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Daniel Bekele (PhD) declined second term as head of EHRC

Harsh criticism from the Prime Minister aimed at human rights bodies has raised eyebrows at civil society organizations.

During an address to Parliament on July 4, 2024, Abiy Ahmed (PhD) insinuated that human rights organizations have underlying political motives that contribute to instability and conflict.

“Institutions established in the name of human rights must check themselves. They’ve deviated from the basic definition of human rights. Institutions that claim themselves to be ‘human rights bodies’ are not serving human rights but political motives. This is the cause of the lack of peace in many countries,” the PM told Parliament. “Imagine what could have happened if we had allowed foreign human rights bodies to operate in the country?”

The day following the address, House Speaker Tagesse Chafo bid farewell to Daniel Bekele (PhD), who had been serving as head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) since 2019.

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“EHRC Commissioner Daniel Bekele (PhD) has finished his term,” reads a short statement issued by Parliament.

The House of People’s Representatives (HoPR) appointed Daniel to his post five years ago. He is expected to hand over his responsibilities by the end of July. Rakeb Messele, who had been serving as his deputy, will be acting commissioner until Parliament approves Daniel’s official successor, according to sources.

The Reporter’s sources disclosed that Daniel declined requests to serve a second five-year term at the helm of EHRC. It comes as a blow to the Commission, which has relatively been the most independent government institution during several years of turbulence and armed conflict.

Daniel did not hint at what his plans are following his departure from the Commission. Asked about what he thought of the PM’s comments, he told The Reporter “it’s the typical government rhetoric against human rights organizations.”

Daniel argued that the fact that human rights organizations seek financing from various sources should not be used as a pretext to assume vulnerability to influence or political motives.

“Human rights always has an international aspect. The government criticizes civil society organizations because they mobilize resources from abroad. EHRC is a public budgeted institution. But because the budget is often inadequate, we mobilize support from abroad, too. This is permitted in the EHRC establishment proclamation. Even the government itself mobilizes resources from abroad. The fact that we mobilize and access foreign support does not influence the integrity and freedom of our institution. EHRC is totally free from any domestic or external influence. It is responsible to the Ethiopian Parliament. It operates based on the Ethiopian constitution and international principles,” Daniel told The Reporter.

Daniel stated the Commission has faced its fair share of challenges, particularly in light of multiple states of emergency declared over the last few years. This includes the 10-month state of emergency that was declared in August last year.

“The highly concerning issue is that several people have been detained without the cognizance of the state of emergency command post and without the standard legal procedures. Many people have been imprisoned for days, weeks, and months,” said Daniel.

Recent reports published by EHRC reveal that the practice of unlawful detainment has continued despite the expiration of the state of emergency last month.

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