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,