People in Tigray, and every region of Ethiopia, have the right to free, open, and secure internet access — and the African Union has a responsibility to intervene and ensure unfettered connectivity for all.

November 4, 2022 marks two years of deliberate and sustained internet shutdowns that continue to fracture the lives of approximately six million people in Tigray and millions more. We, the undersigned organizations and individuals from across the globe, are alarmed by the human rights violations carried out during the ongoing conflict in Tigray, and the blatant attempts to conceal them. We are petitioning the African Union and individual member states, as continental leaders, to condemn the Ethiopian government’s prolonged shutdown, and to help reestablish internet access across the region and beyond.

Sign the petition

 
Conflict and shutdowns in Tigray
Since the conflict began in Tigray in November 2020, authorities have used deliberate and sustained internet and telecommunication shutdowns as a weapon of information control and censorship, directly impacting the lives of approximately six million people in the region, as well as their networks and communities abroad. Authorities and warring parties also targeted infrastructure and confiscated individuals’ SIM cards, and, as the conflict spread to other parts of Ethiopia, including the Amhara and Afar regions, they shut down internet and telecommunication services and infrastructure in those areas  — affecting up to 10 million people total. The deliberate shutdowns interfere with people’s ability to access education, healthcare, businesses, and other services, the long-term effects of which could resonate for years to come. These disruptions deprive people in Tigray and other areas from accessing vital and life-saving information about this conflict and connections to their loved ones, leaving people outside the region without information on the safety of their families and communities back home, while making it extremely hard for journalists and human rights defenders to document and report on the impacts in real time.
Ethiopia’s history of internet shutdowns
Authorities’ proliferation of internet shutdowns to crack down on dissent, control narratives, and restrict the flow of information in Ethiopia and across the continent is alarming, and the ongoing interruption in Tigray follows a pattern of hitting the kill switch in times of crisis. According to Access Now’s Shutdown Tracker Optimization Project (STOP), since 2016, Ethiopian authorities have imposed at least 22 internet shutdowns at local and national levels.
Across the country, from the Amhara and Afar regions in the north, to western Oromia (under the control of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) since 2018), internet shutdowns have been used repeatedly during violent conflicts — but never once did they prove to “restore order.”
Internet shutdowns cover up human rights violations
As we have seen in other conflict zones, the internet shutdowns in Tigray have restricted information emerging from the region, making it increasingly difficult for journalists, human rights defenders, and activists to corroborate accounts of human rights violations. Yet, there have still been numerous reports of warring parties committing heinous crimes against civilians, including mass rape and sexual violence, mass murder, arrests of journalists, and the abuse of refugees.
The internet, social media platforms, and other telecommunications play a critical role in times of social and political unrest, crises, and conflict. These tools enable communication, public debate, access to information, and documentation of events. They also help identify safe havens during conflict and crises. The ongoing internet shutdowns in Tigray are making it challenging for humanitarian aid and medical services to reach conflict zones and affected populations.
Internet shutdowns violate national and international human rights laws
The two-year-long shutdown in Tigray contravenes Article 29 of Ethiopia’s constitution, which guarantees respect for the “right of thought, opinion and expression” and is a blatant violation of  the legally binding International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), and the African Commission’s (The Commission’s) Resolution on the Right to Freedom of Information and Expression on the Internet, as well as the  Commission’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information. Further, to our knowledge, Ethiopia has not notified the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) or ITU member states of the stoppage or suspension of telecommunications in Tigray, as required by Articles 34 and 35 of the ITU Constitution.
Experts, international institutions, and high-level officials — including the UN Secretary-General — have repeatedly affirmed that shutdowns and blockings violate international human rights law. A recent report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted the impact of internet shutdowns on freedom of expression and access to information, and the negative effects they have on economic activities, social welfare, and humanitarian aid delivery. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, through the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, has also expressed concern at the increasing weaponization of internet shutdowns in the region.
It’s time for immediate intervention
To date, the government and other parties involved in the blackouts in Tigray have ignored all calls from local and international organizations urging them to reconnect people. It’s time for the African Union and its individual member states to speak out and condemn the Ethiopian government’s prolonged shutdown.
Cognizant of Article 3(H) of The Constitutive Act of the African Union which provides a clear mandate to AU Organs and institutions to promote and protect human rights in Africa, we call for a firmer approach to the situation in Tigray. We commend the African Union for initiating mediation in an effort to de-escalate the conflict, and further implore you to:
  • Join the regional and international community in denouncing the two-year-long internet shutdown ravaging lives in and around the Tigray region and the practice of internet shutdowns in Ethiopia;
  • Hold the Ethiopian government and all parties responsible for the shutdown accountable for immediately restoring full access to the internet and telecommunications platforms, in keeping with their commitments in the AU-mediated truce;
  • Engage with the Ethiopian government and the Tigray regional authorities to ensure they uphold and protect people’s fundamental rights at all times, especially during crises; and
  • Engage with authorities in Ethiopia to put an end to the cycle of internet shutdowns in conflict-affected areas and during critical national events in future.

