Ethiopia’s human rights record scrutinized By Tristan McConnell of Global post

May 23rd, 2011 Print Print Email Email

NAIROBI, Kenya — It has proven notoriously tricky for Africa’s rebel armies to transform themselves into democratic governments and Ethiopia offers perhaps the clearest case study on the continent of how and why this transition so rarely happens.

Ethiopia, under rebel fighter turned political leader Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, attracts huge donor support for its aid programs and no-holds-barred criticism for its human rights record.

In May 2010 the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition won all but two of the seats in the 547-member national parliament, a 99.6 percent landslide.

European Union election observers were among the few foreign monitors permitted into the country at the time and judged the election to have fallen short of international standards.

“Assistance to Ethiopia’s government has increased while its human rights record has deteriorated.” ~Rona Peligal of Human Rights Watch

Often seen sporting a flatcap and glasses, Meles cuts a slight figure and looks more like a 1960s intellectual of the sort that might be found smoking Gauloises and discussing Foucault outside a Parisian cafe than a ruthless guerrilla fighter and military tactician.

Now aged 56, Meles seized power 20 years ago at the end of a long armed struggle to overthrow Mengistu Haile Mariam, who led the notoriously bloodthirsty “Derg” regime.

Before his 20th birthday Meles gave up medical studies to join the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which was part of the EPRDF anti-Mengistu alliance which rules the country today.

Meles set about rebuilding his country under a system he called “ethnic federalism” which would devolve power from the center and prevent domination and oppression by any single ethnic group.

Like Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Meles argues that with economic growth Ethiopians will eventually become rich enough that tribe no longer matters.

The Ethiopian economy has grown impressively, at about 5 to 7 percent a year recently, albeit from a very low base. Helping Ethiopia along Meles’s path are international donors who see in Meles someone they can do business with and who talks their language.

The United States is one of Ethiopia’s biggest backers giving close to a billion dollars in aid in 2008 and in 2009, a figure that was expected to fall to between $500 to $600 million in 2010 and 2011 as food aid was reduced dramatically.

The aim of the aid is to improve the livelihoods of Ethiopia’s 82 million people by funding boreholes (deepwater wells), schools, hospitals, seed and fertilizer particularly in the rural areas where the specter of famine — such as the one that hit Ethiopia and Western television screens in 1984 — is never far away.

But late last year Human Rights Watch, a New York-based pressure group, criticized the delivery of hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid. It alleged that the Meles’s EPRDF party uses the aid as a political tool, selectively disbursing foreign-funded support to party members or using the threat of withholding aid to coerce people to join the party.

“Assistance to Ethiopia’s government has increased while its human rights record has deteriorated,” said Rona Peligal of Human Rights Watch. “Donors are contradicting their own principles on human rights and good governance by increasing funding without adequate safeguards.”

Peligal accused the government of manipulating aid and warned that donors may be contributing to human rights violations

The U.S. State Department’s own assessment of Ethiopia’s respect for human rights and progress toward democracy is scathing.

“Human rights abuses reported during the year included unlawful killings, torture, beating, and abuse and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, especially special police and local militias, which took aggressive or violent action with evident impunity in numerous instances,” said the most recent report, published last month by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

Human rights groups say there are 300 political prisoners held in Ethiopian prisons and in the run-up to last year’s elections Voice of America’s Amharic service was jammed as were broadcasts by Germany’s Deutsche Welle radio.

Meles, like other ex-rebel leaders on the continent such as Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe or Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerke, does not like his authority questioned.

Freedom House, a New York-based think tank, rated Ethiopia 168 out of 191 countries worldwide for its freedom of the press in a report published this month to coincide with World Press Freedom Day.

As if to underscore the point, an event to mark the day in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa was reportedly “hijacked” by government officials. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, independent speakers were replaced by pro-government reporters causing many of the journalists to walk out.

The respected annual survey, “Freedom in the World,” also published by Freedom House this year ranked Ethiopia as “not free” for the first time since it began including the country in 2002.

The downgrading from “partly free” was attributed to, “national elections that were thoroughly tainted by intimidation of opposition supporters and candidates as well as a clampdown on independent media and nongovernmental organizations.”

