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Contemporary Violations of Human Rights in Ethiopia in light of Tripartite Human Rights Obligations

“The world can never be at peace unless people have security in their daily lives.”

UNDP. 1994. Human Development Report 1994.

When governments or non-state actors do horrible, cruel and unjust things to their citizens we are now likely to describe those actions as violations of human rights instead of simply saying that they are unjust, immoral, or barbaric. Human rights are not just illusions they are certain basic entitlements tied to all human beings irrespective of any status.

“Human rights are rights which are inherent, inviolable, inalienable, universal and interdependent. They define relationships between individuals and power structures, especially the State. Human rights delimit State power and, at the same time, require or lay obligations on states to take positive measures ensuring an environment that enables all people to enjoy their human rights.”

The early 1980s gave rise to a useful definition of the obligations imposed byhuman rights treaties, which blurred the sharp dichotomy between economic,social and cultural rights, and civil and political rights. Different prominent scholars have dealt with the obligations of states with regard to human rights. Some regarded those obligations as tripartite and others considered as quadruple obligations.Specifically, in 1980, Henry Shue and Eide proposed that for every basic right there are three types of correlativeobligations: from shue’s perspective ‘to avoid depriving’, ‘to protect from deprivation’ and ‘to aid thedeprived are the main obligations.’ The ‘tripartitetypology’ presented by Shue again explained by Eide in a more concise terms as theobligations to respect, to protect, and to fulfil.

Since Shue’s and Eide’s proposal were published, the ‘tripartite typology’ has evolved and scholars have developed typologies containing more than three levels. Van Hoof expanded those obligations as quadruple typology. The quadruple typology is similar to the tripartite one, with the exception that the obligation to fulfill is replaced by two or more nuanced obligations: to ensure and to promote.

These obligations were only placed upon the government and there was no concept of duty bearers other than the State. This pose some dangers on the protection of human rights and many authors argued that international law should not be static in a dynamic world and that it must move beyond the traditional conception of states as the primary duty bearers and abusers of human rights. However, in the recent discourse of human rights there are different duty bearers though the State is the primary responsible actor. From such actors individuals and armed groups as well as multi-national corporations are regarded as duty bearers of human rights. For instance, the African charter on human and people’s right on its preamble and on article 27-29 impose some duties on individuals towards their family and society, the State and other legally recognized communities and the international community.

Generally, international human rights treaties and customary law impose tripartite or quadruple obligations on States. So, saying the above notes on human right obligations, I will draw an attention on the current violations of human rights in Ethiopia through the lens of human rights obligations be it tripartite or quadruple.

The Obligation to Respect Human Rights

As a primary responsible actor governments are obliged to refrain from interfering in the enjoyment of rights by individuals and groups. Governments are prohibited from doing actions that may undermine the enjoyment of rights. For example, with regard to the right to freedom of expression and the right to vote, it means that governments must respect the rights of individuals by refraining from curtailing their right to freedom of expression and the authorities shall not interfere with the voting procedure and shall respect the election results respectively. Simply, this duty urges the three branches of the government (executive, legislative and judiciary) to discharge their duties with due care and based on the rule of law without suppressing the rights of individuals.   Thus, this level of obligation requires the state to refrain from any measure that may deprive individuals of the enjoyment of their rights or of the ability to satisfy those rights by their own efforts.

The Obligation to Protect Human Rights

Governments not only have an obligation to respect, but also have a horizontal duty to protect the individual from infringements by other individuals or third parties. “The obligation to protect is normally taken to be a central function of states, which have to prevent irreparable harm from being inflicted upon members of society. This requires states: a) to prevent violations of rights by any individual or non-state actor; b) to avoid and eliminate incentives to violate rights by third parties; and c) to provide access to legal remedies when violations have occurred in order to prevent further deprivations.” The obligation entails both a preventative and remedial dimension. A State is thus obliged to enact legislation protecting human rights; to take action to protect individuals when it is aware (or could have been aware) of threats to their human rights; and also to ensure access to impartial legal remedies when human rights violations are alleged.

The Obligation to Fulfill (Facilitate and Provide) Human Rights

The obligation to fulfill requires a more proactive role from states regarding the realization of human rights and includes the duty of governments to facilitate and to provide.

