BY GETACHEW MINAS
Based on the experiences of minority of the UN Minorities Declaration and other international standards relating to minority rights, the following can be identified as major rights. They are survival and existence, promotion and protection of the identity of minorities, equality and non-discrimination, and effective and meaningful participation in their own affairs.
Regarding survival and existence, any action for the protection of minorities should focus on the protection of the physical existence of persons including protecting them from genocide and crimes against humanity.
The UN declaration on minorities had not been accepted by the TPLF junta, itself a minority group that had decimated both majority and other minority groups for political reasons.
The UN affirms ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of minorities, wherever they exist. They must be protected and the people belonging to such minorities should be treated equally. They should also enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms without discrimination of any kind.
The TPLF junta had encouraged local conflicts that endangered the physical integrity of persons belonging to minority groups. They had been left with greatest risks without any attention paid to their survival. It left internally displaced persons (IDPs) to be vulnerable to immense miseries within their own country. The IDPs could not have access to humanitarian aid and relief such as food, shelter and health care.
Experts remarked that the rights of minorities have to be respected, since they are frequent targets of genocide. Lack of respect, protection and fulfillment of the rights of minorities by the TPLF junta had caused the displacement of such communities just to grab their land for its economic benefits.
The displacement of minorities could serve as an indicator of the degree to which their rights had been abused. It could be difficult to identify all minority groups in a situation of displacement. Thus, protection mechanisms, including humanitarian assistance program could not be designed in a way which enable these groups to retain their identity to the greatest extent possible. Respect for and protection of religious and cultural heritages, which were essential to the identity of minorities, had been nullified by the junta in Ethiopia.
Central to the rights of minorities were the promotion and protection of their identity. Promoting and protecting their identity “prevented” forced assimilation and the loss of cultures, religions and languages which were the basis of the world heritage. Minority rights require diversity and plural identities to be tolerated. They also need to be protected and respected. These rights were about ensuring respect for “distinctive” identities. It was necessary to ensure that any differential treatment towards groups did not mask discriminatory practices and policies. Positive action was required to respect cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, and acknowledge that minorities enrich society through these identities.
The right “not” to be discriminated against was crucial in protecting the rights of persons belonging to minorities in all regions of Ethiopia. During the reign of junta, minorities everywhere had experienced direct and indirect discrimination in their daily lives. The TPLF had not respected the requirement of non-discrimination and equality before the law, which are the two basic principles of international human rights.
The principle of nondiscrimination “prohibits” any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference which has the purpose of impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by all persons of all rights and freedoms. The purpose referred to policies which might be neutral but were “interpreted” in a manner that resulted in discrimination during the rule of the junta. International human rights law prohibited both direct and indirect discrimination against minority groups. Indirect discrimination was more subtle and, therefore, harder to recognize and eliminate.
It occurred when a practice, rule or requirement was “neutral” on its face but had a disproportionate impact on particular groups. The practice, rule or requirement was necessary and appropriate to achieve a legitimate objective. Focusing on the “unequal” impact of a measure on an individual as a member of a group helped to better identify the root causes of discrimination and inequality by the TPLF junta. Its differential treatment might be its objective of maintaining discrimination and inequalities in the country during its rule.
Laws might provide for the adoption of special measures in favor of certain persons or groups for the purpose of hiding subtle discrimination. The TPLF laws had helped in achieving full equality on paper or Constitution. These laws reflected the International Conventions on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. They permitted the implementation of “special” measures for the sole purpose of securing adequate advancement of certain racial or ethnic groups. These measures had also provided for the advancement of individuals that require such protection. These actions ensured such groups’ or individual’s equal enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms only on paper.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, allowed for special measures which would accelerate equality between men and women. The Human Rights Committee also guaranteed non-discrimination by all governments and parties. It required them taking “affirmative” action in order to diminish or eliminate conditions which caused or helped to perpetuate discrimination prohibited by the Convention. Such action might involve granting the population certain preferential treatment. But, this could not take place in Ethiopia under the TPLF rule that had promoted discrimination based on ethnic and religious grounds. The junta embarked on cheating the international community by adopting UN conventions that had never been put into practice.
The UN conventions reflected the principles that applied or extended to any field of human rights. The government authorities were required to respect the UN principles that applied to racial discrimination by any persons, group or organization. Regarding special measures to advance equality, the UN included measures that in some countries might be described as “affirmative measures”, “affirmative action” or “positive action.”
The term “positive discrimination” was considered to be a contradiction that should be avoided. “Measures” included the full span of legislative, executive, administrative, budgetary and regulatory instruments at every level in the government apparatus. These included policies, plans and programs and preferential areas such as employment, housing, education, culture, and participation in public life for disfavored groups.
The government’s obligation to take special measures was distinct from the general positive responsibility to secure human rights and fundamental freedoms on a nondiscriminatory basis to persons and groups. This was a general obligation flowing from the provisions of the UN Convention as a whole.
The TPLF regime had not taken special measures appropriate to the minority situation to be remedied. It did not legitimize any democratic movements in the Ethiopian society. It had failed to stick to the principles of fairness and proportionality. In fact, the junta maintained rules that negated these principles in Ethiopia.
The principle of fairness applies to persons belonging to minorities to enjoy their own culture and practice their own religion and use their own language. Such rights are permanent rights, recognized as such in human rights instruments, including those adopted in the context of the UN and its agencies. The TPLF government had failed to observe “distinctions” between special measures and permanent human rights in its law and practice. The distinction between special measures and permanent rights implied that those entitled to permanent rights might “also” enjoy the benefits of special measures. The junta had colluded with international organizations that had fully supported it against the interests of the Ethiopian people at large.
The implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination could contribute to successful integration in societies. However, it was extremely important to ensure that “integration” was not understood to mean forced assimilation into the dominant culture. The implementation of the rights of persons belonging to minorities has highlighted the need not only to understand and redress inequality but also to accommodate difference and diversity.
The intent of this Convention had been misconstrued by the TPLF junta that exaggerated ethnic differences and diversities to the extent of dismembering Ethiopia. Ethnic groups had been given constitutional right to declare independence and form their respective governments.
The engagement of a government to ensure effective participation by adopting special procedures should result in the creation of institutions to deal with minority rights. It should make arrangements through which members of minorities were able to make decisions, exercise legislative and administrative powers, and develop their culture. Such measures constituted the best strategy to prevent conflicts. Unfortunately, in Ethiopia the TPLF junta had developed devious and deceitful strategy of divide and rule, bringing one minority group at loggerheads with another. In this regard, the constitutional right of every Ethiopian to enjoy basic human rights was practically obliterated. The social and cultural rights of everyone to take part in cultural life remained only on paper.
To strengthen the protection of minorities in accordance with the principle of non-discrimination, they should have equal access to social services, and to employment in the public and private sectors. In many instances, the root causes of human rights violations were found in the inequalities between groups in their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights. Due regard must, therefore, be paid to the implementation of the international conventions on the elimination of racial discrimination and on economic, social and cultural rights. However, during the TPLF era it was particularly important for the government to adopt the UN Conventions just to cheat the UN and access fund for its own partisan use.
In conclusion, several measures have been taken to protect the rights of minority groups at the global level. These measures should help them to effectively participate in and be consulted on development and economic projects. Governments in developing countries should adopt and implement projects and assess their impacts on persons belonging to minorities.
Editor’s Note: The views entertained in this article do not necessarily reflect the stance of The
The February 2/2022