The Advocates for Human Rights has worked in partnership with the Oromo diaspora for many years to hold the government of Ethiopia accountable for human rights violations. In March 2019, volunteer Nagessa Dube made the following oral statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council during an Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues.
Dear Mr. President:
The Advocates for Human Rights, alongside partner organization United Oromo Voices, would like to thank the Special Rapporteur for his report on minority issues. The concerns that he raises in his report and in his 2018 country visits parallel the struggles minority indigenous groups face in Ethiopia.
Similar to Botswanan minorities, as discussed in the report, minority groups in Ethiopia face barriers to land use. Members of the minority Ogaden community have been subjected to the arbitrary confiscation of land and ethnic persecution since the beginning of Ethiopian rule over the Somali region in 1948. In April 2014 and again in November 2015, the Oromo people launched large-scale protests in opposition to the Addis Ababa Master Plan, which intended to forcibly displace the Oromos from their homes in favor of expansion of the territory of the capital city.
We call attention to the persecution and suppression of freedom of speech. Many Oromo people were injured and killed during the 2016 Irreechaa protests after security forces fired into crowds. Many survivors were taken into government custody.
We do commend the Ethiopian Government for accepting several recommendations in the last UPR in 2014 to take measures to alleviate tensions between and discrimination against ethnic groups through intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. And we welcome the current administration’s stated commitment to reforms, including the release of thousands of political prisoners—many belonging to minority and indigenous groups—and ending the state of emergency. Despite this progress, the threat to minority rights in Ethiopia continues via land displacement, persecution, and suppression of the freedom of expression.
We urge the government of Ethiopia and the Council to work together to confront the threats to minority rights in all their forms.
This is the third in the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota. Read additional posts here.
Minnesota is home to not only the largest Oromo community in the United States, but also the largest population of Oromo people outside of Ethiopia. The Oromo people have arrived in Minnesota over the past 30 years as a direct result of political persecution and other human rights abuses in Ethiopia. Across the diaspora, Oromos continue to actively engage with the politics of their country of origin and encourage the governments of their adopted countries, including the United States, to apply pressure on Ethiopia to improve its human rights record.
One such organization is the Peace and Justice Committee of Our Redeemer Oromo Evangelical Church in Minneapolis, founded in part by Oromo diaspora member Samuel Berhanu. Samuel and others in his organization are dedicated to introducing Minnesotans to the Oromo people and educating them about the human rights violations Oromos experience at the hands of the Ethiopian government.
History of Persecution by the Ethiopian Government
Western States have largely overlooked the plight of the Oromo, instead supporting the Ethiopian government, which is dominated by one ethnic minority group. Since 1991, the United States has identified Ethiopia as an ally in the Horn of Africa and an ally in the war on terror. Samuel explains that, with the largely Muslim populations in neighboring Somalia and Sudan, the United States considers Ethiopia a stabilizing force within the region. Western leaders then use this designation to justify the financial and military support afforded to the Ethiopian government. Ethiopia remains one of Africa’s largest recipient of foreign aid from the United States, despite the human rights abuses the Ethiopian government perpetrates.
Mobilizing to Build Bridges
Samuel and other members of the diaspora are working toward changing the United States’ approach to the human rights violations occurring in Ethiopia. The Peace and Justice Committee originally formed as part of the congregation of Our Redeemer Oromo Evangelical Church with the goal of influencing the Ethiopian government by appealing to the Western governments. The Peace and Justice Committee has helped build the capacity of the Oromo community to set priorities and engage in advocacy about human rights in Ethiopia.
The Committee worked with The Advocates’ International Justice Program staff attorney Amy Bergquist to organize a two-hour workshop attended by over 50 members of the congregation, as well as other concerned Oromos. At the workshop, participants identified priority issues and explored the different stakeholders who have the power to improve the human rights situation on the ground in Ethiopia. They then mapped out the people and organizations that influence those stakeholders to help Oromos in the diaspora better target their advocacy efforts.
Since then, the organization has expanded its reach to include non-Christian and non-diaspora members through a new organization called United Oromo Voice. Like the Peace and Justice Committee, United Oromo Voice is devoted to fighting against the injustices and human rights violations committed by the Ethiopian government. Samuel hopes that United Oromo Voice will encourage Minnesotans to engage with the Committee’s advocacy work.
Facing the challenges ahead
One of the obstacles facing the Peace and Justice Committee is successfully bringing together differing political opinions within the Oromo community. While the diaspora community largely seeks to end the human rights violations in Ethiopia, members disagree on the proper means of achieving that end. Some Oromos seek to work with the Ethiopian government, while others believe that succession is the only solution. Samuel makes a distinction between the role of the diaspora and the role of Oromos who remain in Ethiopia, explaining that at the end of the day, it is up to the people currently in Ethiopia to decide which approach is best. Samuel believes that their role as Oromos in the diaspora should be to provide a voice for Oromos remaining in Ethiopia, appealing to the West to exert pressure internationally.
