Each year on the 15 September, the world celebrates the International Day of Democracy, highlighting the global importance of maintaining democratic values for nations and peoples. As one of its fundamental principles, UNPO is committed in advocating and supporting democracy around the world. Democracy is a form of government by and for the people, where freedom of expression, protection of human rights and rule of law ensure that all its citizens are treated equally. For many nations and peoples, however, autocratic governments not only fail to uphold democratic values but also are the very perpetrators of gross and systematic human rights violations. On this day, the international community turns its attention to victims of undemocratic governments and reflect on what can be done to advocate for inclusive, participatory, representative, accountable and transparent political systems.
On this year’s International Democracy Day, UNPO would like to draw particular attention to the case of Ethiopia, where despite its complete lack of democratic setup, the country is generally hailed as an African democratic role model and a beacon of stability in an otherwise troubled region. Aiming to raise awareness of the human rights abuses in Ethiopia committed by the authoritarian Tigray-dominated regime, Mr Abdirahman Mahdi, the leading representative of the Ogaden People’s Rights Organization and UNPO Vice-President, spoke today [15 September 2016] at the 33rd United Nations Human Rights Council on behalf of the Nonradical Party, Transnational and Transparty.
In his speech, Mr. Mahdi highlighted that “while Ethiopia, in theory, has a federalist constitution that guarantees wide-ranging autonomy for the nations-based federal states and equal participation in national politics – in practice almost all the nations have no real say in political, economic and military affairs, instead these fall under the sole control of a Tigray-dominated elite, who does not shy away from using excessive violence”.
Ethiopia is but one case of many governments that adopt features to portray itself as democratic to the international community when, in reality, the complete opposite is true. The Ethiopian government has denied its people all the fundamental democratic rights promulgated in its constitution. Elections are consistently rigged and external observers are banned from coming to Ethiopia to monitor them. Armed and security forces extend their reach through all levels all society while trying to showcase to the world that a federal system has ensured the right to self-determination to its ethnic groups, as stated in the constitution.
However, 500 people were killed since November 2015 in various protests, including the most recent protests outside of Qilinti jail against the detention of Oromo politicians and activists which, according to Mr. Mahdi, is “the latest evidence of the readiness of the government to exert brute force against civilians”. Systematic use of rape as a weapon by the Ethiopian army and paramilitary forces as a way to exercise total control through fear and violence was also highlighted by Mr Mahdi in his speech at the HRC. In addition to systematic persecution, the victims of the Ethiopian regime are silenced due to the criminalization of free speech, impeding the news of their plight to be widespread throughout the international community. Journalists from abroad are banned access and local journalists are jailed, while NGOs on the ground are forbidden to report the facts.
Against this background, recently the Oromo athlete Feyisa Lilesa’s powerful gesture of resistance at the 2016 Rio Olympics brought much-needed media attention to the plight of the people of Oromia and Ethiopia in general. Equally, the European Commission’s decision not to send money from its Emergency Fund to Ethiopia in consideration of the serious violations of freedom of speech and right to protest in Oromia contributed to drawing the international community’s attention to the lack of democracy in Ethiopia.