Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
On February 5, parliament approved a heavily revised, and strengthened, CSP (Proclamation No. 1113/2019) commonly referred to as the CSO law. The new law removes restrictions that had severely limited foreign government and private sector funding to any advocacy civil society organization. The law also permits foreign volunteers to work in CSOs for up to one year.
During the year a few domestic human rights groups operated. The resource-challenged HRCO is the country’s sole local, independent human rights group with investigative capabilities. It is a membership-based, nonpartisan, nongovernmental, and not-for-profit entity. It has submitted more than 100 reports since it was formed in 1991. Its reports during the year documented ethnically motivated attacks, clashes, and displacement.
The government was generally distrustful and wary of domestic and international human rights groups and observers, but that attitude and distrust appeared to be changing. State-controlled media were critical of international human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch. In August 2018 four local charities and rights organizations launched a new rights group, the Consortium of Ethiopian Rights Organizations, which focuses on advocacy for human rights groups and broader space for rights-advocacy groups to operate.
In July the former diaspora-based rights group, the Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa, began operations in the country after registering under the new CSO law. In July the Ethiopian Human Rights Project, previously an offshore rights group, returned to the country and registered as the Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy to work on rights awareness creation, monitoring and advocacy for democratization, and respect of human rights. In January the federal Charities and Societies Agency registered and licensed a newly formed local rights group, Lawyers for Human Rights.
The government denied most NGOs access to federal prisons, police stations, and other places of detention. The government did permit the JPA-PFE to visit prisoners; this organization had an exemption enabling it to raise unlimited funds from foreign sources and to engage in human rights advocacy. Some other NGOs played a positive role in improving prisoners’ chances for clemency.
Authorities limited access of human rights organizations, media, humanitarian agencies, and diplomatic missions in certain geographic areas. The government continued to lack a clear policy on NGO access to sensitive areas, leading regional government officials and military officials frequently to refer requests for NGO access to federal government authorities. Officials required journalists to register before entering sensitive areas and in some cases denied access. There were reports of regional police or local militias blocking NGO access to particular locations, in particular in locations with IDPs, for a specific period, citing security risks.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman has the authority to investigate complaints of administrative mismanagement by executive branch offices and officials, including investigation into prison conditions. The office reported to parliament that it received 853 complaints between July 2018 and January, of which 455 were outside its mandate. It opened investigations into 488 cases and found no administrative mismanagement in 262 of them. The remaining complaints were pending investigation for six months in January. Parliament’s Legal, Justice, and Democracy Affairs Standing Committee rated the performance of the office as unsatisfactory.
The EHRC conducted research on the human rights situation and investigated human rights violations in the Somali and Oromia conflicts, as well as the conflict between West Guji Zone in Oromia and the Gedeo Zone in the SNNP Region. The commission did not publicize the findings of these reports. The EHRC reported its branch office in Jijiga resumed operations in September 2018, one month after a group of youth and regional security forces attacked it during the wide-ranging violence in August 2018.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
While the government’s political transformation contributed to a reduction in the number of deaths from engagement with government forces, violence between communities and among citizens began to rise.
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and conviction provides for a penalty of five to 20 years’ imprisonment, depending on the severity of the case. The law does not expressly address spousal rape. The law generally covers violence against a marriage partner or a person cohabiting in an irregular union without specifically mentioning spousal rape. Some judges interpret this article to cover spousal rape cases, but others overlook such cases. The government did not fully enforce the law.
Domestic violence is illegal, but government enforcement of laws was inconsistent. Depending on the severity of injury inflicted, penalties for conviction range from small fines to 15 years’ imprisonment. Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, was a pervasive social problem. According to the 2016 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), 34 percent of ever-married women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 had experienced spousal physical, sexual, or emotional violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal, with punishment including imprisonment and a fine, depending on the crime. The government did not actively enforce this prohibition. The 2016 DHS stated that 65 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 were subjected to FGM/C. The prevalence of FGM/C was highest in the Somali Region (99 percent) and lowest in the Tigray Region (23 percent). It was less common in urban areas. The law criminalizes the practice of clitoridectomy and provides for three months’ imprisonment or a fine of at least 500 birr ($17) for perpetrators. Infibulation of the genitals (the most extreme and dangerous form of FGM/C) is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. According to government sources, there had never been a criminal charge regarding FGM/C, but media reported limited application of the law.
For more information, see Appendix C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Marriage by abduction is illegal, although it continued in some regions despite the government’s attempts to combat the practice. Forced sexual relationships accompanied most marriages by abduction, and women often experienced physical abuse during the abduction. Abductions led to conflicts among families, communities, and ethnic groups. In cases of abduction, the perpetrator did not face punishment if the victim agreed to marry the perpetrator.
