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Nov 07

Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa/HRLHA Reports Torture in Ethiopia

Urjii Nov.06, 2010

HRLHA’s Torture report was submitted to the 45th Session of the UN Committee Against Torture meeting from November 1-19, 2010 in Geneva Switzerland. The report over sited Torture  and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments against people in Oromia since 1991 the TPLF/EPRDF came in to power.

Follow the link to see other Torture Reports .

Read the full report

Submission from

Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA)

Committee Against Torture (CAT) on its 45th Session

(1 – 19 November, 2010, Geneva)

Related to the discussion of the country situation in Ethiopia,

Submitted in October 2010

Profile – HRLHA

The Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA) was originally founded in Ethiopia in 1996 by the name “Human Rights League (HRL)”; but silenced from the outset by the Country’s authoritarian regime. It was then re-launched from Diaspora in 2007 by exiled founders and members of HRL.  It was then re-named as Human Rights League of the Horn of Africa (HRLHA); and registered as a non- profit and non-political organization in Ontario, Canada on the 14th of June 2007.

HRLHA is aimed at defending fundamental human rights including freedoms of thought, expression and assembly or organization. It is also aimed at raising the awareness of individuals regarding their own basic human rights and that of others. It has intended to work on the observances of international and regional treaties, protocols, covenants, instruments, agreements, et cetera on human rights as well as due processes of related laws. It promotes the growth and development of free and vigorous civil societies.

The major objectives of HRLHA are to:

1. Endeavor to enlighten citizens of the Horn of Africa on their fundamental human rights;

2. Detect, monitor, investigate, verify and report on human rights violations;

3. Conduct researches on human rights issues with a view to disseminating their findings and/or conclusions, as well as making them available for further researches;

4. Promote the basic concepts and principles of human rights;

5. Lobby the governments of the Horn of Africa to ratify the basic international treaties on human rights;

6. Organize and offer trainings, workshops and seminars on the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms as well as other relevant issues;

7. Work closely with other humanitarian organizations, educational and media agencies especially regarding the promotion of the basic concepts and principles of human rights.

Physical Address:- 210-761 Jane Street, M6N 4B4

Toronto Ontario, Canada

Tel ; (647) 280 7062 or  (416) 767 8784

Fax;  (416) 767 7223


Web site:


Ethiopia has been a member of the United Nations since the UN adopted its charter in 1945. Three years later, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the international system aimed at facilitating the of protection of human rights, was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on the 10th of December, 1948. Yet, the General Assembly in its resolution didn’t include the formal binding force for the system. However, the UDHR remained an important document and reference on human rights and international relations. The binding documents were prepared simultaneously by experts and adopted as of 1948.

As most of you are well aware, there are ten human rights covenants/conventions adopted by the United Nations, among which seven are known with their additional optional protocols as the core international human rights instruments since 2006. Once a state has ratified or acceded those covenants/conventions, it assumes the obligation to submit initial and periodic reports to the relevant committee within one to two, and within two to five years respectively concerning the measures taken towards implementation. The government of Ethiopia’s failure starts here. As the UN human rights committee documents indicate, Ethiopia has a huge reporting deficit with a long delay or not reporting at all regarding the practicality of the human rights instruments it has ratified. One of the human rights instruments ratified by the Ethiopian Government but with no submission of initial and periodic reports is the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), adopted December 10, 1984. Ethiopia has been a signatory to this convention since 1994. However, it has failed to fulfill its obligation by not filing either the initial or periodic report for more than 14 years. This conscious silence of the Ethiopian Government for this all time was not without reasons. It was to hide from international attention the inhuman and degrading acts committed against ordinary citizens of the Country by its security agents in breach of those international treaties.

Today, nineteen years after the end of the military regime, we observe with concern the continuation of widespread human rights abuses, unnecessary use of force and brutality including torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of persons by the TPLF/EPRDF government security agents and police forces. Such situations have been affecting various sectors of the general population; particularly the relatively educated peoples, students, civil servants, advocates of democracy and human rights activists, supporters and/or members of opposition political organization who attempted to simply exercise their fundamental democratic rights. These all fundamental rights are recognized not only by international covenants that Ethiopia has ratified, but also in Ethiopia’s Constitution and other legal documents.

