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

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

The Jewish community numbered approximately 2,000, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/irf/rpt.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

Although the law provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, the government restricted some of these rights in practice.

Throughout the year the government severely restricted the movement of persons into and within the Ogaden areas of Somali Region, arguing that the counterinsurgency operation against the ONLF posed a security threat (see section 1.g.).

The law prohibits forced exile; and the government did not employ it. A steadily increasing number of citizens sought political asylum or remained abroad in self‑imposed exile, including more than 55 journalists (see section 2.a.).

During the year the ICRC repatriated 1,023 citizens from Eritrea and repatriated 27 Eritreans. Most Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin registered with the government and received identity cards and six‑month renewable residence permits that allowed them to gain access to hospitals and other public services.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)

The conflict between government and insurgent forces in the Ogaden area of the Somali Region resulted in the displacement of thousands of persons (see section 1.g.). During the year violent clashes between different clans, often over competition for scarce resources or resulting from disputes over territorial boundaries, displaced persons and resulted in deaths and injuries.

UNHCR estimated there were approximately 200,000 IDPs in the country, including an estimated 62,000 in the Tigray Region, 44,700 in the Gambella Region, 30,000 in the Borena area of the Oromiya Region, and 50,000 on the border of the Oromiya and Somali regions.

Protection of Refugees

The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 protocol, and the 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government provided protection against “refoulement,” the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened, and it granted refugee status and asylum. The government generally cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and returning citizens. There were anecdotal reports that deported Ethiopian asylum seekers from Yemen were detained upon return.

During the year the government, in cooperation with UNHCR, opened two new refugee camps: Sheder, northeast of the town of Jijiga, to accommodate a steady influx of Somali refugees, and My Ayni, in Tigray National Regional State, to accommodate up to 10,000 new Eritrean refugees. An average of 400 to 500 new Eritrean refugees arrived monthly during the year. However, approximately 200 to 300 Eritrean refugees departed monthly on secondary migration through Egypt and Sudan to go to Europe and other final destinations. UNHCR assisted in the reception and transportation back to My Ayni of over 150 Eritrean refugees who had been detained in Egypt and deported by the Egyptian authorities.

The government required that all refugees reside and remain in designated camps, most of which were located near the Eritrean, Somaliland, and Sudanese borders, unless granted permission to live elsewhere in the country. Such permission was given primarily to attend higher education institutions, undergo medical treatment, or avoid security threats at the camps. During the year, the government expanded its policy to provide greater freedom of movement to some Eritrean refugees with family members living outside of the camps. Almost 1,500 urban refugees are currently registered with the UNHCR and the government, the majority of them from Somalia, Eritrea, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Unlike in the previous year, conflict between ethnic groups in the Gambella Region did not directly interfere with UNHCR’s refugee protection activities.

The government, in cooperation with UNHCR, continued to provide temporary protection to individuals from Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol.

During the year UNHCR processed 334 refugees who departed for resettlement abroad. UNHCR and the government also assisted the safe, voluntary return of more than 10,215 Sudanese refugees to their homes during the year, allowing UNHCR to close two Sudanese refugee camps in May.

Unlike in the previous year, there were no allegations of government cooperation with the government of Sudan in the forcible repatriation of Ethiopian refugees.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The constitution and law provide citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through partially free and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage. In practice the ruling EPRDF and its allies dominated the government. In local and by-elections held in April, the ruling 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 party agents and supporters engaged in coercive tactics and manipulation of the electoral process, including intimidation of opposition candidates and supporters during the run-up to the vote. Citing these obstacles, two leading opposition parties withdrew from the elections shortly beforehand.

The government policy of ethnic federalism led to the creation of individual constituencies to ensure representation of all major ethnic groups in the House of Peoples’ Representatives. Nevertheless, small ethnic groups lacked representation in the legislature. There were 23 nationality groups in six regional states that did not have a sufficient population to qualify for constituency seats; however, in the 2005 elections, individuals from these nationality groups competed for 23 special seats in the 547‑seat House of Peoples’ Representatives. Additionally, these 23 nationality groups have one seat each in the 112-seat House of Federation, the upper house of parliament.

