Death of an autocrat: What comes next for Ethiopia?

The death of Meles Zenawi, under whom Ethiopia made strides despite repression, highlights the need for strong democratic institutions to maintain stability.
By Kenneth Roth

Tens of thousands of mourners gathered ins Addis Ababa to pay their respects to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, who died on August 20. (Carl De Souza / AFP / Getty Images / August 30, 2012)

August 31, 2012 (LA Times) – Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, who died last week after a long illness, liked to portray his country’s leadership as collective. But there was never any doubt about who was in charge.

As dictators go, he had much going for him. Stunningly smart, strategic, practical, he cared about his country and, by all appearances, resisted the kind of graft and corruption that has plagued many African nations. During his rule, Ethiopia’s economy expanded significantly, and he played an important role in the wider region.

But Meles’ death points up the limitations of autocratic rule. Because he failed to establish the rule of law and set up strong democratic institutions, Ethiopia is likely to face a period of uncertainty, and possibly one of serious upheaval. The odds of finding another strongman of comparable skill are remote.

I had two lengthy meetings with Meles before he took ill. In neither case did I mince words about the increasing severity of his repression: the thousands of political prisoners, the widespread torture, the counterinsurgency atrocities, the suppression of independent journalists and nongovernmental groups. He seemed to enjoy the opportunity to spar, as if tired of the sycophants surrounding him.

During the first meeting, in his office in Addis Ababa, he was accompanied by a single aide who left halfway through the meeting. At the second, during a conference in Munich, he summoned me to his hotel suite while his aides waited outside. Meles was not one to need help managing difficult subjects.

When I fired questions at him, he answered quickly and decisively, never conceding a point but always remaining calm:

Why was he blocking foreign funding for civil-society groups? Because they should rely on domestic support the way his student group did during his university days, and besides, the activists were just looking to get rich.

Why did he accept massive international aid to the government but refuse to allow international aid to Ethiopian nongovernmental groups? Because the government could stand up to foreign manipulation while private organizations wouldn’t be able to.

If Meles wasn’t corrupt in the traditional sense — no fancy cars, Swiss bank accounts or foreign villas — he did have ways of rewarding the faithful. As a detailed on-site Human Rights Watch investigation showed, the ruling party tended to steer donor-supplied benefits such as seeds and fertilizer to party supporters while punishing opponents by withholding services. Meles told me he opposed this manipulation, but he refused to announce his opposition publicly so local officials could hear it. “We have other ways to communicate,” he told me, but his government didn’t stop the practice.

International donors were complicit in this sleight of hand. U.S. officials and their European counterparts dismissed or ignored what they didn’t want to see. They prized the “stability” that Meles promised. He helped to negotiate peace in Sudan and sent peacekeepers, aided counter-terrorism efforts in Somalia and, though ruthlessly, kept the lid on Ethiopia’s multiethnic society.

So rather than send investigators to the field the way Human Rights Watch did, Western donors commissioned a “desk study,” which concluded from a distance that donor safeguards were sufficient to prevent such manipulation from happening, so it must not have occurred. Aid continued to flow without reprimand.

Donor nations found Ethiopia attractive because, even if the aid was used as a political weapon, it was delivered to at least some people in need. Moreover, highlighting Meles’ repression might undermine support at home for large aid budgets, so the donor agencies kept quiet.

Even Meles’ economic success wasn’t without its troubling aspects. Another Human Rights Watch study found that, in the name of development, the government forced some 70,000 farmers and pastoralists off their land into under-serviced villages while agribusiness investors waited in the wings. Local protests might have yielded fairer treatment of the displaced, but government repression made that impossible.

One problem with investing in an autocrat is the lack of a Plan B. The fate of Africa’s second-most populous country, more ethnically divided than ever before, with a crushed civil society and stillborn democratic aspirations, now rests with interim Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who served as deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs under Meles. He is expected to hold the reins until elections in 2015, but behind the scenes powerful figures will be jockeying for ascendancy. The new leadership may be tempted to employ even more brutal measures to suppress dissent, most recently, protests by Muslims. Without Meles’ smooth facade, Western donors will have a harder time ignoring that grim reality.

Better late than never; it is time for the international community to insist on respect for the basic rights that it never should have abandoned in the first place.

