Ethiopian Human Rights Boss Battles Scant Resources (Reuters)

Daniel Bekele, former political prisoner and Africa director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, now heading the government's human rights commission, speaks during a Reuters interview in Addis Ababa, November 15, 2019. (REUTERS)

REUTERS

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – When Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appointed a former political prisoner in July as head of the state-funded human rights commission, supporters hailed it as a sign the country might finally tackle abuses by security forces and move to break a cycle of bloody ethnic feuds.

Daniel Bekele, former political prisoner and Africa director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, now heading the government’s human rights commission, speaks during a Reuters interview in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia November 15, 2019. REUTERS/Giulia Paravicini
Daniel Bekele left a high-ranking position at watchdog Human Rights Watch in New York to come home and take up the post.

Now reality has hit. He has one investigator for every million Ethiopians, and low salaries make it impossible to attract and retain talent, he told Reuters in an interview on Friday. His own salary after tax is equivalent to $270 per month, common for civil servants.

Parliament, which he reports to, approves the commission’s budget, equivalent to $3 million annually, but the finance ministry approves all spending, curbing the commission’s autonomy.

Even if funds were adequate, he said, bureaucracy prevents the quick deployment of researchers to investigate ethnic clashes around the country that have killed hundreds of people in the past few months alone.

The commission was established 15 years ago but was largely ineffective. Security forces committed widespread abuses against civilians but the commission rarely documented them.

After three years of protests, the ruling coalition bowed to pressure and appointed Abiy in April 2018 to drive reforms. His peacemaking efforts with longtime foe and neighbor Eritrea won him the Nobel Peace Prize last month. He has appointed former dissidents like Bekele to senior roles in the justice sector, raising hopes that abuses will not go unpunished.

Ethiopia must push harder if it wants to break the cycle of violence, Bekele said.


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