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.