Tag Archives: Forthcoming election

Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele has his eyes firmly set on state accountability. The question isn’t if he can do the job, but if he lasts!

9 Nov

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

“Ensuring accountability is key to ending culture of impunity and cycle of human rights abuses… It is now for police and the Attorney General’s office to undertake full investigation, gather evidences and hold all perpetrators of these heinous crimes to account.”

Daniel Bekele (PhD) is the newly-minted Chief Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. A lawyer, he was previously with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Action Aid and was the Senior Director for Africa Advocacy, based in New York City, where he also served one time as its Executive Director of its African Division. He earned his PhD from Oxford University in International law last year. A former prisoner-of-conscious, he reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on human rights in Ethiopia, on the recent civil unrest, on how the commission is ever evolving and becoming independent and finally reflects on the role it intends to play in the upcoming national election happening next year. Excerpts:

The Reporter: For the last several weeks, we have seen many lives being lost, properties damaged and thousands of people displaced and hurt. We have read the statement that came out of your commission recently. Is there any plan to bring accountability to what has happened by way of an independent investigation or public inquiry?

Chief High Commissioner Daniel Bekele (Credit: The Reporter)Daniel Bekele (PhD): Ensuring accountability is key to ending culture of impunity and cycle of human rights abuses. EHRC has already called for full accountability of all offenders and the federal government has stated its commitment to ensure accountability. It is now for police and the Attorney General’s office to undertake full investigation, gather evidences and hold all perpetrators of these heinous crimes to account. But any such investigation and the judicial process requires time. We should now let the police and prosecutors do their job but it is also critical to ensure that innocent people are not further victimized in the name of criminal investigation. EHRC will also continue to monitor the process.

Do you think the actions of the government so far are adequate? 

We are still at very early stages of the criminal investigation process and hence it would be rather premature to comment on the adequacy of the process at this stage. But the government clearly is stating its unwavering commitment to hold all perpetrators to account is the first step in the right direction. This statement should now be followed by concrete actions.

Highlighted by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, there have been widespread complaints on delayed justice for suspects under police custody as well as due process, including their Miranda rights, denied to them during the investigation process. Since you have taken over the commission, there has been a push to make it more transparent and earn the commission public confidence. How far do you think you have you come in achieving that?

There is still a long way to go in improving administration of criminal justice in Ethiopia. There are notable advances on many levels but there are lots of areas yet to be improved including extended remand custody, denial of bail rights and ensuring speedy trials. The various law enforcement agencies are working with very limited resources.

One of the long-running accusations against the commission was its lack of independence and the uniform like accusation was that government cadres run it. How independent is the commission now do you think?

The Commission is now fully independent in a sense that no government authority gives direction on the work of the Commission but there are certain structural limitations affecting its operational independence and fundamental reforms are yet to be accomplished to ensure both the operational and financial autonomy of the institution. We are working towards an amendment of the establishment proclamation to ensure the full autonomy of the Commission.

The last few years, we have seen a uniform-like unrest across the nation – from Benishangul, Gedeo to Guji and Qimant. Some say, the commission has been silent. Why the silence?

It has only been just few months since the Commission got a new Chief Commissioner and we started a process of reform and restructuring. The reform is key to make the institution fit for purpose. Although the Commission is not yet at full capacity, there is good effort underway, among other things, to handle wide range of complaints, monitoring of prisons and detainees, and responding to emergency human rights situations.

We are almost a year away from a national election and fear of unrest and violence is almost certain to occur. What is the commission doing to ensure those who instigate such violence are held accountable and that the rights of citizens would be respected? 

We hope the Commission will make progress on the reform and restricting work sooner than later and be ready to design and implement a proper human rights strategy around the elections. This will help to contribute towards a peaceful and credible electoral process and ensuring the respect and protection of all human rights before, during and in the post-election period.

Share with me about the status of the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan.

I would like to see a new human rights action plan that clearly sets out the priority human rights issues in the country with a robust action plan.

