By Keffyalew Gebremedhin The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
2016 has thus far been characterized by the TPLF regime standing out arrogantly as heartless killer of countless Ethiopians and also for its rejection of international appeals for its horrendous violations of human rights to end. Briefly put, the horrors of killings, tortures, disappearances and all forms of violations of human rights in Ethiopia have stood the TPLF regime out as cause for the United Nations human rights bodies to be particularly concerned by what is happening in Ethiopia.
While the Council’s Autumn session has opened on the first day with such a stark note of worries and concerns about Ethiopia and Ethiopians, once these are presented to member states, as happened now, it is up to them to decide what course of action to follow, either the Council acting on its own along with its subsidiary bodies, or with the involvement of the General Assembly and the Security Council.
The repeatedly reiterated concerns of the international human rights community are equally about the speed with which the TPLF’s violent actions and reactions and the likelihood of the consequent bloodshed forcing Ethiopia to a dreadful eventuality.
Clearly, the lines of conflict have already been drawn in Ethiopia, with the state acting as violent as it is on one side and on the other a well coordinated popular uprising of members of different ethnic groups. They accuse the TPLF, as a ruling party, of nepotism to the extent that the ethnic minority regime has totally changed the representation of Ethiopians, as if it were the only one to be catered for to the neglect of the majority. In real terms it is not even a single ethnic group, repressing the others, but the mafiosi “drinking the blood” of Ethiopians!
In the face of the aggressive and bloody cruelties the TPLF regime has been perpetrated against unarmed people for more than a year, there are many in the international community that have started to worry if and when this would imitate the much-dreaded 1994 situation in Rwanda. The basis for such concern is the fact of the present tensions and conflicts in Ethiopia having clearly shown their ethnic textures.
In other words, in a largely multi-ethnic nation, the gravity of the anger and grievances have been deeper in the country’s two largest ethnic groups, comprising over 60 percent of the over 100 million-strong nation. This does not mean that the small ethnic groups have not been affected. They have been decimated voicelessly, as is currently happening to the Knoso people in Southern Ethiopia.
Consequently, it is taking these into account that, when opening the 33rd session of the Human Rights Council on Tuesday September 13, 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein underlined the fact of the United Nations being “deeply concerned about repeated allegations of excessive and lethal use of force against protesters” in Ethiopia in starkly grim terms.
In that regard, the UN High Commissioner made also mention of “enforced disappearances, and mass detentions, including of children, as well as by worrying restrictions on civil society, the media and opposition.”
Seeking its support and guidance, he also reminded the Council that he had requested “his Office [to] be given access in order for it to conduct a human rights assessment, particularly to the Oromia and Amhara regions.” He made it clear that he has not received positive response particularly from a country hosting some United Nations offices.
As his area of full competence, therefore, while welcoming the TPLF regime’s proposal to conduct its own investigation of the alleged human rights violations and abuses, Mr. Al Hussein once again reiterated the United Nations position for the regime “also [to] consider the need for an independent, impartial and international effort to affirm or revise the allegations.”
On this, in sort of a bitter tone that even the text of his statement could not disguise, High Commissioner Al-Hussein decried the TPLF regime’s resistance. It is in that connection that he referred to the United Nations “privileged relationship with Ethiopia, which hosts one of our regional offices…” By way of example, he mentioned as a positive example what he referred to as “our promising draft agreement with Turkey to set up a regional office there”, which made him to state, “I find it mystifying we are not being given access to areas [in Ethiopia] where the expertise of my Office can so clearly be of immediate and sustained assistance.”
Before mentioning Ethiopia by name, the high commissioner has made an effort to build his case with legal arguments and the importance of Organization’s experiences including from Apartheid South Africa, why the intervention of his office is helpful, important and in no way coercive.
Here is what he has stated in that connection:
“It may be useful to recall the many attempts made by the apartheid régime of South Africa to claim that the General Assembly’s resolutions opposing apartheid constituted a prohibited “intervention” in its domestic jurisdiction. These efforts to shield serious human rights violations from outside scrutiny were conclusively and repeatedly rejected by the General Assembly.
Under international law, wrongful “intervention” – as prohibited in Article 2(7) of the UN Charter – is by nature coercive. And it should be obvious that my Office has no coercive power. No activity that we undertake can possibly be considered constitutive of a prohibited “intervention”. We seek to strengthen national protection systems, not violate them. We do not threaten invasion, nor do we finance or organize sedition; we request access, in order to establish a neutral clarity about the facts on the ground. And access only becomes possible when the State extends an invitation to us; it cannot be forced open by OHCHR.
We request access so we can better work to help bring your laws and practices in line with international agreements which you, the States drafted and ratified – and to assist you to comply with recommendations which you have publicly, and often fulsomely, accepted.
Are human rights exclusively a national issue? Governments have the responsibility to uphold their human rights obligations and to respect the standards. But the human rights of all people, in all countries, also require – unquestionably – our collective attention. The Vienna Declaration, adopted unanimously 23 years ago, confirmed this: “the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community.” This language was also echoed by GA Resolution 48/141, which calls on the High Commissioner to “play an active role in removing current obstacles… to the full realization of all human rights and in preventing the continuation of human rights violations throughout the world”
Human rights violations will not disappear if a government blocks access to international observers and then invests in a public relations campaign to offset any unwanted publicity. On the contrary, efforts to duck or refuse legitimate scrutiny raise an obvious question: what, precisely, are you hiding from us?
I classify as refusals of access all unreasonable delays, elaborately ritualised and unreasonably prolonged negotiations, and responses to specific requests which seem to seek to fob us off with inadequate alternatives to real, fact-based assessment. Access delayed is access denied: two weeks is surely amply sufficient to secure a decision from all relevant officials. Claims that insecure conditions make it impossible to give my staff access are also less than acceptable. My staff work with great courage in some of the world’s most severely threatened communities, and will continue to do so when called upon – or at least, we could be the judge of that.
States may shut my Office out – but they will not shut us up; neither will they blind us. If access is refused, we will assume the worst, and yet do our utmost to nonetheless report as accurately as we can on serious allegations. Our remote monitoring is likely to involve witness testimony, credible third-party reports and use of satellite imagery, among other techniques. Certainly, remote monitoring is a poor substitute for in-person observation by expert analysts. It makes it more difficult to verify and confirm the competing allegations of any party – including the Government. I regret that imprecision, and encourage all States to assist us to correct it, by permitting my teams unhindered access to events on the ground when requested.”
The situation in Ethiopia may become a turning point for the Human Rights Council itself. It has to act and prove its relevance to the world at large, or be ignored as a talking shop when innocent and helpless people continue to be slaughtered.
In Ethiopia these days, the TPLF killing has moved south to Konso and also into the Lower Omo valley. The picture above surfaced from last Autumn, when those opposed to TPLF’s land grab were put on police commando cars and were carted off, some for incarceration and torture, of which some reportedly were summarily executed.
Human rights organizations appeal to UN-HRC Member States to address the escalating human rights crisis in Ethiopia