IV. PATTERNS OF POLITICAL IMPRISONMENT
One group of prisoners, who were detained in connection with the change of government in 1991, has received wide international attention. These individuals fall under the jurisdiction of a special prosecutor with a mandate to bring to justice individuals responsible for crimes against humanity under the authority of the former government.
Broadly speaking, political opponents imprisoned after the EPRDF's victory in 1991 may be categorized as falling into three groups. The first includes people detained because of their suspected participation in, or sympathy for, insurgent groups fighting to unseat the government. The second group consists of activists who stood in the way of the central government's measures to establish or maintain control over independent civic associations, political parties, labor and professional organizations, and the media. Political detainees in the third group consist of members of the EPRDF or its regional allies purged during recurrent campaigns of appraisals of political loyalty and effectiveness.
The protracted trial of Derg officials has been raised as an important effort to uphold the principle of accountability for past human rights abuses, particularly laudable in light of the many examples of impunity in the rest of the continent. Excessive delays in charging the large majority of the detainees have, however, greatly damaged the credibility of the trial process.
As for the other three categories of political detainees imprisoned since 1991, they indicate the ongoing failure to resolve conflicts between the ruling party and its erstwhile allies in the armed struggle, as well as the government's inclination to limit the democratic space and hinder the development of civil society. On the other hand, the fact that so many have been detained after EPRDF internal purges attests to the governing alliance's efforts to ensure its ascendancy and strengthen its control over the political process.
Arbitrary Arrest and Administrative Detention
As a rule, in its treatment of political detainees, the government has routinely flouted the international instruments to which Ethiopia is party, as well as its own constitutional provisions for the protection of the rights of arrested, accused, and detained persons. Ethiopia had ratified all of the major international human rights instruments protecting individuals from arbitrary arrest, including the ICCPR, Article 9 of which provides, inter alia, that:
1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law.
2. Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.
3. Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or release . . . .
Similar standards are enshrined in the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Article 14 of the constitution, on the "Right to Life, Liberty and the Security of the Person," provides: "Everyone has the inviolable and inalienable right to life, liberty and the security of the person." Article 17 protects the right to liberty in somewhat great detail, providing:
1. No one can be deprived of his or her liberty except in accordance with procedures established by law.
2. No person may be subject to arbitrary arrest and no person may be detained without trial or conviction.
Article 19 of the constitution, entitled "Rights of Persons Arrested," provides:
1. All persons arrested have the right to be informed promptly, in a language that they understand, the particulars of the charges and the reasons for their arrest.
2. All persons arrested have the right to be informed promptly, in a language that they understand, that they have the right to remain silent and to be notified that any statement they make or evidence they give may be used against them in court.
3. All persons arrested have the right to appear before a court of law and to be given a full explanation of the reasons for their arrest within forty-eight hours of their arrest, excluding the time reasonably necessary for the journey from the place of arrest to the court.
4. All persons have the right to petition the court for a writ of habeas corpus, a right no court can deny, where the arresting officer or agency fails to bring them before a court of law and provide the reason for their arrest; the court may, where the interest of justice requires, order the arrested person to remain in custody no longer than the time strictly required in order to carry out the necessary investigation aimed at establishing the facts. In determining the time necessary for investigation, the court shall take into account whether the responsible authorities are carrying out the investigation with deliberate speed in order to guarantee the arrested person's right to speedy trial.
Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
International and domestic standards prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Article 7 of the ICCPR provides:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Precisely mirroring the language of the ICCPR, Article 18 of the Ethiopian Constitution provides:
No person shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The government's practice of holding persons detained for national security offenses in unofficial detention places, such as kebele or peasant association houses, violates international standards, since detainees held in secret or unofficial places cannot assert their rights. In addition, unacknowledged detention exposes the detainee to the risks of "disappearance" and extrajudicial executions at the hands of detaining officers. The other risk associated with unacknowledged detention and unofficial places of detention is summary execution. Article 2 of the U.N. Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions, states:
In order to prevent extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions, Governments shall ensure strict control, including a clear chain of command over all officials responsible for apprehension, arrest, detention, custody and imprisonment, as well as those officials authorized by law to use force and firearms.
These principles require governments to ensure that "persons deprived of their liberty are held in officially recognized places of custody," and to make accurate information on the detainee's custody and whereabouts, including transfers, promptly available to their relatives and lawyer.30
As the Ethiopian's army chief of staff acknowledged in a meeting with Human Rights Watch, the army has assisted in training and arming militia groups throughout the country, but these groups do not come formally under its direct chain of command. The cases described below indicate that these security arrangements have opened the door to large-scale abuses of human rights.
