ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The U.N. human rights chief said he was allowed to visit a region in Ethiopia that has been roiled by protests and unrest for the past three years, after the previous administration turned down his request last year.
FIE PHOTO – Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights addresses a news conference at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland March 9, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
The visit by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein came three weeks after the Horn of Africa nation swore in new prime minister Abiy Ahmed, who has pledged reforms in the wake of state repression and violence.
In the Oromiya region that Zeid visited, hundreds of people have been killed in violence since 2015, triggered by demonstrations over land rights that broadened into calls for political freedoms.
In many instances, security forces opened fire on protesters, according to the United Nations.
The choice of 41-year-old Abiy by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is seen as an effort by the coalition, in power since 1991, to ease ethnic tensions and appeal to legions of disaffected youth, particularly in regions like Oromiya, where he is from. [L8N1RA30M]
Zeid said he met Abiy as well as traditional elders in Oromiya. He also met recently released opposition politicians and civil society activists during his visit this week.
“When I compare how only a few years ago, it would not have been conceivable that the human rights high commissioner undertakes a visit to Ethiopia,” he said in an interview.
“I (have) been given access in a way that I did not think was possible.”
The U.N. human rights office also signed an agreement to increase cooperation with the government, he said.
During his last visit to Ethiopia a year ago, Zeid urged the government to expand civic space and rights, and requested permission to investigate violence in Oromiya.