May 17, 2017

 

Joseph Kipchirchir Boinet,
The Inspector General,
Kenya Police Service,
Nairobi (Kenya)
 

Dear Sir,

I am writing, on behalf of Human Rights Watch, to solicit your views and input in respect of our ongoing research on threats to Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers in Nairobi since 2014.

We appreciate your time when we met in July 2016 and hope that we can maintain dialogue going forward.  Given the breadth of our work in Kenya and the importance of the police in protecting human rights, we would very much appreciate an opportunity to meet and discuss our ongoing concerns for human rights abuses in Kenya, as well as the specific queries attached to this letter.

As you may be aware, Human Rights Watch is an international non-governmental organization that documents human rights abuses in more than 90 countries around the world. Human Rights Watch is committed to producing material that is comprehensively documented, verified, and objective.

Since 2014, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of harassment, assault and disappearances of Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers living mostly in Nairobi, as well as torture of Ethiopians returned to their country. In over 100 interviews with victims and eyewitnesses, Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers have described to us a clear pattern of harassment by Ethiopians claiming to be working with the Ethiopian government, and by Kenyans purporting to be police officers. We have also spoken to six Kenyan and Ethiopian security officials. Our research is ongoing.

Please find below a summary of our findings, followed by some questions.

I would greatly appreciate your kind support by sending us your response by June 16, 2017.

Sincerely,

Maria Burnett
Director, East and Horn of Africa, Human Rights Watch

Cc: IPOA, HCR, Ethiopian Embassy in Nairobi

Summary of Findings

Between March 2014 and January 2017, Human Rights Watch interviewed over 100 Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya who described how they were harassed, or assaulted by Ethiopians claiming to be working with the Ethiopian government or by Kenyans purporting to be police officers. Some of the interviewees describe being forcibly returned to Ethiopia where they were tortured in detention facilities. We interviewed them following their return to Kenya.

Disappearances and Kidnappings

Five interviewees described how unidentified men, some saying they were “police officers”, detained them in Nairobi police stations, where Ethiopian men interrogated them. In four other cases, detainees were taken directly to Ethiopia where they were held for prolonged periods in jails, without due process.

One UNHCR-registered asylum seeker told Human Rights Watch that four Kenyans forced him into a car in late 2014. He fell unconscious and awoke in a prison in Moyale, Ethiopia. The authorities then transferred him to Kaliti prison near Addis Ababa and then to a well-known military camp [name withheld] where he was held for almost one year, including seven months in solitary confinement.

We interviewed him after he had returned to Kenya about his treatment in detention:

“[In x military camp] they gave me electric shocks. They put two metal wires behind my ears and down my back and plugged it in. I would shake for several minutes until I would just fall down. They regularly asked me questions about OLF [Oromo Liberation Front, a banned group in Ethiopia] in Nairobi. I said nothing since I know nothing. Then they gave me more shocks. For two months they questioned me, and for 7 days they used the wires. After that they just beat me with plastic sticks.” [1]

 

The man said that earlier that year, in February 2014, Kenyan police had detained him in Nairobi’s Pangani police station and then transferred him to Modega police station where an Ethiopian man purporting to be from the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi beat him while Kenyan Criminal Investigations Department (CID) officers looked on. The embassy official interrogated him about the Ethiopian Oromo community in Nairobi, which the official said was active on social media, posting articles and encouraging people to engage in protests back in Ethiopia. (Kenyan police released him after two weeks, without charge)

A second case involves one of the highest profile disappearances from the Oromo community in Nairobi. Mr. Dabasso Guyo, a well-respected Ethiopian Oromo elder, disappeared in early October, 2015 in Nairobi after speaking at Irreecha, an important Oromo cultural event. Several eyewitnesses subsequently described to Human Rights Watch seeing Dabassa in detention in Moyale, Ethiopia and in Addis Ababa. As of early May, Dabassa’s relatives have been given no information about his whereabouts. There are long-standing concerns over his health and three former and current Ethiopian intelligence officers told Human Rights Watch that before he was abducted, Ethiopian officials had discussed abducting Dabassa in Kenya.

A third example involved Kenyan and Ethiopian security forces arresting Sulub Ahmed and Ali Hussein on January 26, 2014 outside of a popular restaurant in Nairobi. They were members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) negotiation team that was in Nairobi for a proposed third round of peace talks between the ONLF and the Ethiopian government. At least one of them was a registered refugee with UNHCR. They were taken in a civilian vehicle by unknown men to Ethiopia and held in an unknown location near Addis Ababa for one year and four months and then released.

According to our interviewees, most/all cases of abduction or disappearance begin with phone calls, threats, assaults and other forms of harassment, usually by individuals speaking Ethiopian languages, particularly Amharic or Afan Oromo.