The Derg Trials
The trials of individuals for crimes committed under the former government have been the object of a great deal of international attention and assistance. Notwithstanding this attention, the progress of the trials has been slow. Of an estimated total of 1,800 detainees, charges had only been brought, as of January 1997, against seventy-threehigh-level members of the former government, of whom only forty-six were in the country. The other defendants, including Colonel Mengistu, the head of the Derg government, were tried in absentia. The first trial opened in December 1994, but the court only began to hear prosecution witnesses in 1996. All forty-six defendants present in the court pleaded not guilty, and could face the death penalty if convicted. Girma Wakjira, the special prosecutor, interviewed by Human Rights Watch in June 1996, said the death penalty was a "political decision," on which his office "was not focused."31
On January 15, 1997, authorities announced that the majority of detainees had been charged with criminal offences.32 On February 13, the special prosecutor told an audience of diplomats and nongovernmental organization representatives that his office had charged a total of 5,198 people, of whom 2,246 were already in detention, while 2,952 were being charged in absentia. The vast majority of the defendants were charged with having committed genocide and war crimes, and alternatively faced charges of having committed aggravated homicide and wilful injury. All charges were based on the Ethiopian penal code of 1957. The Special Prosecutor's Office (SPO) said 1,402 defendants will be tried in regional courts, and the rest will be tried in the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa.33
Three additional trials of Derg era defendants opened in Addis Ababa during the week of March 24 to 28, 1997. The first such trial, of 128 suspects, opened on March 24. The accused included Mammo Wolde, an Olympic gold medalist, and Alemayheu Tefera Meshesha, a former vice chancellor of Addis Ababa University.34 Both defendants had been detained for several years before being charged. The second trial was launched on March 26, when twelve defendants appeared in court out of a total of forty-five defendants charged. The third trial, of twenty-three out of thirty-two people charged with murder and genocide, began on the following Friday.35 In all, nine groups of Derg era defendants were brought before the three benches of the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa. According to Negatu Tesfaye, the secretary of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council and a defense lawyer, these trials put additional stress on a judicial system that was already in deep crisis.36
The new trials were expected to incur the same delays that marked the first Derg-trial. Since the opening of the first trial in December 1994, up to mid-April 1997, the SPO had presented only 249 witnesses out of about a thousand scheduled to appear.37 The special prosecutor explained to Human Rights Watch in a June 1996 meeting that eyewitnesses would testify first, followed by documentary witnesses, and then by expert witnesses. Contributing to the trial delay, this approach reportedly resulted in a great deal of repetitious testimony. In addition, sessions were held twice a week, a slow pace that was further interrupted by long recesses and vacations. To prove its charges against the five thousands new defendants, the SPO said it had prepared three thousand witnesses, along with volumes of documentary evidence and expert testimonies. As of early August 1997, however, trials before regionalhigh courts had not yet started, due to the lack of judicial capacity and the logistical problems described in the first section of this report.
The mass charging of genocide suspects, and the commencement of trials came as a welcome development. Nevertheless, because many defendants were held in pretrial detention for almost six years before they were brought to court, and because trials were proceeding at an extremely slow pace it is clear that defendants' innocence or guilt will not be established within a reasonable time, violating Article 9 (3) of the ICCPR.
In early 1997, when most detainees were charged, some fifty-five individuals were released because the Special Prosecutor's Office lacked sufficient evidence to charge them. Most of these people had spent three to five years in preventive detention by that time. Instead of being compensated for their prolonged and unfounded detention, they were required to post bail in order to regain their freedom.38 Even more disturbingly, some suspects will never be tried or released: twenty-eight suspects reportedly died in custody, nineteen of them in 1995 alone, mainly from a lack of proper medical attention and poor sanitary conditions in the prisons.39
Internal Political Purges and Related Detentions
It was reported in mid-1997 that senior officials in the political, executive and judicial branches of government, were being repeatedly subjected to "gimgamas," or assessment sessions. A poor evaluation in these sessions, in which an official's subordinates give their opinions of the official's performance, could lead to dismissal from service, or even detention.40 The EPRDF's reliance on gimgamas should be seen against the background of the EPRDF's efforts to keep allied regional parties and political movements under its tight control, and to improve discipline in the various branches of government. The institution of the gimgama has its roots in the military experience of the TPLF, which successfully used it during the civil war to improve the performance of field commanders, who were regularly evaluated by troops under their command.
