Ethiopia: Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), including its history, structure, leaders, objectives, activities, and locations of its offices; treatment of EHRC employees by members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) (2016-March 2018) [ETH106071.FE]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. EHRC

According to the Federal Negarit Gazeta, the official gazette of the Ethiopian federal government, the EHRC was created in accordance with Proclamation No. 210/2000. A Proclamation to Provide for the Establishment of the Human Rights Commission (Proclamation No. 210/2000) (Ethiopia 2000). A copy of the proclamation is attached to this Response.

Article 3 of Proclamation No. 210/2000 provides the following:

3. Establishment

  1. The Human Rights Commission of Ethiopia (hereinafter referred to as “the Commission”) is hereby established as an autonomous organ of the Federal Government having its own juridical personality.
  2. The Commission shall be accountable to the House. (Ethiopia 2000)

In a report on the EHRC, which was sent to the Research Directorate and prepared by a member [1] of the Ogaden People’s Rights Organisation (OPRO) [2], the EHRC is described as follows: “a statutory and constitutional body, the Commission is an independent autonomous institution accountable to Parliament (the House of People’s Representatives)” (OPRO 17 Mar. 2018). According to the same source, the EHRC acts as a “[m]outh-piece of the government” and it has “engaged itself in [a] media campaign to defend the government human rights record” (OPRO 17 Mar. 2018). In a 2017 report, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) indicates that, according to the International Coordinating Committee of the National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC) [3], the EHRC is “not fully compliant with the Paris Principles [regarding the status and operation of national institutions for the protection and promotion of human rights]” and that “[t]he EHRC is largely funded by the government, and is generally not regarded outside Ethiopian government circles as an independent institution” (Australia 28 Sept. 2017, para. 2.20). Moreover, in its World Report 2018, Human Rights Watch indicates that the EHRC is not sufficiently independent and its investigations lack credibility (Human Rights Watch Jan. 2018, 1).

1.1 Objectives and Activities

According to Article 5 of Proclamation No. 210/2000, “[t]he objective of the Commission shall be to educate the public be aware of [sic] human rights[,] see to it that human rights are protected, respected and fully enforced as well as to have the necessary measure [sic] taken where they are found to have been violated” (Ethiopia 2000). The powers and duties of the EHRC are set out in Article 6 of the Proclamation (Attachment).

The information contained in the following paragraph comes from an undated document published by the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI), [NANHRI English version] “a regional umbrella body that brings together 44 African National Human Rights Institutions” (NANHRI n.d.a):

The EHRC’s mandate includes making recommendations to the government, Parliament and any other competent body concerning proposed legislative or administrative provisions; reporting on the human rights situation and publicizing the reports; promoting and advocating for the harmonization of national laws and practices with international instruments and for the implementation and ratification of international human rights instruments; engaging with the international human rights system; and educating the public and raising awareness about human rights. The EHRC has the power to receive and handle complaints and conduct investigations on its own initiative or at the request of individuals and against any state party. “Government bodies are formally required to respond to the Ethiopian HRC resolutions, reports or recommendations” (NANHRI n.d.b).

The US Department of State's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016 mentions the following EHRC activities:

The EHRC reportedly investigated hundreds of human rights complaints, organized field investigations, conducted prison visits to provide recommendations on improving prison conditions, and produced annual and thematic reports. … The commission operated 112 legal aid centers in collaboration with 22 universities and two civil society organizations, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association and the Ethiopian Christian Lawyers Fellowship. (US 3 Mar. 2017, 30-31)

In its 2017-2018 annual report, Amnesty International indicates the following about Ethiopia:

Reports of torture and other ill-treatment of people accused of terrorism persisted. Detainees repeatedly complained to the courts that police tortured and ill-treated them during interrogations. Although, in some cases, judges ordered the [EHRC] to investigate the allegations, the investigations did not adhere to international human rights standards. (Amnesty International 22 Feb. 2018)

The report prepared by the OPRO member indicates that “the Commission does [not usually] provide the victims with a copy of the outcome of investigation, which includes a summary of its findings on the case and the remedies it recommends” (OPRO 17 Mar. 2018).

1.1.1 Events in Oromia and Amhara

Regarding the protests in the regions of Oromia and Amhara [4], US Country Reports 2016 reports the following:

On June 10, the government-established Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported and presented to parliament a summary of its report. The EHRC counted 173 deaths in Oromia, including 28 of security force members and officials, and asserted that security forces used appropriate force there. The EHRC also asserted Amhara regional state special security had used excessive force against the Kemant community in Amhara Region. On August 13, the international NGO Human Rights Watch … reported an estimate that security forces killed more than 500 protesters. In October the prime minister stated the deaths in Oromia Region alone “could be more than 500.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested access to Oromia and Amhara regions, which the government refused. (US 3 Mar. 2017, 1)

On 18 April 2017, according to an article published on the website of the Embassy of Ethiopia in Brussels, the EHRC disclosed the following results of its investigation into the violence in certain parts of Amhara, Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People (SNNP) regional states in 2016: 669 people were killed, including 495 (465 civilians and 33 security personnel) in the region of Oromia, 140 (110 civilians and 30 security personnel) in the region of Amhara and 34 in the SNNP region (Ethiopia 21 Apr. 2017). The same article indicates that “[w]hile the Commission said that in most cases, measures taken by security officers were legal and proportionate, it also indicated that security officers used unnecessary force in several cases” (Ethiopia 21 Apr. 2017).

