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Letter to Ethiopian Ministers on Human Rights Violations Against Students

Federal Agencies Must Investigate Alleged Abuses By Police

Hon. Siraj Fegeta
Minister of Federal Affairs
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Via Facsimile

Hon. Assefa Kesite
Minister of Justice
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Via Facsimile

February 20, 2007

Dear Ministers:

Human Rights Watch wishes to draw your attention to several incidents of human rights violations allegedly committed by federal police officers against students in the towns of Dembi Dollo and Ghimbi in western Oromiya State in the past weeks. In sum, we have learned that one student, and perhaps two, died as a direct result of police beatings and that other students were severely injured and hospitalized in Dembi Dollo. Between 30 and 50 have been detained and remain detained without charge in the central Dembi Dollo jail and in two district police stations. In Ghimbi, local police and militia members deputized by local officials are reported to have shot and killed two high school students-cousins-in January.

We urge you to investigate these incidents promptly and to prosecute police officers and others responsible for these serious crimes. At the same time, we strongly urge you immediately to release students detained without charge in Dembi Dollo. If there is substantial evidence that any student has committed a serious crime, they should be promptly charged, brought to court, and released pending trial.

With regard to Dembi Dollo, Human Rights Watch has received credible reports that following a small explosion near Quellem High School in the first week of January, a police officer accused three students of being responsible and arrested them. A crowd of students protested that the three were innocent. Some started throwing stones at the police. The police officer called for reinforcements and when they arrived, they began to beat students and bystanders indiscriminately. Police also arrested some 20 students.

Several weeks later, on January 18, as students were gathering at school to march to the zonal administration headquarters to present a petition to the zonal administrators concerning the arrests and beatings, a squad of police broke into the school and beat yet more students and arrested others.

According to reports from credible sources, dozens of students and some adults were injured in these two incidents. Eight students were hospitalized. A tenth-grade student was beaten so severely that he died a few days later. Human Rights Watch received an unconfirmed report that a second student also died as a result of the beatings.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (Havana, 1990) provides that security forces should use force only when strictly necessary in the circumstances. If force is unavoidable, it may be used only in proportion to the seriousness of the offense so as to minimize injury. Under the Principles, governments must investigate and criminally punish the abusive use of force by law enforcement officials.

Among the students detained without charges and still in detention in Dembi Dollo jail and in two district police stations are the following: Mitiku Abdisa; Mezgebu Bekele; Dawit Warati; Binyamin Zerihun; Amana Ayale; Amanuel Magarsa; Cali Kebede; Worku Tamrat; Amanuel Degefu; Gamachu Ligaba; Waqgarri Habte; Bacha Yadesa; Ashenafi Degefa; Ishetu Getaneh; Amanuel Aklilu; Kedir Suleiman Wakshira Jabessa; Geremew Mitiku; and Abraham Hora Gusa. Two of these, Waqgarri Habte and Amanuel Magarsa, are reported to have been tortured.

In addition, at least eight female students are being held without charge and access to courts: Beti Gurmessa, Annane Tamiru; Lalise Badhasa; Galana Girma Bokka Dhinsa; Dinknesh Tekle Barkessa; Tigist Tamiru Tola; Abaynesh Lelisa; and Naima Zenyu Gobbu.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 37(b)), to which Ethiopia has acceded, provides that detention and imprisonment of children "shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate time." Article 19 of the Ethiopian Constitution requires all detained or imprisoned persons to be brought before a court within 48 hours. The UN Child Rights Committee on Juvenile Justice in General Comment 10 requires that children detained or imprisoned should be brought before a court even sooner, within 24 hours.

Regarding the Gimbi incident, Human Rights Watch received reports that two cousins, Gemechu Benesa Bula and Lelsa Wagari Bula, were killed by militia members and police officers.

On the evening of January 4, police and militia members were on patrol near Guyi High School when they came upon several students walking together. Unlike previous incidents where security force patrols have been used to break up student demonstrations there was no demonstration but several students fled as the police and militia members approached. The patrol shot at the fleeing students, severely wounding Gemechu. Lelsa returned and covered the fallen Gemechu with his body. The patrol ordered Lelsa to leave. When he refused, he, too, was shot. Both cousins died shortly after. Human Rights Watch has in its possession the names of those police officers and militia members allegedly participating in that patrol.

International human rights law requires that a government investigate allegations of serious human rights violations. According to the United Nations Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (1989), "[t]here shall be thorough, prompt and impartial investigation of all suspected cases of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions.... A written report shall be made within a reasonable period of time on the methods and findings of such investigations. The report shall be made public immediately and shall include the scope of the inquiry, procedures and methods used to evaluate evidence as well as conclusions and recommendations based on findings of fact and on applicable law.... The Government shall, within a reasonable period of time, either reply to the report of the investigation, or indicate the steps to be taken in response to it."

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that, once again, some of Ethiopia's children have been brutally attacked by government security forces. Ensuring that police officers and militia members are held fully accountable for any crimes they commit is necessary both for the development and maintenance of a professional police force and to ensure Ethiopia's compliance with Ethiopian and international law.

We would appreciate being advised of the results of investigations by both of your two agencies into these incidents. Thank you.


Georgette Gagnon
Deputy Director, Africa Division


Gen. Workneh Gebeyehu, Federal Commission of Police

Dr. Kassa Gebre Hiwot, Ethiopia Human Rights Commission

H.E. Ambassador Samuel Assefa

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