The use of gimgamas as a tool in political purges is exemplified by a couple of recent cases. The first took place in Oromiya Regional State in April 1997. Kuma Demeska, the general secretary of the governing regional party, the Oromo People's Democratic Organization (OPDO), and chief administrator of the state, said at the conclusion of the exercise that the OPDO had purged its ranks of 250 district officials, and had detained eighty others.41 Similarly, in mid-August 1997, the regional council of Gambella Region "endorsed" a proposal, presumably by the regional party, to detain the top four officials of the state government.42 This latter purge occurred during a "Peace, Development, and Democracy Conference," another institution where regional political officials are subjected to continuing evaluations. The government has used these tools to purge resilient leaders of regional parties allied to the EPRDF on such grounds as corruption, display of "narrow [ethnic] nationalism," being "anti-people," or suspicion of sympathy for ethnic movements opposed to the government.
In mid-June 1996, then Prime Minister Tamrat Layne opened a Peace, Democracy, and Development Conference in Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State by urging participants to unseat regional officials whom he called "narrow nationalists and agents of foreign powers."43 He also accused regional officials of corruption and inefficiency.44 The Benishangul-Gumuz region-which is located on Ethiopia's western border with Sudan, and which has a population with strong historical and cultural ties to that country - has been plagued by chronic instability and armed banditry. The tensions between the two countries explain the reference to "foreign powers," seeking influence inside Ethiopia. The conference provided the context for the dismissal of all members of the Regional Council, except its president.
A political leader from Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State told Human Rights Watch in August 1997 that at least 120 former officials remained in detention in the region, following the release of some eighty about mid-June 1997. The partial release was the result of local pressures to either charge or release the detainees, who had been held without charges. He also claimed that ten prominent leaders of the Benishangul People's Liberation Front-which was allied with the EPRDF, and which controlled the regional government until its rift with the EPRDF-remained in detention. He said that they had been transferred from military camps to the official prison in Asosa, the region's capital, in January 1997. The dispute between the EPRDF and local officials, he said, provided the context for the dismissal of most of the regional police force, about 800 men, and the recruitment of new officers, including some 700 paramilitary police who were hired to participate in joint patrols with the army.45
Repression in Conflict Areas
The continued existence of armed opposition groups-along with periodic reports that they have engaged in armed violence-has provided the context for central government measures to suppress violent and nonviolent organizations alike, as well as to carry out large scale arrests in areas from which armed opposition groups have traditionally drawn support.
Human Rights Watch interviewed some of the victims of these abuses in Addis Ababa during research missions in mid-1996 and 1997. Continuing large scale arrests without warrant, ill-treatment and torture appear to be the norm in many parts of the Oromia, Somali and Afar regions, and other regions of recent or ongoing armed conflict. Human Rights Watch also received some reports of other human rights abuses that authorities perpetrated in these areas, notably death threats, extrajudicial executions and "disappearance." In addition, recently deposed high-ranking officials of regional governments and parties are held in arbitrary detention in various regions. The following cases are indicative of the widespread nature of these practices.
In the Somali Region (Region Five) the civilian populations has often been caught in the crossfire in the sporadic fighting between government troops and the opposition, which includes insurgent ONLF and the militant Islamist group Al-Itihad al-Islami (Islamic Unity). Following a March 1997 landmine explosion under a military personnel carrier near the village of Shaygoosh, which reportedly killed some nineteen soldiers,46 the military rounded up eleven villagers, and transferred them to the military camp in Qabridaharre. The Ogaden Human Rights Committee claimed that two days after the abduction, authorities displayed the dead bodies of clan elder MohamedFatule and his nephew Ibrahim Deeh Fatule both of whom had been among the detainees, in town for two days, and denied their relatives permission to bury them. The organization presumed the other detainees had also been killed, since their whereabouts and fate were not known as of mid-August 1997.47
Another set of extrajudicial executions allegedly occurred in mid-November 1996, when government forces reportedly rounded up a group of civilians from Wardheer town and summarily executed them in the outskirts of the town. Among those reportedly killed were Abdullahi Ganey, Hiis Mohamed Omar, Roble Shafi'i, Ali Mohamed Hassan, and Haj Mohamed Abdi.48 This incident followed an ambush of a government military convey by an ONLF unit.49
Government forces reportedly retaliated against the ONLF insurgents by harming family members of ONLF leaders, and expropriating or destroying their property without due process of law. The November ambush mentioned above for example was reportedly led by ONLF commander Ibrahim Alifle, whose wife was reportedly killed by government troops on October 5, 1996, and whose children reportedly "disappeared" during that same incident. The Ogaden Human Rights Committee listed the Alifle family house in Wardheer among twenty-five properties confiscated or destroyed by government forces.50 Nasra Sirad Dolal, mother of eight children and sister of an ONLF representative in London, was detained in Qabridaharre in January 1997. She was released on bail in April, and ordered not to leave the town. The family house in Godey of Ibrahim Abdalla, the chairman of the ONLF, was ransacked and destroyed by government troops in June 1997, as was the house of the secretary general of the ONLF in the same town.51
Both the exiled leadership of the Ogaden Human Rights Committee and its local members told Human Rights Watch that by mid-1997 detainees in Somali Region were no longer held in district and village level detention places. Instead, they said, detainees were held in the nine zonal capitals in Somali Region, which averaged twenty-five to thirty detainees per center, and which saw frequent turnover as new detainees replaced those who were released. The ICRC opened an office in Gode in the Somali Region in March 1997.52 These developments, suggesting possible improvement in internal and external oversights on detaining authorities, should help to protect detainees in a region affected by fighting between government troops and armed opposition groups.
