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Masreja Justice Center
The Masreja Justice Center is a non-governmental, no-profit organization dedicated to ensure accountability for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in Ethiopia by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other persons acting in an official capacity. The Center is an independent, non-partisan organization that has no affiliation with any political party. The Center is committed to the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other internationally recognized human rights and humanitarian instruments. It believes that impunity is an impediment to the establishment of a stable democracy and is committed to the right of all victims of human rights abuses to justice and public recognition.
Masreja’s Mission is to collect information, to document material evidence and to mobilize potential witnesses in order to file criminal charges in Europe, the US, Canada and elsewhere against the perpetrators of atrocities and human rights violations in Ethiopia. Through its programs of research, documentation, publications and public outreach, the Center hopes to create foundation to hold perpetrators legally accountable for the genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes that have been committed in Ethiopia.
Masreja’s Website Wanted List will include senior civilian government officials and executives, senior and junior military commanders of military units and Special Forces, both senior and junior functionaries and operatives of security and police at the Federal, Regional, Zonal, and Woreda levels. The list will include all individuals who have planned, authorized and directly executed the orders of their superiors and engaged in extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and abduction, forced disappearances of journalists, political dissidents, human rights activists, and ordinary citizens.
The crimes allegedly perpetrated by individuals in the list include cross-border operations such as abductions and assassinations carried out in Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, Djibouti, and Yemen by the security operatives of the TPLF/EPRDF regime.
Definitions According to International Criminal Court (ICC)
According to the Rome Statute, “genocide” means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group:
- killing members of the group;
- causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Crimes Against Humanity
“Crimes against humanity” include any of the following acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack:
- deportation or forcible transfer of population;
- rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilization, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity;
- persecution against an identifiable group on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious or gender grounds;
- enforced disappearance of persons;
- the crime of apartheid;
- other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious bodily or mental injury.
“War crimes” include grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and other serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict and in conflicts “not of an international character” listed in the Rome Statute, when they are committed as part of a plan or policy or on a large scale. These prohibited acts include:
- mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
- taking of hostages;
- intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population;
- intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historical monuments or hospitals;
- rape, sexual slavery, forced pregnancy or any other form of sexual violence;
- conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into armed forces or groups or using them to participate actively in hostilities.
War Crimes, Crimes against Humanity, and Genocide in Ethiopia
In December 2003, in Gambella, Ethiopia, 424 individuals died in extrajudicial killings by security forces loyal to the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF.) The evidence of widespread crimes against humanity and war crimes in Ethiopia is fully documented, substantial and overwhelming. An official Inquiry Commission report that was authorized by the TPLF regime in 2007 documented the extrajudicial killing of 193 persons, the wounding of 763 and the arbitrary detention of nearly 30,000 persons in the post-2005 election period in Ethiopia. There are at least 237 individuals identified and implicated in these crimes.
In the Ogaden, reprisal “executions of 150 individuals” and 37 others were documented by Human Rights Watch in 2008. The report charged that “Ethiopian military personnel who ordered or participated in attacks on civilians should be held responsible for war crimes. Senior military and civilian officials who knew or should have known of such crimes but took no action may be criminally liable as a matter of command responsibility. The widespread and apparently systematic nature of the attacks on villages throughout Somali Region is strong evidence that the killings, torture, rape, and forced displacement are also crimes against humanity for which the Ethiopian government bears ultimate responsibility.”
Human Rights Violations, State Terrorism, and Torture under the TPLF regime in Ethiopia
The prosecution of political opponents for “treason” and “terrorism” in Ethiopia is a legal persecution of political opponents in a kangaroo court. As several U.S. State Department human rights reports have documented, Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism “law” is merely a convenient mechanism for “politically motivated trials and convictions of opposition figures, activists, journalists, and bloggers, as well as increased restrictions on print media.” In a country that lacks judicial independence and where judges are instructed to make legal determinations, no conviction and imposition of the death penalty could stand fair and independent legal scrutiny.
Proclamation 652 has been widely condemned and criticized by all the major international human rights organization. Human Rights Watch states that the law provides “an extremely broad and ambiguous definition of terrorism that could be used to criminalize non-violent political dissent and various other activities that should not be deemed as terrorism.” The U.S. State Department expressed its disapproval of the “extremely harsh and politicized use of Ethiopia’s anti-terrorism law” in persecuting political opponents.
