The Status of Human Rights Organizations in Sub-Saharan Africa


In 1974, Mengistu Haile Mariam led a rebellion that overthrew the monarchical rule of Emperor Haile Selassie, who had ruled Ethiopia for decades. Mengistu ruled for more than seventeen years in a most repressive manner, perpetrating serious human rights abuses under a Marxist-style government that did not tolerate dissent or opposition. This led to factionalisation of the country and a long civil war.

In May 1991, rebels led by the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) overthrew the Mengistu regime. The EPRDF, headed by Meles Zenawi, and a host of other rebel coalition groups including the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Tigrayan Peoples' Liberation Front (TPLF) established a coalition government known as the Transitional Government of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia consists of more than sixty ethnic groups. The Transitional Council or Parliament is composed of more than thirty political parties most of which are ethnic-based. The country is divided into fourteen ethnic-based regions, with local autonomy and police forces. The Oromos comprise the largest ethnic group and are organised around a political party, the OLF, which boycotted the June 1992 regional election in protest against alleged EPRDF subversion and rigging of the electoral process, vacating its twelve seats on the eighty-seven member council.

A new national constitution is being prepared and elections originally scheduled for January 1994 have again been postponed. Ethnic conflicts abound. The Amharas, mostly elites based in Addis Ababa, see themselves as losers in the current domination of politics by EPRDF and are challenging Zenawi's government.

Living conditions are poor, wages are low and unemployment is high. As a result prostitution is a serious problem as is the large number of street children.

Although respect for human rights is guaranteed by the Transitional Government Charter, abuse of human rights is common. Police torture of suspects in custody and refusal to grant permits for rallies are reported to be some of the human rights problems faced in Ethiopia. The independence of the judiciary is questioned. The press, however, is relatively free, operating with little hindrance from the government.


Since the overthrow of Mengistu Haile Mariam, human rights organisations have began to emerge. Following the establishment of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) in 1991, more groups have emerged including the Human Rights and Peace Center (Addis Ababa University), A-Bu-Gi-Da, the Center for Human Rights and Democracy, Forum-84, the Inter-Africa Group, and the Anti-Red Terror Committee.

EHRCO is the main human rights group and the only organisation emphasizing human rights monitoring. All other human rights groups concentrate on civic and human rights education. Several of the groups are unfocused. There is very little coordination or cooperation, and intense rivalries often exist among the groups.


Needs of human rights organisations in the country include:

i. Office equipment, such as computers, typewriters, photocopiers, fax machines, books and legal materials, etc.

ii. Staff needs: Most of the staff working in Ethiopian human rights groups have had little or no training in human rights and often work on instinct and basic knowledge. Training of this staff would be an important contribution in developing the focus and sophistication of the activities of these groups. Staff training is needed in the areas of report writing, advocacy skills, use of international standards, charters and procedures, documentation, computer use, lobbying strategies, internal management and administrative skills, and fundraising skills.

A-Bu-Gi-Da-Ethiopian Congress for Democracy


A-Bu-Gi-Da, a local word meaning the second stage of alphabet-counting or a beginning in the democracy struggle, was established in June 1991 by Abraham Abebe, a management expert and consultant who was dismissed from a government-owned management centre for his views. A-Bu-Gi-Da, also known as the Ethiopian Congress for Democracy, was set up to teach basic civic education and leadership skills to young people, for which training it charges a small fee. It recently started providing teaching in democracy and civic education.


A-Bu-Gi-Da's President is Abraham Abebe. He works with a programme co-ordinator, two secretaries and three volunteers. A Board of five members makes policy decisions for the group.


A-Bu-Gi-Da organises leadership and democracy training programmes aimed at fostering a democratic culture. According to A-Bu-Gi-Da's President, the organization's aim is to help individuals, businesses and the government create a democratic climate, through the realisation that an organisation can perform best if it is governed by a democratic doctrine practiced by a democratic leader.

A-Bu-Gi-Da has conducted about seven, two-week courses on leadership and democracy, with approximately 500 people graduating to date. Course objectives include: to impart democratic values to participants, to acquaint participants with international human rights values and practices, and to teach leadership skills. Course contents include human rights and democracy as well as leadership concepts and practices. The leadership development component includes exploration of the functions of a leader, leadership psychology, decision-making, communication, delegation, evaluation, conflict resolution, management of meetings, management of change, power and influence, team work, finance and resource management.

Ad-Hoc Committee on Peace


The Ad-Hoc Committee on Peace was set up in February 1991 to mediate ethnic conflicts and clashes in Ethiopia.


The Committee has a five-member Board of Directors that sets policy. Three of these Board members reside in the United States. Two professional and two administrative staff maintain daily operations of the organisation. The Committee has applied to the Public Security Department for registration.


The Committee has held approximately four peace workshops to date. The fifth workshop is planned for January 1994. The purpose of the workshops is to explore peaceful methods of conflict resolution.

Anti-Red Terror Committee


The Anti-Red Terror Committee was established in 1991 as a non-governmental organisation to represent victims and families of victims of torture and human rights abuse perpetrated by the Red Terror under the rule of ousted dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam. The Mengistu government launched the Terror to flush out members of the opposition Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Party (EPRP).


The Committee works out of the Special Prosecutor's Office and seeks to complement the Special Prosecutor's efforts to bring to justice past officials involved in perpetrating the Red Terror campaign. The Committee is registered with the Prime Minister's office and the Ministry of the Interior, and has 21 members who work on a volunteer basis. The Committee has an executive of seven, elected by the members, to serve for two-year terms.


The Committee's main activity is collection of information on abuses perpetrated during the reign of Mengistu and the forwarding of such information to the government's Special Prosecutor's Office. The Committee estimates that nearly 54,000 people were killed in Addis Ababa during the period of the Red Terror campaign, and is working to erect a monument or museum to commemorate the victims of the Terror. In addition, the Committee is campaigning for payment of compensation to victims of the Red Terror. The Committee is also helping to rehabilitate the survivors materially and medically, in addition to assisting them to recover their properties, such as cars and houses, seized by the Red Terror campaign.

Centre for Human Rights and Democracy


Set up in 1992, the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy documents human rights abuses that were perpetrated under the regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam. It works closely with the Anti-Red Terror Committee, to collect information for use by the Special Prosecutor's Office.


The Centre was set up by the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) based in the United States of America. It presently has a part-time Researcher, Mr. Fantahone, as well as a full-time Secretary, and operates from an independent office.

Ethiopian Human Rights Council


The Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) was established in 1991 to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia. Since its establishment, EHRCO has been involved in monitoring human rights abuses and providing legal assistance.


EHRCO is a membership organisation whose current membership of about 200 constitutes the General Assembly of the organisation. The General Assembly elects an Executive Committee of seven members to serve for two-year terms. It currently has a Secretary-General and an Investigator, both lawyers, as well as three full-time administrative staff, including an Accounts Officer, a Secretary and a Clerk. EHRCO's office is located in a large room in downtown Addis Ababa.


EHRCO has written five reports to date, highlighting human rights abuses in Ethiopia. Its fifth report on the human rights situation in Ethiopia monitors the government's compliance with international human rights standards. The report cites instances of extra-judicial killings, torture, disappearances, unlawful detention and other violations of human rights by the Ethiopian government. EHRCO provides legal advice to victims of human rights abuse, receives complaints of human rights abuse and intervenes administratively to seek redress. It is presently considering the use of litigation to seek redress of human rights abuses, and is planning to produce a newsletter.



Forum-84 was established in 1991 to create awareness of human rights and conduct electoral and civic education.


Forum-84 is registered with the Council of Representatives. It has a membership group of about 200 who elect the 13-member Executive Committee that runs the organisation. The Chair, Teshome Asrat, heads the Executive Committee. A full-time secretary runs the office.


Forum-84 organises public panel discussions on current issues. These discussions are conducted in public places where experts are invited to join the panel, with the public contributing or asking questions. Most of the time, these discussions are televised. Discussion topics include human rights and government. The organisation participates in election monitoring and joined in monitoring the Eritrean independence referendum.

Human Rights and Peace Center

Addis Ababa University


The Human Rights and Peace Center at Addis Ababa University was established in 1991, 10 years after the idea was first proposed by Dr. Fasil Nahim, formerly a Professor of Law in the University and now Minister in the Prime Minister's office of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia.


The Director of the Center is Ibrahim Idris, Dean of the Faculty of Law. Daniel Wuobishete, a lawyer, is the Programme Director and the Center's only full-time employee. Its office is located within the Law School at Addis Ababa University. There is no Board of Directors, although plans are under way to constitute one. The Center was established by a Charter and is affiliated to the University.


The Center's aims include the promotion of human rights through:

- Teaching of human rights law and international humanitarian law;
- Preparation of teaching materials, manuals and publications dealing with human rights law and humanitarian law;
- Training of personnel through seminars, conferences, workshops and training sessions;
- Collection and documentation of human rights materials and books, and strengthening the law school library.

On August 19-20, 1993, the Center organised a workshop for superior court judges on the administration of justice in Ethiopia. Held at the Red Cross Centre in Addis Ababa, a large number of judges and lawyers attended the workshop.

Another workshop for teachers at the secondary school level is planned for December 30-31, 1993. The aim will be todevelop a programme for the teaching of civic education in secondary schools. The Center also encourages research into human rights and the publication of such research in the bulletin of the Law Faculty. The Center has established a collection of human rights publications in the Faculty of Law library. It is a small collection of mostly United Nations human rights publications.

Inter-Africa Group

Centre for Dialogue on Humanitarian Peace and Development Issues in the Horn of Africa


The Inter-Africa Group is a regional organisation working on countries in the Horn of Africa, namely, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti. It was established in 1991 to provide humanitarian assistance and relief to victims of civil strife and war in the region.


The Group has about ten staff, four of whom are professional staff. The Executive Director of the Group is Abdul Mohammed; a part-time staff member, Jalal Abdel Latif, is Programme Director. There is also a full-time Women's Education Officer.

The Group is registered as a civic education group with the Foreign Ministry.


Since its establishment, the Group has worked towards creating awareness on human rights and democracy issues through public seminars and town meetings. The Group also conducts radio broadcasts for the public on humanitarian issues. The Group joined in monitoring the June 1992 legislative elections held in Ethiopia.

- Clement Nwankwo

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