Like other diaspora community organizations, the biggest obstacle is that members are trying to juggle work, family life, and the importance of the cause. Samuel does not seem to mind the burden, explaining that,
“God brought me here not to just live my own selfish life . . . I have to think of those who can’t make a voice for themselves.”
Our Redeemer Peace and Justice Committee of Our Redeemer Oromo Evangelical Church and United Oromo Voice
Volunteer Opportunities: The Peace and Justice Committee along with United Oromo Voice are currently seeking volunteers to assist with their projects and advocacy work. United Oromo Voice needs short-term and long-term volunteers to help with projects including community outreach, diplomacy, advocacy, media, and writing letters to government officials. If you would like to get involved, contact Samuel Berhanu at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn More: To learn more about human rights violations against the Oromo people in Ethiopia, read:
You may never have heard of the Oromo people, the largest single ethnic group in Ethiopia. You might be surprised to learn that if you are a U.S. taxpayer, you are subsidizing their oppression.
On Tuesday, April 19, a Congressional commission named the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission conducted a hearing on human rights conditions in Ethiopia. The Commission provides information concerning human rights to Congress, so it is particularly fitting that it should inquire into conditions in Ethiopia. That country has been a major ally of the United States and recipient of U.S. humanitarian and military aid for all of the years Ethiopia’s current regime has been in power. Since 2013, the United States has given in the range of half a billion dollars per year in foreign aid to Ethiopia, plus a much smaller amount of military aid, which means the United States is Ethiopia’s largest and most important source of foreign assistance.
In July 2015, President Obama visited Ethiopia, drawing widespread criticism from human rights groups for his warm words toward the country and his relatively milquetoast references to its abysmal human rights record. Obama said that the Prime Minister of what he referred to as the “democratically elected” Ethiopian government “would be the first to acknowledge that there is more work to be done” in the field of human rights.
Well, yes. The ruling party in Ethiopia won all 547 seats in Parliament following the elections that occurred just two months before Obama’s visit, and the “democratically elected” Prime Minister was allocated 100 percent of the vote. U.S. officials were prohibited from acting as election observers. The election featured denials of registrations for opposition candidates, while journalists were arrested and threatened. After the election, at least three opposition politicians were murdered, with no investigations conducted.
The government’s security forces employ murder and torture. In 2014, they fired into crowds of peaceful students who were protesting the government’s “land grab” for the benefit of international development interests, which would potentially displace an estimated two million Oromo. Dozens were killed. Many more were arrested and remain in prison. The killings continue. According to Human Rights Watch, relying on reports of activists, at least 75 protesters were killed by government security forces in November and December 2015, while the government only acknowledged five deaths. The actual figures are likely much greater than is known, since the government tightly restricts access to such information. There is no freedom of the press, no independent judiciary, no adherence to international human rights standards beyond lip service.
The Ethiopian government is adept at achieving the maximum oppression while drawing minimal attention to its human rights abuses. It signs onto numerous international human rights conventions, although it routinely violates them. It purports to allow local human rights organizations to exist, although its Charities and Societies Proclamation makes it largely impossible for them to operate by denying the organizations international funding.
Perhaps most impressive, the government masterfully plays the terrorism card. In 2009, it adopted the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, allowing draconian treatment of persons accused of being “terrorists,” largely an arbitrary term for those opposing actions of the Ethiopian government and wishing to bring about change. The government frequently brands protesting Oromo and others as “terrorists” to justify imprisoning or killing them.
The Tom Lantos Commission should disseminate to Congress all possible documentation of the crimes of the Ethiopian government. In turn, Congress should find ways to be sure the United States ratchets up the pressure on its strategic ally far beyond clubby acknowledgements of “more work to be done.” The spigot of international development money should not remain open without real and fundamental changes in the human rights environment in Ethiopia, beginning with an end to extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings; a release of political prisoners; restoration of a free press and independent judiciary; and the repeal or modification of the Charities and Societies Proclamation and the Anti-Terrorism Law.
By: James O’Neal, retired attorney and member of The Advocates for Human Rights’ board of directors, and Robin Phillips, the organization’s executive director. Deeply concerned about continuing human rights violations in Ethiopia, The Advocates has consistently raised concerns about the treatment of Oromos in Ethiopia at UN human rights bodies and with the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights.
