NAIROBI - Amnesty International is concerned that Rwanda and Ethiopia are overlooking their commitments to human rights for the sake of economic growth. A new report from the human rights group says the authoritarian governments of both countries have stifled the opposition and persecuted journalists.
In the past seven years, Ethiopia has sustained an 11 percent economic growth rate and substantially reduced poverty among its 83 million citizens.
The country has gone to great lengths to incorporate the United Nations Millennium Development Goals into its national policy, enforced by an authoritarian ruling party that has been in power for the last 20 years.
Amnesty Africa Program Director Erwin van der Borght says these improvements have come at a cost.
“Certainly Ethiopia has made progress in terms of its economic development, but in a way it has neglected to respect and protect civil and political rights such as the right to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly," said van der Borght.
The Ethiopia chapter of Amnesty's 2012 human rights report highlights key rights concerns in the country, including legislation restricting rights organizations, and the arrests of hundreds of opposition members and journalists.
Van der Borght says it is in Ethiopia's own economic interest to loosen political restrictions.
“It's a given that a strong opposition makes often a better government," he said. "And if you don't allow that space for civil society or political opposition, then in the longer term you may put at risk the progress you've made in terms of development and economic growth.”
Van der Borght notes that Tunisia and other North African countries rocked by the Arab Spring also had fast-growing economies before the uprisings.
Amnesty International has similar concerns for Rwanda.
The country has also experienced rapid growth in the past few years, under the firm guidance of President Paul Kagame and his party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front.
The World Bank named Rwanda among the 10 most improved economies in 2010. This year, it was ranked the third easiest place to do business in Africa this year.
The Amnesty International report on Rwanda decries what he calls arbitrary arrests and unfair convictions of government critics and the unlawful detention of journalists.
But, van der Borght says the country could improve if it finally enacted proposed reforms to reduce state control of the media.|
“You could expect some positive change," said van der Borght. "However, if you look at the reality on the ground, we haven't seen any significant progress yet. Individuals are still prosecuted under the same legislation that the government wants to reform. So that's not a good sign.”
The media reform laws are making their way through the Rwandan parliament and are expected to be taken up by the senate soon.