Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. He can be reached on [email protected]
Amnesty International on Thursday asked the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali to immediately end the “arbitrary detentions of Tigrayans, activists and journalists in Addis Ababa and reveal the whereabouts of unaccounted detainees.”
The international human rights organization asserted that police in Addis Ababa have arbitrarily arrested and detained dozens of Tigrayans without due process, following the recapture on June 28 of the Tigray region’s capital, Mekelle, by forces from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that also calls itself Tigray Defence Forces (TDF).
Amnesty International said the arrests “appear to be ethnically motivated”, with former detainees, witnesses and lawyers describing how police checked identity documents before arresting people and taking them to detention centers.
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It said during its investigation, it remotely interviewed 14 people in Addis Ababa, including former detainees, eyewitnesses to arrests, and relatives and lawyers of those still in detention.
“Following the withdrawal of the Ethiopian National Defense Force from parts of Tigray and the announcement of a unilateral ceasefire by the Federal government on 28 June, for the last two weeks Tigrayans in Addis Ababa have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Former detainees told us that police stations are filled with people speaking Tigrinya, and that authorities had conducted sweeping mass arrests of Tigrayans,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa. “Amnesty International urges the Ethiopian government to end this wave of arbitrary arrests, and to ensure that all detainees are either promptly charged with internationally recognized crimes and given fair trials, or immediately and unconditionally released. The government must also inform families of the whereabouts of those detained and ensure that they have access to lawyers and their relatives.”
The human rights group said while some people have been released on bail, approximately hundreds of others remain in detention, and their whereabouts unknown, noting that it is not aware of any internationally recognizable criminal charges against those still in detention who were arrested in these cases documented by the organization.
“Ethiopian law requires police to present detainees in court within 48 hours of arrest to review the grounds for arrest. Promptly bringing detainees before a judicial authority is an important safeguard against torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance,”Amnesty International said.
Activists and journalists targeted
According to Amnesty International, the government of Abiy Ahmed Ali has also targeted journalists and activists.
For instance, Tsegaze’ab Kidanu, a Tigrayan living in Addis Ababa, who has been coordinating humanitarian assistance for people affected by the conflict in Tigray, and who is also a volunteer managing media relations for an association called Mahbere Kidus Yared Zeorthodox Tewahido Tigray, was arrested on July 1, a day before his association released a statement on the human rights situation in Tigray.
Tsegaze’ab’s family and lawyer visited him at the Federal Police Remand Center on July 2 and July 3, but when they returned on July 4, he was not there. According to Tsegaze’ab’s lawyer, they later heard from another detainee that he had been taken to Awash Arba. His lawyer was also never informed of charges brought against Tsegaze’ab.
The lawyer also shared with Amnesty International the names of 24 Tigrayans who were arrested from various neighbourhoods of Addis Ababa, including 22 Mazoria and Tekle Haimanot, between June 30 and July 8. The lawyer told Amnesty International that one detainee, released on bail on 5 July, was charged of having ‘links with TPLF (the Tigray People’s Liberation Front)’ which is designated as a terrorist group by the Ethiopian government.
Journalists and media workers who have been reporting on the situation in Tigray have also been detained without due process. On June 30, police arrested 11 journalists and media workers for Awlo Media and Ethio Forum, You Tube based media who have been covering the conflict and the human rights situation in Tigray, along with their lawyer. A lawyer and family members interviewed by Amnesty International said that they were able to visit the detainees on 1 July, but since 2 July their whereabouts are unknown and they also have no information whether the detainees have been charged with any crime or not. A relative of one detainee said:
“On Friday [July 2], the police told us that they released them early in the morning around 6 pm. But none of them came to their house or called us. When we asked them repeatedly, the police said, we[police] don’t know where they are, don’t ever come again’. We have been looking for them since then.”
“Ethiopian authorities must reveal the whereabouts of detainees to their families and lawyers. Not disclosing the fate or whereabouts of detainees is committing the crime of enforced disappearance. Authorities must also ensure that all detainees are protected against torture and other ill-treatment.” said Deprose Muchena.
U.S. warns human rights abusers will be punished
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Washington DC on Monday that the Biden administration is investigating whether the killings in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, in the past eight months, constituted crimes against humanity, war crimes or genocide.
Asked whether the killings in Tigray, Ethiopia, and those of the Rohingya people in Myanmar constituted crimes against humanity, genocide, or war crimes, Blinken responded, “Look, both reviews are ongoing. We’re bringing together the facts, the legal assessments, and both are being very actively considered.”
Blinken took questions from reporters after making remarks on the release of the 2021 Congressional Report Pursuant to the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act.
