U.S. Department of States Human Rights report on Ethiopia

United States Department of States
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

Released on February 25, 2009

Ethiopia is a federal republic led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition. The population was approximately 77 million. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, the EPRDF won a third consecutive five-year term. In local and by-elections held in April the EPRDF and allied parties won virtually all of the more than three million seats contested, severely diminishing opportunities for mainstream political opposition. Prior to the vote, ruling coalition agents and supporters used coercive tactics and manipulation of the electoral process, including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters. Political parties were predominantly ethnically based, and opposition parties remained fractured. During the year fighting between government forces, including local militias, and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), an ethnically based, nationalist, insurgent movement operating in the Somali Region, resulted in continued allegations of human rights abuses by all parties, particularly diversion of food aid from intended beneficiaries suffering from a severe drought. Although there were fewer reports of extrajudicial killings and other similar human rights violations in the Ogaden than the previous year, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and others reported persistent abuses. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were numerous instances in which elements within those forces acted independently of government authority.

Human rights abuses reported during the year included limitations on citizens’ right to change their government in local and by-elections; unlawful killings, torture, beating, abuse, and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, usually with impunity; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of suspected sympathizers or members of opposition or insurgent groups; police and judicial corruption; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights including illegal searches; use of excessive force by security services in an internal conflict and counterinsurgency operations; restrictions on freedom of the press; arrest, detention, and harassment of journalists;restrictions on freedom of assembly and association; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation (FGM); exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and religious and ethnic minorities; and government interference in union activities, including harassment of union leaders.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

Government forces, including militias, and armed elements of the ONLF were responsible for targeted killings in the Somali Region during the year (see section 1.g.).

Security forces committed arbitrary and politically motivated killings during the year.

In December 2007 three government militiamen abducted Welelaw Muche, a supporter of the former Coalition for Unity and Democracy in Enamrit town (West Gojjam Zone, Mecha Woreda, Amhara Region) from his home and arrested him. One of the militiamen shot him to death in a nearby forest. No arrests were made by year’s end.

On July 8, local police in Wonago town (Oromiya Region) shot and killed Aschalew Taye, a supporter of the All Ethiopia Unity Party (AEUP). Officials arrested the police officers involved; at year’s end the trial was in session.

Land mines planted as a result of the 1998-2000 conflict with Eritrea and unresolved border dispute killed at least four civilians in the Tigray Region along the border with Eritrea. In addition, there were unconfirmed reports from a credible source of at least 12 killed and 50 injured in landmine blasts. The government’s demining unit, the Ethiopian Mine Action Office, continued to make progress in its survey and demining of border areas. The office defused 5,274 of an estimated two million landmines in the country, most of which were located along the border with Eritrea in the regions of Tigray and Afar. Two people were also wounded by landmines in the Ogaden Region.

Addis Ababa and other areas experienced several bombings that killed civilians and military personnel during the year. Although no one claimed responsibility, the government charged the bombings were the work of insurgent groups and or agents of Eritrea.

On March 13, a bomb exploded on a public bus in Humera (near the Eritrean border), killing eight persons and wounding at least 27. The government captured the alleged perpetrators, who testified in court to working for dissident groups supported by Eritrea. Their trial was ongoing at year’s end.

The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea and the Mine Action Coordination Centre reported 10 casualties when unexploded ordinance exploded while persons were burning paper at a school in Humera on the Ethiopian side of the Temporary Security Zone. Among the casualties were a 16-year-old girl, a 50-year-old woman, and eight men.

On April 14, bombs exploded at two commercial gas stations in Addis Ababa, killing four persons and wounding at least 16. The perpetrators remained unknown at year’s end.

On May 20, a bomb exploded on a public minibus, killing six persons and wounding at least five. The police apprehended suspects they claimed were affiliated with the insurgent Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

On May 26, bombs exploded in two hotels in Negele Borena, Oromiya Region, killing three persons and wounding five. Ethiopian soldiers were among the casualties. Investigation was ongoing at year’s end.

On September 3, a bomb exploded in the Merkato market in Addis Ababa, killing six persons and wounding 26.

On September 27, a bomb exploded outside a hotel in Jijiga, Somali Region, killing four and wounding 20. Police apprehended a suspect whom they identified as a member of Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, an insurgent group. No trial date had been set by year’s end.

