(MoFA Feb 07, 2009):-This week’s Economist (5 February 2009) has a piece entitled ‘The Government [of Ethiopia] says Human Rights Watch has got it wrong. Really?”. Yes indeed, Human Rights Watch has, and the Economist has as well. The piece even starts with an opening line making unsubstantiated allegations that independent voices are finding it harder to be heard in Ethiopia and that critical journalism is stifled.
Nothing could be further from the truth. No one in Ethiopia, in Government or otherwise, can claim perfection when it comes to respect for and enjoyment of human rights. As the Government has frequently made clear, it recognizes that ensuring respect for human rights is an ongoing struggle. But it is a struggle that has been producing meaningful and tangible results even though Government and stakeholders certainly need to strive together further to enhance the level of human rights protection in the country.
The minimum one could ask of commentators like the Economist is to be objective. Given the very grave allegations they make, this is surely not too much to ask. With regard to freedom of expression, Ethiopia has, in fact, a flourishing private and public print media. The fledgling electronic media is attracting a huge following and most importantly is being used as the most accessible medium of discussion on vital social-economic and political issues. In human rights terms in general, Ethiopia can safely boast of huge strides in making the obligations of respect for the rights of individuals and groups a part and parcel of the law of the land.
The political discourse in the country now centres around these fundamental human and democratic rights. Despite the remaining challenges, which the Government readily recognizes, there has also been significant strides in building institutions, including an independent judiciary, national human rights institutions, and oversight by the House of Peoples’ Representatives. Teaching human rights and general public dissemination of these rights is being undertaken regularly by public and private entities. Laws and policies are discussed and debated with all stakeholders.
The Government willingly includes foreign entities as development partners in these consultations. They make their suggestions known in a manner that is unprecedented for almost any other country. The level of participation, consultation and close public scrutiny is undoubtedly a highly objective testimony to the commitment of the Government of Ethiopia to human rights and good governance. The human rights outlook and the constitutional entitlements in Ethiopia are not as narrow as the focus of their detractors. They include all aspects of human rights, civil and political, economic, cultural and social, gender equality, respect for the environment and the protection of the rights of child and ensuring the rights of persons with disability.
All the achievements in these and various areas of human rights are usually ignored by the reports of advocacy organizations like Human Rights Watch. As the Economist rightly notes, such organizations are pressure groups, and as such they are susceptible to wild exaggerations and disinformation, just to gather the attention that they need. Ethiopia undertook its own investigation into allegations made by Human Rights Watch, not as a public relations exercise but because of the gravity of the allegations and because of the Government’s accountability to the public.
It did not set out to address all the claims made by HRW, but those that specified specific names of individuals and places. Concrete evidence proved these allegations wrong. The Economist’s commentary, which includes hasty generalizations on the alleged arrest of opponents, suggests a superficial political assessment not worthy of the journal. Pluralistic political culture and multiparty politics have become a way of life in Ethiopia, not just because they are in the country’s constitution. They are now irreversible, and support a steadily growing democratic culture in the country.