Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Very few domestic human rights groups operated due to significant government restrictions during the first half of the year. The resource-challenged HRCO is the sole local, independent human rights group. It is a membership-based, nonpartisan, nongovernmental, and not-for-profit entity. With more than a hundred reports to date since its inception, HRCO remained the only nongovernmental human rights monitoring and reporting group. 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. On August 16, four local charities and rights organizations launched a new rights group, Consortium of Ethiopian Rights Organizations, which focuses on advocacy for human rights groups and broader space for rights-advocacy groups to operate.
The CSO law prohibits NGOs that receive more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources from engaging in a wide range of activities. Prohibited activities include those 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. Either local NGOs must cease advocacy work (so that they may accept funding in excess of the 10 percent limit) or register in a different area of focus not subject to this restriction. There were a few NGOs with waivers of this provision of the CSO law.
The SOE and the accompanying regulations restricted the ability of NGOs to operate. The prohibitions relating to communication and acts that undermine tolerance and unity resulted in broad 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 obligation of all organizations to give information when asked by law enforcement officers raised multiple concerns regarding confidentiality of information.
The government denied most NGOs access to federal prisons, police stations, and other places of detention. The government did permit Justice For All – Prison Fellowship Ethiopia 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 areas. The government continued to lack a clear policy on NGO access to sensitive areas and regions, 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 regions and in some cases denied access. There were reports of regional police or local militias blocking NGO access to particular locations 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 it opened investigations into 1,360 complaints from July 2017 to May. The institution determined executive bodies committed poor administrative practices in 714 of the cases. The most serious malpractices related to illegal distribution of basic food items and consumer goods that the government subsidized in Addis Ababa, SNNPR, Amhara, Oromia, and Gambella Regions. The institution also reported mismanagement in the areas of housing and construction as well as land management and compensation.
The institution presented its findings with recommendations to relevant authorities and followed up on those recommendations. While the majority of the agencies followed the recommendations and took corrective measures, 38 offices were reluctant to do so.
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 Gedeo Zone in SNNPR. The commission did not publicize the findings of these reports. The EHRC reported to local media that a group of youths and regional security forces attacked its branch office in Jijiga, Somali Region, during the wide-ranging violence the region saw on August 4. EHRC staff suffered direct attacks and their local office was burned. Officials said they believed the attackers were trying to destroy evidence of the commission’s investigation into human rights abuses in the area.