Southern Peoples Region
According to the testimony of Abate Angore, a former detainee and member of the executive committee of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association, who had arrived in the southern town of Arba Minch53 from Addis Ababa to visit his family just a week before he was arrested in late September 1996, the town's official prison held about 1,250 prisoners when he was released in mid-March 1997. Of these, only about thirty detainees were being held on criminalcharges. He explained that the others were being held on suspicion of aiding opposition groups, trading in arms, hiding arms or rebels, or for being "anti-people," but he claimed that when detainees asked why they were being held, prison guards gave interchangeable reasons from this list of accusations.54 Some prisoners were arrested following denunciations by a citizens' committee, the Mass Red Terror Witness Committee, established to assist in the identification of former collaborators of the Derg dictatorship. Angore said that at least some forty prisoners had been held in the prison without court order for the last six years. This group included two former Derg soldiers, Beza Kidan and Kassahun Dagiffe, and a peasant, Mano Megibo. He himself was arrested by a group of civilians whom he identified as members of the regional political party, the Southern Peoples' Democratic Organization. They turned him over to the police, who took him to Arba Minch district court two weeks later. The court told him he was detained because at the time of his arrest he was carrying documents from a political organization opposed to the government, although it was in fact a professional association. Although there was a court order for his arrest, Abate had not been charged or tried for any specific crime, and he was released six months later, at which time he had to promise to respond to any future police or court summons.
Conditions in the prison were harsh, particularly at night when prisoners had to share limited sleeping space. The International Committee of the Red Cross visited and registered prisoners, he said, and extended limited assistance to them.
Against a background of low intensity insurgency by rebels of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and occasional acts of violence attributable to the militant Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromia (IFLO), the army reportedly undertook community shakedowns in areas where violence had occurred or from which attacks originated. In addition, security authorities continued to detain without trial hundreds of Oromos suspected of OLF membership.
In August 1996, soldiers reportedly broke into the house of Ebisa Adunga, a popular Oromo singer, and shot him and a relative, Tana Wayessa, dead in their beds in what appeared to be an extrajudicial execution on suspicion of supporting the OLF. The young singer was known for promoting Oromo nationalism through his music. At the time of the killing, Seife Nebelbal, a local pro-Oromo newspaper, recalled that six other Oromo musicians had reportedly been arrested by the government for their role supporting Oromo nationalism, two of whom subsequently "disappeared."55
On September 21, 1995, police closed down the office of the Oromo Relief Association (ORA) in the southern town of Negele, Borana administrative zone. They arrested three senior staff members: Martha Arero, the storekeeper-at the time mother of an infant-Fraol Galata, the project officer, and Hailu Gamachu, the accountant.56 The regional authorities did not give any reasons for the arrests, although the newly-established Oromia Regional State authorities had ordered the closure of ORA offices in the region a month earlier, and had accused the organization of actively supporting the insurgent OLF. The regional government was controlled by the Oromo People's Democratic Organization (OPDO), the party of the head of state in the federal government.
Martha Arero was released a month after her arrest. The other two remained in prison for seven months, and were only released in April 1996. They were first detained in the local police station for two weeks during which time they were not questioned. Police failed to bring them to court within the forty-eight hour period mandated by theconstitution. They were later taken to the official prison of Negele, where they lived with some 500 other prisoners in poor sanitary conditions, lacking food and health care. They were not tortured in the police station or prison.
