Human Rights Watch on the Ethiopian Elections

Human Rights Watch has released a report on Ethiopia’s upcoming elections. The report joins other statements by international groups and media agencies highlighting and condemning political repression in Ethiopia. Let’s take a look at the report and then afterwards look at the broader context.

From HRW’s media release:

The Ethiopian government is waging a coordinated and sustained attack on political opponents, journalists, and rights activists ahead of the May 2010 elections, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. On May 23, 2010, Ethiopians will vote in the first parliamentary elections in Ethiopia since 2005, when the post-election period was marred by controversy and bloodshed.

The 59-page report, “‘One Hundred Ways of Putting Pressure’: Violations of Freedom of Expression and Association in Ethiopia,” documents the myriad ways in which the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has systematically punished opposition supporters. Since the 2005 polls, the party has used its near-total control of local and district administrations to undermine opponents’ livelihoods through withholding services such as agricultural inputs, micro-credit, and job opportunities. The report also documents how recently enacted laws severely restrict the activities of civil society and the media.

“Expressing dissent is very dangerous in Ethiopia,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The ruling party and the state are becoming one, and the government is using the full weight of its power to eliminate opposition and intimidate people into silence.”

As I noted above, this report echoes other complaints against the regime in Addis Ababa. VOA has protested the government’s decision to jam its radio broadcasts. And Ethiopian media groups such as the Ethiopian National Journalists’ Union feel that a new media code proposed by the National Election Board is unfair.

Given the problems outside observers perceive, The Economist writes that “the chances of a fair vote in the coming election are fast receding.” As they and other outlets note, HRW is calling upon foreign aid donors to condemn the actions of the Ethiopian regime. Flows of aid to Ethiopia’s government, some argue in the press, allow repression to continue without accountability.

The Ethiopian government’s reaction to HRW came swiftly, and with strong message discipline. In Nairobi, where HRW released the report,

the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi denied the claims and accused the agency of being used to discredit the polls.

Mr Yelibu Lijalem, the media man at the embassy said the agency released a similar report two weeks before the 2005 elections. “The reports are being written deliberately to blackmail and tarnish Ethiopia’s human rights record.”

In Addis Ababa, officials commented as well:

Government officials said the claims were ridiculous and outrageous.

Spokesman Bereket Simon told the BBC that the report was aimed at tarnishing the image of the country.


Mr Bereket dismissed the claims and said people had a constitutional right to stage demonstrations.

And Prime Minister Meles Zenawi‘s views on these issues are also known:

Mr Zenawi says that groups such as Human Rights Watch interpret human rights too narrowly. The only way to guarantee Ethiopia a free future, he argues, is to keep it stable while it continues to develop. His political calculations are straightforward. He reckons, for instance, that reporting by the Voice of America does more harm inside the country than outside criticism of his censorship.

It is interesting to me how confidently Meles Zenawi and his government attack international rights groups, even to the point of criticizing the United States. Perhaps they feel secure that aid will continue to arrive, though events in May could put that theory to the test. Washington continues to prize its relationship with Ethiopia, but some are already hinting that the US partnership with Ethiopia is no longer worth the trouble it entails. Will massive bloodshed occur in May, and if so will it prompt donors to re-evaluate their aid?

