Legal Analysis of Ethiopia’s State of Emergency: Summary

31 Oct

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)
by Human Rights Watch

On October 9, 2016, the Ethiopian government announced a country-wide six-month state of emergency. This followed a year of widespread protests against government policies that state security forces violently suppressed, killing hundreds of people and detaining tens of thousands. [1] Protesters also committed a number of attacks on government buildings and private businesses perceived to be close to the ruling party.[2]

Government officials sought to justify the announced state of emergency, and corresponding directives that were issued on October 15, by contending that they were necessary in response to the threat posed by “anti-peace groups in close collaboration with foreign elements.”[3] Officials said they needed to “put an end to the damage that is being carried out against infrastructure projects, health centers, [and] administration and justice buildings.”[4] However, damaging property is a crime under Ethiopia’s criminal law and the authorities could prosecute such acts without invoking a state of emergency.

The state of emergency directive prescribes sweeping and vaguely worded restrictions on a broad range of actions that undermine basic rights, including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, and go far beyond what is permissible under international law.[5] Human Rights Watch has documented serious rights violations and the curtailing of freedom of assembly and expression since the protests began in November 2015. [6] To some extent, the sweeping provisions effectively codify measures that security forces have been committing unlawfully in response to the protests. Under the state of emergency, the army will be further deployed country-wide for at least six months — this signifies a greater willingness by the government to use the armed forces in what should be a law enforcement role.

The Ethiopian government is empowered to declare a state of emergency under the constitution, “should an external invasion, a breakdown of law and order which endangers the Constitutional order and which cannot be controlled by the regular law enforcement agencies and personnel, a natural disaster, or an epidemic occur.”[7] Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), certain rights may be derogated under a state of emergency but must be tailored to the “exigencies of the situation,” while other rights may not be derogated under any circumstances.[8] Under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, no derogation of charter rights is allowed during a time of emergency.[9]

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