Criticism of Ethiopia’s violations of human rights

Western and Eastern Powers Perpetuate Tyranny and Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: Reflections on Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Human Rights Records of Ethiopia Held on May 6, 2014 at Geneva, Switzerland

Written by Hika Fekede Dugassa, writer and university lecturer, and guest writer in the town Molde, Norway.

Acronyms
HRCO
   Ethiopian Human Rights Council
EWLA
   Ethiopian Women Lawers Association
TPLF   
 Tigrean People Liberation Front
EPRDF
 Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front
CSP
      Charities and Societies Proclamation
ATP
       Anti Terrorism proclamation
OLF
       Oromo Liberation Front
ONLF
    Ogadenian National Liberation Front
UNHR
   United Narions Human Rights
UPR
       Universal Periodic review

Introduction

The UNHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) has been evaluating the performances and commitments of member states on human rights and fundamental freedoms since 2006. This paper presents a reflection on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Human Rights Records of Ethiopia held on May 6, 2014 at Geneva, Switzerland. The paper has three sections. The first section gives a brief overview of trajectories and procedures of the UPR. The second section briefly accounts on Ethiopia’s participation in UPR and recommendations it has received from member states. The last portion of the paper gives author’s analysis of and reflections on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Ethiopia and the recommendations and critics forwarded to Ethiopia. Based on evidences available, the author argues that representatives of member states, particularly developed countries are hypocritical of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Ethiopia. Being so, they perpetuate Tyranny and Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Ethiopia and other non-democratic nations in general.

An Overview of UPR
From 2006 onwards, it has become regular practice for the United Nations to evaluate the commitments of member states on human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Numerous international instruments are used as the standard against which member states are evaluated. The instruments vary from the United Nations Charter to the many international human rights and humanitarian instruments member states have voluntarily signed and ratified. As a result, every country that is a member of the United Nations participates in the UPR once every four and half years. The UPR is a one-to-one diplomatic process whereby governments comment on the human rights records of other governments. In the three and half hours, the country under review presents its report followed by criticisms and recommendations by member states. During the session, some governments cheer their allies with praise, while others governments use the UPR to offer sharp criticism. So, every statement from member states at the session has either something to praise the country under review with or has some statements of concern (criticism) for what is going on in the country accompanied by some recommendations for the government under review to accept. Later, the government under review must respond to each recommendation, stating whether it accepts, rejects or puts aside for later consideration.

Ethiopia on the 19th UPR Session and Condemnations, Recommendations and Praises from participant member states
For Ethiopia, this is the second UPR, with the first having taken place in December 2009. At the time (December 2009), the Human Rights Council issued for the EPRDF (TPLF) regime 143 recommendations with a view of helping it improve its ever-devastating human rights situation. Of those (the 143 issued) the regime acknowledged 99, rejected 32 arrogantly and isolated 12 others for future considerations (see http://www.upr-epu.com/ENG/country.php?id=151). However, in the final analysis none of the recommendations is implemented. Had it been implemented, the same criticisms and recommendations could have not been forwarded again by nations concerned about the situation of human rights in the country. So, it was after very poor performance by the TPLF people that this UPR session took place. As the Ethiopian delegates might have expected because they had not implemented the recommendations from the first UPR session and that human rights situation in the country had been worsened since then, there were a lot of criticisms and recommendations this time around as well. Countries were telling Ethiopia to change its behavior on human rights and fundamental freedom.

At this UPR, one hundred and nineteen countries participated and reflected on Ethiopia`s human rights’ records. Compared to many other countries´ UPR sessions, this is a bigger number and it is an indication that countries are concerned about Ethiopia´s situation. Cognizant of this fact, the regime sent handful delegates from its higher rank officials headed by the minster of foreign affairs to take part on the session. These delegates were presenting what they claimed to have achieved with regard to human rights and universal freedom in the country. Despite the country´s appalling human rights records, they again have dared to turn their ears deaf to the pouring criticisms from countries and tried to paint the country as a human rights heaven. It seems that Ethiopia´s huge number of delegates on this session was meant to go for the usual defiance to the critical stances from nations on Ethiopia´s human right abuses. On the other hand, it surprises one to hear very critical comments about Ethiopia`s human right situation from countries where Ethiopia´s government spending (30-40 percent) comes from in the form of aid.

Countries were boldly telling the Ethiopian delegates that it is necessary to amend the two proclamations adopted in 2009. Though I am one of the victims of Ethiopia´s ever devastating human right situation, I felt humiliated for Ethiopian delegates who were confronted with sharp criticism for what has been going on in the country. Among others, Ethiopia is:

I)                         recommended to work to loose the ethnic tension in the country´s political dynamics.
II)                      asked to allow free and fair election.
III)                   asked to allow freedom of expression and access to information.
IV)                   asked to allow political pluralism etc.
V)                      criticized for its recent crackdown on student protesters in Oromia regional state that resulted in the deaths of more than 50 innocent peaceful Oromo student protesters.
VI)                    urged to take urgent measures to investigate torture and extrajudicial killings committed by its national defense forces.
VII)          recommended to ensure that it has clear, independent, and effective complaints mechanisms in place for individuals to raise allegations of mistreatment by security, military, and law enforcement authorities and prison officials.

To help readers have a glimpse of which country was saying what during this UPR session, read the following summary of recommendations forwarded by some countries.

Ethiopia was recommended by Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States to fully implement its constitutional guarantees of freedom of association, expression, and assembly for independent political parties, ethnic and religious groups, and non-governmental organizations.

Canada urged Ethiopia to fully protect members of opposition groups, political activists, and journalists from arbitrary detention. Estonia called on Ethiopia to end harassment of political opposition party members, journalists, and human rights advocators. Finland recommended that Ethiopia is required to take further measures to ensure safety and freedom of human rights defenders.

Ethiopia was recommended by Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, Netherland, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United States to abolish or amend its Charities and Societies Proclamation to allow non-governmental organizations to operate more effectively and to receive fund from foreign donors.

Australia, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland urged Ethiopia to narrow its definition of terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and exclude the practice of journalism from the definition, to ensure protections for freedom of expression and assembly, and to better allow non-governmental organizations to function. The United States called for Ethiopia to ensure that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation is applied apolitically.

Ethiopia was encouraged to amend its Mass Media Proclamation to bring it in line with international human rights standards by Australia, Czech Republic, Denmark, and France. Estonia, Ireland and South Korea urged Ethiopia to stop censorship and advised to respect press freedom.

The Czech Republic also called on Ethiopia to immediately release all journalists detained for their professional activities, including the bloggers and journalists arrested in April 2014 and those jailed earlier including Mr. Eskinder Nega and Ms R. Alemu.

Analysis and Reflections
Western countries are more than aware of the violations of human rights deliberately orchestrated by Ethiopian regime under the disguise of proclamations adopted to legalize its unconstitutional acts. Almost all western countries had pointed out in their recommendations that the draconian Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) and Anti-Terrorism Proclamation adopted into law in 2009 should be amended. To support their recommendation, they put that amending this laws would allow NGOs to resume their activities of supporting the country´s effort to improve its horrendous human right records. Today in Ethiopia, it is almost impossible to operate as NGO working on human rights because of the CSP, which either limits or forbids such activities. Besides the CSP the country has adopted anti-terrorism proclamation that particularly targets political pluralism, freedom of expression and access to information. ATP is vague and allows the government to criminalize peaceful professional acts of its citizens. After this proclamation was adopted, handful of journalists, bloggers and opposition political party members and leaders have been sentenced to long years of imprisonment and are behind bars because they are accused of violating the incriminating ATP.

It is appeasing to the ears that almost all western countries questioned the ruling party (EPRDF/TPLF) that it uses these proclamations to crack down on dissent voices. The regime´s powerful western allies are aware of these facts and they included them in their criticisms. At the time this UPR session was held, six bloggers and three journalists were freshly arrested for allegedly violating the ATP and only waiting for the same prison terms tens of their fellow journalists or colleagues were serving. The continuation of arrests and imprisonments of opposition political leaders, journalists, bloggers, and other professionals who are critical about the situation of human rights and fundamental freedom in the country is a clear indication that the regime is not paying heed to what member states are saying. It is therefore necessary to know that the condemnation of acts of the government for using the proclamations, and recommending the government to amend the laws on such meetings as the UPR does not seem to limit the regime´s notorious behavior. It is easy to see the devastating effects of these proclamations by looking at what happened in the country immediately after the CSP was adopted.

