Ethiopian Human Rights Commission embarks on a reform

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Anteneh Aklilu

Ruth Brook

A reform is on the horizon for the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The institution, in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights-East Africa Regional Office (OHCHR-EARO), held a stakeholders’ consultation to discuss the roadmap to change. The one-day consultation took place on the UN ECA compound on 30th January 2020.
Concerns raised and addressed included whether or not enough people know about the commission and its mandate, if it reflects the needs of Ethiopia, how relevant is EHRC to the people of Ethiopia and what the best practices for future improvement are.
“Despite the challenges, we remain hopeful that there is a historic opportunity in Ethiopia to consolidate human rights gains, to consolidate democratic gains ad keep Ethiopia on the right trajectory. As part of this initiative, one of the tasks we are committed to is a genuine, radical, institutional reform of the commission to make it fit for purpose, in a way that it is able to deliver all the mandates for which it is established, which is one of promotion and protection of human rights,” said Daniel Bekele (Ph.D.), Chief Commissioner, EHRC.
The EHRC is state body that was established in 2000 and became operational in 2004 following the appointment of its first commissioners. In its established proclamation, the EHRC’s objectives were to raise public awareness on human rights, to promote, protect and enforce human rights as well as take necessary measures when violations occur. To date, EHRC’s achievements have been described as “modest”. Both national and international actors have suggested improved human, technical and financial resources for the commission.

Anteneh Aklilu

In keeping with its nature of inclusivity, EHRC called on panelists with expertise in Human Rights and stakeholders from diverse sectors to voice their opinions on the current state of the commission and their thoughts on how to move forward. Participants included representatives from government organs, community and religious leaders, political party representatives, journalists and media, UN agencies and academicians to name a few.
The program opened with welcoming remarks from Daniel Bekele and Catherine Sozi, UN Resident Coordinator Officer, followed by an introductory speech from Nwanneakolam Vwede-Obahor, Regional Representative, OHCHR-EARO.
Panelists included Wondemagagen Goshu (Ph.D) from Addis Ababa University Centre for Human Rights, Abraham Leyew, former EHRC Advisor on Legal and External Affairs, Emebet Kebede, Human Rights expert and Imad Tune, Human Rights expert. All four panelists presented their ideas for the reform.
Independence from the Government of Ethiopia is at the cornerstone of transformation for EHRC, explained Imad. Institutional independence will allow the commission to decide when and how they will act without any limitations, a scenario where EHRC has financial independence is also ideal, he said.
Accessibility of branch offices was one of the primary issues addressed by Emebet, who revealed that there are only 8 branches nationwide, an inadequate amount for a country with a population of over 100 million. She suggested that the commission needs to come to the “community level”, it needs to be reintroduced to the public, she stated. Emebet also mentioned that architectural reimaging of the EHRC should be a priority, the current headquarters are not “publically visible” and some of the current offices do not cater to persons with disabilities, she said.
Representation within the commission was another major topic of conversation amongst the panelists. Imad called for the diversification of the EHRC, at both the staff and commissioner levels. Diversity in ethnicity, gender, religion, race and language should be at the forefront of the reform in order for the people of Ethiopia to see their reflection in EHCR, he emphasized.
The response to the reform agenda was positive and hopeful; with a few of the stakeholders present describing it as “timely”. The consultation was the first of a series of nation-wide consultations that ERHC plans to undertake. The Commission wants to engage as many state and non-state actors across the country this year.