The UN’s human rights chief has used a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council to criticise Ethiopia for a recent crackdown on opposition which has included the kidnapping and sentencing to death of a British man, Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege.
Speaking this morning at the opening session of the Council, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said: “While Ethiopia has made impressive gains in terms of economic development, we are deeply concerned about repeated allegations of excessive and lethal use of force against protestors, enforced disappearances, and mass detentions, including of children, as well as by worrying restrictions on civil society, the media and opposition.”
The High Commissioner said it was “mystifying” that the Ethiopian government refused to allow his office access to parts of the country where human rights abuses – including the recent shooting of protestors – have been alleged.
Among the victims of a recent crackdown on dissent in Ethiopia is Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege, a British father of three who is held under a sentence of death, handed down in absentia in 2009. Mr Tsege was kidnapped from an international airport in June 2014 and ‘rendered’ to Ethiopia, where he has been held ever since.
International human rights organization Reprieve, assisting Mr Tsege’s family in London, has raised concerns about the UK’s approach to the case, which has focused on a call for ‘legal access’ for him. In June, former UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond returned from a visit to Ethiopia claiming that he had “secure[d] legal representation” for Mr Tsege – however, last month it emerged that Mr Tsege has not yet been given a pen with which to write a request for a lawyer.
American diplomats observing Mr Tsege’s in absentia trial in 2009 said it “lacked basic elements of due process”, and described it as “political retaliation.” UN experts have said that Mr Tsege was sentenced to death “without due process” and in violation of his rights under the Convention Against Torture. UK MPs, the European Parliament, and members of Congress have called for his release.
Commenting, Maya Foa – director of the death penalty team at Reprieve – said: “Ethiopia’s ruling party has shown that it has no qualms about brutally crushing those who dare to oppose the government – shooting protestors, locking up journalists, and sentencing political opponents to death, in trials which US embassy officials have described as ‘political retaliation’. This is a government which sentenced British father of three Andy Tsege to death whilst he was living in London, then kidnapped him from an international airport, and has held him illegally ever since.
“The High Commissioner is right to sound an urgent warning over these terrible abuses. Countries that are close to Ethiopia – including the UK – must urge Ethiopian officials to end the repression, and release Andy and the many others who are unjustly imprisoned.”
Reprieve is a UK-based human rights organization that uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay.