Hate Speech Proclamation Can Threaten Freedom of Expression: David Kaye

By Staff Reporter

David-Kaye-EthiopiaDecember 9, 2019 (Ezega.com) – At the invitation of the Ethiopian government, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye concluded the first mission to Ethiopia by a mandate-holder of the United Nations (UN) Special Procedures.

During his stay in Ethiopia From December 2-9, the Special Rapporteur evaluated the situation of freedom of opinion and expression in Ethiopia, where he met with various government officials, including the Federal Minister of Peace, the Federal Minister of Innovation and Technology, as well as representatives from the Attorney General Office, the Federal Police Commission, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Special Rapporteur also met with representatives of the legislative branch and the judiciary, including the Chairman and members of the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Legal and Justice Affairs, as well as with the President and Vice-Presidents of the Federal High Court, the Chief Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, members of the National Electoral Board, the director of the Broadcasting Authority, the director and deputy director of the Agency for Civil Society Organizations, as well as members of the Legal and Justice Affairs Advisory Council.

The special Reporter also had the opportunity to discuss with numerous civil society organizations representatives, journalists, lawyers, and academics, among others.

Although most of his meetings were in Addis Ababa, David Kaye had the opportunity to travel to Bahir Dar, where he met with representatives from the regional Attorney General Office, civil society, students, and experts on freedom of expression issues.

At the end of his visit, Mr. David Kaye gave some details to reporters. The Special Reporter emphasized how Ethiopia has adopted a progressive law on civil society organizations and is in the process of considering other laws related to media and access to information, counter-terrorism, and computer crime.

In his statement, he also appreciated Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s role to end the state of emergency, released journalists, activists and opposition figures from prison, legalized civil society organizations, and halted rampant government censorship since April 2018.

He further said in his statement “Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed government launch of a formal process of legal and institutional reform, introducing a public participatory process of legislative drafting and advice that should be a model for democratic processes worldwide.”

“Nothing should take away from the progress, promise, and boldness of this transformation, as long as the government invests in it the commitment and momentum of its early days. The world community should support it where it can and, where appropriate, with robust diplomatic and financial contributions,” he said.

However, the Special Rapporteur also reflected his concern over the oft-noted fragility of the current moment which is threatened by violence and discord. “In October, political unrest led to the killing of some eighty-six people in violent conflicts across ethnic lines and amidst allegations of social media’s role in allowing or exacerbating it,” he said recalling how such outbreaks threaten public confidence in governance and reform.

The Special Rapporteur also criticized how the Ethiopian Government continues to deploy the much-despised Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) even as its effort to repeal and replace it seems stalled in Parliament. ‘’The Government has shut down the Internet a reported eight times this year. The media remains under-developed, still suffering from the trauma of the previous regime. All of these issues will become increasingly salient in advance of national elections scheduled for May 2020,” he said.

“Furthermore, Ethiopia’s leaders can begin to address some of these concerns with national dialogue and legal, policy and educational initiatives. This is also true of inter-ethnic tension.”

“Addressing intolerance must involve a commitment to Ethiopia’s obligations under international human rights law. The draft law on ‘Hate Speech and Disinformation Proclamation,’ however, could threaten freedom of expression. As constructed presently, it could reinforce rather than ease ethnic and political tensions,” he added.

After addressing his concerns, the special Rapporteur showed his optimistic scenario saying the government has initiated an ambitious process supported by the democratic tools of public participation by pointing out that the momentum and commitment to that process face barriers much larger than those that legal reform alone can resolve.

The Special Rapporteur recommended Inter-ethnic conflict spurred on by hate speech and disinformation demand, not just legal solutions but political ones in which the Government and its opposition pursue reform at the state and district levels. Law can support that process, but ultimately political will must exist to allow it to survive and thrive.

At the end of his statement, the Special Rapporteur appreciated the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights East Africa Regional Office for their valuable support.

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