Deep concern at Prosecutor’s request of the death penalty against 43 opposition party members and human rights defenders in Ethiopia

The International Federation for Human Rights

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expresses its deep concern over Ethiopia’s State Prosecutor’s request on July 9, 2007, for the death penalty against 43 defendants. On 11 June 2007, the second bench of the Federal High Court convicted the 43 defendants on various counts, including the crime of outrage against the constitutional order.
Among the defendants are the top leaders of the opposition party CUD (Coalition for Unity and Democracy), including human rights defenders such as Prof. Mesfin Wolde Mariam (founder and long-time chairperson of EHRCO, FIDH member organization in Ethiopia) and journalists. 38 of the defendants are members of the the CUD’s higher council.
The CUD had been complaining against the official election results, claiming that there were massive irregularities that should be investigated by independent investigation panels and reruns of the election in some of the constituencies. It had also called for peaceful demonstrations in protest against the results. In June and November 2005, there were spontaneous street protests which the government declared «unlawful» and constitutive of «an insurrection to overthrow the constitutional order». The violent crackdown by the security forces in June and November 2005 led to massive human rights violations (such as extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, mass arrests and arbitrary detentions, etc.).
In December 2005, some 131 opposition party members, journalists and newspaper publishers, civil society activists, lawyers, other human rights defenders as well as the newspaper firms and political organizations were prosecuted in connection with the June and November protests and formally charged with serious crimes including «conspiracy» and «armed uprising», «trying to subvert the Constitution», «high treason» and «attempted genocide». A number of the accused, including some charged in absentia, were later acquitted and the charge on genocide dropped. Out of the 43 defendants (5 were charged in abstentia) 38 had initially refused to submit a defence, claiming that the charges were politically motivated and that they had no faith in the independence of the Court. FIDH considers these charges to be arbitrary and disproportionate to the nature of the events that occurred in the aftermath of the May 2005 elections.
Concerned by the human rights violations committed during these protests and the pending trial, FIDH sent two international mission to Ethiopia in order to observe this trial. According to the mission delegates, the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s commitment to provide a «fair, prompt, rapid and transparent trial», has been challenged by many irregularities: absence of court warrants, continuing delays of the procedure, violation of the right to be tried in a speedy manner, use of illegally obtained or manufactured evidences, and the defendants’ rights to examine all evidences submitted against them and their right to express their views at court [1]
According to the revised penal code of Ethiopia, the offences for which the 43 defendants are convicted, carry penalties ranging from 3 years up to the death penalty. However, during the court session held on 9th July 2007, the State Prosecutor demanded that all the 43 defendants charged with one to four counts be sentenced to death, and a fine of 500,000 ETB and a ban be imposed against the convicted newspaper firms.
FIDH recalls its total opposition to the death penalty, which is contrary to the right to life enshrined in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

  1. Strongly hopes the Federal High Court will not follow the Prosecutor’s request;
  2. Urges the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, particularly the Working Group on death penalty, to make a public declaration before the sentences are pronounced on July 16, 2007, to recall the provision of its resolution adopted in 2006 requesting States to refrain from applying the death penalty;
  3. Calls on the Ethiopian authorities to ratify the second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which provides for the abolition of the death penalty
  4. Urges the Ethiopian authorities to guarantee, at all times, the freedoms of opinion and expression as well as the right to hold peaceful demonstrations and to political assembly, in compliance with the Ethiopian Constitution and the international and regional instruments ratified by Ethiopia and notably the ICCPR, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

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