Ethiopia is officially a federal republic. The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four ethnically based parties, controls the government. In May 2015 elections the EPRDF and affiliated parties won all 547 House of People’s Representatives seats to remain in power for a fifth consecutive five-year term. In October 2015 parliament elected Hailemariam Desalegn as prime minister. Government restrictions severely limited independent observation of the vote. A mission from the African Union, the sole international institution or organization permitted to observe the voting, called the elections “calm, peaceful and credible.” Some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported an environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place prior to the election. There were reports of unfair government tactics, including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters, and violence before and after the election that resulted in six confirmed deaths.
Civilian authorities at times did not maintain control over the security forces, and local police in rural areas and local militias sometimes acted independently.
Security forces used excessive force against protesters throughout the year, killing hundreds and injuring many more. The protests were mainly in Oromia and Amhara regions. At year’s end more than 10,000 persons were believed still to be detained. This included persons detained under the government-declared state of emergency, effective October 8. Many were never brought before a court, provided access to legal counsel, or formally charged with a crime. On June 10, the government-established Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported and presented to parliament a summary of its report. The EHRC counted 173 deaths in Oromia, including 28 of security force members and officials, and asserted that security forces used appropriate force there. The EHRC also asserted Amhara regional state special security had used excessive force against the Kemant community in Amhara Region. On August 13, the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported an estimate that security forces killed more than 500 protesters. In October the prime minister stated the deaths in Oromia Region alone “could be more than 500.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested access to Oromia and Amhara regions, which the government refused. Following dozens of deaths at a religious festival in Bishoftu on October 2, groups committed property damage. On November 9, international NGO Amnesty International reported more than 800 persons were killed since November 2015.
The most significant human rights problems were security forces’ use of excessive force and arbitrary arrest in response to the protests, politically motivated prosecutions, and continued restrictions on activities of civil society and NGOs.
Other human rights problems included arbitrary killings; disappearances; torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest, detention without charge, and lengthy pretrial detention; a weak, overburdened judiciary subject to political influence; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, including illegal searches; a lack of participatory consultations and information during the implementation of the government’s “villagization” program; restrictions on civil liberties including freedom of speech and press, internet freedom, academic freedom and of cultural events, and freedom of assembly, association, and movement; interference in religious affairs; only limited ability of citizens to choose their government; police, administrative, and judicial corruption; restrictions on activities of civil society and NGOs; violence and societal discrimination against women; female genital mutilation/cutting; abuse of children; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities, persons based on their gender identity and sexual orientation, and persons with HIV/AIDS; societal violence including violence based on ethnicity, property destruction, and the killing of security force members; and limits on worker rights, forced labor, and child labor, including forced child labor.
Impunity was a problem. The government generally did not take steps to prosecute or otherwise punish officials who committed abuses other than corruption.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports the government and its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Security forces used excessive force against protesters throughout the year, killing hundreds. The protests were mainly in Oromia and Amhara regions. A March 14 report from the independent Ethiopian NGO Human Rights Council (HRCO) covering 33 districts in Oromia from November 2015 to February 20 described more than 100 extrajudicial killings. On June 10, the government-established EHRC reported to parliament that it counted 173 deaths in Oromia, including 28 of security force members and officials, and asserted security forces used appropriate force there. The EHRC also asserted Amhara regional state special security had used excessive force against the Kemant community in Amhara Region. The EHRC did not publicly release its report. On August 13, HRW estimated security forces killed more than 500 protesters.
On August 6 and 7, security forces reportedly killed approximately 100 persons in response to demonstrations in major cities and towns across the Oromia and Amhara regions. Political opposition groups reported government forces killed more than 90 protesters in Oromia. The Amhara regional government reported seven deaths; other sources reported more than 50 were killed in Amhara Region.
Individuals reportedly arrested by security forces as part of the government’s response to protests disappeared. In a June report on the government’s response to Oromo protests, HRW reported hundreds of persons were “unaccounted for” including children.
Due to poor prison administration, family members reported individuals missing who were in custody of prison officials, but whom the families could not locate.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were reports security officials tortured and otherwise abused detainees.
In its June report, HRW reported security force members beat detainees, including minors. Security force members used wooden sticks, rubber truncheons, and whips to do so. According to the report, several students stated they were hung by their wrists and whipped, four said they received electric shocks to their feet, and two had weights tied to their testicles. Several female detainees reported security force members raped them. The report stated, “Most of the individuals interviewed by HRW who were detained for more than one month described treatment that appeared to amount to torture.”
Mistreatment reportedly occurred at Maekelawi, official detention centers, unofficial detention centers, police stations, and in Kilinto federal prison. There were reports police investigators used physical and psychological abuse to extract confessions in Maekelawi, the federal crime investigation center in Addis Ababa that often held high-profile political prisoners. Interrogators reportedly administered beatings and electric shocks to extract information and confessions from detainees. HRW reported abuses, including torture, that occurred at Maekelawi. In a 2013 report, HRW described beatings, stress positions, the hanging of detainees by their wrists from the ceiling, prolonged handcuffing, pouring of water over detainees, verbal threats, and solitary confinement. Authorities continued to restrict access by diplomats and NGOs to Maekelawi, although some NGOs reported limited access.
The United Nations reported that during the year (as of December 20) it received one allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse against Ethiopian peacekeepers for an incident alleged to have occurred during the year. The allegation, against military personnel deployed to the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, was investigated by the Ethiopian government and found to be unsubstantiated.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. There were reports that authorities beat and tortured prisoners in detention centers, military facilities, and police stations. Medical attention following beatings reportedly was insufficient in some cases. Prisoners died in fires.
The country had six federal and 120 regional prisons. During the state of emergency, effective since October 8, the government announced detention centers in Awash, Ziway, and Dilla and stated suspects could be detained at various police stations in Addis Ababa. There also were many unofficial detention centers throughout the country, including in Dedessa, Bir Sheleko, Tolay, Hormat, Blate, Tatek, Jijiga, Holeta, and Senkele. As part of the government’s response to the protests, persons were also detained in military facilities, local administration offices, and makeshift government-owned sites.
A local NGO supported model prisons in Adama, Mekelle, Debre Birhan, Durashe, and Awassa; these prisons had significantly better conditions than those in other prisons.