There were no developments in the following 2007 killings: Tesfaye Taddese, Degaga Gebissa, Tsegaye Ayele Yigzaw, Belachew Endale Bitew, Manaye Alamrew, Alemu Tesfaye, Tariku Yakiso, Mensur Musema, and the two students at Gue Secondary School (Gue town, Oromiya Region).

Police officer Alemu Deriba, sentenced to death for a 2006 shooting of four youths, remained on death row at year’s end.

There were no developments in any of the 2006 bombings.
Clashes between ethnic clans during the year resulted in hundreds of deaths (see section 5).

There were no developments in the following 2006 attacks: the bus attack near Bonga town (Gambela Region) by armed men; the hand grenade incident in the town of Jijiga; and the explosion in Addis Ababa.

The Federal High Court in Addis Ababa convicted and sentenced to death in absentia Mengistu Hailemariam and eight of his aides, who were charged with committing genocide and other war crimes, including extrajudicial killings, under the 1975-91 Derg regime (see section 1.e.).

b. Disappearance

There were reports of politically motivated disappearances.

According to the Ethiopian Teacher’s Association (ETA), two active members of their organization (see section 2.b.) disappeared this year. Tilahun Ayalew, chairman of the Dangila town ETA and coordinator of the program Education for All, was detained from December 2007 to March 2008. He reported that Bahir Dar regional police detained and tortured him for three to four days before transferring him to Maikalawi police station in Addis Ababa, where police reportedly tortured him also. The Federal First Instance Court then released him on a habeas corpus petition, citing the lack of formal charges against him. Shortly after seeing his family upon release, Tilahun disappeared, and his whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end.

Also, Addis Ababa police arrested Anteneh Getnet, chairman of the original ETA in Addis Ababa and an ETA coordinator, in 2006 on charges of participating in the Ethiopian Patriotic Front (EPF) an outlawed, allegedly armed group operating in the Amhara Region. The Federal High Court denied his release, but the Federal Supreme Court released him on bail. After a few additional trial appearances, he disappeared in March, and his whereabouts remained unknown at year’s end. Anteneh was first detained in 2006 for more than two months on charges of instigating violence in the 2005 elections. He alleged that he was tortured during his 2006 detention.

There were no developments in the following reported 2007 disappearances: Yohannes Woldu Girma Tesfaye Ayana, Befekadu Bulti Merri, Mulatu Gebremichel, Ismail Blatta, Daniel Worku, and Amha Yirga.

A few of the thousands of civilian protestors who were detained and held incommunicado in 2005 remained in prison at year’s end; however, most had been released by the end of 2006, and an additional 31 were released in August 2007,reportedly following an elders negotiations process in July 2007 (see section 1.d.).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the constitution and law prohibit the use of torture and mistreatment, there were numerous credible reports that security officials tortured, beat, or mistreated detainees. Opposition political party leaders reported frequent and systematic abuse and intimidation of their supporters by police and regional militias, particularly in the months leading up to the local and by-elections held during the year (see section 3). In Makelawi, the central police investigation headquarters in Addis Ababa, police investigators reportedly commonly used physical abuse to extract confessions.

In December 2007 student Ayena Cheri was arrested in Nekempt on suspicion of being a member of the OLF. The lower court dismissed his case and ordered his release, but he remained in prison until the High Court ordered his release on February 11 following a 1,000-birr ($98) bail. He alleged repeated severe beatings while in detention. On January 11, police and security forces arrested Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) member Alemayehu Seifu while he was on his way home from work in Addis Ababa. He was conveyed to Makalawi where he was allegedly tortured for eight days while his captors sought to force a confession that he was part of a plot to overthrow the government. He was released on January 21 without appearing in court.

On February 9, police and militia broke into the home of Gelaye Tadele, a resident of Arba Minch town in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), and beat him. They then took him to a detention facility in Kofele where they fractured his right leg and beat him unconscious. He was eventually taken to the local police station and later admitted to Arba Minch hospital. His mother filed a complaint but local authorities took no action by year’s end.

Of the 37 CUD members arrested and tortured in May 2006, the courts released 26 on a 5,000-birr ($488)bail in October 2007 while denying bail to nine others who remained in jail at year’s end. The other two individuals died in prison.

There were no developments in the September 2007 beating of regional parliamentarian Wegayehu Dejene (Me-ea District, Oromiya Region) and his family members.

There were no developments in the 2006 beatings of one regional parliamentarian of the Oromo Federal Democratic Movement (OFDM) and five of the Oromo National Congress (ONC). [Continued on next page]