Torture, Inhuman Treatment and Arbitrary Detention in Ethiopia
by Betre Yacob
Independent human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty international, and the Anti-Torture Committee of the United Nations have several times reported of systematic persecution as well as use of violence and torture against Ethiopian journalists, opposition political leaders and members as well as anyone who are critical of the tyrannical regime. Amnesty International, for instance, says in its press release issued on 28 August 2012 that it regularly received several information about the use of torture in pre-trial and arbitrary detention.
However, despite the fact that there are so many reports about the use of torture in pre-trial and arbitrary detention in Ethiopia, none of them give clear and detail information on the subject matter. So that the issue has remained to be doughfull, for many people living abroad. Now, thanks to WikiLeaks, a marvellous report that is said to be extraordinary has been released. “INSIDE ETHIOPIA’S JAILS”, the report of Mr. Donald Yamamoto, the late ambassador of USA in Ethiopia, clearly shows what the atrocious crime the tyrannical regime in Ethiopia commit against journalists and political prisoners in its dark prisons and detention centers. The report, which referenced different in-depth interviews with victims, gives most explosive information on the subject matter.
Mr. Donald Yamamoto wrote “INSIDE ETHIOPIA’S JAILS” to the Washingtone government, while he was in charge of US mission in Ethiopia. The report was intended to make the Washingtone aware of what is happening in Ethiopia, and in turn to take an approperate measure against the regime.
“INSIDE ETHIOPIA’S JAILS”
According to the report, political and other prisoners in Ethiopia are subjected to dis-speakable torture in detention centers in attempts by police and security officials to elicit confessions before cases go to trial. According to the report, the torture includes being blindfolded and hung by the wrists for several hours, bound by chains and beaten, held in solitary confinement for several days to weeks or months, subjected to mental torture such as harassment and humiliation, forced to stand for over 16 hours, and having heavy objects hung from one’s genitalia.
The report also indicates that prohibiting detains from food, to taking shower, and to change clothes are also another form of torture. Regarding this the report says: “two political prisoners who were arrested for “inciting violence” following the 2005 elections told him that they had been given just one meal every two days, and had been prohibited to take shower as well as change clothes.” The report further indicates that prisoners are also subjected to mental torture.
The report, which says such kinds of tortures are most common practice at the dark prisons and detention centers, says that the government detains prisoners for many years without any charge and trial. It further indicates that prisoners are also held in such prisons despite having been officially released by the courts.
According to the report, some prisoners die having failed to resist the endless tortures while others left the prisons with permanent physical injuries related to their ears, heads, hands, legs, and genitals. In this regard, the report says: “sources told the Embassy that three prisoners with whom they were detained (Tsegaye Ayele Yigzaw, Gedlu Ayele Hulu-Ante, and Argata Gobena Maru) died in jail as a result of the beatings and absence of medical treatment, and one pregnant woman (Webit Lengamo) miscarried after being severely beaten.”
According to the report, one opposition official told the Embassy that he had spent one month and 18 days in a detention center named “Ma-ekelawi” in a small, dark, 4×4 meter room with 12 other prisoners. He told to the Embassy that medical treatment had not been available, and prisoners had not been allowed any visitors. He also told to the Embassy that the younger prisoners had been beaten most severely, and then denied medical treatment.
According to the report, the opposition official mentioned here above reported to the Embassy that some prisoners had told him that they had been detained for several years without being charged and without trial.
The report says: “for example, he spoke with four people who were arrested in Hargeisa, Somaliland two years ago and accused of being members of the Oromo Liberation Front, a banned insurgent movement. They have been held for two years without trial, and their families do not know of their whereabouts. Also, he spoke with one of four people who were arrested 14 years ago following the assassination attempt against Egyptian President Mubarak and held incommunicado without trial. Of the four, two have already died in prison and the two others are in very bad condition.”
In addition, the report indicates the presence of corruption around detention centers. It states that the higher officials of the detention centers force prisoners’ family members to pay bribes to speed up the investigation process as well as to get prisoners released. For instance, the report says: “one person told our source that her brother was in jail and had to stay there until they could figure out to whom they should pay the bribe. In another case a foreigner told our source that he was asked for a USD 50 bribe from the investigator.”
Ma-ekelawi: The Dark Detention Centre
There are so many darken detention centers in Ethiopia. Some of them are known by the public whereas the others are hidden. Ma-ekelawi is one of those detention centers known by the public.
Regarding this detention center, the report states the following. “According to a British national recently released from Ma-ekelawi, the jail is divided into two sections, the “open” side and the “underground” side. In the “open” side, there are 12 cells, six on each side of an open courtyard about two meters wide. There are eight toilets and two showers, for an average of 100 prisoners at a time. In the “underground” side, there are two types of solitary confinement cells. One type of cell is reportedly not physically uncomfortable, while the other type of cell is extremely small and prisoners are forced to stand.”
The Paper Tigers
“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It is what the universal declaration of human rights (UDHR), to which Ethiopia is a signatory, states under Article 5. Article 9 of the declaration also stats: “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” Likewise, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) adapted in 1966 and the African Charter on Human and People’s Right (ACHPR) incorporate similar articles.
When we come to the constitution of Ethiopia, Article 17 and 18 of the constitution says: “no person may be subjected to arbitrary arrest, and no person may be detained without a charge or conviction against him; everyone has the right to protection against cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
However, sadly, none of the legal documents are practically protecting Ethiopians. Many Ethiopian are suffering from being subjected to torture or inhuman treatment as well as arbitrary detention, particularly journalists, opposition political leaders and anyone who are critical of the regime. This is also clearly revealed by “INSIDE ETHIOPIA’S JAILS”.