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.

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.

PEN International’s kongress vedtar viktige resolusjoner

Resolutions from PEN International´s 78th world Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012.

Bahrain

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

On 4 September 2012, the High Court of Appeal in Bahrain confirmed the convictions of thirteen human rights defenders, bloggers and activists serving time in prison and seven others tried in absentia. They include human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and academic, blogger and human rights activist Dr. Abduljalil Al-Singace, who had been sentenced by a special security court on 22 June 2011 to life imprisonment. They are targeted for calling for political reform and for their reporting on human rights abuses in the country.

Despite the Bahraini’s government much publicised commitments to political reform, little meaningful action has been taken to implement reforms and ensure accountability. Violations are ongoing and peaceful opposition activists remain behind bars. Significant structural impediments to freedom of expression remain in place, and the authorities have denied or severely restricted access for international rights groups, including PEN International.

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World  Congress in Geongju, Korea, 9th  to 15th September 2012

Protests the decision by the High Court of Appeal in Bahrain to uphold the harsh sentences against Dr Abduljalil Al-Singace and Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and others solely for peacefully exercising their right to free expression;

Calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Bahrain solely for the peaceful expression their opinions, including Dr Al-Singace, Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja and Nabeel Rajab;

Demands a full independent investigation into allegations that all three men have been tortured and ill-treated in detention, and to end the culture of impunity by bringing the perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment to justice;

Urges the Bahraini authorities to abide by their obligations under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and to renew its commitments to freedom of expression as articulated in the National Action Charter of Bahrain of 2001 by enacting or amending appropriate legislation to eliminate all restrictions upon the freedom of the press, including criminal penalties.

BELARUS

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

On 4 August 2011, the writer and human rights defender Ales Bialiastki was arrested in Minsk, charged with tax evasion, charges which stemmed from his reported use of personal bank accounts in Lithuania and Poland to receive funding from international donors for Vyasna’s human rights activities in Belarus.  His detention since August 2011 is as a direct result of his legitimate activities in defence of human rights in Belarus.  On 24 November 2011, Ales Bialiatski was sentenced to 4.5 years imprisonment with the confiscation of his property, including the property registered with other persons, on charges of tax evasion.  On January 24, 2012, the cassation appeal against the verdict of the Pershamaiski District Court of Minsk, of Ales Bialiatski, left the sentence in force: 4.5 years imprisonment in a higher security colony and confiscation of properties. The latter disregards the fact that all the taxes and penalties imposed on him had been fully paid by the time of the appeal hearing.

Ales Bialiatski is head of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” in Belarus, Vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and one of the founders of the Belarusian Human Rights House in exile.  Vyasna has campaigned for scores of opposition activists persecuted by the government of President Alexsander Lukashenko. It was stripped of its official registration in 2003, making it extremely difficult under Belarus’s economic laws to raise funds. The condemnation of Ales Bialiatski illustrates how seriously threatened freedom of association and freedom of expression are in Belarus.

Another member of Belarus PEN  Pavel Seviarynets, also an opposition activist and author of several books, was arrested in December 2010 for his involvement in protests was sentenced to three years in a “correctional institution”, a type of open prison where he will remain until the end of 2013.

These and other cases are emblematic of the type of pressure faced by writers and journalists who speak out.

PEN International calls upon Belarusian authorities to:

• Immediately release and drop all charges against human rights defender Ales Bialiatsky and Pavel Seviarynets; to fully rehabilitate him and to ensure unhampered activities of human rights and other civil society organizations
• Release all political prisoners and allow for free, democratic elections
• Stop censoring the internet and allow for a free, democratic exchange of ideas and opinions

 

Cambodia

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Geongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

Cambodia: On July 15, 2012, journalist, human rights activist, and director of the independent Beehive Radio Station Mam Sonado was arrested and is now standing trial on charges of insurrection. Mr. Mam Sonado is accused of inciting villagers in Kratie province in northeastern Cambodia to protest a government order to seize land in the village and transfer it to a private holding company. There are about 100 families in the village. A teenage girl was shot dead by authorities during that protest. Mr. Mom Sonado has never been to Kratie province and does not know any of the villagers, and was abroad in France when the protest took place. He has, however, been a vocal critic of forced evictions and «land grabs» in Cambodia, and has been jailed twice previously for speaking out against the increasingly common practice of appropriating property in Cambodia. PEN believes his current trial is the latest in a series of actions by the Cambodia government aimed at silencing Mr. Mam Sonado for exercising his universally-guaranteed right to freedom of expression.

Mr. Mam Sonado’s trial comes amid rising concerns over the climate for freedom of expression in Cambodia, where government critics are the target of intimidation and harassment and often accused of being members of opposition parties, and where at least 10 writers, journalists, and activists have been killed since the 1990s and many more have been forced into exile. In addition, several writers have been prosecuted under criminal defamation laws aimed at silencing government critics, and a climate of impunity prevails. In this environment, Mr. Mam Sonado has been a brave defender of the right of all Cambodians to freedom of expression. Beehive Radio is one of just two independent media centers that have programs that allow individuals from all walks of life the raise their voices and express their concerns about their lives and their country. Prosecuting Mr. Mam Sonado is likely to have a chilling on independent media in Cambodia and further shrink the space where Cambodia’s citizens can participate in discussions and debates about policies and issues that affect their lives.

Mr. Mam Sonado, who is 70 years old, has reportedly contracted a serious respiratory infection in prison, and there are serious concerns about his health.

PEN International therefore calls on the government of Cambodia to:

– Drop the current charges against Mr. Mam Sonado and facilitate his immediate and unconditional release
– End the intimidation of critical voices in Cambodia and take affirmative steps to protect the right of writers, journalists, and all Cambodian citizens to full freedom of expression.

 

CHINA

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

Welcomes the release of HUANG Jinqiu, TANG Cailong, ZUO Xiaohua,WANG Xiaoming  and GAO Chunlian, either on bail or due to sentence reduction, since the last Congress of PEN International in September 2011.