One of the government’s most effective tools in curbing dissent is its monopoly hold over the entire telecommunications industry, and as a result Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates on the continent of internet and mobile phone penetration.

In most African countries it is the simplest thing in the world, upon arrival, to buy a sim card for a few dollars and some airtime on a scratchcard and start making calls. Equally, keeping up with events online is straightforward.

In Ethiopia getting a simcard requires paying-off a local to apply for one at great expense and on your behalf, and news websites are regularly blocked. Local journalists suspect their phone calls and text messages are tapped and their emails are hacked.

Such draconian control may well pay-off. In North Africa the rising costs of living sparked discontent with oppressive and corrupt governments which was then facilitated by social media websites.

Ethiopia maybe oppressive but a Facebook revolution is not about to happen on Meles’ watch even as year-on-year inflation creeps ever higher, reaching almost 30 percent last month.

  1. Sheger
    | #1

    Thank you dear Tristan.

    Meles you are so wrong to a point you can stand against your self and join the struggle for better Ethiopia.

    I call up on all Ethiopian embassies and government institutions out side and inside Ethiopia including the Ethiopian
    Air lines and all the military to stop working and boycott Meles and the EPRDF Government for it’s brutality and
    And unfairness and tyranny, corruption and so on. If we don’t do this we really not Ethiopians at all. For how long
    Are we going to watch this so called Ethiopian Eritirians or musilims or Arab world afiliets or who ever they are
    Kill our people, abuse our people use the country to just them selves, denny our freedom and rights, still our money,
    Land, abuse the law, sell our country for nothing and with out the peoples consent, destroy our unity, disrespect our
    History, giving out our territory to whom ever, put in question our nation and our nationality and making enemies
    Of each other to a point of our disbelief?

    If we don’t do some thing about this, may be we should call our selves, suicide attempts. Come on people, enough is
    Enough. Let’s support Tinsai Ethiopia!!!!!!!!!! I wish I can go there and join the fight. And let’s not depend just on them
    Either. We don’t even know who they are after all, we have to make sure that we know who they are. It can be another
    Shabia or TPLF on killing spree for all we know. But we can stop every thing, we can avoid war or the government
    If we stop working for it. Let’s do this for our selves and for the benefit of the people and save the lives of our brothers
    And sisters who are fighting it. And save the lives of our brothers and sisters who are in the military working for the government. This killing and war has to stop. Let Ethiopian people live in peace and freedom. Let childerens have
    Their fathers and mothers. Let fathers and mother raise their childirens and live in peace.


    Good by TPLF, if I still find you there, may be we are not here. Should I thank you for that??????

    I am sure you would say YES. NO THANKS honey, we know better than that.

  2. Sheger
    | #2

    And I also call up on the international community to stop working with the EPRDF government and support peoples
    Struggle for freedom. And I call up on the united nation, the united stat of America, UK and EU to stop supporting
    This Government and I ask them with great respect to stand with people and demand it’s withdroal from power. If you want to
    Be a friend to our nation then read all the above article and comments and make your judgment about it how difficult
    Life is in Ethiopia for the people except the people on power who are very ruthless people to our dismay.

    My name is Ejigayehu (Gigi) Shibabaw I am avocale artist (singer) and have been advocating our unity and freedom for a long time through my work like so many of our people who have been working day night and paying their lifes every day for our country and people. This Government has it’s gun and you to stay on power. No body wants it and it wants
    No body Ethiopian if you know what I mean? Please help us and for millions sake who are facing the never ending
    Starvation and war again while they selling our land to god knows who.

    God be with all of us. Long live Ethiopia.

  3. Hailemicheal
    | #3

    If we say we are equal human beings like the west,middle east & nort african people this is the time to stand for freedom,justice & democracy.we will be left alone if we won’t use this revolution movement.we can’t escape it ,this is our fate &we have no choice.we should show who we relly are.we are the sons&daughters of our patriotic forefathers.let’s make history.GOD BLESS MY MOTHER LAND,BELOVED ETHIOPIA!!!