The proclamation began to hit its target immediately after being adopted into law. To have a glimpse of what this law did and doing to organizations working on human rights in the country, it is enough to see the impact on two Ethiopian NGOs. Before the CSP was adopted, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (HRCO) carried out high quality monitoring and documentation of violations through twelve offices across the country. Since the law was passed HRCO has closed down most of its offices and has cut at least 75 percent of its staff. This happened as a result of the practical obstacles the law creates against human rights activist. Immediately after the proclamation was ratified, its restrictions on receipt of foreign funds were applied straightaway in late 2009 to freeze the bank accounts of Ethiopian NGOs (HRCO and EWLA). These are two of the largest national NGOs operating in the country working on human rights. The law particularly is targeted to hinder the efforts of these NGOs by limiting their capability. As a result, the proclamation endangers the observance and protection of the rights of every person in Ethiopia as has been reported by Human Rights Watch. Moreover, this law criminalizes any and all independent human rights work that seeks to document or challenge the Ethiopian government’s unspeakable human rights violations (see human rights watch report on this particular issue).

I have heard about twenty African countries speaking at the session. Only Nigeria, Botswana and Namibia came up with critical condemnations of Ethiopia´s human rights violations. They forwarded similar recommendations like western countries. I was impressed with these African countries statement of condemnation of Ethiopia´s violation of human rights. On the other hand, China has preferred to abstain from criticizing and recommending the country on issues of prime importance to the Universal Periodic Reviews. China did the same four and half years ago. Instead, China praised Ethiopia for its so-called double-digit economic growth during the past ten years and recommended the country to work on gender equality. Understandably, China that has its own human rights violation issues at home and which at the same time is an emerging new ally of Ethiopia; never take a strong standpoint like other countries.

I call into question the criticisms of countries like the US and some Western European countries. They are strong Ethiopian allies and support the country financially as I have pointed out before. This made me to question the entire UPR´s integrity, seriousness and significance. If they really meant what they were criticizing and recommending, why were and are they not doing anything to influence the country take the recommendation seriously and translate them into action on the ground. There could be a number of ways western powers can pressure the Ethiopian regime to change its behavior in the past two decades and more. Ethiopia is one of the fist three countries receiving massive aid from the US annually. The US alone gives Ethiopia more than a billion dollar every year. Every year, developed countries like Great Britain, Germany, Norway, pour millions of dollars to Ethiopia. They support the same regime they criticize because of its poor human right records. Though I agree that withdrawing aid is not the best way to support humanitarian and development objectives in the country, I strongly believe that external actors, donors and others, should seek to defend human rights when they intervene in a country. They could use aid to leverage human rights improvements, just as they use it to push for other improvements in the country they donate to.

In the absence of such leverage, the TPLF-led regime’s violence against the Ethiopian people is abetted by military, political and economic assistance from external powers both directly and indirectly. So, it is very important for governments, both in the West and East like China to strike a balance between their national interests and their international obligation of protecting human rights and stop giving unregulated economic, military and political support to a brutal regime that is extremely suppressive. At the time this article is written, Ethiopian government is brutally cracking down on peaceful Oromo student demonstrators across the country. More than 49 were shot dead by special military force for peacefully protesting against the eviction of Oromo farmers around the capital city. At the same time six bloggers and three independent journalists were arrested and being charged of acts of terrorism as I have said before. This bloggers and journalists will most probably be found guilty under the 2009 adopted anti terrorism law and will soon find themselves side by side with other dissent voices already behind bars.

It can be controversial for western donors whether to use aid as a form of leverage to force aid-receiving countries like Ethiopia to promote and protect universally accepted human rights. However, it is not controversial whether to let such countries get access to and abuse western technologies or not. The country is enjoying the privilege of importing western technologies that it uses to spy on peaceful citizens in and out of the country. This is part of the effort the regime makes to silence dissent voices. No nation or company is out there to provide any reason for allowing this tyrannical regime to use these technologies. If asked, the Ethiopian government either denies owning and using the spyware tools and say such allegations are baseless. The Ethiopian government may even claim that it has the right to use these technologies following the footsteps of the US for its national security. National security, terrorism and war on terror in the context of Ethiopia have different definitions. Ethiopia is a country where true journalism and activism is terrorism and can cost one a life long imprisonment or capital punishment. In Ethiopia, to be a leader in an opposition political party and be critical about the ruling party (TPLF) is a crime of violation of the constitution and then a national security problem. Ethiopian regime is abusing the privilege of using these technologies despite its bad human right records in the past. This is indicative of a global trend towards the acquisition of offensive cyber capabilities by non-democratic regimes from commercial Western companies. This is one of the areas where some of western countries´ foreign policies go wrong.

Human Rights watch has recently reported that Ethiopia`s surveillance of phones and emails is rampant. The country has been able to acquire server access and spyware technology from western countries. Hacking Team (Italy) and Gamma/FinFisher (UK/Germany) are two companies the HRW report identifies as being compliant in the country’s efforts. Using the spyware technologies it acquires from these companies, the regime is spying on dissent voices. The 137 page report details the technologies the Ethiopian government has acquired from several countries and uses to facilitate surveillance of perceived political opponents inside the country and among the diaspora. The government’s surveillance practices violate the rights to freedom of expression, association, and access to information. The government’s monopoly over all mobile and Internet services through its sole, state-owned telecom operator, Ethiopian Telecom, facilitates abuse of surveillance powers.

At the UPR session, Germany and Italy were among the countries criticizing Ethiopia for its poor human right records. Contrary to their criticism, companies in these nations are outsourcing the technologies Ethiopia is using to violate human rights and fundamental freedom as reported by Human Rights Watch. Knowing that Ethiopia has very poor records of human rights and fundamental freedom, at the time when cyber espionage is global threats to fundamental human freedom, why are these countries letting their companies equip this country with spyware technologies, which they know it can potentially use them to spy on its peaceful citizens?

Concluding Remarks
I would like to say that western developed countries have the moral responsibility to see the human rights situation in the countries that they financially support. Supporting undemocratically governing regime is the equal of supporting the non-democratic nature of the regime and financing all its inhuman acts. Most of the humanitarian crises we have in developing countries are basically rooted in the bad governance of regimes that are supported by the western powers. This is like treating the symptoms of a disease while enhancing the cause. So, it is important and necessary that these countries reconsider their foreign policies when it comes to substantially supporting their allies annually with billions of taxpayers´ money without questioning to what extent these countries are living up to their international and national (constitutional) obligations.

The current Ethiopian regime has all the options available to transform the country into a democratic state whereby political pluralism help to achieve the equality needed. It has western countries on its side with the necessary financial and other supports. The smooth relationship between the west and Ethiopia that was established after the removal of the military communist regime in 1991 could go beyond donating/receiving billions of dollars every year. Currently the regime seems to stand with the US working together to combat Al-Shabab´s terrorism in Somalia but it has been involving in state terrorism at home. The regime intends to use this backing of the US and Western European countries as a green card to crack down on dissent voices. In the US and other powerful allies of Ethiopia anti terrorism laws are meant to protect citizens whereby in Ethiopia the ATP is a legal tool to criminalize dissent voices and put them behind bars.

Western and Eastern powers can do better to influence the country to live up to its national (constitutional) and international obligations. For example, after events like the UPR, there should be some measures to be taken on the countries that either refuses or accepts but not translates into action the recommendations forwarded. The consequences can vary based on the country´s human right situations. Putting the country under embargo can be one of the consequences for not accepting very important recommendations. This means that countries that do not take the recommendations seriously and continue to violate human rights should pay some price. This can be either diplomatically, economically or other kinds of embargos that can deter the country from its acts of violence. The UPR can be very strong and effective, if such measures are built-in the mechanism. Moreover, I strongly believe that countries with serious human rights violations like Ethiopia, will take into account the recommendations forwarded at the UPR session and other similar events if some consequences are incorporated in the mechanisms.