2 thoughts on “Human Rights Watch on the Ethiopian Elections

  1. Dear human rights watch
    first and formost i would like to thank u on ur statement over the 2010 so called ethiopian election.
    I think in very poor countries like Ethiopia one canno’t pridicts how things are going to be finished/resulted/
    that is why a genuine friend of the oppressed people of the world like HRW should return and follow the paths the routes on which minority
    grops like the TIGRIANS or EPRDF have been moving from the date of thier inception.
    First they have started the politics with those oppressed nations & nationalities of Ethiopia like OLF,and make these groups
    the enemy of the then rules /sympatisers/ of Ethiopia and finally when they observe that these political groups become the voice
    of thier people thy started to wage war on them and separate from thier people.By thier tactics of divide & rule they started to form
    disagreement btween these diffrent nations & nationalities and shift sides from time to time to weaken which looks strong( at one time
    they prefer the Amharas over the oromos ,somalis and other nationalites and this shifting of friend holds true in all
    time there exist confilict b/n nationalities. EPRDFS tactic is two folds at this time from those they side & they fought they pinpoint the leader
    of the conflict from the two groups and try to influence him to bring them to thier party, and at th same time they pinpoint those
    people who follow them. for all the targated leaders/ people they give the same choise that is to shift side to EPRDF if the refuse
    they will be charged in court with false documents, or labelled as terrorist or killed.
    Examples of these are OGADEN lib. Front, Oromo lib. Front, Sidama lib. Front, AREBECHOCH GEMBAR, and individuals like Dr. Birhanu Nega

    At this all time ( 19 yrs) Woyane have hired so many ethiopians aganist there will just either because they are
    poor or becuse they havebeen political incorrect by EPRDf standard and have the false document by which the ruling party can
    blackmail any time this guys start to question the situation of thier people.
    I really appreciate the stand of Ato Siye Abrha,W/o aregash & Ato Gebru Asrat for thier courage to stand against
    Woyane who is working only for the benifit of the Tigrian people( their own nationalities) and try to benifit the whole ethiopia.
    Do u belive that the old ethiopian rich people of Markato area are subistituted with new ethiopian(tigrian) billionars of Asmara road
    or Haile Gebreselase avanue high rising building owners? even the daily laboorers working in those importers of building materials like
    steel and cement were imported from tigry pepole.they might help woyane in many ways ( increase the no of woyane, work as
    a security agent , practice the business of addis to become tommros millionarie and etc).
    Now at final stage of the 2010 election the Woyane regime have clarified for himself so many things. 1. He/It/ become 100%
    shure that the ethiopian poor could be bought(bribed) with small investement as far as he wants to invest on them 2. Single
    party system can be practiced in ethiopia 3. the on going political intimidation of the opposition political parties could
    go as far as he cun buy the poor people of the country and final his groups specially yhe ADWA investors can be bellioners of the
    country as long as woyane is on power and simeltenously others who are aganist woyanes doctrine will be come poor and the equlibrum
    will be maintained with this and only this kind of dirty politics.
    Also at final stage of the 2010 election the Ethioian people signed for the coming yrs (maybe 10-20 yrs) to
    be ruled by Woyane iron fist and I beg the world to leave these to groups to do what they choose to do and only come
    again when they both return to thier true concise.


  2. We know that the objectives of Human rihts watch is mainly assisting people in strugling for their rights to be respected. However, practically i am observing that the stand of human rigths watch seems far from its objective. to mention some the current govenment of ethiopia allow citizens to be organized and form a plitical party, there apear in this country free press more than ever before, the govenment is trying to act according to the rules and principles of the constitution neverthless that a country with limited experince to exercise democracy is ovious to appear some shortcoming.

    human rights watch, i do not believe that democracy and protection of all types of human freedom/right will happen overnight becuase it demands series of period, resources, skill, education, social transformotion etc . Therefore, these are what we are looking in Ethiopia and we as ethiopians are exercising democracy to full plant wthin our society throught time and process.

    Lets come bach to the failure of opposition parties of ethiopia: 1) The failure is due to that they have indequate program that outsmart EPRDF`S., 2) They focus on matters that make people emotional, 3) most ethiopians do not develop full trust in the parties postion/stand, 4) most of them deny the overall progress of the country, 5) their movement focus on shorterm political win using shorcut tools/tactics. as a result, taking in to consideration the points mentioned it is not surprise to easily win the election for EPRDF. You as human right organiztion have an obligation to accept and respect the result of ethiopian election 2010. Becuase ethiopians have chosen EPRDF consiously.

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