Threats to the Right to Vote in Ethiopia Ahead of the 2021 Elections

On June 21, 2021, Ethiopia held national elections which were originally planned for May 2020 but postponed twice.

The right to take part in genuine elections through voting or running for office is vital to ensuring that a government is held accountable to its people. Essential to the right to vote and the right to participate in one’s government are the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, which are at the core of civic space. International human rights bodies specifically emphasize the heightened importance of these rights in order to have an informed electorate. Repression of civic space, especially when associated with an election, threatens the democratic process, in turn jeopardizing human rights more broadly.

Ahead of these elections, a number of incidents demonstrate a pattern of human rights abuses. The conflict in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray has resulted in the further stifling of civic space and continues to threaten the legitimacy of the June 2021 election. Even prior to the conflict in Tigray, the Ethiopian Government had created what rights groups describe as a “climate of fear and repression that has eroded Ethiopia’s already-tenuous press freedoms,” and which could undermine confidence in the upcoming election. Within the last year, especially in the months leading up to the conflict in Tigray, the Ethiopian Government repressed freedom of assembly, including through violent and deadly crackdowns on protests. There has also been a trend of repressing civil society groups and opposition parties in the months leading up to the June 2021 elections, including mass arrests of opposition party supporters, prohibitions on opposition parties organizing and holding rallies, and general incapacitation of opposition party activities.

When those fundamental freedoms are suppressed, the right to participate in government through free and fair elections cannot meaningfully be exercised.