In May 1991, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) overthrew the former dictatorial government, the Derg (military committee), ending almost a decade of devastating civil war. The EPRDFis a coalition of ethnically-based armed groups, which the Tigrean People's Liberation Front (TPLF) formed during the war, and continues to dominate to this day. It had coordinated its final assault on Addis Ababa with that of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) on Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, and, following a referendum in 1993, agreed to the independence of Eritrea from Ethiopia. The EPRDF's military wing assumed responsibility for national defense, and internal security immediately after the overthrow of the Derg.

In July 1991, the EPRDF held a national conference to elect a transitional government, form a legislative body, the Council of Representatives, draft a constitution, and prepare for local and national elections. Although the conference proved to be broad-based, open, and productive, not all political parties were allowed to send delegates to it. The EPRDF allocated to itself thirty-two of the eighty-seven seats in the Council of Representatives. The second largest block, of twelve seats, went to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and the remainder went to smaller ethnic parties, many of which were formed immediately before the national conference convened. The conference agreed to establish a secular state and to hold national parliamentary elections within a short period. It also approved the idea of regional or ethnic self-government, and agreed to recognize the right of self determination of those groups which by referendum decided to form separate states.

The EPRDF's policy of decentralizing of authority to regional, ethnically-defined administrations reflected the conviction that only by devolving power to the local level could the country avoid conflict which, Ethiopia's recent history suggested, was the inevitable result of concentrating power in a remote, oppressive, central government. The federal structure that has emerged accords legislative, executive, and judicial powers to ten administrative regions, while the federal government retains authority over all matters pertinent to national defense, foreign affairs, and citizenship.

Since coming to power the EPRDF has successfully sought to maintain its control over the transitional period and the political process. It has sponsored at least sixteen parties, called People's Democratic Organizations (OPDOs), each based on the dominant ethnic groups in the various regions, and it has allied itself with other regional fronts and movements. This strategy ensured that the EPRDF and its allied or satellite parties detained a monopoly of power in both regional and federal assemblies following a series of elections from 1992 to 1995 that major opposition groups boycotted. In addition to its network of PDOs and other allied groups, the EPRDF has also sought to dominate local politics by reviving "kebeles" and "peasant associations" as the lowest levels of government administration in rural and urban areas, respectively. These neighborhood committees were originally established in 1975 under the Derg. They assumed important local administrative functions, while helping to consolidate the EPRDF's political control. Representatives of the ruling coalition oversaw the neighborhood committee system and commanded the peasant militias attached to it. In short, the formal delegation of authority and responsibility to regional authorities has not been fully reflected in the reality of political control. Not only has the control of regional governments by leaders closely tied to the national ruling party made the separation of regional and federal authority more apparent than real, but, in addition, there has been little progress in creating judicial structures and mechanisms that could provide a check on unrestricted executive power. The judiciary is far from being independent. The EPRDF's dominant role in the country's legislative and executive bodies, which was evident during the transitional period, did not abate after the proclamation of the new constitution, and the EPRDF maintained its primacy in the elected parliament and the new federal government.

The other ethnically-based armed groups that had waged war against the Derg, such as the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), had initially joined the EPRDF in the transitional government, and had agreed to pursue its project of unity through diversity. They broke with the EPRDF and the transitional government in 1992 and 1994, respectively, protesting the harassment of their members and the obstruction of their campaigns for regional elections. Since then, the two groups have led low-level armed insurgencies against the government in their respective regions. The OLF's breakaway, in particular, was marked by an initial military setback as thousands of its fighters were captured by EPRDF forces immediately after the 1992 crisis.

More recently, the resurgence of Islam as a political force has reached Ethiopia, whose population is nearly half Muslim. Radical Islamist groups, including the Islamic Front for the Liberation of Oromia, and Al-Itihad Al-Islami (Islamic Unity), which operates in the Somali Region, have conducted sporadic attacks against government and civilian targets.

The Constitutional and Legal Framework

The transitional charter that the 1991 conference endorsed provided the legal basis for the transitional period and the establishment of a transitional Council of Representatives. The Council of Representatives endorsed a draft constitution that the Constituent Assembly, elected by universal suffrage in June 1994, adopted in December of that year. The constitution came into effect in August 1995, establishing the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE).

