(Solomon Dibaba, ENA)
A state of emergency as the phrase indicates is an extraordinary declaration issued by the government to ensure a state of normalcy and stability in a situation of crisis. Such declaration may cover the entire nation or may be declared at zonal, provincial or state level depending upon the nature and scope of the emergency under consideration.
Countries may issue emergency declarations due to the urgent prevalence of manmade or natural disasters that dangerously affect the livelihood of peoples, a condition of civil unrest or war that jeopardizes both the normal livelihood of people and the sovereignty of the state.
A number of countries in the world and many states in the U.S are in a state of emergency in response to different situations. Terrorism, natural disasters and public unrest are among the situations that forced governments to declare state of emergency.
A declaration of emergency could imply the suspension of rights and freedoms guaranteed under a country's constitution during this period of time. It alerts citizens to change their normal behavior and orders government agencies to implement emergency plans.
Under international law, rights and freedoms may be suspended during a state of emergency. In the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights adopted by the UN in 1966, this has stated clearly. Article 4 of the Covenant provides:
“In time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed, the States Parties to the present Covenant may take measures derogating from their obligations under the present covenant to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, provided that such measures are not inconsistent with their other obligations under international law and do not involve discrimination solely on the ground of race, color, sex, language, religion or social origin.”
Following the fall of the military regime in 1991, Ethiopia has managed to build a stable state. Until the recent violence happened in some parts of the country, Ethiopia has been a peaceful and stable state over the past 25 years.
Recent protests and violent activities carried out in various parts of the country threaten Ethiopia's reputation as an oasis of political stability whose double-digit growth has lured investors in recent years. Following these violent acts, Ethiopia has declared a six-month nation-wide state of emergency with the objective of maintaining peace that is of crucial importance for the nation’s struggle to pull out from the bondage of abject poverty and safeguard the sovereignty of the nation.
External invasion, break down of law and order that endangers the constitutional order and cannot be controlled by the regular law enforcement procedures, and prevalence of disasters or epidemic are conditions under which a state of emergency is declared in the country.
Though the Council Ministers has the power to decree a state of emergency, its implementation and becoming a proclamation is determined with the approval of the House of Peoples’ Representative, the legislative body. The House may allow the state of emergency to be renewed every four months successively.
During a state of emergency, the Constitution provides the power to the government to suspend political and democratic rights to the extent necessary to avert the situation without derogation of human and democratic rights provided in articles 18, 25, and article 39 sub articles 1 and 2 of the Constitution.
The right to get protection from inhumane treatment, punishment, slavery or servitude and forced labor; the right to equality; rights of nations, nationalities and peoples to self determination including the right to secession, the right to use and develop their own language as well as promote their culture and preserve history, cannot be suspended.
The nomenclature of the state, the “Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia” provided under article 1 of the Constitution, also cannot be suspended.
The Decree, which becomes a proclamation following the approval by the House of Peoples’ Representatives, also provides for the establishment of a Command Post chaired by the Prime Minister to enforce law and order. The Command Post, whose members are chosen by the Prime Minister, was given the mandate to determine and announce which specific restrictions apply where and when.
Accordingly, the Command Post has issued the directive for the execution of the state of emergency.
Actions that provoke public strife and that may create discord and havoc among people; organizing open and clandestine agitation; preparation and distribution of printed materials and displaying provocative shows, use of signs to incite public unrest, communicating with terrorist groups are among the activities prevented during the state of emergency.
The Proclamation authorizes the Command Post to clamp down on any media outlets engaged in a hybrid of propaganda barrage against the country, ban illegal meetings and demonstrations, detention of persons suspected of crimes by suspending their rights to Habeas Corpus, confiscating properties and materials used for creating public unrest, prevention and prohibition of use of firearms and ammunitions in designated areas, reinstating public administrative amenities and services destroyed by unrests, ensuring that normal public services and activities are restored.
Addressing the nation on the objectives of the state of emergency, Prime Minister Hailemariam noted that the state of emergency was declared because there has been "enormous" damage to property. He added “We put our citizens' safety first. Besides, we want to put an end to the damage that is being carried out against infrastructure projects, education institutions, health centers, administration and justice buildings,". The Premier noted that "The recent developments in Ethiopia have put the integrity of the nation at risk".
Hailemariam underscored that "…the state of emergency will not breach basic human rights enshrined under the Ethiopian constitution and won't also affect diplomatic rights listed under the Vienna Convention,"
In the recent past and just recently, Ethiopia was not the only country that had declared a state of emergency. One can easily recall that France declared a state of emergency in response to terrorist attacks. A number of states in the US are in a state of emergency because of public unrest and natural disasters. Turkey has also declared a state of emergency that resulted from a coup attempt.
Ethiopia declared a state of emergency under a condition where among other destructive actions anti- Ethiopia forces burned down factories that employed more than 40,000 workers that are responsible for 200,000 dependants, when they destroyed a water supply systems that are put to service and when they burned down vehicles, schools, clinics and private enterprises.
Media outlets abroad are busy providing twisted and distorted information regarding the objective reality in the country as an action against “democratic rights” and “human rights” in their own definitions.
When Ethiopia declares a state of emergency to protect its citizens and the sovereignty of the state, it is branded as “violation of human rights”. When the country strives to protect the gains enshrined in the constitution, it is labeled as “unproportional measures”.
Only a few days after the declaration of the state of emergency that enjoyed public support, peace and normal life is being restored in areas that suffered from unprecedented destruction. Despite the wishes and hopes of anti-development forces, the academic calendar in the universities and other public and private institutes of higher learning, secondary and elementary schools is going on as planned.
The Constitution of FDRE provides that the state of emergency could last up to six months and Prime Minister Hailemariam said that if the objectives of the state of emergency are promptly met, it can end even before six months.