-Ethiopian teacher, July 30, 2002.
The Ethiopian Teachers' Association (ETA), essentially banned by the government, has continued to struggle to protect of the rights of teachers in the face of sustained harassment for the past ten years. In addition to ETA's vocal criticism of education policy, the organization's membership includes some of Ethiopia's most influential citizens, and apparently is considered as threatening for this reason. A foreign professor currently residing and teaching in Ethiopia explained why, in his opinion, teachers have been singled out for persecution. "Teachers are one of the largest groups in Ethiopia, the best educated, and the most liberal."163 ETA is active in ten of twelve regional states, with the exceptions of Tigray and Somali regions, and has 80,000 registered members out of an estimated 120,000 teachers in more than 6,000 schools nationwide.164
The Ethiopian government's curtailment of educators' freedom of association has not escaped international censure. Since 1996, the government's continuing interference with the ETA's freedom of association has elicited criticism from the International Labor Organization (ILO) every year. In addition, on several occasions the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has criticized the government's mistreatment of the ETA, the resulting impact on educational policy, and the poor status of Ethiopian teachers.165
In March 1993-less than one year after the ETA submitted a memorandum to the Transitional Government of Ethiopia outlining its demands for better treatment of teachers, including that teachers participate in shaping education-the government registered a new association under the same name as ETA and anointed it the official teachers' union.166 Since then, the government has continuously pressured teachers to participate in the "new" ETA rather than the old one, frozen the original ETA's assets, and arrested numerous teachers and ETA leaders including then Acting Secretary General Shimalis Zewdie and president of the association Dr. Taye Woldesmayet in 1996. Assefa Maru, acting director of ETA after Taye's imprisonment, was assassinated in May 1997.167 Shimalis died in April 1999. His health had reportedly been weakened when he was detained yet again and spent one month in prison without charge in September 1998 for refusing to hand over ETA offices and papers to the new ETA.168
Dr. Taye, who had been in prison since 1996 and was convicted of conspiracy against the state in 1999, was released in May 2002 after an appellate court reduced his sentence to less than the time he had already served.169 Since then, Dr. Taye has declared that he intends to remain active. "Unless the life of teachers is improved, there is no hope for our children," he told the BBC.170 Taye was first arrested by the current government in 1992, on the spurious charge of having fomented religious strife. The arrest came shortly after he had made a video cassette depicting conditions in a poor school in his home town of Nazret which he intended to distribute abroad to raise funds for the school.171
The old ETA has persevered and continues to play an active role in defending teachers' rights despite ongoing harassment and government interference with its property (for example, police have sealed most of the rooms of ETA's office). However, as Dr. Taye told Human Rights Watch, "Harassment is increasing at an alarming rate. Teachers cannot even talk to each other to discuss teaching math!"172 When ETA attempted to hold a meeting at its Addis Ababa office on August 31, 2002, armed Special Forces came and ordered them to leave.173 A month later, police disbanded another ETA meeting for teachers from the capital and surrounding areas. Acting under authority of the city's demonstration and association licensing department, the police claimed that the association was "illegal" and, therefore, could not hold a meeting to discuss a national issue.174
In February 2002, the government and new ETA attempted to sabotage an ETA conference in Awassa on education for all, the role of teachers in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, and human and trade union rights. Despite pressure from local officials, schools, and the new ETA, 587 teachers from around the country attended the conference. Tafari Gassessa and another member of ETA's executive board were arrested in Jinka while conducting preparations for the conference, including handing out brochures on HIV/AIDS; they were detained for twenty-six days. Officials and police forces in Awassa twice tried to interrupt the conference on the first day, February 4. "We asked the federal and regional governments for permission and paid the government to rent the meeting hall and there was no problem. But when we arrived there the state police tried to force us to stop," said one teacher who attended the meeting. Only after European diplomats intervened in Addis Ababa, did authorities allow the meeting to go forward.175
Some of the teachers who attended the conference were later harassed for doing so. At least forty teachers from Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples Regional State who attended the conference were arrested and detained for two weeks when they returned home. A member of the National Council on HIV/AIDS made a presentation during the conference and was subsequently dismissed from the council.176 Immediately after the conference, the government-sponsored teachers association wrote a threatening letter to teachers from Wolayta zone in the SNNP region claiming that actions taken by some of them had been harmful and ordering them to halt their movement.177
The government has engaged in sustained harassment of teachers who support the old ETA. For example, the high school in Sendafa, Oromia requires its teachers to pay two birr per month (approximately U.S.$0.25) to the new ETA while the government prevents them from paying the original ETA. "As teachers we want to relax and have our own organization, but we are not in a position to do that," said one teacher in Sendafa. "There is always fear and suspicion. They always suspect the teachers, those who don't go to the party or to the government-sponsored ETA."178
Most recently government officials used the occasion of a mandatory workshop on revolutionary democracy in July to pressure teachers to participate in the new ETA. Teachers in numerous locales including Addis Ababa wrote letters to the old ETA complaining that the government representatives had spent hours berating them for belonging to the association of their choice. Teachers in Hossana said that, when they refused to be swayed, the government delegate essentially threatened them, concluding the discussion by saying, "we will meet again."179 The government delegates took the occasion of these teachers' workshops in some places to announce that school districts would soon lay off teachers, twelve teachers in Alertu district of Oromia and 15 percent of teachers in Sendafa, and insinuated that those who cross the government would be at risk. A teacher at Sendafa, who has already been arrested, threatened, and transferred away from his family over the past five years, said that during the workshop he attended district officials warned him yet again to stop working for the old ETA. "It is a professional association, not a political party," he complained. "But I don't know what will happen in the future. There is a risk that a civil servant can lose his job for opposing education policy. In the [mandatory government workshop] they said that all civil servants are employed at the will of the government and the ruling party."180
Fasil Eshetu, a former teacher, enumerated the means he had seen the government use to harass teachers, including himself, who criticize government policy:
A teacher in Addis Ababa told Human Rights Watch that he has been a victim of similar government harassment on and off for the twenty-eight years he has been teaching. Most recently, he was denied an annual salary increase in 2002.182 A teacher from Konso in the southern region made a similar complaint to ETA. He has been transferred from school to school, denied salary, and threatened over the past four years. Civil service officials tried to force him to resign in 2002.183 Both teachers believe they are being punished for criticizing aspects of government education policy. One of their major complaints is that students must now take an exam after tenth grade to determine whether they can continue on an academic track or will be relegated to as yet undeveloped vocational training programs. They and many other teachers are also concerned that classes, many of which are already much larger than the regulation fifty students per class, are slated to become larger still. The Addis Ababa based teacher said he has seen reports of many more teachers being arrested in rural areas than in the capital. He has not been arrested.184
Teachers in Sendafa said high school students were also predictably angry about the tenth grade examination that was now to determine who could continue on to twelfth grade and thus to tertiary education. One teacher estimated that only some 10 percent had passed the test in 2001. He and the other teachers said that students and teachers alike had only "mumbled" their criticism of the policy. "We can't complain publicly or we will be arrested," he said. "The students are afraid of such things. Not only the students. We teachers, too."185
Teachers interviewed for this report said they were especially frustrated that the government had not consulted them in developing education policies. But they are afraid to criticize too openly as others paid a heavy price for such criticism in the past, such as when the government mandated that the language of instruction would be the major language of each regional state rather than Amharic.186 ETA documented that some 6,700 teachers were obliged to move to other areas of the country to accommodate the language change, and many of these were demoted, sent to remote areas, or otherwise harassed as punishment for having criticized the policy.187
Fasil, who taught in Hossana from 1992 to 1998 and has now been granted asylum in Canada, was one of the teachers who complained. He described the impact being "blacklisted" had on him as follows:
Many teachers continue to suffer abuses as a result of the still-evolving policy of ethnic federalism, as they were when ETA sent the above-mentioned memorandum of teachers' concerns to the government in July 1992. In Nazret, for example, in the Oromo Regional State, Amharic-speaking teachers complain that all non-Oromos are treated as second-class citizens. At the same time, Oromo-speaking teachers who have chosen not to join the OPDO lament that they are branded as sympathizers of the OLF. A government delegate present at the mandatory July teachers' workshop in Nazret did not dispute that non-party members may be marginalized: "There is no seat between two chairs," he told the Oromo teachers, suggesting that failure to belong to the government satellite party could lead to their dismissal.189
Thirteen Oromos including seven teachers, a former teacher who produced educational radio programs for the Oromia State Education Bureau, a twelfth grade student, a civil servant, and two traders were arrested and detained in Sendafa from May 1 to June 21, 2002 on charges they collaborated with the OLF.190 One of the detained teachers said his sister had come to visit him at the Sendafa police camp and, while one guard had told her she could speak to her brother, another came and threatened to beat her if she didn't leave. Family members of another said that police had insinuated they must be OLF members if they were visiting OLF members in prison and threatened to arrest them if they continued to visit. A lawyer who attempted to visit one of the detainees said the guards refused to allow him in.
One of the teachers said that police officers told him that the district court declined to release them on bail earlier because high-level politicians had instructed them not to. They appealed the denial of bail to the Oromia State Supreme Court, which later ordered their release on bail. When Human Rights Watch interviewed them in late July, they had yet to be reinstated in their jobs despite written requests to local, state, and national authorities. The teachers in Sendafa were outraged that, while the above thirteen were detained, a representative of OPDO had said on the Voice of America that no suspected OLF members were in prison.
Sendafa authorities have used the threat of arrest to stifle solidarity with the thirteen detainees. A teacher who was not arrested said that high school students had planned to protest after their teachers had been arrested, but a district council administrator had warned the students, their teachers, and their parents that the students would be shot if they demonstrated. Officials then closed the high school for approximately one week. The students did not demonstrate. "I destroyed all written material in my home, got rid of all the newspapers and books," a teacher told Human Rights Watch. "I know it would be trouble if they came to search my house, too."
172 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 15, 2002. As noted above, the abuses against ETA and individual teachers are unfortunately not exceptional-Human Rights Watch has expressed concern about similar tactics employed by the government of Ethiopia to silence a diverse range of actors in civil society in recent years.
175 Human Rights Watch interviews, Addis Ababa, July 15 and 30, 2002; Andre Dumont and Steve Sinnot, "Ethiopian Teachers' Association Conference, Awassa: 4-6 February 2002," Trip Report for Education International, 2002.
188 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, July 10, 2002. Fasil enrolled in AAU in 1999 to study educational administration. He was active in the student community and became spokesman for the students during the strike. As noted above, he fled the country after being arrested and tortured in the wake of the 2001 student strike.