During the transitional period, the Council of Representatives ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Both the charter and the constitution of the FDRE give prominence to human rights. Thirty-two of the constitution's 106 articles consist of detailed human rights provisions. The constitution also provides for the incorporation into domestic law of all the international human rights treaties to which Ethiopia is party.

The Ethiopian Penal Code of 1957, which remains in force, expressly incorporates certain norms of customary international law, proscribing crimes against humanity in articles 281-288, 291 and 292. In particular, those provisions bar genocide; murder, including summary and arbitrary executions; extermination; enslavement; starvation; deportation or forcible transfer of a population; persecutions on national, racial, religious, or political grounds; and other inhumane acts, including torture, rape, and "disappearance" of persons.

The Judiciary

In the August 1995 restructuring of government ministries, the Ministry of Justice lost its power over the judiciary. In late 1993, however, the Ministry of Justice gained power over the Attorney General's Office. The present powers of the ministry include advising the Federal Government in matters of law, representing the Federal Government in criminal cases falling under the jurisdiction of federal courts, directing and supervising the federal police and prison administrations, representing the government in civil cases, registering foreign and trans-regional nonprofit organizations, and drafting legislation.1

In accordance with the constitution, the FDRE proceeded to restructure the judiciary into a decentralized system of state and federal courts. States have courts at district (woreda) and regional levels, consisting of trial, high and supreme courts. The supreme federal judicial authority is vested in the Federal Supreme Court, which, together with the Federal High Court, adjudicates cases involving federal law, transregional issues and national security, both at the trial and appellate stages.

The Chief Justice of the Federal Supreme Court chairs the Judicial Administration Commission, mandated to recommend judges for appointment, to make decisions regarding their promotion, discipline, and transfer, as well as to administer the courts. In the regions, where the Judicial Administration Commission is duplicated, the all powerful local administrators have in many instances shown alarming indications of interference with the independence of the judiciary.

Shortages of competent personnel and meager resources hampered the restructuring process considerably and led to severe delays in the courts. These delays aggravated considerably by the decision of the new government, upon taking power in 1991, to dismiss hundreds of qualified judges whom it suspected of having taken part in repressive practices under the Derg. In the absence of formally trained lawyers, the courts employed many lay judges. Because of regional disparities in the distribution of national wealth and access to education, entire regions had to function only with a handful of judges, and no lawyers at all.

The situation in Addis Ababa is illustrative of the paralysis of the judicial system. During the transitional period, Addis Ababa had regional status; it was one of the country's ten regions. After the new constitution, the capital could not have judicial powers of its own as these shifted to federal courts. At the end of the transitional period, the Addis Ababa Region consisted of twenty-eight woredas (districts), each had criminal and civil courts. In addition, it had five woreda labor courts, eleven zonal courts, and a supreme court with criminal and civil panels. Following the 1995 restructuring, the regional courts in Addis Ababa were abolished. In their place, the capital acquired only five trial courts, and the already existing five benches of the Federal High Court. The number of judges declined in line with the reduction in number of courts. Furthermore, the reduction of judges had an enormous impact since trial courts function with three judges, instead of the one judge previously required in district courts.2

Such shortages led to severe case overloads, with judges hearing up to ninety cases per day, according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Council and other observers.3 At the same time, judges continued to receive low salaries, as did other employees in the public sector. Exacerbating these problems, moreover, was a lack of resources, which seriously hindered the provision of equipment and supplies to the country's approximately 700 courthouses, and rendered maintenance difficult .4

In an August 1997 meeting with Human Rights Watch, the vice-president of the Federal Supreme Court acknowledged that purges in the judiciary had led to shortages of judges, and explained steps that the government was taking to address these problems. He said the judicial restructuring offered an opportunity for vetting judges on the basis of their integrity and competence. Only those with the highest standards, according to him, were offered positions in the new system.5 As a temporary measure to counter the adverse effect of losing many qualified and experienced judges, the government had introduced short legal orientation courses, of six months' duration, that facilitated the recruitment of some 600 lay judges. On July 26, 1997, the Civil Service College graduated its first batch of twenty-four students, who had been drawn from various branches of civil service, with law degrees, following a three-year program.6 They were to join the judiciary, along with graduates of the law school of Addis Ababa University. On-the-job-training was used to improve the efficiency of sitting judges and other officials involved in the administration of justice. Other steps taken to reduce judges' work load included the introduction of court clerks, and recording and documentation systems.