Kenneth Roth is executive director at Human Rights Watch. Follow him on Twitter: @KenRoth

Los Angeles Times

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Ethiopia must improve its human rights record to be a credible candidate for election to the Human Rights

Written statement to the 21st Session of the UN Human Rights Council (10 – 28 September 2012)

Summary

Amnesty InternationalAugust 30, 2012

Restrictions on freedom of expression and association in Ethiopia have severely limited Ethiopians’ ability to scrutinise the human rights situation in the country and to report or comment on government policy and practice, including its compliance with its international human rights obligations. These restrictions have created a context in which silence and impunity are the norm in response to human rights violations. In this context, human rights violations including torture, arbitrary detention and forced evictions are widespread but seriously under-reported, accountability for perpetrators of violations is rare and victims of violations are deprived of assistance.

The resolution establishing the Council stipulates that its members must uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. As a candidate for membership of the Human Rights Council, Ethiopia must take immediate steps to address serious human rights concerns in the country. Amnesty International urges Ethiopia to submit concrete, credible and measurable pledges to address concerns expressed in this statement and to improve its contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights at the national and international levels.

Restrictions on freedom of association

Amnesty International has repeatedly expressed serious concern about the content and impact of the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation (hereafter the CSP) which places excessive restrictions on human rights work in Ethiopia. The law, along with associated implementing directives, inter alia, denies human rights organisations access to essential funding, endows a governmental Charities and Societies Agency with broad powers to intervene in and impede the work of human rights organisations, places onerous restrictions on domestic fundraising activities, further endangers victims of human rights violations by contravening principles of confidentiality, and, through its impact on human rights organisations, denies victims access to assistance and redress. The law therefore has the effect of restricting the promotion and protection of the rights of all Ethiopians.

The law has had a devastating impact on human rights organisations in Ethiopia. A number have changed their mandate and no longer work on human rights. Those organisations that continue to work on human rights have significantly scaled back their operations, closed offices and laid off staff.

The far-reaching consequences of the CSP are that there are now almost no domestic human rights organisations functioning to monitor and document human rights violations, to conduct human rights advocacy, to conduct prison visits or election monitoring (both of which areas of work are restricted under the law), or to carry out other work vital to safeguarding the rights of Ethiopians.

The law enforcement agencies are themselves regularly accused of human rights violations. The judiciary is severely lacking in independence. In this context, the impact of the CSP on human rights organisations means that human rights violations go largely unmonitored, unreported and un-remedied.

Restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression

Manifestations of curtailment of freedom of expression include severe restrictions on the independent media, which has been systematically targeted over many years, with journalists and editors harassed, arrested and prosecuted on criminal charges. Among other things, this situation has severely hampered the media’s ability to criticise the government and to report or comment on human rights concerns in the country, particularly on the government’s human rights record. While members of the independent media have long been targeted for prosecution, in 2011 and 2012 the pretext of counter-terrorism has particularly been used to silence dissenting voices in the media.

During 2011 and 2012, over 100 journalists and political opposition members were arrested and prosecuted on charges of terrorism and other offences, including treason, for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association. The actions that were the basis for such charges and prosecutions included writing articles critical of the government, calling for peaceful protest and reporting on peaceful protests.

The Awramba Times, one of the few remaining independent media publications, was forced to shut down and its editor forced to flee the country in November 2011 after threats of arrest. In 2012, the newspaper Feteh, perhaps the only remaining independent publication, had its 20 July edition impounded by the authorities, and its editor was subsequently charged with crimes including ‘provocation and preparation’ to incite the youth to overthrow the government and ‘attacks against the state’ through defaming the government.

During July and August 2012 there were hundreds of arrests of Muslims involved in a movement protesting against alleged governmental restrictions on freedom of religion. While many of those arrested were subsequently released, many key figures of the movement remain in detention. These include members of a committee selected by the Muslim community to represent their concerns to the government and at least one journalist. They are being investigated under the Anti Terrorism Proclamation.

Torture and violations of pre-trial safeguards

Amnesty International regularly receives information about the use of torture in pre-trial and arbitrary detention in Ethiopia. Particularly notorious is the Maikelawi Federal Police detention centre in Addis Ababa, where political detainees, including the journalists, opposition members and Muslim activists referred to above, are held and subjected to pre-trial interrogation. In several recent cases, journalists and opposition members have complained in court about being tortured. In each case the court failed to order an investigation into the allegations of torture in Maikelawi. No independent national or international human rights organisation or the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has access to monitor detention facilities in Ethiopia.

