RFK Human Rights Releases Analysis on Voting Rights Violations in Ethiopia

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(Washington, D.C.) Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights (RFK Human Rights) released a briefing paper (see attachment) today documenting a range of human rights violations that have taken place in the context of Ethiopia’s upcoming parliamentary election, scheduled for May 24, and calls upon African Union (AU) election observers to both implement and follow a human rights based approach to their monitoring efforts. The briefing paper outlines severe restrictions to civic space – including the systematic suppression of the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association – in the lead up to the election that amount to a violation of the right to vote and the right to participate in government for all Ethiopians.

“The criminalization of dissent in Ethiopia is readily apparent,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of RFK Human Rights. “Regardless of the ultimate results on polling day, the electoral period has been severely compromised by a persistent crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, and opposition supporters who have dared to express views critical of the Ethiopian government.”

In the lead up to the election, the Ethiopian government routinely used the 2012 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (“Anti-terrorism law”) to prosecute human rights defenders, independent journalists and bloggers, and opposition supporters in violation of their right to freedom of expression, which effectively prevented the free flow of information to Ethiopian voters. Also in recent months, a series of crackdowns on the peaceful demonstrations of opposition supporters and civic activists have resulted in widespread violations of the right to freedom of assembly. Since its enactment in 2009, the Charities and Societies Proclamation (“CSO law”) has violated the right to freedom of association and decimated the ability of independent civil society in Ethiopia to carry out its legitimate work, including voter education activities, human rights reporting, and political advocacy, each of which are critical to ensure free debate.

“The rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association are fundamental to any democracy and critical to ensuring the meaningful fulfillment of the right to vote under international law,” said Santiago A. Canton, Executive Director of RFK Partners for Human Rights. “As the region and the world look to Ethiopia in the coming days and weeks, it is critical that the AU election observers document the undeniable link between the repression of civic space and Ethiopia’s international human rights obligation to respect the rights to vote and participate in government.”

The AU will be the only international body to monitor the May 24 election. The long-term observers arrived on April 19 and a larger delegation of observers landed in the capital Addis-Ababa on May 17. The AU election observers have a mandate to observe, collect, and analyze data in the lead up to the election, in line with AU and other international instruments such as the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition to technical requirements for elections, the AU observers must also take into account binding international law, which includes the right to vote and the right to participate in government.