Quoting Elie Wiesel who said the opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference, Blinken asserted that the report released on Monday “represents a stand against indifference and a commitment to do more to prevent and respond to atrocities, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.”
Early this year, Blinken said Ethiopian and Eritrean troops as well as militia allied to them targeted people in Tigray based on their ethnicity, a development that would constitute a genocide.
The United States does not do business with countries and leaders that engage in genocidal acts.
Although it is not clear who is conducting the investigation or making the assessment, the determination that genocide took place in Tigray would require prosecutions and more actions from the United States and the international community.
U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary for Conflict and Stabilization Operations Robert Faucher speaking on the release of the 2021 Congressional Report Pursuant to the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act, said the report “draws attention to the heinous acts of sexual violence and gross human rights violations that have been reported in Tigray, Ethiopia, including indiscriminate attacks on civilians, medical personnel, and humanitarian workers.”
“In terms of the situation in Tigray and what we – what’s represented in the report, the report goes through May of this year, and there have been developments since May in Tigray and among – with the election and various other things that have occurred. We are still very concerned about the situation there. We’re calling for all parties to respect the ceasefire,” Faucher said. “We’re calling for full humanitarian access into that region. It is very concerning to see what’s going on for the people there.”
He added: “We are also asking for full cooperation with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the UN Human Rights Council – their investigations into the allegations that are being made about what is going on there. And at the same time, we want the Eritrean forces to withdraw and the full scope of the situation to basically be brought down several notches.”
Secretary Blinken noted that the report was released just a day after the 26th anniversary of the genocide at Srebenica when more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim boys and men were slaughtered.
“The American people join the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina in solemn remembrance of those victims and in solidarity with their families. We’re reminded of how important it is to do all we can to prevent atrocities like this from ever occurring,” Blinken said.
America’s top diplomat added that the Biden administration opposes repression everywhere, including in Cuba, where tens of thousands of people took to the streets on the island to exercise their rights to assemble peacefully and express their views.
The protesters called for freedom and human rights and criticized Cuba’s authoritarian regime for failing to meet people’s most basic needs, including food and medicine. In many instances, peaceful protesters were met with repression and violence.
“The Biden-Harris administration stands by the Cuban people and people around the world who demand their human rights and who expect governments to listen to and serve them rather than try to silence them. Peaceful protesters are not criminals, and we join partners across the hemisphere and around the world in urging the Cuban regime to respect the rights of the Cuban people to determine their own future, something they have been denied for far too long,” Blinken said.
Biden administration says “the world is watching”
On Wednesday, the United States reminded those committing violent human rights abuses in Ethiopia’s Tigray region that “the world is watching.”
The United States Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power made the comment when she delivered remarks at the 2021 International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington D.C.
“In places where religious and ethnic minorities are specifically targeted––like today in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and in the case of Rohingya Muslims in Burma––the United States is driving diplomatic outreach to push reconciliation, to promote human rights, and to promote respect for pluralism while using our renewed engagement on the Human Rights Council to remind those responsible that the world is watching,” she said.
Power asserted that “heinous abuses of religious freedom and broader human rights are reflected in the horrific account of repression, violence, and genocide” in many places in the world, including in China, Myanmar and Ethiopia.
She said human rights and religious freedoms were in decline in the world, warning that the impact was a decline in democratic values, education and economic growth.
She also argued that dictatorial regimes are using “the very technologies that were once lauded for their potential to protect human rights—from satellite imagery to mobile video capture to the internet itself to undermine those rights and restrict religious freedom.”
Power has been vocal about human rights abuses taking place in Ethiopia under the leadership of Abiy Ahmed Ali, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has pursued war and deaths rather than peace and stability.
A day earlier on Tuesday, she urged the international community, especially donors, to continue to press hard to prevent famine in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and hold human rights abusers to account.
Power made the call when she met virtually with Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Partnerships of the European Commission, to discuss follow up from the June 15, 2021 U.S.-European Union Summit.
Administrator Power and Commissioner Urpilainen “agreed to continue to work together, and with other donor partners, to press for unhindered humanitarian access to prevent widespread famine and to promote accountability for the human rights violations, abuses, and atrocities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia,” USAID spokesperson Rebecca Chalif said.
More broadly, Power and Urpilainen spoke about working together on the COVID-19 response and recovery; and on promoting democracy and fighting corruption, including by supporting countries announcing commitments at the upcoming Summit for Democracy.
The latest meeting followed a minister-level convening of bilateral donor partners hosted by Administrator Power on June 9, 2021 and a high-level event on June 10, co-hosted by USAID and the European Commission where an agreement was reached to call on the Government of Ethiopia and all parties involved to end hostilities.