treaties and laws, and further noting that articles 2(1) and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which all African states are party, as well article 2 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) establish the principle of non discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, as elaborated respectively by the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and that

U.N. treaty bodies and Special Procedures, including the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture and other inhuman, degrading and cruel punishments and treatments, the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, have consistently held that the International Bill of Rights includes protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity;

Expressing grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination committed against individuals because of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity, which include arbitrary arrests, detentions, extra-judicial killings and executions, forced disappearances, extortion and blackmail, violent attacks such as rape and other sexual assault, physical assaults, torture and murder;

Further alarmed at the incidence of violence and human rights violations and abuses by State and non-state actors targeting human rights defenders and civil society organisations working on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa;

Deeply disturbed by the unwillingness of law enforcement agencies to diligently investigate and prosecute perpetrators of violence and other human rights violations targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity;

Hereby:

1              Condemns the increasing incidence of violence and other human rights violations, including murder, rape, assault, persecution and imprisonment of persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity in Africa;

2              Condemns exclusion of individuals and communities from the enjoyment of rights and the full realization of their potential because of their real or imputed sexual orientation and gender identity;

3              Specifically condemns the situation of systematic attacks by state and non-state actors against persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identity;

4              Strongly urges States to end impunity for acts of violation and abuse, whether committed by state or non-state actors, by enacting appropriate laws prohibiting and punishing all forms of violence including those targeting persons on the basis of their imputed or real sexual orientation and gender identities, ensure proper investigation and diligent prosecution of the perpetrators, and establishing judicial procedures favorable to the victims.

Shadow Reports Submitted

In related action, The Advocates and its partners also submitted reports in advance of the 54th Ordinary Session for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ consideration, including:

1. A report on the violation of rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in Cameroon was submitted in collaboration with CAMFAIDS, REDHAC, L’Association pour la Défense des Droits des Homosexuels (ADEFHO). The report describes the widespread persecution of and discrimination against people on the basis of perceived and actual sexual orientation and gender identity.

2. A report on the rights of women in Cameroon was submitted in collaboration with Ecumenical Service for Peace, addressing four forms of violence-rape, domestic violence, breast ironing and, female genital mutilation, as well as the issue of women’s access to employment. The report demonstrates that Cameroon does not do enough to protect and promote the rights of women.

3. A report on the death penalty and detention conditions was submitted in partnership with Droits et Paix. This report shows that despite a de facto moratorium on the death penalty, Cameroon continues to sentence people to death and retains the possibility of carrying out these sentences. The report also describes serious human rights violations in the country’s detention facilities.

By: Ashley Monk, The Advocates’ development and communications assistant