Assuring Inclusiveness in Deed

Ethiopia, this week, presented in Geneva its national report at the 19th Session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a process initiated by the UN Human Rights Council that involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all UN member states.

The Czech Republic, Kazakhstan and Namibia acted as the ‘troika,’ a group of three states which serve as rapporteurs and are charged with preparing the report of the Working Group on the country under review with the involvement of the said state.

The UPR states that one of the basic principles essential to assuring respect for human rights is the active participation of the public in the political, economic and social affairs of a country. The high-level delegation, which represented Ethiopia at the session, affirmed that a nation’s development and growth is founded on unfettered public participation.

The questions and issues raised by different states and observers at the session reinforce the concerns we have. An examination of the issues that were particularly deemed to be of importance drive home the importance of the broad-based and inclusive approach.

The states which participated in the three-day dialogue, tabled a series of recommendations calling on Ethiopia to take measures that ensure that the 2015 national elections are free, fair and enable citizens to participate fully to revise and strengthen the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation with a view to bringing it in line with international human rights standards to put a stop to the arbitrary arrest and intimidation of journalists, human rights activists and members of opposition groups to respect and protect the rights of all persons to due process of law to amend the Charities and Societies Proclamation and enhance the engagement with civil society groups registered in the country to fully implement its National Human Rights Action Plan and to protect the rights of and provide quality health care to women, the disabled and particularly people living in rural areas, among others.

In response to the questions and recommendations that were raised at the session, the Ethiopian delegation explained that efforts would be made to build on the positive achievements noted by all parties while addressing areas that require further action.

All this begs one important question: Why doesn’t the Ethiopian government confer frankly with its own people as it does on the global stage with different international organizations and countries about its human rights records and public participation?

The government always refutes grave accusations of human rights violations leveled by various human rights organizations and states. But to date it has not presented itself before the Ethiopian people to engage in a candid dialogue with them on the matter.

The government has organized hundreds of discussion forums on a host of issues that the public ‘took part in.’ Many, however, question whether the participants of these forums are the true representatives of the public.

They point out that owing to the failure to engage in a healthy and constructive discussion, the forums are largely unproductive and mostly conclude highlighting ‘encouraging’ and ‘positive’ achievements alone.

The role of the public in building a democratic order is irreplaceable because there are a multitude of benefits that are unique to it.

Democracy is a market place of ideas, which serves as a vehicle that promotes the exchange between forces on the opposite end of the political spectrum of opinions vital to building and guaranteeing the survival of a nation.

The greater the dialogue the better the chances of appreciating each other’s views, garnering policy inputs, averting conflicts, ensuring transparency and accountability as well as eliminating corruption and other anti-development practices.

If citizens play an enhanced role in the affairs of their country they will be able to make informed decisions on matters affecting their lives and contribute more to the growth of their country on all fronts.

An environment where public participation and a sense of ownership are absent is bound to lead to events that exact a heavy price and harm the national interest.

The scores of bloody conflicts that occurred in various parts of Ethiopia over the years bear testimony to the existence of minimal engagement with the public.

Though the conflicts may be attributed to bad governance, maladministration or ignorance, the fact that the conditions that allow public participation at the desired level are not in place has made the nation pay dearly.

Even if lack of awareness is to blame for the conflicts, it means that information is not flowing freely. Naturally, such shortcomings can be remedied mainly by increasing public participation.

One of the casualties of lack of public participation is trust. The times we live in are characterized by a high degree of mistrust between people and their governments, not only in developing countries but in developed and ‘democratic’ countries as well.

Aside from the tension that an unjust allocation of resources creates, the practical absence of transparency and accountability in government structures is worsening the distrust at both the federal and regional levels.

The constitution of Ethiopia lays down that the government must at all times promote the participation of the people in the formulation of national development policies and programs.

If this constitutional edict is properly implemented on the ground, the legislations and regulations that the government enacts stand a good chance of succeeding as they reflect the will of the public and thereby enjoy its wholehearted support.

If such an important right is not respected, however, the consequences will be unpleasant for both the nation and its people.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon the government to engage equally, if not more, with the Ethiopian people as it does with the international community.

Inclusiveness is a sure-fire way to avoid conflict, hatred and mistrust as well as to ensure peace, stability, democracy and justice. It should be assured in deed, not just in words.

Source : The Reporter

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