Ethiopia has a horrendous human rights record – but that didn’t stop its election this week to the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member. It’s worth noting too that Ethiopia – implicated in the deaths of hundreds of peaceful protesters in recent months – is also a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
Ethiopia, among Africa’s leading jailors of journalists, has decimated independent civil society and misused its counterterrorism law to stifle peaceful dissent. Arbitrary arrests and torture continue to be major concerns. The ruling coalition won 100 percent of parliamentary seats at federal and regional levels in the 2015 elections, after years of restrictions on opposition parties and supporters.
Two weeks ago, Human Rights Watch published a report into the government’s handling of the largely peaceful Oromo protests, where security forces killed an estimated 400 people, many of them students. Thousands have been arrested. The use of excessive force to stifle peaceful protest has occurred frequently, but Ethiopians have few outlets to criticize the government that won’t get them arrested. This has created a volatile internal security situation. The investigation by Ethiopia’s national Human Rights Commission fell short of international standards and concluded that security forces used “proportionate force” against protesters. A credible, independent investigation with international support is needed into these killings.
Despite the dire human rights situation, Ethiopia is a now a member of both the Security Council and the Human Rights Council. Its track record on the rights council has been poor: it has consistently blocked cooperation with UN special mechanisms, not permitted access to a single special rapporteur since 2007 – other than the special rapporteur on Eritrea, unsurprising given the ongoing “cold war” between the two countries. UN special rapporteurs on torture, freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly, the right of food, and the independent expert on human rights and international solidarity all have outstanding requests for visits.
Ethiopia should stop hiding its own human rights record from international scrutiny, and as a member of both the Human Rights Council and the Security Council, cooperate fully with UN special mechanisms, in particular the rapporteurs on peaceful assembly and torture to further investigate the human rights situation. Moreover, Ethiopia’s international partners should be supporting a credible, independent investigation into abuses during the Oromo protests.