V. SILENCING INDEPENDENT VOICES
Independent voices in Ethiopia have been threatened by frequent crackdowns on the private press, political and labor movements, and nongovernmental organizations. These crackdowns reflect a central government effort to limit criticism of its policies and to hinder the establishment of civil institutions not linked to the ruling party. In examining the government's efforts to repress civil society, one should be aware of the differences between the high-profile arrests of journalists, trade union or political leaders, and other prominent figures, where decisions appearto be taken at a high level, and the patterns of large scale arrests in more remote areas with regard to the first type of arrests, which are concentrated in the Addis Ababa area, the numbers of detainees are not large and, even when they are not formally charged with a crime, their arrests are defended as legitimate. The security forces often provide detailed accounts of the detainees' involvement in criminal conspiracies, or, with journalists, of violations of the press law-while the courts do little to monitor the legality of these arrests. At the same time, the harsh restrictions on access to detainees in pre-indictment detention make it difficult for those accused to prepare a defense or for the public to be informed of their plight.
In its attempts to stifle opposition groups, trade unions and nongovernmental organizations, the government has relied upon a variety of administrative and legal actions, including the denial of registration to associations, the deregistration of others, and the freezing of their bank accounts. Attacks against regional branches of national associations and opposition groups have been particularly effective, forcing the targeted groups to limit their activities to the capital. Office raids, seizures of documents, and the arrest and detention of association leaders have been used in a number of high profile cases. The prosecution of leading activists in protracted criminal cases has had the effect of intimidating others and of paralyzing the resilient associations. Most notably, the killing of the leader of a teachers' association in May 1997 signaled a marked escalation in the government's crackdown on civil associations.
The Right to Freedom of Expression
With the toppling of the Derg in May 1991, the state's monopoly on the media was ended, as was the media's use as an instrument of indoctrination. The Transitional Government of Ethiopia abolished pre-publication censorship and guaranteed freedom of the press.
The Legal Standards
Article 19 of the ICCPR protects freedom of speech and opinion, providing:
1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
Article 19 (3) stipulates the narrow conditions under which restrictions of free expression are permissible:
The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
To be "necessary," a restraint must not simply be convenient or desirable. It must be proportional to the protected interest, and the least burdensome restraint on the right to free expression. National security, enumerated above, is often invoked in Ethiopia as a reason for restricting expression. For purposes of the covenant, the term denotes a grave threat to the life of the nation, such as disclosure of military secrets in wartime, and not simply information critical of the government, its officers or policies. Indeed, such criticism is at the core of free expression in a democratic society.
Article 29 of the Constitution of Ethiopia guarantees the right to freedom of thought, opinion, and expression. Article 29 (4) provides, "In the interest of the free flow of information, ideas and opinions which are essential to the functioning of a democratic order, the press shall, as an institution, enjoy legal protection to ensure its autonomy and diversity." The constitution further guarantees in Article 29 (5) that "[a]ll media financed by, or under the control of the State, shall be regulated in order to ensure diversity in the expression of opinion." Article 29 (6) stipulates that these rights can be limited only "through laws which are guided by the principle that freedom of expression and information cannot be limited on account of the content or effect of the point of view expressed. Legal limitations can be laid down in order to protect youth, and the honor and reputation of individuals. War propaganda as well as the public expression of opinion intended to injure human dignity shall be forbidden by law."
The 1992 Press Act
In Article 5 of the press act, officially called the Proclamation to Provide for the Freedom of the Press,76 authorizes any person or group of persons of Ethiopian nationality to engage in any press activity. It also authorizes foreign media outlets and international organizations and embassies present in the country to carry on those press activities they deem necessary for the accomplishment of their missions. Sub-articles 3 and 4 of Article 8, however, put serious constraints on press access to information that the Council of Representatives and the Council of Ministers designate as secret or classified. Editors and publishers are held responsible for the information they publish and may be required by court order to reveal sources of information. Editors are also required to maintain a record of names of correspondents and authors of articles to facilitate police work.
The vague terms of the 1992 Press Proclamation facilitate the repression of critical reporting. Provisions require press products not to carry any statements that would constitute a criminal offense against the safety of the state, defamation or false accusations against individuals, nationality, people or organization, any criminal instigation of one nationality against the other, and any agitation for war. Violations of these provisions are punishable by one to three years of imprisonment and/or a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 birr (US$1,600 to $8,300). By local standards of income, these are prohibitive amounts.
From the outset, relations between the government and the private press have been characterized by deep mutual distrust. The government showed signs of intolerance of the critical reporting of the nascent private press as early as 1992, and by 1993 it was engaged in a systematic clampdown, one that has continued for the last four years. The many weaknesses of the private press have made it even more vulnerable to government attacks. Reporters lack professional training and resources; they are unable to travel around the country to conduct first-hand reporting. As a result, they tend to rely mostly on unverified reports in covering regional developments, and many of them are personally virulent in their criticism of officials and other public figures.
Government officials believe that opposition groups and former Derg officials have manipulated the private press as part of their hidden political agenda. In the words of Mahteme Solomon, then minister of justice, "their papers orchestrate a continuation of war. We have taken away the Kalashnoko[v] Russian guns from them, now they are looking for another entry into power using the pen."77 By mid-1996, official views had not changed by much. Speaking of the private press, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told reporters that he "had seen or heard of no improvement in the quality of their products, which still dwell on destructive and war-inciting false propaganda."78
The president of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association explained in a June 1996 interview with Human Rights Watch that reporters in the private press could not verify stories because government officials did not invite them to press conferences, nor would they respond to reporters' questions. In August 1995, nonetheless, the justice minister reminded all government officials of their obligation to cooperate with the press, stating that people have the right to be informed.79 A year later, the prime minister acknowledged that cabinet members, government officials, and public administrators continued to close their doors to journalists and promised that "appropriate measures" would be taken to correct the situation.80 By mid-1997, however, these was still no sign of genuine change in the official attitude toward the private press.
In the battle for political control, journalists have paid a heavy price. Moreover, the arrests of journalists, editors, and publishers have been largely unrelated to any real threat of violent opposition to the government.
Journalists have frequently been detained for slander or defamation, either as a stated justification for the detention, or as asserted in formal charges under the press law. In some cases, citizens have in fact been subjected to abusive statements that appear both dishonest and malicious, providing some factual basis for the prosecutions. In others, the accusations of defamation involve fair criticism of government officials, speech that is protected by Article 19 of the ICCPR and other international standards.
Journalists have also been imprisoned on accusations and sometimes charged that they have published false information or information concerning national security matters. In both situations, the real motive for the arrests appears to be the government's over sensitivity to publications that contradict official government reports, that report on issues or incidents about which the government prefers to maintain a silence, or that provide incomplete or erroneous information concerning situations about which the government refuses to issue official reports. The refusal by both national and regional governments to provide official information to the independent news media, a policy which extends to the denial of access by independent reporters to government press conferences, renders the government partially responsible for the media's failure to reflect accurately or fully information that the government has withheld from it.