Sexual Harassment: The penal code prescribes penalties for conviction of 18 to 24 months’ imprisonment, but authorities generally did not enforce the law. Sexual harassment was widespread.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: All federal and regional land laws empower women to access government land. Inheritance laws also enable widows to inherit joint property acquired during marriage; however, enforcement of both legal provisions was uneven. Discrimination against women was widespread. It was most acute in rural areas, where an estimated 80 percent of the population lived.
Women’s access to gainful employment, credit, and the opportunity to own or manage a business was limited by their lower levels of educational attainment and by traditional attitudes. In July parliament revised the labor law to provide for four months of maternity leave. A number of initiatives aimed at increasing women’s access to these critical economic empowerment tools.
Birth Registration: A child’s citizenship derives from the parents. The law requires registration of children at birth. Children born in hospitals were registered; most of those born outside of hospitals were not. The overwhelming majority of children, particularly in rural areas, were born at home. The government continued a campaign initiated in 2017 to increase birth registrations by advising that failure to register would result in denial of public services.
Education: The law does not make education compulsory. Primary education is universal and tuition free, but there were not enough schools to accommodate the country’s children, particularly in rural areas. The cost of school supplies was prohibitive for many families. The most recent data showed the net primary school enrollment rate was 90 percent for boys and 84 percent for girls.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was widespread. Uvula cutting, tonsil scraping, and milk-tooth extraction were among the most prevalent harmful traditional practices. The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2013, published by the African Child Policy Forum, found the government had increased punishment for sexual violence against children. “Child-friendly” benches heard cases involving violence against children and women. There was a commissioner for women and children’s affairs in the EHRC and Ombudsman’s Office.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets the legal age of marriage for girls and boys at 18. Authorities did not enforce this law uniformly, and rural families sometimes were unaware of this provision. The government strategy to address underage marriage focused on education and mediation rather than punishment of offenders. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum legal age for consensual sex is 18, but authorities did not enforce this law. The law provides for three to 15 years’ imprisonment for conviction of sexual intercourse with a minor. The law provides for one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 birr ($346) for conviction of trafficking in indecent material displaying sexual intercourse by minors. Traffickers recruited girls as young as 11 to work in brothels. Young girls were trafficked from rural to urban areas and exploited as prostitutes in hotels, bars, resort towns, and rural truck stops.
Infanticide or Infanticide of Children with Disabilities: Ritual and superstition-based infanticide, including of infants with disabilities, continued in remote tribal areas, particularly in South Omo. Local governments worked to educate communities against the practice.
Displaced Children: According to a 2010 report of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, approximately 150,000 children lived on the streets; 60,000 of them were in the capital. The ministry’s report stated the inability of families to support children due to parental illness or insufficient household income exacerbated the problem. Research in 2014 by the ministry noted rapid urbanization, illegal employment brokers, high expectations of better life in cities, and rural-urban migration were adding to the problem. These children often begged, sometimes as part of a gang, or worked in the informal sector.
In July the Oromia Region Bureau of Women, Youth, and Children’s Affairs and local police reported one incident of trafficking involving 31 IDP children. During the year protection partners received other reports of child trafficking in West and East Wellega and believed that traffickers set up a network to target IDP children.
Institutionalized Children: There were an estimated 4.5 million orphans in the country in 2012, 4.9 percent of the population, according to statistics published by UNICEF. The vast majority lived with extended family members. Governmental and privately operated orphanages were overcrowded, and conditions were often unsanitary. Institutionalized children did not receive adequate health care.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community numbered approximately 2,000 persons. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts, and the Addis Ababa Jewish community reported it felt protected by the government to practice its faith but did face limited societal discrimination.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution does not mandate equal rights for persons with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment and mandates access to buildings but does not explicitly mention intellectual or sensory disabilities. It is illegal for deaf persons to drive. The constitution provides: “The State shall, within available means, allocate resources to provide rehabilitation and assistance to the physically and mentally disabled, the aged, and to children who are left without parents or guardian.” This provision is under economic, social, and cultural rights, which mandates, not equal rights but allocating resources within available means.
The law prohibits employment discrimination based on disability and mandates affirmation action. It also makes employers responsible for providing appropriate working or training conditions and materials to persons with disabilities. When a person with disability acquires the necessary qualification and has equal or close score to that of other candidates, preference shall be given to the persons with disability during hiring. It also makes employers responsible for providing reasonable accommodation, appropriate working or training conditions and materials to persons with disabilities.
The law provides for a fine against an employer who fails to implement the law of between 2,000 and 5,000 birr ($69 and $173), and this makes the impact of the law on prohibiting employment discrimination based on disability almost zero.
The government took limited measures to enforce the law, for example, by assigning interpreters for deaf and hard-of-hearing civil service employees. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Public Servants Administration Commission were responsible for the implementation of employment laws for individuals with disabilities.