Pretrial detention often occurred in police station detention facilities, where conditions varied widely, but reports indicated poor hygiene and police abuse of detainees.
Physical Conditions: Authorities sometimes incarcerated juveniles with adults. Prison officials generally separated male and female prisoners, although mixing occurred at some facilities.
Severe overcrowding was common, especially in prison sleeping quarters. The government provided approximately nine birr ($0.40) per prisoner per day for food, water, and health care, although this amount varied across the country. Many prisoners supplemented this amount with daily food deliveries from family members or by purchasing food from local vendors. Other reports noted officials prevented some prisoners from receiving food from their families. Medical care was unreliable in federal prisons and almost nonexistent in regional ones. Prisoners had only limited access to potable water. Water shortages caused unhygienic conditions, and most prisons lacked appropriate sanitary facilities. Many prisoners had serious health problems but received little or no treatment. There were reports prison officials denied some prisoners access to needed medical care. In 2012 the Ministry of Health stated nearly 62 percent of inmates in jails across the country experienced mental health problems due to solitary confinement, overcrowding, and lack of adequate health-care facilities and services.
The June HRW report on government response to Oromo protests stated detainees reported overcrowding, inadequate access to food and water, and solitary confinement, including in military camps. The report stated men and women were not held in the same cells in most locations, but children were detained with adults.
Fires in prisons occurred in Gondar in December 2015, in Ambo on February 19, in Debretabor on September 1, and, on September 3, at Kilinto Prison where at least 23 inmates died.
Visitors of political prisoners and other sources reported political prisoners often faced significantly different treatment compared with other prisoners. Allegations included lack of access to proper medication or any medical treatment, lack of access to books or television, and denial of exercise time. In at least one case, when such complaints were openly raised in a court of law, the presiding judges referred the complaints to the prison administration, which had already refused to look into the complaints.
Administration: Due to the lack of transparency regarding incarceration, it was difficult to determine if recordkeeping was adequate. There were reports prisoners mistreated by prison guards did not have access to prison administrations to complain. Prisons did not have ombudspersons to respond to complaints. Legal aid clinics existed in some prisons for the benefit of prisoners, and at the regional level had good working relations with judicial, prison, and other government officials. Prison officials allowed detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship. Courts sometimes declined to hear such complaints.
The law permits prisoners to have visitors. According to the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP), a lawyer is permitted to visit only one client per day, and only on Wednesdays and Fridays. Authorities allegedly denied family members access to persons charged with terrorist activity. There were also reports authorities denied the accused visits with lawyers or with representatives of the political parties to which they belonged. In some cases police did not allow pretrial detainees access to visitors, including family members and legal counsel.
After the September 3 fire in the federal prison at Kilinto, attorneys reported visitation for several prisoners was restricted to closely prison visits by family members only. Conversations could not touch on subjects such as trials, politics, and allegations of abuse. This was reported in the prisons in Kilinto, Shewa Robit, and Ziway. These restrictions also applied to political prisoners.
Officials permitted religious observance by prisoners, but this varied by prison, and even by section within a prison, at the discretion of prison management. There were allegations authorities denied detainees adequate locations in which to pray. Prisoners could voice complaints regarding prison conditions or treatment to the presiding judge during their trials.
Independent Monitoring: During the year the International Committee of the Red Cross visited prisons throughout the country as part of its normal activities. The government did not permit access to prisons by other international human rights organizations.
Regional authorities had allowed government and NGO representatives to meet with prisoners without third parties present. By September such allowances were severely curtailed, however. Prison officials reportedly denied access to prisoners for civil society representatives and family members, including in undisclosed locations. The government-established EHRC, which is funded by parliament and subject to parliamentary oversight, monitored federal and regional detention centers and interviewed prison officials and prisoners in response to allegations of widespread human rights abuses. An NGO continued to have access to various prison and detention facilities around the country.
Improvements: The government constructed two new prisons.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the state of emergency regulations allowed law enforcement to arrest and detain individuals without a court warrant. There were thousands of reports of arbitrary arrest and detention related to protests. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained protesters, professors, university students, musicians, businesspersons, health workers, journalists, children, and others. Security forces went door-to-door after protests to conduct arrests and arbitrarily detained opposition party members and supporters, accusing them of inciting violence.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Federal Police report to the Office of the Prime Minister and are subject to parliamentary oversight. The oversight was loose. Each of the nine regions has a state or special police force that reports to regional civilian authorities. Local militias operated across the country in loose and varying coordination with regional and federal police and the military. In some cases these militias functioned as extensions of the ruling party. The military played a significant role in responding to the protests. The constitution provides for the military to perform duties assigned to it under a state of emergency.
Impunity remained a serious problem, including impunity for killings of and violence against protesters. The internal mechanisms used to investigate abuses by federal police were not known. On June 10, the government-established Ethiopian Human Rights Commission reported to parliament on the protests, stating it confirmed 173 deaths in Oromia, including 28 security force members and officials, and asserted security forces used appropriate force there. The EHRC also asserted Amhara regional state special security had used excessive force against the Kemant community in Amhara Region. The commission did not publicly release its report. The government rarely publicly disclosed the results of investigations into abuses by local security forces, such as arbitrary detention and beatings of civilians.
The government continued to support human rights training for police and army personnel. It continued to accept assistance from NGOs and the EHRC to improve and professionalize its human rights training and curriculum by including more material on the constitution and international human rights treaties and conventions.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The constitution and law require detainees be brought to court and charged within 48 hours of arrest or as soon thereafter as local circumstances and communications permit. Travel time to the court is not included in the 48-hour period. With a warrant, authorities may detain persons suspected of serious offenses for 14 days without charge and for additional and renewable 14-day periods if an investigation continues. The courts allowed security officials to continue investigations for more than 14 days without bringing formal charges against suspects.
Under the ATP police may request to detain persons without charge for 28-day periods, up to a maximum of four months, while an investigation is conducted. The law permits warrantless arrests for various offenses including “flagrant offenses.” These include offenses in which the suspect was found committing the offense, attempting to commit the offense, or just completing the offense. The ATP permits a warrantless arrest when police reasonably suspect a person has committed or is committing a terrorist act.