While in jail, they were taken to court every month or two. The judge would ask their names and fix a date for another court appearance. The judge explained to them that their case was "administrative": the court would not release them because it did not know why they were arrested! The judge could not order their release on his own: according to the victims, he said all members of the local security committee had to agree to a release, even though the army, police or militia could each independently arrest suspects. Their case went to the central prosecutor after six months. The prosecutor sent a representative who called them to court and released them on bail. The local police commander was reportedly unhappy with this decision, which he had no part in. He issued orders for their re-arrest. The two ex-prisoners went into hiding for a few days before escaping to the capital, leaving their families behind. One told Human Rights Watch that he was too afraid to dare return to the town. They were not called to appear before court again.57
Gebre Berhane (not his real name), a farmer and merchant from the Western Shewa region, is thirty-eight years old and supports a large family consisting of his seven children and elderly parents. On February 19, 1996, at eight p.m., twelve soldiers came to his house. He was having dinner at the time with three guests, the local police chief, the village head of the OPDO, and the local representative of the ministry of agriculture. He was nevertheless arrested on suspicion of being a supporter of the OLF and being illegally in possession of a machinegun. His denials were of no effect.
He said soldiers beat up his wife and stole 5000 Birr that he had in the house.
They took me into the forest, took my shirt and coat, and tied me with nylon cord behind my elbows. They knocked me to the ground and beat me with sticks, and alcohol was splashed onto my shoulder and set alight. I was also beaten on the sole of my feet with a stick, and jabbed in my ankles and the bottom of my feet with a bayonet mounted on an assault rifle.
Four months later, researchers from Human Rights Watch saw that his back was still severely scarred, and the mark of a burn about three inches across was still clearly visible on his left shoulder. Badly healed scars were also visible on both of his arms just above the elbow, apparently as a result of being tied too tightly for a long period. The purpose of the torture was to make him confess his membership in the OLF, and state he hid his alleged weapon. After the torture was over, the soldiers took him to the kebele house.
After two days passed, the soldiers took him to the military camp at Katkatto. More than two hundred people were detained there. The soldiers in the camp held him because the zonal head of the OPDO asked them to do so. He remained there for one month and three weeks. During this time, his family appealed to the Oromia police commission in the Oromia Bureau of Justice for his release. Berhane was released shortly after that. The chief of the OPDO told him that they had not found any evidence against him, releasing him without official documentation. His arrest was also undocumented.
Places of Detention
In the wake of a 1992 confrontation with the Oromo Liberation Front, the Ethiopian authorities held at least 20,000 Oromos in large overcrowded military detention camps. The detainees included armed militants but also many civilians, including minors, accused of OLF membership. They were detained for many months without charges or trial. Most were released by 1995. The government closed down several large detention facilities during 1994 and1995, including those in Hurso and Didessa. During 1994, the government formally charged 280 of the detainees held in Ziwai military camp and transferred them to civilian prisons. Some of the defendants were released in 1995.
The trial of the remaining Ziwai defendants, who by late 1997 numbered ninety-three, had been suspended due to judiciary's technical problems: the High Court in Oromia lacked sufficient judges and other courts in the region were not qualified to try cases started at the High Court level.58
Abundant evidence suggested that security officials continued to use secret detention places in remote regions, including military camps, for the detention and interrogation of individuals suspected of membership in insurgent groups. According to ex-prisoners to whom we talked, dozens of prisoners were detained during 1994 in Hegere Mariam military camp No. 3, at Hegere Mariam Comprehensive High School. In charge of the camp were the head of the army unit and the head of the army's propaganda and political section. EPRDF cadres and militia of its local affiliated party, the Oromo People's Democratic Organization, were present in the camp. In late August 1994 about a hundred prisoners were released from Hegere Mariam military camp No. 3-including our informants-while twenty others, who had been detained a week earlier, remained in detention. In mid-1996, ex-prisoners said they left behind about two hundred prisoners in this camp. Finally, the exile Ethiopian Register reported in its November 1996 issue that Roba Dame wrote a letter of complaint to the Council of Peoples' Representatives, of which he was an elected member, stating that he had been detained by the army in Hegere Mariam military camp from September 7 to 15, 1996. According to the magazine, Dame claimed that he had been beaten and denied medical treatment for his injuries.59 According to Tomar newspaper of September 18, the Burji People's Democratic Organization, of which Roba Dame was the chairman and representative in Parliament, complained in a statement about the army's intervention in the internal administrative affairs of the region and alleged that its action showed that it was siding with a rival regional political party.60
In Western Shewa, prisoners released in April 1996 told Human Rights Watch that the military camps in Katkatto and Goro were used to detain hundreds OLF suspects in early 1996. Prisoners in both camps were reportedly transferred to Sheno camp.
