Geneva — United Nations member countries should call on Ethiopia to stop targeting activists and the media under draconian laws. The UN Human Rights Council will review Ethiopia's human rights record under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure on May 6, 2014.
A Human Rights Watch submission to the UN on Ethiopia highlights its ongoing suppression of the media and nongovernmental organizations, and the lack of accountability for torture and other serious abuses by its security forces.
The arbitrary arrest of nine bloggers and journalists on April 25 and 26, just 10 days before the review, reflects Ethiopia's blatant disregard for fundamental rights and should be strongly condemned by UN members.
"The UN review is taking place just as Ethiopia is renewing its crackdown on free speech," said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director. "To make this review meaningful, UN member countries should forcefully tell Ethiopia that its attacks on the media and activist groups are a blight on its human rights record."
Since Ethiopia's first UPR review in 2009, the human rights situation has deteriorated substantially. The authorities have shown harsh intolerance of any criticism of government actions and have sharply restricted the rights to free expression and association.
Despite Ethiopia's commitment during the 2009 review to take "measures to provide for free and independent media," Ethiopia now has one of the most repressive media environments in the world. Numerous journalists languish in prison, independent media outlets have been closed down, and many journalists have fled the country.
Critics of government policy - including journalists, rights activists, and opposition party supporters - risk harassment, arbitrary detention, and politically motivated prosecutions.
Many prosecutions are carried out under repressive laws that have dramatically curtailed the ability of independent Ethiopian and international organizations to investigate and report on human rights violations and other concerns.
Critics are also subject to illegal surveillance of telephone communications, and the contents of these communications are sometimes used during unlawful interrogations. Government censors routinely block websites of opposition parties, independent media sites, blogs, and several international media outlets.
During the 2009 review Ethiopia rejected recommendations to amend two draconian laws - the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO law) and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation - to comply with international human rights standards.
"Ethiopia's membership in the Human Rights Council should make it a leader in respecting rights, not repressing them," Lefkow said. "UN members should press Ethiopia to amend the laws it uses to decimate independent media and civil society."
The Ethiopian government has failed to conduct credible investigations or prosecutions of members of the security forces implicated in torture and other rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. This includes security force abuses in Gambella, the Somali region, Oromia, and in Somalia.
In an October 2013 report, Human Rights Watch documented the use of torture by police and investigators against detainees in Maekelawi, the main investigation center in Addis Ababa, the capital.
At the Human Rights Council, countries should stress the need for Ethiopia to address torture and other serious crimes by security forces, and to investigate and prosecute security personnel responsible for serious crimes.
"Ethiopia's refusal to address serious crimes by security forces is a major obstacle to human rights progress and deeply distressing for the families of the victims," Lefkow said. "UN members need to push Ethiopia to meaningfully investigate grave violations and to hold those responsible to account."