Elections and Political Participation

The constitution provides citizens the right to change their government peacefully and to freely join a political organization of their choice; however, in practice these rights were restricted through bureaucratic obstacles and government and ruling party intimidation and arrests.

The local and by-elections on April 13 and April 20, respectively, were the first nationwide elections since the historic 2005 national elections, which ended in heavy postelection violence and large-scale arrests. According to domestic and international observers, the 2005 elections, in which the EPRDF coalition won 372 of 547 seats, generally reflected the will of the people and were an important step forward in the country’s democratization efforts. However, irregularities in 2005 marred polling in many areas. For instance, observers reported vote count fraud, improper handling of ballot boxes, and barring of party agents from polling stations and ballot counts. Observers also reported killings, disappearances, voter intimidation and harassment, unlawful detentions of opposition party supporters, and bribery. Opposition parties accused the NEB of ruling party bias and of failing to address the complaints it received. Following an ad hoc complaints resolution process, the NEB decided to hold new elections in 31 constituencies in 2005; however, opposition parties boycotted due to perceived flaws in the review process.

Opposition parties made an unexpectedly strong showing in the 2005 elections, increasing their parliamentary representation from 12 to 172 seats and earning 137 of 138 Addis Ababa City Council seats. Despite this, some opposition members refused to take their seats and instead boycotted. Violent antigovernment protests then erupted in November 2005 and led to a government crackdown including arrests of several dozen opposition leaders, journalists, and civil society group members, as well as between 30,000 and 50,000 demonstrators. Most prisoners were released in three months, but many prominent individuals spent almost two years in prison, with an unknown number of individuals still in custody. Military intervention also led to widespread abuses such as arbitrary detention and killings.

These events in 2005 formed the backdrop for this year’s local and by-elections held on April 13 and 20, as the first nationwide elections since 2005. Unlike in 2005, polling went smoothly and peacefully and there were no postelection mass arrests or violence. However, the prepolling weeks and months were marred by reports of harassment, intimidation, arrests, and killings of opposition party candidates and their supporters, and incomplete compliance by the NEB with the Electoral Law, prompting some of the major opposition parties such as UEDF and OFDM to boycott the election. Ruling party, regional, federal, and NEB officials mostly denied these incidents and, with few exceptions, neither investigated such allegations nor held perpetrators responsible. Other opposition parties remained in disarray and did not have enough time to take part in the elections.

This climate, along with a dearth of opposition candidates, contributed to starkly different election results from those in 2005. Of the 3.6 million local and by-election seats contested, opposition parties won three: a federal parliament seat, an Addis Ababa city council seat, and a Gambella town council seat. According to the NEB, the EPRDF coalition won more than 3.5 million seats with the remainder going to noncoalition but EPRDF-allied parties. For instance, EPRDF won 38 of 39 contested federal parliament seats and 137 of 138 Addis city council seats; this latter result was an exact reversal of 2005.

The EPRDF, its affiliates, and its supporters controlled 408 seats in the 547-member House of People’s Representatives and all seats in the 112‑member House of Federation, whose members were appointed by regional governments and by the federal government. Membership in the EPRDF conferred advantages upon its members; the party owned many businesses and was broadly perceived to award jobs and business contracts to loyal supporters.

The NEB reported a 93 percent voter turnout, approximately 24.5 million of 26.3 million registered voters. However, the government refused to allow foreign election observers, and this turnout rate was inconsistent with observed voter presence levels and posted polling station tallies.

Opposition parties fielded very few candidates in some regions. This was due in part to widespread harassment of opposition candidates and supporters as well as the delayed reopening of party offices in November 2007, following forced closures after the 2005 elections. Together opposition parties were able to register only an estimated 16,000 candidates countrywide. For example, in one area of Oromiya where the opposition won overwhelmingly in 2005, there were 60,955 EPRDF candidates running against seven opposition candidates. Given a lack of capacity, some opposition groups chose not to contest town seats and instead focus on district and zonal seats.

