Government’s Escalating Crackdown Against EHRCO Ignites Heightened Alarm!

Mekelle፡26 May 2024 (Tigray Herald)

Government’s Escalating Crackdown Against EHRCO Ignites Heightened Alarm!

Government’s Escalating Crackdown Against EHRCO Ignites Heightened Alarm!

May 25, 2024


The Ethiopian Human Rights Council- EHRCO was established as a local human rights organization under Civil Societies and Charities Organizations Proclamation No. 1113/2019, and being re-registered, with registration number 1146, by the Ethiopian Civil Societies Authority (ECSC) on 09/07/2019 has been legally working as a civil society organization (CSO). EHRCO, as a non-profit, independent, and non-partisan human rights organization, envisions the respect of human rights, the establishment of a robust democratic system and the realization of the rule of the law in Ethiopia.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) is primarily responsible for monitoring, investigating, reporting, and documenting human rights violations. Through its detailed reports, EHRCO continues to push for justice and compensation for victims, legal accountability for perpetrators, the abolition of the culture of impunity, and the adoption of policy and enforcement changes. EHRCO emphasizes the necessity of learning from previous violations of rights in order to create a more just and accountable future.

EHRCO’s monitoring efforts include visiting legal detainees, internally displaced persons, and

individuals in police custody to closely follow their human rights protection. We also monitor the

fairness and legality of trial proceedings and investigate the content and implementation of various

national laws and policies from the perspective of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

Additionally, EHRCO provides free legal aid to human rights victims and observes national, local,

and complementary elections, as well as public referendums.

Purpose of the Press Release:

The purpose of this statement is to chronologically present the increasing and broadening attacks and intense pressures faced by EHRCO in its human rights activities. This statement clearly illustrates the connection and pattern of these attacks and pressures on EHRCO, advocating for necessary changes. Additionally, it highlights the significant impact these attacks and pressures have on human rights defenders in our country. Rather than merely identifying problems, this urgent press release offers various recommendations and sets future directions to secure urgent support and protection from relevant parties. It provides a detailed account of the attacks and pressures inflicted by the government.

The Scope of the Press Release:

Since its establishment in 1991 EHRCO has experienced high pressures that have been and are being carried out by the government, which continue to this day. This urgent press release outlined major pressures in a chronological order by prioritizing the most recent and concerning governments crackdown against EHRCO.

Governments Escalating Attacks Against EHRCO:

Since its establishment in 1991, EHRCO has been an organization which has figure headed human rights work. Thus far, the organization itself as well as its staff and members have had and are still facing myriad of pressures. These various attacks and heavy pressures are a clear indication of how dangerous the situation of human rights and human rights work in the country has become. This statement presents the attacks and heavy pressures carried out by the government, which have been continuously increasing and broadening since 1991.

Other than those who were killed, EHRCO based on its Do no Harm Principle, have refrained from revealing the names of the victims of the attacks and intense pressure listed below in order not to subject them to further attacks and pressure.

• On April 06, 2024, around 11:30 P.M, two individuals identified as government security personnel, dressed in civilian attire, came to the residence of one of the heads of EHRCO. They issued direct threats, warning him to cease his human rights activities, or face consequences. This action is not the first, but earlier on March 18, 2023, a similar action was committed against the same head of EHRCO. Furthermore, on April 13, 2024, around 2:00 P.M, Another head of EHRCO was surveilled by security personnel in a vehicle around Kirkos sub- city in a place called Riche, who took photographs of him. Additionally,
he received threatening phone calls. These incidents were solely due to his human rights work and leadership role at EHRCO.

• On November 15, 2023, EHRCO’s staff in North Ethiopia Region office located in Bahir Dar City was physically assaulted by three armed men wearing government security uniforms near his home. The attack occurred early in the evening after he had completed an investigation into human rights violations following the conflict in the Amhara Region. During the attack, the three armed men surrounded him and fired their weapons. Unable to defend himself, he was struck on the head and lost consciousness. The assailants confiscated his mobile phone, a flash drive containing approximately 10 pages of investigation report documents, as well as his organizational membership and employment ID (EHRCO). Furthermore, during the assault, the attackers verbally threatened him with various insults, stating, “We know what you are doing.”

• In a public inquiry workshop organized in Adama City from April 25-27, 2023, officials from the Oromia Police and Justice Bureau delivered threatening messages to EHRCO’s staffs taking part in the event regarding EHRCO’s staffs that had been arbitrarily detained on January 5, 2023. The officials stated that they had not closed the case of the four EHRCO staff who were released on bail, and that they would closely monitor the case and at any time make a re-arrest. They added that EHRCO does not have the mandate to carry out human rights investigations in the Region, despite the fact that EHRCO is a legally registered human rights organization operating for the past 32 years.

• Since March 15, 2023, two members of the South Ethiopia Regional Office of EHRCO have been repeatedly abused and arbitrarily arrested by the government without appearing before a court of law. The sole reason for these illegal and arbitrary actions is that they are human rights defenders and members of EHRCO. These two EHRCO members have faced ongoing pressure through illegal arrests, and local security forces, along with judicial bodies, have collaborated to obstruct their pursuit of justice.

• On February 11, 2023, a targeted Office break-in (raid) occurred at EHRCO’s Monitoring, Investigation, Documenting, and Reporting (MIDR) Department, during which a laptop computer was selectively taken by breaking into the Department Head’s drawer. Despite EHRCO’s swift report of the incident to the police, to the contrary EHRCO’s one female and two male staffs were arbitrarily detained on March 27, 2023, at the Kirkos Sub-district

Legehar Area Police Station when they went for questioning. They were brought to court

on March 28, 2023, and subsequently released on bail. As it can be recalled that a cell

phone was previously taken from the head of EHRCO, and a post not representing his opinion was made on his personal Twitter (now X) and other social media platforms using his cell phone. EHRCO is deeply concerned because the properties taken are not yet recovered and may be used out of context in a manner that jeopardizes EHRCO’s work.

• There have been a series of threats and intimidations by local security forces and other entities against one staff member and two executive members of EHRCO’s West Ethiopia Region Gambella office. As a result, EHRCO was forced to relocate one staff member and two executive members on December 17, 2022, for the safety of its staff and members.

• At the end of 2022, four EHRCO staff members sent to investigate a petition submitted by individuals whose houses were demolished during the demolition and eviction activities in the newly established Sheger City Administration around Addis Ababa, were arrested by the Oromia Police on January 5, 2023. After the arrest, their whereabouts were unknown for several hours. EHRCO received a tip that provided information that they were being held at Sheger City Administration Gelanguda Sub-city Police Station. After eight days of detention, they were released on bail on January 13, 2023, due to pressure from various national and international human rights institutions.

• Following EHRCO’s urgent press release titled “The government should pay enough attention to the protests and disputes in government schools under Addis Ababa City Administration and give an urgent and permanent solution before the issue gets out of control!” on December 13, 2022, Addis Ababa police officers came to EHRCO’s main office. After threatening the heads of EHRCO, they stated they would take various actions. Similarly, in May 2023, following the 153rd special report prepared by EHRCO in connection with house demolitions and forced evictions in the Addis Ababa City Administration, Sheger City Administration of the Oromia Region, and Adama City, there was a movement by the Addis Ababa City Administration Communication Office. They submitted a letter to the Addis Ababa Justice Bureau to file an inappropriate prosecution against EHRCO on the basis of inciting conflict among people and turning the people against the government. EHRCO submitted an appropriate written explanation in this regard. This kind of attack and crackdown has been done many times in the past, and its purpose is to prevent EHRCO from making any statements about human rights violations and from freely carrying out its work of enforcing human rights according to the purpose for which EHRCO was established by threatening to establish lawsuits against EHRCO.

This kind of attack and crackdown creates risk to conduct future human rights work.

• On December 2, 2022, 22 out of the 28 petitioners were detained by government security

forces and were released after being detained for days without due process. They were arrested after they came to submit their complaints to EHRCO Central District Office located in Addis Ababa. This is an attack that creates a threat for further compliance submission from petitioners.

• In order to corroborate the information collected from complainants, witnesses and various places and to use them in EHRCOs regular, special and urgent reports, EHRCO requests various relevant government institutions by issuing official letters to share information. Although government institutions have the duty and responsibility to share information, their unwillingness to share information and the harassment and intimidation they inflict on EHRCOs staffs who are doing their work is having a great impact on EHRCO’s activities. This action is a form of systematic attack that aims to prevent the organization from doing its human rights work.

• When returning from international human rights events and meetings abroad, the heads and staffs of EHRCO are repeatedly harassed, intimidated and illegally monitored by the government’s security forces.

• Following Proclamation No. 621/2009 issued in 2009 and now amended to register and manage charitable organizations and associations, EHRCO’s bank account was frozen without following the proper legal procedure, court decision or warning. Although the frozen money was released in 2019, this crackdown of government caused the institution

to face severe financial shortages at that time. • Following the 2005 national election, a large number of EHRCO’s staffs and members were arrested while investigating and monitoring human rights violations. As a result EHRCO’s heads and were forced to flee the country.

• While two staffs from EHRCO’s main office were investigating a conflict in various kebeles located in Kembata, Alaba and Tembaro Zone, Omo Valley District in the former Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region on March 19, 2001, the police arrested individuals who were providing information to the investigators. They also ordered the transport service providers to prevent EHRCO’s staff from obtaining transport and unlawfully searched the staff members. Finally, on March 20, 2002, they were forced to return to Addis Ababa.

