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Human Rights Council – Universal Periodic Review

9 December 2009 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Ethiopia this afternoon, during which fifty- three Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the report on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, following the review of the country on Monday 7 December.

Presenting the national report of Ethiopia was FISSEHA YIMER, Special Adviser to the Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who said 2009 had been a year of significant achievements in relation with Ethiopia's reporting obligations under major human rights instruments to which it was a party. The Constitution of Ethiopia provided that all international agreements including the human rights agreements ratified by Ethiopia were part of the law and the land, and the Parliament incorporated these agreements into the national law. The Constitution, which stipulated that the human rights provisions enshrined in it should be interpreted in a manner consistent with international human rights instruments ratified by Ethiopia, granted these instruments higher status than ordinary legislation. One third of the provisions of the Constitution were dedicated to the fundamental human and democratic rights recognised under international human rights instruments, and these were ensured for every Ethiopian without discrimination based on nationality, sex, language, religion, political opinion, or other ground.

The Constitution guaranteed every person's inalienable right to life; while capital punishment was still permitted under the law, the actual reality indicated that it had been practically abolished. The Constitution, the recently-enacted Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code strictly prohibited the practice of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, and guaranteed the right of arrested and convicted persons to be treated with respect for their human dignity. The Criminal Code had special provisions applicable to young persons between the ages of nine and fifteen. The Constitution guaranteed the right of every person to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Until recently, only Government-owned media channels were the principal sources of information for the public- with press and media laws since 1992, significant progress had been achieved. Citizens had the Constitutional right to freedom of peaceful assembly and demonstration, as well as freedom of association.

In order to rectify the deep-rooted political, economic, social and cultural bias against women in the past, the Government had taken a number of legal and policy measures. Specific strategies focusing on gender-mainstreaming had also been formulated, including the National Policy on Women and the National Action Plan on Gender Equality. The Constitution further ensured gender equality, and a number of subordinate laws had been revised and amended in order to enable women to enjoy their rights and freedoms. With regards to the rights of the child, the Government had taken a number of measures to improve the welfare of children in all aspects of their life, and had been implementing, in collaboration with NGOs and other civil society groups, child-focused interventions in basic health-care, education, and protection services for children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Equal opportunities for all Ethiopians to improve economic conditions was one of the fundamental considerations in framing national economic policies. On education, the country had adopted policies and programmes which had led to concrete results to realise the right to education, and contributed to national development efforts. On health, the Government had given priority to this right, and formulated health sector policies and strategies with the necessary mechanisms for their implementation.

During the three-hour interactive discussion, delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the adoption of the Government of the Plan of Accelerated and Sustained Development to Eradicate Poverty; the important progress made in providing basic health care services; the creation of the National Commission for Human Rights in 2000; the adoption of a National Plan for Children; the efforts undertaken to elaborate a global programme for improving the quality of basic education; the revisions made to legislation to ensure that the judicial system and its instruments respected the differences between the sexes and the revisions made to federal and regional laws on the family which gave women equal rights in marriage, divorce, and child custody; and the commitment in the Report to consider extending invitations for country visits to United Nations Special Rapporteurs.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to, among other things, what were the policies and programmes linked to ensuring food security, when had they been launched, and had they been independently evaluated; a request for more information on the application of the National Plan of Action for Handicapped Persons; whether Ethiopia was giving priority to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and what was the progress in that regard; whether there would be an investigation into significant human rights concerns relating to the treatment of ethnic minorities in the course of internal conflict, and what were the steps Ethiopia intended to take to ensure that ethnic minorities, women and children and those in areas affected by conflict enjoyed full protection of their human rights; and how would the Government ensure that the new Civil Society Organisations Law did not constrain independent human rights organisations.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: to take the appropriate measures to guarantee children the right to food and to request for this aim the help of the relevant international organisations, programmes and institutions; to continue to support progress made with regards to realising the right to education, in particular with regards to free education and the schooling of both girls and boys; to develop a constructive partnership with the United Nations and NGOs active in food and medical aid and ensure them safe access to the entire country; to continue efforts to apply all elements of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; to issue a standing order to all United Nations special procedures; that the Government release imprisoned opposition party members and allow their full participation in the 2010 elections and ensure that appropriate mechanisms for addressing grievances were put in place well ahead of the upcoming elections; and that Ethiopia continue to build on ongoing efforts to address female genital mutilation by fostering open discussions in communities still engaging in this practice.

Other recommendations included: to intensify awareness-raising campaigns on human rights for the population; to take steps to ensure that civil and political rights were upheld, including freedom of expression and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention; that the Government undertake credible and independent investigations of alleged human rights violations in the Somali region; that Ethiopia allow exceptions to the Charities and Societies Proclamation to better enable NGOs, including those working on human rights, to receive funding and operate effectively; to take concrete steps to ensure free and fair elections in 2010, including through full implementation of the electoral Code of Conduct; to strengthen the human rights education and training of military forces, police, prison and judicial staff and ensure their accountability for any violations of human rights, in particular for violence or sexual violence against women, children, persons of minority sexual orientation or gender identity; and that the Government conduct a review to examine the ethnic balance in Government and develop diversification strategies that complied with the tenets set forth in its ethnic federalism policies.

Responding to questions and issues raised, and in concluding remarks, Mr. Yimer said there had been an encouraging expression of views and goodwill for the interests of Ethiopia. All recommendations and questions would be given detailed responses in writing, submitted to the Human Rights Council. Ethiopia needed anti-terrorism legislation, as it was a country that had suffered from this scourge, and had developed this legislation after examining legislation on the issue in other countries, and it was now working very well. Ethiopia did not believe that anti-terrorism legislation contravened the principles of freedom of expression and of the media. The Government did not believe that there was harassment of civil society organisations. Ethiopia shared the concerns on trafficking and the situation of women and children, and had established a National Committee on Harmful Traditional Practices, and advocacy was being carried out through ethical and civic education through the media on this and other issues affecting women.

Member States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Belgium, Egypt, United Kingdom, Djibouti, France, Russian Federation, Mexico, United States of America, Netherlands, Nigeria, Brazil, Slovenia, Argentina, Nicaragua, China, Cameroon, India, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Angola, Norway, South Africa, Cuba, Slovakia, Ghana, Bangladesh and Kyrgyzstan.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Turkey, Belarus, Finland, Canada, Austria, Australia, Germany, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Czech Republic, Somalia, Spain, Latvia, Holy See, Sweden, Azerbaijan, Republic of the Congo, Ireland, Libya, Yemen, Morocco, Poland, Switzerland, Cote d'Ivoire, United Arab Emirates, and Sudan.

The six-person delegation of Ethiopia consisted of representatives from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, of Justice, and of Federal Affairs, and of the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Ethiopia are Chile, Kyrgyzstan, and Italy.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Ethiopia can be found here.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Ethiopia on Friday 11 December.

Adoption of report on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea are Mexico, South Africa, and Norway. Introducing the report, BENTE ANGELL-HANSEN (Norway) said the dialogue, which was comprehensive and substantial, was in itself valuable and historic, and it was to be hoped that it could be followed up in a spirit of cooperation. Representing the State under review, RI TCHEUL, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to the United Nations Office at Geneva, who said the review of the country had been an excellent occasion in promoting understanding among the United Nations Member States of the human rights ideas and policies and the prevailing reality in the country.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work on Friday 11 December at 3 p.m., it will adopt the reports on Brunei Darussalam, Costa Rica, Equatorial Guinea, and Ethiopia, after which the session will conclude.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp.

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