On April 10, the UEDF, a coalition of opposition parties from SNNP and Oromiya regions, announced their withdrawal from the elections. This followed their delivery to the NEB of a list of seven preconditions to their electoral participation based on incomplete implementation of the Electoral Law, including proper elections of poll observers, an end to candidate harassment, and registration of all denied UEDF candidates.

The 2007 Electoral Law requires each polling station to have five nonpartisan observers elected from the community, or approximately 200,000 election observers for the more than 42,000 polling stations. There were, however, widespread reports that many of these poll observers were instead appointed directly by the NEB from EPRDF affiliates. The Electoral Law also allows NGOs to conduct either voter education or election observation, but not both. While the Electoral Law stipulates that election observers shall monitor the electoral process, the NEB finally released its election observation guidelines on February 29, three months after voter registration commenced and weeks after the conclusion of candidate registration. This came too late for some NGO monitors, and others did not even request permission to observe, due to a lack of confidence in the process. Still others, like EHRCO, simply didn’t receive an NEB response. In the end, the NEB approved 11 domestic NGOs as observers.

There were again reports that local officials used threats of land redistribution and withholding of food aid and fertilizer to garner support for the ruling coalition. There were many reports of ruling-party or government harassment intended to prevent individuals from joining opposition parties, registering their candidacies for elected office, or renting property. There were numerous reports of intimidation and violence directed against opposition party members and supporters, primarily in the months before the local and by-elections, including threats, beatings, arrests, and killings.

Registered political parties must receive permission from regional governments to open and occupy local offices. There were, however, widespread reports of opposition parties closing offices due to intimidation and coercion by local officials. A common tactic reported was to intimidate landlords into evicting their political party tenants. For example, ONC had only two remaining offices, down from more than 100 in 2005, and AEUP had only 25 offices, down from 280 in 2005.

On October 12, Bekele Girma, AEUP political organizer, left AEUP’s head office in Addis Ababa to open an office in Dilla town in the SNNPR. Despite possessing an NEB letter requesting every regional government to assist the bearer in opening a political office, Dilla town police chief Obsa Hundessa detained Bekele and refused to allow an AEUP office. Bekele was released in November.

Authorities often disrupted or unlawfully banned opposition party meetings. For instance, authorities banned as illegal a preplanned March 29 UEDF rally in a local constituency.

There were reports that authorities told opposition members to renounce their party membership and vote for EPRDF if they wanted access to fertilizer, agricultural services, food relief, continued employment, and other benefits controlled by the government.

There were reports of closed voter registration stations in pro-opposition rural areas and of prospective voters advised to return the following day after walking two or more miles. Opposition candidates also reported registration office closures and fraudulent dropping of opposition names from NEB candidate registration lists.

There were numerous reports of intimidation, harassment, abuse, and detention of opposition candidates and their supporters, particulary in the months leading up to the April elections. For example, in early April the OPC assembled a list of 189 willing candidates for zonal and district seats and sent a party officer to deliver it from Nekempt to the OPC chairman in Addis Ababa. Regional police stopped the bus he was riding on, confiscated the candidate list, detained each individual named on the list, and held most until after candidate registration closed.

On February 3, OPC member Terefe Tolossa, was assisting candidate registration in Bekke town, Oromiya Region. Police detained him for five days without charge and without trialat the Bekke police station, where he suffered leg and back injuries from their beatings. After his release, police and local militia rearrested him on February 14 at his home and again released him on February 23 without trial. He was rearrested twice more, on March 7 and March 9, never charged, and eventually released.

In February ruling party cadres detained an opposition candidate seven times in the 15 days after he registered as a district candidate in Western Oromiya. They alternately threatened to fire him from his teaching job, relocate him to a rural site, and kill him and his children.

On March 9, police and local officials beat federal parliamentarian Gutu Mulisa while he campaigned for the UEDF in Elfeta District, Oromiya Region. Gutu filed a complaint with Elfeta District Police. At year’s end the case was pending.