Pictured above: Amaanee Badhasso, International Oromo Youth Association’s president in 2014, accompanied The Advocates’ Amy Bergquist to Geneva that year to meet with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Read other blog posts about Ethiopia’s persecution of the Oromo by entering “Ethiopia” or “Oromo” in the blog’s search bar.
Oromos and others in the Ethiopian diaspora are on the edge of their seats. Not only are general elections in Ethiopia scheduled for Sunday, but today the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is reviewing Ethiopia’s human rights record.
Ethiopia under review at the UN
Today, May 22nd, the United Nations’ Committee on the Rights of the Child is reviewing Ethiopia’s human rights record in light of its commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This treaty describes the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of children. Ethiopia became a party to the Convention in 1991. Ethiopia has undergone three previous reviews with the Committee, and tomorrow’s session will consolidate the country’s fourth and fifth periodic reviews. The Committee’s review has a number of objectives. The Committee will review Ethiopia’s progress on the Committee’s previous recommendations, assess the current state of Ethiopia’s commitments, and–we hope–address some relevant issues civil society organizations like The Advocates for Human Rights and the the International Oromo Youth Association (IOYA) raised in a report to the Committee in July 2014.
The Advocates and IOYA met with Committee members in Geneva last September to assist them in preparing their list of issues to focus on during tomorrow’s review. The report describes numerous violations of children’s rights in Ethiopia, and it also focuses on ethnic discrimination faced by the Oromo people–the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia. It emphasizes legal provisions that hinder civil society organizations from being able to carry out effective child rights work in Ethiopia. The report also outlines various government violations affecting children, including violations of civil rights and freedoms, family environment, basic health and welfare, and education. The Advocates’ report especially emphasizes the violations carried out by the Ethiopian government against minors in relation to last year’s Oromo student protests. Read on for some initial coverage of how the Committee has been using this report during today’s review.
What happens at the Committee’s review?
The Committee’s review takes place over two sessions. The first session starts with representatives of the Ethiopian Government presenting a brief overview on the current state of Ethiopia’s commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child–typically a brief summary of the State’s report to the Committee and a response to the Committee’s list of specific issues to which Ethiopia was previously asked to reply. Then there is a first round of questions and responses from the government delegation. During the second session, government representatives will have a chance to answer additional questions from the Committee, responding with more detail to address the Committee’s concerns.
This morning, the Committee raised concerns about the government’s response to the Oromo student protests in 2014. The Ethiopian delegation’s response was as predictable as it was disappointing. The Ethiopian government said the students were not peaceful but rather were “promoting a terrorist agenda.” The Committee members expressed displeasure with the government’s classification of children as “terrorists,” prompting the Ethiopian Ambassador to the UN Office in Geneva to assert to the Committee that the students were probably “convinced by a totally unacceptable ideology.” The ambassador reserved judgment on whether the rights of students had been violated, but conceded that the delegation had heard the Committee’s concerns.
The Committee raised many other issues highlighted in our report, including sexual assault of students by teachers, FGM, discrimination against children with disabilities, and child domestic workers. For more details about today’s review, follow tweets at @alb68.
In just a few weeks, the Committee will issue its Concluding Observations and Recommendations from today’s review.
Concerns surrounding Ethiopia’s general elections
Ethiopia will also hold its parliamentary elections on Sunday, May 24th. According to Ethiopia’s Fana Broadcasting Corporate, about 36.8 million people have voting cards, and the nation has set up 45,000 polling stations across the country.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, who is running for re-election, has never run for the post of prime minister before. He took over leadership of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) after the death of the former Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. The EPRDF, the current ruling party, has won four consecutive elections in Ethiopia, winning the 2010 elections with 99.6% of the vote. Several opposition groups fear this election will have the same result.
Oromo groups, in particular, have been campaigning against the EPRDF, but according to an Al Jazeera report, this campaigning has prompted the government to place an even stronger grip on its citizens, increasing repression of their basic political liberties. Since 2010, the government has shut down the majority of independent media sources in Ethiopia, and so the Ethiopian media itself does not provide much coverage of election issues. Many sources that provide information to media and human rights groups are often targeted by the Ethiopian government, and many diaspora websites are blocked. At the same time, citizens fear the consequences of voting for an opposition party, worried that it will lead to even more repression.
Looking back on the past year
With all that’s taking place in Ethiopia over the next few days, it’s an important time to look back and reflect on what’s happened and the advocacy The Advocates has been engaging in with the diaspora over the past year:
(1) Oromo student protests
We’re now one year on from the Oromo student protests, highlighted by a blog series at The Advocates Post last year. Human rights organizations and Oromo diaspora groups, while outraged by the events in Ethiopia, have been unable to intervene directly due to the government’s strict limitations on independent human rights work within the country. Instead, the Oromo diaspora began awareness-raising movements here in Minnesota and around the world, using the #OromoProtests hashtag, and inviting others to join the movement. The Oromo diaspora organized several programs and made use of various tactics from The Advocates’ Paving Pathways appendix on “Using Popular Social Media Platforms for Effective Human Rights Advocacy.”
