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Time to Repeal Anti-Terrorism Law in Ethiopia

Anuradha Mittal is the Executive Director of the Oakland Institute.

OAKLAND, California, Jan 25 2016 (IPS) - With the African Union celebrating the African Year of Human Rights at its 26th summit, at its headquarters in Addis, Ethiopia, the venue raises serious concerns about commitment to human rights.

Anuradha Mittal Credit:

Anuradha Mittal

Ethiopia’s so called economic development policies have not only ignored but enabled and exacerbated civil and human rights abuses in the country. Case and point is the ongoing land grabbing affecting several regions of the country. Under the controversial “villagization” program, the Ethiopian government is forcibly relocating over 1.5 million people to make land available to investors for so called economic growth. Since last November, the country’s ruling party, EPRDF’s, “Master Plan” to expand the capital Addis has been the flashpoint for protests in Oromia which will impact some 2 million people. At least 140 protestors have been killed by security forces while many more have been injured and arrested, including political leaders like Bekele Gerba, Deputy Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress, Oromia’s largest legally registered political party. Arrested on December 23, 2015, his whereabouts remain unknown.

Political marginalization, arbitrary arrests, beatings, murders, intimidation, and rapes mark the experience of communities around Ethiopia defending their land rights. This violence in the name of delivering economic growth is built on the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, which has allowed the Ethiopian government secure complete hegemonic authority by suppressing any form of dissent.

A new report, Ethiopia’s Anti-Terrorism Law: A Tool to Stifle Dissent, by the Oakland Institute and the Environmental Defender Law Center, authored by lawyers including representatives from leading international law firms, unravels the 2009 Proclamation. It confirms that the law is designed and used by the Ethiopian Government as a tool of repression to silence its critics. It criminalizes basic human rights, like the freedom of speech and assembly. Its definition of “terrorist act,” does not conform with international standards given the law defines terrorism in an extremely broad and vague way, providing the ruling party with an iron fist to punish words and acts that would be legal in a democracy.

The law’s staggering breadth and vagueness, makes it impossible for citizens to know or even predict what conduct may violate the law, subjecting them to grave criminal sanctions. This has resulted in a systematic withdrawal of free speech in the country as newspaper journalists and editors, indigenous leaders, land rights activists, bloggers, political opposition members, and students are charged as terrorists. In 2010, journalists and governmental critics were arrested and tortured in the lead-up to the national election. In 2014, six privately owned publications closed after government harassment; at least 22 journalists, bloggers, and publishers were criminally charged; and more than 30 journalists fled the country in fear of being arrested under repressive laws.

The law also gives the police and security services unprecedented new powers and shifts the burden of proof to the accused. Ethiopia has abducted individuals from foreign countries including the British national Andy Tsege and the Norwegian national, Okello Akway Ochalla, and brought them to Ethiopia to face charges of violating the anti-terrorism law. Such abductions violate the terms of extradition treaties between Ethiopia and other countries; violate the territorial sovereignty of the other countries; and violate the fundamental human rights of those charged under the law. Worse still, many of those charged report having been beaten or tortured, as in the case of Mr. Okello. The main evidence courts have against such individuals are their so-called confessions.

Some individuals charged under Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law are being prosecuted for conduct that occurred before that law entered into force. These prosecutions violate the principles of legality and non-retroactivity, which Ethiopia is bound to uphold both under international law as well as the Charter 22 of its own constitution.

A few other key examples of those charged under the law, include the 9 bloggers; Pastor Omot Agwa, former translator for the World Bank Inspection Panel; and journalists Reeyot Alemu and Eskinder Nega; and hundreds more, all arrested under the Anti-Terrorism law.

It has been a fallacious tradition in development thought to equate economic underdevelopment with repressive forms of governance and economic modernity with democratic rule. Yet Ethiopia forces us to confront that its widely celebrated economic renaissance by its Western allies and donor countries is dependent on violent autocratic governance. The case of Ethiopia should compel the US and the UK to question their own complicity in supporting the Ethiopian regime, the west’s key ally in Africa.

Given the compelling analysis provided by the report, it is imperative that the international community demands that until such time as Ethiopian government revises its anti-terrorism law to bring it into conformity with international standards, it repeals the use of this repressive piece of legislation.

Case and point is the controversial resettlement program under which the Ethiopian government seeks to relocate 1.5 million people as part of an economic development plan. Research by groups including the Oakland Institute, International Rivers Network, Human Rights Watch, and Inclusive Development International, among others, as well as journalists.

Perhaps there is hesitation to confront this because it would implicate the global flows of development assistance that make possible rule by the EPRDF. Receiving a yearly average of 3.5 billion dollars in development aid, Ethiopia tops lists of development aid recipients of USAID, DfID, and the World Bank. Staggeringly, international assistance represents 50 to 60 per cent of the Ethiopian national budget. Evidently, foreign assistance is indispensible to the national governance. At the face of this dependency, the Ethiopian government exercises repressive hegemony over Ethiopian political and civil expression.

It is the responsibility of international donors to account for the political effects of development assistance with thorough and consistent investigations and substantive demand for political reform and democratic practices as a condition for sustained international aid. This will inevitably mean a new type of Ethiopian renaissance, one that seeks the simultaneous establishment of democratic governance and improving economic conditions.


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  • Tejbet

    Woow a F***n Indian telling us what we need in my country!!! Why don’t you write about Indian mèn gang raping your woman than talking about The country you have no idea of? Garbage!!

  • hojeta koo

    Oromo lost so many bright intellectuals who are critical of Ethiopian regimes both in Ethiopia and refugee camps in neighboring country! They keep getting abducted from Kenya by Ethiopian security forces. UN give recognition but Ethiopia doesn’t care UN mandate. Ethiopia also recognize Kenya’s weakness. UN attempts to return them back to Kenya from Ethiopian prison was unsuccessful. Rest in peace Tesfahun Chedma, Mesfin Bekele was sentenced to death … to name few.. For how long world is silent of this massacre keep arming, funding and training Ethiopian military force by name of counter terrorism when Ethiopia is terrorizing its citizen! Look at what Ethiopia is doing right now to peaceful protesters #OromoProtests

  • ደቦል

    This article looks only from a narrow angle of the reality. Whereas the anti-terror law has downsides (so does any policy), on the upside – Ethiopia is relatively free from terrorist acts. – look at ‘democratic’ Kenya who has far less involvement in Somalia than Ethiopia, anyone who has lived through a terrorist attack will prefer a strong security hand for the welfare of all rather than have elitist democracy benefiting the few. Also the Oromo protest has nothing to do with anti-terror law, rather a centuries old dispute between the two largest ethnic groups to control the affairs of the nation. The masterminds are unfortunately in the comforts of their lives while using poor people’s children die for their benefit. If the Oromo question is to be resolved it should be resolved for all citizen not just a group. The Oromo despite being the largest group, are unfortunate not the majority. Which means they have to work with all ethnic groups to push their agenda forward.

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