Detainees in Ethiopia are regularly denied access to legal representatives and family members, particularly in the initial stages of detention. This increases the risk that those individuals will be subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment. The use of unofficial and un-gazetted places of detention is also frequently reported, which similarly increases the risk that detainees will be subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment.

Arbitrary detention, particularly of actual or suspected political opponents, is reported to take place on a wide scale throughout Ethiopia. Disappearances of some arrested persons are reported.

Previous recommendations of UN human rights bodies

The CSP has been repeatedly criticised by various UN human rights bodies. The Human Rights Committee (HRC), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Committee against Torture (CAT), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) have all recommended that the CSP be amended or repealed. During the consideration of Ethiopia under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in December 2009, numerous states expressed concern at the restrictions placed on civil society by the CSP, and some explicitly recommended that the law be amended. Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Netherlands

Many concerns were expressed during the UPR examination about restrictions on freedom of expression including on the independent media, and numerous related recommendations were made. The recommendations on upholding civil and political rights — including by guaranteeing freedom of expression and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention for political reasons — that enjoyed the government’s express support have yet to be implemented.

The HRC and the CAT have both expressed concerns about the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and called for it to be brought into line with the government’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

The HRC, CAT and CEDAW have all expressed serious concern about the use of torture and regular violations of the rights of detainees in Ethiopia. They made recommendations to the government of Ethiopia to address those concerns.

Recommendations

A strong and vibrant human rights civil society, including a strong independent media, is essential to the realisation of the rights contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the fulfilment of Ethiopia’s human rights obligations under international law. General Assembly resolution 60/251, which establishes the UN Human Rights Council, requires that members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.

As a candidate for election to the Council, Amnesty International therefore urges the government of Ethiopia to act without delay to:

  • amend the Charities and Societies Proclamation to allow human rights organisations to contribute widely and constructively to the respect of human rights in Ethiopia;
  • remove restrictions on freedom of the press in order that journalistic reporting and debate can contribute constructively to the furtherance of human rights protection in the country;
  • respect and protect the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association and peaceful assembly for all Ethiopians;
  • amend the Anti Terrorism Proclamation to remove restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly;
  • release all prisoners imprisoned for their peaceful criticism of or opposition to the government.

Amnesty International further urges the government of Ethiopia to prioritise the following much-needed steps to ensure safeguards against torture and respect for the rights of detainees:

  • allow independent human rights organisations and the ICRC immediate access to all detention facilities in the country;
  • ensure investigations take place into all allegations of torture;
  • ensure that unofficial places of detention are never used in Ethiopia; and
  • ensure that all procedural rights of detainees are respected at all stages of detention and trial.

Amnesty International

Ethiopia: Changing Climate Adaptation Strategies Of Boran Pastoralists In Southern Ethiopia

By M. Hurst, N. Jensen, S.H. Pedersen, A. Sharma, J.A. Zambriski, 2012

Indigenous Peoples Issues and Resources | August 30, 2012

Abstract

Boran pastoralist

This report contains information on a rapid field assessment of Boran pastoralists of southern Ethiopia to: (1) gauge local communities’ perceptions of the need for local climate change adaptation strategies and their degree of satisfaction with existing interventions; (2) identify emerging climate risk adaptation strategies; and (3) evaluate how existing and new strategies including efforts by non-governmental organizations and the Ethiopian government might complement or be compromised by index-based livestock insurance (IBLI). Researchers found that the Boran perceive changes in the frequency and intensity of drought conditions over the last several decades. The Boran also recognize the need to adapt to these shifts, and along with the government and NGOs who work in the region, are undertaking a number of climate change adaptation strategies. Some of these traditional and new responses to drought are likely to interact with the potential implementation of IBLI in both complementary and conflicting ways. Still, there are significant opportunities for IBLI to reduce exposure to risk while supporting existing veterinary services and rangeland management.