Threats and Harassment

Dozens of interviewees have described how Kenyans who identify themselves as police officers, both uniformed and in civilian clothes, approach them in the street in Nairobi and ask them their names and where they live. Sometimes they ask about their lives in Ethiopia or asked the whereabouts of fellow Ethiopians because they are “wanted by the Ethiopian government.” The officers are often accompanied by men who appear to be Ethiopian, but who do not identify themselves by name, nationality, or affiliation with the Embassy. Many interviewees say that the Ethiopian men get out of vehicles parked nearby, some of which have diplomatic license plates. Invariably in the days that follow, the targeted individual then receives a phone call from someone speaking Amharic or Afan Oromo who refers to the interaction in the street some days before and then threatens the individual, for example by saying things such as “we can take you back anytime,” or “we know you, watch what you are doing.”

Over 60 interviewees in Nairobi described receiving phone calls or text messages making either general or specific threats. These threats are usually communicated in Amharic, Afan Oromo or Somali, but occasionally in English or Swahili. The phone calls were received from Ethiopian or Kenyan numbers. Thirty of these interviewees reported these threats to the police and received Occurrence Book (OB) numbers. Many lodged their complaints at Nairobi’s Pangani police station, near Eastleigh, where many of the threats and harassment occurred. Human Rights Watch has been unable to confirm a single case in which the police have followed up on such complaints.

One refugee community leader who is no longer in Kenya described a phone call he received from a Kenyan number: The caller said, “You left Ethiopia, you are accusing the government, tarnishing our image. Wherever you are, we know you are there, and we can get you. We can trace your phone number and know wherever you are. Even Andargachew was prominent, and we got him. So we can get you.” He had previously been kidnapped in Somaliland and taken back to Ethiopia in 2009.[2].

Treatment of Returnees in Ethiopian Detention

Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers taken back to Ethiopia by security personnel face many abuses, including prolonged detention without due process and, according to three interviewees, torture and other physical abuse. In each case, they said Kenyans who identified themselves as police officers first detained them in Nairobi.

In addition, six Ethiopians who involuntarily returned from Kenya to Ethiopia during Operation Usalama Watch in 2014 told Human Rights Watch they were detained upon arrival in Ethiopia. Four of the six - two rejected asylum seekers and two current asylum seekers- said Ethiopian officials tortured them in detention and accused of them of involvement with opposition groups in Kenya.

Torture remains a serious problem in Ethiopia’s many official and unofficial places of detention. [3]

Under the Convention against Torture, which Kenya ratified in 1997, a government may not “expel, return (‘refouler’) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” These protections override any extradition treaty or other security arrangement that may exist between Kenya and Ethiopia.

This is not the first time that Ethiopians have been forced from Kenya to Ethiopia without proper due process. In 2007, Human Rights Watch documented the forced transfer of scores of men, women, and children from Somalia and Kenya to Ethiopia.[4] One of the men, Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian citizen of Ethiopian origin who was accused of membership of the ONLF, a banned armed movement in Ethiopia, was denied regular consular access for 18 months. [5]

Collaboration Between Kenyan Police and Ethiopian Officials

Ethiopian refugees who faced attempted or actual abductions describe plain clothed Kenyan police officers being involved, particularly in making the initial arrest. In many cases, the officers identify themselves as Kenyan police. Sometimes arrested individuals are brought to Nairobi-area police stations where they are interrogated by Ethiopian security personnel, or individuals are handed over to Ethiopian security personnel who take the individuals to unknown locations. Other times they are taken to unidentified detention locations in or near Nairobi before they are interrogated by Ethiopian men claiming to work for the Ethiopian government.

Three Kenyan police officers told Human Rights Watch that staff at the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi, and other Ethiopians claiming to work on behalf of the Ethiopian embassy, routinely approach them and ask them to locate specific individuals and hand them over to Ethiopian officials for questioning and/or deportation.

Three Kenyan police officers told Human Rights Watch that they received money from the Ethiopian embassy to locate Ethiopians. One officer described making “substantial sums of money” from doing “whatever the Ethiopian embassy wants”.[6] Another source, who wants to remain anonymous, told Human Rights Watch in April 2016 “we welcome them [refugees] here, because we know they are wanted by [the government of] Ethiopia, and the more there are, the more [money] we can make.”[7] Members of the refugee community report paying different police officers in order to avoid arrest or to receive advance warnings of the threats. Former Ethiopian intelligence officers who were previously based in Nairobi described the close relationship between some Ethiopian security and Kenyan police, both formally and informally. “They are very cooperative. You just need to pay them and they will arrest anyone for you, and then we can take them back to Ethiopia. But usually we don’t need to. Our informants in the community scare everyone into silence.” [8]

Numerous Ethiopian refugees have also described being approached by members of the Ethiopian embassy or others claiming to work for the Ethiopian government to act as informants. Incentives that were promised include land in Ethiopia, money, increased protection, an Ethiopian passport, or eventual resettlement to a third country. Former Ethiopian intelligence officials corroborated the offering of these incentives. Some of the individuals who acted as informants within the community have been resettled to third countries since 2015.

