Friday, July 19, 2024
NewsGov’t security forces implicated in widespread ‘crimes against liberty’

Gov’t security forces implicated in widespread ‘crimes against liberty’

Commission urges for independent body to investigate

A first-of-its-kind report compiled by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) implicates federal and regional security forces in widespread constitutional breaches across the country over the last few years.

The 130-page ‘National Inquiry into Persons Deprived of Liberty’ report delves into major incidents from all over the country, dedicating major chapters to the protracted conflicts in Oromia, Amhara, and Tigray.

The Commission conducted public hearings in several parts of the country, with participants including victims, their families, and regional officials, including attorney generals, to prepare the report.

Instances of major liberty deprivation took place mainly during periods of a state of emergency, during clashes between armed groups and government forces, and in illegal detention centers. The detention of family members and torture as a method of extracting confessions relating to the activities of armed groups is also common, according to the report.

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“The National Inquiry investigated the patterns of human rights violations associated with deprivation of liberty in four regions, including the use of public hearings in four cities, namely Adama, Bahir Dar, Jigjiga and Hawassa,” stated Rakeb Messele, deputy head of the Commission. “National inquiry is one of the most effective strategies available to human rights institutions for investigating and drawing attention to pressing human rights issues.

A total of 365 persons participated in the private and public hearings of whom nearly one third were victims and witnesses.  The public hearings also involved civil society organizations, academics, and the general public.

Several institutions, including the legislature, courts, Ministry of Justice or justice bureaus (attorney generals), police commissions, and prison commissions that are responsible for the implementation of the right to liberty and the rights of persons deprived of liberty, have become barriers to the implementation of the liberty rights, according to the report.

“The major barrier has been violence resulting from attacks of organized armed groups and state responses. In addition, torture and other ill-treatments, detention of family members, detention for federal crimes in state prisons, corruption of law enforcement agents, lack of accountability, and lack of effective remedy and reparation are systemic problems and are barriers to the enjoyment of the right to liberty and the rights of persons deprived of liberty,” reads the report.

It accuses the government of committing two major constitutional breaches, among others. The first is the suspension of non-derogable rights.

“The prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment cannot be suspended (i.e., nonderogable) even during a state of emergency according to the Constitution and international human rights treaties ratified by Ethiopia. In practice, however, victims testified that they were subjected to torture and other ill-treatment,” reads the report. “The federal Constitution does not expressly permit suspension of civil rights such as the right to liberty and the rights of persons deprived of liberty. This provision of the Constitution empowers the Council of Ministers to suspend political and democratic rights, not civil rights.”

The second is the detention of federal crimes in regional prisons, which it says is illegal and overrides juridical accountability. The report claims the federal government is holding people in regional prisons, where they cannot appear in court as regions have no jurisdiction over federal cases.

“The federal courts have jurisdiction over federal crimes such as crimes against the state and crimes against the financial interests of the federal government. Federal law enforcement agents have arrested and detained individuals suspected of committing federal crimes such as the crime of terrorism in regional prisons or detention centers. This is called yeadera eser in Amharic,” reads the report.

“Regional law enforcement agents held those detainees in custody on behalf of or in trust of the federal law enforcement agents. Regional law enforcement agents did not bring those detainees before state courts. Unfortunately, federal law enforcement agents also failed to follow up and bring those detainees before courts, who usually end up forgotten in detention. Most of the detentions for federal crimes in regional prisons were unlawful because federal or regional law enforcement agents did not bring the detainees before the courts within 48 hours,” it reads.

The report accuses law enforcement officers of internationally detaining the family members of suspects or fugitives to force them to surrender or appear before the police. It says the arbitrary and unlawful practice is conducted in a systematic manner across the country.

Public hearings revealed that law enforcement officers have arrested and detained people for personal gain, usually to obtain bribes, according to the report. Some people are subject to torture under police custody.

Government officials generally acknowledge unethical practices among segments of law enforcement, and have taken some measures, including prosecution and disciplinary measures, against perpetrators. But they do not indicate whether the victims had any say in the prosecution of the perpetrators, or whether they had received any compensation for the violations.

Evidence indicates that victims or their representatives do not make meaningful efforts to sue the perpetrators of human rights violations while law enforcement officers retaliate against victims who seek to hold them accountable, according to the report.

The lack of an independent institution that investigates cases against law enforcement agents is one of the barriers to accountability for human rights violations.

“Everyone has the right to effective remedy as guaranteed in the Constitution and international human rights treaties ratified by Ethiopia. Ethiopia has the obligation to take legislative, judicial, financial and other measures to implement the right to effective remedy,” states the report.

But, according to the report, officials, heads of prison facilities, and attorney generals of regional governments have denied the crimes.

The report recommended formation of an independent institution to investigate the acts of government security forces.

“Legislative measures should be taken to address the accountability deficit in law enforcement agents. These include laws establishing an independent institution at federal and regional level for civilian oversight of law enforcement agents. Alternatively, the new law may assign such functions to existing institutions,” reads the report.

It urges legislators to incorporate the Committee Against Torture’s definition of torture in the criminal code, and calls on federal and regional police commissions to investigate allegations of torture.

“Federal and regional prosecutors should prosecute perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment,” it reads.

Ending the practice of arbitrary and unlawful detentions both at federal and regional governments, ensuring suspects are brought before their respective court of jurisdictions, eradicating corruption and unethical behaviors in law enforcement, ensuring accountability of law enforcement agents and providing effective remedy and reparation are among the report’s recommendations.

“The recommendations, many of which were echoed at the public hearings themselves, are equally applicable to the criminal justice sector nationwide, and require the government, both federal and regional, to take a combination of legislative, administrative, judicial, financial, educational, and other measures,” said Rakeb.

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