Norsk PEN støtter internasjonal uttalelse om internet og MR

26th Session Human Rights Council
Item 3, General Debate

The Internet and Human Rights
19 June 2014
Joint Statement
Delivered by Andrew Smith, ARTICLE 19

Thank you Mr. President,

ARTICLE 19 delivers this statement on behalf of 48 NGOs.*

Two years ago this Council affirmed by consensus that “the same rights that people have offline must
also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression”.

In 2014, at Net-Mundial in Brazil the Internet was recognised as vital to the full realisation of sustainable development goals. 31 UN Special Rapporteurs recently affirmed that guaranteeing the free flow of information online ensures transparency and participation in decision-making, enhancing accountability and the effectiveness of development outcomes.

Development and social inclusion relies on the Internet remaining a global resource, managed in the public interest as a democratic, free and pluralistic platform. States must promote and facilitate universal, equitable, affordable and high-quality Internet access on the basis of human rights, the rule of law, and net-neutrality, including during times of unrest.

The blocking of communications, including of social media in Egypt, Malaysia, Pakistan, Turkey, and Venezuela is a violation of freedom of expression, association and assembly and must be condemned. Dissent online must be protected. We deplore the detention of Sombat Boonngamanong in Thailand, who faces up to 14 years imprisonment for urging peaceful resistance to the recent military coup via social media in the form of a three-finger salute.

One year after the Snowden revelations, this Council must recognise that trust in the Internet is conditional on respect for the rights to freedom of expression and privacy, regardless of users’ nationality or location. Any mass (or dragnet) surveillance, which comprises collection, processing and interception of all forms of communication is inherently disproportionate and a violation of human rights.

The targeted interception and collection of personal data must be conducted in accordance with international human rights law, as set out in the “Necessary and Proportionate Principles”. Critical and intermediate infrastructure must not be tampered with, nor should any system, protocol or standard be weakened to facilitate interception or decryption of data.

We urge this Council to take action to comprehensively address these challenges.

Thank you.

*ARTICLE 19
Access
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
Albanian Media Institute
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Big Brother Watch
Bits of Freedom
Bolo Bhi Pakistan
Bytes For All
Cambodia Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Independent Journalism, Romania
Centre for Internet & Society
Centre for Media Freedom & Responsibility
Chaos Computer Club
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Privacy Information Center
European Centre for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL)
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (FLIP)
Human Rights Watch
Index on Censorship
International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Media Rights Agenda
Norwegian PEN
OpenMedia.org
Open Net Korea
Open Rights Group
Pakistan Press Foundation
Panos Institute West Africa
PEN Canada
PEN International
Privacy International
Reporters Without Borders
Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC)
Simon Davies, publisher of “Privacy Surgeon”
South East Asian Press Alliance
South East European Network for Professionalisation of the Media
Thai Netizen Network
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters
Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum

Massiv kritikk av Etiopias brudd på menneskerettigheter

Western and Eastern Powers Perpetuate Tyranny and Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: Reflections on Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Human Rights Records of Ethiopia Held on May 6, 2014 at Geneva, Switzerland

Written by Hika Fekede Dugassa, writer and university lecturer, and guest writer in the town Molde, Norway.

Acronyms
HRCO
   Ethiopian Human Rights Council
EWLA
   Ethiopian Women Lawers Association
TPLF   
 Tigrean People Liberation Front
EPRDF
 Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front
CSP
      Charities and Societies Proclamation
ATP
       Anti Terrorism proclamation
OLF
       Oromo Liberation Front
ONLF
    Ogadenian National Liberation Front
UNHR
   United Narions Human Rights
UPR
       Universal Periodic review

Introduction

The UNHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) has been evaluating the performances and commitments of member states on human rights and fundamental freedoms since 2006. This paper presents a reflection on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Human Rights Records of Ethiopia held on May 6, 2014 at Geneva, Switzerland. The paper has three sections. The first section gives a brief overview of trajectories and procedures of the UPR. The second section briefly accounts on Ethiopia’s participation in UPR and recommendations it has received from member states. The last portion of the paper gives author’s analysis of and reflections on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Ethiopia and the recommendations and critics forwarded to Ethiopia. Based on evidences available, the author argues that representatives of member states, particularly developed countries are hypocritical of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Ethiopia. Being so, they perpetuate Tyranny and Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Ethiopia and other non-democratic nations in general.

An Overview of UPR
From 2006 onwards, it has become regular practice for the United Nations to evaluate the commitments of member states on human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Numerous international instruments are used as the standard against which member states are evaluated. The instruments vary from the United Nations Charter to the many international human rights and humanitarian instruments member states have voluntarily signed and ratified. As a result, every country that is a member of the United Nations participates in the UPR once every four and half years. The UPR is a one-to-one diplomatic process whereby governments comment on the human rights records of other governments. In the three and half hours, the country under review presents its report followed by criticisms and recommendations by member states. During the session, some governments cheer their allies with praise, while others governments use the UPR to offer sharp criticism. So, every statement from member states at the session has either something to praise the country under review with or has some statements of concern (criticism) for what is going on in the country accompanied by some recommendations for the government under review to accept. Later, the government under review must respond to each recommendation, stating whether it accepts, rejects or puts aside for later consideration.

Ethiopia on the 19th UPR Session and Condemnations, Recommendations and Praises from participant member states
For Ethiopia, this is the second UPR, with the first having taken place in December 2009. At the time (December 2009), the Human Rights Council issued for the EPRDF (TPLF) regime 143 recommendations with a view of helping it improve its ever-devastating human rights situation. Of those (the 143 issued) the regime acknowledged 99, rejected 32 arrogantly and isolated 12 others for future considerations (see http://www.upr-epu.com/ENG/country.php?id=151). However, in the final analysis none of the recommendations is implemented. Had it been implemented, the same criticisms and recommendations could have not been forwarded again by nations concerned about the situation of human rights in the country. So, it was after very poor performance by the TPLF people that this UPR session took place. As the Ethiopian delegates might have expected because they had not implemented the recommendations from the first UPR session and that human rights situation in the country had been worsened since then, there were a lot of criticisms and recommendations this time around as well. Countries were telling Ethiopia to change its behavior on human rights and fundamental freedom.

At this UPR, one hundred and nineteen countries participated and reflected on Ethiopia`s human rights’ records. Compared to many other countries´ UPR sessions, this is a bigger number and it is an indication that countries are concerned about Ethiopia´s situation. Cognizant of this fact, the regime sent handful delegates from its higher rank officials headed by the minster of foreign affairs to take part on the session. These delegates were presenting what they claimed to have achieved with regard to human rights and universal freedom in the country. Despite the country´s appalling human rights records, they again have dared to turn their ears deaf to the pouring criticisms from countries and tried to paint the country as a human rights heaven. It seems that Ethiopia´s huge number of delegates on this session was meant to go for the usual defiance to the critical stances from nations on Ethiopia´s human right abuses. On the other hand, it surprises one to hear very critical comments about Ethiopia`s human right situation from countries where Ethiopia´s government spending (30-40 percent) comes from in the form of aid.

Countries were boldly telling the Ethiopian delegates that it is necessary to amend the two proclamations adopted in 2009. Though I am one of the victims of Ethiopia´s ever devastating human right situation, I felt humiliated for Ethiopian delegates who were confronted with sharp criticism for what has been going on in the country. Among others, Ethiopia is:

I)                         recommended to work to loose the ethnic tension in the country´s political dynamics.
II)                      asked to allow free and fair election.
III)                   asked to allow freedom of expression and access to information.
IV)                   asked to allow political pluralism etc.
V)                      criticized for its recent crackdown on student protesters in Oromia regional state that resulted in the deaths of more than 50 innocent peaceful Oromo student protesters.
VI)                    urged to take urgent measures to investigate torture and extrajudicial killings committed by its national defense forces.
VII)          recommended to ensure that it has clear, independent, and effective complaints mechanisms in place for individuals to raise allegations of mistreatment by security, military, and law enforcement authorities and prison officials.

To help readers have a glimpse of which country was saying what during this UPR session, read the following summary of recommendations forwarded by some countries.

Ethiopia was recommended by Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States to fully implement its constitutional guarantees of freedom of association, expression, and assembly for independent political parties, ethnic and religious groups, and non-governmental organizations.