Meanwhile, the serious limitations of the judicial system could be gauged by the large number of cases awaiting trial. Addis Ababa alone had a back log of some 70,000 cases by late 1997, not counting traffic offenses.7 One year adjournments became routine in the court system, with suspects and defendants in many cases having to spend long periods in pretrial detention. During a July 31, 1997 visit to the first bench of the First Instance Court of Yeka (a locality in Addis Ababa), and the Federal First Instance Court, Human Rights Watch noted crowds of litigants waiting in vain for their day in court. Instead of getting a hearing, litigants at Yeka received notices of adjournments to July 1998. A defense lawyer at the Yeka trial court told Human Rights Watch that the court had been adjourning for months because one of its three judges was on sick leave. During that time, the other two judges routinely granted police requests for pretrial detention, although they were only supposed to approve such demands, or to order temporary releases on bail, in full court sessions with all three judges present. On April 4, 1997, the Federal High Court at Sidis Kilo adjourned its examination of an appeal by the Ethiopian Teachers' Association against the administrative freezing of its account to 1998 as well, an adjournment among many on that particular day, affecting a random mix of criminal, civil, and political cases.8

Another serious problem facing the judiciary is the frequent refusal of the police to obey court orders, particularly orders to release political detainees held in police custody. In some cases, particularly in remote regions, political and executive officials have shown a tendency to take the law in their own hands, sometimes harassing and detaining judges. Examples of the lack of recognition of the independence of the judiciary abound. In one case, the Addis Ababa police refused to release two bahtawis (hermits) held in its custody since January 1997 for their suspected participation in a plot to assassinate the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, despite five consecutive release orders from the second bench of the Federal First Instance Court (issued in April and May 1997).9 To circumvent these orders, police applied to the third bench of the same court for an extension of the suspects' detention. On May 21, the third bench turned down the request and, for the sixth time, ordered the release of the two hermits. They were, however, still in detention when Human Rights Watch examined their case in early August 1997.10

An earlier high-profile case is equally indicative of the Ethiopian authorities' failure to recognize the independence of the judiciary. In mid-1995, Shachachew Sheno, presiding judge in the Shakcho zone in the Southern People's Region and vice-president of Shakcho high court, granted the police a warrant to arrest and interrogate six officials in the zonal council. The prosecutor had ordered the investigation following complaints about the involvement of the six officials in the killing of three relatives of an alleged bandit. In retaliation for this action, one of the six officials suspended the judge, writing a letter to the Shakcho zone high court on August 1, 1995-a suspension that the president of the high court confirmed. The official also suspended the public prosecutor who had ordered the investigation, and he ignored directives from the regional supreme court to reinstate the judge.

Ten months later, the judge reflected on his case to Human Rights Watch researchers. He stated,

there is no problem of procedure. The police investigated a case, the prosecutor examined it and filed charges and as a judge I rendered justice and made decisions in accordance with the law. The problem is that in the Southern Region the administrators do not want the legal procedure to work. They are the only powers in the region. There is no controlling mechanism.11

The case was further aggravated when, as explained below, local officials detained and tortured the judge's wife. His repeated appeals to judicial authorities, the minister of justice, and the prime minister, appear to have been partially successful, as he was appointed to be prosecutor in Region 14 (Addis Ababa). Nevertheless, the institutional problems he so strongly denounced remain to be addressed.

The judiciary appears to be in deep crisis, a situation with implications for the rule of law. In principle, any person whose rights have been denied can seek judicial redress. The courts have an obligation to enforce the rights guaranteed in the constitution. Yet, because of the judiciary's lack of capacity, and failure of other branches of government to respect its independence, the courts have been unable to fulfill this obligation. As a result, the primacy of the rule of law in Ethiopia has been severely undermined, and the human rights of ordinary citizens have been jeopardized.

The seemingly endless cycle of judicial adjournments has obviously eroded the legal rights of prisoners. It has also allowed the government to neutralize its political opponents by putting them on trial on charges of political violence that courts take years to adjudicate. Among the cases illustrative of this trend are those of the Ziwai detainees, the president of the All Amhara People's Organization, and the president of the Ethiopian Teachers' Association (see below for a discussion of these cases ). Also in detention as of this writing, pending the conclusion of a lengthy ongoing trial on charges of inciting armed rebellion, were thirty-one Muslim leaders, including Sheikh Mohamed Awel Reja, vice-president of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, and Mohamed Abdu Tuku, an engineer. They were arrested following confrontations in 1995 between two competing factions in Addis Ababa's Anwar mosque.

