Security forces in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, have targeted Tigrayans, including children and the elderly, with arbitrary arrests and mass detentions as part of an escalating crackdown, Amnesty International said today. Most detainees are being held without charge or access to a lawyer.
The arrests have intensified since the government declared a state of emergency 10 days ago as fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) took control of strategic towns in Amhara region some 400 km from Addis Ababa. Arrests are conducted through house-to-house searches by security forces with support from vigilante groups who check the IDs of people on the street. Detainees, including civil servants, Orthodox priests and a lawyer are being held in youth centres and other informal detention centres across Addis Ababa because police stations are overflowing.
“These mass arrests have instilled such a climate of fear that Tigrayans that Amnesty International has spoken to are scared they could be rounded up any time. Those currently locked up have not been charged or brought before a court and many have been targeted purely on the basis of their ethnicity,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Sothern Africa.
“The authorities must ensure that families are informed of the whereabouts and status of all detainees and that anyone deprived of their liberty has access to lawyers and family members without delay.”
The government declared a state of emergency on 2 November, which was adopted by parliament on 4 November. The state of emergency allows the authorities to arrest and detain anyone without a warrant if there is “reasonable suspicion” of cooperation with “terrorist groups”, and to detain them without judicial review for as long as the proclamation is in place, currently for six months. Some of the measures violate international human rights law, which prohibits arbitrary detention and discrimination in all circumstances.
Amnesty International has interviewed eight people – families, friends and lawyers of detainees – who have reported seeing hundreds of Tigrayans detained in six different locations. While it is currently impossible to establish the exact number of detainees, they number hundreds and potentially thousands.
A few family members and friends have had limited and irregular access to detainees. However, many have been denied access to a lawyer. Moreover, interviewees told Amnesty International that the police have transferred some of the detainees to places on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.
Two Tigrayan lawyers interviewed by Amnesty International said that they were expecting a knock at the door at any time by security forces, and had their bags packed with a spare set of clothes.
Since the conflict started by the federal government forces last year November, thousands of people have been killed and more than 2 million forced from their homes. Parties to the conflict have been responsible for war crimes and horrific human rights abuses including widespread rape and sexual violence and massacres of unarmed civilians. [Amnesty International]
Ethiopia’s conflict-torn Tigray region is under “systematic blockade”, the World Health Organization (WHO) director-general has said, warning that people were starving to death and dying from lack of access to medicine.
“People are dying because of lack of supplies,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, himself from Ethiopia’s northern embattled region, told reporters on Friday in Geneva.
The UN health agency, Dr.Tedros said, “cannot send supplies and medicines to Tigray because it’s under blockade, and the blockade is systematic”.
Lawyers say arbitrary detentions of ethnic Tigrayans have surged since then, with the new measures allowing the authorities to hold anyone suspected of supporting “terrorist groups” without a warrant. Law enforcement officials describe such detentions as part of legitimate operations against the TPLF, which has been designated a “terrorist” group by the government.
Ethiopia’s government has denied targeting Tigrayans based on their ethnicity. “There is no systematic arrest … because of your profile,” Redwan Hussein, state minister for foreign affairs, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday.
“Since the state of emergency actually set up by the government, people are vigilant so citizens are watching out in their neighbourhoods and each other for possible attacks. So people might inform the police if they see something unusual,” he said.
Some 22 UN staffers have been arrested in the raids that rights groups say target ethnic Tigrayans, and the UN has also sounded the alarm about 72 drivers contracted by the World Food Programme who have been arrested in Afar.[Aljazeera]