When the EPRDF/TPLF Government took power in 1991, there had been very high expectations from both local and international communities that there would be a drastic change in regards to human rights situations compared to the previous Dergue regime. Contrary to everyone’s expectations, human rights violations continued not only to occur but also to worsen from time to time. As has been being documented and reported by local, regional and international human rights organizations as well as some Western governmental agencies, political extra-judicial killings, kidnappings and disappearances, mass arrests  without court warrants and extended imprisonments without trials even in unofficial and secret prisons, tortures, very poor and torturous prison situations, denials and delaying of justice, etc became rampant. In addition to extra-judicial killings, many innocent Ethiopians became victims of tortures, a good case in point being that of Mrs. Qamariya Shabbo of Robe Town in Bale Zone, a then eight-month expecting mother who was arbitrarily arrested in exchange of her allegedly wanted husband and tortured to death. Her baby son, who was born immaturely due to the beatings inflicted on his mother, also died instantly. Although Mrs. Qamariya’s case was widely reported on both locally and international, no single EPRDF/TPLF official of any rank was made accountable. According to a local newspaper called URJII, EPRDF/TPLD security agents tortured Mrs. Qamariya in order to coerce her into confessing the whereabouts of her allegedly wanted husband.

A. Ethiopian Constitution and Other Documents about Corporal Punishment

In principle, torture as well as inhuman or cruel and degrading treatments and punishments have been banned by virtue of the laws of the State. The Criminal Procedure Code, the FDRE Constitution and the recently enacted criminal code prohibit the practice of any kind of corporal punishment.

I.The 1994 Constitution

The following declarations have been made under various sections in the Constitution:

Article 9 – Supremacy of the Constitution

All international agreements ratified by Ethiopia are integral parts of the laws of the land.

Article 28 – Crimes against Humanity

  1. Criminal liability of persons who commit crimes against humanity, so defined by international agreements ratified by Ethiopia and by other laws of Ethiopia, such as genocide, summary executions, forcible disappearances or torture shall not be barred by statute of limitation. Such offences may not be commuted by amnesty or pardon of the legislature or any other state organ.
  2. 2. In the case of persons convicted of any crime stated in sub-Article 1 of this Article and sentenced with the death penalty, the head of state may, without prejudice to the provisions herein above, commute the punishment to life imprisonment.

II. Criminal Code of May 2005

Article 270 – War Crimes against the Civilian Population

Whoever, in time of war, armed conflict or occupation organises, orders or engages in, against the civilian population and in violation of the rules of domestic and international laws and of international humanitarian conventions:

a)      killings, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments or any other acts involving dire suffering or bodily harm, or injury to mental or physical health

b)      is punishable with rigorous imprisonment from five years to twenty-five years, or, in more serious cases, with life imprisonment or death.

Article 271 – War Crimes against Wounded, Sick or Shipwrecked Persons or Medical Services

(1)   Whoever, in the circumstances defined above, organizes, orders or engages in:

(a)                killings, torture, withholding medical care and attention required by their condition or inhuman treatment or other acts entailing direct suffering or physical or mental injury to wounded, sick or shipwrecked persons, or to members of the medical or first aid service;

(b)   is punishable in accordance with Article 270

Article 272 – War Crimes against Prisoners and Interned Persons

Whoever, in the circumstances defined above: a) organizes, orders or engages in killings, acts of torture or inhuman treatment or acts entailing dire suffering or injury to prisoners of war or interned persons; punishable in accordance with Article 270.

Article 424 – Use of Improper Methods

1) Any public servant charged with the arrest, custody, supervision, escort or interrogation of a person who is under suspicion, under arrest, summoned to appear before a Court of justice, detained or serving a sentence, who, in the performance of his duties, improperly induces or gives a promise, threatens or treats the person concerned in an improper or brutal manner, or in a manner which is incompatible with human dignity or his office, especially by the use of blows, cruelty or physical or mental torture, be it to obtain a statement or a confession, or to any other similar end, or to make him give a testimony in a favorable manner, is punishable with simple imprisonment or fine, or, in serious cases, with rigorous imprisonment not exceeding ten years and fine. Nothing in this Article shall affect the concurrent application of the relevant provision where the act constitutes an additional crime.

(2) Where the crime is committed by the order of an official, such official shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment not exceeding fifteen years and fine.

III Criminal Procedures Code of 1961 (Proclamation No. 185, 2 November 1961

Article 31 – No inducement to-be offered

(1) No police officer or person in authority shall offer or use or make or cause to be offered, made or used any inducement, threat, promise or any other improper method to any person examined by the police

2) No police officer or other person shall prevent or discourage by whatever means any person from making or from requiring to be recorded in the course of the police investigation any statement relating to such investigation which he may be disposed to make of his own free will.

