UN Rights Commission Concerned about Internet Shut Down in Oromia amidst Covid-19
Addis Abeba, MArch 27/2020 (Addis Standard) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement today in which the Rights body expressed its concerns about the continued shut down of Internet and telephone lines in western Oromia amidst the ongoing fight against the spread of COVID-19.
“We are very concerned by the continued communications shutdown in parts of Ethiopia, and more broadly call on all countries to ensure that everyone has ready and unhindered access to the internet and phone services, all the more in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Geneva based UN Rights Commission said.
It mentioned Ethiopia imposed an Internet and communications blackout on 7 January, citing security concerns, blocking internet access and phone services in areas under federal military control – namely western Oromia’s Kellem Wellega, West Wellega, and the Horo Gudru Wellega zones. The shutdown coincided with government military operations against the armed wing of the once-banned Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).
The statement reminded that “over the course of the past year, the Ethiopian Government has shut down the internet on a number of occasions, affecting the lives and human rights of the Ethiopians resident in concerned areas: hampering their ability to share and access information or simply to maintain contact with loved ones.”
It also urged other governments with similar track records to “immediately end any and all blanket internet and telecommunication shutdowns. Everyone has the right to receive and impart information.” Ethiopia is not the only country to shut down communications links, the UN said, adding “Blunt measures such as blanket Internet and telecommunications shutdowns, sometimes for prolonged periods, violate the principles of necessity and proportionality and contravene international law.”
Most importantly, the UN Rights commission reiterated that “amidst the COVID-19 crisis, fact-based and relevant information on the disease and its spread and response must reach all people, without exception,” and said authorities, medical professionals and relevant experts must be able to share accurate and vital information with each other and the public about the pandemic.
“It is also essential that information on the disease is readily available in understandable formats and languages, and information is adapted for people with specific needs, including the visually and hearing-impaired, and reaches those with limited or no ability to read or no access to technology,” the statement issued this afternoon said.