On the 18th of May 2017, the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning Ethiopia for not respecting its own Constitution and human rights. Though this resolution underlines the role of Ethiopia in stabilizing the region and the improvement of the economic situation of the population, it lacks some understanding of the situation in the country on topics such as the state of emergency, the human rights and the arrest of Dr. Merera Gudina.
- On the arrest of Dr. Merera Gudina: The resolution of the European Parliament ignores the fact that Dr. Merera Gudina exceeded the rights of political opposition by allegedly meeting with the leader of an armed group at the European Parliament. The directive issued to implement the state of emergency, under Article 2, clearly stipulates that, among other things, meeting with individuals or organizations proscribed by the Ethiopian Parliament as terrorists is prohibited. Dr. Merera Gudina knows very well that Ginbot-7 was designated as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian Parliament due to its numerous terrorist actions in different parts of the country. By meeting and discussing with the leader of this organization in Brussels from 7-9 November 2016, Dr. Merera Gudina deliberately violated the state of emergency. As a leader of a political party, he is particularly supposed to respect and protect the laws and to know that anyone who breaches the law will be held accountable, and the European Parliament should also acknowledge this.
- On the state of emergency: The state of emergency was not decided for political motives, but to preserve the stability of the country. It is to be recalled that Ethiopia has seen unprecedented violent protests and unrest during the last year. Considering the fact that the existing normal law enforcement mechanisms were insufficient to contain the problem, the Council of Ministers of Ethiopia, declared a state of Emergency on 9 October 2016. This was approved by the Ethiopian Parliament in conformity with the provisions of the Ethiopian Constitution. In the meantime, several restrictions imposed by the state of emergency were lifted, which should be seen as a positive signal, including as control on mobile data network and social media, curfew on movements around major infrastructural facilities, arrest of suspects and conducting searches without search warrants, restriction and control of messages broadcasted on different medias.
- On the investigations into the protests: While the resolution of the European Parliament is calling an international investigation into the protests, it has to be noted that Ethiopia is endowed with its own investigation mechanisms. On the 18th of April 2017, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) presented the results of the investigation it carried out following the violence in some parts of Amhara, Oromia and SNNP regional states in 2016 to the House of Peoples Representatives. The EHRC said a total of 669 people were killed in the unrests, 495 people (465 civilians, 33 security personnel) in Oromia, 140 people (110 civilians and 30 security personnel) in Amhara and 34 people in the SSNP regional states. While the Commission said that in most cases, measures taken by security officers were legal and proportionate, it also indicated that security officers used unnecessary force in several cases. Finally, it has to be noted that close to 90% (20,000 individuals) of the people who were detained in connection with the violent demonstrations have been released following a briefing on the constitutional rights and obligations of citizens.
- On the human rights in Ethiopia: Ethiopia has developed its own framework to improve the respect of human rights in Ethiopia. It can only be hoped that the European Parliament will find ways to positively support the Ethiopian Parliament and other Ethiopian government institutions in the implementation of the this framework, not by criticizing, but through a constructive support. The second National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP II) was approved by the House of People’s representatives and it will develop a comprehensive and structured mechanism to advance the respect, protection, and fulfilment of human and democratic rights, which are explicitly guaranteed by the country’s Constitution. The NHRAP II deals with civil, political economic, social and cultural rights, as well as the rights of vulnerable groups. It raises issues like the right to life, the right to personal security, the prohibition against inhuman treatment, the rights of persons arrested, persons held in custody and convicted prisoners, the rights of persons accused, the right of access to justice, the freedom of thought, opinion, expression, and of association among others.
- On the political space: The resolution fails to mention that a dialogue between ruling and opposition political parties was initiated in January 2017. After meeting several times, the 17 political parties, including the ruling coalition EPRDF, have ratified a common regulation in April to give a sustainable framework to the dialogue, and selected three negotiators to chair the dialogue. It is also planned to reform the electoral law to introduce an part of proportionality into the majority rule. It is saddening that the European Parliament did not support this initiative until now.
Despite these elements, it is to be hoped that the European Parliament will be willing assist the broad and deep reform programs in Ethiopia and support implementation of the rule of law. Only a constructive approach can support the country on its path to democratization and development.
Ethiopia is located in a turbulent neighborhood and surrounded by several conflicts. Its destabilization would be detrimental not only to the Horn of Africa, but also to Europe. Ethiopia is doing its level best to stabilize the region by contributing peacekeeping forces, hosting over 800,000 refugees and fighting terrorism and radicalization.