Introduction

The Horn of Africa is currently experiencing a drought that is projected by organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank to be the worst in the region in nearly six decades. Over the last decade, drought has recurred in southern Ethiopia more frequently and for longer periods than documented previously. The region’s changing climate has resulted in diminished quantity and quality of local water and forage resources, thereby severely and negatively impacting the region’s livestock and the nomadic pastoralists, such as the Boran, who depend on these animals for livelihoods and subsistence. Lower than average rainfall in 1999-2005 (Conway and Schipper, 2010) and again in 2011 have caused mass die-offs of livestock, and have forced Boran pastoralists to adopt new coping mechanisms to manage increased risks associated with the region’s changing climate. Although new coping strategies may enable the Boran to better adapt to new or more severe climate-related events, stress and hardship for Boran pastoralists are likely to continue, or even increase, as climate scientists project increasingly frequent and severe drought events in the Borana region of southern Ethiopia (Ellis and Gavin, 1994).

Full Document

Ethiopia: What Might Desalegn’s Premiership Bring?

Supported by the US but less popular with the TPLF, it is unclear if Ethiopia under Hailemariam Desalegn will see a continuation of Meles-style governance.

Hailemariam Desalegn at the World Economic Forum on Africa in 2011. Photograph by World Economic Forum/Matthew Jordaan.

Aug 29, 2012 (Think Africa Press) – Ethiopia is moving into an uncertain new era. With the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who had ruled the country since 1991, the country is moving into the realm of the unknown with regards to politics and leadership, and internal divisions within the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – the main part of Ethiopia’s ruling coalition the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) – are already revealing themselves.

Hailemariam Desalegn, the relatively unknown deputy prime minister, has taken over the reins of power in the interim. The United States is reportedly advising the TPLF to support the premiership of Desalegn, a Wolayta from southern Ethiopia, but it is believed that some TPLF loyalists would prefer the leadership to remain in the hands of a Tigrayan.

US-Ethiopia relations

Under Meles, Ethiopia and the US have enjoyed a close relationship. Ethiopia is a key strategic ally in the US’ ‘War on Terror’ and one the largest recipients of US aid, receiving $6.2 billion in US government assistance between 2000 and 2011.

This marriage of convenience benefited both parties, but with questions increasingly being asked, the US may not be able to approach Ethiopian politics in quite the same way after Meles. In the last few years of his reign, the once untouchable PM witnessed intensifying scrutiny from human rights organisations, growing opposition, and a critical diaspora media getting better at countering TPLF propaganda. There was also growing acknowledgement that Meles was repressive and undemocratic amongst once admiring Western media, and after his death many major networks described him as a dictator.

Many leading Western politicians and economists ignored the dark side of Meles’ rule, allowing themselves to be mesmerised by his mastery of economics and intellect, but this is unlikely to be the case under Meles’ successor. How US policy towards a post-Meles Ethiopia might change remains to be seen, but there may be some indications in the US’ actions over the past days.

After Meles’ death, the US pushed for Hailemariam Desalegn to take over the reins of power. President Barack Obama called Desalegn personally, and urged him to assert himself and promote “development, democracy, human rights, and regional security”.

Desalegn’s ethnicity is significant and attractive to the US as he is neither Amhara nor a Tigrayan, two ethnic groups that have a history of rivalry in Ethiopia. The fact that Desalegn is Wolayta, a somewhat marginalised group on the periphery of Ethiopian society, is perceived to be an asset that could give Desalegn broader legitimacy, insulate him from criticism, and allow him to present himself as an underdog protected from the historical baggage of the Amhara and Tigrayans.

Having another Tigrayan at the head of Ethiopian politics could contribute to instability and endanger security in the region including Somalia, which convened its new parliament on the same day as Meles’ death. Many see the appointment of Desalegn as a solution to growing opposition at a fragile time.

Reception from within

Although now holding the role of interim prime minister, Desalegn appears to be little more than a figurehead. Ethiopian political analyst Jawar Mohammed described Desalegn’s appointment as mostly symbolic and believes Desalegn is a puppet. Meanwhile Berhanu Nega, mayor of Addis Ababa and former political prisoner, dismissed him as a political novice and compared his role with that of Dmitry Medvedev as president of Russia under Vladmir Putin. In the case of Ethiopia, Putin is a group of TPLF power brokers who operate in the shadows. These influential political actors have mostly shown reluctance at the idea of Desalegn as the new prime minister.

