A GROUP of United Nations human rights experts* today urged the Government of Ethiopia to stop misusing anti-terrorism legislation to curb freedoms of expression and association in the country, amid reports that people continue to be detained arbitrarily.
The experts’ call comes on the eve of the consideration by Ethiopia of a series of recommendations made earlier this year by members of the Human Rights Council in a process known as the Universal Periodic Review which applies equally to all 193 UN Members States. These recommendations are aimed at improving the protection and promotion of human rights in the country, including in the context of counter-terrorism measures.
“Two years after we first raised the alarm, we are still receiving numerous reports on how the anti-terrorism law is being used to target journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and opposition politicians in Ethiopia,” the experts said. “Torture and inhuman treatment in detention are gross violations of fundamental human rights.”
“Confronting terrorism is important, but it has to be done in adherence to international human rights to be effective,” the independent experts stressed. “Anti-terrorism provisions need to be clearly defined in Ethiopian criminal law, and they must not be abused.”
The experts have repeatedly highlighted issues such as unfair trials, with defendants often having no access to a lawyer. “The right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to freedom of association continue to be violated by the application of the anti-terrorism law,” they warned.
“We call upon the Government of Ethiopia to free all persons detained arbitrarily under the pretext of countering terrorism,” the experts said. “Let journalists, human rights defenders, political opponents and religious leaders carry out their legitimate work without fear of intimidation and incarceration.”
The human rights experts reiterated their call on the Ethiopian authorities to respect individuals’ fundamental rights and to apply anti-terrorism legislation cautiously and in accordance with Ethiopia’s international human rights obligations.
“We also urge the Government of Ethiopia to respond positively to the outstanding request to visit by the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and on the situation of human rights defenders,” they concluded.
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(*) The experts: Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson; Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye; Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul; Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Méndez.