Convention against Torture
The right to be free from government-sponsored torture is a fundamental and universal right recognized under the highest principles and conventions of international law. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has been signed (by “accession”) by Ethiopia (March 14, 1994). Article 1 defines torture as “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession… [And] … when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
Torture and ill-treatment are widespread in Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch has documented incidents of torture and ill-treatment by Ethiopian security forces in a range of settings. “Torture and ill-treatment have been used by Ethiopia’s police, military, and other members of the security forces to punish a spectrum of perceived dissenters, including university students, members of the political opposition, and alleged supporters of insurgent groups, as well as alleged terrorist suspects. The frequency, ubiquity, and patterns of abuse by agents of the central and state governments demonstrate systematic mistreatment involving commanding officers, not random activity by rogue soldiers and police officers. In several cases documented by Human Rights Watch, military commanders participated personally in torture.”
Torture techniques and methods used by the TPLF/EPRDF regime in Ethiopia
“Repeated and severe beatings with sticks, electric cables, rifle butts, iron bars, or other hard instruments is the most frequent method of abuse. Occasionally, police and soldiers resort to other methods, such as immersing victims’ heads in water; beating and kicking victims while they hang bound upside down; tying bottles filled with water to testicles; and forcing detainees to run or crawl barefoot over sharp gravel for several hours at a time. Some victims have suffered serious permanent injury; a few have been tortured to death… Although Ethiopia has criminal code provisions and other laws available to enforce its international and domestic obligations, they are seldom enforced. Very few incidents of torture have been investigated promptly and impartially, much less prosecuted.”
“One [police officer] hit me on the back of my head with a long black stick and blindfolded me. They took me to their office. These were interrogators…. They slapped me on the cheeks repeatedly…. But these interrogators are not in a position to listen to what I tell them. They beat me again with the black stick and slapped me again. I stayed in that room until midnight. I was exhausted. They took me back to the cell and then took another guy. On the second day of interrogations—the beating was worse. What they want is a confession.”
—Journalist held in Maekelawi in mid-2011, Nairobi, April 2012
In the heart of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, near a hotel and an Orthodox Christian cathedral, lays one of the country’s most notorious police stations, the Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector, commonly known as Maekelawi. Many of Ethiopia’s political prisoners—opposition politicians, journalists, protest organizers, alleged supporters of ethnic insurgencies , and many others—are first taken to Maekelawi (meaning “central” in Amharic), after being arrested. There they are interrogated and many at Maekelawi suffer all manner of abuses, including torture.
Police investigators at Maekelawi use coercive methods on detainees amounting to torture or other ill-treatment to extract confessions, statements, and other information. Detainees are often denied access to lawyers and family members. Depending on their compliance with the demands of investigators, detainees are punished or rewarded with denial or access to water, food, light, and other basic needs.
This report documents human rights abuses, unlawful investigation tactics, and detention conditions in Maekelawi between 2010 and 2013. For the report Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 35 former detainees of Maekelawi and their family members. Although Human Rights Watch was not able to visit Maekelawi, preventing first-hand observation of conditions and interviews with current detainees, researchers cross-checked information provided by former detainees, who were identified through various channels and interviewed individually.
Allegations of arbitrary detention, torture, and other ill-treatment at the hands of Ethiopian police and other security forces are not new. Since the disputed 2005 elections, the Ethiopian government has intensified restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly, deploying a range of measures to clamp down on dissent. These include arresting and detaining political opposition figures, journalists, and other independent voices, and implementing laws that outlaw independent human rights monitoring and severely restrict press freedom.
Since 2009 a new law, the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, has become a particularly potent instrument to restrict free speech. The law’s provision undermine basic legal safeguards against prolonged pre-charge detention and unfair trials. In this context, Maekelawi has become an important site for the detention and investigation of some of the most politically sensitive cases. Many detainees accused of offenses under the law—including some of Ethiopia’s most prominent political prisoners—have been detained in the Maekelawi facility as their cases were investigated or prepared for trial.
Maekelawi has four primary detention blocks, each with a nickname, and the conditions differ significantly among them. Several former detainees described to Human Rights Watch how they were transferred from one block to another in the course of their investigation, with treatment and conditions of detention linked to cooperation with the investigators. Conditions are particularly harsh in the detention blocks known by detainees as “Chalama Bet” (dark house in Amharic) and “Tawla Bet” (wooden house). In Chalama Bet detainees have limited access to daylight, to a toilet, and are on occasion in solitary confinement. In Tawla Bet access to the courtyard is restricted and the cells were infested with fleas. Short of release, most yearn to transfer to the block known as “Sheraton,” dubbed for the international hotel, where the authorities allow greater movement and access to lawyers and relatives.
