19/11/05 (B325) LDDH : Appel d’EHAHRDN en faveur des défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme arrêtés en Ethiopie et détenus dans des conditions inhumaines (En anglais)

Le Président

DU 18 NOVEMBRE 2005-
EN ETHIOPIE (En Anglais)


Public Statement

EHAHRDN Index: ETHIO 0011/003/2005 (Public)
13 November 2005

KAMPALA: Human Rights Defenders under threatening conditions

Professor Mesfin Woldemariam 75, former chair of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), has lately started a hunger strike, calling upon all people touched by the on-going human rights violations to join him until justice prevails in the plight of the Human Rights Defenders under threat in Ethiopia. EHRCO is a co-founder of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRDN).

EHAHRDN remains deeply concerned about the health and treatment of Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, suffering from a painful back, as well as about the future of those living under fear of arrest both within and outside Ethiopia as a result of their names appearing on the most wanted list recently publicized by the police. Besides, his family members were reportedly denied access to him up to his court appearance on 7 November.

EHAHRDN has been monitoring recent developments and expresses concern over the detention of innocent civilians with imminent likelihood of prolonged pre-trial detention in harsh conditions, and a risk of ill-treatment. The Network has also received information to the effect that the Ethiopian Government has expropriated all the victims’ belongings, which leaves their future terribly at stake.

Available information indicates that on 7 November 2005, police in Addis Ababa brought 24 people to court and distributed a “wanted” list with the photos of 34 others. The court ordered them in custody to be detained for a further 14 days for police investigations into suspected violent conspiracy in connection with the previous week’s demonstrations, although no one has yet been formally charged with any offence. Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said on 5 November that all 58 would be charged with treason, which carries a possible death penalty.

The 24 detainees include Hailu Shawel, aged 70, president of the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) party; Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, 75, former chair of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO); Dr Yacob Hailemariam, a former UN Special Envoy and former prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; Ms Birtukan Mideksa, CUD vice-president and a former judge; and Dr Berhanu Negga, the recently elected Mayor of Addis Ababa and university professor of economics, among others.

The Network (EHAHRDN) has notably realised with concern that some of the members on the police list of most wanted individuals were particularly not in the country at the time of the protests. They and a number of others were attending the inaugural conference for Human Rights Defenders Network in the East and Horn of Africa sub-region held at Entebbe, Uganda. There’s no way therefore they could have participated in the protests to prompt their arrest, given the fact that they have no record of involvement in inciting violence of any kind. In a joint resolution, the Human Rights Defenders representing the sub-region and beyond, condemned the government’s actions targeted at innocent Human Rights Defenders.

“It is the duty of the Ethiopian Federal Government to observe the provisions of the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and other Human Rights Instruments to which it is a signatory,” says Hassan Shire Sheikh, the Chairperson for EHAHRDN. “The defenders of the rights of Ethiopians deserve no less than the full protection of their governments and the international community.”

Article 12 (1 and 2) of the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders states that “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms and that The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”

Furthermore, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Articles 13(1), 19 and 20(1) emphasizes that “Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state; Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers; Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.”

Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights adopted on June 27, 1981 provides that Everyone shall have the right to liberty and security of his person, No one may be deprived of his freedom for reasons and conditions previously laid down by law, and no one may be arbitrarily arrested or detained. Article 7 of the same Charter continues that “Every individual shall have the right to have his cause heard…”


EHAHRDN is deeply concerned about the likelihood of treason or and violent conduct charges levied against opposition party leaders et al including Hailu Shawel, Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, at least seven members of parliament and several journalists, most of who have no dent given their work aimed at achieving absolute human rights observance.

The Network therefore appeals for the immediate and unconditional release of the detainees and calls for: urgent attention to Professor Mesfin Woldemariam’s health condition; urges the authorities to allow all the detainees immediate access to their families, legal counsel and any medical care they require; calls for all detainees arrested in the protests, numbering over 4,000, to be treated humanely and either charged without delay with a recognizable criminal offence or released immediately.


In Addis Ababa between 1 and 4 November, police shot dead 42 demonstrators and wounded 200 others. CUD had called for a stay-home strike in protest against alleged election fraud but demonstrations erupted into violence when police began shooting. CUD denied any violent conspiracy. CUD subsequently called for a further strike and boycott of government businesses for the following week. Smaller protests occurred in other towns, but with fewer deaths and arrests than in Addis Ababa. More than 4,000 people have been detained, including many unemployed youth protesters in Addis Ababa, and taken to remote prisons in rural areas where conditions are harsh. Some 285 have been released but others are still held without charge. Arrests in Addis Ababa and in other towns are continuing.

Brief background of EHAHRDN:

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRDN) brings together over 65 human rights organizations from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Somaliland, Sudan including Southern Sudan, Tanzania including Zanzibar, Uganda and International Partners; Canada, Germany, Norway, UK, and the Netherlands,

The Network with its Secretariat in Kampala, Uganda, envisions a region in which the human rights of every citizen as stipulated in the UDHR are respected and upheld. Its mission is to maximize the protection of Human Rights Defenders working in the Region and to enhance the awareness of human rights work through linkages with national, regional and international like-minded entities.

The Objectives of the Network are:

  • To protect and defend HRDs in the region
  • To build the capacity of HRDs and
  • To advocate and raise public awareness and profiles of HRD

For further information, please contact:
Tumusiime Kabwende Deo
Media and Communications Officer of EHAHRDN
Phone: +256-41-510263/ext.112
E-mail: ehahrdp@yahoo.ca, tumusiimedeo@hotmail.com
Website: http://www.yorku.ca/crs