OPEN LETTER TO THE ETHIOPIAN PRIME MINISTER

MARCH 20TH , 2020

THE OFFICE OF THE PRIME MINISTER OF ETHIOPIA

Tel.: +251 111 226 767 | Fax: +251 111 226 292 P.O. Box: 1031 Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Email: info@pmo.gov.et Lorenzo Te’azaz Road

THE POPULATION IN WESTERN OROMIA DESERVE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION

Dear PM Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali,

It has been more than a year since Western Oromia, Guji and parts of Borana were silently and unconstitutionally put under a Command Post, i.e., a de facto (undeclared) state of emergency. The Economist newspaper in its 18th of March 2020 report, characterized the situation as “A Hidden War.”

During all this time, members of the media and the population at large were unable to share and receive information coming from these zones. Some information trickling out clearly indicates that the Ethiopian government’s military is committing serious human rights violations against the civilian population, so much so that even the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission partly admitted.

As of January 2020, your government has cutoff internet and telephone access from the population of Western Oromia. It is estimated that about 15 million people are affected by your drastic action. However, due to the blackout of information, the extent of the atrocities is still unknown. The population is suffering behind a dark curtain. Without access to the information of what is happening in these areas, public scrutiny of the act of the government is impossible. By cutting internet and telephone services, your government is violating its obligation under the Constitution, international customary laws and treaties. Freedom of Information is an integral part of freedom of expression as recognized by Resolution 59 of the UN General Assembly adopted in 1946. According to the UNESCO’s 2016 Finlandia Declaration, “the right to information is an important human right, necessary for the enjoyment of other human rights, and essential for transparent and accountable governance and sustainable development.” The Declaration also calls member states “to ensure that any bans on publication, including blocking of Internet content, requires legality, necessity, proportionality and legitimate purpose.” In Ethiopia’s situation, we believe that the total blocking of internet and telephone service fails to comport with this international standard.

Dear Prime Minister,

As you know there is a very serious health emergency which is threatening humanity around the globe. Prevention of the virus won’t ever be possible without information sharing. In light of the global outbreak of COVID-19, nevertheless, your government’s continued actions of cutting internet and phone services would entail more sufferings to the people of the region. As we write this letter, the population living in Western Oromia is uninformed or misinformed about the pandemic ravaging the world. If internet and telephone access are not immediately restored, the effect that this virus would have in this region would be catastrophic. It should be very clear that your government should bear responsibility for not adhering to international norms and practices fighting the COVID-19 outbreak. We are gravely concerned that due to the lack of information, the population in this region will unnecessarily and disproportionally be affected by the virus.

Dear Prime Minister,

We are also worried about the level of misinformation and general belief around COVID – 19 in the country, which is leading to series of violent attacks and assaults against foreigners in the capital Finfinnee (Addis Ababa). There is no doubt that the source of such perceptions are attributed mainly to lack of reliable information. By this open letter, we seek to keep on the record that the Ethiopian government should have, or in fact did, know enough facts about all eventualities that will soon result from withholding information communication from a significant section of the society during this difficult time. We also believe it is inhumane, illegal and inappropriate to continue to withhold safety and health information from the public anytime, let alone during such global emergency situations. Therefore:

1. We strongly demand that the government immediately restore internet and telephone access to the people of Western Oromia, Gujii and Borana. 2. Your government provides reliable information to the people in that region in how to slowdown the transmission of the COVID-19. 3. Release all prisoners of conscience in the country, particularly those detained in Western Oromia, Guji and Borana under the illegal State of Emergency. 4. We urge the government to enhance protection for foreigners in Ethiopia from targets and attacks

Sincerely,

IOLA Executive Board Chairs

C.C.

  •  THE UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL, GENEVA Human Rights Council Branch Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights United Nations Office at Geneva CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland Fax: (41 22) 917 90 11 | E-mail: CP@ohchr.org
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