Also welcomes the progress in amending the Criminal Procedure Law by the National People’s Congress in March 2012, with the insertions of the constitutional principle of “respect and protect human rights” and a sentence of “authorities shall protect the defense right and other procedural rights legally enjoyed by criminal suspects, defendants, and other litigation participants” into its General Provision, and with the corresponding revisions of a large number of the terms and conditions for the rights protection.

Considers the continuous suppression of the right to freedom of expression throughout China, from its capital city of Beijing to the inland provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou and Huibei, to the coastal province of Zhejiang, to the Autonomous Regions of Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.

Alarmed by the relentless harassment of and attacks against Chinese intellectuals, particularly the arbitrary arrests of online bloggers and journalists, over 40 of whom are currently imprisoned, including the sentencing of CHEN Wei (9 years), CHEN Xi (10 years), LI Tie (10 years) and ZHU Yufu (7 years), making China one of the largest jailers of writers and journalists in the world.

Worried about the growing censorship of the Internet throughout the country, including the popular social network websites Twitter and Facebook.

Disturbed by the continuous use of administrative detention, including the infamous “Re-education Through Labour” (RTL) system, to jail dissident writers for up to 3 years without the due process guaranteed under its own laws.

Further disturbed by the increasing misuse of China’s Criminal Law to arbitrarily charge dissident writers, outspoken journalists and independent publishers with criminal offences to suppress freedom of expression and the press, in particular “endangering national security”, “(inciting) subversion of state power”, “(inciting) split of country” , “illegally holding/leaking state secrets”, and “illegal business practices” or alleged “economic crimes”;

Even further disturbed by the recent amendments to the Criminal Procedure Law which allow police to hold a suspect without informing a relative of either charge or whereabouts as long as they wish, possibly over a year, until there is an open trial.

Shocked by the increasing persecution of Independent Chinese PEN Centre (ICPC) members, including the ongoing imprisonment of LIU Xiaobo (11 years), SHI Tao (10 years), YANG Tongyan (12 years), and ZHU Yufu (7 years); the interrogation, harassment, threats, attacks, brief detentions, meeting and travel restrictions, passport rejections, and the work and life interruptions of more than 50 members.

PEN International therefore urges the government of the People’s Republic of China to:

• Stop the harassment and persecution of ICPC members, and lift all restrictions on their freedom to exit and enter mainland China, particularly to attend PEN International conferences and to return home;
• Cease its efforts to censor cyberspace and to immediately release all Internet writers jailed for peacefully expressing their opinions;
• Release all those in the autonomous regions of Tibet, Xinjiang Uyghur and Inner Mongolia who have been detained in violation of their right to freedom of expression,
• Release all imprisoned writers and journalists in China
• Ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was signed by the People’s Republic of China in October 1998;
• Engage in a complete and meaningful reform of the Chinese legal system in accordance with international standards and its own Constitution to guarantee fair trials, the full rights of defence and appeal, the legal practices of attorneys, and a prison system that ensures the health and safety of inmates; particularly to cease the practice of using the charge of “subversion” against writers and of “holding/leaking state secrets” against journalists; and to abandon the infamous RTL system.

CUBA

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

Despite the recent release from prison of political prisoners, the government of Cuba continues to arrest, harass and physically attack writers, journalists, bloggers and independent librarians, as well as opponents peacefully struggling for human rights, such as the Ladies in White. This new wave of repression includes the kidnapping of activists, keeping them incommunicado in political police buildings, and only setting them free after alleged torture and under threat of a judicial writ indicating that they will be imprisoned if they continue those activities.

Furthermore, the government of Cuba keeps in force Law 88 from 1999, setting prison terms of more than 20 years for dissidents who claim peacefully their right to freedom of expression. Also, it keeps in force the Law of Security of Information, limiting internet information access to independent journalists.

The Cuban government, contravening Article 13 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights denies travel permits to writers and journalists to enable them to receive international awards, as is the case of blogger Yoani Sánchez, who obtained the María Moors Cabot Award in 2009.

These attacks on free expression in Cuba have been condemned by several non-governmental rights and press organisations, including the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which reported 3,645 short-term detentions in the first half of 2012, the Inter-American Society for the Press, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT).
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PEN International therefore urges the government of Cuba to:

• Abstain from the arrest, physical attack and harassment of writers, journalists, bloggers and independent librarians for their practice of their right to freedom of expression;
• Allow the use of means of social communications such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other possible future technological means;
• Free the remaining political prisoners still serving terms in Cuba;
• Abolish Law 88 of 1999 and the Law of Security;
• Comply with Articles 12 and 19 of the International Convention on Political and Civil Rights, signed by Cuba on February 2008.

 

ERITREA

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Seoul, South Korea, 9 September to 15 September 2012

ERITREA: September 23, 2012 the journalist, playwright and writer Dawit Isaak has been in Eritrean prison for eleven years. Despite many efforts to raise his case at the international level, Dawit remains a long term prisoner of conscience.

Eleven years ago, Mr. Isaak was detained with a large number of other journalists, writers and opposition politicians after his newspaper published a letter which criticized President Isaias Afewerki. Despite serious concerns for their health and well-being, Isaak and his colleagues have reportedly been held without charge or trial in extremely harsh conditions ever since. At least four of the journalists arrested with Isaak are believed to have died during their detention and, according to news reports in 2012, only 15 out of the original 35 political prisoners held at Eira Eiro prison camp, where Isaak is allegedly detained, remain alive. Since 2005 there has been no certain confirmation of Mr. Isaak being alive, and 2011 it was even reported that Mr. Isaak had died. This rumour has neither been denied or confirmed by the authorities, and PEN International refuses to believe it’s true. Three more were confirmed dead last week.

Dawit Isaak was born in Eritrea in 1964. He immigrated to Sweden as a refugee from Eritrea’s War of Independence in 1987 and became a Swedish citizen five years later. When Eritrea gained independence in 1993, Isaak returned to his native country and became a part-owner of Setit, the country’s first independent newspaper.

PEN International is deeply concerned by the reported deaths of Dawit Isaak’s colleagues, and by a longstanding lack of medical treatment at the prisons where he has been held.