The law prohibits detention in any facility other than an official detention center; however, local militias and other formal and informal law enforcement entities used an unknown number of unofficial local detention centers. As part of the government’s response to the protests, persons also were detained in military facilities.
A functioning bail system was in place. Bail was not available for persons charged with terrorism, murder, treason, and corruption. In most cases authorities set bail between 500 and 10,000 birr ($22 and $444), which most citizens could not afford. The government provided public defenders for detainees unable to afford private legal counsel but only when cases went to court. There were reports that while some detainees were in pretrial detention, authorities allowed them little or no contact with legal counsel, did not provide full information on their health status, and did not allow family visits. There were reports officials held some prisoners incommunicado for weeks at a time, and civilians were also placed under house arrest for an undisclosed period of time.
The constitution requires authorities under a state of emergency to announce the names of detainees within one month of their arrest. In practice, the names of those detained under the state of emergency were generally announced. The names were not always made available within 30 days and civilians were not always able to locate the rosters of names of those imprisoned.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities regularly detained persons arbitrarily, including protesters, journalists, and opposition party members. There were thousands of reports of arbitrary arrest by security forces in response to protests. The March 14 HRCO report listed 84 individuals under “illegal detention,” with four having subsequently been released.
On March 8, authorities detained 20 students from Addis Ababa University and charged them under the criminal code with inciting the public through false rumors, holding an illegal demonstration, and encouraging the public to disobey the ATP. On August 1, the Federal First Instance Court acquitted nine of the students and reduced the charges against the 11 others, whose trial continued at year’s end.
The government continued to arbitrarily arrest journalists and those who express views that oppose the government (see section 2.a.). On March 3, federal police temporarily detained a foreign correspondent, a freelance journalist, and their translator near Awash Town. Police reportedly took their phones and identification cards and then escorted them back to Addis Ababa. On March 4, authorities released them without giving any explanation for their detention.
In December 2015 police arrested and detained former Blue Party spokesperson Yonatan Tesfaye. On May 4, the federal attorney general charged Yonatan with incitement of terrorism through posts under a pseudonym on Facebook, citing article 4 of the ATP. The court hearing the trial changed the charges to article 6, which pertains to encouragement of terrorism and carries a lesser sentence. Yonatan’s trial continued at year’s end.
There were developments in the case of three individuals detained in March 2015 at Bole International Airport while on the way to Nairobi. In mid-November a court reduced the charges against Omot Agwa Okwoy to the criminal code and dropped the charges against Ashinie Astin Titoyk, and Jemal Oumar Hojele, who were both released.
Pretrial Detention: Some detainees reported being held for several years without charge or trial. The percentage of the inmate population in pretrial detention and average length of time held was not available. Lengthy legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, and staffing shortages contributed to frequent trial delays. The state of emergency regulations allow authorities to detain a person without a court order until the end of the state of emergency.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for detainees to be informed of the nature of their arrest. It also provides persons accused or charged of a crime the ability to appeal. During the year there were no reported cases of a court ruling that a person was unlawfully detained. The law does not provide for persons who are unlawfully detained to receive compensation.
Amnesty: In September, in keeping with a long-standing tradition of issuing pardons at the Ethiopian New Year, the government released more than 12,000 prisoners, including prisoners convicted under the ATP such as Abubeker Ahmed Mohamed and other members of the Muslim Arbitration Committee. Of those, 757 were released from federal prisons and more than 11,000 from regional prisons.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, criminal courts remained weak, overburdened, and subject to political influence. The constitution recognizes both religious and traditional or customary courts.
By law accused persons have the right to a fair public trial “without undue delay”; a presumption of innocence; the right to legal counsel of their choice; the right to appeal; the right not to self-incriminate; and the right to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, cross-examine prosecution witnesses, and access government-held evidence. In practice, however, detainees did not always enjoy all these rights, and as a result, defense attorneys were sometimes unprepared to provide an adequate defense. Defendants were not always presumed innocent, able to communicate with an attorney of their choice, provided timely free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals, or provided access to government-held evidence. Defendants were often unaware of the specific charges against them until the commencement of their trials. There were reports of detainees being subjected to torture and other abuse while in detention to obtain information or confessions.
The federal Public Defender’s Office provided legal counsel to indigent defendants, but scope and quality of service were inadequate due to the shortage of attorneys, who in some cases may individually handle more than 100 cases and many more individual clients at the same time. Numerous free legal aid clinics, based primarily at universities, provided services. In certain areas of the country, the law allows volunteers, such as law students and professors, to represent clients in court on a pro bono basis.
Many citizens residing in rural areas had little access to formal judicial systems and relied on traditional mechanisms for resolving conflict. By law all parties to a dispute must agree to use a traditional or religious court before such a court may hear a case, and either party may appeal to a regular court at any time. Sharia (Islamic law) courts may hear religious and family cases involving Muslims if both parties agree to use a sharia court before going to trial. Sharia courts received some funding from the government and adjudicated a majority of cases in Somali and Afar regions, which are predominantly Muslim. Other traditional systems of justice, such as councils of elders, continued to function. Some women stated they lacked access to free and fair hearings in the traditional court system because local custom excluded them from participation in councils of elders and because of strong gender discrimination in rural areas.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
The number of political prisoners and detainees at years’ end was not known. The government detained journalists and political opposition members.
Police arrested Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of recognized political party the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), and 21 others in November and December 2015. On April 22, the attorney general charged them under the ATP. Authorities reportedly mistreated Bekele and others, including denying adequate medical care and access to visitors, including legal counsel. Their trial continued at year’s end.
Police arrested other leaders and members of political parties during the year, including Merera Gudina on November 30 (see also section 3, Elections and Political Participation, Political Parties and Political Participation).
There were further updates in the cases of 10 persons including opposition party leaders and others whom police detained in 2014. On May 10, the Federal High Court sentenced Zelalem Workagegnehu to five years and four months in prison, Tesfaye Teferi to three years and 11 months, and Solomon Girma to three years and seven months in prison. The other two defendants in the same trial, Yonatan Wolde and Bahiru Degu, were acquitted and released on April 15. Separately, the prosecution appealed the August 2015 Federal High Court acquittal of Habtamu Ayalew, Yeshiwas Assefa, Daniel Shibeshi, Abraha Desta, and Abraham Solomon. On December 2, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court’s acquittal of Habtamu Ayalew, Yeshiwas Assefa, and Abraham Solomon but remanded to the High Court the cases of Daniel Shibeshi and Abraha Desta.
