Launch of The National Human Rights Action Plan

Oct 25, 2013



Eugene Owusu

UN Resident Coordinator, UN Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative



H.E. Ato Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 

Senior Government officials


Development Partners and colleague UN Heads of Agencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


I am pleased to be here today as Ethiopia launches its National Human Rights Action Plan. As UN Resident Coordinator and the Representative of the Secretary General in Ethiopia, I feel proud to have the opportunity to be associated with this historic event. Proud because the National Human Rights Action Plan is a product of a very strong government leadership in responding to key recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review, which was facilitated by the United Nations. Proud because of the UN’s global mandate on the human rights agenda and the contribution of the UN Country Team in Ethiopia to the process that has led to this event.


Allow me to use this opportunity to congratulate H.E Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, the Government of Ethiopia, the National Human Rights Action Plan Steering Committee and the citizens of Ethiopia for this important step towards strengthening human rights in this great country.


Our appreciation also goes out to the development partners who supported this process based on our shared objectives and common values.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The world has been grappling with the issue of human rights for centuries; probably since King Cyrus of Persia developed the first human rights charter some 2,500 years ago. And just like everywhere else in the world today, it is  not surprising that this is also the case here in Ethiopia. So while good progress has been made in addressing human rights in Ethiopia, upholding human rights is never a finished business. It is, and will always be an unfinished business!  So yes, there are human rights challenges in Ethiopia; Yes, there are human right deficits in Ethiopia as highlighted by the Universal Periodic Review and the Africa Peer Review Mechanism, what is most important is a clear commitment of Government to tackle these challenges.

The Action Plan that is being launched today represents a strong demonstrable commitment by the Government and the people of this country to deal with the critical residual, as well as any emerging human rights challenges.  This launch - the first in the history of this country – should for long endure as the defining moment that Ethiopia unequivocally committed not to be judged mere by increasing GDP figures and fantastic progress made in social service provision, but also by the country’s commitment to the ethos of human rights, the quality of its citizens and the content of the character and human relations of its people. This Plan should constitute a social pact; a social pact underpinned by the virtues of liberty, equality, equity, and solidarity.


Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Through our engagement and interactions in support of the development of the National Human Rights Action Plan, the question most often posed is not why the Plan matters; but rather why the Plan matters so much for Ethiopia and Ethiopians?


First, the Plan matters for Ethiopians because the Ethiopian renaissance cannot be about the individual wealth of its people. There exists a common bond among Ethiopians, and it is through this bond, that we can discover our own human qualities. Human rights and its shared values journey are about the collective liberty as a people with a shared destiny. Every Ethiopian is what he or she is because of what Ethiopia and Ethiopians are; this is the underlying maxim that should inform this Plan and its implementation.


Second, the Plan matters for Ethiopians because history and indeed contemporary events in Africa have taught us that to sustain the current development trajectory in Ethiopia, human rights matter; not just an end in itself but a means. And thus while the Plan may not embody all the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review, we are pleased its content indicates Ethiopia aspires to work towards an optimum balance between its development realities and international commitments. We welcome the boldness of the Plan as a rallying call and a robust commitment by the Government and people of Ethiopia to certain common and shared values espoused in international treaties.


Third, the Plan matters to Ethiopians because it brings completeness to the country’s development agenda – by decisively linking poverty reduction, wealth creation and development to issues of life, liberty, political rights, equality and equal opportunities for all.


But while applauding the Plan, critically, we also recognise that the Plan is, and cannot be, a panacea to all the human rights challenges that confront this country. I am almost certain that opinions might differ on the scope and transformative potential of the Plan, or indeed the commitment of the Government to its implementation. But what I believe is not debatable is that this Plan is an important step on the journey to engender human rights for all Ethiopians. And on this, I really would like to commend the Government again for the bold vision and commitment to take forward this Plan.


Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,


As we appreciate this Plan and prepare for its implementation, and as we establish common expectations and opportunities to support its implementation, we should guard against the temptation of focusing on events of human rights challenges, but rather take a strategic and structural approach to address underlying problems.  Crucially, a fixation on events might lead to pessimism and demonization, and take away from the constructive partnership approach that is so central to the success of this Plan.


And in seeking to address underlying problems, and in the implementation of the Plan, context is important. Context indeed matters. This Plan should be seen as an ‘Ethiopia solution to an Ethiopian problem’, guided by universally shared human rights values and norms. And on this, I fully share the sentiment expressed by our Prime Minister this month at the Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union held here in Addis Ababa, and I quote, ‘We in Africa have made it emphatically clear that democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights are imperative for our peace and stability as well as socio-economic development. Our commitment to these fundamental values is not merely to please our partners. It is borne out of our strong conviction, which emanated from our own political history and the desire to find home-grown solutions to the myriad of problems confronting us’. Unquote.


Mr. Prime Minister, I cannot agree more with you and I’m confident that this statement reflects the sentiments of many people in this room.


Excellency Prime Minister,

I wish to use this opportunity to assure you that the UN Country Team in Ethiopia will not be a bystander, but a strong partner in the implementation of this Plan. As our tagline states, we are a partner for transforming Ethiopia Together. The UN Country Team is currently in the process of concluding various support packages with Government to facilitate implementation of the Plan. Principal amongst this is the UNDP project on strengthening democratic governance to accelerate and sustain Ethiopia’s transformation. Central to this project will be support for the implementation and monitoring of the Plan and thematic areas such as access to justice and legal aid. Support to the Plan will also be provided through thematic engagement on juvenile justice, strengthening the criminal justice systems, women’s rights, human trafficking and migration, through different agencies, including UNICEF, the UN Office for Drug Control, UN Women, UNFPA, IOM, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,


The National Human Rights Action and indeed this launch are about hope and optimism. One might argue that these are the fuels that keep nations going. The negative narrative of Ethiopia and Ethio-pessimism should belong to history. It is the future, not the past that demands our earnest and anxious thoughts. That is why it is our responsibility to ourselves and future generations to listen carefully to critics and appreciate and accommodate different views; because our common future is our collective responsibility. And that is why I love the Ethiopian proverb that says Wuu-Bettachin Lii-Youneetaachinn.


Distinguished Participants,


As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights teaches us, life and liberties must be respected for men and women, rich and poor, equity and equality promoted and solidarity protected. This should be our common objective and our shared priority. The bonds between the Government and people of Ethiopia are many; our ties are deep, our values are shared. The UN Country Team will walk shoulder to shoulder with the Government and people of Ethiopia on the implementation of this Plan.


With this launch of the National Human Rights Action Plan, Ethiopia is taking up the microphone and speaking to the world. As we say in Africa, until lions tell their tale, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. Ethiopia must take charge and lead the narrative and story of its renaissance. The Plan is a perfect slate to continue the script.

Amesegenalew; I thank you.

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