According to these testimonies, torture and beatings were routinely used in all these camps during interrogations to extract confessions and information from OLF suspects. A former prisoner from Katkatto camp told Human Rights Watch that prisoners were taken out at night and questioned, with their captors insisting that "you are hiding machine guns." He did not believe they made any record of the questioning. Prisoners were not supplied with food or medicines, which were provided by their families. Prisoners were also made to work in groups, digging latrines and in other similar activities.61
Harassment of family members
Human Rights Watch received reports indicating that regional security officials tended to harass the female family members of former prisoners who had left the region, and other fugitives, attempting to pressure them into returning to the home provinces. In June 1996, witnesses reported that some fifty women had been detained in the police station of a village just outside of Addis Ababa. All of these women had been detained in an effort to compel their fugitive male relatives to surrender, men that the police accused of involvement in "banditry," a term authorities commonly use to designate members of opposition armed groups.
In one case brought to our attention, the daughter of a businessman in Hegere Mariam was repeatedly detained for short periods in 1995 and 1996 to force the surrender of her father whom authorities suspected of being an OLF supporter. The daughter was essentially treated as a hostage. Not only was her right to liberty and freedom of movement violated, but a local official beat her up and raped her in May 1996 after her release from detention. She had to flee the town to Addis Ababa, where her father had already gone to escape arrest and torture.62
On November 12, 1995, two policemen and EPRDF soldiers came to the family house of Shewaye Haile, a ninth grade student from Masha town in the southern region, and took her to the local police station. They wanted her to provide information regarding contacts they suspected that her father, a teacher named Haile Belachew, had with "bandits" in the area. Because she denied any knowledge of her father's "secrets" she was detained for two days. Her wrists were tightly bound for three hours, reportedly breaking bones and causing lasting scarring; her wrists had still not recovered over eight months later.63
The case of Shachachew Sheno, the judge who was removed from the bench by a zonal administrator in the southern region, described earlier in this report, involved an even more brutal instance of hostage taking. His problems with the authorities had arisen over two cases. Members of the Administrative Council of Shakcho had decided to carry out "the death penalty without legal procedures" in the case of six relatives of an alleged "bandit", "and asked me to cooperate." "Six people were in prison. And they wanted to kill them." The judge was told not to interfere by the regional/zone administrator, Adinew Ayino. The second incident that led to his dismissal occurred when Adinew Ayino, among other officials from the zonal administration by the judge's account, allegedly took the mother and two uncles of a "bandit," from the zonal jail to Gamado forest and killed them there. They had initially been arrested to force the presumed "bandit" to turn himself in.64
In a telling turn of events, Sheno, who directed the police to open an investigation of this incident, was himself subjected to pressure as his close family members faced threats, arrest and physical abuse. He finally fled to Addis Ababa, where he told Human Rights Watch that he did not dare return to his home town, even though he had left his wife and family there.65 The officials suspected in the killings had visited his wife and told her that they wanted to arrest Sheno because he had dared to appeal against their decision to remove him from the bench . They finally arrested Sheno's wife, instead. She suffered serious injury when her hands were tightly tied together, but was released on bail after nine days of detention.
Regional Security Agreements
Some leading opponents of the Ethiopian government living in political exile in neighboring countries have complained that their refugee status has not protected them from harassment. In some cases, host countries have arrested prominent opposition figures and forcibly returned them to Ethiopia. In others, international campaigns of protest by human rights organizations and exiled political groups have reportedly saved refugees from forcible deportation. The Ethiopian refugees in neighboring countries who were targeted for these crackdowns were either EPRDF defectors or leading members of opposition groups, namely the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), and the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF). The vulnerability of these people to such harassment brought attention to another dimension of the Ethiopian government's strategy to contain the above-mentioned organizations. In particular, following the 1995 elections, Ethiopia reportedlyconcluded bilateral security agreements with Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, and Uganda, with each country promising not to harbor opposition groups from the other country. The self-proclaimed republic of Somaliland has also returned refugees to Ethiopia, and reportedly was rewarded for such actions by a shipment of war munitions. Besides the threat of repatriation, prominent refugees have faced other forms of harassment by authorities of these countries, including expulsion to third countries.
