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UN rights chief concerned over intimidation of journalists in Ethiopia

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website; press release] Wednesday offered its services to aid the government of Ethiopia [OHCHR backgrounder] in a proposed review of its anti-terrorism and civil society legislation. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] proposed the review as she expressed serious concern over the intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders in Ethiopia [UN News Centre report] due to an overly broad interpretation of its vague July 2009 anti-terrorism law. The human rights chief noted that the recent harsh sentencing of 20 journalists and opposition figures and the excessive restrictions placed on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) limits legitimate rights to freedom of expression and association and stifles dissent by undermining freedom of opinion in the country. Pillay stated that the government's anti-terrorism laws must be consistent with its human rights obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights [Banjul Charter, PDF] and other international conventions to which Ethiopia is a party. Pillay also added her concern over the interpretation and application of the anti-terrorism and civil society laws by the nation's courts, difficult conditions in pre-trial detention and due process in the conduct of the various trials.

Earlier this week at an informal meeting at UN Headquarters in New York, Pillay urged member states to consider proposals to strengthen the world's human rights treaty body system [JURIST report]. She had made the same call in June to the international community to strengthen the treaty body system, stating it was in crisis in that the human rights treaty body system has doubled in size since 2004 while the resources needed to maintain the system stayed the same. Pillay recommended several measures to help face the challenges and strengthen the complex system, such as the creation of a reporting calendar. She also noted that one of the main key factors is the increase of visibility of and accessibility to these treaty bodies. In March, while addressing [JURIST report] enforced disappearances' effect on women and children, Pillay stated that the system has a significant influence on the enjoyment of human rights across the globe, but while the system has grown exponentially human and financial resources have failed to grow with it.

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