There were also developments in cases of the Zone 9 blogging collective. In October 2015 the Federal High Court acquitted Natnael Feleke, Atnaf Berahane, Abel Wabella, and Soleyana Shimeles Gebremichael (in absentia) and reduced the charges against Befekadu Hailu. The prosecution’s appeal of the acquittals continued at the Supreme Court, and the Federal High Court continued to hear the trial of Befekadu Hailu. On October 4, Natnael Feleke was arrested again. He was later released on bail and charged with “inciting the public through false rumors” in relation to having made critical remarks regarding the government during a private conversation at a restaurant. On November 11, authorities arrested Befekadu Hailu again. On December 21, he was released without charge.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The law provides citizens the right to appeal human rights violations in civil court. Citizens did not file any such case during the year.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law generally requires authorities to obtain court-issued search warrants prior to searching private property, however, after the state of emergency, prior court approval for searches was suspended. In an amendment to the state of emergency provisions, security officials had to provide a reason, an official identification card, and be accompanied by someone from the community before conducting a search. The law also recognizes exceptions for “hot pursuit,” in which a suspect enters premises or disposes of items that are the subject of an offense committed on the premises, and when police have reasonable suspicion evidence of a crime punishable by more than three years of imprisonment is concealed on or in the property and that a delay in obtaining a search warrant would allow the evidence to be removed. Moreover, the ATP permits warrantless searches of a person or vehicle when authorized by the director general of the Federal Police or his designee or a police officer has reasonable suspicion a terrorist act may be committed and deems a sudden search necessary.
Opposition political party leaders and journalists reported suspicions of telephone tapping, other electronic eavesdropping, and surveillance, and they alleged government agents attempted to lure them into illegal acts by calling and pretending to be representatives of groups–designated by parliament as terrorist organizations–interested in making financial donations.
The government reportedly used a widespread system of paid informants to report on the activities of particular individuals. Opposition members, journalists, and athletes reported ruling party operatives and militia members made intimidating and unwelcome visits to their homes and offices and intimidated family members. These included entry into and searches of homes without a warrant.
There were reports authorities dismissed opposition members from their jobs and that those not affiliated with the EPRDF sometimes had trouble receiving the “support letters” from their kebeles (neighborhoods or wards) necessary to get employment (see section 3, Political Parties and Political Participation).
Security forces continued to detain family members of persons sought for questioning by the government.
The national and regional governments continued to implement the policy of Accelerated Development (informally known as “villagization”) plans in the Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’, Oromia, and Somali regions, which might include resettlement. These plans involved relocation by regional governments of scattered rural populations from arid or semiarid lands vulnerable to recurring droughts into designated communities closer to water, services, and infrastructure. The stated purposes of accelerated development were to improve the provision of government services (health care, education, and clean water), protect vulnerable communities from natural disasters and attacks, and change environmentally destructive patterns of shifting cultivation. Some observers alleged the purpose was to enable large-scale leasing of land for commercial agriculture. The government described the program as strictly voluntary. The government had scheduled to conclude the program in 2015, but decided to continue it.
International donors reported assessments from more than 18 visits to villagization sites since 2011 did not corroborate allegations of systematic, grave human rights violations. They found delays in establishing promised infrastructure and inadequate compensation. Communities and families appeared to have agreed to move based on assurances from authorities of food aid, health and education services, and land; some communities were moved before adequate basic services such as water pumps and shelter were in place in the new locations. Follow-up visits suggested the government had done little to improve consultations with affected communities, and communities were not fully informed when consenting to cede their rights for land projects.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, however the state of emergency regulations included restrictions on these rights. Authorities harassed, arrested, detained, charged, and prosecuted journalists and others perceived as critical of the government, creating an environment of self-censorship.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: The state of emergency regulations contained several prohibitions that restricted freedom of speech and expression and resulted in detention or disappearance of numerous independent voices. The regulations prohibited any covert or overt agitation and communication that could incite violence and unrest (interpreted to include the popular Oromo protest sign of raising crossed arms over one’s head), any communication with designated terrorist groups or antipeace forces, storing and disseminating text, storing and promoting emblems of terrorist groups, incitement in sermons and teaching in religious institutions to induce fear or incite conflict, speech that could incite attacks based on identity or ethnicity, exchange of information by any individual with a foreign government in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security, and any political parties from briefing journalists in a manner that is anticonstitutional and undermines sovereignty and security. Individuals self-censored as a result of these prohibitions.
Authorities arrested, detained, and harassed persons for criticizing the government. NGOs reported cases of torture of individuals critical of the government. The government attempted to impede criticism through intimidation, including continued detention of journalists and those who express critical opinions online and opposition activists, and monitoring of and interference in activities of political opposition groups. Some feared authorities would retaliate against them for discussing security force abuses. Authorities arrested and detained persons who made statements publicly or privately deemed critical of the government under a provision of the law pertaining to inciting the public through false rumors.
Press and Media Freedoms: The state of emergency prohibited listening to, watching, or reporting information from Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and Oromo Media Network.
Independent journalists reported problems using government printing presses. Access to private printing presses was scarce to nonexistent.
In Addis Ababa, nine independent newspapers and magazines had a combined weekly circulation of 70,711 copies. Four independent monthly and biweekly magazines published in Amharic and English had a combined circulation of 21,500 copies. State-run newspapers had a combined circulation of 85,500 copies. Most newspapers were printed on a weekly or biweekly basis, except state-owned Amharic and English dailies and the privately run Daily Monitor. Addis Standard magazine temporarily suspended the print edition of its publication soon after the state of emergency was declared.
Government-controlled media closely reflected the views of the government and ruling EPRDF. The government controlled the only television station that broadcast nationally, which, along with radio, was the primary source of news for much of the population. Six private FM radio stations broadcast in the capital, one private radio station broadcast in the northern Tigray Region, and at least 19 community radio stations broadcast in the regions. State-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation had the largest broadcast range in the country, followed by Fana Radio, which was reportedly affiliated with the ruling party.
The government periodically jammed foreign broadcasts. The law prohibits political and religious organizations and foreigners from owning broadcast stations.
