by Marthe Van Der Wolf
ADDIS ABABA — Ethiopia has unveiled its first Human Rights Action Plan, with the goal of ensuring human rights in the East African country. Activists have long complained about the Ethiopian government's record of quashing political dissent and freedom of expression.
The Ethiopian government presented a draft Human Rights Action Plan on Thursday to discuss with stakeholders such as the United Nations, civil societies and development partners.
Musa Gassama, the regional representative of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the plan does not introduce new laws for Ethiopia.
“What is new is to bring all these laws that we talk about, putting them together and analyzing them and seeing what actions could be taken to make sure that these laws are bringing benefit to the people,” he said.
The plan includes nearly 60 recommendations to cover gaps in sectors such as education, health and culture.
Ethiopia’s Minister of Justice Berhan Hailu explained that gaps have also been identified in the justice sector.
“We need a lot of proclamations and also guidelines for the protection of the rights of the people, for the accused persons, for the persons in prison and so on," Hailu said. "For example, we have mentioned in the document the importance of a guideline on the use of force by the police.”
International organizations such as Human Rights Watch criticized Ethiopia’s election to the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2012. The country has one of the world's highest numbers of journalists in jail, while leaders of peaceful Muslim demonstrations have been arrested and many opposition leaders are prison on charges of terrorism.
In addition, Ethiopia has not signed several international human rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Minister Berhan said Ethiopia is making progress when it comes to ensuring human rights, despite the criticism:
“Those who don’t want to realize or to recognize this kind of progress might say that there is no good performance in human rights in Ethiopia, but we are doing our level best and the people of Ethiopia are now benefiting a lot, but we have gaps now," he said. "In order to fill the gaps we have to work hard; we have to plan it, like the kind of plan that we have presented today.”
The Human Rights Action Plan will be sent to parliament for adoption this week, and is scheduled to be implemented over the next three years.