Canada urged Ethiopia to fully protect members of opposition groups, political activists, and journalists from arbitrary detention. Estonia called on Ethiopia to end harassment of political opposition party members, journalists, and human rights advocators. Finland recommended that Ethiopia is required to take further measures to ensure safety and freedom of human rights defenders.

Ethiopia was recommended by Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, Netherland, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden, and the United States to abolish or amend its Charities and Societies Proclamation to allow non-governmental organizations to operate more effectively and to receive fund from foreign donors.

Australia, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, and Switzerland urged Ethiopia to narrow its definition of terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and exclude the practice of journalism from the definition, to ensure protections for freedom of expression and assembly, and to better allow non-governmental organizations to function. The United States called for Ethiopia to ensure that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation is applied apolitically.

Ethiopia was encouraged to amend its Mass Media Proclamation to bring it in line with international human rights standards by Australia, Czech Republic, Denmark, and France. Estonia, Ireland and South Korea urged Ethiopia to stop censorship and advised to respect press freedom.

The Czech Republic also called on Ethiopia to immediately release all journalists detained for their professional activities, including the bloggers and journalists arrested in April 2014 and those jailed earlier including Mr. Eskinder Nega and Ms R. Alemu.

Analysis and Reflections
Western countries are more than aware of the violations of human rights deliberately orchestrated by Ethiopian regime under the disguise of proclamations adopted to legalize its unconstitutional acts. Almost all western countries had pointed out in their recommendations that the draconian Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) and Anti-Terrorism Proclamation adopted into law in 2009 should be amended. To support their recommendation, they put that amending this laws would allow NGOs to resume their activities of supporting the country´s effort to improve its horrendous human right records. Today in Ethiopia, it is almost impossible to operate as NGO working on human rights because of the CSP, which either limits or forbids such activities. Besides the CSP the country has adopted anti-terrorism proclamation that particularly targets political pluralism, freedom of expression and access to information. ATP is vague and allows the government to criminalize peaceful professional acts of its citizens. After this proclamation was adopted, handful of journalists, bloggers and opposition political party members and leaders have been sentenced to long years of imprisonment and are behind bars because they are accused of violating the incriminating ATP.

It is appeasing to the ears that almost all western countries questioned the ruling party (EPRDF/TPLF) that it uses these proclamations to crack down on dissent voices. The regime´s powerful western allies are aware of these facts and they included them in their criticisms. At the time this UPR session was held, six bloggers and three journalists were freshly arrested for allegedly violating the ATP and only waiting for the same prison terms tens of their fellow journalists or colleagues were serving. The continuation of arrests and imprisonments of opposition political leaders, journalists, bloggers, and other professionals who are critical about the situation of human rights and fundamental freedom in the country is a clear indication that the regime is not paying heed to what member states are saying. It is therefore necessary to know that the condemnation of acts of the government for using the proclamations, and recommending the government to amend the laws on such meetings as the UPR does not seem to limit the regime´s notorious behavior. It is easy to see the devastating effects of these proclamations by looking at what happened in the country immediately after the CSP was adopted.

The proclamation began to hit its target immediately after being adopted into law. To have a glimpse of what this law did and doing to organizations working on human rights in the country, it is enough to see the impact on two Ethiopian NGOs. Before the CSP was adopted, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (HRCO) carried out high quality monitoring and documentation of violations through twelve offices across the country. Since the law was passed HRCO has closed down most of its offices and has cut at least 75 percent of its staff. This happened as a result of the practical obstacles the law creates against human rights activist. Immediately after the proclamation was ratified, its restrictions on receipt of foreign funds were applied straightaway in late 2009 to freeze the bank accounts of Ethiopian NGOs (HRCO and EWLA). These are two of the largest national NGOs operating in the country working on human rights. The law particularly is targeted to hinder the efforts of these NGOs by limiting their capability. As a result, the proclamation endangers the observance and protection of the rights of every person in Ethiopia as has been reported by Human Rights Watch. Moreover, this law criminalizes any and all independent human rights work that seeks to document or challenge the Ethiopian government’s unspeakable human rightsviolations (see human rights watch report on this particular issue).

I have heard about twenty African countries speaking at the session. Only Nigeria, Botswana and Namibia came up with critical condemnations of Ethiopia´s human rights violations. They forwarded similar recommendations like western countries. I was impressed with these African countries statement of condemnation of Ethiopia´s violation of human rights. On the other hand, China has preferred to abstain from criticizing and recommending the country on issues of prime importance to the Universal Periodic Reviews. China did the same four and half years ago. Instead, China praised Ethiopia for its so-called double-digit economic growth during the past ten years and recommended the country to work on gender equality. Understandably, China that has its own human rights violation issues at home and which at the same time is an emerging new ally of Ethiopia; never take a strong standpoint like other countries.

I call into question the criticisms of countries like the US and some Western European countries. They are strong Ethiopian allies and support the country financially as I have pointed out before. This made me to question the entire UPR´s integrity, seriousness and significance. If they really meant what they were criticizing and recommending, why were and are they not doing anything to influence the country take the recommendation seriously and translate them into action on the ground. There could be a number of ways western powers can pressure the Ethiopian regime to change its behavior in the past two decades and more. Ethiopia is one of the fist three countries receiving massive aid from the US annually. The US alone gives Ethiopia more than a billion dollar every year. Every year, developed countries like Great Britain, Germany, Norway, pour millions of dollars to Ethiopia. They support the same regime they criticize because of its poor human right records. Though I agree that withdrawing aid is not the best way to support humanitarian and development objectives in the country, I strongly believe that external actors, donors and others, should seek to defend human rights when they intervene in a country. They could use aid to leverage human rights improvements, just as they use it to push for other improvements in the country they donate to.

In the absence of such leverage, the TPLF-led regime’s violence against the Ethiopian people is abetted by military, political and economic assistance from external powers both directly and indirectly. So, it is very important for governments, both in the West and East like China to strike a balance between their national interests and their international obligation of protecting human rights and stop giving unregulated economic, military and political support to a brutal regime that is extremely suppressive. At the time this article is written, Ethiopian government is brutally cracking down on peaceful Oromo student demonstrators across the country. More than 49 were shot dead by special military force for peacefully protesting against the eviction of Oromo farmers around the capital city. At the same time six bloggers and three independent journalists were arrested and being charged of acts of terrorism as I have said before. This bloggers and journalists will most probably be found guilty under the 2009 adopted anti terrorism law and will soon find themselves side by side with other dissent voices already behind bars.

It can be controversial for western donors whether to use aid as a form of leverage to force aid-receiving countries like Ethiopia to promote and protect universally accepted human rights. However, it is not controversial whether to let such countries get access to and abuse western technologies or not. The country is enjoying the privilege of importing western technologies that it uses to spy on peaceful citizens in and out of the country. This is part of the effort the regime makes to silence dissent voices. No nation or company is out there to provide any reason for allowing this tyrannical regime to use these technologies. If asked, the Ethiopian government either denies owning and using the spyware tools and say such allegations are baseless. The Ethiopian government may even claim that it has the right to use these technologies following the footsteps of the US for its national security. National security, terrorism and war on terror in the context of Ethiopia have different definitions. Ethiopia is a country where true journalism and activism is terrorism and can cost one a life long imprisonment or capital punishment. In Ethiopia, to be a leader in an opposition political party and be critical about the ruling party (TPLF) is a crime of violation of the constitution and then a national security problem. Ethiopian regime is abusing the privilege of using these technologies despite its bad human right records in the past. This is indicative of a global trend towards the acquisition of offensive cyber capabilities by non-democratic regimes from commercial Western companies. This is one of the areas where some of western countries’ foreign policies go wrong.

Human Rights watch has recently reported that Ethiopia`s surveillance of phones and emails is rampant. The country has been able to acquire server access and spyware technology from western countries. Hacking Team (Italy) and Gamma/FinFisher (UK/Germany) are two companies the HRW report identifies as being compliant in the country’s efforts. Using the spyware technologies it acquires from these companies, the regime is spying on dissent voices. The 137 page report details the technologies the Ethiopian government has acquired from several countries and uses to facilitate surveillance of perceived political opponents inside the country and among the diaspora. The government’s surveillance practices violate the rights to freedom of expression, association, and access to information. The government’s monopoly over all mobile and Internet services through its sole, state-owned telecom operator, Ethiopian Telecom, facilitates abuse of surveillance powers.

