A group of United Nations human rights experts yesterday called on the Ethiopian authorities to end the ongoing crackdown on peaceful protests by the country's security forces, who have reportedly killed more than 140 demonstrators and arrested scores more in the past nine weeks.
A press statement released by the UN Human Right office of the high commission quoted the independent experts as saying, "The sheer number of people killed and arrested suggests that the Government [in] Ethiopia views the citizens as a hindrance, rather than a partner." The statement also said the experts have expressed "deep concern about allegations of enforced disappearances of several protesters."
The current wave of protests began in mid-November, in opposition to the Government's 'Addis Abeba Integrated Development Master Plan' to expand the capital's municipal boundary. The 'Master Plan' could reportedly lead to mass evictions and the seizure of agricultural land in the Oromiya region, as well as extensive deforestation.
The UN experts welcomed the Government's announcement on 12 January 2016 [to suspend] the implementation of the 'Master Plan', but were concerned about continuous reports of killings, mass arrests, excessive use of force and other abuses by security forces.
"The Government's decision is a positive development, but it cannot be seen as a sincere commitment until the security forces stop their crackdown on peaceful protests," they said. "The role of security forces should be to protect demonstrators and to facilitate peaceful assemblies, not suppress them."
"We call on the Government to immediately release protesters who seem to have been arrested for exercising their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, to reveal the whereabouts of those reportedly disappeared and to carry out an independent, transparent investigation into the security forces' response to the protests," the experts said.
"Accountability does not erase past abuses, but it is an important step towards rebuilding trust between people and their government," they stressed. "Impunity, on the other hand, only perpetuates distrust, violence and more oppression."
The UN independent experts also expressed grave concern over the Ethiopian Government's application of the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation 652/2009 to arrest and prosecute protesters, labelling them as 'terrorists' without substantiated evidence. This law authorizes the use of unrestrained force against suspects and pre-trial detention of up to four months.
"Ethiopia's use of terrorism laws to criminalize peaceful dissent is a disturbing trend, not limited to the current wave of protests," they experts noted. "The wanton labeling of peaceful activists as terrorists is not only a violation of international human rights law it also contributes to an erosion of confidence in Ethiopia's ability to fight real terrorism. This ultimately makes our world a more dangerous place."
"There are bound to be policy disagreements in any society," the human rights experts said, "but every Government has the responsibility to give space for people to peacefully express their views and to take these views into account."
The experts include Mr. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances.
The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.