Is the commission working closely with federal and regional police commissions?

We seek to coordinate our work with all relevant stakeholders including police and all law enforcement agencies both at regional and federal level. Just the last couple of months, police commissions have been helpful in facilitating our visits to detention centers.

How well-versed do you think are security officers and the police when it comes to ensuring the rights of citizens?

All law enforcement agencies and their officers could benefit from a regular and sustained training and capacity development on international human rights standards and other relevant professional skills for their work. Capacity building is not just a one-time intervention. You need to institutionalize a system of continuing professional education program for all law enforcement officers.

 

/The Reporter’s Samuel Getachew

Photo credit: The Reporter

 

How Ethiopia’s ruling coalition created a playbook for disinformation

19 Oct

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

“Mis- and disinformation online fuels pre-election suspicions in Ethiopia”

A deep split that exists within Ethiopia’s ruling coalition — the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (the EPRDF) —was made evident over the last few weeks when a Facebook row broke out between two major political party members who disagreed on the historical accounts of Ethiopia as a modern state.

The row revealed how party members within the EPRDF use social media — through posts and memes — to manipulate public opinion and spread misinformation and incendiary content.

The EPRDF is a coalition of four ethnically-based parties. Members from these four parties: Amhara Democratic Party (ADP), Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM) and Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), currently make up Ethiopia’s top leadership.

Until 2018, the TPLF was the dominant party in the coalition, holding absolute power for over 25 years. ADP and ODP have joined forces to put an end to the supremacy of TPLF, yet its members continue their rivalry, with infighting that usually goes under the radar. Tensions have risen steadily since April 2018, when Abiy Ahmed of the ODP was sworn in as prime minister.

On October 4, ODP-ADP infighting burst out into the open when members and supporters of ADP and ODP started to bicker over a remark made by the vice president of Oromia Regional State, Shimeles Abdisa, in Addis Ababa, on the eve of Irreecha (an annual celebration marking the beginning of spring).

In his remarks, Abdisa hailed the Irreecha celebration in Addis Ababa, which he described as the very place where Oromos were defeated and humiliated by the old regime:

The Oromo people were defeated right here, our humiliation started right here.

In his speech, Abdisa struck a triumphant tone and marked the day’s celebration in Addis as a turning point in the struggle of the Oromo people. He used the Amharic word neftegna (“riflemen” in English) to refer to the ruling class established in the wake of Emperor Menelik II’s conquest in southern Ethiopia in the late 19th century.

Today, many ethnic Amahras view Emperor Menelik II as a symbol of triumph and defiance of European colonialism, while many Oromos consider him the root cause of their social and cultural subjugation.

Abdisa’s use of the term neftegna prompted backlash given that it is often used to refer to members of Emperor Menelik II’s army after TPLF came to power in 1991.

The following day, in a Facebook post, Asemahegn Aseres, a top ADP member, accused Abdisa of employing coded language to intimidate the Amhara people and, in turn, drew the ire of Taye Dendea, a top ODP member, who saw Asemahegn’s accusation as a denial of the historical social and cultural subjugation the Oromos suffered.

Dueling statements made by Aseres and Dendea exemplify the differences in interpretations of Ethiopia’s historical events among the country’s elites. While the ADP considers the formation of a modern Ethiopian state as faultless and virtuous, the ODP understands its formation as a process that led to the subjugation and humiliation of Oromos at the hands of Ethiopian emperors.

Aseres and Dendea have several things in common: They are young politicians who aspire to long political careers and whose parties, the ADP and ODP, — have banded together to bring down the supremacy of TPLF in April 2018.

Their row on Facebook bolstered their popularity and ushered an intense wave of political polarization freighted with misinformation.

 

 

Their spat led to an outpouring of support on their respective Facebook pages, feverishly gathering up reactions, comments, and shares.

Taye’s page, with 56,432 followers, racked up about 5,000 shares and generated 3,500 comments, while Asemahegn’s page, with 45,565 followers, mustered about 3,000 shares and 2,500 comments — just within 24 hours of their posts.

