In November 2020, against the backdrop of a bloody civil war, Ethiopian authorities plunged the Tigray region into a communication black hole by disconnecting the internet. Today, the region is still cut off. Through an open petition, Access Now and nearly 100 civil society organizations from around the world — along with concerned individuals from 102 countries that have signed in support — are demanding the African Union acts now to connect those affected.
“People in Tigray, and across all of Ethiopia, must have their human rights upheld,” said Felicia Anthonio, #KeepItOn Campaign Manager at Access Now. “The African Union and member states have a responsibility to get involved and do everything in their power to help restore the internet, reconnecting communities to each other, to the world, and to vital information. As we look towards peace, it’s critical that regional leaders make a firm stand against the incessant use of internet shutdowns in Africa.”
For over two years, the Ethiopian government and other parties involved in the blackouts in Tigray have ignored calls from local and international organizations urging them to reconnect people. Since the signing of the peace treaty on November 2, Ethiopian authorities have acknowledged the shutdown, but state there is “no timeline” to reconnect the internet. This is not good enough. The African Union and its individual member states must speak out and condemn the Ethiopian government’s prolonged shutdown. The petition signatories call on the African Union to:
- Join the regional and international community in denouncing the internet shutdown ravaging lives in Tigray and the practice of internet shutdowns in Ethiopia;
- Pressure the Ethiopian government and all parties responsible for the shutdown to immediately restore full access to the internet and telecommunications platforms;
- 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.
“If the African Union doesn’t act now, it’s making a public decision to disregard its duty to protect people’s fundamental rights,” said Bridget Andere, Africa Policy Analyst at Access Now. “It’s giving a green light to governments across the content to hit the kill switch, and disconnect millions from the internet. Access Now is calling on the region’s leaders to finally take a stand and make a difference — use all the power you have to put an end to internet shutdowns in Tigray now.”
The petition was delivered to officials of the AU, diplomatic missions, and governments at the Internet Governance Forum hosted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where Access Now and partners fought to draw global attention to, and accountability for, the ongoing shutdown imposed by the hosting government.
The petition is still open for signatories. Read it in full.