On March 24, police and plainclothes officers stopped Bilisuma Shuge, a resident of Bole Sub-City, Addis Ababa, at gunpoint on his way home from playing sports and beat him severely as a suspected CUD supporter.

There were credible reports that teachers and other government workers had their employment terminated if they belonged to opposition political parties. According to opposition groups OFDM and ONC, the Oromiya regional government continued to dismiss their members–particularly teachers–from their jobs. [Continued on next page]

13 comments on “U.S. Department of States Human Rights report on Ethiopia

  1. Good report by the U.S. State Department.

    The only problem is that U.S. government needs to stop supporting these thugs and criminals from inflicting so much pain and suffering on 77 million Ethiopians.

    Secretary of State Clinton — what are you going to do about these abuses? Actions speak louder than words.

  2. I believe Meles is worse than what is reported here. I do not judge people by their looks, but in Meles’s case, he looks and acts like the devil. Instead of living in the palace this heartless, evil personified man that has killed countless innocent people needs to live in the psychiatric ward.

  3. Acheferew on

    Ay Amaricanoch , echi min alat , abayin bechilifa ende malet new, ye woyane gif , teworito , tetsifo yemiyalik ayidelem , reportu lay yekerebew ende ene gimit woyane kemiseraw gif 1% enkuwan yemihon ayidelem,

  4. Solomon on

    The US government every year makes such reports of abuses of human rights in Ethiopia. I am not even clear why such kind of reports are required as they have never influenced the decisions of the US government about its relationship with the reportedly abusive government of Ethiopia. The whole purpose appears to be similar to the sympolic act of PONTIUS PILATE WHEN HE WASHES HIS HAND AFTER SIGNING THE CRUCIFICTION OF JESUS. The US only want to show that it has disclosed the unlawful, dictatorial, and abusive acts of the Ethiopian government. That is all.

    The US government works hand in glove with such governments but at the same time wants to posture as a defender of human rights.

  5. In the most ironic display of hypocrisy, the US state department requests the 2009 budget to include funding Ethiopia’s despotic dictator to a tune of $472 million. The summary overview concludes “The FY 2009 budget reflects a substantial increase in Governing Justly and Democratically activities including rule of law, political competition and consensus-building as well as civil society programs that are needed to build institutional capacity and facilitate restructuring of political processes to help prepare for national elections in 2010.”

    This means, In less than 2 short months since requesting this aid, the same state department is now forced to show this stinging report and admit they have been subsidizing genocidal thugs with US taxpayer’s money. Now the US must be forced to recognize its utter failure in its policy towards Ethiopia by supporting human right violators at the expense of democratic system for the last 18 years. In light of this acknowledgement the US has no choice but change its stance and support the opposition political group by forcing the current regime in accepting internationally recognized democratic openness for the national election next year.

    Long Live Ethiopia

  6. O’ My God!!! This is really incriminating. I hope and pray that Hillary and Obama will have the chance to read this report. In the era of ‘Yes We can’, this is not a type of a friend we want to be seen with. I also hope that all these alleged killings, disappearances and beatings are factual and well backed by credible witnesses. Africa!!! Cry O’ My Beloved Country!!!! I am saddened by this and depressed. It looks that the country is run by ruthless shadowy mob. If so, then it is too late. Just look at Nigeria and Kenya. Just look at them!!!

  7. Aba Jaffar on

    The friends of the USA should be ashamed, though lie or falsified the truth. They covered what has hapened in Ethiopia in reality and still hapening today. The state dept did not mention the genocide, murder and crime against humanity that have been published by amnesty, Human Right Watch.

    Shame on you USA, We shall never trust you.

  8. Assta B. Gettu on

    The U.S. Department of States Human Rights report on Ethiopia is meticulously exclusive, purposely misleading, and intentionally limited to certain human rights violations in Ethiopia.

