Africa, Crime & Justice, Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS-ETHIOPIA: Europarliamentarians Urge Action

Stefania Bianchi

BRUSSELS, Dec 20 2005 (IPS) - European parliamentarians are calling for ”targeted sanctions” against the Ethiopian government unless the current human rights situation in the country improves significantly.

Members of the European Parliament are urging the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union (EU), and the European Council, made up of European heads of government and state, to consider imposing targeted sanctions against members of the Ethiopian government following the recent political violence that has gripped the country.

In a landmark 15-point resolution passed unanimously in Brussels last week (Dec. 16), EU lawmakers called for ”the immediate establishment of an independent international commission of inquiry, under UN responsibility, to investigate the human rights abuses and to identify and bring to justice those responsible”.

The resolution is the third voted by the European Parliament since last July. MEPs expressed their concerns about the situation in Ethiopia and the violations of human rights against those who survived the massacres committed by the regime security forces in June and early November.

The parliament said it was ”disturbed by recent news of large-scale human rights abuses following a massive and unprecedented crackdown, in which political leaders, human rights defenders, independent journalists, NGO workers and young people were arrested in Addis Ababa and in different parts of the country”.

Some 131 detained opposition leaders, reporters and aid workers have been charged with crimes ranging from treason to genocide.

The charges relate to last month’s protests over alleged fraud in May elections which saw Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front take control of two-thirds of the country’s parliament. Under Ethiopian law, some of the offences carry the death penalty.

Since the country’s first free elections, there have been two major riots, which left over 80 people dead.

Up to 130 people, mainly from the country’s opposition party, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, as well as journalists and aid workers are still being detained following the latest bout of fighting in November.

In spite of international condemnation at the Ethiopian government’s move to charge many of the prisoners with treason, the authorities have said charges will proceed and they will appear in court on Dec. 21.

The resolution said MEPs were also disturbed by ”unsubstantiated allegations of treason against members of parliament, journalists, civil servants, lawyers, aid workers and members of NGOs”. It expressed disquiet over the mass detention of youths at Dedessa in degrading conditions and the failure of the government to disclose the total number of detainees and their whereabouts.

It urged the Ethiopian government to ”immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and journalists and discharge its obligations with respect to human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law”.

The MEPs requested that detainees be given access to their families, legal counsel and any medical care that their health situation may require.

The European Parliament also called on the EU to channel humanitarian aid for the population of Ethiopia primarily through non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and UN agencies in order to provide direct assistance to the population.

Socialist MEP Ana Gomes, the head of the EU observation election mission to Ethiopia, says European leaders have neglected Ethiopian people.

”Despite elected by the Ethiopian people, they are now in jail, in hunger strike, facing possible death penalty, and yet neglected by European leaders. That despite the fact that early in September I warned European governments and the Commission, the American government and the UN secretary-general that selective repression of Ethiopian opposition leaders might be in preparation by the regime,” she told IPS Monday (Dec. 19).

”How can European leaders fail to act upon repeated appeals of this Parliament when lives of Ethiopian prisoners are in danger? How can European governments fail so miserably those who trusted the EU? Those who fought and fight for democracy in Ethiopia?” she asked.

Gomes also fears that such failure to impose stricter conditions on Ethiopia may fuel increasing tensions in the region.

”How can the UN secretary general and the security council continue to turn a blind eye to massive human rights violations inside Ethiopia, neglecting how this might contribute to instigate another devastating war with neighbouring Eritrea?” she said.

Last week EU foreign ministers agreed to send an urgent EU diplomatic mission to Ethiopia and Eritrea aimed at cooling border tensions and averting a new war between the two East African nations.

International concerns have been mounting in recent weeks that an armed conflict could again erupt between the two African nations, which fought a 1998-2000 war for territory that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Their competing territorial claims were never resolved and in recent months both countries have been massing troops near the border and Eritrea has been restricting the work of UN peacekeepers.

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