Human Rights Watch urgently calls for investigations by the Ministries of Federal Affairs and Justice into allegations of torture inflicted on University of Addis Ababa students at the Kolfe Police Training Academy on January 20-21, 2004. Individuals found responsible for acts of torture should be criminally prosecuted as well as dismissed from employment.
It has been reliably reported that between 330 and 350 students were arrested by Federal Police at the university and trucked to Kolfe on the afternoon of January 20. The arrests occurred after the students, who were peaceably protesting the arrest of eight other students two days earlier, failed to disperse at the request of university officials.
Once at Kolfe, the students were ordered to run and crawl barefoot, bare-kneed, and bare-armed over sharp gravel for three-and-half hours. Students were also forced to carry each other over the gravel, increasing the pressure on their soles and inflicting greater pain. These acts of torture were repeated in the early hours of January 21, against female students and then male students.
Persons arrested were given no bedding and minimal food. All but fourteen of the 330-350 persons arrested were released later on January 21 without formal charges.
This is not the first time that police under the supervision of the Ministry of Federal Affairs have tortured persons in the same way, forcing detainees to run or crawl unshod over rough gravel for hours. Last year, also at Kolfe, police under command of the Federal Affairs Ministry committed similar acts of torture when they arrested members of an Addis Ababa church. Last year, Human Rights Watch researchers documented the use of similar torture by police at Sendafa police camp and elsewhere after mass arrests in 2001, as reported in Human Rights Watch’s 2003 publication, Lessons in Repression.
The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which Ethiopia has been a party since 1994, defines torture as “Any act by which severe pain or suffering . . . is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as . . . punishing him for an act he . . . has committed or is suspected of having committed . . . with the consent or acquiescence of a public official” (Art. 1). The convention requires impartial and prompt investigations when there are reasonable grounds for believing torture has been committed (Art. 12). Complicity in torture is a criminal offense (Art. 4). The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Ethiopia is a party, and the Ethiopian Constitution also prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (Art. 7 and Art. 18, respectively). The Ethiopian Constitution guarantees the right of protection from bodily harm (Art. 16).
The failure to investigate and prosecute fully those individuals under the Ministry of Federal Affairs who were directly responsible for the mistreatment of students at Kolfe violates international and Ethiopian law. Since similar abuses have occurred at Kolfe, Sendafa, and other federal police facilities in the recent past, this failure also suggests the ministries’ leadership is on notice of and complicit in these abuses.
We would appreciate receiving your response to this letter, and discussing this case with you at your earliest convenience.
Executive Director, Africa Division
Human Rights Watch