A BBC article published 18 April 2017 about the EHRC report on protests in the Amhara, Oromia and SNNP regions indicates that according to the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, “an investigation by the Human Rights Commission, a body created by the constitution, was the only way of dealing with the issue” and that it “'lacked capacity'” and could be strengthened (BBC 18 Apr. 2017).

Human Rights Watch indicates the following in an article from 21 April 2017:

While many will focus on the death toll, the commission’s conclusion that the use of force was mostly proportionate and appropriate is in stark contrast to the descriptions of victims …, and at odds with the findings of other independent investigators. At this stage, the grounds for the commission’s conclusion are unclear, since no written report has yet been published. (Human Rights Watch 21 Apr. 2017)

An article published on 29 April 2017 by the Ethiopian government’s news agency, the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), states the following:

The EHRC report [on the “unrest” that occurred in parts of the Oromia, Amhara and SNNP regions] is not a report prepared by mere speculations. It was prepared on a grassroots level. It completely disqualifies any level of fake news or social media speculations and defamations. (ENA 29 Apr. 2017)

1.2 Structure and Leaders

According to Article 8 of the Proclamation No. 210/2000, the EHRC is composed of a Council of Commissioners, a Chief Commissioner, a Deputy Chief Commissioner, a Commissioner heading the Children and Women affairs, other Commissioners and “the necessary staff” (Ethiopia 2000). According to Article 10, the Commissioners are appointed by the House (Ethiopia 2000). Article 13 stipulates that the Chief Commissioner shall be accountable to the House and the other commissioners shall be accountable to the Chief Commissioner (Ethiopia 2000). Article 14 stipulates that the commissioners’ term of office is five years and is renewable (Ethiopia 2000).

The report prepared by the OPRO member indicates that “[c]ompared to National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI) else[]where, [the EHRC] is a relatively small institution” (OPRO 17 Mar. 2018). The NANHRI document states that there are 294 employees working for the EHRC, including the members of the governing body (NANHRI n.d.b).

According to several sources, Addisu Gebregziabher is the head of the EHRC (OPRO 17 Mar. 2018; Human Rights Watch 21 Apr. 2017) or the commission's head (Al Jazeera 18 Apr. 2017). According to the EHRC website, captured via Internet Archive [5] on 28 June 2017, Addisu Gebreigzabhier is the Chief Commissioner of the EHRC and he worked at the Ministry of Federal Affairs from 2002 to 2012 as a “legal [a]dvisor, [r]esearcher and [t]rainer on [c]onflict [m]anagement [and on issues related to] [f]ederalism, [e]thnic issues, [m]inority [r]ights, [and] [r]eligious [t]olerance”; he has been the Deputy Chief of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) since 2007 (Ethiopia n.d.a). According to the same source, the Deputy Chief Commissioner is Ato Eshet Gebre Kidanemariam (Ethiopia n.d.b) and the Commissioner for Women and Children’s Affairs is Ubah Mohamed (Ethiopia n.d.c).

1.3 Location of Offices

Sources indicate that the EHRC headquarters are in Addis Ababa (NANHRI n.d.b; Ethiopia 2000, Art. 9), on Kazanchis Street (NANHRI n.d.b). According to the NANHRI document, the EHRC also has six branch offices located in Djidjiga in the Somali Regional State, Bahir Dar in Amhara Regional State, Mekelle in Tigray Regional State, Jimma in Oromia Regional State, Gambella in Gambella Regional State and Hawassa in SNNP Regional State (NANHRI n.d.b).

2. Treatment of EHRC Employees by the ONLF

Information on the treatment of EHRC employees by the ONLF was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

The report prepared by a member of the OPRO indicates the following:

There are other political organisations which armed themselves when the ruling party - [Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, EPRDF] ousted them from participation [in] politics. These organisations include Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) …. [The EHRC] was not [on] good terms with all these stakeholders …. [Since its creation,] the leaders and the staff of the Commission did not even visit the area that ONLF fights even once. Hence employees of the EHRC did not receive any special treatment from members of the [ONLF], because they are not within reach. It is not in the political agenda of ONLF to target any human rights groups, even if they are affiliated with the government. (OPRO 17 Mar. 2018)

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] The OPRO member, also a co-founder of the Ogaden Human Rights Committee (OHRC), now known as OPRO, noted that the report was prepared on behalf of OPRO (OPRO 17 Mar. 2018). Without providing further details, the OPRO member indicated that the EHRC has closed the doors of many small human rights organizations, including OHRC, because they “refused to go by the politics of the leading party, the [EPRDF]” (OPRO 17 Mar. 2018).