PEN International calls on the government of Eritrea:

• To honour its obligations under international law by granting the International Committee of the Red Cross, or some other reputable and independent organization, access to Mr. Isaak and those detained with him;
• To confirm and prove that Mr. Isaak is still alive;
• To provide independent assessments of their health and any medical treatment they require;
• To grant the immediate and unconditional release of Dawit Isaak and the at least 15 other Eritreans who have also been imprisoned for their writings since 2001.

Ethiopia

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September, 2012

ETHIOPIA: On June 27, 2012, the Ethiopian high court convicted Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega on charges of “conspiracy to commit terrorist acts” for the peaceful and lawful practice of his profession. On July 13, 2012, Eskinder was sentenced to 18 years in prisonLike many of his colleagues in the independent media in Ethiopia, Eskinder Nega has been the target of constant harassment since he began his career in 1993. In 2005 he and his journalist wife Serkalem Fasil were imprisoned for 17 months on treason charges for their critical reporting on the government’s violent crackdown of protests following disputed elections. When he was released he was banned from journalism. He refused to be silenced, publishing reports and essays on online media—most notably, reports critical of the Ethiopian government’s human rights record and its use of an overly-broad anti-terrorism law to prosecute journalists.  Now Eskinder stands as the latest victim of this troubling practice.

At least 5 journalists have been detained and 11 tried and convicted under the vaguely-worded Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009, which includes provisions the government has increasingly used to jail peaceful opponents and critics. Independent newspapers are consistently shut down, and social media is monitored and often banned. As official hostility to a free press and peaceful dissent has grown in Ethiopia, at least 150 of Eskinder Nega’s colleagues in the independent media have been forced into exile.

PEN International therefore calls on the Ethiopian authorities to:

• Reverse Eskinder Nega’s conviction and immediately release all journalists who have been convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009 simply for exercising their right to freedom of expression
• Amend the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009 to ensure that its provision protect the right of Ethiopia’s citizens to exercise their right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and full political participation
• End the intimidation and harassment of the independent media that has forced scores of Ethiopian journalists into exile.

 

Iran

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

Preamble: For decades there has been a widespread crackdown on peaceful political dissent across many aspects of civil society in Iran. Those targeted include writers and journalists, academics, women’s rights activists and human rights defenders. Separatist struggle places writers and journalists particularly at risk in Iran’s ethnic regions, and PEN International is alarmed at the number of Kurdish, Azeri and Arab journalists targeted for their critical reporting, peaceful activism and writings in support of their cultural and political rights. At least thirty writers are currently detained in Iran, many serving lengthy sentences, including Muhemed Sadigh Kaboudvand, Adnan Hassanpour, Abdolvahed “Hiva” Botimar, Nasrin Soutadeh and Shiva Ahari. Detainees are commonly held in poor conditions, without access to family, medical care and legal representation, and there are widespread reports of the use of torture. Trials commonly fall short of international standards of fairness.

The General Assembly of PEN International is:

Alarmed by the extensive violations of human rights in Iran, and the continued persecution facing writers and journalists who are particularly targeted by the Iranian regime for practicing their rights to free expression.

Concerned about the continuous policy of harassment of the Kurdish and Baluchi identity, language and culture depriving these groups from publishing, studying or developing their language.
PEN International calls upon the Iranian regime to:

• stop ill treatment and torture in Iranian prisons;
• stop the particular targeting of national groups such as the Kurds, Azeris, Arabs, Baluchi and Turkmen, and allowing them full practice of their cultural, linguistic and political rights;
• calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Muhemed Sadigh Kaboudvand, Adnan Hassanpour, Abdolvahed “Hiva” Botimar, Nasrin Soutadeh, Shiva Ahari, and all writers and journalists who have been arrested in Iran in violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a signatory.

 

MEXICO

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012

MEXICO: Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a writer. Since 2006, at least 44 print journalists, writers and bloggers have been murdered in connection with their work; at least 9 others have disappeared. Of these attacks, very few have been thoroughly investigated. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, fewer than 10% of attacks against journalists and writers result in convictions. There is a considerable amount of evidence suggesting that state actors are often involved in attacks on journalists. In March 2012 the Special Prosecutor for Crimes Against Freedom of Expression publicly recognized that many of the threats to journalists’ right to free expression in Mexico came from the state authorities themselves.  PEN is appalled by the continuing litany of killings and threats and calls on the Mexican authorities to do all in their power to bring this to an end.

In January 2012, an international delegation of PEN leaders from the Americas, Europe and Asia went to Mexico in order to raise international awareness of the violence suffered there by writers and journalists. They underlined that Mexico’s commitment to protecting freedom of expression will only be measured by a reduction in attacks on journalists and writers, and on the prosecution and conviction of those who commit these crimes.

On 6 June 2012, Mexico finally approved an amendment to article 73 of the Mexican constitution that makes attacks on journalists a federal offence. This change in law will provide investigators with greater resources with which to pursue their work, and protect cases from the influence of corruption at local state level.

On 22 June 2012, President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, signed into law a further amendment to article 73 that will oblige both federal and state authorities to protect the rights of journalists and human rights defenders.

PEN International calls on the Mexican authorities to:

• Swiftly approve the secondary legislation required for the effective implementation of the recent constitutional amendments, thereby ensuring that the new laws classifying attacks on journalists as federal crimes and affording journalists better protection, are put into practice on the ground.
• Demonstrate their commitment to freedom of expression by pursuing and prosecuting those responsible for attacks on journalists and writers.
• Acknowledge the role of state actors in violence against journalists and take concrete measures to address it;
• Tackle the corruption that is endemic at state level, and thereby remove a key cause of impunity in Mexico.

Further to the above, the Assembly of Delegates of PEN International calls on the United States of America, Canada and the European Union to:

• Place these attacks on Mexican writers and journalists on the foreign policy agenda by insisting that the above recommendations be implemented, and by conditioning future counternarcotics aid on the Mexican authorities taking genuine and effective action to redress serious human rights violations against journalists.
• Address their own countries’ role in drug consumption and in international

In session Resolution on Russia

Preamble
Recent months have seen a steep decline in the state of freedom of expression and the ability of society to act freely in Russia. The two year sentences served against Maria Alyokhiona, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Ekaterina Samusevich, members of the band, Pussy Riot, supposedly on “hooliganism” charges, are clearly a means through which to intimidate not only critics of President Putin, but also of the Orthodox church. The weight of the sentences for what in other countries, and indeed in earlier similar cases of civil disobedience tried by Russian courts, are seen as minor offences, makes this abundantly clear.

