Ethiopia: Urgent request for diplomatic support

Our partner organization Brot für Alle, the Development Service of the Protestant Churches in Switzerland, informed us today that Omot Agwa Okwoy and six other Ethiopian pastoralist and indigenous people whom Brot für Alle has invited to attend a workshop on seeds and land issues in Nairobi taking place this week, did not arrive as expected. Omot Agwa Okwoy is a Protestant Christian who has served in his capacity as a church leader in various positions within the government of Ethiopia. Mr Okwoy is currently studying for his master’s degree in Addis Ababa and due to complete his studies in June this year. On DATE, Mr. Okwoy was stopped by Ethiopian security agents at the Addis Ababa airport where he was about to travel to attend the workshop in Nairobi. Since then, his whereabouts are unknown. The remaining six other Ethiopian pastoralist and indigenous participants who were supposed to travel with Mr. Okwoy on the same flight also did not arrive in Nairobi on DATE and Brot für Alle officers have been unable to contact their mobile phones. The airline has only confirmed that the seven participants did not board the plane. No other information was provided. According to our partner organization, Mr. Okwoy was approached last week by Ojulu Kaga (Ojuu), an Ethiopian security agent from his home town in the Gambela region. As he had no previous encounter with this person, Mr. Okwoy had already suspected that his security was at risk. However, he chose to attend the workshop given its importance to his people. The arbitrary arrest of human rights and indigenous peoples’ activists is unfortunately frequent in Ethiopia, and there has been a growing repression against those who are critical of the government’s policies on land. This, however, is the first time that Mr. Okwoy has been targeted, and he has previously had no problems travelling outside of the country. The German government and the European Union are providing substantial support to Ethiopia in ensuring that large-scale agricultural investments are done responsibly, particularly with regard to protecting the rights of the local population. Also, Ethiopia is one of the countries receiving important support from international donors to implement the CFS Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (hereafter CFS Guidelines). Yet Ethiopian civil society organizations are severely constrained to freely defend the human rights of pastoralists, indigenous peoples and other rural peoples who have been seriously affected by these large-scale agricultural investments projects. It is well known, for instance, that Ethiopian civil society organizations are not allowed to directly or indirectly relate to international human rights organizations working on land issues based on the provisions contained in the Charities and Societies Proclamation no. 621/2009. The CFS Tenure Guidelines enshrined in their objectives and principles of implementation the full respect for human rights. In a context of widespread and serious human rights violations against the human rights defenders of the pastoralists and indigenous peoples, it is questionable whether Ethiopia offers the very basic conditions for civil society to engage in a meaningful process on how to implement the CFS Tenure Guidelines in the country. As a human rights organization working on land issues for many years, FIAN is deeply concerned for the safety of Mr. Okwoy and the six other workshop participants. Given the commitment of the German government and the European Union to the CSF Tenure Guidelines and human rights, as well as the rights of human rights defenders as laid down in the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, we urge you to take the necessary diplomatic measures with the Ethiopian government to request information about the whereabouts of Mr. Okwoy and details on why he has been detained.


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