At the UPR session, Germany and Italy were among the countries criticizing Ethiopia for its poor human right records. Contrary to their criticism, companies in these nations are outsourcing the technologies Ethiopia is using to violate human rights and fundamental freedom as reported by Human Rights Watch. Knowing that Ethiopia has very poor records of human rights and fundamental freedom, at the time when cyber espionage is global threats to fundamental human freedom, why are these countries letting their companies equip this country with spyware technologies, which they know it can potentially use them to spy on its peaceful citizens?

Concluding Remarks
I would like to say that western developed countries have the moral responsibility to see the human rights situation in the countries that they financially support. Supporting undemocratically governing regime is the equal of supporting the non-democratic nature of the regime and financing all its inhuman acts. Most of the humanitarian crises we have in developing countries are basically rooted in the bad governance of regimes that are supported by the western powers. This is like treating the symptoms of a disease while enhancing the cause. So, it is important and necessary that these countries reconsider their foreign policies when it comes to substantially supporting their allies annually with billions of taxpayers´ money without questioning to what extent these countries are living up to their international and national (constitutional) obligations.

The current Ethiopian regime has all the options available to transform the country into a democratic state whereby political pluralism help to achieve the equality needed. It has western countries on its side with the necessary financial and other supports. The smooth relationship between the west and Ethiopia that was established after the removal of the military communist regime in 1991 could go beyond donating/receiving billions of dollars every year. Currently the regime seems to stand with the US working together to combat Al-Shabab´s terrorism in Somalia but it has been involving in state terrorism at home. The regime intends to use this backing of the US and Western European countries as a green card to crack down on dissent voices. In the US and other powerful allies of Ethiopia anti terrorism laws are meant to protect citizens whereby in Ethiopia the ATP is a legal tool to criminalize dissent voices and put them behind bars.

Western and Eastern powers can do better to influence the country to live up to its national (constitutional) and international obligations. For example, after events like the UPR, there should be some measures to be taken on the countries that either refuses or accepts but not translates into action the recommendations forwarded. The consequences can vary based on the country´s human right situations. Putting the country under embargo can be one of the consequences for not accepting very important recommendations. This means that countries that do not take the recommendations seriously and continue to violate human rights should pay some price. This can be either diplomatically, economically or other kinds of embargos that can deter the country from its acts of violence. The UPR can be very strong and effective, if such measures are built-in the mechanism. Moreover, I strongly believe that countries with serious human rights violations like Ethiopia, will take into account the recommendations forwarded at the UPR session and other similar events if some consequences are incorporated in the mechanisms.

Human rights and human obligations

Human rights and human obligations

Lecture at the International PEN Congress in Tromsø, Norway, Friday 10 September 2004

By Jostein Gaarder

This year sees the bicentenary of the death of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant.  Towards the end of his life he pointed out that it was a necessary moral imperative for every country to join together in a “league of nations” whose job would be to ensure their peaceful co-existence.  As such, this German philosopher would seem to have first fathered the idea of the United Nations.  A few years ago we were able to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  And there was good reason to celebrate this milestone, as human rights still need to be protected against infringements and brutal violations.  The only difference now is that, for more than fifty years, we have had an institution and an instrument with which to defend these rights.

Perhaps the Universal Declaration of Human Rights represents the greatest triumph of philosophy and literature so far.  For human rights were not bestowed on us by higher powers, nor were they plucked from thin air, but rather they represent the culmination of a thousand-year maturing process, a process which to a large extent was carried forward by the written word, by English and French literature of the Enlightenment, by Italian Renaissance writing, by the literary heritage of ancient Greece and Rome, and of course by a clutch of religious tracts as well.  Behind this humanistic tradition were flesh and blood individuals who, at certain times of their lives, sat down to think and write – and they thought on behalf of the whole of humanity.  The very notion of a person’s “natural rights” has had a long and tortuous development; women’s political rights are, for example, hardly more than a century old, and they still need to be fought for – proof in itself of our slow development from tyranny and arbitrariness towards freedom and humanity.

The question that faces us at the start of a new millennium is how long we can go on talking about rights without simultaneously focusing on the individual’s obligations.  Maybe we need a new universal declaration.  Perhaps the time is ripe for a Universal Declaration of Human Obligations.  It is simply no longer meaningful to talk about rights without simultaneously stressing the individual state’s, or person’s, obligations.

Currently there are hundreds of organisations throughout the world which protect human rights, but only a handful that are concerned with human obligations – like, for example, the responsibility of looking after the rights of future generations.  Despite its very modest first showing, the Kyoto Protocol provides a preview of what must be achieved through international commitments aimed at rescuing the environment, the earth’s resources and the basis of human and animal life.

My question is: what role does art and literature play in all this?  We often see examples of artists, writers or people in the international entertainment industry disclaiming responsibility by pointing to freedom of expression or “artistic freedom”.  But what do we mean by artistic freedom?

An important bedrock of all ethics has been “the golden rule “: you should do to others as you would be done to yourself.  Immanuel Kant defined this reciprocal principle by pointing out that the right action is the one we would wish everyone to perform in a similar situation.  Two hundred years after Kant’s death we have just about begun to get used to the idea that the reciprocal principle must also apply between rich and poor countries.  In addition, it must include the relationship between the generations.

The question is whether we would have wanted the people who lived on this planet before us – a hundred, a thousand or a hundred thousand years ago – to have deposited large quantities of atomic waste on the bed of the sea or in caves or mountain ravines.  If not, we have no right to do the same.  It’s as simple as that.  Or we can turn the question round and ask: how much does it cost to rent a security company for half a million years?  And who will pay the bill?  Or: how many geologists would dare to guarantee plutonium-free playgrounds in a hundred, or a hundred thousand years time?  Or: who will clean up after us?  Who will clear up after our party?

The question is whether we would have wanted previous generations to cut down more forests and rain forests.  Would we have preferred it if our ancestors had exterminated even more plant and animal species?  If not, we are duty bound to preserve biological diversity.  We cannot even be sure that Kant would have tolerated our high consumption of non-renewable energy sources.  We must first make sure that we would have wanted our ancestors to burn the same amount of coal and oil per head as we do.

We are the first generation to affect the climate on earth – and perhaps the last that won’t have to pay the price for it.

It has been pointed out that we have not inherited this planet from our ancestors, but have it on loan from our descendants.  But we are leaving a planet that it worth less than the one we borrowed.  And so we are eating into a capital that we really ought to have repaid with interest.

We can use the following simple idea borrowed from the American moral philosopher John Rawls: imagine you were a member of a formal committee whose job was to work out all the laws of a future society.  The committee members need to think of absolutely every eventuality because, once they have reached agreement and ratified all the legislation, they will all drop dead.  But after that they will all immediately wake up again in the very society whose laws they have written.  But – they would have no prior knowledge of what position in society they would occupy.  Nor would they know their ethnic or religious background, or if they were going to be born a boy or a girl.  A society like that would be a just society – simply because it had been formed by equals.

To make this notion more relevant to a modern global community, it would however be necessary to add one other important criterion: the members of this legislative body would also not know when they would be living in this society that everyone was equally responsible for.  It might be straight away.  But it might also be five hundred or five thousand years in the future.

Is today’s society a similarly just – and sustainable – one?  In other words, would we dare to be born in the middle of this millennium, for example?  The question boils down to whether we would risk sharing the fate of our own grandchildren?

How wide are our ethical horizons?  How wide are the ethical horizons of literature and art? In the final analysis it comes down to a question of identity.  What is a human being?  And who am I?  If I were nothing more than myself, I would be a creature without hope.  At least in the long term.  But I possess a deeper identity than my own body and my own short span on earth.  I am part of – and take part in – something greater and more important than myself.

Radhakrishnan, the former President of India said: You must love your neighbour as yourself because you are your neighbour.  The belief that your neighbour is anything other than you is merely an illusion.  And we might possibly add: isn’t it also an illusion that makes us believe that life on this planet is something different from ourselves?

But we don’t need to travel to India to encounter this more profound sense of identity.  We simply need to restore the old farming ethic.  It was an unwritten rule that the farmer would hand on his land in a better state and in better heart than he’d inherited it.  When the old farmer was on his death bed it was, of course, a time of melancholy and sadness.  But it would have been a greater and more irreparable tragedy if the farm itself had burnt down.

