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UN Human Rights Council: Concern over Increased Restrictions to Limit Human Rights Activities - Ethiopia and Tibet

Oral Statement under Item 3 - General Debate

Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned by increased restrictions used to limit human rights activities in many countries.

The Ethiopian authorities continue to severely curtail basic freedoms including freedom of expression and association. Human Rights Watch shares the concerns raised by the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association both in his annual report and in his observations report on the government’s increased use of restrictive legislation to quash dissent and independent voices.

Since June 2011, the government has arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted members of the media and political opposition under its vague and overbroad Anti-Terrorism law. Five journalists and two opposition members have been convicted under the lawincluding on charges of support to terrorism for engaging in the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression.Six journalists, at least 2 opposition members, and 16 others are currently on trial facing politically motivated terrorism charges. Similarly, dozens of leaders and members of registered Oromo opposition parties have been detained since August 2011 and are on trial on terrorism-related charges.

The 2009 Charities and Societies’ law has been used to strictly curtail the legitimate work of civil society organizations, especially those working on human rights, both in terms of staff numbers and field of work. Several key Ethiopian human rights groups have been forced to significantly reduce their operations due to the restrictions on foreign funding imposed by the law or arbitrary enforcement by the new agency established to regulate nongovernmental activity. More recently, the government has attempted to further curtail the rights to free expression and information by systematically blocking media, human rights and political opposition websites, through a new “agreement” by the largest government printing house in Addis.  This arrangement allows printers to censor material prior to publication.  Additionally, a new law further criminalizes the use of telecommunication networks such as Skype.

In his observation report, the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of association also warned that a series of measures taken by the Chinese authorities in respect of the Tibetan Buddhist Kirti monastery, including security raids and surveillance, with police presence inside and outside monasteries to monitor religious activities, seriously impeded the exercise of the right to association of members of the monastic community.

Since the immolation by two Tibetans outside Lhasa’s Jokhang temple on May 27, 2012, Human Rights Watch has documented other restrictions on freedom of association and assembly. Security forces in Lhasa have been carrying out sharply increased identity checks on the streets of the city. Tibetans from areas where protests have recently taken place, in eastern Tibet, have been ordered to leave not only the capital, but the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) as well. Those expelled are not known to have been accused of any wrongdoing and there are no reports to date of non-Tibetans being expelled. In addition, Lhasa authorities have imposed a ban on public gatherings of more than three people in the city.

Human Rights Watch believes that the progressive denial of rights to Tibetans is likely to further exacerbate tensions in the region, and urges the Chinese government to uphold its obligations on the freedom of association.

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