Earlier this year, the city of St Petersburg district a law banning “homosexual propaganda”, a law that could be used to penalise writings, plays, performances and other creative works. This brings the number of cities having such laws to four, and fears that they will spread to other cities in Russia. Commentators have pointed out that these laws have been passed on the initiative of the Orthodox Church, another indication of its growing influence  on the state.

Last month criminal libel was re-introduced only a year after it had been decriminalized only a year ago, part of a number of laws forced at great speed through parliament in July with acute negative effect on freedom of expression and association, leading to alarm at the growing authoritarianism.

Among the laws passed in July is the law “Regulating Activities of Non-commercial Organizations, which Carry Out Functions of Foreign Agents” that will demand that any organisation that is funded, or considering getting funding from abroad, to register with the Ministry of Justice as “carrying out functions of a foreign agent”. This only applies if the organisation is involved in political advocacy. This places enormous restraint on organisations in Russia, among them Russian PEN, under legislation using language resonant of the Cold War.

Alongside this, there has been no justice in most of the 53 killings of writers and journalists since 1992 (figs: Committee to Protect Journalists). Less than 10% of these killings have seen justice. Among them are journalist Anna Politkovskaya murdered in 2006, and her friend, human rights defender and reporter, Natalia Estemirova, killed in 2009. This not only grants a mantle of impunity for those who kill to silence, but does not bode well in this current climate where writers, journalists and artists who speak out are being identified by the state as traitors to the state and church, marking them as targets for gunmen.

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Geongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September, 2012

PEN International views with deep foreboding the growing authoritarianism in Russia. It calls on the Russian authorities to:
• Put an end to the arrest and sentencing of writers, journalists and artists who use words, performance and imagery to express their views on the society and politics in which they live;
• Review state and federal legislation that criminalises freedom of expression including through literature, the media and creative arts;
• To make it undeniably clear that the Russian government will not tolerate, let alone endorse, any threats of violence or actual attacks against its critics
• Illustrate its commitment to protect all its citizens against violence by speeding up the investigations into killings in recent years, and facilitating trial processes against those who kill writers, including those who orchestrate such murders, thus showing that the Russian state is able to provide justice and is not in thrall to criminals who are behind these atrocities;
Take note of the deep levels of concern of the impact that the  law on “foreign agents” will have on the capacity for Russia to have a well functioning, independent, civil society that is truly able to serve the Russian people, and to order a review of the legislation.

Syria

The Assembly of Delegates of PEN International, meeting at its 78th World Congress in Gyeongju, Korea, 9th to 15th September 2012..

Preamble

Repression of human rights, displacement of minorities and ethnic discrimination is not news in Syria, where writers, human rights defenders and political dissidents have been harassed and persecuted for years – throughout its decades of dictatorship freedom of speech has been severely restricted for writers and media people in Syria across ethnic, religious and linguistic barriers.

During the popular calls for democratic change 2011-2012, however, the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad has increased its repression, trying to stop non-violent demonstrations with barbarous force.

Contrary to its international obligations and commitments to UN human rights conventions, the Syrian dictatorship has made a horrendous effort to prevent writers and journalists, local as well international, from covering the crisis. Media people have been arrested without charge, many tortured, several killed.

Although promising the former special representative of the UN, Mr. Kofi Annan, that political prisoners would be released and that media would have free access to all parts of Syria, the Assad dictatorship continuously has prevented media people from entering the country and/or cities or provinces of crisis.

PEN International is well aware that non-governmental armed groups have become part of the Syrian crisis. It is however the responsibility of the Syrian government to ensure the safety of its people as well as human rights, including not the least freedom of speech – rather than answering political dissent with violent repression and meeting calls for freedom of speech with heavy-handed censorship.

PEN centres representing more than 20.000 writers, bloggers, journalists, editors and publishers from all over the world, convening at the 78th PEN International congress in Gyeongju, Korea, call on the government of Syria and all parties of the Syrian conflict to respect the principle of freedom of speech as well as other principles of human rights.

The government of Syria must immediately release and drop all charges against imprisoned writers and human rights defenders and ensure unhampered freedom of speech and unlimited freedom to human rights and other civil society organizations;

The government must ensure and protect free access to all parts of Syria to all representatives of media;

And the Syrian government must stop censoring the internet and allow for a free, democratic exchange of ideas and opinions.

We also call on all parties to the conflict, including the Syrian National Council, to ensure the cultural, political and linguistic rights of all the ethnic groups in Syria.

 

The Turkey Manifesto

PEN International calls for an overhaul of laws stifling Turkey’s writers and journalists

Turkey has an extraordinarily high number of writers and journalists in prison with many more on release pending trial. Most are held because of their alleged affiliation to or support of organisations that advocate violence. However, PEN is worried that this situation has emerged as a result of the amenability of Turkish courts to broad interpretations of anti-terror laws, empowering overzealous state prosecutors to pursue cases where no material links to terrorism exist.

As of  September 2012, scores of journalists were reported imprisoned in Turkey.  Such figures are difficult to confirm; the complexity and obfuscation surrounding these cases makes them difficult to monitor, while releases being made under the Third Judicial Reform Package passed in July are still ongoing.

The Turkish legal system imposes extremely long periods of pre-trial detention on suspects. We have on our records people who have still not been convicted after four years in prison. These conditions create an atmosphere of intimidation for writers and journalists, who risk lengthy spells in prison when they publish controversial but legitimate comment even if they’re never convicted.

Even in cases without pre-trial detention writers, journalists and publishers in Turkey face lengthy trials that may last for years. More often than not, these less serious cases end with acquittals or minor fines, indicating that the reasons for prosecution are not founded under Turkish law. It is hard not to conclude that those who bring these cases have little regard for the outcome, and in fact do so to harass and intimidate the authors and send warnings to others. The draining, debilitating effect on the defendants in these cases can be immense.

