DECEMBER 10 – INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS DAY
With a status of customary international law regarded as a “Golden Rule Man to Achieve”, the UDHR is one of the five major United Nations’ legal instruments that exist to define and guarantee the protection of human rights across the globe. As this Declaration is a manifesto with primarily moral authority, the two International Covenants (CESCR and CCPR) of 1966 are treaties binding on the UN member states which ratified them. There are also two protocols which are optional mechanisms to implement particularly the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. All these five legal instruments of the UN together constitute the International Bill of Human Rights.
It’s currently reported that there are more than 185 nations now in the UN of which most of them have incorporated the UDHR into their constitutions. Rhetorically, this is one step forward by itself but practically gross violations of human writes are still reported in many of these countries. In light of human right groups, such member states use the declaration merely to decorate their constitutions. It is perhaps to attract donors in case of poor countries and maybe manifestation of hypocrisy to the rich.
While I am writing this note, fore instance, I have been referring to Amnesty International website. Its front page bears an article with a title “Write for Rights – This Year’s Cases”. According to the article, AI has committed itself this year to shining a light on 15 selected cases covering a range of issues including Freedom of Expression, Justice, Indefinite Detention, Youth Activism, Women’s Rights, and Right to Housing. These are observed, in one form or another, in countries like China, USA, Mexico, Iran, Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, North Korea, etc.
Please note that AI is pleading with all concerned to Celebrate International Human Rights day on December 10 of this year by standing in solidarity with those suffering human rights abuses. It is urging us to take action on one or more of those 15 cases demanding that the rights of the abused are respected, protected and fulfilled and help them change lives.
Those abused individuals whose experiences, names and photos provided in the mentioned article are composed of different social sectors. AI appreciates them for they know the prize of liberty and are seeking greater freedom in their respective countries for which they are arbitrarily arrested, intimidated, tortured, and charged with concocted offences usually to be followed by politically motivated court rulings. For further clarity, allow me to mention only three of the 15 cases:
- Jabbar Savalan has been arrested by police for posting a Facebook message calling for protest against the government of Azerbaijan. He was hit and intimidated by the police while questioning him without a lawyer to make him sign a confession. Authorities in Azerbaijan have a history of using trumped-up drug charges to jail those seen as critical of the government. AI believes the charges against Jabbar were fabricated, and considers him a prisoner of conscience.
- Liu Xiaobo, prominent scholar, human rights defender and winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, has been languishing in prison for seeking for political and legal reforms in China. His written articles that criticize corruption, censorship and one-party rule in China are considered by court as an act of “inciting subversion of state power, rumor mongering, slander and smear” that exceeded the limits of freedom of expression.
- Jalila al-Salman and Issa Mahdi Abu Dheeb are teachers by profession and trade unionists by activity, serving as vice-president and president of Bahrain Teachers’ Association (BTA). They were detained after their association reportedly supported a teacher strike amid wide scale pro-reform protests in Bahrain. They had been charged with a variety of offences, including ‘inciting hatred towards the regime, calling to over through the regime by force, calling on parents not to send their children to school, calling on teachers to participate in strike and demonstration.’ AI believes Jalila and Issa may have been arrested utterly for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and association.
As an experienced defender of human and trade union rights, I believe I would be able to witness that quite similar violations of human rights stated above are being committed in identical fashion here in Ethiopia, a country claiming a success in adopting the UDHR into its constitution. Among many other cases, just recently, for example, 5 journalists have been detained and three others forced to exile. Many more opposition leaders or supporters are languishing in prison. It is reported that some of these prisoners are mistreated in prison by police and security agents to force them confess crimes associated with terrorism. In my view, this is a replica of ‘a history of using trumped-up drug charges to jail those seen as critical of the government’ in Azerbaijan.
The most ridiculous episode is that, before their arrest and while their court case is in progress, the big bosses in power including the PM and government controlled mass media are intensively propagating against these suspected detainees and their organizations. This is in breach of the law of the land with a provision “a person is free till proven guilty”. Hence it seems that the court proceeding is a matter of formality as the judges supposed to deliver fair verdict could hardly ignore those politically motivated propagandas of the government.
Furthermore, despite the fact that Ethiopia ratified (in 1963) ILO conventions on the rights to organization (No. 87) and collective bargaining (No. 98), the newly introduced legislations like Registrations and Regulations of Charities and Societies are restricting the implementations of these conventions. More specifically, the CSA (Charities and Societies Agency) has restricted the space for independent civic society organizations particularly those whose objectives focus on the issues like justice, democracy, good governance, human and trade union rights in Ethiopia. According to its establishing proclamation (No. 621/2009), the Agency is fully entitled to interfere in the internal affairs of any civic organizations. For its amendment, government authorities are not willing to listen to people they are supposed to serve. They rather take any public complain as an inflammatory to their regime. Hence they stick to using political intrigues or excessive force to stifle opponents or get rid of critics instead of seeking for solutions. That is why staging a demonstration or calling strike may end up in arbitrary dismissal or mass arrest or even extrajudicial killings in Ethiopia. No room has been left for citizens to compromise or express their grievances at least to obtain timely relief. Presumably, such suppressions and lack of good governance might be the major cause for a young schoolteacher called Yenenew Gebre to burn himself to death in public about a month ago in the southern part of the country.
Dear friends of Ethiopia,
As a result of the newly introduced legislations together with lack of good governance and absence of independent judiciary system in the country, genuine trade unions, popular NGOs, and various civic organizations which want to act independently are forced to cease their existence in a manner it happened to former ETA which is now replaced by government sponsored new ETA. HRCO is also nearly on the verge to collapse for good unless its supporters react in favour very swiftly. It is now merely striving to survive the slow death. Thus HRCO is desperate to get all-round public support as soon as possible.
It is profoundly worth noting that, as many of you are aware or have heard of EHRCO, ever since its foundation (10 October 1991), it has accomplished a lot of wonderful tasks with extra ordinary courage and capability. It has committed itself to monitoring and defending human rights, exposing human right violations and raising citizens’ awareness by producing and dispatching relevant publications and organizing panel discussions to encourage them to seek for greater freedom in their country for which it has won a magnificent public popularity and credibility both within and abroad.
The Ethiopian government authorities are not pleased with this remarkable achievement of EHRCO. Their suppression is intensified particularly as of 2005 national election. They want to get rid of it or weaken it to the last. To this end, exceeding the limits of its jurisdiction, the CSA has currently frozen EHRCO’s bank asset for no acceptable reason. The case was taken to court but with no avail. Due to shortage of finance, 9 of its regional branch offices have been closed down. It has now remained with the head office in Addis Ababa and only three functioning branch offices in regions. On pretext that it does not have representatives in 5 or more regions of the 9 regional states, EHRCO has been deprived of its right to use the qualifier word ‘Ethiopian’ with its name. It has been obliged to rename itself as HRCO. Given the nature of the justice system in Ethiopia, it is unlikely to expect the execution of high standard of justice that could resolve all these issues very shortly.
HRCO, therefore, has been left with just one option. That is to urge its members to pay their membership due on time and simultaneously plea with all peace loving community to financially support it. For this purpose, tonight, the HRCO Executive Board in collaboration with German Embassy in Addis has organized a fund raising drive. I as human right activist, on behalf of the Executive Board and myself, would politely like to invite you to take part in this fund raising drive of HRCO tonight.
I thank you for listening.