We further urge African Union member states to unilaterally speak out and condemn the government’s restrictions of internet and telecommunication services. We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, are confident that your office will take note of the infractions enumerated above and implement our recommendations. You have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to improve and uphold freedom of expression and all human rights in Ethiopia —  both online and off.

Sign This Petition

November 4, 2022 marks two years of deliberate and sustained internet shutdowns that continue to fracture the lives of approximately six million people in Tigray and millions beyond.

We are petitioning the African Union and individual member states, as continental leaders, to condemn the Ethiopian government’s prolonged shutdown, and intervene and help reestablish internet access across the region and beyond.

Individuals can use the form below to show their support. To add your organization, reach out directly to #KeepItOn Campaigner Manager Felicia Anthonio at felicia [at] accessnow [dot] org.  

ORGANIZATIONS

Access Now

ADISI - Cameroun

Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)

Afghan Independent Journalists Association

Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)

Africa Interactive Media

Africa Media and Information Technology Initiative (AfriMITI)

Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation (AODIRF)

African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)

AfricTivistes

AI for the People

ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa

Aspiration

Association for Progressive Communications (APC)

Bareedo Platform Somalia

Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE)

Bloggers of Zambia

Blueprint for Free Speech

Campaign4her

Center for Digital Resilience

Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding

Center for the Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD)

Centre for Community Empowerment and Development (CECAD)

Change Tanzania

Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)

Common Cause Zambia

Derechos Digitales

Digital Rights Foundation

Digital Rights Kashmir

Electronic Frontier Finland

Electronic Frontier Foundation

EngageMedia

Fundación Karisma

Gambia Press Union (GPU)

Give1Project Gambia

GreatFire.org

Health Professionals Network for Tigray (HPN4Tigray)

Horn Broadcasting Services 

Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda

IFEX

International Federation of Journalists

International Press Centre (IPC)

Internet Freedom Foundation

Internet Sans Frontières

Irob Anina Civil Society (IACS)

JCA-NET - Japan

Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet)

Kijiji Yeetu - Kenya

LaLibre.net Tecnologías Comunitarias

Last Mile4D

Legacy Tigray Advocacy

Libyan Crimes Watch (LCW)

Majal.org

Manushya Foundation - Thailand

Media Diversity Institute - Armenia

Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)

MIAAN Group

NetFreedom Pioneers

OpenNet Africa

Organization of the Justice Campaign

Oxen Privacy Tech Foundation (OPTF)

Paradigm Initiative (PIN)

Point of View

Ranking Digital Rights

RedesAyuda

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

r0g_agency for open culture & critical transformation - Germany

Rudi International

Rural Aid Foundation (RAFO) - Uganda

Sassoufit Collective

Securing Organizations with Automated Policymaking (SOAP)

Security & Justices for Tigray

Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet)

Spectrum 

Stand With Tigray Inc.

Superbloom/Simply Secure

The Tor Project

Tigray Action Committee

Tigray Center for Information & Communication

Tigray Human Rights Forum

Tigray TV Education Initiative 

Ubunteam

Wikimédia France

Wikimedia Uganda

WITNESS

Women of Tigray (WOT)

Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)

YODET

Zaina Foundation

Zambian Bloggers Network

INDIVIDUALS

Sandra Aceng

Iftikhor Ahmadbekov

Bridget Andere

Felicia Anthonio

Charles Baduya

Susanne Bellinghausen

Ibrahim Cissé

Fiona Coath

Blen Gebrehiwot Desta

Samson Esayas

Hawzien Gebremedhin

Meaza Gebremedhin

Zara Gebru

Lwam Gidey

Gazzali Haruna Ibrahim

Atekelte Kassa

Eden Kassa

Mulu Beyene Kidanemariam

Zegeye Leake

Shawn Lukas

Saba Mah’derom

Ali Mahmoud

Thobekile Matimbe

Richard Mulonga

Andréa Ngombet

Affagnon Qemal

Soudeh Rad

Amelia Rath

Zara Rezaie

Bendjedid Rachad Sanoussi

Obed Sindy

Teklehaymanot G. Weldemichel

+ hundreds more