Human rights - Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Iran

Pressmeddelande   •   Nov 17, 2006 09:04 CET

At the close of this week's plenary session in Strasbourg, Parliament as usual adopted three human rights resolutions: on the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia since the 2005 elections, the situation in Bangladesh ahead of the elections scheduled for early 2007 and the deterioration in human rights in Iran over the past year.

Ethiopian government slammed for actions since 2005 elections

In its resolution on Ethiopia, Parliament looks at the crisis following the 2005 elections and the serious human rights violations that have taken place in the country since then, including the reports of continuing arrests, harassment, arbitrary detention and intimidation of opposition politicians, civil society activists, students and others. In the circumstances, MEPs deplore the invitation to the Ethiopian prime minister to address the European Development Days being held this month in Brussels.

Unconditional release demanded for all political prisoners

According to the resolution, "111 opposition party leaders, journalists and human rights defenders are still in custody and are facing trial on charges including 'outrage against the Constitution', 'inciting, organising or leading armed rebellion' and 'attempted genocide'". A number of "post-election political detainees" are listed by name.

Against this background, MEPs call on the Ethiopian Government "to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, whether journalists, trade union activists, human rights defenders or ordinary citizens, and to fulfil its obligations with respect to human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law". They also call on the Government to disclose the total number of persons detained throughout the country, to allow visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross and to allow all detainees access to their families, legal counsel and any medical care that their health situation may require.

MEPs also deplore the expulsion of two EU officials, Bjorn Jonsson and Enrico Sborgi, from Ethiopia "on the alleged grounds that they tried to help Ms Yalemzewd Bekele, a lawyer and women's rights campaigner, working for the European Commission in Addis Ababa, to get out of the country".

Call for publication of report on killing of 193 people

The resolution refers to the Ethiopian government-backed Commission of Inquiry set up in November 2005 to investigate the killing of 193 citizens following demonstrations in June and November 2005. However, it points out that members of the Commission of Inquiry have been pressured by the Ethiopian Government to alter the findings and three of them have left the country after refusing government orders to do so.
The European Parliament therefore "calls on the Ethiopian Government to publish unamended and in its entirety, and without any further delay, the final report of the Commission of Inquiry; calls for the relevant courts to be supplied with the report, and urges them to take due account of it so that fair trials can be conducted".

EU invitation to Ethiopian prime minister criticised

In a strong message from MEPs to a fellow EU institution, the resolution "deeply regrets the EU Commission's invitation to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to address the European Development Days" (being held from 13 to 17 November 2006 in Brussels), "especially on governance issues, a decision which sends out the wrong signal with regard to EU policy on respect for human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law and good governance".

Lastly the resolution points out that Ethiopia is a signatory to the ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement, "which stipulates that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is an essential element of ACP-EU cooperation". It therefore "asks the Commission and Council to closely monitor the situation in Ethiopia, and considers that development cooperation programmes under the Cotonou Agreement should be contingent on respect for human rights and good governance".

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MEPs keep close watch on election process in Bangladesh

Looking ahead to the upcoming elections in Bangladesh, the European Parliament, in a resolution adopted by 60 votes to 1 with 1 abstention, welcomes the formation of a caretaker government but notes that many of the conditions for ensuring the neutrality of the electoral preparations have yet to be met.
MEPs deplore the recent violence in the country and condemn "the physical attacks on journalists, NGOs, trade unionists and others, and the violence related to the forthcoming general election and the transitional arrangements".

Caretaker government and Election Commission both have key roles to play

MEPs wish to see "a strong and decisive caretaker government" but they also urge President Iajuddin Ahmed's administration to reconstitute the Election Commission so as "to ensure that the latter can perform, and is seen to perform, its work in a truly neutral manner".

The government, say MEPs, should "create a climate in which all members of the electorate will feel genuinely free to use their right to vote" and should "guarantee media balance during the election campaign". To this end they ask the authorities to "put an end to the climate of impunity and to bring to justice the perpetrators of violence and harassment directed towards journalists in Bangladesh".

The Election Commission is urged, in cooperation with domestic and international experts, to improve the quality and accuracy of the voter register. According to the EU Commission, 13 million invalid names have been added to the register.

Journalists under attack

On press freedom, the resolution states that in 2006 three journalists were killed and at least 95 others attacked, and 55 press correspondents were the targets of intimidation because of articles considered to be ‘non‑Islamic’. In the course of the year more than 70 journalists have been forced to flee the country.

