News: Ethiopian authorities cut short a meeting between international lawyer Georgette Gagnon and Ethiopian lawyers defending those charged with terrorism

The sideline meeting was part of UN’s human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein ongoing visit to Ethiopia

Etenesh Abera

Addis Abeba, April 23/2018 – A sideline meeting that was taking place between Georgette Gagnon, international human rights lawyer and advocate, and two prominent lawyers defending political prisoners charged with terrorism in Ethiopia, was “interrupted after local authorities told a local UN staff by phone to cut the meeting short,” according Milkiyas Bulcha Abdi, one of the two lawyers present at the meeting. The meeting was taking place in Bishftu city, 45 km south of Addis Abeba.

Milkiyas told Addis Standard that the side meeting between Ms. Gagnon, himself and Abduljebar Hussien Gemeda was happening at the Rosmary Hotel in Bishoftu city when a local staff member of the UN received a phone call from authorities instructing her to interrupt the meeting. “She told us that we should stop the meeting because authorities did not want the meeting to proceed,” Milkiyas said.

Abduljebar Hussien and Milkiyas Bulcha, two of the few lawyers who represent high profile individuals charged with terrorism, such as the recently released opposition leader Bekele Gerba, were meeting Ms. Gagnon as part of the ongoing visit by UN’s human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and his team. “The meeting was planned so we can breif the visiting guests regarding those who have been released, those who are still in jail and regarding the human right situations of political prisoners,” Milkiyas said.

Ms. Gagnon, former Director of Human Rights for the UN in Afghanistan and former Africa Director at Human Rights Watch, was attending the meeting with Abduljebar and Milkiyas after UN’s human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said he was meeting with members of the Aba Gada Council in Bishoftu and that Ms. Gagnon should meet them instead.  The two lawyers went to Bishoftu after Ameha Mekonnen, another top human rights lawyer in Ethiopia, facilitated the schedule. “We were prepared with our report but there was nothing anybody can do, so we came back to Addis Abeba,” Milkiyas further said. Addis Standard’s attempts to contact the local representatives of the UN who were present at the meeting were to no avail.

In a related development, a meeting between representatives of the Aba Geda Council, including Aba Geda Senbeto Beyene, and officials of the Bishoftu city administration and the ministry of foreign affairs was briefly interrupted after Aba Geda Senbeto “refused to tow official lines” regarding the October 2016 Irreechaa tragedy when meeting with the visiting UN human rights commission team led by its chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

Aba Geda Beyene Senbeto

According to a source who attended the meeting, the officials both from the city administration and ministry of foreign affairs have told Aba Geda Senbeto and the others with him that when meeting with  Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and his team they should explain that no one was killed by security forces during the Oromo annual thanks giving festival, Ireechaa, in 2016. “Aba Geda Senbeto refused to repeat after the officials line of the story. He said his position will only allow him to honor the truth and refused to meet Zeid if he was forced to tell what the officials wanted him to,” our source said, adding the officials have also wanted the Aba Gedas to explain that the government was reforming. When Aba Geda Senbeto refused they agreed to let him and his members to speak what they know rather than what the officials wanted them to say.

As of the publishing of this news, the meeting between  Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and members of the Aba Geda Council, a non-state highest order of the Oromo democratic institution led by Aba Geda Senbeto , is taking place in Bishoftu city. AS 

Cover Picture: Georgette Gagnon/UNNews

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