Concerned by the human rights violations committed during the June and November 2005 protests and the pending trial of 131 people (including legal persons) presumed to be linked with these events, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders sent two international missions of judicial observation to Ethiopia in order to observe the trial of the human rights defenders who were part of the co-accused, namely Mr. Kassahun Kebede, Director of the Addis Ababa branch of the Ethiopian Teachers Association (ETA), Mr. Daniel Bekele, Head of Policy Research and Advocacy Department of Action Aid Ethiopia, and Mr. Netsanet Desmissie, founder of the Organisation for Social Justice in Ethiopia (OSJE), who are charged with “crime of outrage against the Constitutional order”.
Since the waves of repression that followed protests against the results of the May 2005 elections (extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, etc.), the civil society’s day-to-day situation on the ground has indeed been going from bad to worse.
The current trial, as well as the ongoing harassment of civil society organisations, does not only represent an alarming step towards the hardening of the regime, it also clearly shows that the repeated statements of the Government claiming its commitment to democratic values and human rights are to be taken with the utmost prudence, if not refuted.
All defendants, currently behind bars, along with many others whose names and whereabouts remain unknown, are at risk of being kept at length in custody awaiting trial or sentenced to long imprisonment terms if not death. Moreover, allegations of ill-treatments, forced disappearances and summary executions are rampant in the country.
In view of its findings during the missions, the Observatory considers the charges to be arbitrary and disproportionate to the nature of the events that occurred in the aftermath of the May 2005 elections. The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about the fairness of this trial, as it believes it to be a way to silence any political criticism of the current regime.
The Observatory finally condemns the continuing repression of human rights defenders and expresses its particular concern about the situation of members of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO). Indeed, since the second crackdown on mass protests, three of EHRCO’s veteran staff have been forced into exile for fear of their lives. Besides, several EHRCO members have been arrested arbitrarily and held in detention for various periods of time in 2006.
Therefore, the Observatory strongly urges the Ethiopian authorities to:
Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of human rights defenders in compliance with international instruments, especially the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1998;
Ensure that people subjected to arbitrary arrests, arbitrary charges or those without charges or conviction against them, including Mr. Kassahun Kebede, Mr. Daniel Bekele, and Mr. Netsanet Desmissie, be immediately released;
Guarantee fair trials to all defendants as defined in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 7 of the African Charter for Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and notably guarantee that they have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of their defence and communicate with their lawyers;
Respect the Guidelines and Measures for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Africa (The Robben Island Guidelines);
Refrain from applying the death penalty, to ratify the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which provides for the abolition of death penalty and respect the United Nations Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty (1984);
Guarantee, at all times, the freedoms of opinion and expression as well as the right to hold peaceful demonstrations and to political assembly, in compliance with the Ethiopian Constitution and the international and regional instruments ratified by Ethiopia and, notably the ICCPR, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the ACHPR;
Extend invitations to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on the situation of human rights defenders, and the Special Rapporteur of the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights on Human Rights defenders.
Conform with the recommendations, conclusions and observations made by Special Procedures of the United Nations concerning Ethiopia;
Conform with the resolution adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights at its 38th Session in Banjul, in December 2005, and endorsed by African Heads of States and Governments at the African Union Summit held in the Gambia in July 2006;
Conform with article 96 of the Partnership Agreement between the Members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, on the one hand, and the European Community and its Member States, on the other hand (Cotonou Agreement), which stipulates that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is an essential element of ACP-EU Cooperation;
More generally, ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the country in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Ethiopia.
Moreover, the Observatory urges the European Union to continue to condemn serious human rights violations committed by the government of Ethiopia, and to grant particular attention to the protection of human rights defenders in accordance with the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders.