October 12, 2016

European Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) Discusses Situation in Ethiopia

Photo courtesy of Patrissimo2016@flickr.com

On 12 October 2016, the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) held a hearing to discuss the human rights situation in Ethiopia. Organised jointly with the EP Committee on Development (DEVE), the meeting brought together MEPs, human rights experts and representatives of the Ethiopian Embassy and the European Commission and External Action Service. Throughout the heated debate, UNPO was particularly pleased to see some Members of European Parliament (MEPs) actively putting pressure on the EU to take a firm stand against the Ethiopian Government. Despite calls for the EU to review its strategic partnership with Addis Ababa, the EEAS's lukewarm approach confirmed once again its insufficient response to seriousness of the situation in the country.

Recent mass arrests and killings of people who dissent from Ethiopian Government policies culminated  in the proclamation of a state of emergency for the Oromia region on 8 October 2016. In light of the recent massacre committed during the Irrecha Festival, the hearing sought to exchange views about the human rights situation in Ethiopia. Mr Felix Horne, Senior Human Rights Watch Researcher on the Horn of Africa, gave an insightful summary of the most recent human rights violations in Ethiopia, which was followed up by statements from EU officials and MEPs. According to Mr Horne, the situation in the country is extremely concerning and the EU should not keep turning a blind eye to these human rights violations, especially in view of the considerable funds it gives to the country every year.

Representatives of the European Commission and  External Action Service (EEAS) however insistently called for a dialogue and collaboration with the incumbent regime, while half-heartedly condemning the “new level of violence” and calling for a general observance of human rights. 

Through these statements, the EU has once again confirmed its so-called “quiet diplomacy” approach to the Ethiopian regime’s systematic violation of its people’s basic rights. In relation to the EU’s strategic partnership with Ethiopia in matters of migration control and development aid, the EU representatives stated that EU investment would not flow into projects responsible for the displacement of rural populations, but admitted that a dialogue with the Ethiopian Government on good governance and human rights had not yet been implemented.

Ms Ana Gomes MEP, however, in a passionate appeal for the defence of human rights, stated unambiguously that no dialogue would be possible with a government that has not been democratically elected by its people and called on the EU institutions to clearly demand the current state of emergency to be lifted, all political prisoners to be immediately released and an independent investigation into the systematic rights violations to be conducted. Ms Barbara Lochbihler MEP, in supporting her colleague, also asked Mr Horne to give his perspective to the situation in Ogaden, another region of Ethiopia where human rights violations seem to have been ongoing for years and where access to international NGOs and observers is severely limited.

Mr Lars Adaktusson MEP, in asking the EEAS to look into the case of a Swedish citizen who was detained in Ethiopia, also mentioned that the EU should have a bolder approach to the issue. Both Ana Gomes and Ms Marie-Christine Vergiat MEP also expressed their surprise at the EEAS’s caution in deploring Ethiopia’s poor human rights record, when one hundred percent of all seats in parliament were held by one party. 

DEVE's Chair, Ms Linda McAvan MEP,  put forward a different perspective, emphasising that, in order to initiate a dialogue, the EU needed a stable and reliable partner at the Horn of Africa, who respects the rights of its political minorities. The final word was given to a representative of the Ethiopian Embassy to the European Union, who refused to acknowledge the systematic exclusion from political decision-making of marginalized ethnic groups and the heinous crimes perpetrated by the government, trying to reassure the audience as to the good will of the government to further the country's democratisation.

Although regrettably the EU seems to sacrifice concerns for human rights on the altar of strategic partnerships on development, migration, security and counter-terrorism, UNPO is very glad to see that MEPs are very aware of the situation in Ethiopia and that our advocacy work with the European institutions has been effective in encouraging politicians to speak up for the oppressed peoples.