In addition to the Anti-Terror Law, freedom of expression is suppressed under numerous other laws including  obscenity, praising offences or offenders, inciting the population to (usually religious) hatred and insulting Turkishness.  Legitimate political comment regarding public officials is also challenged through defamation cases.

THE SITUATION IS UNTENABLE AND REQUIRES IMMEDIATE RESPONSE. THE TURKISH GOVERNMENT MUST:

1. Order the review of all cases of imprisoned writers, journalists and publishers held and on trial under the Anti-Terror Law to ensure that none are being penalized for the legitimate practice of their rights  to peaceful freedom of expression and association.

2. Make much needed changes to the country’s draconian Anti-Terror Law, which allows for the imprisonment and pre-trial detention of writers and journalists with no material links to terrorism or the plotting of violent acts.

3. Revise other articles of the Turkish Penal Code that have been used to stifle legitimate political comment or to suppress creative  works.

4. Improve on the positive reforms made as part of the Third Judicial Reform Package by going further to eliminate unnecessary pre-trial detention and onerously lengthy trial times, and introduce a stringent means of vetting cases before trial so that weak indictments can’t be used to imprison, harass or intimidate writers and journalists.

 

Etiopia, februar 2012

Nestleder Elisabeth Eide, styremedlem Elisabeth Eide og vårt etiopiske medlem, forfatteren Abera Lemma, deltok på den første åpne konferansen arrangert av Etiopisk PEN i Addis Abeba 25. februar

 

Første åpne forfatterkonferanse i Etiopisk PEN, Addis Abeba, 25. februar 2012

Vertskap: Italienske kulturinstituttet i Addis

Ett minutts stillhet for å hedre nylig avdøde Tsegereda Hailu, medlem i etiopisk PEN som nylig døde i barsel.

Velkommen ved Solomon Hailemariam. SH understreket at for å styrke den egne, litterære kulturen i Etiopia, er det av stor betydning å utvikle og styrke leseferdigheter og å gjøre flere bøker i amharisk og andre etiopiske språk tilgjengelig for folk flest i Etiopia

– Hva er grunnen til at vi ikke er i stand til å publisere millioner av bøker?
Hovedtalere: John Ralston Saul, president i PEN International og Elisabeth Eide, nestleder i norsk PEN og sterk støttespiller i etableringen av etiopisk PEN.

Spesielt invitert var prins Bede-Mariam, barnebarn av keiser Haile Selassie. Prinsen, som nå lever av hotelldrift i Addis Abeba, arrangerer månedlige poesilesninger, hvor diktere framfører egne ting.  På grunn av at prinsen tilbrakte 17 år i fengsel under Mengistus kommunistregime, til dels sammen med mange av statsminister Meles Zenawis nære medarbeidere, nyter han en viss respekt under dagens regime. Poesiarrrangementene på hans hotell sentralt i Addis er svært populære, trekker stadig flere, og dikterne blir stadig dristigere i temavalg og formuleringer. På grunn av den levende, muntlige forteller- og diktertradisjonen i Etiopia, eksisterer lite eller ingenting av det framførte på trykk. Prinsen frykter likevel at myndighetene en dag skal sette ned foten og påføre ham en eller annen skatteinspeksjon, økte avgifter, hotellstengning eller andre former for sanksjoner. Prinsen ønsker ingen profilert rolle i dagens Etiopia eller i etiopisk PEN.

Fra Norsk PEN deltok også eksilforfatter Abera Lemma, som var tilbake i Etiopia for andre gang   siden han måtte forlate landet.

PEN International markerer i 2012 90 årsjubileum.  Konferansen i Addis er første konferanse i regi av Etiopisk PEN og for første gang i PENs 90-årige historie er PENs internasjonale president i Etiopia.

PEN eksisterer nå i 104 land, med 145 PEN-sentre. PEN Etiopia er blant de yngste.

Fra innlegg og debatten under PENs forfatterkonferanse: (referert på engelsk)

John Ralston Saul:
There is a positive tension around PEN – sometimes governments don’t love the work of an organization based on the idea of freedom of expression.

Ethiopia has a culture with more than one culture and more than one language. PEN understands societies which live with a multitude of cultures.

The Christian principle of the tower of Babel tells us that people cannot live with more than one language. What is the religion of PEN? It is worship the tower of Babel. The civilization of many languages, many cultures. Pen defends not only writers – also readers, viewers, listeners. The public is the key  and It is not replaceable. The public crave for knowledge.
Most of PENs members are not Europeans.  25 centers in countries where Islam is the dominant religion. PAN – PEN African Network has 18 centers. Largest problem in many countries is the lack of reading and writing among large groups of people. And therefore not partakers in public debate. Not educated in any way.

The more creative citizens, the better the development of a country. Access to ideas makes way for development. Government and businessmen can experience independent ideas as troublesome and challenging. In China the authorities are challenged by openness and creativity. But at the same time many see that the best way to get rid of undermining corruption is through transparency, new thinking and the possibility to reveal corruption.

Some of the most brilliant ideas and methods in the work against global warming and sustainable environmental methods are not bred within western languages and definitions. Many indigenous peoples have their own philosophical and practical solutions developed within their own culture, knowledge and traditions.

Elisabeth Eide:
Honorary diplomats, and dignitaries, Prince Bede-Mariam, dear respected President of Ethiopian PEN, Solomon Hailemariam Erba, dear board members, dear friends and colleagues.

First of all, a heartfelt Thank You for this invitation. It is a pleasure to be with you all and to feel the hospitality and friendship in this conference based in a country with a proud and ancient culture of the word. Global friendship between people who live, play, create, and fight with their pen, as John Ralston Saul said, is of special importance.

I am here primarily to listen and learn. As the late great playwright and poet Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin once said, “To humble themselves before the ancestors, not to be arrogant, that is what Ethiopia means.” And furthermore, he added: “You don’t start from Europe, because Europe started from Africa”.

But as I have been asked to address this forum, I would like to share with you some of my inspirations as a novelist, journalist and academic, and to try and envisage how these three somehow speak to each other.