On numerous occasions the government has ordered the arrest of independent editors and publishers in retaliation against their reporting and analysis of high-profile events and contentious issues. Typical of this repressive practice were the detention campaigns that followed press coverage of the following events: the January 1993 demonstration of Addis Ababa University students; the failed assassination attempts against former Ethiopian strongman Col. Mengistu Haile Meriam in November 1995, and against Egyptian president Husni Mubarak in June 1995; and, more generally, reporting on insecurity in outlying areas in the country. During November 1995, for example, twelve journalists and publishers, as well as with five academics from of Addis Ababa University, including Prof. Mesfin Wolde Mariam, the chair of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (which was blamed for the report carried by the journalists), were arrested. Members of this group were charged, on November 21, with violating the Press Law in connection with press articles on the student demonstrations of 1993. They were, however, provisionally released on bond,81 and the prosecutor general withdrew the charges against them on December 11, 1995 when their case came to court. According to one report, the official reason provided for discontinuing theprosecution was that "the public had not been incited by the articles written on the Addis University demonstrations and that there were more serious crimes which the Prosecutor General's office had to deal with."82
During September and October 1997, authorities arrested thirteen independent journalists from various newspapers in Addis Ababa. No official reasons were given for the arrests. Among those arrested on October 16, were Solomon Nemera and Tesfaye Deressa, respectively editor-in-chief and deputy editor-in-chief of the pro-Oromo weekly Urji. The two were joined on October 27 by Garoma Bekele, another journalist with Urji, who was arrested at the offices of the Human Rights League of which he is the secretary general. These arrests came shortly after articles were published in Urji that questioned an official version of the killing of three men by security forces in Addis Ababa on October 8. The government claimed the three were members of OLF and had been involved in a July attack by the OLF on a town in the Oromia region and were killed in a shootout when security forces attempted to arrest them. The newspaper quoted eyewitnesses who claimed the three were killed without warning as they were returning to their homes.83
On December 3, the prosecution charged members of the board of Urji with OLF membership and said the weekly had served as an organ for the OLF.84
One disturbing aspect of arrests under the 1992 Press Proclamation is the practice of detaining journalists when investigations are initiated prior to a judicial examination of the case. As a consequence, journalists are routinely detained without formal charge. Moreover, a provision of the Derg-era Penal Code, which is still in force, permits the pretrial release of detainees only upon payment of a financial guarantee to the police, even where the detainees have not yet been formally charged with a crime. In practice, such financial guarantees-a form of police bail or surety-are crippling. Only those journalists with the personal or family resources to pay them, or those who can prevail upon acquaintances to sign over an automobile or a house as surety in their behalf, can avoid long-term police detention. Exacerbating the financial pressure placed on journalists by this rule, the return of these payments or pledges may be withheld indefinitely, particularly where formal charges are delayed indefinitely or where hearings by which legal proceedings could be concluded are indefinitely postponed. Finally, leading independent journalists may face multiple police investigations of their reporting, each one requiring a further payment of police bail. Pressure is exerted through the threat of further police investigations, which may result in prolonged detention without charge or trial once an individual's financial resources are exhausted. At the same time, there is little confidence in the independence of the judiciary, as courts hearing press cases have not hesitated to impose long prison sentences and enormous financial penalties on journalists, even in prosecutions that appear to have been largely politically motivated.
Those journalists who are charged and sentenced by courts to prison terms are likely to serve more time than that ordered by the courts. Recent examples of this abuse include those of Sissaye Negussie, a journalist with Agere, Samson Seyum, editor-in-chief of Tequami, and Salomon Gebre-Amlak, editor-in-chief of Mogad, who, as of this writing, were still being held in Addis Ababa Central Prison, though the prison sentences they were serving came to an end in June 1997 for Negussie and Seyum, and in October for Gebre-Amlak.85
Because of these factors, since 1995 Ethiopia has had more journalists in prison than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa. In mid-1997 six journalists were serving prison sentences for violations of the press law before the wave of arrests in September and October added thirteen others to their number. Fourteen other journalists were on temporary release on bail, pending the conclusion of their trials.86
Recently, the government sought to extend the application of the press law to international correspondents resident in or visiting the country, journalists whose coverage had largely escaped censorship in the past. The ministry of information forwarded a list of restrictive guidelines to the foreign correspondents' association in early June 1997, requiring resident correspondents to obtain annually renewable work permits, and to respect local laws and customs. In late June, Alice Martin, a correspondent of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), had to leave Ethiopia after immigration authorities refused to renew her residence permit, despite her timely renewal application. She was informed of this thinly-disguised expulsion only three days after she assumed the presidency of the association of foreign correspondents.
The net effect of these repressive practices has been a noticeable increase in self-censorship. In addition, the cost of high bonds and bails has driven a number of newspapers out of business. As with trade unions, discussed below, the government's intimidation tactics have resulted in the attrition of a vital sector of civil society. The departure to self-imposed exile of many journalists spoke volumes about the effectiveness of the tactics employed to unseat them. Nebiyu Eyassu, secretary of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association, obtained political asylum in the U.S. in 1995. Mulugeta Lule, deputy president of the association, opted for the same solution in November 1996; while Kefle Mammo, the organization's president, left the country in early 1997, apparently with no intention to return.87
The Right to Freedom of Association
International Legal Standards
Article 22 (1) of the ICCPR provides:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.88
The right to freedom of association covers the right to join together with others for social, cultural, economic or political purposes, and includes association with only one other person as well as with groups and organizations, be they casual or formal.89
Article 22 (2) sets out the limits on the right to association: restrictions must be prescribed by law and "necessary in a democratic society," and "in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of the public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."
Article 22 (1) protects the right to associate in political parties, since a ban on political parties is scarcely "necessary in a democratic society."Article 25 of the ICCPR provides for the right to participate in government and in free elections, provisions which by extension allow for the right to organize political parties.90
Article 22 (1) specifically protects the right to form and join trade unions, as do several International Labor Organization conventions to which Ethiopia is a party.
Article 31 of the Ethiopian constitution provides:
Every person has the right to freedom of association for any cause or purpose. Associations which undertake acts that lawlessly subvert the rule of law and constitutional rule are prohibited.
Political Opposition Parties
A political party founded in 1992 by members of the traditional Amhara elite, the All Amhara People's Organization (AAPO) was formed after a number of incidents in which local Amhara elites, in areas in which they were a prominent minority, were attacked by members of the ethnic majority. At present, although AAPO continues to maintain offices in Addis Ababa, its leader, Prof. Asrat Woldeyes, is serving a five-year prior sentence. AAPO's first vice-president, Kengazmach Nekatebeb Bekele, provided representatives of Human Rights Watch, during a June 1996 meeting, a list of thirty-six of AAPO's regional offices of the party closed down by government agents according to AAPO. The list also contained the names of eleven AAPO members who were imprisoned for political reasons; seven prominent members whose whereabouts were unknown, and five "assassinated" members. It also described numerous incidents in which AAPO records were confiscated from offices sealed by government officials or from the residences of arrested members of the organization.91 Human Rights Watch was not able to verify these claims.
Human Rights Watch interviewed Semish Alem Sashe, a twenty-three-year-old mother of two children whose husband had been head of AAPO's branch office in Dire Dawa and chairman of the party there until EPRDF soldiers arrested him in July 1992. She said that she had failed to locate him after his arrest, despite repeated appeals to government officials. She and AAPO presumed since June 1994 that he had been killed in custody.