The rank and file in the TPLF object to losing the premiership to a non-Tigrayan and many back Azeb Mesfin, Meles’s wife, to rise to premiership in due course. Seyoum Mesfin, a TPLF veteran, former foreign minister and current ambassador to China is, however, reportedly the main power behind the scenes. Under pressure from the US, he may have accepted Desalegn as a figurehead premier but is finding it difficult to sell this to the Tigrayans within the ruling party.

Desalegn, who studied Water Engineering in Finland, was apparently well liked by Meles, but was never part of the guerrilla movement that brought Meles to power and, as a non-Tigrayan, may have difficulty gaining the loyalty of the military which largely rests in the hands of Tigrayans. Although he was acceptable as Meles’s deputy, the TPLF who control the military power, security systems and state companies may view passing the premiership to a non-Tigrayan as risky.

With all these complex dynamics to deal with, it is unclear to what extent Desalegn will be able to define an independent course, though it is perhaps telling that government communication minister has said that government policy will remain consistent under Desalegn.

Indeed, initial signals with regard to Ethiopia’s openness have not been encouraging. A few days after Meles’ death, Temesgen Desalegn (no relation of the new PM), editor of Feteh newspaper was imprisoned in a continuation of policy under Meles. Although he was released this week, there is little optimism for liberalisation or the reversal of the increasingly repressive tendencies of the TPLF.

Development, democracy and Desalegn

As it stands, there is a gulf between the rhetoric of US foreign policy espousing “development, democracy and human rights” and the reality on the ground. This is in part because rather than encouraging the building of lasting institutions, US policy makers have tended to cultivate paternalistic strongmen in the region. In an attempt to maintain stability in Ethiopia, the US may be once again over-relying on the leadership of a single individual.

From inside Ethiopia, what is perhaps needed is the establishment of a truly federal political system. Strong central authority by the regime in Addis Ababa has invariably come into conflict with the regions it has sought to dominate and repression has followed. Conflict in Ethiopia has in large part been caused by the state’s inability to move beyond notions of ethnic domination usually between Amharas and Tigrayans.

Federalism in a divided society like Ethiopia could work to balance and stabilise different communities and religious groups, facilitate reconstruction, and ensure the liberty of all. Whether Hailemariam Desalegn is the man for this job remains to be seen, and even if he is, his ability to affect Ethiopian political and social dynamics depends in large part on powerful actors within and outside the country.

Think Africa Press

Ethiopia: Army Commits Torture, Rape

Gambella Atrocities Follow Attack on Commercial Farm; New ‘Villagization’ Abuses

August 28, 2012

(Nairobi) – The Ethiopian military responded to an April 2012 attack on a large commercial farm in Gambella region with arbitrary arrests, rape, and other abuses against scores of local villagers. Forced displacement, inadequate resources, and other abuses against Gambella’s population persist in the second year of the government’s “villagization” program.

On April 28, 2012, unidentified armed men attacked the compound of Saudi Star Agricultural Development Plc., a company that has leased thousands of hectares of land for rice farming in Gambella region. The gunmen killed at least one Pakistani and four Ethiopian employees. Gambella residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that in the following days and weeks, Ethiopian soldiers went house to house looking for the gunmen in villages near the Saudi Star camp, arbitrarily arresting and beating young men and raping female relatives of suspects.

“The attack on Saudi Star was a criminal act but it does not justify reprisals against Gambella’s population,” said Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Ethiopian government should put an immediate end to abuses by the military in the region and investigate and prosecute soldiers found responsible for these heinous acts, regardless of rank.”

Human Rights Watch has previously reported on the Ethiopian government’s policy of “villagization” or resettlement of Gambella residents from their traditional lands to clear the way for the commercial farms. The government has used threats, intimidation, and violence against those who resist moving.

Hundreds of villagers from Abobo woreda (district) fled the military operation and crossed into neighboring South Sudan in the months since the attack on Saudi Star. In June Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 80 recent arrivals from Gambella in South Sudan.

Witnesses described to Human Rights Watch the military’s human rights abuses against people in the vicinity of Saudi Star. The day after the Saudi Star attack, Ethiopian soldiers shot and killed four of the company’s Anuak guards, accusing them of complicity in the attack. In April and May Ethiopian security forces entered the five villages closest to the Saudi Star compound in Abobo woreda, rounded up scores of young men and detained them in military barracks in Gambella. Many alleged that they were tortured.

