Sunday, January 14, 2007

Human Rights Watch World Report 2007

Continuing Abuses in the Countryside

Authorities in Oromia state continued to use exaggerated concerns about armed insurgency and terrorism to justify the torture, imprisonment, and sustained harassment of their critics, including school children. In late 2005 and in 2006 federal and regional police in Oromia engaged in mass arrests, often in nighttime raids. Those arrested were informally accused of being supporters of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a clandestine armed rebel group, but detainees were also accused of being supporters of the Oromo National Congress (ONC), a registered opposition political party that won seats in the 2005 elections. Most of those arrested were released after having been held for some weeks and forced to sign statements disavowing the ONC as a condition for release.

Local officials used precinct (kebele) "social courts" run by government-party appointees without legal training to detain farmers who voiced support for recognized opposition parties. Local and regional officials also subjected the rural population to intense levels of surveillance. Farmers who were deemed politically unreliable were denied fertilizer and other agricultural aids over which the government exercises monopoly control; they were also subject to imprisonment for debt or eviction from their farms (the government owns all land). In Amhara state, kebele officials played key roles in identifying known or presumed supporters of opposition parties and led federal police to these persons homes at night, where the police beat and sometimes arrested them.

Abuses by the Armed Forces

The government has taken no meaningful action to address widespread atrocities committed by Ethiopian military forces in Gambella state, bordering Sudan. A government-sponsored commission of inquiry set up to investigate December 2003 violence in Gambella resulted in a whitewash. Although the scale of abuses in Gambella moderated in 2005-06, extrajudicial killings, rapes, beatings, and arbitrary arrests by armed forces personnel still occurred.

Reports of extrajudicial executions and torture also emerged from Somali state, but access to the region has been restricted by the military and by the ONLF insurgency, making these reports impossible to confirm.

Performance of the Judiciary

In high-profile cases, courts show little independence or concern for defendants procedural rights. The two-month recess in the treason trial in August-September 2006, coupled with frequent shorter adjournments, ensured the defendants prolonged detention. The trial judges put off addressing defense objections to evidence and ignored claims of serious mistreatment by prison authorities.

Although criminal courts in Ethiopia have some independence with respect to less prominent cases, the judiciary often acts only after unreasonably long delays, sometimes because of the courts workloads, more often because of excessive judicial deference to bad faith prosecution requests for time to search for evidence of a crime.

Leaders of the traditional Oromo self-help organization Mecha Tulama, arrested in 2004 and accused of supporting the OLF and of organizing a grenade attack at Addis Ababa University, remained incarcerated as of late 2006, their trial yet to begin. Other Oromo detainees have been held for eight years without judicial resolution. Fourteen years after the overthrow of the former military government (the Derg), more than a thousand of its former officials still remain jailed awaiting trial.

Human Rights Defenders

Ethiopia has only one nationwide human rights organization, the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO). Government officials routinely accuse the organization of working to advance an anti-government political agenda and its staff is subjected to harassment and intimidation. One investigator was charged in absentia in the treason trial. While EHRCO was not forced to close, it was far less active in 2006.

The Oromo-focused Human Rights League, having been allowed to register in 2005 shortly before the elections after years of litigation, remains inactive.

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Labels: Human Rights Watch World Report 2007: Ethiopia


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