Prof. Asrat Woldeyes has been serving consecutive two- and three-year sentences since June 1994, for, respectively, conspiracy to incite rebellion, and instigating armed rebellion. A third case, in which Professor Woldeyes and thirty-one others were charged with inciting armed uprising, is still pending as of this writing. Three other members of AAPO's central committee figured among the defendants: Ali Idris, Wondayehu Kassa, and Girma Inquselassie. Human Rights Watch was not able to verify these charges but other circumstances support AAPO's characterization of the charges as unsubstantiated. Negatu Tesfaye, the Professor Woldeyes defense counsel, told Human Rights Watch that there was no direct evidence against the four AAPO members in the witness statement and documentary evidence filed by the prosecutor, which consisted of letters written to the president of AAPO and reports addressed to the All Ethiopian Patriotic Movement and other unnamed organizations.92 Nevertheless, twenty-four of the defendants are being held in detention for the duration of the trial. Furthermore, hearings of Prof. Woldeyes'appeal to the Court of Cassation to reverse his first conviction were adjourned so many times that he finally served the entire two-year prison sentence handed down in that case. An appeal for the reversal of his second conviction has received a similar treatment. In June 1997, Professor Wodeyes, who is sixty-seven years old, started his fourth year in prison.
Despite clear legal provisions protecting workers' rights to form and join unions and to engage in collective bargaining,93 the government retaliated against at the Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA) and the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU), the largest and best established unions in the country, when they undertook initiatives to protect the interests of their members. An estimated 250,000 workers belong to unions, mostly in urban areas, and particularly in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA)
The Ethiopian Teachers' Association celebrated its forty-seventh anniversary in March 1996. It is one of the oldest and most established associations in the country, boasting a membership of 120,000 teachers.94 Nonetheless, since the beginning of the transition period, its relations with the government have been tense.
The association opposes certain aspects of the government's educational policy. Notably, it is against the policy of teaching in the dominant local languages within Ethiopia's various ethnically-defined states, beyond the primary level, and advocates instead teaching in all vernacular languages during basic education to accommodate minority ethnic groups within each region. ETA has also opposed government directives that have transferred teachers to their place of ethnic origin.95 Some observers charge that ETA's difficulties stem from what they describe as its resistance to government policies that allegedly fragment pan-Ethiopian institutions along ethnic lines.96 What reportedly most upset the authorities was a memorandum that ETA submitted to the Transitional Government of Ethiopia in July 1992. The memorandum demanded that teachers receive improved salaries, benefits, and training packages. It called for the moral recognition of their contributions to society and pressed for teachers to have a hand in shaping educational policies and decisions that affect them. The memorandum hinted, in a final concluding remark,to a state of "ethnic, tribal and religious conflict" that led to many victims in the ranks of ETA's membership, and threatened a strike if the government failed to address the grievances of its members.97
Two ETA board members told Human Rights Watch that, in response to the memorandum, the government blocked ETA's bank account and declined to re-register the association when the ETA board submitted the required forms and documentation during the transitional period. Instead, they said, in March 1993 the government registered a group loyal to the ruling party, under the same name as ETA, and gave it official recognition as well as logistical and budgetary support.98 They also said that the government asked teachers to organize along ethnic lines, but that they resisted this move. Furthermore, teachers who actively participated in ETA's activities were signaled out for transfers to remote areas. Some were detained and some were persistently harassed to the extent that they had to flee, leaving their families and work behind.
Assefa Maru, a member of the executive committees of both the Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA) and Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), was shot and killed by police in the morning of May 8, 1997. The federal police said that the incident occurred when police apprehended members of a violent clandestine violent organization, the Ethiopian Patriotic Front. The police named Assefa Maru as the leader of the group, asserting that he "was shot dead when he refused to surrender after being found plotting with accomplices to mount terrorist acts."99
Contradicting the official story, three eye witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch in July 1997 said that Maru was gunned down at around 8:20 a.m. while he was on his way to his office at ETA's headquarters.100 At the time of the killing, all three eyewitnesses were in the street, drinking their morning tea and waiting for their work shift to start. They knew Assefa Maru, they said, because they saw him each morning around the same time in that stretch of the street on his way to work. Rather than a confrontation with an armed group, their description revealed a drive-by assassination that involved at least three police teams and an ambulance. The teams reportedly acted in rapid and coordinated succession. According to eyewitnesses:
A police vehicle, a Toyota pickup, with two uniformed policemen in the front seats, including the driver, and six in the back, blocked the sidewalk along which the victim was walking, cornering him against a stone wall. Nobody got out of the vehicle. Maru stopped with his back against the wall and didn't call for help or try to escape. Another police vehicle, reportedly an Opel sedan, which had been slowly following him at a distance, arrived at the scene moments later. Four uniformed and armed policemen were in it. A sharpshooter sitting in the back seat of the car took at least two shots at Maru, after which the car sped away without stopping. Maru was hit in the head and chest; he fell face down, and bled extensively on the sidewalk. (Photographs obtained by Human Rights Watch of the victim's body which were taken at the morgue are consistent with this account.)
Several policemen got out of the first vehicle, searched Maru's pockets, and took away his identification papers and his briefcase. During their search, they did not seem interested in seeing whether he was dead or alive.
Four additional policemen arrived at the scene moments after the shooting on a Land Rover. Agents from the two police teams closed off the narrow street on which the shooting took place, and kept bystanders at bay.
Hardly fifteen minutes after the shooting, a police ambulance arrived at the scene. Four policemen picked up the victim's body and left. After the body was removed, the two remaining policemen mounted their vehicles and drove away, not before attempting to throw some dust on the big pool of blood left on the sidewalk where the victim fell. 101
Eyewitnesses' reports do not clarify whether Maru died instantly. Photographs taken at the morgue, while the body was still on a cement floor show it surrounded by a large pool of blood.
Relatives and colleagues of Assefa Maru received phone messages, reportedly from the police, telling them to collect his remains from the morgue, as he had died in a car accident. EHRCO officials, who received one such call, rushed to the hospital and discovered that Maru had been shot in the head and chest, and that his entire face and the left side of his shirt were covered with blood.102 Assefa Maru's widow first learned of the killing in the afternoon when the police arrived to search the house. The search team took some papers related to her husband's work with the Ethiopian Human Rights Council. Police later returned to her a valuable wrist watch and a gold ring that Maru had been wearing at the time of his death, but they never returned his briefcase.103
Despite the presence of at least a dozen eyewitnesses to the shooting who contradicted the official version of events, the police and high-level Ethiopian authorities have held fast to their story. Because of the conflicting versions of events, the British embassy, unsuccessfully, pressed for an independent investigation of the incident, and the role of the police in it. The British government was particularly troubled by the reported use in the killing of vehicles it had supplied to the police under an international assistance program aimed at modernizing the police. Furthermore, Ethiopian authorities refused to renew the residence permit of a correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation in Addis Ababa. The correspondent was in town at the time of the killing, and had angered officials by reporting both versions of events, the official and that of eyewitnesses. As a result of this crisis, diplomatic relations between the two governments plunged to a historic low, as Britain declined to renew the funding agreement.
In their initial statement to the press, the police claimed that at the moment of the killing six of Assefa Maru's accomplices-three demobilized soldiers of the former army and three civilians-were caught while preparing a terrorist act. Family members of two of the alleged accomplices, however, told Human Rights Watch that their relatives had already been in police custody for some time prior to the killing.104
The police statement asserted that Maru had assumed the leadership of the clandestine insurgent group after the arrest of its original leadership, a thinly veiled reference to Dr. Taye Wolde Semayet having been arrested,ETA's president. At the time of Assefa Maru's killing, Dr. Taye had been in detention since May 30, 1996. He was arrested on charges of leading the Ethiopian National Patriots Front, a clandestine group whose name differed slightly from the one that the police had accused Assefa Maru of heading, the Ethiopian Patriots Front. Dr. Taye's arrest was preceded by raids on ETA's office, and the harassment of ETA officials and members found there. Again, within hours of the Maru shooting, police searched the association's office and the deceased's home. Occurring almost a year apart, the president's arrest and the killing of an executive committee member appeared to indicate a serious escalation in the state's attempts to shut down ETA and silence its members. Indeed, in interviews with Human Rights Watch in Addis Ababa in June 1996 and 1997, members and officials of the association described different forms of harassment and intimidation tactics aimed at weakening the association and eliminating its leadership.