One former detainee told Human Rights Watch: “They said we were to go into the bush and show them where the rebels are – with whom they claimed we had a relationship. They beat me after I said I didn’t know where the rebels are. After they beat me they took me to the barracks. I was in custody for three days. At night they took me out and asked me to show them where the rebels are. I said I don’t know. So they beat me and took off their sock and put it in my mouth to stop the screams.”

Human Rights Watch heard six accounts from women and girls of rape by soldiers either in their homes or in detention, when the soldiers could not find the male relatives they were seeking.

Numerous credible sources in Gambella believe the April attack is linked to the government’s villagization program and the leases of land. The attack followed a March 12 attack by armed men on a bus in Gambella in which 19 people were killed. It is not clear whether the two incidents are linked.

The gunmen who carried out the attacks have not publicly identified themselves or their motives, but one man interviewed by Human Rights Watch claimed to have been among the group who attacked the Saudi Star compound. He said that the April attack was in retaliation for the land leasing by Saudi Star and other foreign investors in Gambella region.

Most of the attackers were reportedly captured in May by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in Pochalla, South Sudan following a gun battle that left four of the attackers and two SPLA soldiers dead. Tensions have remained high in Gambella since.

“The military’s abusive response to the Saudi Star attack is only making an already turbulent situation in Gambella worse,” Lefkow said. “After what the people in the region have suffered at the government’s hands, the only thing that will begin to clear the air is a comprehensive and independent inquiry into the situation.”

Villagers who recently fled Gambella to South Sudan reported new abuses by the security forces under the villagization program. They reported a persistent lack of services in the sites to which they had been moved, despite government pledges to provide them. And existing villages from where people were moved are being destroyed to prevent people from returning to their original homes.

Human Rights Watch urged the Ethiopian government to stop the arbitrary arrests, beatings, and intimidation of Gambella residents and to release those who have been arbitrarily detained. The government should investigate and prosecute military personnel and officials implicated in human rights violations associated with the villagization process.

Many of those forcibly displaced by the villagization program are indigenous people. Under Ethiopian and international law the Ethiopian government needs to obtain the free, informed, and prior consent of indigenous people it wishes to move and compensate them for their loss of assets and land.

“The abuses we found in the government’s relocation program in Gambella a year ago are still happening today,” Lefkow said. “Whatever the government’s rationale for ‘villagization,’ it doesn’t justify beatings and torture.”

Details about arbitrary arrests, beatings, and torture; rape and sexual violence; and attacks and “villagization” in Gambella follow.

Arbitrary Arrests, Beatings, and Torture Between June 23 and June 29, Human Rights Watch conducted a research mission to Gorom refugee settlement, South Sudan, and interviewed 80 people who had fled the crackdown and villagization in Gambella.

Several dozen Gambella residents described to Human Rights Watch the Ethiopian military’s mass detention of scores of villagers, primarily young men, in Abobo woreda in late April and May, accusing the villagers of supporting what the soldiers referred to as “the rebels.”They said that men, women, and children were forced to march through the bush looking for so-called rebels and were beaten if they did not find any, or if they did not provide any names of suspects to the soldiers.

One man described being stopped by soldiers while carrying food, and then being forced to help them search for firearms in Perbong village near the Saudi Star farm. “The [soldiers] asked me ‘Where are you taking this food? To the rebels?’” he told Human Rights Watch. “They checked the food, told me to lie down, and beat me all over my back. [They said]: ‘We will take you to Perbong to check houses one by one. If we find a gun, we will kill you.’ So we went to the community leader’s house, my house, and others’ houses and they found nothing, so they released me.”

A dozen villagers said they were detained, then beaten and tortured in military barracks by soldiers until they revealed a name of an alleged rebel. Most victims described frequent beatings with sticks and rifle butts. Some also saw or experienced other forms of torture.

An 18-year-old named Omot told Human Rights Watch that in April he was arrested by soldiers in his home village and accused of being a rebel. He was taken with his arms tied behind his back to the military barracks in Pugnido where he was detained for two months. He said he was beaten daily on his back and legs with truncheons. After his release soldiers came to his home and threatened him again, causing him to flee to South Sudan.