It has been said that the problem with Spaceship Earth is that it didn’t come with any instructions.  But in that case, why don’t we get on and write an instruction manual!  For that we need authors and philosophers.  We know that things are going wrong, and we know that we need to change course.  Don’t we also understand that something in our very system of economics is on a collision course with what the planet can tolerate?  Far too many decisions give priority to short-term profit of small groups rather than considering what is a fair distribution of the earth’s resources.

We are often told that ideologies are dead.  But isn’t the consumer ideology also an ideology?  And is it really the only model?

The question for writers and artists at the start of the third millennium must be: what shift in consciousness do we need?  What is a sustainable wisdom?  Which qualities of life are the most important?  Which values are the true values?  What is the good life?  And importantly: what kind of mobilisation is possible in the global village?

I have met people in small local communities who have expressed profound sorrow about the enormous cultural loss suffered in their area as a result of what many regard as colonialism or neo-colonialism.  But the cultural sphere is not the only thing that suffers in this so called “globalisation”.  The effects on the environment have been even more serious and irreversible, for example a total or partial extermination of native flora and fauna.  Some of these species still survive in traditional folk songs and folklore.  It’s just that they have been eradicated from the face of the earth.

A threat to ancient habitats is naturally also a threat to art and culture.  Even an attack on traditional economy can be an attack on a traditional culture.  Nature forms the basis of culture.  This can be easy to forget in an international consumer society in which the distance between producer and consumer can seem enormous.  But plundering a people’s natural surroundings is simultaneously to misappropriate that people’s culture  – and their soul.  It’s fruitless to discuss which is the greater loss.  It would be rather like asking what someone would hate to lose most: body or soul.

This “body and soul” perspective – or nature and culture – is clearly relevant to the whole of our planet.  If our very economic system is on a collision course with what nature can endure, it is also a threat to all cultural life.  For a playful, inventive and vain primate it is easy to forget that, at root, we are a part of nature.  But are we really so playful, inventive and vain that the game itself, the inventions and the art are given pre-eminence over our responsibility for the planet’s future?

Today, many of us well understand the challenges facing the planet.  But we feel paralysed by political and economic systems.  Politicians, too, have a far greater insight than might appear in practice.  And this is the paradox: we have sufficient insight – and we know that time is short – but we aren’t able to turn things round before it’s too late.  But if we do manage it, I am convinced that art and literature will play a decisive part.  In the same way that authors and artists have constituted an avant-garde in the fight for human rights, so they may form a vanguard, too, in the struggle for human obligations.

When Churchill was appointed Prime Minister in May 1940 – as German forces were advancing on the English Channel – he told the House of Commons: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, sweat and tears.  The amazing thing was that he managed to mobilise his people – in spite of what was, to put it mildly, a depressing political message.  But the message was a necessary one.  Today we are perhaps facing an even greater and more imminent danger – by which I mean a fatal collapse of the earth’s environments, including all artistic and cultural values.  But where is that political courage now?  Where is the political decisiveness?  Where are the politicians who dare to ask for a little sweat and tears to bring about a new and necessary political direction simply to save our children’s futures, human civilisation – and the very dignity of the human race itself?  Perhaps it is we poets, essayists and novelists, who must raise our banners and make our politicians toe the line.  We have done it before.

Perhaps the most important question of all in relation to literature’s importance in a post-modern world is this: how can the written word inspire a young generation to believe in – and so fight for – a more just and sustainable future?  What visions can art give the younger generation in a world where half the population lives below the poverty line and the other half practically drowns in materialism and excessive consumption?

According to an old parable a frog that is dropped into boiling water will immediately jump out again and so save its skin.  But if the frog is placed in a pan of cold water which is gradually brought to boiling point, it will be unaware of the danger and be boiled to death.

Is our generation like that frog?  Is modern art and culture such a frog?  Or the modern entertainment industry?  I don’t know, but it really is down to us to decide.  We can’t count on any outside help.  We’re not likely to be saved in the final second before boiling point – either from outer space or by some form of supernatural intervention.

Human beings are largely social creatures, and authors are no exception.  But we can’t continue only to relate to each other.  We also belong to the earth we live on.  That, too, is a significant part of our identity.

To a large extent we modern human beings have been shaped by our cultural history, by the actual civilisation that has nurtured us.  We say that we have a cultural heritage.  But we have also been formed by the biological history of the planet.  We also pass on a genetic inheritance.  We are primates.  We are vertebrates.

It took several billion years to create us.  But will we survive the third millennium?

Human beings are possibly the only living creatures in the universe with a universal consciousness.  And so it is not only a global responsibility to preserve the living environment of this planet.  It is a cosmic responsibility.

Literature is nothing less than a celebration of mankind’s consciousness.  So shouldn’t an author be the first to defend human consciousness against annihilation?

Jostein Gaarder

Afghanistan, mars 2003

P.E.N.-delegation to Afghanistan, March 4th to March 22nd, 2003

 

The delegation consisted of two members: Elisabeth Eide , writer and associate professor of journalism, who has worked among Afghans in Peshawar and visited the country several times. Elisabeth Eide is also a member of the board of Norwegian PEN.  And Eugene Schoulgin, writer and Chair of International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, who has visited and stayed in Afghanistan several times.

The delegation also got eminent assistance from our interpreter Salahuddin Malik Asem, who followed us all through our stay, and soon became so familiar with PEN that he could give the listeners the whole PEN introduction by heart. The purpose of the delegation was to investigate the current situation for the writers in today’s post Taliban society and the possibilities for creating an Afghan PEN Centre in the future. To do this, our goal was to collect as much information as possible about the environment in which the writers live and work – as well as get acquainted with the poets and novelists, journalists and literary scholars.

The members of the delegation express their sincere gratitude to the Ministry of Foreign Affaires in Norway for their financial and moral support, which made this endeavour possible.

Contents:

1.    The general situation
What about Kabul?
Herat
2.    Human rights/freedom of expression
3.    The Writers – and an Afghan P.E.N. Centre
The first meetings
A journalism professor
49 writers
Writers’ house in Kabul
Afghan P.E.N.
The aftermath

1.    The general situation

Needless to say, the visit took place in a very fragile situation for Afghanistan. The country is still at war. This war takes several shapes: The U.S. and some other countries together with the Afghan government, formally elected at the Loya Jirga last June, are waging a war against remnants of Al-Qaida (nobody knows the present whereabouts of Osama bin Laden) and the Taliban. This war has been enlarged to crush also other groups that oppose the U.S. presence in the country, like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami. The U.S. presence might also have lead to a situation in which groups that were previously hostile to each other (like the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami) now treat each others as temporary allies of sorts. In addition, regional and local warlords (commanders) fight each other to gain control over certain areas.

It has been said of Hamid Karzai’s government that it controls only Kabul. This may be largely true, since only fragments of a national army (1700 persons) exist, and since groups intended to represent a national army in the provinces are rarely paid for their services, while it seems the warlords are in a better situation to hire armed men. In Kabul, the situation during our visit was relatively calm (it seems to have deteriorated to some extent in April), the same in Herat (controlled by Ismael Khan), while conflict areas seem to be in and around Khost (Paktia), Urozgan, Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif (Dostum vs. Atta Mohammad) and Kandahar. The border areas with Pakistan, close to the tribal areas of Pakistan, are areas of unrest, and areas where various groups opposing the present regime, maintain some strongholds.

A special source of unrest and discontent also seems to be what many people of Pashtun origin claim is a low priority given to humanitarian and other assistance in the Southern provinces with a predominantly Pashtun population. This may in its turn help the groups opposing the present government and the presence of U.S. and other Western military personnel.

What about Kabul?

The capital is badly in need of repair. Large parts of the city are still in ruins, including major official buildings, like the National Museum, The Archeological Museum and Kabul Theatre. Tens of thousands of people, among them many returning refugees, do not have proper lodging. Adding to this situation, is the fact that rental of houses is very expensive, due to the large number of international organisations present in the city.