In a letter to the prime minister dated March 23, 1996, ETA officials reported that a few days previously government security forces had ransacked and sealed off the organization's head office in Addis Ababa.105 ETA officials claimed that during the search security agents had harassed every individual found in the premises and had arrested Abate Angore, an ETA executive committee member who had argued with officials, insisting that they produce a court order before proceeding with the search. According to the letter, Angore received a "hard blow" and was later detained in the Criminal Investigation Bureau. The letter went on to say that agents broke into the office of ETA's president, Dr. Taye Wolde Semayat, who at the time was on a business trip to Europe, seizing personal notebooks and documents. Security forces also broke into Wolde's house, and into his elderly father's house in Nazareth, and took away items he kept there. ETA's secretary, Gemoraw Kassa, urged the prime minister to order the release of the detained ETA member, the return of confiscated ETA possessions, and called for the government to abide by the rule of law in its dealings with ETA.106
Taye Wolde Semayat was arrested at Addis Ababa airport upon his return from his trip abroad on May 30, 1996. In August, he was charged with illegal anti-government activities and of heading a clandestine organization, together with five other individuals. The organization was described as the Ethiopian National Patriot Front, the aim of which, the prosecution said, was to assassinate government officials and foreigners.107 The court denied the defendants' request for release on bail because of the seriousness of the charges against them. In preliminary hearings held on October 14, 1996, five of the defendants, including ETA's president, did not file any preliminary objection to the charges, reportedly to avoid prolonging the trial and hence their period in pretrial detention.108 Dr. Taye complained to the court in that session that prison guards had interrogated him and subjected him to insults and threats. This abuse occurred, he said, whenever a story about him appeared in the independent press, even though the police investigation of him had been completed. The court ordered an investigation of the incidents. It also ordered prison authorities, in response to defense counsel complaints, to refrain from denying lawyers access to their clients.109 By February 1997, the court had dismissed most of the charges against him, but he remained in detention as of this writing, pending his trial on charges of leading a clandestine violent group.
Human Rights Watch interviewed a group of teachers whose professional careers and family lives were directly affected by the difficult relations between the government and their association. Tenna Sirabiza, the formerregional secretary of ETA in North Omo district, has been an ETA member for fifteen years of a twenty-year career. The North Omo district committee was elected to office in January 1993 by members of the local ETA branch.110 He said that the local administrator had asked the branch association to disavow the memorandum that ETA had submitted to the government in July 1992 and to say that it was politically motivated. Instead, the branch responded that the points the memorandum raised were real teachers' concerns. Local members also objected that insistence on raising the issue with teachers locally amounted to interference in ETA's internal affairs.
Following persistent harassment, Sirabiza had to leave the area with the other elected members of ETA, while his family remained behind. He went to the regional capital with an ETA delegation to appeal his case. He was told to go to his ancestral land in Oromia if he wanted a teaching job. He had served in the Omo region for twelve years and had married there, but under the circumstances he accepted a job in Debre Zeid. His problems did not end there, however. He was dismissed from this second job and told to leave the town, because he continued to maintain relations with ETA colleagues. When he returned to Debra Zeid in December 1995 on family business, he was attacked by three men who asked him why he was roaming around the town after he had been transferred three months earlier. They started throwing rocks at him and stabbing him. In a frantic attempt to escape, he jumped into a steep gorge. Apparently assuming that he must have died upon hitting the rocky bottom, his attackers left the scene. Sirabiza stayed unconscious for hours, creeping back to the road when he recovered. Other teachers took him to ETA, which sent him to a hospital. He didn't return to Debra Zeid after that. ETA said it complained about this incident to the prime minister's office, but received no response. Complaints were also made to EHRCO, to the ICRC, and to the ILO.
Berhane Yusuf (not his real name) has been a teacher for almost three decades. He was elected as the regional finance officer of ETA in Desse, in the Wollo Southern Zone in Amhara State. After some time the regional council wrote him to request that he transfer ETA documents and other materials to the rival teachers' association appointed by government officials. When he refused to hand over the records and property in his case, members of the other association broke into and entered the office without a court order. Yusuf said he reported the incident to the regional council, to the police, and to the court, but received no response. He raised the issue with the Amhara State authorities in Bahr Dar in 1994, and complained to the government's Workers' Office about the letter he received. They gave him a statement addressed to the Southern Zone Council that stated that it was illegal to dismiss a government employee because of his union activities. The Council refused to follow this directive.
Yusuf moved to Addis and stayed there, unemployed. He survived on a small stipend from ETA. Other ETA officers were forced to provide ETA documents to the rival government-appointed group. They did not refuse to do so. They remained behind for some time, after which they were transferred to rural areas. The president of the local ETA branch resigned both his office in the association and the teaching profession.
A second teacher we interviewed also declined to hand over ETA's materials to the rival association. This led to the suspension of his salary. He was once detained for nine days in the police station and then released. He came to Addis Ababa in 1994 and has stayed there since.111 A third, a fifty-year-old teacher and elected ETA official, said that he had left his family of four children behind in Desse, where he feared arrest if he returned. Instead, he refused to hand over the records because he was an elected official. He took the matter to court. The trial court ordered him to hand the records over, but the appellate court decided in ETA's favor.
Finally, a former official who was elected to ETA's Addis Ababa branch committee in 1993 briefed us on the harassment that three members of his committee suffered because they remained loyal to ETA. The first receivedalarming threats from government agents who had taken him to a private hotel and accused him of being a member of the OLF. He felt that his life and his family were at risk and asked to be relieved of his union duties. Another was transferred to a regional office and not given an assignment. When he showed signs of frustration at not being involved in teaching, he heard comments such as "why don't you listen to us? If you do, you will be sent back to your school." He was finally transferred, after being demoted from high school to junior school teacher, to another school.
In mid-1997, ETA received reports of the arrest and detention of some seventy teachers in the Southern People's Region, allegedly for their insistence on forming an ETA chapter.112
Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU)
On April 18, 1997, Ibrahim Dawey, the charismatic former leader of the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions (CETU), together with two other union leaders, left the country for exile abroad. He claimed that he had been reliably warned of the government's impending plan to arrest him on trumped up charges. He fled Ethiopia scarcely a week before CETU restructured itself to allow the election of new leadership. The government found the new arrangements sufficiently acceptable for it to recognize the confederation, after having refused to recognize the prior CETU leadership, and having engaged in administrative and legal attacks against it. At the worst point of the conflict, CETU offices were raided, and its meetings were disrupted by police. Union activists at the factory level were reportedly harassed or dismissed from their work for supporting leadership that was unpalatable to the government.
The confrontation began in October 1994 when CETU's chairman publicly criticized the negative impact of the government's structural adjustment program on public sector workers, who continued to constitute the overwhelming majority of the country's unionized workers. Destabilizing tactics continued to be used in 1996 and 1997 in the period leading to the election of the leadership for a "normalized" CETU against the two federations, out of nine, which remained loyal to previous leadership. For example, in the Federation of Commerce, Technique, and Printing Industry, a new leadership composed entirely of EPRDF loyalists called in the police on November 4, 1996, to eject the previous team from the union's premises. The last federation to remain loyal to the original CETU was the Banking and Insurance Trade Unions' Federation. Its largest and influential union of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia became the target of similar attacks, including the freezing of its bank account in April 1997, and the obstruction of its meetings. The obstructions were meant to coerce its leadership into joining the new CETU after its "normalization," and appeared to have achieved that goal by August.
