Back to Front Page

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visits Ethiopia

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visits Ethiopia


T. Desta May 08, 2017


 The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid bin Ra'ad Zeid Al Hussein, made a three-day official visit to Ethiopia this week (May 2-4). He came at the invitation of the Government and during his visit, he met with Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn; the Speaker of House of People’s Representatives, Abadulla Gemeda; Foreign Minister, Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu; Communication Minister, Dr. Negeri Lencho, and the Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Dr Addisu Gebre-Egziabher, and other government officials and stakeholders and discussed the human rights situation in Ethiopia. He signed a Memorandum of Intent for the establishment of a Human Rights Regional Hub for the Eastern and Southern Africa sub-regions in Addis Ababa. The High Commissioner shared his views on the importance of closer cooperation with Ethiopia with high-ranking government officials. He visited a remand center, witnessed what he described as a “vibrant dialogue” between opposition party members and members of the ruling party, and met representatives of civil society.


During his visit, the High Commissioner also held talks with leading African Union Commission officials, including the Chairperson of the Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat; the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ambassador Smail Chergui; and AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Minata Samate Cessouma. Discussions focused on plans to reinforce coordination between the UN and AU on human rights, in line with other recent steps to strengthen the UN/AU partnership, including the recent signing of a framework agreement on enhanced cooperation in peace and security.


Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn received High Commissioner Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid on Wednesday. They discussed the human rights situation in Ethiopia and related challenges in the country and exchanged views on the recent investigative report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission following the unrest in some parts of the country. Following consideration on ways to work together on human rights protection and human rights institution-building, Prime Minister Hailemariam underlined Ethiopia’s commitment to work with the United Nations Human Rights Commission.


Ethiopia has a responsible government. It has engaged itself in promoting and protecting human rights because it knows, as a matter of history, that this is a necessity for continued existence. It is not, in any sense, a luxury. The government has never waited to be reminded by others of the importance of human rights or of democracy. It has acted to implement these necessities from the outset and for the sake of the Ethiopian people, not to please outsiders. Equally, it is, of course, a learning process after many previous years of undemocratic rule prior to 1991.


In recent years, protection of human rights has become even more necessary because of the increasing demands arising from the effects of continued economic growth, particularly in the last decade or so. The recent crisis is an example of this. The number of graduates leaving university every year, for example, has not been commensurate with number of jobs being created annually. Certainly, more needs to be done, and remedies for the problem have now become a central element of economic policy. In this, as in other areas, corrective measures are being taken.


Ethiopia believes it is on the right track in laying down the fundamentals for the creation of a democratic society. The institutions to provide for the necessary checks and balances, taking note of the local context of requirements, have been set up. Among these are the Ethiopian Commission for Human Rights, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Standing Committees of the House of Representatives and the Office of the Auditor General. There is no need for other bodies to replace these, or for outsiders, including international NGOs, to try to supplant or substitute for them. There is, however, a need for support to strengthen their activities. What is needed, in fact, is increased capacity building. That, indeed, is what might legitimately be expected from the Office of the UN Human Rights Commission.


In his meeting with Dr Addisu Gebre-Egziabher, Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the UN High Commissioner exchanged views on ways of strengthening co-operation and relations between both commissions as well as other related issues. The UN High Commissioner stressed: “Ethiopia is one of our partners in the Commission’s efforts to promote and protect human rights for all.” Dr Addisu pointed out that as a founder of the Commission; Ethiopia has consistently implemented the international human rights laws endorsed by the global human rights body. It has, of course, acceded to virtually all the core international human rights treaties, underlining the commitment to human rights reflected in the Constitution.


The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission’s first report on the disturbances that occurred in certain areas of the Amhara and Oromia Regional States last year was given to the High Commissioner’s office, demonstrating the government’s establishment of an independent mechanism to investigate human rights violations. The Commission’s second report, recently approved by the House of People’s Representatives, detailed the numbers killed in the unrest, including members of the security forces. The report included the factors that contributed to the unrest and the impact on human life and property. It singled the parties that should be held accountable, whether from officials, security forces or any anti-peace element or party that committed destructive activities. It recommended those responsible should face justice. A copy of the report will be sent to the UN Human Rights Commission. The government is, of course, following up the Commission’s recommendations.


The High Commissioner also discussed various mechanisms in establishing ways of reporting and progress in addressing human rights concerns with the Speaker of the House of People’s Representatives, Abadulla Gemeda. The Speaker mentioned various committees that investigate human rights situations at the federal as well as regional level, and the reporting mechanisms available as well as the methods for resolving outstanding issues in human rights. 


Foreign Minister Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu met with High Commissioner on Thursday (May 4). Their discussions focused on ways of establishing closer cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner. They discussed the recent report of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and signed a Memorandum of Intent for setting up a Host Country Agreement for the establishment of a Regional Office for the High Commission in Ethiopia. Dr. Workneh welcomed the visit of the High Commissioner and detailed the progress made in promoting democratic rule of governance and dealing with related challenges. He underlined the need to work further and in concert with the High Commission to enhance areas of democratization and human rights.


The High Commissioner also met with representatives of eleven opposition political parties and shared views on political space and human rights. The opposition parties said they appreciated the efforts of the ruling EPRDF to resolve problems through discussion and the ongoing negotiations. However, they underlined that while the constitution stressed human rights, violations arose in implementation. The High Commissioner said that there were problems that should be resolved by Ethiopians themselves. As he said at his press conference before leaving on Thursday (May 4) ultimately only the government of Ethiopia can take action to shape the future of the country.


In his press conference, the UN High Commissioner also highlighted the need for greater and freer civic space, with “broader latitude for the contributions of critical or dissenting views” to decision-making in the country. It was, he said, “important for the government to ensure a far more substantive, stable and open democratic space for all its people”. He noted that all governments needed to be held to the mark by independent media and “the vital action of civil society and human rights defenders.” He said: “I am convinced the Ethiopian Government will find its most important and productive investment will be in the rights of the people, which build strong and safe societies,” adding, “If it stumbles, mistrust and grievance will grow, and this may well have considerable negative impact on prospects for development and for the people's wellbeing.” 


The High Commissioner hailed the commitment of Ethiopia to protect the human rights of its people as illustrated by its accession to a number of human rights treaties and their reflection in the constitution. He described the work of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission as heartening and called on the Government to take further steps to grant the body more independence. He also urged the authorities to allow access to UN human rights officials to visit the regions affected by the unrest. He said that he had benefited greatly from the briefings provided by the Attorney General's office, but he thought that “considering the number of arrests, over 26,000, it was unlikely rule of law had been observed in every case." These were, of course, the people who were detained after involvement in violence and released after being given education in civic behavior and ways to utilize their own rights without jeopardizing the rights of others or resorting to violence. The vast majority were released in a matter of weeks.


The High Commissioner spoke of the importance of economic, social and cultural rights and stressed that progress on these rights would translate into civil and political rights advances. He offered his support and that of his Office to the Government and the people of Ethiopia in confronting the challenges posed by the drought affecting large parts of the region. He praised the warm hospitality accorded to him, something, he said, which Ethiopia was known for. He spoke of the interest of the government authorities in investing more in upholding human rights, and commended the openness of the government’s stance and its commitment to transform the country. He noted Ethiopia’s active involvement in the United Nations Security Council and its role as one of the leading contributors of troops to United Nations Peacekeeping Missions. Pointing out that Ethiopia was a very important country in a number of areas, the High Commissioner emphasized that his Office was looking forward to working closely with Ethiopia in various areas of mutual interest, including assisting the government in translating its commitments to human rights into action.  


Back to Front Page