House endorses new human rights branch offices

MPs backed a request by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to open two new branch offices in the Afar and Benishangul-Gumuz regional states. The EHRC Commissioner, Ambassador Tiruneh Zena, also reported to Parliament on the organisation’s work addressing human rights issues in the past year.
He said the Commission had struggled to deal with human rights cases in the areas where the two new branch offices are due to open.
The standing committee of MPs said it believed the opening of these offices would help the commission address human rights issues in regions that are far from other offices.
In December 2010, the Commission received approval in Parliament to open six branch offices in Hawassa, Jijiga, Bahir Dar, Mekele, Jimma and Gambela. The approval of this latest plan will bring the total number of branch offices throughout the country to eight.
Tiruneh told MPs that almost 1,300 cases were reported to the Commission during the last 10 months and that it had reviewed more than 300 of those cases for violations of human rights.
It also provided consultation for almost 500 cases, while 101 cases were resolved through agreement.
The EHRC referred the remaining cases to other bodies and 17 cases are still ongoing.
The Commissioner said that human rights issues are being addressed and conditions are improving, although he acknowledged that more still needs to be done.
He dismissed reports from international organisations as half-baked and unjustified.
MPs challenged some of Tiruneh’s claims. “The issue of human rights is a very serious one, especially in the Somali regional state. People in the border area are facing hardship caused by both Al-Shabab and the regional government,” said Ali Afi, an MP from the region.
Girma Seifu, the only MP from the opposition camp, also said that the claimed improvement of human rights in the country shouldn’t be celebrated as there are still unresolved issues. He mentioned the obvious trend of enforcing law with beatings and intimidations by the police. “What have you done for the recent suspects of corruption?” Girma asked the Commissioner.
The Commissioner also reported that the total annual budget allocated for use by the Commission for the current fiscal year was 35.3 million birr, out of which 29.7 million birr (84 percent) was used up to June 7.