  4. Sheger
    | #4

    And I would like to address this to the Chines Government.

    First of all, Thank you for your letter of congretulation to the people of Enthiopia for ending the brutal regime the Durg.
    Besides we don’t feel it is gown and it’s is not gown or this are even worse.

    We admire and respect your interest in Ethiopia and helping and developing Ethiopia. But any how you will not do us
    Any good or for your self by working with and supporting this brutal regim. We no that China gives a great assistanc
    To the curent regim and we ask you to stop working with this so called TPLF or EPRDF who just invaded Ethiopia
    Out of no where unless you want to be the part of the invasion.

    We would like to work with you as friend and bussenes partners but we don’t deal with invaders, we won’t allow you.

    Sino is a name of a Japanis war against China for power and it’s resources, Just quereious, are you Japanis?
    We what do I know, you do look alike. But in case if you are looking for Japan or some Japanis, Japan is on the left
    Side of China not on the right.

    By the way we need to Help Japan, not just send money and food. If I had the power to do it I would grant Ethiopian
    Citizenship at least for two or three million Japanis. From what I heard that Japanis people really likes their country
    But the radiation is spreding and the whole nation is in question, and if thing go the ways it’s pridicted it won’t be
    Safe to live there for a long time until the redietion goes away. But any how it is a very problematic land. To many earth
    Queq to deal with unfortunately for sure civilized people who can do a miracle.

    My heart goes for them. Please people let’s us help Japan, bring them to Ethiopia. If not all at least some or us much
    As we could. Who do we all have besides the world around us in this kind of time.

    Thank you in advance.

  5. Sheger
    | #5

    Dear people I am not trying to scare people about this but the case of Japan is not some thing we can say, I will think
    Or sleep over it. We have to do it know. From the info I got which are very credible, that Japan won’t be hospitable
    For the coming one thousand years and that is not a joke. I would like to inform this to whom ever I could to make a diffirense. I know Japanis people are a very proud people and they won’t say any thing but should we do the same?

    What would matter if we cry now or letter for them? Unless we do some thing about it? we have seen what we have seen enough to our amusement. What is next? Soon they can’t have baby’s soon the radiation will affect them to death.
    And we are talking about a nation who suffered a Niculer attack and went through and affected fiscally or thier nature by the radiation. So I say, Time to help Japan is now. Their food is poisoned their air is poisoned and so on.

    And going back to the above article, no body can do any thing while it’s or people hands and mouth and ear are blocked
    From doing any thing. And what kind of life is that? When are we going to live a normal life like every body who has
    The writs to do and say what ever they want? or is their some kind of a reserved time for some of us that we don’t know of in this world? Or is it Mr,boss says what ever and you live and do what ever?

    And by some miracle if Japanis or Japan wants to come and live in our country today or tomorrow, we all know they are
    Use to sea food. And do we have any see? Not that I am caring for them more than me or Ethiopian people when it comes to food or I am not saying their teeth won’t choo Engera but the see is one big part of food and no body farms it or car about the fish, you just learn how to fish and learn how to keep it fresh, if you don’t have a frig then keep it
    In water or just eat it before it gets bad or dry it like quanta. You know what us funny the Asian people specially the Chines eat all most every thing including the little fish and Doges parts and stuff. May be it has some thing to do
    About their survival because they are so many in number. And I think it is funny that some Europians it Frog and I think
    That might have some thing to do with starvation.

    And Ethiopia being land locked and in some places no rain we can’t do that even if we have the choice. Isn’t that sad?
    When the drout comes, no rain, no cow, no grass, nothing. And some body want to land lock this kind of country?
    Not that it is not done and still.

    For man kinds sake open your hearts people. And Africa should open it’s doors for the world if it comes friendly
    Nothing wrong will happen to Africa that didn’t happen already. But we all can make a difference in our lives and the lives of others if we think positive. And we all need each other one way or the other.

    Thanks again. Even though some of my writing is not correct I don’t think you will miss what I meant to say and
    I meant every word of it from the bottom of my heart.
    Just to confirm, this is Gigi, again.

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