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OHCHR PRESS BRIEFING NOTES - (1) Ethiopia, (2) Guatemala

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville

Location: Geneva

Subject: (1) Ethiopia

(2) Guatemala

(1) Ethiopia

There has been increasing unrest in several towns in the Oromia region, south east of Addis Ababa, since last Sunday when many people died after falling into ditches or into the Arsede lake while apparently fleeing security forces following a protest at a religious festival in the town of Bishoftu. The protests have apparently been fuelled in part by a lack of trust in the authorities’ account of events as well as wildly differing information about the death toll and the conduct of security forces. We call on the protestors to exercise restraint and to renounce the use of violence. Security forces must conduct themselves in line with international human rights laws and standards.
There is clearly a need for an independent investigation into what exactly transpired last Sunday, and to ensure accountability for this and several other incidents since last November involving protests that have ended violently.

Instead of cutting off access to mobile data services in parts of the country, including in Addis Ababa, we urge the Government to take concrete measures to address the increasing tensions, in particular by allowing independent observers to access the Oromia and Amhara regions to speak to all sides and assess the facts. In August this year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested access to the regions to enable the Office to provide assistance in line with Ethiopia’s human rights obligations. We again appeal to the Government to grant us access.

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We are also concerned that two bloggers, Seyoum Teshoume and Natnael Feleke, the latter from the blogging collective Zone 9, were arrested this week. Feleke and a friend of his were reportedly arrested for loudly discussing the responsibility of the Government for the deaths at last Sunday’s Irrecha festival in Oromia. There have also been worrying reports of mass arrests in the Oromia and Amhara regions. We urge the Government to release those detained for exercising their rights to free expression and opinion. Silencing criticism will only deepen tensions.

(2) Guatemala

We welcome the presentation to the Guatemalan Congress on Wednesday, 5 October, of a draft bill on constitutional reform in the area of justice. We hope that the text will be swiftly approved by the Congress, as this represents an historic opportunity to consolidate the remarkable progress the country has achieved in the fight against impunity and corruption in recent years.

The proposed constitutional reforms aim to improve access to justice, in particular for women and indigenous peoples who have historically faced obstacles; to strengthen the independence and impartiality of judges and magistrates; to depoliticize the nomination and appointment of officials in the justice system; and to recognize indigenous peoples’ legal jurisdiction over internal matters.

The proposal was drafted through a participatory process which involved indigenous authorities, civil society organizations, academia, the private sector as well as officials of the judiciary. Our office in Guatemala, together with the Office of the Attorney General, the Human Rights Ombudsman and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, provided assistance to ensure that the bill was in line with international human rights standards.

In order to ensure that these important reforms can take hold, it is crucial to ensure that judicial authorities can carry out their work in a secure environment. So we are really concerned at growing threats against Attorney General Thelma Aldana, who has played a crucial role in the fight against impunity and corruption in Guatemala. Ms Aldana has been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights since June, but the death threats against her have increased since last week. We welcome the measures which have already been taken by the Guatemalan authorities to protect her and ask for these measures to remain effective at all times.

These worrying developments take place in a broader context of threats against judicial authorities in Guatemala as well as widespread attacks against human rights defenders, including attempts to discredit their work. Those fighting against impunity seem to be particularly targeted. Since the beginning of the year, over 100 attacks against human rights defenders and journalists have been documented, including eight killings.

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