People seem very concerned with security, and an important reason (in addition to traditional views) why a large proportion of women (appr. 70 per cent in Kabul, more than 90 in Herat) are still wearing their burqas, is, according to several sources, the fear of armed men. Several women have been abducted, raped and assaulted in other ways, and attacks on others who are known to oppose the warlords, also occur. The American presence is disliked by many, tolerated by others, who fear the situation would become even more unstable if they left at this time. Many say they would appreciate it if the Americans disarmed the warlords. This, however, does not happen. Many others say that they would prefer more UN forces (ISAF) and less of the American presence.

Is the present government simply functioning as marionettes of the Americans? This may be a simpified way of interpreting the situation. The government contains both personalities with blood on their hands – and persons with a good standing in Afghan society. Four of them are American citizens. The process leading to its formation was partly one of democracy (compared to the creation of most Afghan government in the past), in which people were elected from their local communities to join the Loya Jirga, partly one of nepotism and behind-the-curtain work of the U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. Anders Fänge, director of the Swedish Committe for Afghanistan (with long experience from Afghanistan), says that this government has probably more legitimacy than any previous Afghan government.

At the same time, in the capital many people seem to enjoy a relative freedom unheard of during Taliban. Boys and girls go to schools and universities, kites are again flying, music is played, and a large number (appr. 120 – 150) of newspapers and magazines are now published, some of them with international assistance. On the International Women’s Day 8th of March, we witnessed the inauguration of a Women’s radio station, presided over by the Minister of Women’s Affairs, and the Deputy Minister for Information and Culture. In charge was Jamila Mujahid, the newscaster who came back to Kabul TV-studio to announce that Taliban had evacuated the city in November 2001.

The psychological factor is important. As one Afghan writer, Dr. Samay Hamed (exiled in Denmark for three years during Taliban rule) says: “We are not in a position to choose between black and white, we can only choose between black and grey, and prefer grey. The actions of the transitional government will show whether it will og from grey to white or not.”

The alternative to a certain, contingent optimism, is so much worse. During the rule of Taliban – and the previous governments, many intellectuals have felt lost, undervalued, which has led to a loss of self confidence (EE visited Afghanistan several times also during the Taliban rule, and can compare). The country has been ruled by Soviets and their allies, by commanders and by mullahs, leaving little space for intellectuals, many of whom have been imprisoned, executed or exiled. Afghanistan is probably the country in the world suffering most heavily from brain drain during the past twenty-five years.

Herat

The delegation spent four days in Herat. There, the situation differs from Kabul. The city was probably less damaged from the war, and the standard of repair is high. On the other hand, there is by no means the same degree of freedom. Almost all women wear their burqas, and Human Rights Watch have reported several abuses of women, among them threats to the ones working for foreign agencies.

Some independent media sprung up after the fall of Taliban, but with a few rare exceptions (like a literary magazine) they seem to have died again. Only official radio, TV and newspaper(s) exist. The dean at the Faculty of Literature, Language and Journalism, is in favour of a more free situation, but seemed to realise that this would have to happen step by (small) step, if at all. On the other hand, at the university both girls and boys study, as could be observed from our visit.

The governor, Ismael Khan, presiding over a literary event commemorating the martyrs from the fight against the Soviets in 1980 (reportedly more than 2000 were killed at one occasion), expressed his disdain for the international press. He said the only people who did not like him in his area (several provinces bordering Herat included, more or less), were the sons and daughters of the communists he had executed. Ismael Khan is a perfect example of regionalism, as he amasses his funds from the border trade with Iran, and does not contribute to the coffers of the central government. This leaves him in a position where he is wealthy enough to support his own army – and does not care too much about the national endeavours. He is not the only one in that position, there are other sources of income, for example through the (now increasing again) cultivation of poppy.

2. Human rights/freedom of expression

The human rights situation may be looked at from several angles:

–    Abuses by Afghan leaders presently in power, be they national and/or regional:

–    Worst seems here to be the warlord in and around Mazar-i-Sharif, General Abdul Rashid Dostum. Before September 11th, he was in Turkey, but he was brought back to life by the ‘coalition’. He has one of the worst human rights records in the country, more recently from his treatment of more than 3000 Taliban prisoners of war, who were killed in containers and buried in Dasht-e- Leila in Shebergan area. His list is long.

–    Warlords and their soldiers (including the defense minister’s people) commit other abuses – against women – who are being abducted, raped and killed. The Afghan Human Rights Commission, headed by Dr. Sima Samar (former minister of women’s affair, lost that position during the Loya Jirga for being too outspoken confronting the warlords), has more than 700 complaints under investigation. The activists from this commission are frequently met with threats and abuses when working in the field (for example by commanders in the Shamoli area), and need full international support for their extremely important work. In spite of their difficult situation, the commission has opened several regional offices in Afghanistan, the latest in Mazar-i-Sharif.

–    An editor of a Kabul newspaper Farda (Tomorrow) was arrested and put to jail for almost a week for publishing a political cartoon.  The president himself ordered his release as he came back to Kabul from abroad (December 2002).

–    An independent magazine in Baghlan province (North-West of Kabul), Telayah, that in its first issue focused on the need of the local authorities to preserve the cultural heritage from being looted and/or destroyed, was closed down by the same authorities. The situation only improved after people from The Association for the Defence of the Afghan Writers’ Rights intervened.

·    Abuses committed by organisations and networks hostile to the present government, the US and their allies:

–    Several reports tell of attacks on girl schools as symbols of present government policy. Also, threats have been issued in the form of ‘night letters’ to people working with foreign NGOs – or with the present government.

–    Other reports tell of killing of Western aid workers – and – latest – an Italian tourist travelling from Kandahar to Kabul.

–    Other innocent people have also been killed or injured in several incidents of shooting, of bombs placed in crowded areas, and some suicide attacks

–    Abuses of which the Americans (and/or their allies) themselves are responsible. When we were in Kabul, the report came about two prisoners in Bagram having been killed by torture in December last year. In addition, at times their bombardments are indiscriminate, killing local innocent people, as happened last week before Easter, when 11 persons of one family died from such a bomb in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The government has complained after such events, to little avail.

In spite of all these negative reports, what creates some optimism, is that organisations working with human rights now can work with a certain (if fragile) degree of freedom. In addition to the national human rights commission, there is CCA and the Organisation for the protection of Writers’ rights and numerous other initiatives working with human rights issues and peace.

3. The Writers

The first meetings: Three writers

From contacts among Afghan writers in exile (for example Atiq Rahimi, Paris), and from acquaintances inside the country as well as western diplomats and NGOs we obtained some names of persons we were advised to approach.

The first one to receive us was the young poet Khalida Froagh, who worked for the newly founded organisation to protect the rights of writers, as well as for the above mentioned CCA. She had published five collections of poetry in Peshawar, and was also editor of a women’s magazine, Sadaf. She was of the opinion that some freedom of expression existed in the country for the moment being, but that writers, with their experiences from the last 25 years, were careful with what they wrote. To her it was natural that a certain amount of self-censorship was practised, and besides, the material situation for the writers – as for most members of the Afghan society – was such that the overwhelming goal was to survive physically.

Professionally, the situation was poor. With a few exceptions, writers and poets had to pay for the publication of their works, and they rarely got any money from these publications, only some copies of the books, which they were supposed to sell or distribute themselves. For natural reasons the themes for most writers were heavily influenced by the dark and brutal destiny of the Afghan people through the last decades, she said, but many poets would  prefer to turn their back to all the suffering and write about love and beauty. “Poetry is for me something that comes to me, nothing I seek to find”, she added.