Human Rights Watch believes that the current restrictions on nongovernmental organizations are part of a progressive closing of democratic space to nongovernmental associations. The first phase involved obstacles to the organization or operations of political parties and associations, and of those trade unions not dominated by the ruling party. Subsequently new controls were imposed even upon humanitarian organizations, with a view to closing those not subordinated to government agencies and government-sponsored programs.
Restrictions on the nongovernmental organization movement have their legal basis in an outdated legal framework. The Ethiopian legal system does not recognize private, voluntary nonprofit organizations, commonly referred to as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as a distinct legal entity. The legal practice has been to assimilate NGOs to civil associations as defined in the 1960 civil code of Ethiopia, and to regulate them accordingly.113
The NGO movement in Ethiopia has evolved in directions that have further strained this legal framework. Initially, NGOs were registered with the Ministry of Interior in accordance with the provisions of the 1960 civil code and the 1966 associations' registration regulations.114 Following the 1984 famine, the Derg government had to accommodate an influx of NGOs. It did so without giving them a clear legal status. The 1960 law and 1966 regulations were completely abandoned during this period. NGOs had to enter into agreements with the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) that could be revoked on a month's notice.
Following the change in government, the question of NGO registration and legal status became even more ticklish. Until that time, NGOs were working mostly in the areas of relief and development. After 1991, a new type of NGO emerged, focusing on democratization, civic education, human rights education and human rights monitoring. The NGO activists who founded this movement had difficulties registering with the Ministry of Interior. They were told that they needed to register with the RRC. Once these NGOs entered into agreements with the RRC, they received notice that they were registered. Some were, however, denied registration from the onset on the ground that they had "political" goals. In a move to further restrict the operation of nongovernmental organizations with human rights and civic education programs, the government wrote to some donor agencies telling them not to enter into any formal or informal relationships with local agencies that were not registered with the government.
Thus, unlike the closure of Oromo Relief Association (see below), government moves to close down or severely restrict other nongovernmental relief or development organizations have no alleged national security rationale. Rather, they appear to reflect measures to suppress even those largely indigenous organizations whose programs are deemed to have the potential to challenge the political dominance of the ruling party and related government programs. To this end, the legislation dating from Haile Selassie's imperial government to regulate civil associations has been cited in denying registration and legal recognition to those associations that are not wholly supportive of or creatures of government and the ruling parties. That this legislation was part of the body of internal security provisions enacted by the imperial government as a means to vet and regulate those seeking to exercise the freedom of association on political grounds is germane to the current situation.
In addition to controls on foreign funding for private organizations, these norms are applied in a manner that arbitrarily labels many organizations as "political" in nature, and therefore falling outside the scope of the associations law. The former minister of justice, for example, characterized the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) as a "political" organization, which was technically operating in breach of the law. To be within the law, he said, the EHRCO would have to register under the political parties law. It was made clear to Human Rights Watch that the organization was merely tolerated for the time being. In fact, Article 18 of the 1966 regulations on associations provides the ministry responsible for its implementation with clear discretionary powers to exempt any organization from the rigid requirements imposed as the norm.
The moves to close or restrict the operation of domestic nongovernmental organizations in the relief and development sphere have been attributed to the TPLF/EPLF's own experience with foreign relief agencies during the long war with the Derg. Access to relief and development assistance had, in fact, been a major factor in the rebel armies' survival and that of the population from which they drew support. At the same time, the political significance of development assistance was seen to reflect the political standing of those delivering the aid--whether government agencies or private. To this was added a philosophical position by which international donors were expected only to provide the wherewithal of aid, in funds, food and materials, but not to become operational; thelatter function, by this view, was to be performed by nationals (a principle largely accepted by the international agencies), and through government agencies (a principle rejected by many agencies that seek exclusively to channel assistance through independent local nongovernmental agencies). The subtext of the discussions concerning the delivery of humanitarian and development aid was largely political: to whom would the political credit for assistance attach?
The Case of the Oromo Relief Association (ORA)
The dismantling of the Oromo Relief Association (ORA) with the closure of its offices, confiscation of its equipment and supplies, and the arrest without charge of many of its staff was generally attributed to a high-level suspicion that ORA was in some manner providing support for the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). To international donors, ORA was a responsible partner which provided development assistance at the grassroots in a wide range of projects in the west and northeast of Oromia Region. In Dire Dawa, in the northwest, ORA's subregional headquarters was in the area of U.N. offices known as the international village. One of ORA's projects there was to build grain stores.
The closure proceeded in stages. ORA was one of three major domestic nongovernmental development agencies that had functioned in contested areas as relief arms of ethnically-based liberation movements during the Derg period. It was registered in August 1991 with the new government. Under the terms of a three-year agreement with the government's Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) it was authorized to import food and materials for its relief and development programs free of customs duty. Its initial areas of operation were in the west, in areas bordering Sudan; it subsequently developed programs in Dire Dawa, Bale, Ambo, and Dembi Dolo.
After the OLF withdrawal from the transitional government in June 1992, ORA's operations in the west were closed. The regional government confiscated its vehicles, including road graders and trucks, and took over its clinics. During the closure of its offices, several staff members were detained as explained elsewhere in this report. According to a former ORA official, staff members throughout the region were harassed. Stopped in the street, they would be told "I know you." "You are doing OLF work."115
ORA negotiated with the RRC following the June 1992 crackdown, and in September 1992 was authorized to resume operations, but only in the east and south of Oromia. Arrests without warrant and temporary office closures continued, however. In 1993 the ORA office in Dire Dawa was closed for three days; fifteen staff were imprisoned without charge. Two of the staff were retained in custody without charge for eight months: for most of this period they were held at the former army camp at Hurso where thousands of suspected OLF militants were also held.
In 1995 the director of ORA, Addissu Beyene, was called into the offices of the Regional Council of Oromia, the Addis Ababa-based government of the newly defined Oromia region, which covers an area to the north and south of the capital and in an enormous arc from what was Welega department in the far west to Bale and Dire Dawa in the east. The Oromia regional officials accused ORA of "replacing OLF activities." At that time, ORA had offices running rural projects in Chanka and Negele, to the west of Addis, and Dire Dawa. A reforestation and dairy project in the Chanka area, run by the nongovernmental organization Irish Concern, had been turned over to ORA in 1993 with basic funding. In July 1995 the Oromia regional council ordered ORA to close its offices in Negele, Chanka and Dire Dawa, and to restrict its operations to the central part of the region. It addressed the agency then responsible for authorizing development work, the RRC, to this end, arguing that ORA was too small, and did not have the capacity to work throughout Oromia.
ORA representatives challenged the state's government to produce proof of their organization's alleged support of the OLF. They rejected the oral instructions to close down the offices and asked instead for writtendocumentation of the decision. They wrote a letter of complaint to the regional office of the RRC in which ORA said that it was operating in areas under total government control. All their activities and movements were carried out after obtaining government consent. They could not call a meeting without the consent and presence of the government. The government wrote a letter dated August 10, 1995 that instructed ORA to relocate from the regions designated by the Oromia state because it did not have the capacity to cover the needs of the population. The government would take over activities to cover these needs. ORA said that the government move had in fact two motivations. Firstly it did not want ORA to reap the political credit of its humanitarian activities. Secondly it did not want witnesses to be present in the areas affected by civil strife.