(2) Ethiopia’s turn in the Universal Periodic Review
At the time of the protests, Ethiopia was up for review as part of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The Advocates, along with members of the Oromo diaspora in Minnesota, prepared a stakeholder report for Ethiopia’s review. We lobbied the Geneva missions of several foreign governments, urging them to raise issues surrounding discrimination targeting Oromos and the student protests to Ethiopia’s government.
In September, the UN Human Rights Council formally adopted the outcome of the UPR of Ethiopia. As we reported at the time, there were some fireworks as civil society organizations challenged the Ethiopian government’s repressive policies.
At the adoption of the UPR outcome, the Ethiopian government made several commitments to improve its human rights record, including accepting a recommendation from the United Kingdom to “[t]ake concrete steps to ensure the 2015 national elections are more representative and participative than those in 2010, especially around freedom of assembly and encouraging debate among political parties.” Initial reports suggest that the Ethiopian government has not honored its word. But people in the diaspora can work with people on the ground in Ethiopia to document these ongoing human rights violations and to prepare reports to use in future advocacy.
(4) Meeting with the Committee on the Rights of the Child
In September 2014, The Advocates and IOYA traveled to Geneva to meet with the Committee on the Rights of the Child as it prepared its list of issues that would guide its review of Ethiopia’s human rights record. We also had the opportunity to meet with the staff of some of the UN special procedures to discuss other opportunities for raising human rights concerns at the United Nations.
(5) The African Human Rights Commission reviews Ethiopia’s human rights record
The Advocates has a few other projects in the works with diaspora communities from Ethiopia. We’ll keep you posted as those efforts progress.
Hope for the upcoming days
As we’ve said before, making progress on human rights is like a marathon, not a sprint. Ethiopia is a case in point. But neither The Advocates nor the diaspora will turn its back on the Ethiopian government’s human rights violations. We’ll continue to monitor the situation in the country and pursue strategies to pressure the government to honor its human rights commitments. Our toolkit, Paving Pathways for Justice and Accountability: Human Rights Tools for Diaspora Communities, is over 400 pages long, and there are still a lot of strategies that need to be developed and still a lot of work that remains to be done in the fight for human rights in Ethiopia.
Are you, or do you know, a member of a diaspora community? What can you do to be an advocate for human rights from afar?
December has been a terrible month for human rights—from the U.S. Senate’s report confirming the use of torture, to the slaughter of Pakastani school children, to two grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Overall, 2014 has been an extremely troubling year. Some human rights abuses garnered a lot of attention; many did not, taking place under the radar of the media and public conversation. Let’s consider a few examples, and let them serve as a call to action.
Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria one night in mid-April. This travesty garnered wide media attention and support from around the world, with celebrities carrying “Bring Back Our Girls” placards and rallies demanding the girls’ return. Unfortunately, 219 girls are reported to remain in captivity. Boko Haram continued its reign of terror, and is responsible for other atrocities throughout Somalia and Nigeria during 2014, including kidnappings, mass recruitment of child soldiers, and bombings of churches and public squares. Just this month news reports surfaced that Boko Haram kidnapped at least 185 women and children and killed 32 people in northeast Nigeria.
Central American refugees―mostly children (and many by themselves)―are seeking asylum, after journeying across one of the world’s most dangerous migrant routes to escape horrific violence in their home countries. The crisis was brought to light and much of the nation was shocked when, in June, images of children being held by US authorities surfaced, showing children crowded in makeshift prisons, and crammed into rooms and sleeping on concrete floors. Instead of treating them as refugees and in accordance with internationally-recognized human rights standards, the U.S. has treated these children as national security threats, warehousing them in razor-wired prisons, detaining them in horrendous conditions, and subjecting them to expedited proceedings to deport them at warp speed and back to the life-threatening dangers they fled.
The terrorist organization ISIL has committed gruesome acts of violence that have alarmed the world community, including murdering political opposition members in mass, enslaving and brutalizing women and girls, and forcing young boys into its ranks. An August attack by ISIL in the Sinjar region caused thousands of Shiites and Yazidis to flee; in October, ISIL abducted 5,000-7,000 Yazidi women and children and sold them into slavery, reported the UN.
Grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner highlighted racial profiling, police brutality, and failures of the justice system throughout the country, including a police officer shooting 12-year-old Tamir Rice to death in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Ethiopian government attacked a student protest in the nation’s Oromia region in April, killing as many as 47 students, as some reports indicate. The Ethiopian government has persecuted and targeted the Oromo people for years, subjecting Oromo to abduction, mass incarceration, and extreme levels of torture, including electric shock and repeated rapes.
Nearly 200,000 people have been killed and millions more took flight because of violence in Syria―the world’s largest refugee crisis resulting from a civil war that has raged in the region following popular uprising during the Arab Spring in 2011. To date, UNHCR estimates that more than 2.5 million refugees have fled the disaster, surpassing the refugee crises in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, and Central America.
Countries took huge steps backward for rights of LGBTI communities, enacting draconian laws which punish homosexuality with prison terms, torture, and death. Members of LGBTI communities in some countries are hunted down by vigilantes and are beaten or killed. In 2014, Uganda enacted one of the most notorious laws—its “Kill the Gays” law—punishing homosexuality with life in prison. The Ugandan Constitutional Court struck down law. Unfortunately, because the court ruled on procedural grounds rather than on the merits, the court’s decision does not bar parliament from adopting an identical law in the future. And homosexuality remains a criminal act in Uganda, as it was before the new law was signed.
The U.S.’s use of drone strikes are a significant setback to international law, setting new precedents for use of force by nations around the world. As of November 2014, attempts to kill 41 people resulted in snuffing out the lives of an estimated 1,147 individuals, reports The Guardian. The U.S. has, to date, used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people— including civilians and children—in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, all countries against whom the U.S. has not declared war, the organization Reprieve reports.
An Egyptian court sentenced 529 people to death in a mass trial in March. The next month, a court sentenced another 680 to death in a proceeding that lasted only a few minutes. These mass executions, issued by a military government than came to power in a July 2013 coup, represent some of the largest ordered executions in the last century. Activists who supported efforts to oust former President Hosni Mubarak continue to be rounded up and targeted by the military, aiming to crush political opposition and to roll back achievements made during the Arab Spring. And in November, an Egyptian court dismissed conspiracy to kill charges against Mubarak, and he was cleared of corruption charges; he will likely be freed in a few months.
Women and girls have suffered immeasurablywhere they should be safest, in their homes. Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria, according to the World Bank. On average, at least one in three women is beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by an intimate partner in the course of her lifetime. One high profile domestic violence incident this year involved NFL player Ray Rice beating his then-fiance into unconsciousness and flattening her to the floor of an elevator. As a result of the attack, Rice was suspended for two games. When TMZ posted the video of the attack for the world to see, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely and the Baltimore Ravens pressured his victim to apologize. Ultimately, the NFL reversed its decision to suspend Rice indefinitely in late November.
Harmful cultural practices violate women. Many governments “address” human rights violations—even the most cringe-worthy, stomach-churning―against women and girls by punishing the victims. Or—as in the case of women from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala seeking refuge in other countries—governments turn their heads to the violence, empowering the perpetrators and further victimizing and subjugating the women. These abuses include acid attacks, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, honor killings, bride burning, and gang rapes. Consider the death of Farzana Iqbal, 25, in May in Pakistan; her family stoned her to death outside a courthouse in Pakistan because she sought to marry without consent from her family a man she loved. Consider Hanna Lalango, 16, who died a month after she entered a public mini-bus in Ethiopia and was gang-raped by strangers for five days―a case similar to one in India two years ago, but one that did not garner the same level of attention and outrage. As an added note, Lalango’s father said he would not have made the case public if his daughter had lived because the shame would have shadowed her for the rest of her life.
The U.S. Senate “torture report” released on December 9 graphically details the CIA’s use of abuse, including keeping a prisoner awake for 180 hours with his hands shackled over his head, threatening to sexually assault and cut the throat of a detainee’s mother, penetrating a detainee’s anus for “rectal feeding,” and tying a prisoner to a floor until he froze to death.
Taliban militants stormed a school in Peshwar, Pakistan and killed more than 130 students in a terrorist attack on December 16 to retaliate against the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the young girl who caught the world’s attention for being shot for going to school. Responding to the Peshwar slaughter, Malala stated, “I, along with millions of others around the world, mourn these children, my brothers and sisters—but we will never be defeated.”
Forty-three students traveling to a protest in Mexico were rounded up and “disappeared” in September. The mayor of Iguala, Mexico in concert with local gangs ordered the capture and murder of these students, reports indicate. Federal police may also have complicity in the crime. The act has garnered widespread attention in Mexico, with people questioning the legitimacy of federal and state Mexican authorities, who for years has been corrupted by the influence of narco-traffickers and gangs.