For me writing has become increasingly transnational, as I have lived abroad, mostly in India and Pakistan and going frequently to Afghanistan, and most of my novels are inspired by this experience. During my travels I have tried to see the world, not least the European part of the world, with the eyes of a non-European. The late Pramoedya Ananta Toer (1925-2006), one of the most famous writers in Indonesia, has been an inspiration in this respect. His main work, the Buru Quartet (1981-1990), four novels from the time of Dutch rule in Indonesia, earned him nominations for the Nobel Price of Literature, although he never received it.

His main character Minke grows up under this foreign rule and through the colonial school (run by some liberal women), as well as by his personal experience learns how to oppose colonialism. The books have strong female characters too, women whose fate is decided by the rulers, who consider them their property.

Toer started writing, or rather inventing and telling, these novels at a time when he was imprisoned and deported to Buru island; thereby the name of the series of novels. He did not even have a pen, and he was denied paper for seven years during the Soeharto dictatorship, but every evening told stories which were later written down, to his fellow inmates. They adored him for his skills, and decided that he should be relieved of the hard labour – they would do it for him – to enable him to develop his phantasy. After seven years, he was granted a typewriter and some paper by some missionaries, and some years later was released, but still in house arrest under Soeharto, who had to step down in 1998. I met Toer in 2004. He was then a free person who could speak his mind; he was ailing, but happy, and somewhat optimistic about the future. Sadly he died in 2006, but his literature is alive and his experiences tell how the oldest and most wide reaching literary tradition, the oral storytelling, helps people survive under harsh conditions. One of his fellow prisoners at Buru island, said after some weeks of listening, that when he was out in the forest labouring, he thought of himself as Minke, Toer’s main character in the Buru quartet. This is another feature of good literature, a writer making his or her readers feel, reflect and identify with the fictional characters.

Toer’s literature travelled to the Holland and to Dutch readers, who would thereby learn and reflect more about their long colonial past.

From another corner of the world, Afghanistan, I learned how George Orwell’s book, Animal Farm, deeply inspired by the oppressive Soviet system, also travelled widely. Animal Farm was translated into Pashto, one of the major Afghan languages, and smuggled into the Soviet-occupied Afghanistan of the 1980s (an occupation that lasted from Dec 1979 to Feb 1989). Orwell (1903-1950), himself a transnational writer born in Bihar, India, would no doubt have liked that Afghan intellectual creativity had he lived to witness it. But Orwell had another less known ability, that of investigative journalism. In his Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) he built on his own experience. In the early 1930s he was himself poor and destitute, and thus able to identify with the poorest sections of the two European capitals, and for a while shared their lives, as another famous writer. Jack London (1876-1916), an earlier writer had done this before him in his The People of the Abyss (1902). So here we experience another level of identification, as these writers identify deeply with their oppressed brothers and sisters, often ignored and rendered invisible in the public sphere or reading circles. And both London and Orwell did this by somehow giving voice to the voiceless (also part of the ethics of journalism); in both cases the people of the slums, and by their writing these people’s fate were brought up into the open.

People do not always agree on literature: not on its quality, nor on its function in society. That is not the point either; literature can and should be a meeting point for different interpretations and fruitful exchanges. Take Joseph Conrad (1857-1924), himself a transnational figure, of Polish origin, but a migrant to Britain. He was an adventurer who travelled the river Congo and described in his Heart of Darkness (1899) how European colonizers developed their brutality, clearly depicted in the character Kurtz, whom the novel’s storyteller Marlowe, finally finds after a long quest. The Heart of Darkness has been praised as one of the best European novels, not only of its time, but also transcending age.

But Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe thought differently about the novel. Not that he did not respect Joseph Conrad and felt he was a friend, a fellow writer. No, maybe precisely for that reason he criticized the novel for the way in which Africa and the Africans are represented, “as wild and passionate uproarers”, an Africa as “the Other world”; this continent as an antithesis to Europe and therefore to what was in Europe defined as civilization. In my opinion Achebe’s critique is important and worth paying close attention to.

UK writer Caryl Phillips (author of “The European Tribe”, 1989), of Caribbean origin, finds Achebe a bit too harsh, in an exciting interview, but all the same, the two seek common ground when discussing the novel. This goes to show how literature develops and reveals new interpretations in the mindset of people who love to read and write, and how the variety has to do with where you are grounded, and with the way in which history develops.

Margaret Mitchell’s (1900-1949) famous and award-winning novel Gone with the Wind (1936), inspired by the American Civil war (1860s) portrays Scarlett O’ Hara; a daring white woman from a slave owner family, who much later became an icon for American feminists. Albeit she did not harvest as much admiration from African American feminists, since they were more concerned with the way in which Mitchell (and the film based upon the novel) represented the two slaves, Mamie and Prizzie, in a rather simplified and degrading way. Thus as with the Heart of Darkness, the novel came under new scrutiny; a timely one indeed. This is what the late Edward Said would call contrapuntal reading, inspired by his thorough musical experience.

Literature can sound like music.

I have had the pleasure of listening to the music of Persian language poetry in Afghanistan through our sister organization, Afghan PEN. Many Afghan writers also demonstrate their transnational feelings by telling us that they are the daughters and sons of Russian Fodor Dostoyevsky. Many of them also adore the poet Rumi (1207-1273, also known by the names Maulana, and Jalaludeen Balkhi), who lived 800 years ago. Rumi would perhaps have laughed if he today saw how people of three nations, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, all are striving to recognize him as theirs. The collections of this Mystic, liberal, Sufi-inspired Muslim poet are among the most sought-after and sold books of poetry in today’s United States and also elsewhere in the so-called West. This demonstrates how literature transcends not only geographical borders, but indeed also centuries.
Rumi was a great poet. But there are many unknown poets. A story I learned about in Afghanistan, goes like this: An Iranian traveller came to a village in Afghanistan, as he was told that many good poets resided there. First he came to the shopkeeper, and said he had heard that he was a good poet. – That might be true, said the shopkeeper, but you should rather visit the blacksmith, as he is a better poet than me. Off the Iranian went and asked the blacksmith to share some poems with him. The blacksmith also hesitated, he admitted that he was indeed a poet, but he advised the traveller to go to the riverside and find the ferryman, since he was an even better poet. So the Iranian went to the riverside and found the ferryman. – I have heard that you are such a brilliant poet, he said. – The ferryman, leaning on his oar, responded thoughtfully, that yes, he was a poet, and loved poetry: – But really, you need to go and check with the man who is tilling the earth over at the other bank, he is a very good poet.