B. International Instrument

The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (10 December 1984), one of the international document that Ethiopia has ratified, under article 2 clearly states the absolute prohibition of torture, and requires parties to take effective measures to prevent it in any territory under its jurisdiction. Although this prohibition is absolute, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever”.

Despite these all facts, hundreds of thousands of civilian Ethiopians have been subjected to torture; and hundreds have fallen victims. The Ethiopian Government, by ignoring laws that it has enacted and international conventions that it has ratified, widely practices deliberate and well planned acts of torture that are causing losses of lives as well as extreme physical sufferings on non-consenting defenseless citizens.

Tortures and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishments practiced in Ethiopia

  • Credible domestic and international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as well as national and regional governmental agencies like the US state department and EU member countries, have witnessed, and in different ways at different times given their confirmations that the Ethiopian Government is one of the top  few countries who, in contrary to the UN convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, uses torture for the purpose of coercing its own citizens into confessions to obtaining information or a confession from her/him or a third person.

Summary of Torture Reports on Ethiopia

No Reported By Year Torture Victims Direct Death Resultant Death
1 URJII News Paper 1994 – 1997 184 95 89
2 HRLHA 2007 – 2010 345 6 8


-          Details could be offered on these figures, if need be.

-          Documents could not be obtained on situations between the years 1998 and 2006

-          The above data is obtained only from two sources, URJII News Paper and HRLHA

Some of the very common ways of the commission of tortures

  • Continuous and strenuous involuntary physical exercises.
  • Locking in in isolated, usually underground, dark rooms.
  • Suspending from the ceiling while handcuffed on the back.
  • And many others.
  • Sleep deprivation by forcing to stay in standing position for extended hours until the person faints and/or loses consciousness.
  • Forcing to walk barefooted on smashed bottle/glass pieces.
  • Prolonged solitary CONFINMENT and interrogation
  • Inserting needle in to fingers under the nails.
  • Extracting finger nails by pliers.
  • Electronic shock all over the body, especially on fingers, legs, buttock, and ears
  • Threatening at gun point by taking the person to top of a cliff and telling them that they would be thrown off.
  • Shaving hair dry with broken sharp glass/bottle or razor.
  • Forcing to drink or lick one’s own blood after causing to bleed by beating
  • Tying/Suspending water-filled bottle on testicles (males).
  • Inserting water bottle in to genitals (female).
  • Forcing to consume one’s own waste products. stool or drink own urine

Reasons for the Torture

  • Being a member and/or supporter of any opposition party.
  • Advocating freedom of speech and opinions as well as other fundamental human and democratic rights such as that of assembly and organization.

When and where torturing takes place

  • In Ethiopia, there are only few prison facilities known to the public. More than half of the total detainees in the country are kept in military camps, prison-turned public offices and/or institutions such as schools and health centres in rural areas, underground buildings, etc. Detainees held in such places are always at risk of being tortured or even killed any time,
  • Maikelawwi – the well known detention center is the center for the torture. In Maikelawi torturing usually take place after mid night after every detainee lies down to sleep.


§  The Ethiopian Government should respect Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 39/46 of 10 December 1984, which it ratified in 1994
  • The government of Ethiopia should respect what is written in the nation Constitution, in its penal code for all forms of torture, fully incorporating all elements of the definition
  • We recommend that the government of Ethiopia establish machinery for a systematic review of interrogation rules, methods and practices, particularly in police premises, in order to honor its commitments under article 11 of the   Convention.
  • We recommend that, while paying particular attention to the protection of the rights of persons arrested and detained, state party intensify the educational, training and information programmes provided for in article 10 of the Convention, for all concerned officials and other stakeholders.
  • We recommend that the Ethiopian authorities undertake and expedite serious investigations into the conducts of the police forces in order to establish the truth of the many allegations and/or f acts of torture and, if the results of the investigation are positive, bring the persons responsible before justice; and give the police
    specific and clear instructions designed to prohibit any act of torture.

    • We recommend that the government allowed a neutral human right committee to make random visits to jails, custodies, detention centers and any other places where the authorities keep detainees.
    • We recommend that the government of Ethiopia give full statistical information about the number of detainees from the 1991 until 2010 as well as the number of those killed under torture.
    • We recommend that the government of Ethiopia compensate those families who lost their relatives under torture or through excessive force used by the police or security agents
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