Kebbur Attorney General, Ato Getachew Ambaye, excellencies federal commissioners, excellencies former heads of different parts of Ethiopian justice system, fellow diplomats, distinguished guests – ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you for inviting me to make a key note speech at today’s event, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Justice for All – Prison Fellowship Ethiopia!
As a longstanding partner and friend of Ethiopia, as well as of Justice for All – Prison Fellowship Ethiopia, it is a true pleasure to be here today. Human rights is a cornerstone in Norway’s foreign and development policy. Within this field, we have three priorities: Individual freedom and public participation; the rule of law and legal protection; and equality and equal opportunities for all. I would argue that an effective, professional and independent justice system is a prerequisite for all these objectives. And I believe that the work done by Justice for All, in cooperation with their national and international partners, represents a major contribution towards this end.
For the past years, JFA-PFE has been a key partner in Norway’s engagement related to human rights and rule of law in Ethiopia. We have experienced how the organization, under Pastor Daniels steady leadership, is able to deliver results and gradually induce change. Therefore, we have decided to continue our support to the organization, and we are currently in the process of renewing our partnership for another four years. Let me take this opportunity to formally thank Pastor Daniel and his highly competent staff for their passion and professionalism in pursuing their vision to enhance the protection of human rights and the rule og law in Ethiopia.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today’s celebration comes at a critical time in Ethiopia’s development trajectory relating to human rights and the rule of law. Certainly, efforts to protect and promote human rights has always been – and always will be – necessary and relevant, in Ethiopia as in any other country. However, last year’s developments in the country – with wide-spread demonstrations and popular unrest – highlighted the need to step up the efforts towards securing rule of law and good governance. This has been acknowledged by Ethiopian officials several times, including by the President and the Prime Minister. Their openness and self-criticism deserves praise and support. Recognizing the most pressing shortcomings is always the necessary first step towards progress. The next step is translating words into actions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The way I see it, we are finding ourselves in the early beginning of this period of translation and operationalization. As an example, the recently launched second National Human Rights Action Plan demonstrates a thorough understanding of the challenges afflicting the Ethiopian justice sector, coupled with a range of activities and measures aiming to address and rectify the weaknesses identified. I am pleased to see certain concrete outcomes relating to topics which were thoroughly discussed and explored during the high level visit of officials from the Ethiopian justice sector, including Minister Getachew, to Norway two years ago. These include efforts to reduce recidivism through the design and implementation of a parole system, as well as to improve the technical investigation capacity of the police guard with a view to reducing the reliance on confessions. The action plan is precise, yet ambitious, aiming at a stronger administration of justice, improved rule of law, strengthened independence of the judiciary and improved practices on the part of security forces. Norway welcomes these objectives, and will seek to explore how we can best support their realization.
A second sign that words are being followed by actions, is the recent measures made to improve reporting on the human rights situation in the country. Since the outbreak of popular unrest in November 2015, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has presented several reports to the federal parliament, based on extensive investigations in the field. The reports have identified the damages of the unrest, including the number of deaths and injuries, and analyzed to which extent the use of power was proportional and necessary. Importantly, the reports recommend measures for ensuring accountability. Allow me to take this opportunity to encourage relevant authorities to follow-up accordingly, so as to contribute to the further strengthening of confidence in the existing structures.
On a related note, the visit of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to Ethiopia in the beginning of this month, demonstrates a willingness to also discuss the domestic situation with external actors, including the UN system. To my understanding, Abu Zeid was very pleased with the visit, having been met with hospitality and openness in meeting with several representatives of the Ethiopian government. The establishment of such a dialogue is extremely important, and I am positive that this visit will be remembered as the first, and not the last, of its kind.
Finally, let me go back to the reason why we’re gathered here today. Justice for All – Prison Fellowship Ethiopia celebrates 25 years – that’s a quarter of a century. Needless to say, I am certain that Pastor Daniel and his crew know better than anyone that change does not happen overnight. Change and development requires endurance, constant self-assessments and reconfigurations. This goes for every process in every country – in Norway just as in Ethiopia. Importantly – as recent global developments have demonstrated - securing fundamental rights and principles is not a one-way street. Once certain standards have been achieved, they cannot be taken for granted. Rather, their very raison d’être must be explained and defended again and again, in order for us to be able to continue to live as human beings, born free and equal in dignity and rights.
My gratitude and respect goes to everyone who contributes to this important work, including Justice for All – Prison Fellowship Ethiopia. Congratulations on your anniversary!
I thank you.