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[Dehai-WN] Csmonitor.com: Detentions display UN's impotence in Ethiopia

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sat, 28 Apr 2012 13:00:04 +0200

Detentions display UN's impotence in Ethiopia

Ethiopia's government has held one United Nations employee in jail without
charges for well over a year, while another is facing prosecution under a
notorious anti-terrorism law.

By William Davison, Correspondent / April 27, 2012

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

 <http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Ethiopia> Ethiopia's government, a
favored and oft-praised Western partner, has held one
<http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/United+Nations> United Nations employee
in jail without charges for well over a year, while another is facing
prosecution under a notorious anti-terrorism law.

The detentions are a stark indicator of the UN's predicament in the
illiberal <http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Horn+of+Africa> Horn of
Africa nation.

The 27 UN agencies in Ethiopia largely work harmoniously with the government
in areas such as funding HIV/AIDS programs, helping care for a quarter of a
million refugees, or supporting female education campaigns. UN cash, for
example, has helped provide antiretroviral therapy to 249,000 HIV-sufferers
from 743 facilities - there were only 3 clinics offering the treatment in
2005. A high level delegation representing six UN agencies visited Ethiopia
this month, and praised the country for its progress toward meeting five out
of the eight
Millennium Development Goals, rapid economic growth, and heavy investment in
social services. Few would disagree that advances are being made in
providing healthcare, education, and infrastructure for over 80 million

The dignitaries, however, made no mention of Ethiopian national and UN Local
Security Assistant Yusuf Mohammed, who has been languishing in a remote
regional jail - without charges - since December 2010. Human rights
activists say Ethiopia may use Mr. Mohammed as a bargaining chip in gaining
custody of his brother, wanted for bankrolling a rebel group from
<http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Denmark> Denmark.

A colleague of Mohammed's in the UN Department of Safety and Security,
Abdirahman Sheikh Hassan, is being prosecuted for links with the same
designated terrorist group, the
Ogaden National Liberation Front. The group operates in Ethiopia's
<http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Somalia> Somali region, which is inside
Ethiopia but is majority Somali ethnic. Mr. Hassan's arrest in July came
shortly after he negotiated the release of two abducted
<http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/United+Nations+World+Food+Programme> UN
World Food Program workers with leaders of the ethnic-Somali insurgents.

While <http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Meles+Zenawi> Prime Minister
Meles Zenawi's two-decade-old government welcomes international assistance
as it strives to haul Africa's second-most populous nation out of poverty,
there is no doubt about who's in charge.

"The UN and any other member of the international community are caught
between a rock and a hard place," says an aid worker with years of
experience in the Somali region, who asked not to be named. "While there is
clearly some great work going on in many key sectors, if anybody were to
push their agenda beyond a limit considered acceptable by Ethiopia's
notoriously strong and rigid government, then they would risk being expelled
from the country." Or, he says, if you are Ethiopian; imprisoned.

Confidentially - public protestations may jeopardize career advancement - UN
staff tell of regular harassment by the Ethiopian authorities: equipment is
impounded at customs, UN workers' spouses are denied work permits, and
vehicles are searched in contravention of the government's 53-year-old
agreement with the organization.

In a public statement earlier this month on its imprisoned workers, the UN
said it had advised the government of "the appropriate procedure to be
followed in such cases under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities
of the United Nations" and that it had inquired about the "legal basis for
their arrest."

While the local workers should be immune from detention under the
convention, the government may have mistakenly believed that only
international UN staff are protected, according to a UN official. This seems
an unlikely mistake to have made in the case of Milan Dubcek,
<http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Slovakia> Slovakia's Ambassador to
Ethiopia, who was held over a weekend in November by security agents after
picking a sensitive spot on the fringes of the capital,
<http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Addis+Ababa> Addis Ababa, to go for a
Saturday stroll. "The local authorities neither informed Slovakia nor
offered any explanation for why Dubček had been arrested," reported The
Slovak Spectator.

In the case of Mr. Hassan, after taking almost a week to track down the
file, government spokesman Shimeles Kemal was bullish about the "prima
facie" evidence the state had against him. Officials have not commented on
Mr. Mohammed's case.

Although a UN worker held in arbitrary detention may be unusual, the
practice itself is not uncommon in Ethiopia, according to advocacy groups.
"We believe that there were hundreds of individuals arbitrarily detained
last year alone and the practice appears to be widespread," says Laetitia
Barder from <http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Human+Rights+Watch> Human
Rights Watch. Both HRW and
<http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/Amnesty+International> Amnesty
International - frequent, vociferous critics of Mr. Meles's administration -
say identifying an exact figure is impossible due to the lack of independent
monitoring of Ethiopia's prisons.

This lack of scrutiny is partly due to Ethiopia's 2009 Charities and
Societies Proclamation, which bars NGOs that receive more than 10 percent of
funding from abroad from participating in rights work. The rationale is to
allow Ethiopia's civil society to develop organically without undue and
unaccountable foreign influence, explained Meles to journalist Peter Gill in
his 2010 book Famine & Foreigners, Ethiopia Since Live Aid. Critics say the
less-prosaic purpose is to shut out foreign charities, such as those that
allegedly helped try to unseat the ruling party in 2005.

"The government would very much like to control the UN and other
multilaterals the way they control the NGO sector," says an Ethiopia expert
who asked not to be named for fear of limiting his future access to the
country. But without the legal power to do so, and recognizing the UN's
vital work, "it is a constant game of cat and mouse," says the aid worker
about the government's relationship with the UN. "Yet the cat, it seems,
will always get the cream."

But at times, offshoots or smaller branches of the UN are quite critical:
Five UN Special Rapporteurs on rights slammed the government for a crackdown
on dissent in February; last year the
International Monetary Fund was instrumental in highlighting the role of
central bank lending to state enterprises in fueling soaring inflation; and
the <http://www.csmonitor.com/tags/topic/UNESCO> UN Educational,
Scientific, and Cultural Organization joined a chorus of criticism of the
Gibe III hydropower dam.

But unless lead agencies also find a critical and concerted voice, there is
no substantive UN opposition to the government's rogue tendencies. Or, as
online Ethiopia commentator Jawar Mohammed puts it: "Meles does not give a
damn about the toothless UN."



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