The law obliges all public buildings to have access for persons with disabilities but has no enforcement mechanism. This provision on access to public buildings only mentions those with physical impairment; it does not mention those with intellectual or sensory impairments. The law mandates building accessibility and accessible toilet facilities for persons with physical disabilities, although without specific regulations that define accessibility standards. Buildings and toilet facilities were usually not disability accessible. Property owners are required to give persons with disabilities preference for ground-floor apartments, and they generally did so.
According to a report from the UN Population Fund and the Population Council, one in every three girls with disabilities suffered at least one sexual assault. They also faced systematic and violent abuse at home and in their communities. The report stated many were blamed for being different and feared because they were seen to be under the spell of witchcraft.
Women with disabilities faced more disadvantages in education and employment. According to the 2010 Population Council Young Adult Survey, 23 percent of girls with disabilities were in school, compared with 48 percent of girls and 55 percent of boys without disabilities. Girls with disabilities also were much more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse than were girls without disabilities.
Nationally there were several schools for persons with hearing and vision disabilities and several training centers for children and young persons with intellectual disabilities. There was a network of prosthetic and orthopedic centers in five of the nine regional states.
The labor ministry worked on disability-related problems, including ensuring impartiality in employment, provision of appropriate working conditions for public servants with disability.
The country has more than 80 ethnic groups, of which the Oromo, with approximately 34 percent of the population, is the largest. The federal system drew boundaries approximately along major ethnic group lines during the early years of EPRDF rule and the drafting of the current constitution. Most political parties remained primarily ethnically based, although the ruling party and one of the largest opposition parties were coalitions of several ethnically based parties.
In January the federal attorney general filed charges against 109 individuals suspected of involvement in the ethnically motivated violence in Burayu and surrounding towns in September 2018. According to the report, police detained 81 of the suspects while continuing to search for the remaining ones.
In September 2018 unknown assailants shot and killed four security officers in the Benishangul Gumuz Region. The incident triggered identity-based attacks on ethnic-Oromo and Amhara minorities in the region’s Kamashi Zone, resulting in the deaths of at least 67 persons and the displacement of hundreds of thousands. The perpetrators reportedly carried OLF flags, but OLF officials denied any involvement in the incident.
In June police in the Amhara Region arrested Debre Markos University students suspected of killing a fellow student on May 24. According to local press, attackers beat a student from the Tigray Region to death. Both the Amhara and Tigray regional governments condemned the killing and pledged to bring all the perpetrators to justice. On June 4, an attacker killed an ethnic Amhara student from Axum University in the Tigray Region in what most assumed was retaliation for the death in Debre Markos. The Tigray regional government condemned the ethnically motivated killing and promised to do all in its capacity to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment. No law prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals. There were reports of violence against LGBTI individuals, but reporting was limited due to fear of retribution, discrimination, or stigmatization. There are no hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms to aid in the investigation of abuses against LGBTI individuals. Individuals generally did not identify themselves as LGBTI persons due to severe societal stigma and the illegality of consensual same-sex sexual activity. Activists in the LGBTI community reported surveillance and feared for their safety. There were no reports of persons incarcerated or prosecuted for engaging in same-sex sexual activities.
The AIDS Resource Center in Addis Ababa reported the majority of self-identified gay and lesbian callers, most of whom were men, requested assistance in changing their behavior to avoid discrimination. Many gay men reported anxiety, confusion, identity crises, depression, self-ostracism, religious conflict, and suicide attempts.
In May and June, Toto Tours, a Chicago-based tour company serving the LGBTI community, faced widespread backlash in the country when it advertised a 16-day “Treasures of Ethiopia” trip in October to visit a broad range of famous sites. According to the company, a flood of threats and hate messages prompted it to fill out a report on May 26 on a foreign government’s website. Average citizens called for an anti-LGBTI rally in Addis Ababa on June 9, although it did not take place. The company announced plans to cancel the tour due to the potential dangers visitors would face.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Societal stigma and discrimination against persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS continued in education, employment, and community integration. Persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS reported difficulty accessing various services. There were no statistics on the scale of the problem.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
On February 9, armed groups from the ethnic Qimant community attacked several villages near Gondar in the Amhara Region. Amhara Region officials said the nearly 300 attackers destroyed 300 houses and killed 30 persons. The violence reportedly created 50,000 new IDPs; the Amhara regional government issued a statement claiming the number of IDPs was beyond its capacity to manage. The ENDF arrested 138 persons in Western Gondar allegedly connected to the violence. Police charged 37 suspects with killings and 101 suspects with robberies during the attack. The ENDF also seized weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades, from those arrested.
Public universities witnessed violence fueled by ethnic tensions that severely interrupted the academic year in most universities.