Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission Report, Pace Setter in Legal Accountability

29 Apr 2017
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(By Solomon Dibaba, ENA)

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has recently presented its report to the House of Peoples’ Representative on the investigation it conducted on the unrest that occurred in parts of Oromia and Amhara states as well as Gedio Zone of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples state.

 The report covered the violence which incurred loss of human life, destruction and damage on public and private properties from June to September 2017.

 The investigation was carried out in 15 zones and 91 woredas of the State of Oromia and in 6 zones and 55 woredas and towns of the State of Amhara as well as in 6 woredas in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Regional State, according to the Commissioner.

 A total of 669 people including members of security forces were reportedly killed in the disturbances that occurred in the above stated places.

 While presenting the report, Commissioner Dr Addisu Gebregziabher stated that the main causes of the destructive unrest in Oromia were lack of good governance, abuse of rights, unemployment, lack of timely response to public grievances, and delays of projects meant for public use.

 As a result, a number of people have lost their lives and properties were damaged, including those of government institutions and investment enterprises, the report pointed out.

 The anti-peace forces interrupted the highly cherished Irrecha Festival, where 56 deaths occurred due to stampede at Lake Hora Arsadi. That incident was used to incite more violence.

 The social media and Oromia Media Network (OMN­) based abroad had played destructive role by spreading fake news and information that exacerbated the situation, it added. 

 The Commission reported that in Oromia, a total of 495 persons, including 33 members of the security forces, have lost their lives; while 464 sustained severe injuries. 

 The report from the commission also stated that measures taken by the security forces to control the unrest were both proportionate and disproportionate.

 The Commissioner stressed that security forces responsible for the death of 14 people at Adami Tulu, the killing of 38 people and injuring 62 people at Awedai and Bedesa, and the death of 3 people in Dodola Woreda should face justice.

 In addition to government institutions and private investments, the report also noted that the protests focused on attacking citizens of other ethnic backgrounds.

 Despite the regrettable ordeal, the Oromo people have played key role to control and help citizens from other nations and nationalities attacked during the protests, according to the report.

 Reporting on the violence in Gedeo Zone of Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples State, he said that 34 persons lost their lives and 178 sustained severe injuries.

 Some 8,450 non-indigenous people to Gedeo Zone were displaced due to the violence that occurred in the area.

 On the other hand, following the unrest in the Amhara State 140 people including 30 members of the security forces lost their lives and 376 citizens sustained severe injuries.

 A total of Over 11,000 persons in the areas where the unrest was occurred were forced to flee their homes due to the violence. In addition, properties worth millions of Birr were damaged.

 The report finally urged the individuals who spread the violence in the states should be brought to justice.

 What are the implications of this report?

 EHRC was established in 2000 pursuant to proclamation no. 210/2000. The proclamation was declared in line with the provisions of the Ethiopian constitution which devoted 35 articles out of the 106 to human rights. This means that 33 percent of the constitution is all about the multi-faceted constitutional provisions on human rights.

The preamble of the proclamation that provided for the establishment of the Commission establishes the lofty goal for which the Commission was established.

 “WHEREAS, the goal to jointly build one political community founded on the rule of law, as one of the basic objectives of the nations/nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia, is to be achieved by guaranteeing respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual and of nations/nationalities and peoples;”

 The proclamation defined human rights as “fundamental rights and freedoms recognized under the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia;”

 The proclamation notes the role of the Commission for the establishment of one political community in Ethiopia. What does this actually mean?  It means a single political entity in the midst of unity in diversity. It also means the development of a developmental democratic state in which the rights of citizens is ensured through the prevalence of good governance, accountability and above all the rule of law.

 In Ethiopia, there are four institutions that are engaged in checking and balancing the constitutionally defined duties and responsibilities of the executive body - the House of Peoples’ Representatives, House of Federation, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Institution of the Ombudsman and Federal Attorney General.

 All the above are involved in various perspectives to ensure that the human rights of citizens are ascertained and respected. The EHRC is one of the institutions that directly report to the HPR. The recent report the Commission delivered to the parliament is in tune with such provision.

 The content of the report by the Commission indicates the areas with progress and shortfalls that need to be rectified by the government. The report, even at face value shows that there is already an opportunity to further widen the democratic political atmosphere in the country through such transparent, outright clear, professional reporting that would further contribute to the development of a new democratic political order in the country.

 The report among other things is also a document of self rectification. It indicates the legal necessity of accountability and the prevalence of the rule of law in the entire political system. The recommendations from the report are not optional at all.

 Every aspect of the findings and recommendations are constitutionally mandatory and those who violated any aspect of human rights of citizens, whether they are government or private institutions and individuals should appear before the courts of law.

 Contrary to proxy and third party reports that are being fanned by human rights organizations in the west, Ethiopia is already reporting on its own status of human rights as the legal and principles of developmental democracy in the country demands. The EHRC report is not a report prepared by mere speculations. It was prepared on a grassroots level. It completely disqualifies any level of fake news or social media speculations and defamations.

 In its efforts to investigate the situation, the Commission conducted discussions with the concerned authorities in the areas under investigation, referred to eye witness accounts from witnesses, reviewed documents relating to the situation, talked to victims of the situation and also held investigative meetings with government and private sector persons on the scale of damage done on property.

 The EHRC report indicates that Ethiopia has all the capacity to prepare comprehensive reports not only about human rights issues but also on the entire operation of the democratic political system. The report was inclusive, participatory with a loud and clear message for all to know. This is a new trend of self review reporting in Africa showing a new trend in developmental democracy that is growing in Ethiopia.

 It was clear that some media outlets abroad and the social media in particular lost no time for speculations and misrepresentations. They deliberately focused on the number people who lost their lives and aired doubts on the report. This is certainly an old tactic as the death of a single person is regrettable by all standards.

 The Commission has already promised to prepare additional reports on the implementation of the recommendations it has forwarded including for instance the rehabilitation of more than 11,000 persons who were internally displaced due to the chaos and havoc that was spearheaded by anti-peace, anti-development forces.

 All told, despite the loss of lives and property, the report is a lesson that should be heeded by all and for all. A glimmer of hope is on the horizon to continue to establish a developmental democratic state in which the human rights of all citizens is duly honored and respected.

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