Ethiopia rights record alarms European MPs By ADUALEM SISAY in Addis Ababa | Thursday, July 18   2013 at  19:56

The European Parliament (EP) delegation that visited Ethiopia this week has expressed disappointment over the country's poor human rights conditions.

The delegation, in a statement, further expressed its dissatisfaction at the inability to further assess potential cooperation in improving conditions in prisons and detention as discussed with the Human Rights Commissioner and the minister of Federal Affairs.

“While welcoming the open discussions with the different interlocutors, Members of European Parliamentarians deplored the unexpected refusal of the prison visit without prior notification, after arrival at Kaliti prison,” said the statement in part.

The delegation visited Ethiopia from July 15-17 and discussed human rights concerns associated with the controversial anti-terrorist and civil society laws with the host officials.
It called for the opening of the domestic space for civil society, which could only contribute to the overall development of the country.

The European lawmakers stressed that civil society organisations should be allowed to function freely, without interference, harassment and undue restrictions.

Security situation

The Ethiopian authorities, the delegation said, should acknowledge the important role of civil society actors and of trade unions in reaching their ambitious development objectives.

"The restrictive NGO framework should be urgently revised,” emphasised the chair of the EP delegation, Ms Barbara Lochbihler.

"Free, independent and pluralistic media are one of the cornerstones of any democracy and maintaining and strengthening their freedom and independence is in the common interest," said Ms Lochbihler.

She expressed fear that certain broadcasters were jammed and that access to the Internet and to social media was regularly restricted.

Ms Lochbihler observed that blocking the free flow of information was directly at odds with the Ethiopian Constitution, which enshrined the freedom of expression.

While taking cognisance of the highly volatile security situation of Ethiopia’s immediate neighbourhood, the delegation, however, raised questions on the reported misuse of the anti-terrorism legislation for stifling dissent at the domestic level.

The delegation also noted flaws in the impartiality of the judicial system, and called on the Ethiopian authorities to release all journalists, members of the opposition, and others arbitrarily detained or imprisoned for exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression, freedom of association, as well as freedom of religion and belief.

“The Government of Ethiopia must guarantee freedom of opinion, speech and the right of peaceful assembly at all times, in accordance with its Constitution and obligations under international law. The 2015 elections should be an occasion for the Ethiopian government to demonstrate its commitments to democratic principles,” the statement noted.