Statement on the Remarks made by the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights with reference to the Verdicts in the recent Terrorism Trial in the High Court of Ethiopia .
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia takes very serious exception to the remarks made by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressing concern over the decision of the High Court of Ethiopia in the recent trial of terrorists. Her statement is not only erroneous, without factual basis and highly selective. It also makes imputations which seriously impugn the independence of Ethiopia’s judicial system as a whole and of the High Court of Ethiopia. The Ministry is obliged to reject them categorically and unreservedly.
The defendants referred to were tried and convicted in an open, regular court. They were convicted on charges of terrorism. They were not tried on the basis of the content of any writing or opinions critical of the government. They were tried on the basis of the detailed evidence of their direct involvement and participation in criminal activities.
The defendants were convicted under due process of law, and their rights, guaranteed by the Constitution and in full accordance with Ethiopia’s international legal obligations, have been and remain fully respected. Following conviction, they do, of course, have the right of appeal to the appellate court against the decisions and sentences of the High Court.
It is to be regretted that the High Commissioner for Human Rights has seen fit to ignore these facts. Nor is it acceptable that the High Commissioner should characterize the situation of human rights in Ethiopia as filled by a “climate of intimidation.” This is unwarranted, inaccurate and misleading. This is a statement that appears to negate the universally accepted norms and principles that guide the work of such bodies as the UN Office of the High Commissioner. It reflects poorly on the objectivity, impartiality and independence to be expected from the Commissioner’s High Office.
Ethiopia has succeeded in making significant progress in the field of human rights in the last two decades. It has also created propitious conditions for the existence of a vibrant civil society and for the exercise of freedom of expression and opinion by all its citizens, including opposition political groups, journalists and critics. The right to hold dissident views on government policies and issues or to criticize the performance of government without restriction is fully respected. This can be seen repeatedly in the regular publications and output of the private press and the independent media. All Ethiopians, irrespective of their ideological leanings, creeds, ethnic background or gender, enjoy these rights fully. Nor can these rights be denied at the will of the government or of any government institutions.
In this context it must also be underlined that the Charities and Societies Proclamation and the Anti-Terrorism legislation are fully consistent with the Constitution of Ethiopia and of Ethiopia’s international obligations. This is quite clear from any reading of the relevant legislation. The allegations of the High Commissioner against these laws and their application are without foundation and cannot be substantiated.
The Ministry must in particular deprecate such assertions since Ethiopia has provided all the necessary responses and clarifications to the question raised in relation to these laws by the Special Rapporteurs of the Human Rights Council. This should be well known to the High Commissioner’s office.
The Ministry would also note that these remarks by the High Commissioner are unhelpful towards any enhancement of the existing cooperation between her office and the various organs of the Government of Ethiopia. Her remarks are particularly inappropriate and unfortunate at a time when the Government has completed and is ready to adopt a comprehensive National Action Plan for Human Rights in Ethiopia. This involves different offices of the Federal and Regional State Governments and other stakeholders, including her own office.
The recent dialogue in Addis Ababa between the relevant senior Ministers and officials of government and the Chairpersons of the Treaty Bodies of the Human Rights Council demonstrated an impressive spirit of cooperation and constructive dialogue. It is deeply regrettable that the High Commissioner’s remarks must now cast doubt on how far this can now be considered to enhance the necessary mutual understanding between her office and the Government of Ethiopia.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs hopes that the High Commissioner will now favour dialogue over unhelpful and inaccurate remarks allowing it to look forward to renewed cooperation between her office and the Government, and to a relationship strengthened by mutual understanding and constructive engagement in the future.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
July 19th 2012
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