Ethiopia

Yonas Mebrahtu and Dr Sam Ponniah (formerly University of Dire Dawa)

This chapter examines the law and practice of detention procedures, prosecution of torture perpetrators and ending impunity, and finally complaints and monitoring mechanisms. Extensive interviews were conducted with judges, prosecutors, lawyers, various NGOs, journalists, opposition political party members and survivors of torture in different parts of the country. Moreover, various reports from international and local NGOs were also analyzed.

The research has confirmed that, given the dictatorial nature of the Derg government in the 1980s and conflict and instability in the country, torture incidence was severe, frequent and widespread in the first five years of the study period. Impunity prevailed and Ethiopia was totally excluded from the international and regional human rights systems. Following the overthrow of the regime in 1991, however, the political and legal reforms declared by the transitional government of the EPRDF did not result in practical progress on torture. The conflict with dissident groups, ethnic tension and the purge of law enforcement organs in 1990s had a negative impact on human rights. Lack of professionalism among law enforcement organs, impunity and absence of monitoring and complaints mechanisms (both international and domestic) undermined the reforms. Torture remained severe and frequent, although less widespread than under the Derg.

In the 2000s, slight improvements registered in detention practice, particularly access to a court within 48 hours, which can be attributed to continuous training provided for law enforcement organs. Yet the effects of prosecution and complaints and monitoring mechanisms in torture prevention remained insignificant. The exclusion from international complaints and monitoring systems, coupled with the inefficiency of the national human rights institutions, thwarted the prevention process particularly when prisoners were politically affiliated.

The last five years of the study period revealed that torture remained severe and frequent though not geographically widespread, particularly in political and terrorist cases. Access to a lawyer, family notification and prompt access to court have been usually impractical. Yet marginal improvement exists in detention practice and complaints mechanisms for common crimes.

The incidence of torture has increased in frequency, severity and geographical coverage during major political episodes such as armed conflicts both internal and international, the 2005 national election and ethnic tensions.

Ethiopia. Photo: Andrew Heavens