We call on Canada to act and save refugee women and girls from slavery and sexual violence in the Ethiopia
This article is part of an ongoing Canada Hour project, which looks at an important issue affecting Canadian lives today.
Since the Ethiopian government began its anti-gay crackdown in February 2016, more than 2,000 women and girls have been abducted, sold into prostitution, raped and tortured into sex slavery, and many have been killed, sexually abused and left with permanent disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder.
LGBT refugee attacked after raising alarm on Ethiopian crackdown Read more
On 7 October, an international conference is being held in Ottawa to highlight the plight of refugee women and girls in Ethiopia and to call on Canada and other developed countries to do more to stop the “masterbate” against women and girls that Human Rights Watch has been documenting for over a year.
Canada was among the leading economies in terms of immigration during the 1970s and 1980s. This last election campaign saw voters turn their backs on this record by voting in three successive prime ministers with the strongest records of upholding human rights and refugee and civil rights protections. While Canada has made progress on issues like the United Nations refugee convention, human rights groups are watching to see whether this government can honour this country’s long-standing promise to protect refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers.
In September 2016, 28 refugees in Ethiopia were arrested and deported. While UNHCR took some steps to press for an end to the deportation of asylum seekers to countries in which they faced the threat of torture, those involved never received support from the Canadian government, including the funds necessary to assist them.
Since the beginning of 2018, more than 1,400 refugees seeking asylum in Canada have been denied refugee status in Ethiopia. UNHCR is trying to get Canada to redirect funds and services. At least 50 have died in detention, including two newborn babies whose families could not afford to hire a lawyer.
Three people in Canada, all prominent family and human rights activists, have been barred from travelling to Ethiopia as refugees, including Dorothy Stang, the mother of film director Atom Egoyan. Since May, 27 members of the Human Rights Committee of Loyola College, located in the heart of Ottawa, including university president Harry Kibler, have been prevented from travelling to Ethiopia. (Canada is a member of the Council of Europe, which issues cultural visas to talented and isolated individuals.)
Canada could be doing more to stop the Ethiopian government’s persecution of women and girls | Michelle Goldberg Read more
Sexual violence and sexual exploitation are often included in sexual slavery, and these include cases where trafficked women or girls are exploited in places such as brothels, hotels, nightclubs, public transport or streets, or in places where forced female genital mutilation is practised, and in work. The women and girls are also raped and beaten to death and left without adequate food, water, hygiene or shelter. Some are killed in the process. In other instances, the victims are beaten on the streets of large cities by men and boys.
The Canadian government needs to take a strong stand now. The detention of Canadian citizens is not in line with the values and values of Canada and shouldn’t continue. The recent sentencing of these three people to three months in jail or community service was issued before these events took place.
Since 2001, the Ethiopian government has targeted individuals, mainly members of the LGBT community, for arrest, criminal charges and detention. A 2014 report by UN expert Elin Sanda said the Ethiopian government had “a deplorable record on using criminal charges to harass, arrest and detain gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and intersex people. The evidence suggests that they can be prosecuted and punished simply for their sexual orientation”.
The Ethiopian government has also turned a blind eye to abuses by members of the East African Community (EAC) security forces. In June 2015, Human Rights Watch reported that, “against large numbers of people in Addis Ababa, the capital, EAC security forces use random and unlawful killings, widespread unlawful sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, extortion and other forms of coercion”.
Canada’s rights record around the world, especially its treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, need to be looked at closely and watched, particularly as it prepares to host a summit of states committed to the values of the United Nations this year.