Maekelawi officials, primarily police investigators, have tortured and ill-treated detainees by various methods. Detainees described to Human Rights Watch being repeatedly slapped, kicked, punched, and beaten with sticks and gun butts. Some reported being forced into painful stress positions, such as being hung by their wrists from the ceiling or being made to stand with their hands tied above their heads for several hours at a time, often while being beaten. Detainees also face prolonged handcuffing in their cells—in one case over five continuous months—and frequent verbal threats during interrogations. Some endured prolonged solitary confinement, which can amount to torture.
Detainees also described dire conditions of detention, including inadequate food, severe restrictions on access to daylight, poor sanitary conditions, and limited medical treatment. Conditions are particularly harsh during initial investigations.
The coercive methods, exacerbated by the poor detention conditions, are used by the authorities at Maekelawi to maximize pressure on detainees to extract statements, confessions, and other information—whether accurate or not—to implicate them and others in alleged criminal activity. These statements and confessions are in turn sometimes used to coerce individuals to support the government once released, or as evidence against them at trial.
Former detainees and their relatives told Human Rights Watch that they were routinely denied access to legal counsel and family members during the initial weeks of their custody. Some were held incommunicado throughout months of detention. The absence of a lawyer during interrogations increases the likelihood of abuse, hinders any documentation of ill-treatment and torture by investigators, and limits chances of obtaining redress before the courts. In this way police investigators at Maekelawi obstruct basic national and international legal safeguards protecting persons in custody such as those regulating arrest and detention and protection from the use of forced confessions as evidence at trial.
Detainees have limited channels for redress. Ethiopia’s courts do not demonstrate independence in political cases. Courts that have received allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees at Maekelawi have on occasion failed to take adequate steps to address the allegations. Several former detainees told Human Rights Watch they kept silent about their treatment in court, fearing reprisals from investigators. Others said they had never appeared before a court.
Human rights monitoring of all detention locations in Ethiopia, including Maekelawi, by government agencies is limited and independent monitoring of any kind is insufficient. Representatives from the government-affiliated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and other officials have visited Maekelawi and have raised some concerns about detention conditions in private and public communications. However, former detainees told Human Rights Watch that commission representatives were accompanied by Maekelawi officials, and the visits have not resulted in concrete improvements in their situation.
Over the past decade Human Rights Watch and other domestic and international human rights organizations have documented patterns of serious human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and detention, ill-treatment, and torture in many official and unofficial detention facilities throughout Ethiopia. The government has invariably dismissed these findings or conducted investigations that lack credibility.
US State Department Annual Human Rights Report 2013
Ethiopia is a federal republic. The ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of four ethnically based parties, controls the government. In September 2012, following the death of former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, parliament elected Hailemariam Desalegn as prime minister. In national parliamentary elections in 2010, the EPRDF and affiliated parties won 545 of 547 seats to remain in power for a fourth consecutive five-year term. Although the relatively few international officials allowed to observe the elections concluded that technical aspects of the vote were handled competently, some also noted that an environment conducive to free and fair elections was not in place prior to the election. Authorities generally maintained control over the security forces, although Somali Region Special Police and local militias sometimes acted independently. Security forces committed human rights abuses.
The most significant human rights problems included: restrictions on freedom of expression and association accomplished by arrests, arbitrary detention, politically motivated trials, harassment, and intimidation of opposition members and journalists, as well as continued restrictions on print media. On August 8, during Eid al-Fitr celebrations, security forces temporarily detained more than one thousand persons in Addis Ababa. The government continued restrictions on activities of civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) imposed by the Charities and Societies Proclamation (the CSO law).
Other human rights problems included extrajudicial killings; allegations of torture, beating, abuse, and inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees by security forces; reports of harsh and, at times, life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; a weak, overburdened judiciary subject to political influence; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, including illegal searches; allegations of abuses in the implementation of the government’s “villagization” program; restrictions on academic freedom; restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and movement; interference in religious affairs; limits on citizens’ ability to change their government; police, administrative, and judicial corruption; violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children; female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities; clashes between ethnic minorities; discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation and against persons with HIV/AIDS; limits on worker rights; forced labor; and child labor, including forced child labor.
Impunity was a problem. The government, with some reported exceptions, usually did not take steps to prosecute or otherwise punish officials who committed abuses other than corruption.