The U.S. State Department has released a 56-page report documenting human rights violations by the Meles Zenawi regime of Ethiopia. Here are some excerpts from the report. Please click here to find the full report (get the pdf version here).
With more than 120 torture prisons and secret concentration camps, Zenawi’s Ethiopia has become the police state capital in the Horn of Africa; this U.S. State Department’s 56-page report entirely contradicts the recent remark by the U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Mr. Amb. Donald E. Booth, who remarked that Ethiopia was an “island of stability” in the Horn of Africa. Stability through repression, torture, killings, harassment is not stability, but a very unstable situation waiting to explode anytime.
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The UN Committee Against Torture noted in a November 19 report that it was “deeply concerned” about “numerous, ongoing, and consistent allegations” concerning “the routine use of torture” by the police, prison officers and other members of the security forces–as well as the military, in particular–against political dissidents and opposition party members, students, alleged terrorists, and alleged supporters of insurgent groups, such as the ONLF and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). The committee reported that such acts frequently occurred with the participation of, at the instigation of, or with the consent of commanding officers in police stations, detention centers, federal prisons, military bases, and unofficial or secret places of detention.
In July 2009 Nimona Tuffa, a student at Hayuma Medical College in Ambo and a member of the Oromo People’s Congress (OPC), an opposition party, was detained in Guder by Oromia regional security officials dressed in civilian clothes. Nimona reported that security officials, including the head of security of West Shoa zone, Tesfaye Sime, beat him, first in a nearby forest and later at the OPDO Ambo offices, part of the EPRDF, where they pressured him to sign a statement admitting he was a member of the OLF. He eventually signed. When released Nimona was hospitalized for severe nerve-ending damage, hearing damage, and back injuries. When the case was brought to court, the prosecutor suggested that the case was not politically motivated but was a personal conflict. However, Nimona testified that he had no knowledge of his attackers before the incident and that he believed it was politically motivated. The judge sentenced the perpetrators to a fine of 500 birr ($30.53). With the involvement of a diplomatic mission, the case was reopened and the primary police officer involved was eventually sentenced to three years in prison, for use of excessive force. However, at year’s end the officer apparently had not begun to serve the sentence. Nimona fled the country.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
The country has three federal and 120 regional prisons. There also are many unofficial detention centers throughout the country, including in Dedessa, Bir Sheleko, Tolay, Hormat, Blate, Tatek, Jijiga, Holeta, and Senkele. Most are located at military camps.
Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. Severe overcrowding was common, especially in sleeping quarters. The government provided approximately eight birr ($0.50) per prisoner per day for food, water, and health care. Many prisoners supplemented this with daily food deliveries from family members or by purchasing food from local vendors. Medical care was unreliable in federal prisons and almost nonexistent in regional prisons. Water shortages caused unhygienic conditions, and most prisons lacked appropriate sanitary facilities.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
Persons arrested in April 2009 in connection with the Ginbot 7 case were held for more than a month at Maekelawi without charges while police gathered evidence, during which time family members were not informed of their whereabouts. They were then charged with conspiracy to destroy government institutions, the attempted assassination of government officials, and an attempt to incite rebellion in the army. The detainees were denied pretrial access to legal counsel, and several alleged mistreatment while in detention. Ultimately, their property was confiscated, five received death sentences, 33 received life imprisonment in Kality prison, and two received sentences of 10 years.
There were no developments in the cases of the opposition AEUP members Mekuanent Seneshaw, Alehegne Mekuanent, Kifle Tadege, and Endale Tadege, who were arrested at a Chendiba wedding in 2008 and charged with holding an illegal political gathering in the form of a wedding.
The government restricted access to the Internet and blocked opposition Web sites, including the sites of insurgent groups advocating violent overthrow of the government (OLF, ONLF, Ginbot 7) and several news blogs and Web sites run by opposition diaspora groups, such as Addis Neger, Nazret, Ethiopian Review, CyberEthiopia, Quatero Amharic Magazine, Tensae Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Media Forum. The news Web site for VOA was inaccessible from March to October.
Elections and Political Participation
An environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place in the two years prior to the May elections. The EPRDF employed advantages of incumbency to restrict political space for opposition candidates and activists. On the federal level, a series of reforms passed by the EPRDF-dominated parliament allowed the EPRDF to progressively narrow the freedom of opposition parties and civil society organizations to participate in the elections process. The parliament enacted a code of conduct that created a system of “joint councils” through which political parties could present all manner of complaints for peer review and arbitration. In practice only 16 of the 637 joint councils envisioned for the country were in fact formed, and only the Addis Ababa Joint Council took up cases in earnest. In an April speech, Prime Minister Meles threatened opposition leaders with postelection criminal prosecution for unspecified violations of the electoral code of conduct; however, there were no prosecutions by year’s end. At the local level, thousands of opposition activists complained of EPRDF-sponsored mistreatment, ranging from harassment in submitting candidacy forms to beatings by local militia members, and complained further that there was no non-EPRDF dominated forum to which to present those complaints. Although the law provides for partial public funding of campaigns, in practice opposition parties received very little public funding, since funding was allocated on the basis of the number of seats held by each party in the parliament. The law also permits private citizens and companies to contribute to campaigns, but recently enacted disclosure rules likely limited contributions to opposition parties. The EPRDF entered the election season with millions of dollars, whereas major opposition parties were virtually bankrupt.