In late July 1996, authorities in Somaliland detained Mohamed Ahmad Nour, Abdullahi Qaji, and Abdalla Heliye, three exiled members of the Central Committee of the ONLF. In October 1996, the three were returned to Ethiopia, reportedly in exchange for ammunition. After being detained in Harar for a time, they were brought before the High Court in Dire Dawa on charges of war incitement. The court acquitted them for lack of evidence and ordered their release in May 1997; however, the police and the prosecutor refused to accept this verdict. Despite the court order, they were still in detention in Harar military camp in early August 1997.66 They appointed a lawyer from Dire Dawa to represent them, but authorities reportedly warned him not to interfere in the case.67
Djibouti detained about a dozen Ethiopian government opponents and forcibly returned them to Ethiopia in August and September 1996. On August 17, Djibouti police arrested Girmay Moges Newaye-Mariam, picking him up from the refugee camp where he worked as director of a school. At the time of his arrest, he was a registered refugee with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. He had fled to Djibouti in 1991, following the defeat of the Derg and the EPRDF's takeover, and had credible grounds to fear for his safety under the new government, having abandoned the TPLF in 1981.68 On August 23, Djibouti authorities arrested Muhyadin Muftah, the deputy secretary general of ARDUF, an armed opposition group in the northeastern Afar state. He "disappeared" soon after that. He was reportedly handed over to the Ethiopian authorities who held him in secret detention. Also arrested, on September 1, 1996, were Aydrus Hussein, who formerly occupied prominent public positions in Ethiopia as a member of the Somali regional assembly and as commissioner of Degabur town, and six other ethnic Somali businessmen. The seven were reportedly supporters of the rebel ONLF. Amnesty International commented that the arrests appeared to "follow a new security agreement between the two governments,"69 and expressed concern for the safety of those arrested. Djibouti is a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which prohibits, in its Article 33, handing over refugees to their country of origin without due process of law or guarantees for their safety on return.
Kenya also harassed alleged opponents of the Ethiopian government. Dima Noggo, a former minister of information in the Ethiopian government, resigned his post along with other members of the OLF in 1992, following the disintegration of the Front's alliance with the EPRDF. He told Human Rights Watch that shortly after the 1992 crisis Meles Zenawi, the president of the transitional government, and current prime minister, told him and other OLF leaders to leave the country because he could no longer guarantee their safety, offering them passports.70 Those wholeft the country in these circumstances were four ministers and twelve members of the OLF political leadership. Noggo arrived in London in July 1992, and later moved to Kenya, where he obtained refugee status.71
On March 21 to 22, 1996, Kenyan police arrested Dima Noggo, who had a valid Kenyan residence visa, and four other Oromo leaders, threatening to deport them. The other leaders were: Mekonen Galan, who was a political prisoner for more than ten years under the Derg and who had a valid Kenyan residence visa and business licence at the time of his arrest; Tesfaye Dinsa, a registered refugee who had been residing in Kenya for over a decade; and Hailu Darge and Dula Bosona, both registered refugees since 1992.72 The campaign of arrests coincided with a meeting of the sub-regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Drought and Desertification in the Kenyan capital, which the Ethiopian premier attended. The meeting extended the mandate of the Authority from its environmental preservation and food security concerns to regional economic cooperation and "conflict prevention and resolution." The organization's new focus on conflict prevention prompted some observers to suggest that the Kenyan authorities wanted to please their Ethiopian guest by deporting Oromo leaders, but that the international outcry prevented them.73 After spending some time in detention, the Oromo leaders were allowed to travel to Europe and the United States.
The Total Number of Detainees and Access to Detention Places
It is not known how many political detainees are being held in Ethiopia. One indication of their number, however, is contained in the 1996 annual report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).The international organization said it had "visited 6,117 persons held in 129 places of detention in connection with the change of regime in 1991 or for reasons linked to national security, and registered 3,537 new detainees." These numbers were only partial, since, in the same report, the ICRC complained that it had "only partial and irregular access. . . to detainees held by the military authorities."74
