Global Demand: Halt Ethiopia’s War on Human Rights Defenders Now !

Five international human rights organizations have called on Ethiopian authorities to immediately cease their escalating crackdown on civic space and independent domestic human rights organizations. This includes physical and digital surveillance, verbal harassment, intimidation, and threats against these organizations, which are vital for promoting and protecting human rights and accountability in the country.

In recent months, Ethiopian security and intelligence forces have increased intimidation, harassment, and threats against prominent human rights organizations, including the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), Ethiopia’s oldest independent human rights organization.

Since February 2024, government security forces and intelligence personnel have been surveilling staff members of human rights organizations at work and at home, demanding they cease their human rights reporting and activities. This harassment has intensified recently. For example, on May 23, security officials visited EHRCO’s Addis Ababa branch office, seeking information and threatening two staff members. In May, human rights defenders reported continued and escalating intimidation.

We are deeply concerned about the recent statement from Ethiopian Human Rights Council detailing the challenges faced by its staff and operations. We urge the government to safeguard the rights and safety of human rights defenders in Ethiopia. Threats targeting human rights defenders hinder civic space and the essential work of human rights defenders. We urge the government to stop threats, and intimidation against EHRCO.

On April 6, 2024, two security personnel in civilian clothing visited the home of an EHRCO staff member, warning them to stop their human rights work or face consequences. This incident is part of a pattern of harassment, including the January 5, 2023, arrest and arbitrary detention of four EHRCO staff members investigating forced evictions outside Addis Ababa. They were released on bail a week later.

On September 6, 2022, security forces disrupted a peace conference organized by 35 local civil society organizations in Addis Ababa. The event was later held online, and the group issued a joint statement calling for peace. Two days later, a federal official intimidated the group, insisting they retract their statement. Also in September 2022, the director-general of the Authority for Civil Society Organizations (ACSO) – the federal body responsible for monitoring and registering civil society organizations – warned that organizations working against Ethiopia’s sovereignty and public interest would be held accountable by law.

Human rights defenders have also expressed concerns that the ACSO has stopped registering new human rights civil society organizations since at least August 2023.

This crackdown on civil society coincides with continued attacks on independent media and dissenting voices. Over the past few years, space for civic activities and respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and association, have been severely undermined.

Since the declaration of the state of emergency in Amhara in August 2023, at least nine journalists have been detained, with five still in custody. For instance, Ethio News chief editor Belay Manaye has been detained in Awash Arba military camp since December 6, 2023, without access to health care, family visits, or his lawyers, under harsh detention conditions. After his relocation to Addis Ababa in late June, authorities have not charged him or brought him before a court.

A recent report from the Ethiopian Press Freedom Defenders, a collective of Ethiopian media professionals, found that around 200 journalists have been arrested by the Ethiopian government since 2019. The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that as of late 2023, eight journalists remained in prison, and four media staff members faced terrorism allegations, which could result in the death penalty if convicted. Additionally, internet access has been restricted in parts of the Amhara region, where there is ongoing armed conflict, for the past 10 months.

Due to the growing crackdown on civic space and civil society organizations, several human rights defenders and journalists have fled Ethiopia in the past year. These intensified attacks significantly reduce independent scrutiny and investigation of government actions and human rights abuses. The government’s growing intolerance for independent human rights reporting and criticism echoes previous tactics of harassment, office raids, and bureaucratic obstacles, reminiscent of the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation. Although this repressive legislation was significantly reformed in 2019, the recent actions represent a disturbing regression.

Ethiopian authorities have gone to extreme lengths to stifle independent scrutiny and criticism, violating fundamental rights to freedom of expression and association. Human rights organizations in Ethiopia must be able to conduct their work without fear of reprisals.

The Ethiopian authorities must abide by their human rights obligations under the Ethiopian Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These obligations include respecting, protecting, promoting, and fulfilling the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.

In 2022 and 2023, the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture respectively recommended that the Ethiopian government protect journalists, human rights defenders, government critics, and activists from harassment, attacks, or undue interference. They also urged the government to take measures to prevent intimidation or reprisals and promote a safe environment for engagement with the United Nations and its human rights mechanisms.

We also urge Ethiopian authorities to cooperate with UN Special Procedures, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa.

Ethiopia’s international and regional partners should press Ethiopian authorities to respect the rights of political opponents, journalists, human rights defenders, and activists. They should call for scrutiny by UN human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council, and provide visible recognition, including public statements, that the situation facing human rights defenders in Ethiopia remains critical.


  1. Amnesty International
  2. Front Line Defenders
  3. Human Rights Watch
  4. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  5. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

EAR- Editorial Note :- Source

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