RIGHTS DEPLUMED: Mapping the Human Rights Impact of Internet Shutdowns in Ethiopia (Research Report)

Executive Summary

By Yohannes Eneyew Ayalew (PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, Monash University (Australia))

May 2021

Internet shutdown is a growing challenge in Ethiopia. Since 2016, the internet shutdown has been imposed more than ten times in major events happening in Ethiopia, in the wake of high-profile assassination in Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa, and during the armed conflict in Tigray. Despite a repeated pushback from civil society, and digital rights activists, the issue of internet shutdown did not get the attention it deserve, as well as the level of reprehension towards shutdowns remain a tangential agenda in socio-political discussions in Ethiopia.

The research report found that the Ethiopian government has been using different narratives which now includes a proposed law to justify internet disruptions. To effectively tackle the problem, this report emphasised that the human rights-based approach to be an appropriate normative frame to grill the actions of the government because it situates the issue of internet shutdowns in the broader debates of international human rights law. The report notes that the government must align its actions with the three pillars of human rights-based approach: substantive, process and procedural dimensions. Specifically, the Ethiopian government must align its shutdown measures with substantive standards of international human rights law, i.e., legality, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality. While the process dimension entails transparency and oversight requirements, the procedural dimension involves the government to follow due processes before imposing shutdowns, and remedial measures after shutdowns.

The report highlights the human rights impact of internet shutdowns in Ethiopia. It pinpoints various approaches human rights defenders and policy makers can use to frame and respond to the impacts of internet shutdowns in Ethiopia. Internet shutdown impacts a number of human rights, which are grouped into three generation of rights: first generation rights (civil and political rights), second generation rights (socio-economic rights) and third generation rights (solidarity rights). The report found that internet shutdown is an affront to democracy, and digitalisation, as well as it deplumes the normative values of constitutionally protected human rights and freedoms. The report also found that internet shutdown tarnishes the integrity of elections, and debilitates human rights in the digital age. The report concludes by offering some recommendations for human rights defenders, civil societies and policy makers to keep the internet on in Ethiopia.

Read the full report below or click here to download.


Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD)

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