Violence and Harassment: The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists. As of mid-December, at least 12 journalists remained in detention.
In December 2015 police detained Fikadu Mirkana, who worked as news anchor and senior reporter for Oromia State TV. He was released in April.
In December 2015 authorities detained journalist Getachew Shiferaw, editor in chief of a web-based opposition-affiliated newspaper. On May 19, authorities charged him with terrorism and his trial continued at year’s end.
The trial of two journalists affiliated with Radio Bilal whom authorities arrested in February 2015 and charged with terrorism continued at the Federal High Court.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Government harassment caused journalists to avoid reporting on sensitive topics. Many private newspapers reported informal editorial control by the government through article placement requests and calls from government officials concerning articles perceived as critical of the government. Private sector and government journalists routinely practiced self-censorship. Several journalists, both local and foreign, reported an increase in self-censorship, especially after the October 8 implementation of the state of emergency. The government reportedly pressured advertisers not to advertise in publications that were critical of the government.
National Security: The government used the ATP to suppress criticism. Journalists feared covering five groups designated by parliament as terrorist organizations in 2011 (Ginbot 7, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the OLF, al-Qaida, and al-Shabaab), citing ambiguity on whether reporting on these groups might be punishable under the law.
The government restricted and disrupted access to the internet. It periodically blocked social media sites and internet access in areas of Oromia and Amhara regions, especially during protests. At times the government blocked access throughout the country. There were credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. State-owned Ethio Telecom was the only internet service provider in the country.
On June 7, parliament passed the Computer Crime Proclamation. There were concerns its provisions were overly broad and could restrict freedom of speech and expression. This included, for example, a provision that provides for imprisonment for disseminating through a computer system any written, video, audio or any other picture that incites violence, chaos, or conflict among people, and another provision that provides for a prison sentence for intimidation.
In July officials blocked social media sites for days across the country until the national school examination concluded. The government stated blocking these sites was necessary to provide for an “orderly exam process.” In May the national exams were reportedly leaked on social media, causing the government to postpone the exams.
On August 6 and 7, the government imposed a nationwide internet blackout.
The state of emergency regulations included prohibited agitation and communication to incite violence and unrest through the internet, text messaging, and social media.
Starting in early October, the government shut down mobile access to the internet in Addis Ababa, most parts of Oromia Region, and other areas. Wired access to several social media and communication sites were also denied. These included social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber, news websites such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, and many other sites, including foreign university homepages and online shopping sites such as Amazon.
The government periodically and increasingly restricted access to certain content on the internet and blocked numerous websites, including blogs, opposition websites, and websites of Ginbot 7, the OLF, and the ONLF, and news sites such as al-Jazeera, the BBC, and RealClearPolitics. Several news blogs and websites run by opposition diaspora groups were not accessible. These included Ethiopian Review, Nazret, CyberEthiopia, Quatero Amharic Magazine, and the Ethiopian Media Forum.
Authorities monitored telephone calls, text messages, and e-mails. Authorities took steps to block access to Virtual Private Network providers that let users circumvent government screening of internet browsing and e-mail. There were reports such surveillance resulted in arrests. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 11.6 percent of the population used the internet in 2015.
In March 2015 Citizen Lab, a Canadian research center at the University of Toronto, reported on attempts in 2014 to infect the computers of U.S.-based employees of ESAT with spyware. ESAT is a diaspora-based television and radio station. According to Citizen Lab, its research suggested involvement of the government and that the attacker may have been the Ethiopian Information and Network Security Agency.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government restricted academic freedom, including student enrollment, teachers’ appointments, and curricula. Authorities frequently restricted speech, expression, and assembly on university and high school campuses. The state of emergency regulations prohibited strikes in educational institutions and closing them or damaging property, gives authorities the power to order educational institutions to take measures against any student or staff member who violates the prohibitions in the regulations, and provides law enforcement the authority to enter educational institutions and take measures to control strikes or protests.
The ruling party, via the Ministry of Education, continued to favor students loyal to the party in assignment to postgraduate programs. Some university staff members commented that students who joined the party received priority for employment in all fields after graduation.
Authorities limited teachers’ ability to deviate from official lesson plans. Numerous anecdotal reports suggested non-EPRDF members were more likely to be transferred to undesirable posts and bypassed for promotions. There were reports of teachers not affiliated with the EPRDF being summarily dismissed for failure to attend party meetings. There continued to be a lack of transparency in academic staffing decisions, with numerous complaints from academics alleging bias based on party membership, ethnicity, or religion.
A separate Ministry of Education directive prohibits private universities from offering degree programs in law and teacher education. The directive also requires public universities to align their curriculum with the ministry’s policy of a 70/30 ratio between science and social science academic programs. As a result the number of students studying social sciences and the humanities at public institutions continued to decrease; private universities focused heavily on the social sciences.
Reports indicated a pattern of surveillance and arbitrary arrests of Oromo university students based on suspicion of their holding dissenting opinions or participation in peaceful demonstrations. According to reports there was an intense buildup of security forces (uniformed and plainclothes) embedded on university campuses preceding student protests, especially in Oromia, and in response to student demonstrations.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly; the state of emergency regulations, however, prohibited demonstrations and town hall meetings that did not have approval from the command post, the entity that oversees the state of emergency. The government did not respect freedom of assembly and killed, injured, detained, and arrested numerous protesters throughout the year (see also sections 1.a., 1.b., 1.c., 1.d., and 1.e.). The majority of protests were in Oromia and Amhara regions. On August 13, HRW reported an estimate that security forces killed more than 500 protesters since November 2015. On January 21 and October 10, UN experts called on the government to end the “crackdown on peaceful protests.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested access to the regions, which the government did not provide. On November 9, Amnesty international estimated at least 800 had been killed.
On August 6 and 7, security forces reportedly killed approximately 100 persons in response to simultaneous demonstrations in major cities and towns across Oromia and Amhara regions (see section 1.a).
On October 2, dozens were reportedly killed at a religious festival in Bishoftu. Security forces’ response to agitation in the crowd, including the use of teargas and firing into the air, reportedly led to a stampede that left many dead. On October 7, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) called for an investigation and urged the government allow independent observers access to Oromia and Amhara regions. On October 10, a group of UN human rights experts highlighted the October 2 events and urged the government to allow an international commission of inquiry to investigate the protests and violence used against protesters since November 2015. The government-established EHRC conducted an investigation into the incident. The results of that investigation were unknown.