    It is understandable, however, a person cannot fully investigate his own family for the crime the family has committed, if he does, his family will condemn him for doing so and expel him from his family roots. In the same way, Meles Seitanawi (Zenawi) and his wife Azeb Mesfin are considered by all standards families of the U.S. Department of States, so they are excluded from being investigated by their own family – the State Department Human Rights – for the slaughters of hundreds of innocent Ethiopians in various times, and for such merciless killings, the U.S. Department of States Human Rights has refrained from making Meles Seitanawi and his wife Azeb responsible.

    Most of us already know the many abuses that are being committed every day in Ethiopia – abuses such as denying Ethiopian children perishable food donated by responsible organizations, the untimely deaths of the Ethiopian girls in the Arab world, the sell of Ethiopian children for sex and money, the deaths of prisoners in the hands of the prison guards, the disappearances of Ethiopian prisoners, and the arbitrary killings of innocent Ethiopian civilians.

    However, I would like to see the U.S. department of States Human Rights implicate Meles and his wife in all the abuses committed in Ethiopia. It is these two individuals who brought all these untold atrocities against the Ethiopian people.

    Only these two, these two only – Meles and Azeb – must be persecuted on the evidences the U.S. Department of States Human Rights has just outlined even though it has failed to mention their names as bunch of criminals.

    When someone tries to find the main causes of the abuses committed in Ethiopia, one can easily conclude that it is the millions and millions of money that Meles receives from Washington that has created all these abuses. If Washington suddenly stops giving so much money to Meles Seitanawi, most of the abuses in Ethiopia will gradually disappear.

    It is ironic that the U. S. Department of States Human Rights is concerned about the abuses of human rights in Ethiopia, and at the same time supporting this ruthless dictator – Meles Seitanawi to run the country, using terror, intimidation, and arbitrary killings.

    It is true, historically, America has been very friendly to dictators, such as Fulgencio Batista of Cuba, Duvalier of Haiti, the Shah of Iran, Ferdinand Marcus of Philippine, and Augusto Pinochet of Chile. So, it is unimaginable for U.S. Department of States Human Rights to do a good job on human rights abuses committed in Ethiopia by one of Washington’s friend – Meles Seitanawi.

  9. Eritrawi on

    HYPOCRITICAL!!! That’s what this report is, for my Ethiopian brothers and sisters, administrations change in the US, with them the tactics may change but the objective stays the same, HELP THE US PUPPET AT ALL COSTS. What the Ethiopian people in the diaspora think doesn’t matter to them, all they care about is US interests. Now is the time to wake up, join in the sturggle for true freedom, support all the armed Ethiopian opposition groups, urge them to form a firm united front to save Ethiopia from perpetual slavery to wesern powers. Peace, prosperity and democracy will not come from outside, they are the result of hard struggle only gained by the people themselves.

  10. Mesfin on

    I sincerely believe that Ethiopian Review’s take on this issue is misguided. I do not believe Woyane responded to the State Department’s report. What Woyane responded is to its own inability to block to opposition propaganda. Woyane’s dollar reserves are its historic low, and it is compelled to cut on its expenses. Its expenses to jamm Ginbot 7 radio has become unbearable. As a result it has stopped its jamming. If it cannot jamm the main opposition radio that reaches the rural areas, the army and its security forces, then why should Woyane block web sites that are written in English and reach a very small minority of the elite? Hence Woyane’s decision resulted if it cannot stop opposition radio, it might as well free web sites and get support from the West. As Ethiopians we should be in the look out to see our good accomplishments and give credit where it is due, rather than giving it to the West, which works hand in glove with the ethnic dictatorship. Hence all of us should sustain the pressure by giving more support to Ginbot 7 Radio, by sending news and articles, poetry, and of course money.

  11. Jegnaw Kesheger on

    We who reside in Ethiopia are not facinated by the content of this message because these are those to which the department got evidences. Extrajudicial killings are rampant here and we all know that it is only a matter of time for these kinds of killings to reveal themselves and the killer to face the court. Though we are pleased with the content of this comprehensive report and we appreciate the effort of the state department, we still look forward to hearing for many other hidden murders commited by the government. It is as i said a matter of time.

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