Civic organizations that have been victims of government repression have also been adversely affected by the slowness of the system in rendering justice. Targeted civic associations turned to the judiciary to obtain legal redress against such arbitrary measures as de-registration, freezing of bank accounts, office searches and property confiscations that were not authorized by court order, and harassment and detention of their leaders. Delays and adjournments of court proceedings had, however, all but destroyed their confidence in ever finding justice. The cases of the leaders of the All Amhara People's Organization, the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Unions, Ethiopian Teachers' Association, and the Oromo Relief Association typify this trend (see below for a discussion of these cases).

Judges have little knowledge of international human rights norms, as several Ethiopian legal professionals underlined in discussions with Human Rights Watch. The international human rights instruments to which Ethiopia is a party, and which the constitution has incorporated into the national law, have not been translated into local languages and made readily available to judges.

The Human Rights Commission and Ombudsman Institution

The constitution of the FDRE empowers the Council of People's Representatives to establish a Human Rights Commission and an Ombudsman Institution, and to determine by law the powers, functions, and membership of both institutions. Plans to establish these institutions during the first year of the Council (1995/96) were deferred to the second session, which started in October 1996, as the need for wider consultations became apparent, since there were no local precedents or experiences with these types of institutions.

As part of these consultations, the Speaker of the House prepared to convene an international conference, to be held in Addis Ababa in December 1996, to consider other countries' experiences with these institutions. It was hoped that the conference would assist members of the legal and political communities in drafting of legislation establishing the two institutions. The conference was, however, delayed until early 1998. Beside allowing more time for preparations, the delay was necessary to allow the preparatory team and its international partners to resolvereported differences of opinion regarding the relevance of inviting independent national and international human rights organizations, as suggested by the latter.12

Two different views of these institutions were being debated, with some in the legal and political communities supporting the establishment of an independent human rights commission, while others supported the establishment of a parliamentary commission. The limitations of the latter option were voiced by a leading legal expert with whom Human Rights Watch raised the issue. He noted that in a parliamentary system, in which government enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament, the commission would be identified with the government. He argued convincingly that an autonomous commission would be more appropriate to the Ethiopian context. Similar considerations applied with regard to the establishment of the Ombudsman institution.

Human Rights Watch took note of the political will to establish the said institutions and sent documentation on national human rights institutions in Africa to the Speaker of the House and the former minister of justice. In discussions with the two officials, we argued the establishment of institutions genuinely independent from the government.

The Prisons

The Ethiopian prison system has never been in compliance with the standards defined in the U.N.'s Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners or U.N. Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.13 Both under the Emperor and the Derg governments, each local subdivision, region, subregion and district, had at least one prison facility. Prisoners were also held in jails attached to police stations, and army garrisons. In addition, during the Derg period, each peasant association and kebele had its own detention facility. The current government has revived the practice of using kebele and peasant association "houses" as detention places. Political prisoners are still at risk of torture and "disappearance" in these unacknowledged detention places.

Public Order and Internal Security

The National Police

In 1942, the imperial government formed a centralized modern national police force, called the Imperial Ethiopian Police, which had both paramilitary and constabulary units. Upon the overthrow of Haile Selassie in 1974, the force numbered 28,000.14

The Derg government viewed the police with suspicion because of their association with the ruling class under the emperor. Under the Derg, the police commissioner reported to the Ministry of Interior. The Derg's army increasingly assumed the duties of criminal investigation and maintenance of public order, while the People's Protection Brigades replaced the police constabulary in enforcing law at the local level. The Derg emphasized the political mission of the police in suppressing political dissent, while law enforcement was left to the Brigades. As a result, the public standing of the police was considerably weakened.15

During the transitional period, the EPRDF dissolved the police force. The EPRDF's armed wing assumed responsibility for all policing and internal security duties throughout the country, as well as for the national defense.The police force was reestablished in mid-1994. The concurrent restructuring of the army (see below) has meant that responsibility for internal security has continued to shift from the army to the police force. This followed decades of exercise of police powers by military forces operating in towns as well as rural areas. As the EPRDF phased out the core TPLF fighting force, opposition groups and independent sources reported that demobilized soldiers have been recruited into the new police and internal security forces. With the establishment of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in August 1995, responsibility for the federal police and prisons passed from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which was abolished, to the Ministry of Justice. As part of this restructuring, the Ministry of Justice also established separate divisions for intelligence and refugee affairs.

