Ethiopia evaluating the report
The US government Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2012 released on April 19 noted several human rights violations and its ongoing concerns about some other cases, in its report on Ethiopia.
According to the Human Rights report (HR), the most significant human rights problems included restrictions on freedom of expression and association through politically motivated trials and convictions of opposition political figures, activists, journalists, and bloggers, as well as increased restrictions on print media. It added that the government has continued to impose restrictions on civil society and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) activities through the Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSO).
This year’s report also included cases related to the allegations by Muslims of interference by the government in their religious affairs. Other human rights problems cited were arbitrary killings, allegations of torture, beatings, and mistreatment of detainees by security forces; reports of harsh and at times life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests and detentions; lengthy pre-trial detentions and detention without charge; a weak, overburdened judiciary subject to political influence and infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, including illegal searches. “Impunity was a problem. The government, with some reported exceptions, generally did not take steps to prosecute or otherwise punish officials who committed abuses other than corruption,” the report claims. In relation to disappearances, the report stated specific issues which occurred on June 15, in the North Gondar area of the Amhara Regional state.
There was a reported case of a politically motivated disappearance of two persons, Meles Ashiro and Tadlo Tefera, in which security officials detained these opposition activists and held them temporarily incommunicado. “Following their arrest, Meles and Tadlo’s whereabouts were reportedly unknown; however, authorities released them in August,” it stated.
The HR report also indicated that some reports of such abuses continued during the year.
“Sources widely believed police investigators often used physical abuse to extract confessions in Maekelawi, the central police investigation headquarters in Addis Ababa. Authorities continued to restrict access by diplomats and NGOs to Maekelawi,” the HR report indicated. The HR report indicated that prison and pre-trial detention centre conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening.
It added that as of September, there were 70,000 – 80,000 persons in prison, of whom approximately 2,500 were women and nearly 600 were children incarcerated with their mothers.
The HR report mentioned that pre-trial detention often takes place in police station detention facilities, where the conditions varied widely. “Reports regarding pre-trial detention in police stations indicated poor hygiene, lack of access to visitors (including family members and legal counsel), and police abuse of detainees,” the report elaborated. The report also stated that during the year the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited regional prisons throughout the country. “The visits occurred after a general assessment by the government reopened the path to regular ICRC access; the government had limited such access since 2004,” it explained. Regional authorities allowed government and NGO representatives to meet regularly with prisoners without third parties present. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) monitored federal and regional detention centers and interviewed prison officials and prisoners in response to allegations of widespread human rights abuses. The local NGO, Justice For All-Prison Fellowship Ethiopia (JFA-PFE) was granted access to various prison and detention facilities.
Improvements, which were mentioned by the report, stated that the government and prison authorities generally cooperated with efforts of the JFA-PFE to improve prison conditions. “The JFA-PFE ran model prisons in Adama and Mekele, with significantly better conditions than those found in other prisons. The government undertook renovations of prisons in the Tigray, Amhara, and Oromia regions and in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) during the year,” it clarified.
“Although the constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, the government often ignored these provisions in practice,” the report also claimed. “There were multiple reports of arbitrary arrest and detention by police and security forces,” it added.
According to the report, in some sensitive cases deemed to involve matters of national security, notably the high-profile trials of activists in the Muslim community, detainees stated authorities initially denied them the right to see attorneys. “The trial of the 28 Muslims identified with protests and one Muslim accused of accepting funds illegally from a foreign embassy, was not fully open to family and supporters, although it was initially open to the press and diplomats. The trial of 11 persons (including six persons in absentia) charged on May 19 with being members of the terrorist organizations al-Qaida and al Shabaab was not open to the public,” it added.
The report indicated that estimates by human rights groups and diplomatic missions regarding the number of political prisoners varied. “Domestic and international NGOs estimated there were up to 400 political prisoners and detainees at year’s end. The government did not permit access by international human rights organizations,” the report on political prisoners stated.
According to the HR report, during the year, twelve journalists, opposition members and activists convicted under the Antiterrorism Proclamation remained in prison.
“The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press; however, authorities arrested, detained, and convicted journalists and other persons whom they perceived as critical of the government,” the report mentioned.
Under the title of Freedom of Speech and Press, section two of the report, it says that Ethio-Channel, Negadras, Feteh, and two Muslim newspapers were shut down due to government pressure. The remaining 15 newspapers (private) had a combined weekly circulation in Addis Ababa of more than 100,000, down from 150,000 in 2011.
“The government continued to arrest, harass, and prosecute journalists. Several UN special rapporteurs and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about the government’s use of the antiterrorism proclamation against journalists and opposition members,” it stated under the subtitle.
The report also added that the state-run Berhanena Selam Printing Press, which accounted for approximately 90 percent of newspaper printing in the country, instituted a new standard printing contract with its private publisher clients. The contract stipulated the printing press had the right to refuse to print newspapers containing material deemed “illegal.” Editors of privately-owned newspapers refused to sign the contract, considering it censorship and in violation of the constitutional protection of press freedom. Berhanena Selam stopped printing the publications of those who did not sign the revised contract.
The report, which has seven sections and several titles and sub-titles, included most of the usual allegations from past years.
“The State Department, on various occasions, have released such reports and we have previously responded to the reports accordingly. Currently, we are reviewing the recent report and will respond at the appropriate time,” stated Amb. Dina Mufti, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).