Global Tracker

Ethiopian State of Emergency May Deepen Human Rights Violations and Humanitarian Crises

The government of Ethiopia declared a state of emergency on February 16, 2018.  Although it's not the first time a state of emergency has been declared, the months ahead are likely to see an increase in human rights violations and a worsening humanitarian crisis.


On February 16, 2018, the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency in the wake of the resignation of Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, head of the nation’s ruling party- the EPDRF, amid rising political tensions and civil unrest. January 2018 marked efforts by the former Prime Minister to release political prisoners and close a controversial prison that houses and tortures many political dissenters and opposition leaders.

When the government was slow to make good on this promise, Ethiopians took to the streets, demanding the release of prisoners alongside greater inclusion and representation in the political process. These demands are stifled largely by historic ethnic divisions between the minority ruling Tigray (6% of the population) over the ethnic majority Oromo and Ahmara (61%) and the Southern nationalities.

Today’s protests can be traced back to similar demonstrations in 2015 against attempts to centralize power through the proposed Addis Ababa Master Plan to displace Oromo farmers, unlawful detention of advocates for self-determination in Ahmara, and the death of 55 people during a religious festival in Oromo. The 2015 protests prompted a 10-month state of emergency, which only ended in August 2017.

The order of emergency has to be delivered to the parliament within the next 15 days; and it is not only expected to pass, but to last for up to 6 months.


Increased Human Rights Violations

According to Amnesty International, the 2016/17 state of emergency led to an increase in political arrests, unfair trials, and even torture, with over 100 protesters killed and more than 1,000 arrested in August 2016. The right to assembly, freedom of speech, and access to the internet were all restricted during this time. We know that protests and any controvertial materials were already banned when this year’s state of emergency was announced by Minister of Defense Siraj Fegessa.

Humanitarian Crisis – Drought and Hunger

In 2017, Ethiopia experienced its worst drought in 50 years, affecting over 9 million Ethiopians’ access to potable water; it also increased the number of Ethiopians in need of emergency food to almost 8 million. The probability of state enforced curfews will certainly disrupt the approximate 12 hours it takes for citizens, mainly women, to find a clean water-source.

Both the United States and the African Union urged the government to reconsider this implementation, as Ethiopia is one of the United States’ strategic partners in regional counter-terrorism, and is considered to be among the more stable countries in the region.

Katie Dobosz Kenney holds an MS in Global Affairs from New York University with a concentration in Peacebuilding. An educator for almost 10 years, Katie had developed global and peace education curricula in Florida, Mississippi, and Timor-Leste. Katie currently works as a graduate program administrator at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs and has co-led study abroad programs to South Africa and the UAE. 

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions. 

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