Special programs designed to train and increase the efficiency of the federal and regional police have received support from foreign donor governments. One of the main areas of British and German bilateral assistance to Ethiopia has been the capacity building and strengthening of the management capabilities of the police force. This assistance includes the establishment of educational facilities and the review of international standards and regulations. The states have followed the federal blueprint in establishing their own police structures and controls.

The international police training program received unexpected publicity when two of three retired British police officers working for the program were seriously injured in a bomb attack in Addis Ababa in mid-April 1997. There was no evidence, however, that they were deliberately targeted. The four-year assistance program, which was to end a few months after the bombing incident, aimed to "restructure the Ethiopian force along civilian lines," according to an Overseas Development Administration spokesman.16

Human Rights Watch asked Mahteme Solomon, the former minister of justice, about the safeguards included in the emerging system to ensure police discipline and accountability. He stated that policemen were being routinely disciplined for abuse of authority, bribery, and other abuses both at the regional and national levels. While his ministry had issued standing orders to discipline police and had a department to oversee police conduct, he admitted that nobody within the ministry kept records of the numbers of police agents who had been disciplined. He said his ministry was beginning to station federal police in the regions who would report to the ministry directly about this issue.17

The former minister acknowledged that there were cases of human rights abuses that involved the police, as well as the military. He attributed "almost all" such abuses to lack of institutional organization, lack of laws, and lack of training.18

Peasant Militia

Paramilitary groups operate as security forces in rural areas. The army chief of staff told Human Rights Watch that the rationale for their creation was to cover the needs of rural and village security in a vast and resourceless country. He explained that peasant militia are under the control of regional authorities, and not under the army's direct chain of command, but that this did not exclude cooperation between local militia and army units. He said the regular army assisted in training the militia and provided them with ammunition and armaments.19

Rural paramilitary groups have their basis in the peasant associations and kebeles. These lowest levels of government administration, in rural and urban areas respectively, were established under the Derg in 1975. Peasantassociations initially were established within the context of a land reform movement, and had elected leadership. A few years later, they were turned into formidable tools of government control, as trained political appointees moved in to replace elected leaders. As the state replaced feudal land owners and introduced collective farms and cooperatives, peasant associations were placed in charge of land and fertilizers and assumed conflict resolution functions at the local level. They were also responsible for collecting taxes and for indoctrinating the population. By the end of the Derg era, there were 20,000 peasant associations throughout the country.20

The kebeles, or urban dwellers' associations, were initially responsible for collecting rents, running judicial tribunals to settle local disputes, and providing basic social services in their neighborhoods. Their powers were later expanded to include neighborhood policing. Neighborhood defense squads committed notorious abuses in Addis Ababa during the Red Terror period, from 1977 to 1978. Like peasant associations, kebeles proved a formidable security tool helping intimidate the population into submission to the Derg dictatorship.

The Derg government granted police powers to people's defense squads operating within specific peasant association or kebele constituencies. The squads' main role was to suppress political dissent by identifying and disposing of suspected opponents. In 1978 the squads were merged into People's Protection Brigades. These received formal police training, and were given local police duties within the jurisdictions of peasant associations and kebeles.

After the fall of the Derg, the transitional government and the FDRE retained the peasant association and kebele system for the purposes of local administration and the consolidation of political control. Officials of the ruling coalition oversaw the system and commanded the peasant militias attached to it.

With the difference that peasants were relieved from the rigors of collective farming and benefited form the liberal economic policies introduced by the new government, and that they had no longer to yield their children to the recruiters of the conscript army, they discovered that the new cadres were bent on the political control of their communities. The ERPDF's land policy gave the cadres an added leverage over the peasantry, as the state was proclaimed to own all land. Individual farming rights were however allowed. The potential implication of this policy was far reaching in that the crucial issue of access to land rendered the peasantry vulnerable to political "persuasion" by local cadres. An independent election monitoring team noted the atmosphere of fear and apprehension that prevailed in rural areas where it monitored the 1994 and 1995 elections and pointed to indications that this atmosphere had influenced a massive rural vote in favor of the ruling party and its regional affiliates.21

