Ethiopia

Executive Summary

Ethiopia is a federal republic. The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four ethnically based parties, controls the government. In the 2015 general elections, the EPRDF and affiliated parties won all 547 House of People’s Representatives (HPR – parliament) seats to remain in power for a fifth consecutive five-year term. On February 14, former prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn announced his resignation to accelerate political reforms in response to demands from the country’s increasingly restive youth. On February 15, the government declared a State of Emergency (SOE) in response to growing unrest and political uncertainty. During the SOE a Command Post under the direction of the minister of defense held broad powers that, while constitutionally granted, infringed upon human rights by expanding authorities to detain individuals, restrict speech, and restrict movement. On April 2, the parliament selected Abiy Ahmed Ali as prime minister to lead broad reforms.

It was widely reported that civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over regional security forces. Rural local police and militias sometimes acted independently and extrajudicially. A strong trend toward increased respect for rule of law began under Abiy.

Abiy’s assumption of office was followed by positive changes in the human rights climate. The government decriminalized political movements that had been accused of treason in the past, invited opposition leaders to return to the country and resume political activities, allowed peaceful rallies and demonstrations, enabled the formation and unfettered operation of new political parties and media outlets, continued steps to release thousands of political prisoners, and undertook revisions of repressive laws. On June 5, the parliament voted to lift the SOE.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by security forces and between citizens; forced disappearances by some government forces; torture; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention by security forces; political prisoners; interference with privacy; censorship and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive nongovernmental organization laws; and significant restrictions on freedom of movement; violence against women and children, in part due to government inaction; criminalization of same-sex sexual conduct; and child labor, including worst forms. Both the number and severity of these human rights issues diminished significantly under Abiy’s administration, and in some cases they were no longer an issue by the end of the year.

The government at times did not take steps to prosecute officials who committed human rights abuses, resulting in impunity for violators. The government took positive steps toward greater accountability under Abiy to change the relationship between security forces and the population. In August the federal government arrested former Somali regional president Abdi Mohamoud Omar on human rights grounds. On June 18, the prime minister spoke to the nation and apologized on behalf of the government for decades of mistakes and abuse he said amounted to terrorist acts.

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future