“Through the obligation to facilitate, the government guarantees the social and economic preconditions for its citizens to enjoy their socio-economic rights. A strong economy, for example, is a prerequisite for the fulfillment of the right to work and the right to an adequate standard of living. However, when, under exceptional circumstances, some people fail to provide for themselves through employment or personal resources, the government is under the obligation to provide the right to social security so, the person involved is not subject to humiliation, hunger or disease”.

In general, this level of obligation requires the state to take measures to ensure, assist, facilitate as well as provide for persons within its jurisdiction, opportunities to obtain satisfaction of the basic needs as recognized in human rights instruments, which cannot be realized by the individuals themselves.

The Quadruple Obligation (Ensure and Promote) Human Rights

The quadruple typology is similar to the tripartite one, with the exception that the obligation to fulfill is replaced by two or more nuanced obligations: to ensure and to promote. When I say the obligation to ensure I am referring that the states commitment for its citizens that they are enjoying their human rights through different mechanisms such as meeting minimum standards or ensuring that institutional arrangements which are responsive to people’s needs. Hence, after the government assured for itself that it ensure human rights, it transcend to the much larger task of promotion for the better awareness of those rights. Promotion of human rights means to make people aware of their rights, to inform them about their rights and to teach them how to make best use of their human rights.

Ethiopia’s Commitment to Human Rights

Even though there exists fundamental problems with regard to guarantying protection of human rights under the Ethiopian Constitution, the Constitution grant more space for human rights. Chapter three of the 1995 Constitution specifically deals with human rights. Most importantly, the constitution made international agreements an integral part of the law of the land and urges the interpretation of human rights in a manner conforming to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international instruments adopted by Ethiopia. The establishment of independent National Human Right Commission is also one of the commitment of the government towards human rights. The Commission is established in accordance with sub-articles (1) and (14) of article 55 of the Constitution and Proclamation No. 210/2000. The Commission’s mandate inter alia covers responsibility of educating the public to be aware of human rights and strive for the protection, respect and fulfillment of human rights as well as monitoring treatment of human rights of citizens.

Currently, after egregious violations of human rights for decades under the regime of the existing ruling party there exists an uncertain sparkle of democracy as a result of its internal reform. As part of the reform the government is in underway to amend repressive laws which violate human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals. The reform paves the way for human rights though massive violations of human rights was also coming along in the name of reform.

Walking out from Human Rights Obligations in Ethiopia

Human rights are not ordinary moral norms applying mainly to interpersonal conduct. Rather they are political norms dealing mainly with how people should be treated by their governments and institutions. All human right treaties require member parties to secure to everyone within their jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined in those conventions and lays human right obligation on them to give effective remedy when there exists violation.

The struggle to gain respect for a human right must often attempt both to get the government to restrain its own agencies and officials and to get the government to use its legal powers to restrain others. However, in Ethiopia there exists a serious human right violations. This is happening now a days in the country when outspoken journalists have been zipped their voices through systematic actions or inactions of the government and this goes against the obligation to respect human rights. For instance, in Addis Ababa, Eskinder Nega is regularly threatened by the police and other hooligans from holding a press conference to announce plans for his new TV station, Senai. At this time, police officers were blocking the entrance to the Hilton hotel turning journalists and other attendees away.

This harassment is solely against individuals’ right to freedom of expression which is the foundation of all rights and which is recognized under article 29 of the Ethiopian Constitution. It also goes against the rights of citizens to access to information and turns the government to its previous violations of blocking information. The government were praised by international institutions which works on press freedom for its measures towards human rights. But, there are no positive measures rather than correcting its previous mistakes of not to interfere on individual rights (negative obligations).

On the other way, there is a serious violations of human rights in the country as a result of acts of mass violence, hooliganism, ethnically targeted attacks and creation of politically motivated organized groups as well as illegal armed persons. Let alone protecting the citizens from attacks the government is unable to protect itself from attacks against its high ranking officials. There has been an assassination against three regional state officials and top military personnel’s of the country at the same day which also results mass arrests of individuals. Within this one year of transition period the above illegal acts continue to be a scourge of humanity and take the lives of innocent human beings month after month. Under international law states have the supreme duty to prevent wars, acts of genocide and other acts of mass violence causing arbitrary loss of life. They have also the duty to denounce any propaganda for war and incitement to violence. However, it’s now a practice in Ethiopia to give microphones for the one who incites violence and shutting up dissenters.

