Oromo: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Ethiopia continued its transition from a unitary to a federal system of government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. According to international and local observers, the 2000 national elections generally were free and fair in most areas; however, serious election irregularities occurred in the Southern Region, particularly in Hadiya zone. The Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and affiliated parties held 519 of 548 seats in the federal parliament (elected in 2000). EPRDF and affiliated parties also held all regional councils by large majorities. The Addis Ababa regional council remained dissolved at year's end, with new elections not expected to take place until May 2005. Although political parties predominantly were ethnically based, opposition parties were engaged in a gradual process of consolidation. Ethnic conflict continued during the year in the Gambella region after the December 2003 killing of eight government workers by unknown assailants and retaliatory killings of Anuak civilians by local mobs, which included some army and police members. The judiciary was weak and overburdened but continued to show signs of independence; progress was made in reducing the backlog of cases. Local administrative, police and judicial systems remained weak throughout the country.
The security forces consist of the military, federal and local police, and local militias. The police have primary responsibility for internal security, but local militias outside police command also operated as local security forces. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities, particularly along borders with neighboring countries. The Federal Police Commission and the Federal Prisons Administration are subordinate to the Ministry of Federal Affairs, which in turn is accountable to the Parliament. The military consists of both air and ground forces and reports to the Ministry of National Defense. Military forces continued to conduct a number of low level operations against the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), the Somalia based Al Ittihad Al Islami terrorist organization, and elements of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF). While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were some instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority. Members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses.
The economy was agriculture-based, with more than 85 percent of the estimated population of 71 million living in rural areas under basic conditions and engaged in small leasehold subsistence farming. Agriculture accounted for approximately 45 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). GDP grew 6.7 percent during the year. Inflation remained steady at 5.5 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. In urban centers, the majority of economic activity was in the informal sector. Drought, crop failures, and extensive livestock losses adversely affected approximately 7 million persons during the year, and caused GDP growth to slow. Trade regulations were liberalized, but still favored EPRDF owned businesses. The Government continued to implement an economic reform program designed to stabilize the country's financial position, promote private sector participation in the economy, and attract foreign investment; however, some impediments to investment remained, petty corruption was widespread, and there were approximately 200 government owned enterprises that had not been privatized by year's end.
The Government's human rights record remained poor; although there were improvements, serious problems remained. Security forces committed a number of unlawful killings, including alleged political killings, and beat, tortured, and mistreated detainees. Prison conditions remained poor. The Government continued to arrest and detain persons arbitrarily, particularly those suspected of sympathizing with or being members of the OLF. Thousands of suspects remained in detention without charge, and lengthy pretrial detention continued to be a problem. The Government infringed on citizens' privacy rights, and the law regarding search warrants was often ignored. The Government restricted freedom of the press; however, compared with previous years, there were fewer reports that journalists were arrested, detained or punished for writing articles critical of the Government. Journalists continued to practice self censorship. The Government at times restricted freedom of assembly, particularly for members of opposition political parties; security forces at times used excessive force to disperse demonstrations. The Government limited freedom of association, but the nongovernmental organization (NGO) registration process continued to improve. On occasion, local authorities infringed on freedom of religion. The Government eliminated the requirement for residents to obtain exit visas before leaving the country. Numerous internally displaced persons (IDPs) from internal ethnic conflicts remained in the country. Violence and societal discrimination against women and abuse of children remained problems. Female genital mutilation (FGM) was widespread but leadership efforts to curb such practices made some inroads. The exploitation of children for economic and sexual purposes remained a problem. Trafficking in persons remained a serious problem. Societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities continued. Interethnic clashes resulted in deaths. The Government continued low-level interference in unions. Forced labor, including forced child labor, continued to be a problem, particularly in the informal sector.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
Security forces committed many unlawful killings, including some alleged political killings, during the year. There were numerous reports of unlawful killings during the year.
The opposition All Ethiopia Unity Party (AEUP) reported that government militia and soldiers killed l1 of their supporters in the period from December 2003 to May 2004. For example, on March 29, government militiamen Gashaw Melese and Dessalegn Damtew reportedly murdered AEUP member Dessalegn Simegn of Ebinet District, South Gondar Zone. On April 29, government militia killed AEUP district council member Hailu Zelleke in Gishe Rabel District. On May 15, government militia murdered AEUP Youth League leader Getiye Alagaw. No actions were taken against the perpetrators by year's end.
The opposition Southern Ethiopia People's Democratic Coalition (SEPDC) reported that district police shot and killed one of its supporters, Aeliso Tieliso, while he was having lunch in his home in Megacho Locality, Giibe District, Southern Region, on December 28, 2003. The suspected police officer was not detained and there was no investigation of the killing.
A Parliament-appointed commission investigating ethnic violence in Gambella Region occurring between December 2003 and May 2004 found evidence of military involvement in the extra-judicial killings of 13 Anuak civilians. On March 20 according to unconfirmed reports, soldiers seeking revenge for the death of a soldier were reported to have summarily executed eight elderly Anuak men in the village of Chobo (see Section 5).
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that persons died from torture while in government custody.
There continued to be reports of unlawful killings by security forces, particularly in the Oromiya and the Somali Regions. For example, on March 1, district police shot and killed Alemu Tesfaye, a ninth-grade student in Tikur Inchine, Oromiya Region, during a student protest. Amelework Buli, a female high-school student in Nekemte, Oromiya Region, died from a police beating she sustained at her high school, although the Government and police claimed she died from natural causes.
Regional government officials from Somali Region reported that military personnel fired upon a vehicle carrying civilians on June 15, killing ten persons, after the military vehicle in which the soldiers were traveling collided with the civilian vehicle around the town of Gode.