Prior to the state of emergency, organizers of public meetings of more than two persons or demonstrations had to notify the government 48 hours in advance and obtain a permit. Authorities could not refuse to grant a permit but could require the event be held at a different time or place for reasons of public safety or freedom of movement. If authorities determined an event should be held at another time or place, the law required organizers be notified in writing within 12 hours of the time of submission of their request. After the state of emergency, prior-issued permits were deemed invalid.
Prior to the state of emergency, the government denied some requests by opposition political parties to hold protests but approved others. Opposition party organizers alleged government interference in most cases, and authorities required several of the protests be moved to different dates or locations from those the organizers requested. Protest organizers alleged the government’s claims of needing to move the protests based on public safety concerns were not credible. Local government officials, almost all of whom were affiliated with the EPRDF, controlled access to municipal halls, and there were many complaints from opposition parties that local officials denied or otherwise obstructed the scheduling of opposition parties’ use of halls for lawful political rallies. There were numerous credible reports owners of hotels and other large facilities cited internal rules forbidding political parties from utilizing their spaces for gatherings. Regional governments, including the Addis Ababa regional administration, were reluctant to grant permits or provide security for large meetings. After the state of emergency, the prohibition on unauthorized demonstrations or town hall meetings limited the organization of meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings. For example, members of at least one opposition political party reported they were prevented from having a four-person meeting.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
Although the law provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity, the government severely limited this right (see sections 3 and 5).
The state of emergency and the accompanying regulations restricted the ability of organizations to operate (see also section 5). The prohibitions relating to communication and acts that undermine tolerance and unity resulted in self-censorship of reports and public statements. The prohibition on unauthorized town hall meetings limited the organization of meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings. The prohibition on exchanging information or contact with a foreign government or NGOs in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security reduced communication between local organizations and international organizations and others.
The state of emergency regulations also prohibited any political party “from briefing local or foreign journalists in a manner that is anticonstitutional and undermining sovereignty and security.”
The Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO) law bans anonymous donations to NGOs. All potential donors were therefore aware their names would be public knowledge. The same was true concerning all donations made to political parties.
A 2012 report by the UN special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association stated, “The enforcement of these (the CSO law) provisions has a devastating impact on individuals’ ability to form and operate associations effectively.”
International NGOs seeking to operate in the country had to submit an application via the country’s embassies abroad, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs then submitted to the Charities and Societies Agency for approval.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
Although the law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the state of emergency regulations restricted internal movement. The government also restricted freedom of internal movement and foreign travel.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. At times authorities or armed groups limited the ability of humanitarian organizations to operate in areas of insecurity, such as on the country’s borders.
In-country Movement: The state of emergency regulations prohibited diplomats from travelling more than 25 miles outside of Addis Ababa without prior notification to and approval from the command post. The government lifted this restriction in early November. Security concerns forced a temporary halt of deliveries of food and other humanitarian assistance in limited areas in Amhara and Oromia regions.
Foreign Travel: A 2013 ban on unskilled workers travelling to the Middle East for employment continued. The ban did not affect citizens travelling for investment or other business reasons. The government stated it issued the ban to prevent harassment, intimidation, and trauma suffered by those working abroad, particularly in the Middle East, as domestic employees.
There were several reports of authorities restricting foreign travel, similar to the following case: On March 23, National Intelligence and Security Service officials at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa prevented Merera Gudina, chairman of the OFC, from departing the country. On June 15, Merera was permitted to leave. Authorities arrested him on December 1.
Authorities restricted travel of persons in the Zone 9 case. For example, authorities confiscated blogger Zelalem Kibret’s passport in November 2015 and prevented him from boarding his international flight. Airport security officials said he could not leave the country because he had previously been arrested. Authorities returned Zelalem’s passport on June 1, and he was later permitted to travel abroad.
Exile: As in past years, citizens including journalists and others remained abroad in self-imposed exile due to fear of government retribution should they return.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), there were 684,064 IDPs between August 2015 and August, including protracted and new cases, many of them due to the impact of the El Nino weather phenomenon. This was an increase compared with previous years.
Of the IDPs, 397,296 were displaced by flooding and conflict while 188,244 were displaced due to the effects of the drought related to El Nino. Another 33,300 were displaced due to resource-based competition. Most of those affected by El Nino returned to their places of origin.
IOM estimated 657, 224 individuals were considered “protracted IDPs,” meaning they lacked durable solutions such as local integration, internal resettlement, or return to home. The reasons for protracted displacements included interclan and cross-border conflict, natural disasters, political or community considerations in IDP resettlements, and lack of resettlement resources. Of these IDPs, 283,092 resided in Somali Region; 148,482 in Afar; 144,295 in Oromia; 47,950 in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region; 13,245 in Amhara; 2,290 in Dire Dawa; and 2,055 in Harar. An additional 15,815 individuals displaced by flooding were still on the move and thus could not be attributed to any one region.
IOM reported in August 41,316 individuals or 7,844 households were internally displaced in Amhara, Oromia, and Somali regions, due to conflict and flooding. From August 24 through mid-September, approximately 8,000 individuals moved from Amhara Region to northwestern Tigray Region. Many of the IDPs cited as the reason for their departure recent conflicts in the region and a generalized sense they could be targeted because of their ethnicity (Tigrayan). The federal government allocated six million birr ($266,361) to Tigray Region for the IDP response. The funds were distributed among Hemera, Axum, Mekele, and Shire, which were the towns with the greatest IDP influx. The largest volume of arrivals was in Shire, which received 2.6 million birr ($115,423) of the region’s total. The federal government established a committee led by the Tigray Regional Agriculture Department to seek permanent integration options for the IDPs.
The IOM estimated an April 15 attack in Gambella Region by Murle ethnic group from South Sudan displaced more than 21,000 individuals (see section 6, Other Societal Violence or Discrimination).
The government, through the Disaster Risk Management Food Security Sector (DRMFSS), continued to play an active role in delivering humanitarian assistance to IDPs. Federal and local DRMFSS officials coordinated with IOM and its partners in monitoring IDP populations.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The state of emergency regulations prohibited entering the country without a visa.
