The UN Committee Against Torture alarmed by severe human rights violations in Ethiopia
The human rights situation in Ethiopia is in decline. Despite the State party’s assurances that a wide range of criminal code provisions and other laws ensure that the country’s international and domestic obligations under the Convention Against Torture are met, in practice these legal provisions have no effect.
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
In its state report to the recent CAT review, Ethiopia implies that the relevant legislation on torture is thorough and sufficient. However, the implementation of this legislation is far from satisfactory. The number of incidents of torture that have been investigated or prosecuted is negligible. Torture occurs both in well-known and covert detention. It is regularly used in federal prisons and police stations. The prisons are overcrowded and the serving conditions are degrading for the detainees. The state party does not deny the existence of torture in the country, but non-state reports have provided the committee with information about significantly more cases of torture than admitted by Ethiopia. In sum, the way the Ethiopian government deals with these accusations is simply not credible.
In its concluding remarks, the Committee against Torture points out 27 topics as subjects of concern and makes recommendations to the state party in the following areas: definition of torture, its widespread use, impunity for the authorities, anti-terrorism measures as false pretence for torture, abductions, human trafficking and other areas of the failures of implementing the existing laws. Read the full CAT report on Ethiopia here.
Fundamental freedoms in Ethiopia are severely limited. The government generally refuses to permit demonstrations or protests of a larger scale. Such forms of opposition are, if they occur, forcefully dispersed and participants do get arrested in large numbers and are often brutally treated in detention. CAT's concluding report also addresses the increase in restrictions on NGOs working in the field of human rights and the administration of justice.
Paragraph 34 of the report reads: The Committee expresses serious concern about reliable information on the negative impact of Proclamation No. 621/2009 for the Registration of Charities and Societies, which bars foreign NGOs and those which receive more than 10 percent of their funds from foreign sources from working on human rights and the administration of justice (article 14), on the capacity of local human rights NGOs to facilitate prison visits and to provide legal aid and other assistance or rehabilitation to victims of torture and ill-treatment. The Committee notes with concern that local human rights NGOs previously active in those areas, including the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, the Ethiopian Bar Association and the Rehabilitation Centre for Victims of Torture in Ethiopia, are no longer fully operational (arts. 2, 11, 13 and 16). The Committee calls on the State party to acknowledge the crucial role of NGOs in preventing, documenting and assisting victims of torture and ill-treatment, consider lifting the funding restrictions on local human rights NGOs, unblock any frozen assets of those NGOs, and ensure their freedom from harassment and intimidation, with a view to enabling them to play a meaningful role in the implementation of the Convention in the State party, thereby assisting the State party in fulfilling its obligations under the Convention.
CAT’s concluding remarks also draw particular attention to the use of torture against human rights defenders, people who pass criticism on the government or are engaged in peaceful protests. Such individuals are often regarded as terrorists and the Ethiopian government uses the pretext of them being a hazard to national security to silence the opposition. In its concluding observations the Committee states: “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever can be invoked as a justification for torture”. The Committee further recommends that Ethiopia strengthens its cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms and permits visits of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.