In Ethiopia, dissent against the government of any type is not tolerated. In Ethiopia, individuals from the Oromo community who express dissent against the government, are members of legally registered opposition parties, or have a family history of involvement with the opposition are routinely arrested and accused of belonging to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a group that is small in number and mostly inactive. Similarly, in Ethiopia’s Somali region, Ogadeni individuals who are not active members of the ruling party are routinely accused of providing support or being connected to the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). Many Oromos and Ogadenis now in Kenya are recognized as refugees by UNHCR because of these types of threats they faced in Ethiopia. According to several Kenyan police officers who spoke to Human Rights Watch on the condition of anonymity, the Ethiopian government targets specific individuals in Kenya because they believe they are connected to the OLF or the ONLF, groups that the Ethiopian government has designated as terrorist organizations.[9]

Individuals who have described high levels of harassment in Nairobi are those that are active in refugee community associations or conduct advocacy on refugee issues, while others have little public profile and do not appear to pose any threat of opposition to the Ethiopian government. Those individuals who are widely perceived by the community to have genuine connection to the OLF do not report high levels of harassment.

Threats to Ethiopian Refugees and Asylum Seekers Outside of Nairobi

While this research focused on cases in Nairobi, similar patterns of harassment and abuse have been described to Human Rights Watch by Ethiopian refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Disappearances, abductions, and other threats against Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers have also been reported to Human Rights Watch in Djibouti, Somaliland, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen. In each case, these incidents occurred with the cooperation of national or local security services. While patterns of abuse against Ethiopian refugees are not unique to Nairobi, there are far more known cases in Nairobi than what has been reported from other communities of Ethiopian refugees.

We welcome your response to these findings. More specifically, we would welcome your answers to the following questions:

  1. What efforts have been undertaken to investigate the disappearance of Mr Dabasso Guyo? What was the outcome of these investigations? Have the Kenyan police held any discussions with members of the Ethiopian embassy or Ethiopian government regarding Dabassa Guyo?
  2. It is our understanding that Chief Inspector Painito Bera Ng’ang’ai and Constable James Ngaparini, who were attached to Nairobi Area CID, were arrested in connection with the January 2014 abduction of Mr Sulub Ahmed and Mr Ali Hussein. It is also our understanding that shortly thereafter they were released without charge and their whereabouts are now unknown. What investigations were undertaken into the abduction of Mr. Sulub Ahmed and Mr Ali Hussein? What investigations were taken into the role of Chief Inspector Painito Bera Ng’ang’ai and Constable James Ngaparini in their abduction? What happened to the two arrested officers?
  3. Are you aware of any cases in which police have been investigated for the unlawful arrest, disappearance or abduction of Ethiopian refugees? If so, kindly share relevant details about the status of such investigations and/or any court process.
  4. What extradition agreements or security agreements are in place between the Ethiopian government and the Kenyan police?
  5. Is there any policy or procedures in place to guide Kenyan police when foreign governments request custody of refugees or asylum seekers residing in Kenya?
  6. Under what conditions would the Kenyan government transfer a registered refugee or asylum seeker, without bringing them before a court of law, to the Ethiopian government?
  7. What protections are in place to ensure that individuals are not refouled to Ethiopia, where they are at risk of torture and other mistreatment, which is in violation of international law?

 

 

[1] Human Rights Watch interview #1 in Nairobi, Kenya. March, 2015.

[2] Andargachew Tsige was a high-profile leader of a banned opposition group and UK citizen who was arrested in Yemen and taken back to Ethiopia in 2014. He remains in detention in Ethiopia.

[3] See for example Human Rights Watch’s report: “They Want a Confession,” Torture and Ill-Treatment in Ethiopia’s Maekelawi Police Station, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/10/17/they-want-confession/torture-and-i..., October 13, 2013.

[4] “People Fleeing Somalia War Secretly Detained,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 29, 2007, https://www.hrw.org/news/2007/03/29/people-fleeing-somalia-war-secretly-....

[5] Human Rights Watch, “Why Am I Still Here?”: The 2007 Horn of Africa Renditions and the Fate of Those Still Missing, October 2008, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/eastafrica1008web.pdf.

[6] Human Rights Watch interview with Kenyan police officer [name withheld], Nairobi, March 2016.

[7] Human Rights Watch interview with Kenyan police officer [name withheld], Nairobi, April 2016.

[8] Human Rights Watch interview with former Ethiopian intelligence official [name withheld], November 2015.

[9] No other foreign governments have designated these groups as such.