More than 2,000 Gazans were killed when Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza strip in July to stop rocket attacks that followed an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in retaliation for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. The disproportionate level of force used by the Israeli military resulted in large number of civilian deaths. Of the 2,192 Gazans killed, about 1523 civilians (including 519 children), 66 Israeli soldiers, five Israeli civilians (including a child), and one Thai civilian were killed, reports indicate. At the end of the conflict, 110,000 people were internally displaced and 108,000 were made homeless, according to Amnesty International.
What can we do in the face of these human rights violations and the countless others that go unnoticed? Pay attention. Look behind the headlines. Make our voices heard by public officials, leaders, and the world community. Volunteer for projects that address the issues most important to us. Support organizations such as The Advocates for Human Rights which take on the larger systemic issues that allow human rights abuses to continue. We are not helpless. In 2015, we can, by working together, move closer to our vision of a world in which all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality, and peace . . . because every person matters.
By: The Advocates for Human Rights’ Deepinder Mayell, Robin Phillips, Jennifer Prestholdt, and Susan Banovetz
The treaty-body review process is cyclical, like the Universal Periodic Review. It typically starts with the government’s report on its compliance with the treaty. You can read the Ethiopian Government’s report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child here. Next, civil society groups like The Advocates for Human Rights and IOYA can submit their own alternative reports (also called “parallel” or “shadow” reports), responding to the government’s report and identifying issues that need further attention. Read our report to the Committee here.
The next step in the process is for the Committee to publish a “list of issues” to guide the rest of the review. The Committee on the Rights of the Child invites some civil society organizations to meet with Committee members in person for a confidential briefing before it finalizes the list of issues. We met with the Committee on September 26 and had a productive dialogue about their issues of concern and ours. But because the closed-door session is confidential, I won’t go into details of what we discussed.
Two weeks later, the Committee published its list of issues for its upcoming review of Ethiopia. The Committee included many—but not all—of the issues we raised in our report. Based on the list of issues, we know the Committee is concerned about issues such as “discrimination and stigma faced by girls, children with disabilities, and children of ethnic minorities”; sexual abuse of children, including children with disabilities; FGM; support for children with disabilities, including children who live and/or work in the streets; “relocation of a significant number of indigenous families, belonging, inter alia, to the Anuak, Nuer or Oromo, under the ‘villagization’ programme, . . . to areas unsuitable for agricultural use, where they lack access to education and basic necessities”; child domestic workers; abuse and violence against children; and sexual violence perpetrated by teachers against students.
The next step in the process is for the Ethiopian Government to submit a written response to the list of issues. The Committee requested a response by March 15, 2015, but oftentimes the responses come much later.
Now that we know the issues the Committee is concerned about, we have the opportunity to submit a new report if we have any additional information that might be relevant. And after the Ethiopian Government submits its written response, we can submit our own alternative report to highlight any inaccuracies or omissions in the government’s report.
Next, the Ethiopian Government will send a delegation to Geneva for an “examination” by the Committee. The examination will take place during the Committee’s session running from May 18 to June 5, 2015. The examination isn’t limited to the topics covered in the list of issues, so it’s possible the Committee will voice its concern then about the government’s violent crackdown on student protests. Then, after the session, the Committee will publish its Concluding Observations and Recommendations for the Ethiopian Government. You can read the Concluding Observations from Ethiopia’s last review, in 2006, at this link.
To learn more about the UN treaty body review process, read pages 224-233 of Paving Pathways.
IOYA Meets with UN Special Procedures Staff
We didn’t travel all that way just for one meeting. Rather, we decided to make the most of our time by following up on a letter we sent to some of the UN Special Procedures in June, encouraging them to visit Ethiopia to investigate the government crackdown on the Oromo protests. We met with staff of several special procedures, discussing the possibility of a country visit and also talking about what role the Oromo diaspora could play in assisting people who might want to submit individual communications to the special procedures. To learn more about how to engage with the UN Special Procedures, read pages 211-222 of Paving Pathways.
IOYA and The Advocates Host a Side Event
While the Human Rights Council is in session, NGOs with consultative status, like The Advocates for Human Rights, can apply for space at the United Nations to host a “side event.” To learn more about applying for consultative status with the United Nations, read pages 310-312 of Paving Pathways.
The Advocates and IOYA hosted a side event called “Diaspora Engagement on Human Rights: Ethiopia as a Case Study.” I introduced the audience to our Paving Pathwaystoolkit, and then I turned the floor over to my IOYA colleagues. IOYA’s President, Amane Badhasso, spoke about the ways in which the Oromo diaspora used social media to engage in advocacy surrounding the Oromo protests. To learn more about how you can conduct an effective human rights advocacy campaign, including a campaign using social media, read Chapter 7 , as well as Appendix C and D, of Paving Pathways.
