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HRW’s words: a constant under fast changing realities                              

HRW’s words: a constant under fast changing realities

Bereket Gebru


When something recurs constantly with barely any changes, it sets us up for a predictable projection of things to follow. The projections could well turn out to be much better than mere speculations as there are numerous precedents that base our assumptions about the future. Such cases mimic the physical laws of the universe as they have a perpetual cycle strictly followed over a regular timeframe. Despite the very little variations in such cases, the identifying characteristics remain the same.

The annual Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports have come to possess better identifying characteristics of consistency that until recently were portrayed predictably by the four seasons. The reports that claim to analyze the state of human rights in about a hundred countries every year have constantly battered the reputation of developing countries setting the ground work for western quasi-governmental NGOs to march in with their concealed agendas.

The 2017 version of HRW’s reports were released recently and it would be blasphemous to expect a change in the ever unchanging rhetoric about developing countries. The recipes to this year’s manipulative efforts of the HRW are, as always, the sorrows and gut-wrenching sad stories of the people of the states under examination - including Ethiopians.

However, there has been a huge shift in its comments about the developed world that funds the quasi-governmental NGO’s activities illicitly and whose interests it strives to promote. As denouncing and suspiciously following the effects of more “nationalist” governments in the U.S, Britain and other parts of Europe have become a cliché, HRW has resorted to following that trend. In its 27th edition of the World report, HRW denounced the rise of ‘populism’ in these countries as ‘dangerous.’  

Executive Director of HRW, Kenneth Roth, wrote in his essay included in the report:

The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights. Trump and various politicians in Europe seek power through appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nativism. They all claim that the public accepts violations of human rights as supposedly necessary to secure jobs, avoid cultural change, or prevent terrorist attacks. In fact, disregard for human rights offers the likeliest route to tyranny.

The harsh words and speculation about the rise of tyranny in these developed states sounds alarming and an outright opposing to potential breaches to human rights in these countries. However, one thing to notice is that these breed of new leaders in the developed world are known for their anti-establishment stands.

The reason behind their sweeping victories across continents is the deep mistrust people have on the current system that works to make rich people richer at the expense of society in general. Europeans and Americans have shouldered the heavy burden of austerity during the past decade. The measure has effectively drawn resources out of social service into the pockets of the ultra-rich. Packages that supported social welfare have been dismantled, leaving the poor more defenseless. The ever rising inequality in these societies has been pushed even further by the establishment that people have grown sick of anyone or anything associated with it. Right or not, the identification of the new breed of leaders in the U.S and Europe as anti-establishment candidates helped their election a great deal.

As an integral part of the much hated establishment that works to deprive people of their social amenities and exploit developing countries for its egoistic purposes, HRW has wasted no time attacking those that have stood against the imperialist neo-liberal system. The privatization preaching forces of internationalism that leave no room for social welfare could most probably still go on strong under the new breed of leaders but the social disgust towards the hijacking of the state by them has been clearly reflected in recent elections in the U.S and Europe.

Established and funded by these states illicitly, the HRW views human rights as a strictly political concept with no economic and social attributes. Its focus on the violation of political rights and care free approach to economic and social exploitations by the richest section of society are long documented. The violation of economic and social human rights in the developed world has not been part of HRW’s reports. Even the violations of human rights of certain sections of society in the developed world have not been the concern of HRW. In all its 27 editions of the world report, the major targets have been political rights in the developing world.

Accordingly, this year’s report did not disappoint in bad mouthing human rights conditions in the developing world regardless of the improvement of the economic and social aspects of human rights in some of these states. Rapidly developing states with anti-western stance such as Russia, Turkey, Philippines and China have all been at the receiving end of HRW’s criticisms and insults.

Ethiopia is also one of such states that is designated bad reviews every year by the HRW. Despite the country managing to draw half of its population out of poverty in the past dozen years and the socially pro-poor measures that have fuelled its double digit growth, human rights seem to be suffering more under the eyes of the HRW.

HRW’s annual report that claims to analyze events of 2016 points out the unrests in Oromia and Amhara regions, the stampede at the Irreecha festival and the state of emergency in the country. It also accuses Ethiopian forces of indiscriminate killings in Somalia. It further assesses that freedom of assembly, expression and association have all suffered a blow in the aftermath of the unrest.

The report’s portrayal of the draconian nature of the state of emergency is substantially flowed as the loss of human life and damage to property that characterized the period of unrest was put to an end through the declaration. A genuine concern to the loss of life in the two regions of Ethiopia cannot logically be followed by bemoaning the state of emergency as it is this declaration that replaced violence with peace, rescuing the lives of numerous people who could have had the same fatal fate.

A temporary suspension of the freedom of assembly, expression and association is also part of the state of emergency in every country, not just Ethiopia. State of emergencies declared during social unrest aim to control the situation and activities that exacerbate the murky status-quo are banned. The Ethiopian constitution clearly provides the legal grounds for such action and considering the rapid and effective results the state of emergency has helped achieve for the Ethiopian people, it is such a small price to pay for a short period of time.

Considering Daniel Bekele is HRW’s senior director for Africa advocacy, the reports could never be as unbiased as they should be. Daniel was imprisoned for two years following the 2005 election disputes in Ethiopia as he was found to be inciting the violence during the time. With that kind of grudge against the Ethiopian government, it is obvious that unbiased reports would be impossible to expect from the HRW. Without even setting foot in the country and conducting any research on the state of human rights in Ethiopia on a yearly basis, Daniel consults opposition politicians and comes up with reports that are highly redundant at times. Reports between 2014 and 2016 prove that he just changes numbers at times keeping the sentences intact.

In this period of rapid change in the world and in Ethiopia in particular, things alter quite fast. However, the only constant seems to be the annual HRW report. For any conscious human being, human rights should have economic, social and political aspect as stipulate in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Focusing on the political aspects as it suits the states that enrich one’s coffers and acting as a weapon to provide them with alibis for violating their sovereignty is a violation of the rights to freedom of assembly and association in a state – may be the most important form of assembly and association. That renders HRW an anti-human rights organization in stark contrast to its claims.




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