High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs /
Vice-President of the European Commission
Rue de la Loi, Wetstraat 200
Brussels, March 23, 2017
Dear High Representative Mogherini,
Human Rights Watch wishes to express our deep disappointment over the one-sided
In our view the statement was a missed opportunity to state publicly and
unequivocally that Ethiopia’s repressive response to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – illustrated by the government’s brutal crackdown on protests– is not conducive to Ethiopia’s long-term stability or the EU’s ability to partner with Ethiopia on areas of mutual interest.
As you are aware, Ethiopia’s widespread human rights violations against its citizens means that Ethiopia is a country producing refugees and asylum seekers seeking safety.
Since November 2015
Harassment through criminal charges, arbitrary detention of political opposition members and supporters, restrictions on financing, and registration problems have decimated opposition parties since the 2010 election. Actual or perceived members of opposition parties have difficulty accessing the benefits of development and humanitarian assistance, including that provided by the EU and its member states. This partisan system ensures that Ethiopians in rural or drought-vulnerable areas of the country are dependent on the government, bolstered by EU support, for their livelihoods, food aid, employment, and health care. This further constricts the space for political expression, dialogue and further undermines the effectiveness of opposition parties. From the government’s perspective, the strategy has been successful — the ruling party and its affiliates won 100 percent of the seats in federal parliament in 2015 despite strong anti-government sentiments in many parts of the country as the protests would later illustrate.
Dismantling opposition parties, imprisoning critical opposition voices, and then inviting whomever remains to engage in a dialogue is not the “right direction,” as your statement said. Nor is having such a dialogue in the shadow of a state of emergency with wide-ranging restrictions on free expression rights. Moderate, yet still critical opposition voices, including Dr. Merera, should be part of any credible dialogue with the opposition, and this should have been stressed privately and publicly to the prime minister as critical for any meaningful dialogue. Your expression of support for political dialogue without acknowledging the systematic destruction of legally registered opposition parties and the suppression of basic human rights is not constructive to the EU’s partnership with Ethiopia.
Discussing economic partnerships during the state of emergency that followed 18 months of brutality partly triggered by the government’s abusive economic development approach illustrates our concern with your recent statement. The Ethiopian government has ignored the rights of those displaced by investment projects, failing to properly consult and compensate them. It begs the question: what polices or safeguards is the EU insisting are in place to ensure that economic development occurs with professed EU commitments to human rights respected?
In this light, the EU-Ethiopia Business Forum should be postponed until the abusive provisions of the state of emergency are lifted. Moreover, the government should make progress on implementing reforms that are crucial for a rights-respecting business environment, such as the repeal or substantial amendment of the Charities and Societies Proclamation.
The contrast between recent statements by the European parliament and the European Union could not be more stark. Parliament has consistently issued strong statements about the government’s brutal crackdown, including a
As all recognize, Ethiopia is an important partner of the EU in the areas of migration, development and economic growth. But these partnerships are dependent on long-term stability in Ethiopia and, thus, should be dependent on respect for basic human rights.
A further downward spiral in the human rights situation in this country of 100 million people could lead to dramatically increased humanitarian needs and out-migration from Ethiopia, all of which would contravene European and Ethiopian interests. This is where the EU’s focus should be.
We strongly urge you to use future meetings with Ethiopia’s leadership to publicly and unequivocally call for the release of key opposition leaders such as Dr. Merera and
Human Rights Watch
- Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Ms Helga Schmid
- Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs, EEAS, Mr Jean-Christophe Belliard
- Deputy Secretary General for Economic and Global Issues, EEAS, Mr Christian Leffler
- Chair of the EU’s Political and Security Committee, Ambassador Walter Stevens
- Managing Director for Africa, EEAS, Mr Koen Vervaeke
- Director, Deputy Managing Director for Africa, EEAS, Ms Birgitte Markussen
- Head of Division, Horn of Africa, East Africa and Indian Ocean, EEAS, Ms Claudia Wiedey
- Managing Director for Human Rights, Global and Multilateral Issues, EEAS, Ms Lotte Knudsen
- Director, Deputy managing Director for Human Rights, Global and Multilateral Issues, EEAS, Mr Marc Giacomini
- Head of Human Rights Division, EEAS, Ms Mercedes Garcia Perez
- Chair of the Council’s Africa Working Party, Mr Riccardo Villa
- Head of the EU Delegation to Ethiopia, Ambassador Chantal Hebberecht
- EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Mr Stavros Lambrinidis
- Head of Cabinet of the High Representative / Vice-President Mogherini, Ms Fabrizia Panzetti
- Deputy Head of Cabinet of the High Representative / Vice-President Mogherini, Mr Oliver Rentschler