A local police officer described being arrested by soldiers and accused of supporting the rebels. Soldiers detained him in Gambella’s military barracks where they tied him up and beat him repeatedly, often at the urging of a federal government security official who told them, “Beat him, he has something to say.” After his release the soldiers came to his home and beat him unconscious in front of his wife. His wife said the soldiers beat their four year old son in front of them. The family fled to South Sudan.

Ethiopian soldiers detained and tortured people in locations in addition to the military barracks. One witness said he was detained in a makeshift prison within a school in Chobo-Mender and witnessed soldiers torturing a young man by making him walk on hot coals. He told Human Rights Watch:“I saw a young guy who was forced to stand barefoot on fire coals for 15 minutes. Soldiers would push him back on whenever he would try to get off. He was blistered half way up his calves. ‘I am going to die,’ he would say. ‘Then show us where the rebels are,’ said the soldiers.”

Another local police officer described being beaten and tortured inside Saudi Star’s compound by Ethiopian soldiers shortly after the attack: “They said to us, ‘As people are being killed, yet you have not died, you must know who was behind this.’ So they took me to the Saudi Star farm and beat me there, inside the compound. There were many of us there: two police and others who had been picked up in the sweep. When they saw that I was not ready to talk, to say what they wanted me to say, they started removing my toenails. They were asking a lot of questions about the others who died: ‘Don’t you know who did the killing?’”

All youth appear to be at risk from the soldiers. An 18-year-old student at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia’s capital said that soldiers beat him and his friends when he returned to Gambella for a vacation shortly after the Saudi Star attacks. After showing his student ID card he was told by soldiers: “You are educated, you know all the political issues and things about governments so you are the ones encouraging the rebels.” They beat him unconscious.

Rape and Sexual Violence Ethiopian soldiers frequently arrested and abused the female family members of young men they were seeking. Three women and a girl told Human Rights Watch that soldiers arrested, detained, beat, and then raped them to pressure them to disclose their male relatives’ whereabouts. Two additional women said that they witnessed other women being raped in detention.

One woman said her husband had been arrested after the attacks because “the soldiers said he knew where the rebels were.” When she went to the prisons to try and find him, soldiers followed her back to her home and raped her, she said. Her husband’s whereabouts remain unknown.

Another woman described what happened after soldiers arrested her in Wancarmie and took her to the military barracks in Gambella: “One night they took me out of the cell and said, ‘Show us where your husband is or else we will rape you.’ I persisted saying that I didn’t know where he was. Then finally they raped me. After that they released me and I decided to leave the country.”

Attacks and “Villagization” in Gambella After the attack on the Saudi Star compound the Ethiopian military targeted five villages, all within a 16-kilometer radius of the area leased by the company. These villages had been affected by Ethiopia’s controversial “villagization” program, a three-year plan to relocate 225,000 people in Gambella – and over 1.5 million people across four states nationally – from their existing villages into new settlements purportedly to better provide them with basic services.

Human Rights Watch documented serious human rights violations associated with the first year of the villagization program in Gambella in 2011. The January 2012 report Waiting Here for Death”: Displacement and “Villagization” in Ethiopia’s Gambella Regiondescribed how the Ethiopian government and military forced reluctant villagers to leave their homes and build new villages in arid, infertile areas, often intimidating, arresting, and beating people who refused to move. The most abuses were recorded in Abobo woreda, the location of the Saudi Star concession.

Many of the recently arrived villagers in South Sudan interviewed by Human Rights Watch in June said they had fled Gambella because of abuses experienced in connection with the villagization program, as well as the recent military operations following the Saudi Star attack.

They described new abuses in the second year of the government’s villagization program, including forced displacement, arbitrary arrests, and torture in detention. The new settlements are located far from water sources and the land is typically dry and arid. More than a year after people were forced to move to these villages virtually none of the promised basic services such as schools and clinics have been provided. To prevent resettled villagers from returning to their original homes soldiers have allegedly been destroying infrastructure in the old locations.

All of the Gambella residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch and who fled to South Sudan told Human Rights Watch that their resettlement was involuntary.

A 17-year-old girl from Abobo woreda who had recently arrived in South Sudan said that soldiers killed her father when he refused to move from their farm near Tegne to the new village: “We were sitting at our farm and soldiers came up to us: ‘Do you accept to be relocated or not?’ ‘No.’ So they grabbed some of us. ‘Do you want to go now?’ ‘No.’ Then they shot my father and killed him. We all fled into the bush. I still do not know where my sister or husband is.”

Human Rights Watch found that regional and state government officials appear to have a role in the forcible relocation of villagers. The former committee head responsible for villagization in Gog woreda told Human Rights Watch: “I was told [by regional officials] to make the community aware of the need to move. All the responses from the people were rejections, they did not like it. We went back and did our report [to the regional parliament] that they did not want to go. Parliament blamed me and said, ‘Why do you tell us this? Go do it by force.’ [A senior state official] said this to me directly. We then went with the military and did it by force.”

Villagers who have been unwilling to move or refuse to mobilize others to do so have been arrested and mistreated by the soldiers. An elder from Batpul village said he was ordered by woreda officials to organize the villagers and persuade them to relocate. “There were many trees and food in the old place and nothing in the new place so I refused to get them to agree,” he said. “Government officials told me, ‘Since you do not accept what government says, we jail you.’” The elder was jailed in Abobo for 17 days. “They turned me upside down, tied my legs to a pole, and beat me every day for 17 days until I was released.”

Soldiers burned down tukuls (huts) and broke water pumps in the original villages as soon as villagers were moved to their new locations, the displaced villagers told Human Rights Watch.

One man from the Majangere ethnic group, who lived in Gooshini village in Godere woreda, described the forced relocation in his village: “Those that resisted the second time were forced by soldiers to roll around in the mud in a stagnant water pool then beaten.” He said he returned to his old village after dark for seven nights before deciding to flee to South Sudan. Each night he saw that more and more of his village’s farmland had been cleared by the bulldozers of an Ethiopian investor who had been awarded the land by the government.

Power vacuum fears engulf Ethiopia

Analysts warn stability in region depends on peaceful transition following death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

 

August 28, 2012 (Aljazeera) – The death of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has created fears of a ”power vacuum” in the Horn of Africa nation.

Analysts warn that stability in the region depends on a peaceful transition in Ethiopia.

In recent years Ethiopia which hosts the Head Quarters of the Africa Union has turned into a key player in regional security affairs – mediating conflicts and brokering landmark agreements.

Now, the death of Meles is considered a setback to Ethiopia’s rise within the African Union.

His death could also affect Ethiopia’s relations with Eritrea, still at odds a decade after border war killed tens of thousands of people.

Government officials insist Meles’s policies will continue to be followed.

Bereket Simon, the communication minister, said: “We will continue to play a very important integrational role in terms of social, economic, and political matters.”

However, for many Ethiopians the next president’s regional policy is only a secondary priority, after years of deep domestic problems, they insist that stability within the country should be their government’s first order of business.

Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow reports from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Al Jazeera

 

Ethiopian Ruling Party to Decide Meles’s Successor After Funeral

        By William Davison
Aug. 28 (Bloomberg) — Ethiopia’s ruling party will meet to select the next prime minister following the funeral of Meles Zenawi, who died on Aug. 20 after leading the country for 21 years.
Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn became acting prime minister after Meles died from an infection following an unspecified illness. His funeral is on Sept. 2.
The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front’s council will probably “legally endorse” Hailemariam as party chairman next month and then recommend him to parliament as prime minister, Seikoture Getachew, the foreign relations head of the party’s secretariat, said in an interview on Aug. 26 in the capital, Addis Ababa. The meeting date hasn’t been scheduled yet, he said.
Parliament, which has only one opposition representative out of 547 lawmakers, is on “stand-by” to swear in Meles’s successor after the nation finishes mourning, Communication Minister Bereket Simon said last week.
Ethiopia’s constitution does not cater for succession in the event of the death, incapacitation or instability of the prime minister, said Yohannes Woldegebriel, a lawyer who has written on the subject. The deputy prime minister is empowered to act on behalf of the prime minister in his absence and is accountable to the prime minister, according to the country’s 1994 constitution.
“Now that the prime minister is dead, the deputy prime minister can’t be accountable to the prime minister,” Yohannes said in an interview in the capital on Aug. 26.
The constitution makes no reference to an acting prime minister. While the constitutional question is “debatable,” in practice “there is no gap as the deputy prime minister is working in the position of the prime minister,” the EPRDF’s Seikoture said.

William Davison Bloomberg News Addis Ababa, Ethiopia