Intentional Mishaps of the recent HRW Human Rights


Intentional Mishaps of the recent HRW Human Rights

Report on Ethiopia


By Bereket Gebru 02/04/14

Reading the recently released Human Rights Watch annual World report 2014 on events of 2013 on Ethiopia, I could not help notice its similarities with that of last year’s. It is as if they carved some parts of last year’s reports out to replace some words and make it look updated. After thoroughly reading the report, I wondered if that could not have been written by anyone who stands in blind hatred of what is going on in Ethiopia at any given time. I honestly do not think it would take a year’s work to somehow make some minor changes to an already existing document.

The 2014 HRW annual report on Ethiopia has customarily described Ethiopia as a country with severe human rights abuse issues that are not being dealt with. The major issues the report has focused on include: the state of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, Muslim protests and displacement of indigenous communities.

“Ethiopian authorities continue to severely restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, using repressive laws to constrain civil society and independent media, and target individuals with politically motivated prosecutions. Muslim protests against perceived government interference in their religious affairs were met by security forces with arbitrary arrests and detentions, beatings, and other mistreatment throughout the year. Ethiopia’s ambitious development schemes, funded from domestic revenue sources and foreign assistance, sometimes displace indigenous communities without appropriate consultation or any compensation.”

Amazingly, the 2013 HRW annual World Report on events of 2012 on Ethiopia also reads: “Ethiopian authorities continued to severely restrict basic rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly in 2012. The security forces responded to protests by the Muslim Community in Oromia and Addis Ababa. Many villagers in Gambella region have been forcibly displaced, causing considerable hardship. The government is also forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley to make way for state-run sugar plantations.”

It would not take a comparative analysis of the two documents to conclude that the HRW annual report is not an extensively researched independent report of facts within a given year but rather a mere shallow update of previous reports.

In quite a bizarre move from the word to word similarities of the documents presented above as a small instance of the hardly any changes evident in the documents, there appears to be a major issue missing in the latest document even if there has been tangible development on the topic in 2013. This issue has to do with the “treatment of Ethiopian migrant domestic workers”. Apparently, the issue that was assigned its own titled place in the 2013 world report by HRW is worth no mentioning in the 2014 world report despite the issue becoming international in addition to the number of Ethiopians it directly affected.

The 2013 World Report on events of 2012 by HRW raised the videotaped beating and subsequent suicide of an Ethiopian migrant worker in Lebanon and appealed to measures righting the plight of thousands of Ethiopian women in the Middle East. The decision by Saudi Arabia to expel a million illegal migrant workers in its country, including Ethiopians, was one of the major news stories of 2013 not only in Ethiopia but also internationally as well.

The subsequent swift and effective return and rehabilitation of close to 140 thousand Ethiopians by their government was also a stone hard fact. The dangers looming on Ethiopians during their final days in Saudi Arabia were finally lifted owing to the relentless diplomatic and repatriation efforts of their fellow citizens.

The year 2013 also saw the ban on trips made by migrant workers to the Middle East. In an attempt to avert the abuses and build the skills of Ethiopian migrants in addition to forging efforts with Middle Eastern countries to narrow down the legal loopholes that allow for mishandling of foreign domestic workers, the Ethiopian government has banned such trips temporarily.

Although such measures are clear indicators of efforts to curb the problem, the Report somehow preferred to overlook the whole issue. I think that is a clear indicator of HRW’s intention of disassociating and not recognizing positive steps, even very mild ones, in countries just to keep the need for its presence felt among its funding “private individuals and foundations”.

Obviously, with wide spread positive reports on human rights conditions around the world, the fund raised to keep self proclaimed abuse chasing establishments such as HRW dwindles. Therefore, it is up to these organizations to ensure that such reports are not as common and as progress based as possible.

Another thing I have noticed about the HRW annual world reports is that they deal with common issues such as: freedom of expression, association and assembly; arbitrary detention and ill-treatment; conduct of security forces; freedom of the media, etc. However, human rights are way broader than these topics. What the above mentioned issues by the reports depict, on the other hand, is a country specific redundant interpretation of just a few of the issues incorporated in the universal declaration of human rights.

The United Nation’s universal declaration of human rights has 30 articles; each identifying what is generally taken as human rights. These are:

