The German chapter of Amnesty International has handed its Human Rights Prize for 2022 to the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO). Despite threats from the Ethiopian government, the organization persists in its work.
Dan Yirga Haile, the Executive Director of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO), was in the field collecting data when the news broke that the organization has Amnesty International Germany’s Human Rights Prize 2022.
“I was thrilled. Not only me but my colleagues and our supporters, partners and stakeholders were very much happy,” Haile told DW.
The prize is recognition for their efforts in defending human rights over three decades despite facing challenges from the government. These, Haile says, have included “the extrajudicial killing of some of our members, arbitrary arrests, intimidations, harassments and some of our colleagues being forced to live in exile.”
The EHRCO has been operating as an independent and non-partisan organization in Ethiopia since 1991. Its work includes investigating, monitoring, and reporting on human rights violations in the Horn of Africa country.
Persistence despite government disapproval
The work of uncovering human rights violations has put the EHRCO in trouble with the government. The government disapproves whenever the organization reports on the human right situation, says Haile. A few years ago, EHRCO received a letter from the office of President some time in 2013 or 2014 asking it to stop submitting its reports on human rights violations.
Speaking at the ceremony in Berlin where EHRCO was handed the prize, Amnesty International Germany Secretary General Markus N. Beeko emphasized the Ethiopian organization’s “high-risk efforts to highlight human rights violations in the country and bring them to the public attention.”
A ‘reversal’ on upholding human rights
Fisseha Tekle, an Amnesty researcher on Ethiopia, says there’s a trend with new governments in Ethiopia: It starts with human rights being respected and changes later.
That has been the case with the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who even received the Nobel Prize for Peace for efforts to uphold human rights, says Tekle.
“That was a hopeful moment, but immediately after that we have seen a reverse.” Tekle, adds that the government now arrests its critics and members of opposition parties and attacks civilians in some instances.
Tigray conflict intensified violations
The Tigray conflict has intensified human rights violations in Ethiopia. All parties to the conflict are accused of serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions and sexual violence, according to an Amnesty report.
The efforts of EHRCO to report on human rights violations in the Tigray conflict was one of the reasons it received the Amnesty prize.
“We really find important to support the voices of human rights in Ethiopia, who speaks out against these violations,” said Clara Braungart, an Ethiopia expert at Amnesty’s Germany chapter.
Overshadowed by the Ukraine war
In recent weeks, human rights defenders and journalists have been arrested in Ethiopia.
According to the EHRCO executive director, Dan Yirga Haile, the lack of international media attention on these developments might be due to the focus on the Ukraine war.
“I am not against it, but we should not forget other parts of the world particularly the Ethiopian human rights situation,” Haile told DW.
UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Mary Lawlor appears to share that concern.”We owe a great deal and a great debt of gratitude to the Ethiopian Human Rights Council for bringing to light the terrible atrocities and human rights violations occurring in another conflict zone which is all too often and sadly overlooked,” Lawlor said.
Edited by: Benita van Eyssen