The story goes on, and here is recounted with some of my flavour, as is the way of the oral tradition. This story to a certain extent corresponds to a Norwegian fairy-tale about a traveller who comes to a rather large farm. He wanted to stay for the night, and approached the first man he met, who said he could not help; he’d have to address his father. And so the tale goes on. He meets with one ailing and older father after the other, until he is finally presented to the seventh father of the house, still surprisingly alive, but so shrunk by age and small that he is placed in a hollow horn hanging on the wall. However, by this father he is granted a bed for the night, and a sumptuous dinner.

The old, Norwegian fairy-tales were transcribed and collected in the 1840s, after having been handed down by generations of storytellers. We do not know how well they will live with the new generations to come.

What is writing about? We translate literature, we promote it through libraries and schools, we teach it, to the extent it can be taught, and we write as we twist our creativity to find our personal reflections on the human condition; on how people – in their likeness and difference – live, harvest their experiences, and survive. As fiction, journalism, is oftentimes about drama, and about conflict; but at least at its best and profoundest also about the way in which people find ways of survival, of preserving their dignity and their rights as human beings, including the right to free expression; as individuals and as peoples. We also witness how people around this ever more globalized world, become increasingly interdependent; climate change – or global warming – is one powerful example of this. In Norway, we should take the opportunity to think of how our energy-consuming practices may provide other people with “remote-controlled sufferings”, as they contribute to worsening of the climatic conditions in for example Bangladesh and Ethiopia.Journalists, writers, and academics try to tell some truths about their own time and society. They are, however, not always understood at the moment of publication. This is rather normal. Recognition is far from always immediate. So it has been with several of our Norwegian writers. Even the world famous playwright Henrik Ibsen faced problems. When his A Doll’s House was to appear in Germany, he was compelled to change the end scene, where Nora leaves her husband Helmer, for several good reasons. In the early German stage version, she returned home. That was then, only for a short time. Not any longer, of course. Although Ibsen had his fierce critics, he was by and large also recognized in his own time, which is of course the hope of any writer hoping to influence society.

Finally, it is with a profound feeling of hope and expectation that I address this assembly of people invited by Ethiopian PEN. I look forward to learning more about your literature, about your writing, in the not too distant future. Many writers tend to recognize and read each other globally, but they also remain the conscience of their respective nations. Ethiopia can be proud of this conference. Best of luck in your future work, all of you, and especially Ethiopian PEN.

Abraham Alemu, teacher at Addis Abeba University (AAU)
Students are not used to read newspapers in class. Africans are not good readers. Oral tradition is strong.  Quoting Heraklit, who wrote about the ancient Ethiopian culture. Ethiopians are inventors of festivals, sacrifices, and other religious ceremonies.  Because they are born under the sun they are ripened earlier than other men.

Why is our reading ability so poor – as one of the oldest written cultures of the world?

During the Derg military junta (1974 – 1987) Ethiopia was poor in many things, but good in literacy campaign.  9 million copies of books were distributed around the country

Music group promoted literacy. Now the NGO Code Ethiopia has opened libraries and supplies books around in Ethiopia with support from donors from abroad.

Not usual to buy newspapers and read them at home, in private.  Most people rent newspapers from bookstores, read them and return them for new costumers to read. In Europe you’ll find free newspapers on trains and metro stations.  Ethiopia has poor economy and are faced with reuse of newspapers. Ethiopia is poorer than other African states in reading because it is so difficult to get hold of newspapers and books. This is why Ethiopia has a poor written culture.

Reading experience is poor because there is no public support for private publication.  Public publishing is very selective. People can’t support the cost of publishing books privately. Information is thus transferred orally.
One newspaper costs 7 Br. Therefore people rent, not buy newspapers and thus newspapers do not stay in the homes. Poor reading culture affects the country in many ways.

Censorship hinders people in reading. Strict censorship enslaves art.

Development opens up new possibilities. But with poor traditions in written publishing and reading, young people turn more to visual media. Ethiopian PEN must warn against a cultural development based on international images and not on our own written culture.

Once I was lecturing in a class. I asked the students which Ethiopian books have you read? By which author? Not one spoke. Then one blind student had heard a book read on radio.  A very famous book in Ethiopia, which was read on radio. No other students in this class of literature said anything.

This should be a focused national question. The ability to read is vital for a country.  If reading culture does not develop, new students cannot graduate from university.

The low level of reading has a great impact and is the other side of our poor habit of writing.

Comments and debate:
Ethiopia has a long history of writing religious texts. Religious texts goes back 1.500 years. Reading culture was not developed in Africa. An old proverb says: “Hide something from Africans – put it in a book”. We have more of an oral society. Still the writing culture goes back to early centuries before Christ. We have inscription on stones.

During the Derg era literacy campaigns enhanced reading capabilities. Now not enough reading material is being provided. This is a lack in both private and professional institutions. Reading clubs and literary clubs are being started. The aim is to enhance education. The challenge is illiteracy, which is still 35,9% in Ethiopia.

Ethiopians are a people who love to listen to narratives. Previously reading was associated with whichcraft. To be able to read something on a paper were seen as mysterious.

In Ethiopia today there are only 10.000 copies of newspapers for 8 million people.

Authors’ rights are another problem.

We must encourage children at early age to read and write. Challenge them to write about their day to day life. This can help them improving reading and writing habits. There will be no progress in an illiterate society. Access to reading and writing is an important task of both the government, the civil society, NGOs and the local reading communities. Censorship hampers reading and writing.

Priests are seen as powerful. They have the ability to read and interpret texts. Reading and writing belonged to the religious and elite people. Reading and writing were seen as mysterious work of the powerful and gifted.

Vice president in Ethiopian PEN: Getnet Gessesse comments:
Litterature  is under pressure of the government. Ethiopian literature must be liberated.