[2] On its website, OPRO, whose headquarters are in the UK, states that “the Somali people in Ogaden and other parts of the world have a right to live in peace in a free, democratic state that respects the rights of its people; is based on the rule of law, equality, justice and the rewarding of effort; [a] state that takes care of [all] its citizens regardless of gender, political outlook, socio-economic status or background” (OPRO n.d.). According to the same source, OPRO “supports the integration [of] Ogaden Somalis in their new countries of refuge” (OPRO n.d.).

[3] The ICC, based in Geneva, [translation] “develops declarations, action plans and common positions on many human rights issues such as human rights education and training, the rights of indigenous peoples, the rights of persons with disabilities, the fight against racism and forced disappearances. The ICC encourages international coordination of joint activities and cooperation among NHRIs [National Human Rights Institutions] and between them and international organizations” (France n.d.).

[4] US Country Reports 2016 states the following about the situation in Oromia and Amhara in 2016: “Security forces used excessive force against protesters throughout the year, killing hundreds and injuring many more. The protests were mainly in Oromia and Amhara regions. At year’s end more than 10,000 persons were believed still to be detained. This included persons detained under the government-declared state of emergency, effective October 8. Many were never brought before a court, provided access to legal counsel, or formally charged with a crime” (US 3 Mar. 2017, 1).

[5] Internet Archive is a not-for-profit digital library of Internet sites (Internet Archive n.d.).

References

Al Jazeera. 18 April 2017. “Report: 669 Killed in Ethiopia Violence Since August.” [Accessed 16 Mar. 2018]

Amnesty International. 22 February 2018. “Ethiopie.” Rapport 2017/18 : la situation des droits humains dans le monde. [Accessed 16 Mar. 2018]

Australia. 28 September 2017. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). DFAT Country Information Report Ethiopia. [Accessed 16 Mar. 2018]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 18 April 2017. “Ethiopia Rights Body: ‘More Than 600 Protest Deaths’.” [Accessed 4 Apr. 2018]

Ethiopian News Agency (ENA). 29 April 2017. Solomon Dibaba. “Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission Report, Pace Setter in Legal Accountability.” [Accessed 16 Mar. 2018]

Ethiopia. 21 April 2017. Embassy in Brussels. “The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission Presents Findings of 2016 Protests to the Parliament.” [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018]

Ethiopia. 2000. Proclamation No. 210/2000. A Proclamation to Provide for the Establishment of the Human Rights Commission. [Accessed 27 Mar. 2018]

Ethiopia. N.d.a. [Captured by the Internet Archive on 28 June 2017]. “Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). “Chief Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.” [Accessed 3 Apr. 2018]

Ethiopia. N.d.b. [Captured by the Internet Archive on 28 June 2017]. Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). “Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Deputy Chief Commissioner.” [Accessed 4 Apr. 2018]

Ethiopia. N.d.c. [Captured by the Internet Archive on 28 June 2017]. Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). “Commissioner for Women and Children’s Affairs at the EHRC.” [Accessed 4 Apr. 2018]

France. N.d. Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme (CNCDH). “CIC.” ;[Accessed 4 Apr. 2018]

Human Rights Watch. Janvier 2018. “Ethiopia.” World Report 2018. [Accessed 16 Mar. 2018]

Human Rights Watch. 21 April 2017. Felix Horne. “Fear of Investigation: What Does Ethiopia’s Government Have to Hide?” [Accessed 16 Mar. 2018]

Internet Archive. N.d. “About the Internet Archive.” [Accessed 5 Apr. 2018]

Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI). N.d.a. “À propos de RINADH.” [Accessed 4 Apr. 2018]

Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI). N.d.b. Ethiopia. [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018]

Ogaden People’s Rights Organisation (OPRO). 17 March 2018. Ethiopian Human Rights Commission: A Mouth-Piece of Ethipian Government. Sent to the Research Directorate by a member, 17 March 2018.

Ogaden People’s Rights Organisation (OPRO). N.d. “About OPRO.” [Accessed 3 Apr. 2018]

United States (US). 3 March 2017. Department of State. “Ethiopia.” Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016. [Accessed 28 Mar. 2018]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Ethiopian Advocacy Network; Ethiopian Association in the Greater Toronto Area and Surrounding Regions; Ethiopian Human Rights Council; Human Rights Watch – researcher who works on the Horn of Africa; professor of political science and African politics; Unity for Human Rights Toronto.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International; ecoi.net; Factiva; Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l’homme; Freedom House; International Crisis Group; Ogaden National Liberation Front; Radio France internationale; UK – Home Office; UN – Refworld.

Attachment

Ethiopia. 2000. Proclamation No. 210/2000. A Proclamation to Provide for the Establishment of the Human Rights Commission. [Accessed 27 Mar. 2018]