GENEVA — A United Nations body dedicated to promoting wider and better internet access is set to hold its annual meeting in Ethiopia, whose government cut off internet access in its northern Tigray region for a two-year war.
Critics say Ethiopia stands out as a glaring example of a government preventing citizens from getting online – jeopardizing family ties, human rights and information flows.
The Internet Governance Forum, whose annual gathering has attracted high-profile leaders like former German Chancellor Angela Merke in the past, is scheduled for November 28-December 28 this year. 2 meeting in Ethiopia long before the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed waged a military campaign in Tigray against regional fighters in November 2020.
Since then, fighting has hampered humanitarian access to the region as Ethiopian federal authorities attempt to isolate Tigray’s rebel rulers by impeding humanitarian aid deliveries, isolating its beleaguered residents and shutting down banking and telecommunications, leaving them largely isolated from the rest of the world.
Ethiopian authorities, however, insist they did not deliberately target the Tigrayan people.
As part of a widely welcomed ceasefire agreement on November 2, the Ethiopian government must continue to restore basic communication, transport and banking services for Tigray’s more than 5 million people, and both sides promised to allow unhindered access for humanitarian aid.
In the past, the Ethiopian government has said it needs security guarantees for workers sent to repair communications infrastructure.
Ahmed’s government, which won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, has promoted the upcoming IGF rally in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, as it strives to promote Ethiopia’s status as a regional economic power and African diplomatic hub.
The organizers of the meeting are looking for concrete steps to achieve “universal and meaningful Internet connectivity”.
The Geneva-based forum laments that 2.7 billion people around the world are still not connected. He will focus this year’s meeting on “connecting all people and safeguarding human rights” and preventing internet fragmentation. He denounces government policy that “limits uses of the Internet or affects the open and interoperable character of the Internet”.
Chengetai Masango, the forum’s program and technology manager, said Addis Ababa was a “preferred location” to hold the annual meeting, as Ethiopia is a rapidly developing country, home to a “great base youth” and a diplomatic center – with many embassies, international institutions and the headquarters of the African Union.
“Ethiopia is a UN member state and as such has the right to host UN meetings,” Masango wrote, adding, “The position of the IGF and the UN on closures everywhere has been consistent; they are incompatible with human rights.
Even before the conflict in Tigray began, the UN human rights office raised concerns about internet access and communications in Ethiopia, citing a ‘communications blackout’ that began in January 2020 in areas under federal military control – namely western Oromia – during military operations against an armed group. faction there.
Fighting in the Oromia region this week claimed dozens of lives, witnesses said.
The rights office noted that Ethiopia is far from the only country imposing internet restrictions.
A UN report released in June noted internet shutdowns or social media crackdowns in places like Myanmar, Sudan and Russia. He said closures often occur in places where governments carry out armed operations – and some may be aimed at covering up human rights abuses.
“The UN as a whole has spoken out openly on the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia, as well as the alleged violations of human rights, humanitarian law and refugee law,” Masango said.
Many Tigrayans told The Associated Press they have not been able to contact relatives in the area since the conflict began and do not know if they are still alive.
The #KeepItOn coalition – which brings together more than 280 organizations from 105 countries to promote open access to the internet – says it is calling on the African Union “to condemn the prolonged Ethiopian government shutdown, which has had devastating effects on people living in conflict, and to help restore internet access in the region and across Ethiopia.
Access Now, another advocacy group, launched a campaign to mark Tigray’s two years without the internet. He says the Addis Ababa meeting provides an opportunity to focus on internet shutdowns and “to urge governments, especially in Africa, to end this practice.”
“Authorities have weaponized internet shutdowns against people inside and outside Tigray – disconnecting families, destroying businesses and impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid,” he said. . “It aggravates the humanitarian crisis and covers up human rights violations.”
Anna reported from Nairobi, Kenya.
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