In interviews with Human Rights Watch, victims of abuses committed by rural security forces attached to the peasant associations consistently claimed that these forces were controlled by security committees, of which local officials, members of the EPRDF and its affiliates, and army officers were members. Typically, the local administrator would belong to the ruling regional party affiliated with the EPRDF. The population therefore tended to perceive the administrator, the militia, and the EPRDF as a single unit. Thus, the people referred to the peasant militias as the party militias, although officially there is no party militia. The case of the Shakito People's Democratic Movement (SPDM), illustrates this disturbing overlap. At the district (woreda) level, the SPDM had a 150-man militia, every member of which was also a party member (see over).22

The dominant role of party members in the militias makes them an integral part of the national political structure. Through the ruling party's political apparatus, they are securely under central government control. The committee system has thus facilitated interaction between local authorities, the militia, the army, and the ruling party, practically subordinating local security structures to the federal authorities.

In regions affected by armed conflict, the government has relied on militia groups to identify members and sympathizers of opposition groups. Militias have reportedly been responsible for the arrest and ill-treatment of hundreds of civilians suspected of supporting the insurgents. The militia appear to have the power to detain, interrogate people, holding them in militia camps, public buildings or in army camps. One former political prisoner told Human Rights Watch that members of the committees "sit together and decide whom to arrest. Without their agreement, the judge cannot release anybody. The army by itself can arrest people, so can the police, but to release detainees they have to come together."23 According to a regional judge we interviewed, members of these militia do not appear before courts. Instead, police step in to compile files, which they present to prosecutors responsible for charging the suspects.24

The Army

In 1991, following the fall of the Derg, the existing military was disbanded and the EPRDF army assumed its responsibilities. Opposition groups viewed the EPRDF's control of the military with suspicion, fearing that a partisan army dominated by one ethnic group would threaten the rights of competing groups. They urged the creation of a nationally representative and apolitical army. Establishing such an army was viewed as one of the main tasks of the transition.

Five years after the collapse of the Derg, the chief of staff of the Ethiopian army told Human Rights Watch that some 25,000 TPLF forces had been demobilized. The new government also focused on demobilizing-or suppressing-rebel forces that had acted in loose association with the dominant military force, but which fell outside the controlling group's political umbrella. The ministry of defense claimed to have recruited "thousands of youngsters from Oromiya, Amhara, and southern people's regional states" whom it claimed to have "trained in basic military science and politics to join the national defense force."25 The "people's liberation army" was being disbanded, to be replaced by a traditional standing army. In February 1996 the former rebel commanders took military ranks for the first time.26 Conscription was abandoned in favor of a professional army.

Two armed groups that engaged sporadic clashes with the army during 1996 publicly confirmed this transformation in the composition of the military. In a communique issued on August 24, 1996, the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF) said that the "exclusively Tigrean elite force of the EPRDF government of Ethiopia began to withdraw from the Afar Depression. They were replaced by multinational EPRDF forces."27 In the Somali region, another area affected by armed confrontations, the chairman of the ONLF said inFebruary 1996 that at least 2,000 government soldiers of Tigrean origin serving in the Ogaden had "fled" the region, and that the government had replaced them with soldiers from Oromia.28

Human Rights Watch asked the army chief of staff to clarify the role of the army in Ethiopian society and, in particular, to explain how the command was able to transform a small, disciplined revolutionary force into a regular standing army for the whole country. He cited the good treatment of thousands of Derg prisoners of war as an example of the discipline of the EPRDF army during the civil war, a discipline acquired through political education of recruits.

The treatment of captured soldiers by the rebel forces during the years of open warfare was, by most accounts, a positive factor in the overall conduct of the long war. At one time more than a hundred thousand government soldiers in Eritrea and Tigray were held in camps whose living conditions were comparable to those of the rebel armies themselves. Access to these camps was permitted to relief workers and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Government leaders who had played important roles in the long military campaign told Human Right Watch, in statements largely borne out by other sources, that policies of fair treatment and, frequently, of release of captured government soldiers, had been seen as a means to sow disaffection in the government ranks, encouraging others to desert from the largely conscript army, to surrender in confrontations with rebel forces, or to join the rebel side.