Access to political detainees is also problematic in Ethiopia, according to relatives. In its first quarterly report for 1997, the ICRC indicated that it had been able to conduct visits to an increasing number of detention facilities, including prisons, police stations, kebele houses. In meetings with the diplomatic community in Addis Ababa in August 1997, Human Rights Watch learned that the authorities had permitted representatives from several Western embassies to visit political prisoners. If this trend of increased access to political detainees by independent observors is maintained, it will be a marked improvement over the situation of previous years.75 At the same time, the government should respect the physical and mental integrity of detainees and give their families, doctors and lawyers regular access to them.30 Principle 6, U.N. Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions. 31 Human Rights Watch interview with Girma Wakjira, Addis Ababa, June 25, 1996. 32 Tsegaye Tadesse, "Ethiopia Files Charges Against Red Terror Suspects," Reuter, January 15, 1997. 33 Announcement by the Special Prosecutor's Office to the Corps Diplomatique, government representatives, representatives of the victims, nongovernmental organizations and human rights organizations, and members of the press, Addis Ababa, February 13, 1997. 34 "Ethiopia: Trial of 128 Red Terror Suspects Opens in Ethiopia," Reuters, Addis Ababa, March 25, 1997. 35 'Ethiopia: Second Red Terror Trial Opens in Addis Ababa," Reuters, Addis Ababa, March 26, 1997. 36 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 31, 1997. 37 "Report of an Assessment Study of the Status and Context of the `Derg-trial" in Ethiopia," April 21-May 21, 1997, Øyvind Aadland, Norwegian Institute of Human Rights, Oslo, Norway, 1997. 38 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with defense lawyer, Addis Ababa, March 1997. 39 See Ethiopian Register, Avon, vol. 3, no. 12, December 1996, p. 7. 40 See "Report of an Assessment Study of the Status and Context of the "Derg-Trial" in Ethiopia," April 21-May 21, 1997, Øyvind Aadland, Norwegian Institute of Human Rights, Oslo, 1997. 41 "Ethiopia: Anti-Corruption `Forum' to be Set Up in Oromiya Region," BBC Monitoring Service of World Broadcasts: Africa April 7, 1997. 42 Deresse T/Wold: "Gambella Council Endorses Top Officials Detention Proposal," Ethiopian News Agency, August 16, 1997, at <http://www.africanews.org/east/ethiopia/19970818_featl.html.> 43 "Yet More PDDCs and Gimgamas: TPLF Trapped in Its Own Ethnic Politics?" Ethiopian Register, vol. 4, no. 6, June 1997, p. 14. 44 "Ethiopia: Deputy PM Says Officials "Embezzled" Budget in Western Region," Summary of World Broadcasts, Africa June 18, 1996. 45 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, August 1997. 46 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with Porrentruy, A. S. Abdi, Ogaden Human Rights Committee, July 1997. 47 Human Rights Watch interviews, Addis Ababa, July/August 1997. See also Ogaden Human Rights Committee, "Ogaden: No Rights, No Democracy," Godey, Ethiopia, August 15, 1997. 48 Ibid., p.18. 49 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Porrentruy, A. S.Abdi, Ogaden Human Rights Committee, August 31, 1997. 50 Ibid.; See "Ogaden: No Rights..," pp. 29 and 41. 51 Ibid; See also "Ogaden: No Rights..," pp.21-22, and 41. 52 "Ethiopia: New ICRC Office in the South-East," ICRC News 97/08, March 5, 1997. 53 The zonal capital of North Omo zone in the Southern Region, with an estimated 47,000 inhabitants. 54 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 1997. 55 See Lammii Guddaa, "Victimization of the Oromo," New African, February 1997, p. 23. 56 Amnesty International, Urgent Action, AI Index: AFR 25/12/95, October 3, 1995. 57 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, June 1996. 58 Human Rights Watch interviews with defense lawyer, Addis Ababa, July 1997. 59 "TPLF Army Detains Member of Parliament," Ethiopian Register, vol. 3, no. 11, November 1996, p. 6. 60 Reported in Press Digest, vol. III, no. 39, September 26, 1996, p.5. 61 Human Rights Watch interviews, Addis Ababa, June 26, 1997. 62 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, June 1996. 63 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, June. Also reported in: Compiled Reports of EHRCO, December 12, 1991 to May 6, 1996, Ethiopian Human Rights Council, Addis Ababa, June 1996, pp. 175-176. 64 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, June 1996. 65 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, June 1996. 66 Human Rights Watch interviews, Addis Ababa, July/August 1997. See also Ogaden Human Rights Committee, "Ogaden: No Rights, No Democracy," August 1997. 67 Human Rights Watch interviews, Addis Ababa, July/August 1997. 68 Amnesty International Urgent Action UA 211/96: Fear for safety/ Refoulement, Ethiopia/Djibouti Girmaye Moges Newaye-Mariam, aged 38, August 23, 1996, AI Index: AFR 04/01/96. 69 Amnesty International Urgent Action Ethiopia/Djibouti, AI Index: AFR 04/02/96, September 17, 1996. 70 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Nairobi, April 10, 1996. 71 Ibid. 72 See Press Release, Oromo Liberation Front, North America Office, Washington, D.C., March 27, 1996. 73 See Solidarity Committee for Ethiopian Political Prisoners (SCEPP) Update, March 25, 1996, at <firstname.lastname@example.org>. 74 ICRC's Annual Report 1996, Ethiopia, at <http://www.icirc.org>. 75 ICRC, Ethiopia Fact Sheet, March 1997.