Civil society in Ethiopia is an oral society. This hinders development in reading habits. Another problem is the tradition of burning of old school books because the books are worn and curriculum changes. Those old books are burned instead of given to people to be read by many in their homes. Media should have a role in developing reading. Today books which are narrated to radio are no longer so interesting. People are more into the visual impressions through tv.

Comments:
There is no system to transform the oral traditions into written literature.

There is an ongoing discussion in journalism: To attract reader you must tell a story. So there is an interaction between storytelling and writing.

And:  How to define literacy? There is the instrumental way with statistics. A more profane way is to measure media literacy. This is about understanding what you are being told and having a critical attitude to what media presents.

During  the Derg regime the old books were burned. Revolutionary books were printed and distributed. Now the old books must be remade.

This government does not want people to read. Ethiopia needs help to develop better reading culture. Maybe Ethiopian PEN could play a role here?

State broadcasting uses lots of air time on concerns for the future of the daughter of Whitney Huston. Why worry about Whitney Huston’s bank account? She was a millionaire. We should worry about all the children growing up in this country without learning to read or write.

Ethiopia has an oral church language older than Amharic. But this language is at present not able to be studied for even a bachelor degree in our universities. Government must secure our own cultural knowledge and awareness of language, reading and heritage. See how much Europeans are paying attention to their culture.

In Africa there are lots of hidden cultural treasures. But we are not able to make use of it. In Egypt fourth grade student can tell a lot about the Nile. You will not find the same ability to tell about our own history in this country.
Teachers are too few and with too little resources. There are too many students in each class. So the teacher can’t control or follow up the learning of the individual student.

The quality of the curriculum and teaching system is deteriorating. The development is scary.  The government has prioritized material development, not intellectual development. But without knowledge how are we to make use of all infrastructure and workforce?

Many are too scared to tell the facts under the current censorship.  Storytelling is a very useful tool in teaching students to read and write.

Today the books published by the Ministry of Education are not integrated in the school’s curriculum. In old days under the regimes of Selassie and Derg the curriculum and publication of books were correalated. Now books are so costly that schoolteachers lock them up at school to protect them from being torn and worn. Thus books are not being used and do not serve their purpose.

Cultural values are the backbone of Ethiopia. People are used to be without food and clothes. We have experienced severe difficulties. Still Ethiopia has never been abolished of their cultural values.

Oromo language and other minority languages are developing languages. To give studies in different Ethiopian languages, while the use of the official Amharic is not developing. This does not help literacy. We must give studies to women in different languages to support literacy.

Other voices:  We should not only blame the Government. If we work ourselves, the reading and writing capacity can improve. We should not politicize everything.

Teferie Negussie v/ Addis Abeba University
Ge’ez and Amharic were the original languages of Ethiopia. Ge’ez is religious texts and translations of Christian religious writings.

In 1991: Freedom of Expression was proclaimed by EPDLF. In 1992 we got Press law. Today there are published  five- seven books a week.

Oromo language: Originally Islamic religious manuscripts were written in Oromo language using Arabic letters. This is called Ajam in Arabic

1840 – 1876 Christian texts and dictionary in Oromo. 1899: Oromo-Swedish dictionary

Tigrinya: Dates back to 13c – written books from 15c.

1858: Swedish missionaries translated New Testament to Tigrinya. The first Tigrinya novel was published in 1942.

The Derg regime:
Before the 1974 revolution illiteracy rate was 90%. 68.4% literacy of 2004. 25.5% in 1995.
There is a lack of reading culture in Africa. This is not just a stereotype. One of the reasons is  that orality and quality of education are connected. People ask what is in the newspaper, instead of reading it themselves. They want to be told the stories of books instead of read it.

Ethiopia lacks a strong publishing industry.
High printing cost. 151% rise 1988 – 96. Book prize 2birr in 88 – 10 birr in 96.
Fragile ties between regional education and book publishing and a weak book distributing system.
Other factors: Low income, poorly developed  infrastructure, lack of libraries and transport links. A domination by expatriate book distributors.

Low level of literacy: UNDP2011: 35,9%. Ethiopia is number  117 of 183 counties. The least in East Africa. Below Somalia.
Millennium Development Goals: extinct illiteracy by 2015.

Limited purchasing power: There are 8000 schools in Oromia, but only 25000 books produced every year. Not enough for schools alone – given they buy 4 every year.

Libraries have historic mission fostering literacy and learning. See an old shabby house in town: Don’t hesitate – it’s the public library. Workers in libraries does it as punishment  for misconduct.

Suggestion:
Cut tax on paper for books.
Attention to libraries.
Promote reading culture.
Teach and motivate students
Develop cultural policy supporting literacy.
Support writers.
Publish audio books – a good tool in an oral culture.

Ann-Magrit Austenå
Addis Abeba, February 2012

2007: Ethiopia: Serkalem Fasil

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
Office of the Prime Minister,
PO Box 1031, Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia

Your Excellency,

Today, on 8 March 2007 – International Women’s Day  – I, as Chair of Writers in Prison Committee of Norwegian PEN, will express my deep concern for the safety and the well-being of the Ethiopian journalist Serkalem Fasil who has been imprisoned since November 2005.

In June 2006 Serkalem Fasil gave birth to a son in a police hospital. Amnesty International reports that the child was born prematurely in dire conditions and that a doctor’s recommendation that the child be given incubation was refused. The child is now being cared for by his grandparents. Fasil is married to another journalist, Eskinder Nega, who is also held in Katili prison, and the couple are provided limited access to each other.

Fasil and Nega were among 15 journalists arrested in late 2005 following articles critical of the May 2005 parliamentary elections. They are accused of treason, a charge that carries the death penalty. In recent months there have been disturbing reports that a number of journalists have died in custody..

Norwegian PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee is strongly protesting against the detention of Serkalem Fasil along with other Ethiopian writers and journalists.

We believe that they are held in violation of their right to freedom of expression, and we are calling for their urgent and immediate release.

Confident that you, Your Excellency, will take action accordingly, I remain,

Yours sincerely,

Elisabet W.Middelthon
Chair Writers in Prison Committee Norwegian PEN

Copies to:
Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo
Norwegian Embassy in Ethiopia
Ethiopian Embassy in Stockholm