Thursday

13th Dec 2018

Opinion

EU needs new approach on Ethiopia

  • Addis Abeba. As a valuable friend, the EU needs to push Ethiopia to respect divergent views, and rein in forces who rapidly turn to bullets, beatings, and mass arrests. (Photo: Henrik Berger Jorgensen)

In January, the European Parliament passed a 19-point resolution condemning the Ethiopian government’s brutal crackdown on protests that had left more than a hundred dead. Many Ethiopians rejoiced at the resolution. I read it to some Ethiopian friends, who cried.

They had assumed Ethiopia was part of an international order in which no Western institution would dare criticise a trusted ally despite the government’s brutal repression.  They hoped the resolution would be a watershed in Europe’s relationship with Ethiopia.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

But in the nine months since, the European Parliament’s outrage has not been matched by the European Union or its member countries. This despite the hundreds more Ethiopians killed throughout the country, the detention of tens of thousands, and widespread torture in detention, as we have documented.

Instead, on the sidelines of EU Development Days in June, High Representative Frederica Mogherini and Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn worked on a joint declaration “Towards an EU-Ethiopia Strategic Engagement” that proclaimed business as usual. While demonstrators were being shot, journalists and opposition members locked up, and peaceful activists punished, the EU was silently signing the cheques.

EU officials are quick to point to rare but tepid statements expressing concern for Ethiopia’s human rights situation but it’s not enough. The October 12 European parliamentary hearing on Ethiopia could be the catalyst for much stronger action —built on a willingness to use the considerable leverage that comes with providing various forms of support to the Ethiopian government, including €745 million in European aid for 2014-2020.

Ethiopia’s protests began last November in the largest region, Oromia, over the government’s development plans. Protests soon spread to the Amhara region where grievances focused on complex questions of ethnic identity and the dominance in economic and political affairs of people with ties to the ruling party.

Perfect storm

Security forces have shown no intention of changing their heavy-handed tactics, and the government hasn’t been willing to discuss the issues. The cycle of demonstrations and brutal government responses is feeding Ethiopia’s biggest political and human rights crisis in decades. 

How this plays out could jeopardise Europe’s long-term interests in the Horn of Africa.

Ethiopia’s current crisis came as a surprise to many European policymakers, but it follows years of systematic government attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms, cutting off dissent.

Despite widespread frustration with the government, the ruling party is able to hold every one of the seats in the federal and regional parliaments.  The courts have shown little independence on politically sensitive cases, misusing  an anti-terrorism law to punish peaceful dissent.

There is little scrutiny of abusive security forces in part because of restrictions on independent media and NGOs. All of this has contributed to the complete closure of political space, creating the perfect storm.

An international investigation is needed

The EU is among many donors that have historically been silent about Ethiopia’s human rights abuses, afraid to risk strategic partnerships on development, migration, peacekeeping, and security.

Foreign diplomats and development organisations working in Ethiopia understand that you limit public criticism in exchange for access. The EU claims that “quiet diplomacy” is the most effective way to push Ethiopia in the right direction.

But given the dramatic deterioration in Ethiopia’s human rights record it’s hard to argue that this approach works.

Offering government benefits in exchange for silence is something many Ethiopians, particularly in rural areas, have known for years.

Ethiopia’s government carefully controls access to the benefits of development-- including seeds, fertilisers, food aid, and jobs, much of it funded by the EU and its members.

To their credit, some African institutions have broken rank and expressed concern over the killings, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Union. And the United States, a key ally of Ethiopia, has been stronger than usual in condemning the use of lethal force, with forceful resolutions introduced in the US House and Senate. 

Last month the UN’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said an international investigation is needed. A recent EU statement at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva echoed his call for an investigation, an important step that needs follow-up.

Investigate the killings

The EU needs a new approach to Ethiopia. Strategic relationships will become obsolete if Ethiopia plunges further into crisis, and all the signs are there.  As a valuable friend, the EU needs to push Ethiopia to respect divergent views, and rein in forces who rapidly turn to bullets, beatings, and mass arrests.

Ethiopia’s current approach to dissent guarantees future unrest and makes it less likely that the government will be able to find a way back to gain the trust of its citizens, all of which jeopardises the EU’s long term interests in the Horn.

The EU and its member states should continue to push for an international investigation into the killings, press the government to grant the UN access to investigate, and urge the government to hold to account security force members responsible for abuses.

By taking these steps, the EU and its member states can improve the potential for Ethiopians to be stable long-term partners.

Felix Horne is the senior Ethiopia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

The EU’s new offer to Africa

The European Commission’s plan for a multi-billion African investment vehicle is mainly another incentive for African leaders to give higher priority to border management.

Ethiopia can address internal challenges by itself

A recent opinion article said that the EU should push Ethiopia to accept an international investigation into a domestic crackdown. This would be unacceptable, says the country's ambassador to the EU.

How EU agriculture policy endangers migrants' lives

Most migrants, like most European citizens, would rather have proper contracts, pay taxes and benefit from the social services rather than toil in the fields for up to 15 hours a day, in dangerous conditions, for meagre pay.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary votes to create new court overseen by government
  2. Polish PM calls confidence vote in EU judicial clash
  3. MEPs urge Russia to free Ukrainian prisoners
  4. No renegotiation of Brexit deal, MEPs say
  5. Italy to spend less than EU feared: report
  6. May: new leader would have to delay or rescind Brexit
  7. Brexit chaos as Tory MPs to vote on May's leadership
  8. EU set to spend 3.2 percent more in 2019

Brexit, migration, cities - and the UN pact

It's not surprising that a handful of nationalist European governments – Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland and Italy – have followed Trump's lead in rejecting the UN's migration pact, to be formally adopted in Marrakech next week.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. COP24: Vanuatu in 'constant state of emergency' on climate
  2. EU awaits May's future, insists on no renegotiation
  3. Deja vu: Bulgaria pipeline to face EU scrutiny
  4. MEPs and EU staff hid from Strasbourg gunman
  5. 'Trumped Up': The curious case of Babis' conflicts of interest
  6. EU rules out Brexit changes, but could help May
  7. Lead MEP on Morocco resigns as her report passes
  8. UN text not yet ready for ministers, says EU climate czar

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us