Sunday, September 3, 2017

MFP Report on Torture in Ethiopia: Revisited

Five years ago, Medicine For Peace released its report, “Cruelty and Denial: State Sponsored Torture in Ethiopia.” The Report was an analysis of the medical histories and forensic examinations of 102 Ethiopian citizens who had fled their country to seek asylum in the United States. All patients had been referred to the MFP Clinic with a credible history of having been tortured.

After analysis of the patient data, the MFP medical staff made the following conclusions:

·      Patients displayed physical and psychological evidence of having been subjected to a wide variety of torture methods including beating, suffocation, suspension, burning, and sexual assault, often repeatedly and to the point of unconsciousness.

·      The majority of patients were tortured as punishment for opposition to the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) or being a member of a human rights organization, not to obtain information.

·      Torture was widespread, systemic and committed through all levels of the Ethiopian penal system: Federal prisons, regional prisons, military camps, sub-city and local police stations in Addis Ababa and elsewhere in the country.

·      The arrests and the alleged torture described by our patients were entirely extrajudicial, with no charges being made, often resulting in long detentions, and prisoners denied access to counsel and the courts. The known perpetrators of torture remained unpunished.

Has the human rights situation in Ethiopia improved in the five years since the MFP Report?

There are a number of hopeful indications that it might have. Ethiopia became host to the African Union, and the United Nations General Assembly voted Ethiopia a non-permanent member of the Security Council. Further, Ethiopia has been a significant contributor to U.N. Peacekeeping Forces. Paradoxically, the Government of Ethiopia (GOE) continues to refuses to allow the U.N. Rapporteur on Torture, and other U.N. Special Rapporteurs, permission to enter Ethiopia to directly observe whether the GOE is complying with the U.N. Convention on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment.

Two Ethiopian laws further impede scrutiny of the GOE actions with respect to human rights. The 2009 “Anti-Terrorism Law” has been interpreted broadly by Ethiopian Security Forces and used to suppress any opposition to the EPRDF, including the arrest of journalists, political opponents, and denial of access to the internet and television. The 2009 “Charities and Societies Proclamation” severely limits the ability of Ethiopian organizations to promote human rights, to advocate for the oppressed, and to report to the outside world the abuses of the GOE.

Within the past two years, civil unrest has erupted in Ethiopia. Large scale anti-Government protests began first in the Oromia region beginning in November 2015, and then in Amhara and Konso regions in 2016. All reports indicate that largely peaceful demonstrations were put down brutally by the GOE military and police forces with at least 500 demonstrators killed. A state of emergency has been in effect since 2015, further curtailing civil rights, with reports of massive incarcerations and continued extrajudicial punishments including torture and sexual assaults.

The GOE response to ethnic disturbance in Oromia, Amhara, Gambelia and Somali have highlighted the generally deplorable human rights situation in Ethiopia. This has prompted the U.S. State Department to issue a scathing 2016 Country Report on Human Rights criticizing Ethiopian security forces’ use of excessive force and arbitrary arrest in response to the protests, and a  wide range of human rights abuses including the GOE’s use of arbitrary killings, disappearances, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, harsh and life threatening prison conditions, impunity for officials committing abuses, and other violations of citizen rights supposedly protected by the Ethiopian Constitution.

The GOE is the beneficiary of tens of millions of dollars of famine relief and development aid from the United States and Western Europe; in many instances, the aid has reinforced the EPRDF’s oppressive hold on the country. It is in the United States’ interest to take direct action to leverage the enormous amount of aid given to Ethiopia to force it to uphold and comply with the articles and principles of the Convention on Torture.