IOYA’s Vice President, Sinke Wesho, talked about the issue of human trafficking from Ethiopia and the efforts of the diaspora to assist victims and document the problem. To learn how you can get involved in monitoring and documenting human rights violations, read Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6 of Paving Pathways.
IOYA had invited members of the Oromo diaspora in the Geneva area to attend, but a mix-up by security at the entrance gate meant that most of them were not allowed into the building. Nonetheless, the event was well-attended. Even Ephrem Bouzayhue Hidug, Minister Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia to the UN Office at Geneva attended, perhaps to monitor whether people were criticizing Ethiopia. He listened politely and when we opened the session up for questions and comments, he praised the IOYA representatives for their advocacy. But then he went on to suggest that the criticisms of the Ethiopian government were unfounded. After the event, people came up to congratulate the IOYA representatives and take photos. When the cameras began to flash, Mr. Hidug angrily lashed out at the people taking photos, insisting that he did not authorize anyone to take his photo: “This is Switzerland, so if someone says you cannot take their photograph, you must not do so!” From my perspective, though, nobody was interested in taking his photograph.
The Advocates Delivers Statements During Human Rights Council Debates, Prompts Ethiopia to Exercise Right of Reply
NGOs with consultative status can also take the floor and make statements during certain periods of the Human Rights Council’s debates. While we were in Geneva, I delivered two statements.
The first was during a general debate about racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related forms of intolerance following an interactive dialogue on access to justice with the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent. I spoke about the importance of access to justice for Africans living in the diaspora, particularly for human rights violations that occurred in their country of origin. You can read my statement here, and watch me deliver it here. (Scroll down to Chapter 21 of the video.)
The second statement was during a general debate on technical assistance and capacity-building. I spoke about the importance of providing technical assistance and capacity-building to diaspora communities that want to improve human rights and accountability in their countries of origin and ancestry. I pointed to Ethiopia as a particularly relevant example, noting that the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation had stifled civil society work on human rights within Ethiopia. In such circumstances, I observed, it is particularly important to build the capacity of diaspora organizations to promote human rights in their country of origin. You can watch me deliver the second statement here. (Scroll down to Chapter 52 of the video.)
During these debates, countries may exercise a “right of reply” to respond to a statement made by another country or by an NGO. Mr. Ephrem Hidug, who had attended our side event earlier that day, felt compelled to respond to our statement. This time, though, he couldn’t stop the cameras from rolling.
He denied that the Charities and Societies Proclamation has had a negative effect on civil society organizations in Ethiopia, asserting that Ethiopia has thousands of organizations active on “advocacy, development, humanitarian, and other things.” Notably, he did not state that they work on human rights issues. You can listen to his full statement here at Chapter 69.
All Work and No Play . . . .
As it turned out, at the end of our busy week in Geneva, Switzerland’s Oromo community had organized a celebration of Irreechaa, a harvest festival sometimes referred to as the “Oromo Thanksgiving.” The IOYA representatives and I traveled to Lausanne, a lovely town on the shore of Lake Geneva, and enjoyed a wonderful day soaking in Oromo culture, music, and food. Oromos had come from all over Switzerland–some had driven from more than 2 hours away–to join in the celebration. We were overwhelmed by their hospitality and their eagerness to hear what we had accomplished during our brief visit.
Advice for Diaspora Advocates Around the World: It’s a Long-Term Commitment
After our busy week in Geneva, I asked IOYA President Amane Badhasso to reflect on what she’d done and lessons learned. I encouraged her to share advice that she would give to other diaspora organizations–both Oromo groups and other diaspora communities–that want to promote human rights in their country of origin or ancestry. Here are her recommendations:
The promotion of human rights is a long-term commitment, and those who want to implement/promote human rights in their country of origin should understand the issues within their country of origin and tell stories from the perspective of those on the ground. In addition, it is important for those in the diaspora to utilize all tools available to lobby their country of residence and assure that the international community is aware of various abuses in the country of origin. It is also crucial to educate the public and use resources available to collaborate with groups that deal with human rights advocacy so that a practical outcome could come out of advocacy.
During our week in Geneva, we learned about many ways the Oromo diaspora can engage in advocacy at the United Nations. IOYA can’t take on all of these strategies on its own; there are many opportunities for other diaspora groups to get involved. But our advocacy with the Committee on the Rights of the Child was an important step in raising visibility about human rights violations against the Oromo people in Ethiopia.
Are you a member of a diaspora community? What ways can you engage with the United Nations to promote human rights in your country of origin or ancestry?
Universal Periodic Review Concludes with Some Fireworks
In a one-hour session on September 19, the UN Human Rights Council adopted the outcome of its second Universal Periodic Review of Ethiopia. You can watch the video of the session here.