We told her about the purpose of our visit to the country, and what PEN was all about. She listened carefully and promised to get back to us by cell phone as soon as she had investigated the possibility to gather some writers for a meeting. After less than two hours a colleague of hers, Dr. Samay Hamed, contacted us telling us that they had the intention of gathering about 50 poets and writers who wanted to meet with us three days later. He spoke on behalf of the Association for the Defence of the Afghan Writers Rights, and this association later organised the meeting.
The same evening, we dined with veteran writer Habibullah Rafi (a central person in the organisation for the protection of Afghan Writer’s rights, and also working in the Ministry of Culture and Information)  – and the novelist Razak Mahmoon (working for Radio Free Europe), both well-known writers. Especially Rafi became another door opener. Rafi, a man in his mid fifties, regarded as one of the leading novelists living inside Afghanistan today, is a charismatic and energetic character. One of his statements is the best proof of this: “This country is damaged, but the heart is still beating. In a few days, Nowroz (Afghan New Year, 21st of March) is coming. Then the flowers wake up, the air is refreshed, as the situation in this country. It simply has to revive. Those who tell you that the Afghans will always be divided in different tribes which fight each other, are wrong. The wars have always been imposed on us from abroad. Even in the patterns of our carpets you will see that the flowers are bound together, as our peoples must be.He was of the opinion that this moment is Afghanistan’s last chance to get up on its feet. If they failed again, the country would fall down into total anarchy for an unknown amount of time. “Whatever you say about this administration, they may be marionettes for the US or not, this is the best chance we have had for a very, very long time. Today we have to work, work and work, on all fields, education, writing, publishing, fighting for the women’s rights.  Most writers are double and triple intellectuals today, we have to be, we have no time to get tired, we may rest later. What the writers do is of great importance. The university asks us for texts they can use. Even at the university we have to rebuild from the ground. The Talibans did not leave anything behind them. We, the writers have to be the glue and the liniment, the heralds and the guardians of this country now! The bombing has to stop, more civilians have been killed here than on September 11th, the Americans should leave as soon as possible, and the ISAF forces have to be strengthened.” Hew also mentioned the lack of literature for children and young people. Rafi was very enthusiastic about the possibility to create an Afghan PEN.

Razak Mahmoon, being younger than Rafi, had still spent eight years of his life in Poul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul during the time of the Soviets. His experiences have now been published in a book called Suicide. He seemed content with the present situation: “We are out of the dark ages, now our future looks more promising. It is obvious to everyone who brought this government, but we feel free now. I am happy that P.E.N. now focusses on Afghanistan, although it is late. Afghan writers have been put under a lot of pressure. We are crippled when it comes to publishing, and the attention from abroad has been minimal.” He also wished for the mass media to pay more attention to the works of the writers; at present, maybe one short storey per week is broadcast; much more should be done!

It should be mentioned that the above mentioned writers are not of the same ethnic origin; This did not seem to bother any of them in their cooperation and conversation.

A journalism professor

Before the stipulated meeting with the fifty writers we also met with others, like the rector and the leader of the women’s board at Kabul University, as well as with writer and journalist Kazem Ahang. The latter is a dean at the faculty for journalism – and a writer. He has written 22  books, among which the history of the Afghan Press is one of the most important, another one is on press ethics. He was one of the few intellectuals who spent nearly the entire Taliban period inside Afghanistan, and he gave us a lively description of what life was like for an intellectual who had to hide during these five years. Now he wanted to educate as many journalists as possible. “We want Afghan journalists to write about Afghan matters, not foreigners”, he said, and the eager crowd of young students, both men and women (a good proportion of the total number), around him proved that it was nothing wrong with the apsirations of the upcoming generation.

Information meeting: 49 writers

We were both rather excited when we arrived at the restaurant where the meeting should take place. The organisers had really prepared for a numerous amount of participants, and in the end they proved right: 49 people showed up. Writers from 16 (a photojournalist from Kabul Weekly) up to the age of grey, and among them eight women. Representatives from all the larger minority groups in the country except the Turkmens (not because they were not welcome, just because they could not find any in Kabul for the moment being) were present.

We explained our reasons for wanting to meet them, informed them about P.E.N. and what PEN represents, and asked them whether they were interested in opening up a PEN Centre in the country.

The gathering was both lively and long lasting. A lot of questions were raised, about who were allowed to be members – that seemed as an important issue – about finances of course – about what we did for the opposition writers in Iran – about how we communicated – about how they were supposed to conduct their own PEN etc. We told them that tolerance in many ways was the key word in PEN; and openness, curiosity towards other writers in other parts of the world. That PEN could provide a window to the outside world for writers. We also stated once again the importance of letting all writers in, regardless of faith, ethnic background, political views, age and, last but not least, sex. It seemed like everybody present were very satisfied with what they heard, and the discussion became most friendly, though at times loud. The women present, writers and editors of women’s magazine (including Jamila Mujahid, the leader of the Afghan Women’s radio, initiated on March 8th, 2003) played a very active part in the discussion. Some writers seemed to harbour scepticism towards journalists being represented to a large scale in P.E.N., a question to be followed up in the future.

The financial question was, strangely enough, never a main issue. We assured them that IF they decided to apply for membership during the congress in Mexico in November, we would try to find means to cover the costs for a delegation to take part in the congress, as well as try to find help to cover the membership fees for the first years of consolidation. In the end they were to vote for a preliminary group who should work along the lines drawn by this assembly in order to come up with a solution of how to work practically. They voted for 15 members representing most of the ethnic groups, and the male majority also suggested and voted for four of the women, among them Khaleda Froagh.

In the end the Tajik writer and professor Abdul Quayyom Qaween stood up and said: “We have been waiting for you for so long, we only did not know it was you we were waiting for!”

Finally it is important to stress that both of us very clearly explained to them that everything was left to their own decisions, it should be their Centre functioning according to their needs. We were only there as advisorrs and facilitators if needed.
At the meeting we were also presented with gifts from some of the writers, including issues of the literary Magazine Afrand, edited by the writer Waheed Warasta. This magazine is the first to allocate some of its pages to English language translations of the works of Afghan writers, and is thereby representing a literary ‘window to the world’.

Writers’s house in Kabul

During this meeting the situation for the writers of course became a central issue. During the Taliban most structures serving the intellectuals had been destroyed. They had no place to stay, no library, no publishers, no functioning writers union except the organisation to protect writers.

The idea of creating a writers house in Kabul had been launched prior to our visit, by Atiq Rahimi. We discussed the functions of such a house, and that it should be open to all writers, also the old union, which we met with one of the last days – and to P.E.N.  It was agreed upon that there had to be an office, rooms for guests from the provinces, a library, a bookstore and perhaps a little restaurant. The delegation will try to raise funds for such a house, and we are happy to state that the attitudes of the Norwegian government (MFA) as well as the one of the Cultural Council of Norway and the Norwegian Writers Union have been most encouraging.

Afghan P.E.N.

During our stay in Herat, we also contacted the poet Muhammad Daoud Munir, who is also the dean of the faculty of literature, language and Journalism at Herat university. We told him about the plans in Kabul, encouraging him to get in touch with the writers there, as well as informing his writer friends in the western districts of Afghanistan

Then we were back in the capital and ready for the last meeting with the writers. This was convened at the office of the Internews Afghanistan. Internews promised the writers that they could use their office space for meetings freely. It was the day before Nowroz, and therefore not the most convenient of times, but all the same nine of the writers from the preliminary committee showed up. It became obvious from the start that the willingness and the positive attitude towards the idea of creating an Afghan PEN Centre had far from declined after the initial meeting. On the contrary, the only problem seemed to be whether the assembled writers were in the position to form a preliminary board or not, taking into consideration the ones who were not present.  Although this in our ears sounded most sympathetic, we were relieved when Khaleda Froagh made the obvious remark: “Let us not slow down the process with this question, we can easily be replaced later. Now we have to decide what to do practically while we have our guests present.”

They thereby discussed a distribution of tasks, and in a most professional and reassuring way. To start with they agreed upon finding a cheep meeting place and dates to consolidate the group.

The aftermath

The poet Partaw Naderi  (who has worked for BBC, and has spent three years in Poul-e-Charkhi) has become our contact person after our return home. We are in constant e-mail contact with him, and he has confirmed that what they decided to do is accomplished according to the plans drawn during our visit.

It is our belief that an Afghan P.E.N. Centre will be of great importance for the writers in a devastated society and a country which tries once again to survive in spite of all the miserable experiences, oppression and poverty. To support our colleagues in Afghanistan is indeed a task worthy of our organisation, and for us in our international community of writers an Afghan  PEN will be an opener to a rich, old world of poetry and prose as well as an amazingly lively litterature of today. To unite the Afghan writers abroad with the ones inside Afghanistan is also a task of great value for a writing community who has suffered severely from separatism for so many years.

To follow up the plans for a Writers’ house in Kabul – and to consolidate and improve our contacts with the P.E.N. chapter, we think there is a need for a second visit in the fall of 2003, well ahead of the Mexico conference.

April 25th 2003

Eugene Schoulgin                                           Elisabeth Eide