Ethiopia human rights boss raises profile amid ‘crisis’

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The last time Ethiopia held competitive elections, in 2005, lawyer Daniel Bekele was arrested during protests denouncing fraud and ended up serving more than two years in prison.

This time around, as the country prepares for landmark polls next year, Bekele is in a very different position: as head of the national human rights body tasked with ensuring Ethiopia curbs the same authoritarian tactics that once landed him behind bars.

With that goal in mind, Bekele’s Ethiopian Human Rights Commission is taking on a bigger public profile, denouncing recent abuses including the use of lethal force by soldiers and police against unarmed demonstrators.

But its statements have drawn rebukes from lawmakers and officials in Ethiopia’s restive Oromia region, highlighting challenges facing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s stated goal of empowering institutions.

In an interview with AFP, Bekele, who was appointed last year, said Ethiopia faced a “very deep human rights crisis” that shows little sign of abating.

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“Unfortunately, the political crisis is far from getting any solution, in terms of the polarisation of politics in the country and how that polarisation is unfolding along ethnic lines, along religious lines and sadly fuelling violent conflict,” he said.

“Ethiopia, it seems to me, is going through the pains of transition from repressive rule to democratic rule.”


Bekele inherited a commission that had scant credibility among international activists.

Despite unmatched access to political prisoners, for years it did little to raise awareness about abusive detention conditions, let alone improve them, said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director for Human Rights Watch.

“It was clear that there was no interest politically in giving them the space to work on sensitive or controversial topics,” she said.

The pattern persisted through protests that brought Abiy to power in 2018.

In a 2019 report, Amnesty International accused the commission of a “brazen bias against victims”.

After Abiy tapped him to lead the commission, Bekele began overhauling its staff and searching for external funding to supplement its “very tiny” annual budget of 85 million Ethiopian birr (around $2.3 million).

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It is currently finalising its first major investigation under Bekele: a look at days of turmoil that left more than 160 dead following the killing in June of pop star Hachalu Hundessa from the Oromo ethnic group.

This type of probe “needs to be led and needs to be championed by Ethiopians themselves”, said Bekele, who previously worked for both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty.

“When you have a national institution and local groups taking the lead on this, it means the work is being done by people who know the context, who know the culture, who know the language.”

Bekele’s heightened visibility coincides with worries about backsliding on human rights under Abiy, winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Source: News24

1 Comment

  1. Let’s stop fooling ourselves, Ethiopia is going though the pains because of the corrupt justice system which serves injustices rather than serving justices. Ethiopia is unable to achieve rule of law.. Adanech Abebe the former chief federal prosecutor and the current acting Deputy Mayor of Addis Ababa was said to have been blackmailing criminals, she threatened to file charges against known crime syndicates unless they gave her millions of birrs bribes to stop her from filing charges while she was a chief federal prosecutor. Sometimes if other people or if other groups file charges against known TPLFites criminals Adanech Abebe sold vital informations of the evidences being brought against the crime syndicates and she provided the accused with the identities of the witnesses who are bringing the evidences to the court, that way the witnesses DONOT make it to court to testify.

    Adanech Abebe and Meaza Ashenafi are suspected to have crippled the Ethiopian justice system , even suspected for playing parts in the deaths of Professor Mesfin Woldemariam and Engineer Simegnew Bekele. The Ethiopian justice system is the pain , not the transition from repressive to democracy because such a transition is not taking place yet, even known Ethiopian politician Lidetu Ayalew is sued by the Oromia regional government’s court and is thrown in jail regardless his fragile health conditions accused of being found in a possession of a hand gun and a document he wrote stating a road map on how to transition to democracy.

    If Ethiopia was in a transition to democracy then it is obvious any political party leader would be permitted to write his ideas on how to ease the pain of the transition to democracy but since obviously Ethiopia is not in a transition to democracy Lidetu Ayalew is condemned for writing such a document outlining how to transition. It seems the only transition Ethiopia is having is replacing Tigrayans in the federal government and the Dire Dawa government with Oromos.

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