On December 19, 2000, the then staff of the Bahir Dar branch office, A staff and assistant deployed from Addis Ababa were arrested by local police on the grounds, as stated by a local official, “they violated our sovereignty by entering our Region without our permission” when they went to investigate the ethnic conflict that had occurred in various kebeles in Eastern Wollega. The three individuals were released on bail after being detained for 15, 1 and a half, and 75 days respectively.

On June 7, 1998, Mr. Tesfaye Tadese, a member of the Law and Administration Standing Committee and the Editor of the EHRCO’s monthly Magazine (Melekete Esemegu) was brutally murdered by government security personnel around his home in the Gerji Area of Addis Ababa City at around 8:30 pm in the evening. Until the release of this report there is no legal liability imposed against the perpetrators and the case file and records related to the case have not been found.

On May 8, 1997, Ato Asefa Maru, who had been serving as a member of the Executive Committee of EHRCO since October 6, 1996, was shot repeatedly in the head and chest by federal police sitting inside a police car one kilometer away from his home. Until the

release of this report there is no legal liability imposed against the perpetrators. • The heads and staff of EHRCO have been repeatedly forced to resign from their jobs due

to attacks, illegal arrests, high pressure, threats and intimidation by government bodies. These crackdowns and attacks of the government are sometimes done by even calling the heads and staff of EHRCO to their offices.

• Recently, various government security officers have been repeatedly coming to the offices of EHRCO and exerting various types or forms of pressures Intimidating and harassing EHRCO’S HRDs.

• Due to the security risk and high pressure by the government, EHRCO is forced to close and reshuffle some of its District Offices.

• It is difficult to put in chronological order the threats, intimidation, surveillance, digital attacks, accusations, hacking of various social networks of the organization and its officials, and the posting of things not written by EHRCO and its heads that are against the purpose of its establishment. These escalating crackdowns and attacks against EHRCO are done with the intent to spoil the image and discredit the organization and its heads. This action has been changing and increasing in volume, and it is still continuing in a dangerous manner.

Related Legal Obligations:

At the international level, the United Nations acknowledges the need for protection vis-a-vis human rights defenders. The raison d’etat behind this is to protect them from the myriad pressures which could ensue from their mandates. As a result of this, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on January 8, 1997 enacted a Resolution (No. 53/144) on the “Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights And Fundamental Freedoms.” This Declaration, although not binding in itself, in its content, for having contained principles and rights pertinent to the UDHR, ICESCR, ICCPR, and the Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and granted that it was passed unanimously by the UNGA, is telling of the determination of states to see to its enforcement. This Declaration mentions in detail the rights and protections of human rights defenders (articles 1, 5-9, 11-13), the duty of the state (articles 2, 9, 12, 14, 15), and the duty of each person (articles 10, 11, and 18). Among these, are, with the purpose of promoting and advocating for human rights, the rights to establish and join non-governmental organizations, access human rights-related information, to publish and disseminate one’s thought in relation to human rights, to provide one’s opinion to governmental officials as well as bodies concerning human rights including recommendations to improve their enforcement. Amid the duties of the state mentioned are, taking all appropriate measures vis-a-vis any form of human rights violation that could come along with each person’s human rights-related work, threat, military attack, undue discrimination, pressure, and any form of arbitrary action.

EHRCO’s Urgent Calls:

EHRCO, since its establishment, has been conducting myriad human rights defending and advocacy work. Within the past three decades, while EHRCO, via its human rights work, has been an organization with a positive contrition, it has been and is still undergoing various pressures. As such, EHRCO provides, as per the context, the following recommendation-based calls.

• Threats, illegal arrests, murders, strategically limiting human rights work, restricting access to information, office break-ins, theft of property, and defamation inflicted on EHRCO, its officials, and staff must stop;

• The violations mentioned in this statement and pressures inflicted on human rights CSO’s is affecting the civic space, in order to prevent this the government refrain from arresting human rights defenders such as those of EHRCO’s staff vis-a-vis their mandates, and rather than imprisonment, for the government to brainstorm how to collaboratively improve human rights and thus develop enabling laws, policies, and practices,

• Institutions working at national, international, and regional levels should stand with EHRCO and advocate to abolish the attacks and intense pressure committed by the government. These attacks and pressures should be recorded and those responsible should be held accountable.

In conclusion, EHRCO urgently calls all partners and stakeholders including national, regional and international human rights organizations to stand with it in this trying time so that the current attacks and intensified crackdown it is facing from the government are immediately stopped and also to provide urgent solidarity, support and protection to EHRCO and its HRDs so it could continue to contribute for the betterment of human rights in Ethiopia.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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