Ethiopia’s Justice Day – cautious optimism or a claim too far?

Published by Joanna Pitta on

In April 2018 Abiy Ahmed was chosen as the Chairman of the ruling coalition in Ethiopia, the EPRDF, and as a result was sworn in as the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. 

Since Ahmed’s appointment as Prime Minister, Ethiopia’s human rights record has improved significantly.  Almost immediately after he was sworn in, Ahmed lifted the state of emergency, and released thousands of political prisoners from detention.  The Maekelawi Detention Centre, closed in January 2018, was one of the most notorious centres for human rights abuse and torture in Ethiopia.  In July 2018, the Federal Attorney General announced that investigations were to take place into the torture that occurred in these facilities.

On the 10th of September 2019, Ethiopia celebrated its Justice Day.  As part of the celebrations organised by the government, the Maekelawi Centre was opened to the public between the 6th and 9th of September.  Press images show that the facility has been turned into a museum, seemingly memorialising those who suffered there.  According to the Attorney General’s Office, the Justice Day is intended to increase the awareness and involvement of the community in justice sector reform.

Whilst we welcome the human rights advances made by the Ethiopian government, we must not forget the past in celebration of a more just future.  Prisoners of Conscience’s beneficiaries still face the immense struggle of continuing their life after facing abuse in Ethiopia.  Jacob is an Ethiopian journalist who now lives in exile in Kenya.  In 2013 he was threatened by the government for discussing criticism of the government during his radio broadcast, and eventually Jacob had to flee Ethiopia.  He has struggled to find work since, as he has been forced to give up jobs as a foreigner, and struggles to meet the basic needs of himself and his family. PoC has supported Jacob by providing him with funds for basic necessities like rent, food, and medicine.

The case of Jacob is demonstrative of the reality of human rights abuse – in the past four years alone PoC has provided 66 grants to Ethiopian prisoners of conscience. Even as progress is made in Ethiopia, we must not forget those who faced abuse, threats, and torture from the previous regime, for it is they who continue to face the consequences.

As we look toward the next year, Prisoners of Conscience is hopeful that Ethiopia’s 2020 general elections prove fruitful in their moves toward human rights reform, not merely contemporarily, but with a conscious mind to those who faced abuse and/or had to flee from the hands of previous regimes.