For the new national army, said the army chief of staff, new political ideals were raised to build discipline. These included loyalty to the constitution and the importance of bringing peace, stability and economic development to the country. Discipline, he said, was to be enforced through the adoption of a system of rules and regulations for the national army, and through the inclusion of human rights component in its training.29

Despite these safeguards, the army continued to commit human rights abuses in regions where it was engaged in counterinsurgency operations. Such abuses included the arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of suspected rebels in army camps. Furthermore, the army's reliance on militia groups that did not fall under its direct command, as a means to insure security in rural areas, opened the door for more abuses. Such security arrangement constituted a major source of human rights abuses in many parts of the country.

1 See Proclamation No. 4, 1995: "A Proclamation to Provide for the definition of Powers and Duties of the Executive Organs of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Part III.23, the Ministry of Justice," Negarti Gazeta, no. 4, August 23, 1995, pp. 53-54. 2 Human Rights Watch interview with Menberetsehai Tadesse, vice-president of the Federal Supreme Court, Addis Ababa, August 5, 1997. 3 See Øyvind Aadland, "Report of an Assessment Study of the Status and Context of the `Derg-Trial' in Ethiopia," April 21-May 21, 1997, Norwegian Institute of Human Rights, Oslo, 1997. See also Ethiopian Human Rights Council, "The Administration of Justice in Ethiopia, Ninth Report, January 1996," in "Compiled Reports of EHRCO, December 12, 1991 to May 6, 1996,"Addis Ababa, June 1996, p. 169. 4 Human Rights Watch interview with Mahteme Solomon, former minister of justice, Addis Ababa, June 19, 1996. 5 Human Rights Watch interview with Menberetsehai Tadesse, vice-president of the Federal Supreme Court, Addis Ababa, August 5, 1997. 6 "Forty-eight Students Graduate in Law and Economics," Addis Tribune, August 1, 1997. 7 This figure was provided by the vice-president of the Federal Supreme Court in the above meeting. 8 Human Rights Watch court visit, July 31, 1997. 9 Ethiopian Human Rights Council, "Illegal Detention," Special Report No. 15, May 27, 1997, Addis Ababa. 10 Copies of the court orders are available with Human Rights Watch. 11 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, June 26, 1996. 12 Human Rights Watch interviews, Addis Ababa, July/August, 1997. 13 General Assembly Resolution 45/111 of December 14, 1990, annex; Compilation, vol. I, p. 263, and United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders: report by the Secretariat (United Nations publication, Sales No. 1956.IV.4), annex I.A; Compilation, vol. I, p.243. 14 "Ethiopia: A Country Study," at <http://Icweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/et_05_05.htm1>. 15 Ibid. 16 Alice Martin, "Ethiopia: Britons Wounded in Ethiopian Blast," The Guardian, April 14, 1997, p. 3. 17 Human Rights Watch interview with Mahteme Solomon, Addis Ababa, June 19, 1996. 18 Ibid. 19 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 1, 1996. 20 Ethiopia: A Country Study, Ibid. 21 "The Process of Democratization in Ethiopia-An Expression of Popular Participation or Political Resistance," Human Rights Report No. 5, August 1995, Norwegian Institute of Human Rights, Oslo, 1995; and "The 1994 Election and democracy in Ethiopia," Human Rights Report No. 4, November 1994, Norwegian Institute of Human Rights, Oslo, 1994. 22 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, June 26, 1996. 23 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, June 24, 1996. 24 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, June 24, 1997. 25 "Ethiopia: `Thousands' Trained For New National Defense Force," Radio Ethiopia external service, July 22, 1996, BBC Monitoring Service, Africa, July 24, 1996. 26 "Ethiopia: Government Awards Military Ranks for the First Time," Ethiopian TV, February 23, 1996, BBC Monitoring Service, Africa, February 26, 1996. 27 "The Outcome of the War over the Control of the Afar Depression," Afar Revolutionary Democratic Front (ARDUF), London, August 24, 1996. 28 Abdul Wahab Bashir, "Ethiopia: Ogaden Leader Denounces Ethiopia for Rights Abuses," Arab News, January 23, 1996, Reuters, February 15, 1996. 29 Human Rights Watch interview, Addis Ababa, July 1, 1996. In its 1996 annual report-1996, the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that it had organized two seminars for eighty Ethiopian army officers responsible for training troops, ICRC, "Ethiopia, Annual Report 1996," June 1, 1997, at <http://www.icrc.org/unicc/icrcnews>.