World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Deteriorating human rights situation in Ethiopia

24 November 2005

Letter to H.E. Louise Arbour, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
24 November, 2005


Your Excellency,

The World Council of Churches is deeply concerned about the deteriorating
human rights situation in Ethiopia.

On a recent visit to Ethiopia at the end of September 2005, in my meetings
with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and leaders of the Opposition Coalition for
Unity and Democracy and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces, I expressed
the urgent need for dialogue to resolve political differences and disagreements
that had surfaced in the post-election period. Subsequent to my return to Geneva
and after the crackdown of the Ethiopian security forces on the opposition, I wrote
to the Prime Minister urging him to exercise restraint. I also asked him to bring
a halt to military action against the people and order the immediate release of all
political prisoners so as to pave the way for a dialogue of National Unity.

We are writing to you today as we remain concerned about the continued detention
of political prisoners. Our particular concern is in respect of the detention of
Dr Mesfin Woldemariam, the founder and former Chair of the Ethiopian Human
Rights Council with which the World Council of Churches has a long-standing
partnership. Dr Mesfin is a human rights defender who has contributed immensely
to the protection and promotion of human rights, not only in Ethiopia but also
in the region. He has been instrumental in organizing several human rights workshops
and training programmes in the Horn of Africa region that have benefited
many young human rights lawyers and activists. The World Council of Churches
has cooperated in the sponsorship of these programmes.

Dr Mesfin has not been in good health, particularly since August 2005, and
has been confined to the house because of health problems caused by sciatic nerve
damage, which has to a great extent restricted his movements. He is therefore in
urgent need of medical care and attention and needs to be shifted to a hospital as
soon as possible to prevent his ailments from becoming more acute.

We therefore call on you to use your good offices with the government of
Ethiopia to either order the immediate release of Dr Mesfin Woldemariam or, at
the very least, to transfer him to a medical facility where he is provided with adequate
medical care and attention.

Yours sincerely,

Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia
General Secretary