These numbers aren’t enough to gauge the extent of this political divide among Ethiopian citizens. However, it shows how two distinct nationalist discourses on social media struggle for primacy in the debate over Ethiopia’s past events and political future.

The heated exchange not only tests the tactical alliance of ADP and ODP, but it also exerts a “contagion effect” by galvanizing sympathizers by employing misinformation, inflammatory stories, memes and videos on social media.

Manipulating public opinion: The case of EthiopianDJ

For years, members of the EPRDF have used social media to manipulate public opinion on social media for their benefit. In 2017, when a series of EPRDF top-secret documents were leaked online, an army of paid Facebook personalities and bloggers was deployed to produce disparaging comments and misinformation about critics of the Ethiopian government.

However, as the internal power struggle and the ideological battle intensified among EPRDF members, misinformation tactics are shifting from targeting critics of the Ethiopian government to targeting each other and building allies from opposition groups.

For example, on September 3, 2019 Aseres made a little-noticed interview with EthiopianDJ, a Facebook page with about 1.1 million followers, known for spreading fake news, incendiary memes and conspiracy theories including one that says Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed somehow was part of the plot that killed the country’s top military officials and leaders of the Amhara region in June 2019.

In another incident, EthiopianDJ posted images that purported to show security officers confiscating green, yellow and red flags from followers of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, during an annual Meskel celebration, while tolerating the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) flag. (The green, yellow and red flag is associated with Ethiopia’s past emperors while the OLF flag represents Oromo resistance.)

The images are authentic, but they are misleading. The images were actually taken from two different celebrations, Meskel and Irrechaa, held a week apart — albeit in the same venue. During these celebrations, security officers seized and removed flags considered unlawful by the Ethiopian government.

Most often displaying flags associated with opposition groups and old Ethiopian regimes during public events such as Meskel and Irreechaa are considered illegal.

There is no indication that EthiopianDJ has received money from EPRDF, but it offers a fresh example of the misinformation tactics of the disintegrating party.

EthiopiaDJ’s post with these images was shared about 1,000 times and generated 782 comments.

No empirical data shows that automated accounts or bots may have generated these comments, but signs of social media manipulation exist in hundreds of sham Facebook accounts with numerous made-up names that regularly post, like and share incendiary content.

Repeated, deliberated disinformation

Manipulation tactics used by EPRDF members against each other in their internal power struggle serve as a blueprint for opposition groups to attack their opponents and the government.

Over the last two weeks, Ethiopian netizens witnessed repeated, deliberate disinformation around public holidays and political events that often led to unintentional misinformation.

In one high-profile incident, well-known opposition activist, Eskinder Nega, tweeted a two-line poem purportedly written by famed poet and actress, Meron Getenet, which takes a swipe at the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. But the poem was subsequently found to be taken from an imposter Facebook page that used Meron’s name. The poem, a sharp and direct takedown of Abiy Ahmed’s leadership (without mentioning Abiy’s name), characterizes his administration as “directionless.”

A fact-checking journalist reported the poem attributed to Meron was wrong, but Nega’s original message had already been retweeted over 76 times and his tweet has not yet been deleted.

In another online incident, Oromo activist Jawar Mohammed, who has more than 1.7 million followers on Facebook, questioned the integrity of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), after its communication adviser tweeted a question to Addis Ababa’s mayor (an ODP member) when the Irreecha holiday-related road closures will end.

In what has become one of his most high-performing posts, Jawar shared the screengrab of the tweet along with a statement questioning the integrity of NEBE on his Facebook page.

Given the intense political polarization around the celebration of Irreecha in Addis Ababa, some consider the tweet from NEBE’s communication adviser insensitive. But Jawar’s Facebook post is also misleading.

These incidents of mis- and disinformation and misinformation fuel pre-election suspicion as Ethiopia plans to hold highly-anticipated general elections in about ten months.

by Endalk

/Global Village

 

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