According to UNHCR, the country hosted 743,732 refugees as of August. The majority of refugees were from South Sudan (281,612) and Somalia (254,277), with others from Eritrea (161,615), Sudan (39,317), and other countries. There were 1,554 registered Yemeni asylum seekers.
UNHCR, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, and humanitarian agencies continued to care for Sudanese arrivals fleeing from conflict in Sudan’s Blue Nile State, averaging 1,500 new arrivals per month, according to UNHCR. The government also extended support to asylum seekers from South Sudan, mostly arriving from Upper Nile and Unity states. Persistent conflict and food insecurity prompted the flow of South Sudanese refugees into the country; there were an estimated 2,712 arrivals during August.
Eritrean asylum seekers continued to arrive. Approximately 23 percent were unaccompanied minors. Many who arrived regularly departed for secondary migration through Egypt and Sudan to go to Europe and other final destinations.
Freedom of movement: The state of emergency regulations prohibited leaving refugee camps without permission from an authorized body. The government continued a policy that allowed some Eritrean refugees to live outside a camp. The government gave such permission primarily for persons to attend higher-education institutions, undergo medical treatment, or avoid security threats at the camps.
Employment: The government does not grant refugees work permits.
Durable Solutions: The government welcomed refugees to settle in the country but did not offer a path to citizenship or provide integration. The government supported a policy allowing some refugees to live outside camps and engage in informal livelihoods. Refugee students who passed the required tests could attend university with fees paid by the government and UNHCR.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. The ruling party’s electoral advantages, however, limited this ability.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In May 2015 the country held national elections for the House of People’s Representatives, the country’s parliamentary body. In October 2015 parliament re-elected Hailemariam Desalegn prime minister.
In the May 2015 national parliamentary elections, the EPRDF and affiliated parties won all 547 seats, giving the party a fifth consecutive five-year term. Government restrictions severely limited independent observation of the vote. The African Union was the sole international organization permitted to observe the elections. Opposition party observers accused local police of interference, harassment, and extrajudicial detention. Independent journalists reported little trouble covering the election, including reports from polling stations. Some independent journalists reported receiving their observation credentials the day before the election, after having submitted proper and timely applications. Six rounds of broadcast debates preceded the elections, and for the most part they were broadcast in full and only slightly edited. The debates included all major political parties. Several laws, regulations, and procedures implemented since the 2005 national elections created a clear advantage for the EPRDF throughout the electoral process. In addition the “first past the post” provision, or 50 percent plus one vote required to win a seat in parliament, as stipulated in the constitution, contributed to EPRDF’s advantage in the electoral process. There were reports of unfair government tactics, including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters. Various reports confirmed at least six election-related deaths during the period before and immediately following the elections. The National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) is politically dependent on the prime minister, and there is no opportunity for nonruling political parties to have a say in its decisions concerning party registration and candidate qualification. NEBE has sole responsibility for voter education and broadcast radio segments and distributed manuals on voter education in many local languages.
In a preliminary election assessment, the African Union called the elections “calm, peaceful, and credible” and applauded the government for its registration efforts. It raised concerns, however, regarding the legal framework underpinning the election. NEBE registered more than 35 million voters, and did not report any incidents of unfair voter registration practices.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The government, controlled by the EPRDF, unduly restricted political parties and members of certain ethnic groups, particularly the Amhara and Oromo, who stated they lacked genuine political representation at the federal level. The state of emergency regulations restricted political parties’ ability to operate. For example, the regulations prohibit any political party “from briefing local or foreign journalists in a manner that is anticonstitutional and undermining sovereignty and security.”
Authorities arrested and prosecuted political opposition members including under allegations of terrorism (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners). Government officials alleged many members of legitimate Oromo opposition parties were secretly OLF members and, more broadly, that members of many opposition parties had ties to Ginbot 7.
The OFC reported that authorities have kept OFC general secretary Bekele Nega under house arrest since December 30, 2015. Security personnel reportedly told him not to leave his house in Addis Ababa, use his phone, or give any interviews to media. Authorities also arrested other OFC leaders and members including Merera Gudina and Bekele Gerba (see section 1.e., Denial of Fair Public Trial, Political Prisoners and Detainees).
On October 11, authorities arrested Blen Mesfin and three other members of the registered Blue (Semayawi) Party. Blen Mesfin was charged with “inciting the public through false rumors.” Authorities ordered her release on bail. On the day scheduled for her release, authorities rearrested and detained her without charge. She was released on December 21, although it was unclear whether she still faced charges.
Constituent parties of the EPRDF conferred advantages upon their members; the parties directly owned many businesses and were broadly perceived to award jobs and business contracts to loyal supporters. Several opposition parties reported difficulty in renting homes or buildings in which to open offices, citing visits by EPRDF members to the property owners to persuade or threaten them not to rent property to these parties. There were reports authorities terminated the employment of teachers and other government workers who belonged to opposition political parties. According to Oromo opposition groups, the Oromia regional government continued to threaten to dismiss opposition party members, particularly teachers, from their jobs. There were reports unemployed youths not affiliated with the ruling coalition sometimes had trouble receiving the “support letters” from their wards necessary to get jobs.
Registered political parties must receive permission from regional governments to open and occupy local offices. Opposition parties reported difficulty acquiring the required permissions for regional offices, adversely affecting their ability to organize and campaign. Laws requiring parties to report “public meetings” and obtain permission for public rallies were also used to inhibit opposition activities.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws prevented women or minorities from voting or participating in political life, although highly patriarchal customs in some regions limited female participation in political life. Women were significantly underrepresented in both elected and appointed positions. As of the October change in cabinet assignments, women held three of the 22 federal government ministerial positions, including one of three deputy prime minister positions, and also held 212 of 547 seats in the national parliament. The Tigray Regional Council included the highest proportion of women nationwide, at 50 percent (76 of the 152 seats).
The government’s policy of ethnic federalism led to the creation of individual constituencies intended to provide for representation of all major ethnic groups in the House of Federation (one of the two chambers of parliament). There were more than 80 ethnic groups, and small groups lacked representation in the other chamber of parliament, the House of People’s Representatives.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. Despite the government’s prosecution of some officials for corruption, many officials continued to engage in corrupt practices with impunity. Although the government cited fighting corruption as a high priority in its public statements, there were perceptions corruption increased in the government.