Data obtained from reports from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S. Department of State, and news articles

Monday, June 26, 2017

Stop Torture in Ethiopia- Close Maekelawi

Positional torture as practiced at Maekelawi prison.
Sketch by KorkutCanpolat.
In 2012, Medicine For Peace released a report entitled, “Cruelty and Denial: Medical evidence of State Sponsored Torture in Ethiopia”. The report was a detailed analysis of the alleged torture history, and the physical and psychological findings from forensic examination of 100 asylum seekers in the United States who presented credible evidence that they were tortured in Ethiopia

The study confirmed the growing body of evidence that torture was widespread, systemic and committed with impunity by Government of Ethiopia (GOE) officials, police, and the military to control opposition to the ruling EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front). The arrests and the alleged torture described by our patients were entirely extrajudicial, with no charges being made, often resulting in long detentions, and prisoners denied access to counsel and the courts. We found that torture was systemic and widespread in 43 facilities in 6 Federated regions including Federal prisons, a regional prison, military camps, sub-city and local police stations in Addis Ababa and elsewhere in the country.

            There is compelling evidence, including the 2016 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, that practices in violation of the U.N. Convention on Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment continue to be used by the GOE to punish political      dissenters, silence journalists, and to suppress fundamental rights and freedoms.

The most notorious of the torture sites in Ethiopia is at Maekelawi, the Ethiopian Federal Police Force Central Bureau of Criminal Investigation, in the heart of the capital, Addis Ababa. Maekelawi is fifty years old and was where atrocities took place during the former Marxist Deng regime, continue to this day, and has become a symbol of political oppression for most Ethiopians. There are reports that the prison is now overcrowded with political dissenters, journalists, and supporters of the ethnic insurgencies in Oromo and Ogaden.

 I present an all too familiar story one of our patients who survived incarceration at Maekelawi:

“Mr. RA is a thirty-year-old student who following participating in a student demonstration at Addis Ababa University, was arrested by five soldiers and brought to Maekelawi prison. He was put into a cell of about 200 square feet containing thirty prisoners. The room was malodorous, dark, freezing cold, with a concrete floor swarming with lice. He was fed foul bred and tea twice a day, was allowed to go to the bathroom once a day, otherwise all prisoners defecated and urinated in a bucket in the room.

During his four and half month incarceration he was brought to another room four times to be interrogated by two men. He was beaten with batons, kicked on the ground, stabbed in his left thigh with a bayonet, and a gun put to his head in mock execution. On one occasion, his hands were tied behind his back, he was blindfolded, and suspended from behind in a torturous position. He was then whipped with electrical wiring. He signed a confession but has no recollection of what the document said.”

As was the case with RA, torture in Ethiopia is generally used to punish and prevent opposition to the Government, not to obtain information.

Ethiopia is an important partner in the United States’ Global War on terrorism. It is strategically located as a Christian-led country between two radical Islamic neighbors, Sudan and Somalia. Ethiopia often plays the surrogate for the U.S. in preventing Somalia from being a safe haven for al-Qaeda and other militant jihadist groups. In 2011, a multi-million dollar U.S. drone base was made operational in Arba Minch in southern Ethiopia. The country is frequently draught-stricken and is a fragile state with respect to famine prevention. In total, the U.S. provided approximately $6.6 billion to Ethiopia in humanitarian in military aid in 2016.

The United States State Department is well-aware of the brutality that Ethiopia inflicts on its citizenry, but has taken a quiet, and generally ineffective, approach to change the character of the EPRDF regime. Nevertheless, the time for “quiet diplomacy” may be over with respect to the United States’ relationship with Ethiopia. Our strategic interests, as well as our human rights concerns in the Horn of Africa, may be better served by leveraging the huge amount of aid that we, and our donor partners, give to Ethiopia to force their compliance with the articles of the U. N. Convention on Torture that the GOE has agreed to. A more stable and humane Ethiopia is in the long range best interests of the United States.

Michael V. Viola
Director, MFP/Bon Sequors Clinic for Torture Victims, Baltimore, MD


Cruelty and Denial: Medical Evidence for State-Sponsored Torture in Ethiopia, Medicine For Peace Reports,2012

Ethiopia: Political Detainees Tortured, October 18, 2013, Human Rights Watch

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016- Ethiopia,