The State of Emergency (2016-2017): Its Cause and Impact

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Between the years of 2016 and 2017 Ethiopia was under a state of emergency for 10 months. This research which was undertaken by the Ethiopian Human Rights Project (EHRP) examines the State of Emergency proclamation and explores the Impact the proclamation had on the enforcement of civil and political rights in the country. In undertaking the research purposive sampling of interviewees, field investigations as well as document analysis were carried out. The report is prepared in a descriptive format.

As discussed in the research the main reason behind the adoption of the state of emergency was to control and arrest the popular uprisings which began in 2016. The protests covered the major regions in Ethiopia including Amhara region, Oromia region and some parts of the SNNPR. However, the immediate cause for the declaration of a state of emergency was the increased protests in Oromia towns surrounding Addis Ababa following the killings by security forces of protesters during the Erecha celebrations which took place in Bishoftu.

Despite the ability of the government to control the difficulties faced by the state through the operation of the ordinary law enforcement mechanism, the government used the state of emergency to suppress legal and peaceful protests. The state of emergency proclamation included provisions which clearly contradict the international conventions ratified by Ethiopia.

The research has also ascertained that the restrictions imposed by the state of emergency and the sweeping powers given to the command post by the proclamation as well as the command post’s enforcement directive had a temporal coverage extending from the time before to the time after the state of emergency. The proclamation had the intention of legitimizing illegal acts committed prior to the enactment of the state of emergency and as a result relieving the security forces of liability. The findings of the research also show that the aim of the proclamation was to spread fear in attempt to arrest the popular protests which didn’t show signs of cooling despite the arbitrary killings, mass arrests and cutting of communication mediums.

The major highlights of the state of emergency were arbitrary killings and mass arrests that were carried out indiscriminately in both peaceful and protest prone areas. The detainees were detained without charges in mass detention facilities that lacked adequate food, water and toilets. As a result of the forceful investigations the detainees were victims of temporary and long-term psychological and physical harm. Even after their release the detainees were compelled to live under economic troubles and fear. Many of the detainees were forced to take the so called “Tehadeso”/ ”Reformation” trainings while others were simply released on bail after counselling; among those that were charged some were released while others were sentenced to imprisonment. Despite an inquiry board being named by the House of Peoples Representatives to investigate the human rights violations that occurred during state of emergency, the board didn’t report a single violation nor attempt to take any corrective measures. With regards to the arbitrary killings, despite their pervasiveness before, during and after the state of emergency no responsibility was attributed on the security forces.

The state of emergency proclamation has served as an impediment to the media, civil societies and opposition parties. The operations of medias and civil societies have been severely restricted by the proclamation. The closing of the internet space through which most human rights activists operate coupled with the fear evoked by the proclamation has restricted the publication of human right reports and political discussions.

The research finds that the 2016 state of emergency was primarily targeted at arresting dissent rather than maintaining peace and stability. This was done through violations of the civil and political rights and the sweeping powers given to security forces with no corresponding responsibilities.

Download the full paper here.

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