Ethiopia Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

In Ethiopia, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) has a strong grip on power and the country can almost be described as a one-party state. Since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali took office in the spring of 2018, a period of political thunderstorms have characterized the country and a large number of political prisoners have been released. But the road is long for a functioning democracy.

Both the law and the actions of the police and security services mean that dissimilar and independent media still cannot operate completely freely. Freedom House describes the situation in the country as “not free”. Important decisions on, for example, security policy are taken by the EPRDF management. The security service and the armed forces are controlled by senior party officials. The EPRDF also dominates the legal system (see below).

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The opposition is divided into a large number of parties, most of which are ethnically and regionally based. The space for political opposition was very limited until spring 2018, when Prime Minister Abiy initiated a process towards increased democracy and transparency. Since then, several political organizations that have previously been stamped with terrorism have been allowed to operate (see Political system).

In January 2020, the EPRDF-controlled Parliament passed a new law replacing terrorism legislation which received widespread criticism from opposition and Amnesty International. According to the human rights organization, the law change is a step in the right direction, but the law can still be used against government critics. For example, Parliament retains the right to identify and ban terrorist organizations, an opportunity previously used to eliminate opposition parties.

In practice, a law from 2009 put a stop to foreign support for work on human rights. The number of organizations working to strengthen human rights then declined. In February 2018, a new law was passed that gives organizations the opportunity to work to strengthen human rights.

In Abi’s government, half of the ministers are women, including the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Peace, under which both the police and intelligence services sort. Abiy has also appointed women to the posts of President, Chief of the Supreme Court and Chief of the Election Authority. Before Abiy became head of government, women were under-represented at all levels of politics and administration.

Abbreviated as ETH by Abbreviationfinder, Ethiopia is suffering from widespread corruption within the state administration, the judiciary and other parts of society. The government has said it will give priority to combating corruption, and in Transparency International’s index of corruption in the world, Ethiopia in 2019 was ranked 96th out of 180 countries (see full list here). It was a whole 20 investments better than the year before.

Freedom of expression and media

In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index for 2019, Ethiopia climbed as many as 40 rankings, from 150th out of 180 countries in 2018 to 110th. It was the biggest improvement that any country has achieved that year. The main reason was that all imprisoned journalists were released through the 2018 amnesty law (see below). In the 2020 Freedom of Press Index, the positive trend continued when Ethiopia was ranked 99 (see full list here).

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press and opinion, but the reality for a long time looked different. The media space for a long time was heavily circumscribed. Anti-terror laws were used to imprison journalists. Media workers could be prosecuted for violating or slandering government officials, even though they have not reported complaints themselves. Sometimes, fines that were so high that journalists remained in custody were fined because they could not pay. Others were sentenced to prison. Newspapers often risked bankruptcy if they were prosecuted.

Both Swedish freelance journalists Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye were arrested in 2011 and sentenced to eleven years in prison for, among other things, conspiracy with ONLF, which was then labeled as a terrorist organization (see Political system). They had entered the closed Ogaden with the help of ONLF, to report on the difficult conditions for refugees there. The Swedes were pardoned a little over a year after they were arrested, but convictions continued to be handed out to domestic journalists for similar crimes.

Nowadays, newspapers and magazines can express different kinds of opinions, and digital media is used as a discussion forum. Journalists are less exposed to the influence of authorities and holders of power than before. Before the spring of 2018, the government made frequent use of the opportunity to filter the news stream, and also block satellite broadcasts from abroad. The state owns the only national TV station and almost all radio channels.

In February 2020, Ethiopia adopted a team against hate against ethnic groups. A conviction can result in high fines and up to two years in prison. If the heat leads to a physical attack, five years in prison can be sentenced. Human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), warned that the law could be exploited to undermine freedom of expression. The law criminalizes rhetoric that fuels discrimination “by individuals or groups on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender or disability”.

Judicial system and legal security

According to the constitution, the judicial system should be independent, but in practice the government exercises considerable influence over the courts. Human rights are guaranteed in the Constitution but are not always respected. There are details of torture and extrajudicial executions. The death penalty is punished but rarely enforced. Until spring 2018, it was common for government critics and dissenters to be arrested and detained for long periods, and then released without charge.

Military brutality has also affected regime opponents and protesters, and sometimes entire groups. According to Human Rights Watch , the armed forces have committed abuses that in some cases can be classified as war crimes or crimes against humanity.

It is unclear how many political prisoners there are in the country. In July 2018, however, a new law was passed that gives individuals and groups who are investigated or convicted of treason, armed insurrection or violation of the Constitution the right to apply for amnesty. Six months after the law was introduced, according to the prosecutor, more than 13,000 people had received amnesty with the support of the law.

The conditions in prisons and detention are described as very bad. In September 2018, the Abiy government closed the notorious Central Prison (“Jail Ogaden”) prison in Somali state. The prison was run by the state government and was surrounded by allegations of gross abuse and human rights violations against the prisoners.

After a twelve-year war criminal trial, former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam and 57 others charged with genocide and crimes against humanity during the military regime 1974-1991 were convicted in December 2006 (see Modern History). Mengistu was sentenced in 2008 in his absence, after an appeal, to death. A further 20 of those convicted were abroad. Between 100,000 and 200,000 Ethiopians are estimated to have been killed under the Mengistur regime.



The border commission is closed down

The UN Border Commission set up after the war against Eritrea is closed down. Eritrea accepts the proposed border crossing, but Ethiopia does not.


Ethiopia celebrates the turn of the millennium

Ethiopia celebrates the turn of the millennium according to the calendar of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (see Customs and customs).


Dozens of opposition leaders are pardoned

Thirty opposition leaders are sentenced to life imprisonment for treason in connection with election-related violence in 2005 (see December 2005). Eight defendants are sentenced to shorter prison sentences. In the past, dozens of defendants have been acquitted. All the convicted are fairly immediately pardoned by the president after taking on some guilt for the unrest.


Military offensive in Ogaden

The Ethiopian military is carrying out a major offensive in the Somali-dominated area of ‚Äč‚ÄčOgaden since the separatist guerrilla ONLF attacked an oil plant and killed 74 people, including nine Chinese.


Mengistu is sentenced to life for genocide

Former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam is sentenced in his absence to life imprisonment for genocide and crimes against humanity during the military regime 1974-1991 (see Modern History). Of the original 73 co-defendants, a number have died and many are abroad. When the verdict falls, 33 people are in place. Most, like Mengistu, receive life imprisonment.