In October 30, ORA received a letter from the president of Oromia, Kuma Demeska which decreed that as of October 30, ORA was not allowed to operate in Oromia.116 The letter stated that the reason for this decision was that government agents who went to close down ORA's office in Chenka found firearms in the office. ORA stated that the arms in question were licenced and registered with the government in the name of the office guards. This had been the case since the office was run by the international charity Concern, which passed it over to ORA.
On November 17 the central RRC notified ORA that it was suspending its general agreement with it due to the cessation of its project activities. On November 21, the RRC wrote to the bank, suspending all the accounts of ORA. The head office of ORA in Addis Ababa was closed down on February 29, 1996.117 ORA was led to lay off 160 staff members and was unable to pay their benefits and compensation because of the freezing of its accounts.118
Officials who closed ORA's head office included a representative of Region 14,119 the capital, accompanied by five armed policemen, with other armed security agents standing nearby. Although they failed to show a court order authorizing the closure, the officials sealed the office with an official stamp, locking inside the briefcases and other personal property of workers and all equipment, vehicles, drugs, and supplies found on the premises. Two weeks after the closure, officials broke into the office and took two light vehicles reportedly for the use of the regional RRC in Oromia.
The Board of Directors of ORA took Region 14 to court for the closure of the office without a court order and the confiscation of property. The first hearing took place on April 10, 1996. Advocates representing region 14 argued that the region acted upon the order of the RRC to close down ORA's office and to hand over its property to the regional RRC office. Accordingly, they asked that the RRC answer to the charges. In hearings held in October 1996, the court decided that Region 14 should continue to stand before it, not the RRC, and ruled that the impounding of ORA's property was illegal and should be ended. In February 1997 ORA appealed to the same court again to enforce the ruling, in the face of Region 14's refusal to return its vehicles, offices, and other property. Surprisingly, the court ruled against ORA, stating that "[t]he judgement passed on October 24, 1996 was only about the removal of the impoundment; we (the judges) did not order the handover of the properties. Therefore, we have rejected your (ORA's) appeal for the handover of the properties."120 ORA then appealed to the Supreme Court to reexamine the judgment. The merits of the appeal, which was presented to the court in July 25, 1997, was to be examined in a November 20, 1997 session. Human Rights Watch was not able to monitor the outcome of this proceeding.
Human Rights and Democracy and Governance Organizations
The Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), until recently the only local human rights group which has defined a monitoring mandate for itself, has been consistently denied registration as an NGO since it first applied in 1991. Its appeal against this decision, and the freezing of its bank account, first brought to court in May 1995, was adjourned twice in 1995 and 1996. The October 1996 session adjourned the consideration of the appeal to July 1997; at which time the court decided to adjourn to May 1998.121
The government occasionally engaged in publicly denouncing EHRCO as a political group, and, at least publicly, ignored its reports and appeals. The government has not, however, defined what it means by "political." It did not specifically contend that, in terms of Ethiopia's constitution, EHRCO and other groups the government qualify as political "lawlessly subvert the rule of law and constitutional rule." That a group is "political" is not a ground in Ethiopian law for refusing to register it. Indeed, under international standards, the protection of "political" associations is an expressly necessary element of a democratic society.
The Ethiopian Human Rights League was established among the Oromo community in Addis Ababa in December 1996. Its objectives are to raise public awareness about human rights, investigate and report on human rights violations, and provide legal aid to victims. It applied for registration upon its establishment, submitting the required forms, articles of association, and annual plans of activity to the ministry of justice for that purpose. By November 1997, it still had not been granted the legal status it applied for. Nevertheless, it rented an office and hired a full-time investigator, Garoma Bekele, who is also a journalist with the Oromo newspaper Urji.
The Human Rights League was about to launch its public activities by holding a workshop on human rights standards in Addis Ababa in early November when the government arrested its secretary and seven of its founders and board members. The arrests occurred during a crackdown on alleged supporters of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) which led to the arrests of dozens, among them a number of prominent Oromo elders known for their involvement in the promotion of welfare, cultural, and human rights activities benefiting their community. Garoma Bekele was arrested on October 27, together with two other journalists of Urji.122 The other detained league leaders included:
- Tilahun Hirpassa
- Hussein Abdi
- Beyene Abdi, 72
- Beyene Belissa, 50
- Gabissa Lemessa, 55
- Addisu Beyene, executive director of ORA
On November 24 the detainees were taken to court and remanded in custody but they had not been charged. Because the police had denied them access to their families, lawyers and doctors in the weeks preceding their court appearance, the judge ordered that they should be allowed that access. Police had even denied a walking stick to the elderly Beyene Belissa. Eyewitnesses reported that the police dragged him into court: the police reportedly took away his artificial leg and walking stick when they took him into custody.
On December 3 a statement from the Ethiopian Prosecution Office said that thirty-one alleged OLF members and supporters were charged with terrorism and involvement in a series of bombings that took place in April 1997 in the capital and the east of the country. The statement said they were also charged "with arms stockpiling,destroying property as well as killings."123 If found guilty, the defendants could receive sentences from five years in jail to the death penalty.
The detained Oromo elders, who were charged as part of the thirty-one, were also supporters of other associations, including the ORA and the Mecha Tulema Association, founded in the 1960s, which is an officially-recognized Oromo welfare association. Some are board members of Urji newspaper.
The monitoring group Oromo Ex-Prisoners for Human Rights continued to operate clandestinely as it had done since it was founded by a group of former political prisoners under the Derg in August 1992. Established in 1995, the Ogaden Human Rights Committee was similarly forced into clandestinity when authorities in Gode, Somali Region, raided its office in June 1996 and confiscated documents and office equipment.
With regards to international human rights organizations, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi responded in a press interview to the charge made by Human Rights Watch in 1996 that at least 1,700 Derg-era suspects were held in Ethiopia without charge or trial by attacking his government's critics: "these so-called human rights organizations concoct reports which are not based on the reality on the ground. They also try to lecture us on human rights. They may continue writing what they please, but let them know we have dismissed them right from the onset."124 In a response to a followup question by his interviewer, the prime minister admitted, however, that there were "human rights shortcomings in Ethiopia, but a satisfactory solution cannot be found without building a police and judicial capacities."125
The Ethiopian government's response to international monitoring groups varied, from the summary dismissal of the work of human rights organizations on the grounds that they were either partisan or ill-informed, to the selective granting of access in other cases. The Ethiopian government permitted the fielding in 1996 and 1997 of two missions by Human Rights Watch, and granted our researchers access to high-ranking officials. It did not interfere with the private meetings they sought and held with individuals, NGOs and victims of abuses. It similarly provided an open door to researchers of Human Rights Watch's Arms Project who were looking into arms flows in the Horn of Africa. Other international human rights organizations who visited the country during the same period included Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights. The government continued to prevent the country researcher of Amnesty International from entering the country. A consultant for the organization was, however, permitted in the country to observe the Derg trials, in June 1996.
The Right of Peaceful Assembly
Article 21 of the ICCPR states:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society, in the interest of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
The Constitution of Ethiopia guarantees the right of peaceful assembly in its Article 30 which states:
1. Every person has the right to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peaceably and unarmed, and to petition. Reasonable procedures may be prescribed in the interest of public convenience relating to the location of open-air meetings and the route of movement of demonstrators or, when such a meeting or a demonstration is in progress, for the protection of public morality and peace, and democratic right.
The "Proclamation to Establish the Procedure for Peaceful Demonstration and Public Political Meeting" regulates the right of any individual, group, or organization to organize and participate in a peaceful assembly and political meeting.126 The proclamation requires, in Article 4.1, that the organizer of a peaceful demonstration or political meeting submits written notice to local authorities forty-eight hours in advance. The notice should specify the objective of the demonstration or meeting; its place, date, and hour; estimates of the number of expected participants; the required assistance from authorities for maintaining law and order; and the full name, address, and signature(s) of the organizer(s) (Article 5.1). Article 6.1 empowers the concerned official to notify the organizer of the need of holding the event in a different place or time if this was deemed necessary for maintaining law and order.
The government, however, introduced a de facto permit system by virtue of which demonstrations were considered illegal, notwithstanding organizers' compliance with notification procedures, unless organizers had received express prior authorization. But, although the law required a prompt government response to the notification of planned events, there was sometimes no response whatsoever. The government thus gave itself the discretionary power to disperse such events and arrest those who participated in them.
The streets of the capital Addis Ababa frequently witnessed more or less large demonstrations which were officially authorized. These were allowed to proceed in an orderly manner, and, in many cases, officials received marchers' petitions and responded to them with statements on the government's policy on the matter of their grievance. A number of unauthorized peaceful demonstrations were however violently dispersed, and some participants were arrested. The government's retaliation also involved pressuring participants in unauthorized events into petitioning to be pardoned as a condition for their release or the suspension of other punitive measures.
These mixed government responses to citizens exercising their freedom of assembly were only apparently contradictory. The government's reaction to the waves of popular protests touched off by two economic policy decisions, the increase of rents on state-owned properties in the capital Addis Ababa, and the redistribution of agricultural lands in the northern Amhara region, exemplified the limits on free assembly. The decisive element which seemed to have invited negative government reactions was the threat of a creeping strike in one case and the potential of the revival of the student movement in the other. As detailed above, the threat of strikes by the two leading trade unions in the country was sufficient to trigger sweeping government repressive measures against both unions. On the other hand, since the violent dispersal of a student demonstration in 1993 that left at least one student dead, the government had succeeded in restricting the students' rights of association and assembly on the Addis Ababa University campus, and appeared undisposed to allow the revival of a militant student movement there. In other words, authorities appeared to exercise a discretionary power without basis in law to suspend the liberty of peaceful assembly and other liberties when they deemed citizens' actions to have gone beyond a certain limit.
Two huge demonstrations by low-income traders adversely affected by the rent increases proceeded peacefully on September 3, and October 3, 1996, the former demonstration attracting an estimated 200,000 chantingand banner-waving marchers to the streets, while some 70,000 demonstrators took part in the latter protest.127 Up to 20,000 shopkeepers were affected by the increase, decreed in September 1996.128
On May 17, 1997, a number of small traders and shopkeepers staged a demonstration to complain, for the third time in eight months, against the rent increases. While local authorities had authorized the demonstration, they said they were not informed of nor did they authorize a decision by the aggrieved traders to close their shops in protest against the measure.129 Thousands of shops rolled down their front shutters in Addis Ababa markets during a three-day strike declared on May 19, 1997. The government's reaction was swift. Authorities detained eighty-four traders suspected of having coordinated the traders' action, and said that they would revoke their trade licenses, evict them from government properties and bring charges against them. An ultimatum was issued on the national radio for the strikers to reopen their shops in three hours time or risk eviction. Authorities promptly sealed about 1,300 shops which remained closed at the expiration of the ultimatum. A city administrator said the city would reopen the sealed premises if owners admitted that they had committed an offense by taking part in the strike, and asked for the government's pardon. Many did just that to preserve their livelihood, signaling the traders' capitulation in the struggle over the rent increases.130 The Addis Ababa Administration did not relent, however. In mid-August, it announced the revocation of the trade licenses of fifty-two businessmen as a penalty for their participation in what it said was an illegal strike. The penalized traders would not be allowed to engage in business transactions using the revoked licenses, authorities said.131
The Ethiopian Human Rights Council noted that government's actions in repressing the traders' strike were of questionable legality: no provisions in Ethiopian laws ban closing of work premises as a form of protest; the sealing of shops was done without court order; and the conditioning of the reopening of the shops on the signing of an appeal for government's pardon had no legal grounds. EHRCO rightly observes that "[i]f citizens are to be forced to beg the government, which violates their rights and takes illegal measures against them, for pardon whenever they use their constitutional rights (--), people are not going to have confidence in the law and they will have no legal guarantees for their activities."132
The government also pressured a group of 200 detained students from Addis Ababa University in March 1997 to submit written petitions as a condition for their release. Their crime, according to the government, was their participation in a demonstration deemed illegal because organizers were not issued with an official authorization to proceed with it. Organizers claimed for their part that they had on March 18 submitted to the competent officials a written notification of their intention of staging the demonstration, and, having received no response, decided to go ahead. An estimated five hundred students took part in the March 21 demonstration which was meant to protest a controversial land redistribution program in the northern Amhara region. No sooner had they left the main campus than anti-riot police went into action, attacking demonstrators and bystanders with batons, and rounding up twohundred students, who were taken in trucks to a former military facility. After five days in a harsh detention regime, during which some students claimed they were beaten and forced to crawl on their bare elbows and knees on sharp gravel, some 171 of their group signed on to a letter requesting the government's pardon.133 A group of fourteen students, whose resolve not to sign remained unshaken, were reportedly held in detention for more than two months, apparently under suspicion of being the leaders of the protest, but were ultimately released.
