human rights challenges in Ethiopia

Food, Sexual Violence and Climate Change


Three doctoral candidates from the Centre for Human Rights at the Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia recently presented the outcomes of their doctoral thesis with the local academic community at Lund University, as a part of RWI’s Ethiopia Programme funded by Sida. Their theses are related to different human rights challenges in Ethiopia, from the right to food, to rape law reform and climate change’s challenges.

Here are the key takeaways from the presentations:

Doctoral candidate Yeshewas Ebabu Worku. Project title, “The human right to food and the post-1991 Ethiopian State’s obligation: A case study on Simada Woreda and Gulele sub-city.”
  1. 75% of the population in Simada Woreda is chronically insecure in terms of food – 60% experience a food gap for two months a year
  2. Land is an important economic factor is realizing the human rights to food. It’s owned by the “state and people of Ethiopia” – individual citizens do not own land. Therefore, the existing land regime has influence, in one way or the other, on the realization of the human right to food.
  3. Access to agricultural inputs, finance and credit are major factors influencing the realisation of the human right to food in the rural context of Ethiopia.
  4. The Woreda Agriculture and Rural Development Office (WARDO), Food security and Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) coordinating department have been making preparation to assist chronically food insecure residents to get access to credit services (to engage in on-farm activities).
  5. There is no judicially recognized right to food, therefore courts are reluctant to rule in favour of the right to food in court. The right to food cannot be claimed, but the right to life, right to land (possession) and right to property are all recognized. This makes the access to remedy limited.
  6. The way forward: the recognition of the right to food by the constitution would provide the right higher institutional validity and enforceability. Having a right to food framework law and shift in policy paradigm from food security to food sovereignty would help to better realize the human right to food.
Doctoral candidate Shimelis Dinku. Project title, “The quest for climate justice in Ethiopia: A case study of climate change responses in Lume and Ada’a Weredas.”
  1. Local communities, whose livelihoods depend on mixed farming, receive little climate information, yet experience many symptoms of it: aridity, extreme heat, drought, unprecedented rainfall, floods, etc.
  2. The vulnerability to climate change is exacerbated by poverty. Children, old people, poor people, female-headed households and people with little/no literacy are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
  3. The government implements a number of methods. They work to use more alternative sources of energy (solar and biogas). They work for better residue management to increase productivity and soil fertility. And the local communities have adaptation strategies. These include change of crop varieties, use of small-scale irrigation, changing planting dates, use of production technologies, livelihood diversification, consumption choices, and animal breeding and disaster preparation.
  4. However, there are many gaps, weaknesses and challenges in addressing climate change. For example, the measures focus mainly on adaptation to climate change and are not unique to the case study area, but focus on a practically of different localities in the country.
  5. The way forward would be to provide climate change information for local people and increase public awareness. This would help people with climate change and enable adaptation and prevention.
Doctoral candidate Measy Hagos Asafaw. Project title, “Effects and limits of the 2004 rape law reform in Ethiopia.”
  1. Although sexual violence predominantly affects female and most offenders are male, sexual violence is not limited to male on female perpetration.
  2. The proportion of victims who report to police is extremely low (8%) – because of the stigma, etc.
  3. The 2004 reform abolished the ending of criminal proceedings if the offender and the victim were married after the crime.
  4. The reform also abolished marital rape exemption from sexual assault, decriminalized abortion from rape induced pregnancy and criminalized female genital mutilation, a sexual offence because it is an attempt to control a female’s sexual life.
  5. However, same sex rape of adults has not been criminalized. In fact, as homosexuality is criminalized in Ethiopia, the victim (disregarding their intent) would also be criminalized for homosexuality. Though, it has been criminalized in cases of child victims.
  6. The prosecution rates will indicate whether the reform is effective and it is shown that there has been increased reporting in Addis Ababa, following the reform.
  7. However, the reform has limitations that include a restrictive definition of sexual acts, problems to do with procedural matters due to the absence of appropriate laws and the absence of private interrogation rooms at police station for statement taking. The definition of rape in the penile code is also problematic, as for the act to be considered rape it must include: use of violence, threat of violence, render the victim unable of resistance or unconscious (any drugs must have been administered by the offender, with the intent to have sex with victim, otherwise it wouldn’t constitute as rape). Furthermore, the law only applies with female victims and male offenders.