I’ve blogged about the UPR of Ethiopiabefore, and the adoption of the outcome is the last step in the process. The adoption of the outcome is also the only opportunity civil society organizations have to speak during the UPR process.
The Advocates for Human Rights is based in Minnesota, not Geneva, so we don’t generally get a chance to address the Human Rights Council during the UPR process. But I often watch the live webcasts, and this time I got up early to livetweet.
Several non-governmental organizations took the floor and raised concerns about the human rights situation on the ground in Ethiopia. Civicus World Alliance for Citizenship Participation, for example, expressed concern about Ethiopia’s refusal to accept recommendations to remove draconian restrictions on free expression. Renate Bloem (left), speaking for Civicus, added:
While relying on international funding to supplement 50-60 percent of its national budget, the government has simultaneously criminalized most foreign funding for human rights groups in the country. These restrictions have precipitated the near complete cessation of independent human rights monitoring in the country. It is therefore deeply alarming that Ethiopia has explicitly refused to implement recommendations put forward by nearly 15 governments during its UPR examination to create an enabling environment for civil society.
The Ethiopian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Minelik Alemu Getahun (top), lashed out at the NGOs that commented, particularly Civicus:
I regret the language used by some of the NGO representatives and particularly the call for action some of them made against Ethiopia in the Council for alleged isolated acts. Some of the language used in the allegations, particularly the remarks by CIVICUS on our budget is outrageous and incorrect. I can assure the Council that Ethiopia relies on its peoples and their resources, which is not unusual supplemented by international support.
The Human Rights Council then adopted the outcome of the second UPR of Ethiopia. The recommendations Ethiopia accepted are contained in the Report of the Working Group and an addendum, available here. Some of the more promising recommendations that Ethiopia accepted in September are:
Implement fully its 1995 Constitution, including the freedoms of association, expression and assembly for independent political parties, ethnic and religious groups and non-government organisations (Australia).
Take concrete steps to ensure the 2015 national elections are more representative and participative than those in 2010, especially around freedom of assembly and encouraging debate among political parties (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland).
Consider implementing the pertinent recommendations from the Independent Expert on Minorities, with a view to guaranteeing equal treatment of all ethnic groups in the country (Cape Verde).
Monitor the implementation of the anti-terrorism law in order to identify any act of repression which affects freedom of association and expression and possible cases of arbitrary detention. In addition, develop activities necessary to eliminate any excesses by the authorities in its application (Mexico).
Now it’s up to people on the ground in Ethiopia, as well as people outside of Ethiopia like the Oromo diaspora, to lobby the Ethiopian Government to implement the recommendations it accepted and to monitor whether the government is keeping its word.
The next UPR cycle for Ethiopia will begin in about 4 years, when NGOs will have a chance to submit new stakeholder reports demonstrating whether Ethiopia has implemented the recommendations it accepted, pointing out any developments on the ground since the last review, and advocating for new recommendations that will improve human rights in Ethiopia. Learn more about how you can get involved in the UPR process of Ethiopia (or any other country) on pages 200-210 of Paving Pathways.
Opportunities Ahead for Voices to be Heard There’s much more to be done in the effort to build respect for human rights in Ethiopia. In addition to the next steps mentioned above, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights will be reviewing Ethiopia’s human rights record in its December 2014 session. In September, the Advocates and the International Oromo Youth Association submitted a lengthy alternative report to the African Commission, responding to the Ethiopian Government’s report. The African Commission will conduct an examination of the Ethiopian Government and then will issue Concluding Observations and Recommendations. You can read the African Commission’s Concluding Observations from its first review of Ethiopia, in 2010, here. To learn more about advocacy with the African Commission, read pages 268-280 of Paving Pathways.
On Wednesday, November 19, Amane Badhasso and I will have a talk with the Amnesty International chapter of the University of Minnesota Law School. The students are eager to learn more about human rights in Ethiopia, and they want to participate in a collective activity to show their support. There’s been a lot of attention lately to a report Amnesty just released on human rights violations against the Oromo people.
Organizations like The Advocates for Human Rights and Amnesty will be ineffective if they work on their own. The Oromo diaspora, as well as other diaspora communities from Ethiopia, have a critical role to play in leading the way to promoting human rights, justice, and accountability in Ethiopia. The Advocates for Human Rights hopes that Paving Pathways will lay the groundwork for many more fruitful collaborations.
Are you a member of a diaspora community? Do you know people who are living in the diaspora? What steps can the diasporans you know take to improve human rights and accountability in their countries of origin or ancestry? How could Paving Pathways and The Advocates for Human Rights assist them?