Article 1

Right to Equality

Article 2

Freedom from Discrimination

Article 3

Right to Life, Liberty, Personal Security

Article 4

Freedom from Slavery

Article 5

Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment

Article 6

Right to Recognition as a Person before the Law

Article 7

Right to Equality before the Law

Article 8

Right to Remedy by Competent Tribunal

Article 9

Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Exile

Article 10

Right to Fair Public Hearing

Article 11

Right to be Considered Innocent until Proven Guilty

Article 12

Freedom from Interference with Privacy, Family, Home and Correspondence

Article 13

Right to Free Movement in and out of the Country

Article 14

Right to Asylum in other Countries from Persecution

Article 15

Right to a Nationality and the Freedom to Change It

Article 16

Right to Marriage and Family

Article 17

Right to Own Property

Article 18

Freedom of Belief and Religion

Article 19

Freedom of Opinion and Information

Article 20

Right of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Article 21

Right to Participate in Government and in Free Elections

Article 22

Right to Social Security

Article 23

Right to Desirable Work and to Join Trade Unions

Article 24

Right to Rest and Leisure

Article 25

Right to Adequate Living Standard

Article 26

Right to Education

Article 27

Right to Participate in the Cultural Life of Community

Article 28

Right to a Social Order that Articulates this Document

Article 29

Community Duties Essential to Free and Full Development

Article 30

Freedom from State or Personal Interference in the above Rights


I would imagine that an extensive and complete report on human rights would deal with the state of each of the 30 articles of the universal declaration of human rights. However, with the relevance of the so-called human rights watchdogs associated with their presentation of a horrid human rights record in the developing countries, the depiction of isolated instances of human rights breach as the general picture becomes inevitable.

Every country, regardless of their development stages, fails short of fulfilling all of the articles. By dealing only with a selected section of the universal declaration of human rights, therefore, organizations such as HRW manage to report only the gaps in an exaggerated and intentionally skewed way. Had they been interested in progresses made towards ensuring the protection of human rights in countries, though, they would have dealt with the topic more seriously and comprehensively.

In Ethiopia’s case for instance, a comprehensive report that is devoid of bias and ill-intentions would have dedicated at least a small portion for the improvements made in ensuring better human rights conditions in the country. Generally speaking, the achievement of rapid economic growth that transcends to development translates to better conditions for the protection of human rights.

Consequently, the decade long double digit economic growth registered in the country has created much more favorable conditions for human rights protection. Through the use of micro and small enterprises, for example, the economic growth has availed millions of jobs for the unemployed productive section of society. In so doing, those who have become employed would enjoy better living standards and health conditions, which in turn mean improvements in the right to desirable work and to join trade unions along with the right to adequate living standard.

Similarly, raising the gross enrolment rate of primary education to about 97% and register double and triple fold access to secondary and tertiary education to citizens does a lot of justice to ensuring the right to education. As access to quality education also contributes to one’s hopes of landing a desirable work, that right also gets better protected along the way. The same moves can also be taken as investments in promoting the right to adequate living standard.

The tremendous achievements in disseminating health services to small villages and large cities alike in Ethiopia also has its share in alleviating the right to life and the right to adequate living standards in the country. Saving millions of lives of children by getting them access to health services and reducing the child mortality rate by two-thirds would definitely help ensure the right to life of this group of society.

Though there obviously are various activities being undertaken in Ethiopia that would directly or indirectly help improve human rights in the country, the reports by organizations such as HRW only prefer to narrow things down to isolated cases of breach and legal measures on those suspected of committing acts of crime under the country’s laws.

Under the section “key international actors”, the HRW 2014 world report on events of 2013 states: “Ethiopia enjoys warm relations with foreign donors and most of its regional neighbors. Ethiopia has forged strong ties based on its role as the seat of the African Union (AU), its contribution to United Nations peacekeeping, security partnerships with Western nations, and its progress on some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These strong relationships have contributed to the international community’s silence on Ethiopia’s dismal human rights record.”


In a vivid display of irrationality, the report, as quoted above, intentionally overlooks the positive inputs of Ethiopia’s peacekeeping roles under the UN towards improving human rights conditions in various outposts. Warm relations with foreign donors and regional neighbors also create favorable conditions for peace and security that are the basic blocks of development which in turn weighs positively on human rights. Progress on some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in stark contrast to what the report insinuates, translate to blossoming human rights conditions in real terms.


As has clearly been indicated above, though, the report cites these issues as culprits to the leniency of other countries towards Ethiopia’s poor human rights records instead of their clear contribution towards upholding human rights in and outside of Ethiopia. In so doing, the report has openly rendered itself intentionally skewed, misrepresentative and hateful of Ethiopia’s positive image at the regional and international level.

To wrap it all up, working for one’s own survival by racking up on both the real and fictional miseries of others goes beyond selfish and borders on demonic. Considering the so-called human rights watch dogs portray themselves as protectors of the weak and oppressed, despite the fact that they do nothing to help them except sale their stories to fill up their pockets, providing a fitting objective report comprising of the state of each article of the universal declaration of human rights is the least they could do.

The one big problem in situations like these, however, is that donors usually spend more on areas where the problems are dire. Requests for funds to report on human rights breaches would be sensible with more acute presentations of the problem at hand. Therefore, the fact that reports of positive improvements worldwide would clash with the basic survival of such establishments makes truth their most unlikely product.

A “human rights report” about a country that has been registering double digit rates of economic growth for over a decade could never be filled with just negative instances as it is impossible for all that growth to do no good to improve the lives of its citizens. It would in turn be only fair that such reports be reflective of the actual facts on the ground.


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