Under criticism for showing little action in the face of mounting popular discontent against government policies, as loudly expressed by small traders in the capital and Amhara farmers, the two leading opposition groups, the Council of Alternative Forces for Peace and Democracy in Ethiopia (CAFPDE) and the All Amhara People's Organization (AAPO) organized mass rallies in the capital Addis Ababa on March 30, and April 6, 1997 respectively. They also denounced the continued detention of some of the students who took to the streets ten days earlier in protest against the same policies. Contrary to the aggressive dispersal of that march, the two opposition rallies, which attracted large crowds, were allowed to proceed peacefully. Government agents, however, reportedly arrested seven activists involved in organizing the first rally, and released them on the same day after interrogations. 13476 Proclamation No. 34/1992, issued by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia on October 21, 1992. 77 Quoted in "Media in Ethiopia, Report of the Eastern Africa Media Task Force to Ethiopia," Addis Digest, no. 6/7 September-October 1995, p. 20. 78 "Ethiopia: Prime Minister Meles Urges More Government Openness," Radio Ethiopia External Service, Addis, 24 August 96, carried in BBC Monitoring Service: Africa, August 28, 1996. 79 Radio Ethiopia in Amharic, August 2, 1995, quoted in The Horn of Africa Bulletin, vol. 7, no. 4 (July-August 1995). 80 "Prime Minister Meles Urges More Government Openness," Radio Ethiopia External Service, August 24, 1996, in BBC's Monitoring Service: Africa, August 26, 1996. 81 See "Ethiopia: Update on Journalists-Prisoners of Conscience and Possible Prisoners of Conscience (19 currently in Custody)," Amnesty International, December 15, 1995, p. 2. See also: "Journalists Arrested in Addis Ababa", NGO Networking Service, Monthly Update, vol. 3, no. 1, November 1995, p. 2 and "Ethiopian Journalists Released," Ibid., vol. 3, no. 2, December 1995, p. 2. 82 "Ethiopian Journalists Released," NGO Networking Service, Monthly Update, vol. 3, no. 2, December 1995, p. 2. 83 See International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), "Action Alert - Ethiopia: Thirteen Journalists Arrested During September and October," Toronto, November 13, 1997. 84 "Ethiopia: Ethiopia Charges Thirty-One For Attacks," Reuter, Addis Ababa, December 3, 1997. 85 Ibid. 86 See Reporters Sans Frontières: "Conte Rendu de Mission, Ethiopie - Erythrée - Somaliland," Paris, June 14 - July 5, 1997; and Reporters Sans Frontières, " Ethiopia; Imprisonment and Denial of Justice - Investigative Mission to Addis Ababa," Paris, October 1996. 87 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mulugeta Lule, Washington, D.C., July 1997. 88 This right to free association also appears in Article 10 (1) of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights: "Every individual shall have the right to free association provided that he abides by the law." 89 Partsch, "Freedom of Conscience and Expression," p. 235. 90 Article 25 of the ICCPR provides in part that everyone shall have the right: "(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors . . . ." 91 "Closed Offices of All Amhara People's Organization," undated document, Addis Ababa, on file with Human Rights Watch. 92 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, June, 1996. 93 Article 42-1 (a) of the federal constitution stipulates "[f]actory and service workers, peasant farmers and government employees under a certain level of responsibility, have a right to form associations to protect and improve their conditions and economic well-being. This right includes the right to form trade unions and other associations to bargain collectively with employers or other organizations that affect their interests." Article 42-1 (b) guarantees the right of categories of workers referred to in 42-1 (a) to express grievances, including the right to strike, while paragraph (c) in Article 42-1 leaves to the laws of the country the determination of categories of government employees who enjoy the rights provided under subsection (a).
Article 9-4 of the federal constitution further stipulates that "[a]ll international agreements ratified by Ethiopia are an integral part of the laws of the country." Ethiopia is member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) since 1923 and has ratified fifteen ILO conventions, all of which are in force, including conventions No. C87, C98 and C111.
The Labor Proclamation No. 42/1993 (the 1993 Labor Law), which entered into force on January 20, 1993, repeals previous labor legislation and removes the impositions of a single trade union system established under previous legislation. It guarantees for most workers the right to form and join unions and to engage in collective bargaining. As the Constitution allows, certain categories of workers are however not included in this provision, such as civil servants, workers in security agencies, judges and prosecutors. A further limitation of the right of association is that workers providing "essential services" cannot strike. The government adopted a very broad definition of essential services, to include public transport, city cleansing and sanitation, power generation plants, water supplies, police and fire services, post and telecommunications, banks, and pharmacies.94 "Ethiopian Teachers' Association," posted by Ethiopian Information Service Network in Holland (SHINE), the Internet at <SHINE@negash.antenna.nl>, March 20, 1996. 95 Ethiopian Review, vol. 6, no. 5, May 1996, p. 10 (Atlanta). 96 SHINE, Ibid. 97 "Demands of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association Presented to the Office of the Prime Minister of the Transitional Government," July 1996. 98 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, June 1996. 99 "Police Kill Leader, Apprehend Members of Anti-Peace Group," Ethiopian News Agency, May 9, 1997. 100 See Ethiopian Human Rights Council, "Extra-Judicial Killing," EHRCO's Special Report No.14, May 13, 1997, Addis Ababa. See also: "Eyewitnesses Refute Official Report about Asefa's Killing," Urji's English language edition (Addis Ababa), vol. 1, no. 5, May 15, 1997, p. 1. 101 Compilation of eyewitnesses' reports to Human Rights Watch, Addis Ababa, July, 1997. 102 "Extra-judicial Killing," p. 2. 103 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 1997. 104 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, August 1997. 105 Official copy in English, received from ETA, Addis Ababa, June 1996. 106 Ibid. 107 "Ethiopia: Group Charged With Planning To Overthrow Government By Force," Radio Ethiopia, August 5, 1996, in BBC Monitoring Service: Africa, August 7, 1996. 108 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Negatu Tesfai, Addis Ababa, October 1996. 109 "Dr. Taye W/Semayat tells Court about Harassment in Prison," Ethiopian Register, Vol 3, no. 11, November 1996, pp. 9-10. 110 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, June 22, 1996. 111 Ibid. 112 Human Rights Watch interviews with teachers, Addis Ababa, June 22, 1996 and July/August 1997. 113 The definition in Article 404 of the civil code reads: "an association is a grouping formed between two or more persons with a view to obtaining a result other than the securing and sharing of profits." Article 411 of the civil code requires, however, that the statutes of the association be signed by "not less than five associates."While this second provision seems tocontradict the definition of an association, it had prevailed in actual practice. 114 The regulations require in article 5-2 that founders of an association note in the association's registration application their names, nationalities, and occupations, and attach to the application two passport-size photographs of each founder. See Article 5-2, Legal notice No. 321 of 1966: Regulations issued pursuant to the control of associations provisions of the civil code. 115 Human Rights Watch interview, London, June 1996. 116 NGO Networking Service, Monthly Update, vol. 2 no. 12, October 1995, p. 2. 117 "Final Blow Against ORA," Urji, March 5/96, as in Press Digest, vol. III no. I, of March 14, 1996, p. 6. 118 Human Rights Watch interview, London, June 1996. 119 "Final Blow Against ORA," Urji, March 5/96, as in Press Digest vol. III no. I, of March 14, 1996, p. 6 120 "Situation Update - ORA," an ORA document, July, 1997. 121 Human Rights Watch interview with Negatu Tesfaye, Addis Ababa, July 1997. 122 Amnesty International Urgent Action, AI Index: AFR 25/18/97, October 30, 1997. 123 "Ethiopia: Ethiopia Charges Thirty-One for Attacks," Reuter, Addis Ababa, December 1997. 124 The Addis Tribune Web site, June 13, 1997, at http://www.africanews.org/east/ethiopia/ 19970616_feat8.html. 125 Ibid. 126 Proclamation No. 3/1991. 127 See Ethiopia: Some 200,000 Protest In Ethiopia Against Rents," Reuters, September 3, 1996; and "Ethiopia: Addis Ababa Shop Owners Protest Against Rents," Reuter, Addis Ababa, October 3, 1997. 128 See "Illegal Measures Against Businessmen," EHRCO Special report No. 16, June 3, 1997. 129 "Ethiopia: Over 80 Addis Ababa Traders Detained Following Strike," Radio Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, May 21, 1997, BBC Monitoring Service, Africa, May 23, 1997. 130 See: Alice Martin, "Ethiopia: Bazaar Strike Broken," the Guardian, 5/22/97, p.15. 131 "Fifty-two Businessmen Lose Trade Licences," The Addis Tribune, August 22, 1997, web site at http://www.africanews.org/east/ethiopia/19970822_feat9.html. 132 In: "Illegal Measures Against Businessmen," Ibid. 133 "University Students Demonstrate Against Discriminatory Land Redistribution," Ethiopian Register, vol. 4, no. 5, May 1997, p. 9. 134 See "Ethiopia: Opposition Protest Held Against Land Redistribution Policy," Ethiopian TV, March 30, 1997, BBC Monitoring Service: Africa, April 2, 1997; and "CAFPDE and AAPO Hold Mass Rallies," Ethiopian Register, vol. 4, no. 5, May, 1997, p. 16/17.