Building the Foundations for a Rights-Centered Polity in Ethiopia: A Promise, a Plan, or an Illusion?

11:00 am EST (7:00 pm Addis Abeba)
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Almost four years have passed since the government of Ethiopia announced it was going to expand the domain of guaranteed rights and transition to a democratic form of government. Ethiopians, and Ethiopia observers, are generally not quick to believe such promises. Many a reform – from the promise of a Socialist utopia to the Ethiopian renaissance – has conditioned an understandable skepticism. However, this time, this particular authoritarian promise was widely believed – and thus began the 2018 democratic transition.

Event banner including event details. On February 17 at 11am EST/7pm Ethiopian time (ማታ 1:00 ሰዓት), HRP will convene experts to discuss Ethiopia’s human rights prospects in the face of war. More info here:

After the initial euphoria, the accolades, the plans, and a buzz of activity to make that promise come true, things did not go well. The split within the ruling party and the ensuing palace wars eventually led to an armed conflict that has now gone on for over a year. The human rights condition, by the estimates of all measures including those of the warring factions, seems to be going on a downward spiral.

This webinar comes at yet another inflection point. According to insiders, and not least Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian President and the African Union’s chief negotiator in Ethiopia, there is reason to hope for an impending “handshake”. The webinar will take stalk of recent developments and assess the directionality of the country from a human rights point of view. It will pose critical questions about whether and how the foundations of a rights-centered polity may be built – going beyond the new buzz over handshakes, the promises, and announcements.



The event will be introduced by Gerald L. Neuman, J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law, and Director of the Human Rights Program, and will be composed of the following panelists:




Tsedale Lemma is a prominent Ethiopian journalist and a leading advocate of media and press freedoms. Tsedale Lemma is the founder of the Addis Standard magazine, one of the most influential news publications in Ethiopia. Following the

establishment of Addis Standard, she not only became one of the few female managing editors in Ethiopia but her stubborn insistence to keep the magazine both independent and critical made her and the magazine a target of state repression. Tsedale Lemma is also a member of the International Advisory Board of Bandung: Journal of the Global South.



Adem Kassie Abebe (LL.D.) is a program officer at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). In addition to having an impressive list of academic and other publications with prominent media organizations, Dr. Adem is a member of the Advisory Board of the International Journal of Constitutional Law (I.CON) and Vice President and member of the Executive Committee of the African Network of Constitutional Lawyers (ANCL). He has served as assistant professor at the Faculty of Law of the University of Addis Ababa, has been recognized as an Extraordinary Lecturer at the University of Pretoria, and has been granted senior fellowships at the Max Planck Institute, the University of Cambridge, and the Kabarak University in Kenya.


Laetitia Bader is the Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. She has investigated conflict related abuses, including abuses against children and internally displaced persons in Somalia, and focused on issues of political repression, including mistreatment of political detainees. Before joining Human Rights Watch she worked on the rights of human rights defenders in the East and Horn of Africa region and worked at the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Uganda. She holds a master’s in international affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) and Sciences-Po in Paris, specializing in human rights, and holds a bachelor’s in history from University College London (UCL). She is bilingual in French and English, and speaks Italian and Spanish.



Abadir M. Ibrahim (J.S.D.) is the Associate Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School. Before joining the HRP, he was the Head of the Secretariat for the Legal and Justice Affairs Advisory Council of Ethiopia, an institution established as an independent body to advise the government on conducting pro-democracy and pro-rights justice sector reforms. As a lawyer, activist, scholar, and educator in African human rights law, he both practices and studies human rights at a global, African and domestic level.



Sponsored by Harvard Law’s Human Rights Program.

Co-Sponsored by Harvard University’s Center for African Studies, Harvard Law’s Advocates for Human Rights and the Harvard African Law Association.