The case of Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a journalist who advocates dialogue between religions and recognition of Israel, is highlighted. He was arrested in November 2003 and is in danger of being condemned to death for sedition at his trial, which is due to open on 13 November. The resolution calls for a review of his trial and for his acquittal.

Appeal for political consensus and religious tolerance

The political parties are called upon to reach agreement on all controversial electoral issues, to avoid political violence and instability and to develop political programmes which will improve the standard of the population’s living conditions.

The resolution "reaffirms the European Parliament’s commitment to Bangladesh’s unique tradition of religious tolerance and secularism, as enshrined in the country’s longstanding cultural traditions and artistic heritage, and as endorsed in the European Parliament’s previous resolutions".

For their part, the Commission and Council are asked to monitor carefully the human rights situation, the political situation and press freedom in Bangladesh and draw up programmes, in the framework of EU-Bangladesh cooperation, to promote freedom of the press and freedom of speech.

Lastly, MEPs welcome the Commission's decision to send an EU Election Observation Mission to observe the forthcoming general election and urge "the rapid establishment of a European Parliament short-term political EOM".

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Iran: human rights violations across the board

In a resolution on Iran - adopted by 60 votes to 0 with 3 abstentions - Parliament voices "serious concern about the deterioration of the human rights situation in Iran since President Ahmedinejad took office in June 2005".
The resolution "calls upon Iran to grant all persons the right to exercise their civil rights and political freedoms and hopes that the Iranian authorities will fulfil their commitments to promote universal values, which Iran is also obliged to do by international conventions that it has ratified".

Killing of political activists and executions of minors

Parliament urges the Iranian authorities to accelerate the investigation into the suspicious deaths and killings of intellectuals and political activists and to release all prisoners of conscience. It is also "appalled that there are still cases of executions of minors and sentences of stoning". According to the resolution, "Iran accounts for the highest number of juvenile executions worldwide".

It demands for the abolition of stoning, strongly condemns the death penalty, notably the executions of juvenile offenders and minors, and urges Iran "to respect internationally recognised legal safeguards with regard to minors such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child".

Minority rights and freedom of religion

The resolution calls on the authorities "to respect internationally recognised legal safeguards with regard to persons belonging to religious minorities" and "to eliminate all forms of discrimination based on religious or ethnic grounds or against persons belonging to minorities, such as Kurds, Azeris, Arabs and Baluchis".

MEPs remain concerned about the fate of the lawyer Saleh Kamrani, who defended Azeri Turks in a law suit and disappeared on 14 June, and they call on the Iranian authorities to "halt the imminent execution" of several Arabs, whose names are listed.

In the area of religious discrimination, MEPs call for the de facto ban on practising the Baha'i faith to be lifted. They are concerned at the arrest of two lawyers who received prison sentences while defending Sufis in Qom and are worried about the safety of Ayatollah Sayad Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi, who has long advocated the separation of religion and state and has been rearrested, reportedly with more than 400 of his followers.

Freedom of the press

Parliament reminds the Government of Iran of its treaty obligations to safeguard freedom of opinion, and "calls for the release of all imprisoned journalists and webloggers". It condemns the imprisonment of cyber-journalists as well as the severe restrictions on the media in Iran. The Iranian Parliament is urged to amend the Press Law and the Penal Code to bring them into line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Women's and other rights

Against a backcloth of "continuous discrimination in law and in practice against women" and "the use of violence by the Iranian security forces against women", MEPs urge Iran to sign the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Parliament "condemns the open call by President Ahmedinejad for a purge of liberal and secular academics in the universities and calls for all those expelled to be allowed to return and to teach". It "deplores the deaths of student activist Akbar Mahdavi Mohammadi and political prisoner Valiollah Feyz as a result of their hunger strikes and calls for the release of Manoucher Mohammadi".

"Adult consensual sexual activity by unmarried persons should not lead to prosecution", says the resolution, and "people should not be imprisoned or executed on grounds of their sexual orientation".

Turning to the upcoming elections, Parliament is concerned that "nominees once again have not been able to register and that reformists will boycott the elections due to the undemocratic procedures for the listing of candidates for the elections".

What steps can the EU take?

Lastly, the resolution calls on Iran "to recommence the EU-Iran Human Rights Dialogue with the European Union" and calls upon the Council and the Commission "to closely monitor developments in Iran and to raise concrete cases of human rights abuses as the basic condition for progress in EU-Iran economic and trade relations". It also urges the Commission to make effective use of the new Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, for example by supporting uncensored media.

Ref.: 20061113IPR12552
Jack Blackwell
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