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Ethiopia: Transition Should Support Human Rights Reform

Release Political Prisoners, Repeal Restrictive Laws, Reform Legislation

(Nairobi) – Ethiopia’s new leadership should commit to fundamental human rights reforms in the wake of the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Meles’s death was announced by the Ethiopian state media on August 21, 2012.

Ethiopia’s international partners should call on the government to support fundamental rights and freedoms in the country and a prompt rollback of repressive laws, Human Rights Watch said.

“Ethiopia’s government should commit to respect for human rights and core rights reforms in the coming days and weeks,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The country’s new leadership should reassure Ethiopians by building on Meles’s positive legacy while reversing his government’s most pernicious policies.”

Meles had been in power since 1991, when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) lead a coalition of armed opposition groups in overturning the rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam. 

Meles leaves a mixed legacy on human rights. Under his leadership the country has experienced significant, albeit uneven, economic development and progress. At the same time – particularly since the controversial 2005 elections – Ethiopia has seen a sharp deterioration in civil and political rights, with mounting restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly. The ruling party has increasingly consolidated its power, weakening the independence of core institutions such as the judiciary and the independent media that are crucial to the rule of law, Human Rights Watch said.

“Ethiopia’s leadership should demonstrate its commitment to human rights reform by taking urgent steps to amend or repeal some of the most damaging legislation, including its anti-terrorism laws and restrictions on civil society,” Lefkow said. “It should release the scores of political prisoners who are unlawfully detained and make clear that the transition will result in a meaningful opening of political space.”

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