Corruption: Corruption, especially the solicitation of bribes, including police and judicial corruption, remained problems. Some government officials were thought to manipulate the land allocation process, and state- and party-owned businesses received preferential access to land leases and credit. The federal attorney general was mandated to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.
The government attributed some of the unrest in Oromia to corruption. For example, on June 9, authorities detained Zelalem Jemaneh, former head of the Oromia Regional State Agriculture Bureau with the rank of deputy chief administrator, on allegations of corruption.
The trial of Wondimu Biratu Kena’a, former head of the Revenues Bureau of Oromia Region who was arrested in August 2015 on allegations of grand corruption and embezzlement, continued at year’s end.
On May 17, the High Court sentenced former intelligence deputy chief Woldeselassie Woldemichael, who authorities arrested in 2013, to 10 years in prison and a fine of 50,000 birr ($2,220) after convicting him of abuse of power and generation of wealth from unknown sources.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires all government officials and employees to register their wealth and personal property. The law includes financial and criminal sanctions for noncompliance. The president and prime minister registered their assets. The Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (FEACC) reported it registered the assets of 26,584 appointees, officials, and employees between July 2015 and April. The commission also carried out reregistration of previously registered assets in the stated period. As of November 2015, 95,000 officials had registered their assets as required by law.
The FEACC held financial disclosure records. By law any person who seeks access to these records may make a request in writing; access to information on family assets may be restricted unless the FEACC deems the disclosure necessary.
Public Access to Information: The law provides for public access to government information, but access was largely restricted. The law includes a narrow list of exceptions outlining the grounds for nondisclosure. Responses generally must be made within 30 days of a written request, and fees may not exceed the actual cost of responding to the request. The law includes mechanisms for punishing officials for noncompliance, as well as appeal mechanisms for review of disclosure denials. Information on the number of disclosures or denials during the year was not available.
The government publishes laws and regulations in its national gazette, known as the Federal Negarit Gazeta, prior to their taking effect. The Government Communications Affairs Office managed contacts between the government, the press, and the public; the private press reported the government rarely responded to its queries.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A few domestic human rights groups operated but with significant government restrictions. The government was generally distrustful and wary of domestic and international human rights groups and observers. State-controlled media were critical of international human rights groups such as HRW.
The CSO law prohibits charities, societies, and associations (NGOs or CSOs) that receive more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources from engaging in activities that advance human and democratic rights or promote equality of nations, nationalities, peoples, genders, and religions; the rights of children and persons with disabilities; conflict resolution or reconciliation; or the efficiency of justice and law enforcement services. The law severely curtails civil society’s ability to raise questions of good governance, human rights, corruption, and transparency and forced many local and international NGOs working on those issues to either cease advocacy, or reregister and focus on activities other than rights-based advocacy.
Some human rights defender organizations continued to register either as local charities, meaning they could not raise more than 10 percent of their funds from foreign donors but could act in the specified areas, or as resident charities, which allowed foreign donations above 10 percent but prohibited advocacy activities in those areas.
The state of emergency and the accompanying regulations restricted the ability of organizations to operate. The prohibitions relating to communication and acts that undermine tolerance and unity resulted in self-censorship of reports and public statements. The prohibition on unauthorized town hall meetings limited the organization of meetings, training sessions, and other gatherings. The prohibition on exchanging information or contact with a foreign government or NGOs in a manner that undermines national sovereignty and security reduced communication between local organizations and international organizations and others. Curfews in certain areas impeded human rights investigations. The obligation of all organizations to give information when asked by law enforcement raised concerns regarding confidentiality of information.
In July, August, and October, authorities arrested seven members of HRCO. On October 23, authorities dispersed a fundraising event celebrating HRCO’s 25th anniversary. Authorities claimed the organization did not seek additional approval from the command post for the gathering, though it had sought and received approval for the event prior to the start of the state of emergency. As of November 27, at least three members of HRCO remained in detention.
The government denied most NGOs access to federal prisons, police stations, and undisclosed places of detention. The government permitted a local NGO that has an exemption enabling it to raise unlimited funds from foreign sources and to engage in human rights advocacy to visit prisoners. Some 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 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 the federal government. Officials required journalists to register before entering certain regions or denied access. There were reports of regional police or local militias blocking NGO access to particular locations on particular days, citing security concerns.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government did not cooperate with requests for investigations from the OHCHR or UN experts. In August the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the government to allow independent observers into Oromia and Amhara regions. The commissioner reportedly said allegations of excessive use of force across the two regions must be investigated. The government dismissed the request through its spokesperson, who, on August 11, told an international media the United Nations was entitled to its opinion, but the government was responsible for the safety of its own citizens. The spokesperson stated the government would launch its own investigation. On October 7, following the deaths at the religious festival in Bishoftu, the OHCHR reiterated the request the government allow independent observers access to Oromia and Amhara regions. On October 10, a group of UN human rights experts urged the government to allow an international commission of inquiry to investigate.
Requests from the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment to visit the country remained unanswered.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The EHRC reportedly investigated hundreds of human rights complaints, organized field investigations, conducted prison visits to provide recommendations on improving prison conditions, and produced annual and thematic reports. On June 10, the EHRC reported to parliament that it counted 173 deaths in Oromia, including 28 of security force members and officials, and asserted security forces used appropriate there. The EHRC also asserted Amhara regional state special security had used excessive force against the Kemant community in Amhara Region. The commission did not publicly release its report. The EHRC also investigated the September 3 fire in Kilinto prison. The commission operated 112 legal aid centers in collaboration with 22 universities and two civil society organizations, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers’ Association, and the Ethiopian Christian Lawyers Fellowship.
The Office of the Ombudsman has authority to investigate complaints of administrative mismanagement by executive branch offices. From July 2015 to June, the office received 2,849 complaints; the ombudsman opened investigations into 1,231 (including 209 cases from the previous year) and referred 1,827 cases outside its mandate to other offices. Of the 1,231 cases the office investigated, it reported resolving 1,010 (82 percent); 221 remained pending. The majority of complaints investigated dealt with land, administration of public service, delay in service delivery, unjust decisions, social security, and access to information.