Devastatingly, the Ethiopian government has failed to protect persons from internal displacement. Unprecedented displacement is happening in the country and the country becomes at the top in internal displacement as a result of new waves of conflict which recorded over 3 million new displacements. Moreover, displacement, ethnic attack, death and starvation as well as mob justice becomes a common phenomenon in the country. To mention, mass killings in the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethnic attacks in Benshangul Gumuz region against Amharans, displacments in Wellega, Guji and Gedeo Zones, border clashes between Tigray and Amhara region and many more recent incidents result egregious violations of human rights lowering human right protection in the country.    

Failing from its Obligation to Fulfill and the Need for Urgent Actions.

Turning in to the obligation to fulfill, governments are under obligation to provide an enabling environment that allows people to provide for subsistence for themselves. This needs the creation of a well-functioning and secure system where there exists human security. Or, more simply, “A government’s basic job is to provide a system in which people can meet their own and their children’s basic needs”

When I evaluate the current situation of Ethiopia the economy of the country is at stuck point. Currently, there is no positive or negative peace in the country which puts an obstacle on the building process of strong economy in the country. In the country investments and infrastructures cease to move forward because of recurrent political instability and violence which commonly known as pushing factors for investments. The pushing factors are not only affect foreign investors but also greatly hamper the ability to invest domestic investors outside their region. Those actions contribute not to achieve sound development in the country and not to address the needs of internally displaced persons. A serious hunger, disease and discontinuance of education also becomes a common problem for internally displaced persons. For instance, 818, 000 peoples are displaced in Gedeo and West Guji Zone in the south and the government repeatedly fails to control the root causes of insecurity and vulnerability as well as has limited access in providing necessary health care and food stuffs.

The last issue that I am going to address in this paper is on how the Ethiopian government compromise its obligation to ensure and promote which is considered as the quadruple obligation. The obligation to ensure is about states commitment for the enjoyment of human rights by their citizens. It needs meeting minimum standards and institutional setup which are responsive to people’s needs.  For instance, every State is obliged to ensure for everyone under its jurisdiction access to the minimum essential food which is sufficient, nutritionally adequate and safe, to ensure their freedom from hunger. Violations of obligations occur when a State fails to ensure the satisfaction of, at the very least, the minimum essential level required to be free from hunger.  Turning to the facts in Ethiopia, 3 million peoples are displaced in the country more than anywhere globally. According to shadow reports of human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and World Vision sizeable populations are in need of immediate and urgent steps to ensure their fundamental right to freedom from hunger and malnutrition, the right to water and education. This shows a clear violation and failure of the Ethiopian government to take into account its international legal obligations.

The institutional setup is also part of states obligation to promote human rights. Presently, there is a new era of human right organizations in the country as a result of the adoption of a more democratic regulatory framework which reopens the space for civil society organizations and their participation in human rights. Hence, I can say that steps are underway by the Ethiopian government for the promotion of human rights amidst massive violations of human rights throughout the country.

The Way Outs

Basing the current situation of Ethiopia the writer recommends the following recommendations; -

Firstly, immediate measures like access to food, health care and shelter must be provided by the government to save the lives of internally displaced persons and the government must collaborate with international organizations and other countries to address such needs.

Secondly, considerable and collaborative effort is expected from the three branches of the government and they must take proactive measures towards playing their role to protect citizens from such acts of violence and ensure that ethnically fueled violence is prevented.

Thirdly, the government must design national awareness campaign for the youth population to practice active non-violence and to strive for the rediscovery of solidarity in the country.

Besides, the government should design a national awareness campaign in collaboration with human right based NGO’s to sensitize the public on human rights.

Moreover, to deter future violence the government must conduct timely investigations into recent crimes and ensure bringing perpetrators to justice.

Finally, opening the space always for dialogue and listening without engaging in mass arrest, fanaticism, defamation and rejection of others is also the solution for national reconciliation.

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Wednesday, 24 July 2024