There were no developments in the following cases from 2003: The death in police custody of Abera Hey; the August killing of two men in Addis Ababa by Federal Police forces; and the December killings of five persons in a bar in Addis Ababa by a man in military uniform. Federal Police reported that the individual was not a solider, but a person with mental disabilities, who remained in custody at year's end.
There were no developments in the reported 2002 cases of killings by security forces.
Armed elements of the OLF and ONLF continued to operate within the country and clashed with government forces on several occasions, resulting in the death of an unknown number of civilians and government forces.
At year's end, there were approximately 2 million landmines in the country, many dating from the 1998 to 2000 war with Eritrea. The Government de-mining unit continued to make limited progress in its survey and de-mining of border areas. U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia officials reported that some new landmines were planted on both sides of the Ethiopian Eritrean border during the year. Through July, officials reported a total of 11 deaths and 10 injuries caused by unexploded landmines and ordnances during the year.
On April 29, an unidentified person threw a hand grenade into a television room at Addis Ababa University (AAU) during a Tigrigna language news program, killing one student and injuring eight others. Police arrested suspects in connection with the incident, some of whom were AAU students who had been suspended following January protests (see Section 1.c.). As of year's end, the suspects were released on bail, but the case remained pending.
On May 3, an unidentified person threw a hand grenade into a shop owned by a Tigrayan woman in Debre Zeit, Oromiya Region, killing her Tigrayan relative. Police blamed the OLF for the attack.
There were no developments in the investigation into the July 2003 bombing of the Segen Hotel in Addis Ababa, which injured 31 persons, or in the September 2003 bombing of a passenger train near Adiquala, which killed two persons and injured nine.
Ethnic clashes resulted in hundreds of deaths during the year (see Section 5).
The Federal High Court in Addis Ababa continued to arraign and prosecute those formally charged with committing genocide and other war crimes, including extrajudicial killings, under the 1975-1991 Derg regime (see Section 1.e.).
There were some reported cases of disappearances perpetrated by government forces during the year, some of which may have been politically motivated. In nearly all cases, security forces abducted persons without warrants and detained them in undisclosed locations for varying lengths of time ranging from weeks to months. For example, in May, security forces abducted Jigsa Soressa, a guard at Mecha and Tulema Association (MTA)-–an influential Oromo political, social and cultural organization. Soressa was reportedly still being detained at Addis Ababa Prison at year's end.
There was no new information regarding the whereabouts of Ahmad Haji Wase, an information officer for the Afar Regional Government, who was detained in an undisclosed location in December 2003 for a report he wrote about fighting between Afar rebels and government troops.
The Government reported that Mesfin Itana, Yilma Mosisa, and Gdissa Mosisa, who were believed to have disappeared after being detained in connection with the September 2002 bombing of the Tigray Hotel in Addis Ababa, were in government custody and awaiting trial (see Section 1.a.). Several young Oromo businessmen remained missing at year's end.
The whereabouts of Oromo singer Raya Abamecha remained unknown at year's end. The Government stated it had no information about his case and had not opened an investigation. There was no new information regarding this case during the year.
There was no information regarding the whereabouts of several young Oromo businessmen reported missing at the end of 2003.
There was no new information about any of the 39 persons reported in a March 2003 report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) to have disappeared at the hands of government security forces.
In 2003, the Government conducted an investigation into the 2002 abduction from a bus and subsequent murder of 32 Nuer IDPs. Ten regional government officials, including four police officers, were arrested in connection with the murders. This case remained pending at year's end.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution prohibits the use of torture and mistreatment; however, there were numerous credible reports during the year that security officials often beat or mistreated detainees. Opposition political parties reported frequent and systematic abuse of their supporters by police and government militias.
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports of death due to torture during the year.
AEUP supporters reported attacks by government militia against them escalated during the year. Local officials often turned a blind eye to these attacks or were complicit in them. On May 5, government militia assaulted Habtamu Baye of Seha Tefases Farmers Association in Shebel Berenta District as he returned from an AEUP meeting. On May 6, government militiamen Habte Endale and Bimirew Adal beat AEUP supporter Endashaw Alemu in Enemay District in East Gojjam Zone, Amhara Region. On May 13, government militiamen beat AEUP party organizer Damtew Ayele in Rabel District, North Shoa Zone, Amhara Region, according to AEUP reports. No action was taken against those responsible.
Security forces reportedly beat persons during demonstrations (see Section 2.b.). In late January, Federal Police responded to peaceful Oromo student protests at Addis Ababa University (AAU) and arrested approximately 330 students. International NGOs reported that the arrested students were taken to the Kolfe police training academy, where they were ordered to run and crawl barefoot over sharp gravel for several hours at a time. The arrested students were subsequently released and were expelled from AAU for the academic year.
At several Oromiya high schools and universities, police severely beat students, teachers, and parents according to local reports. In February and March, violence erupted in schools throughout Oromiya as students protested the January arrest and expulsion of 330 Oromo students from AAU. The Government blamed the student unrest in Oromiya on "anti-peace elements" supported by the OLF, but produced no evidence of such support.
On February 25, violence broke out in Ambo Secondary School when students demanded to have the school administrator respond to their concerns about the suspension of the AAU students. Police entered the high school compound to disperse students, beating several of them. On March 4, students from Ambo high school and Addis Ketema Primary School marched to the center of town and were dispersed by members of the Oromiya regional police who fired in the air and later began beating the students.
On March 17, police beat dozens of high school students engaged in a peaceful protest in Dembi Dolo, East Wollega Zone, Oromiya Region. Local observers reported that police also beat students at three high schools in Nekemte and detained dozens of students and teachers for weeks without charging them (see Sections 1.d. and 5).
Security forces beat journalists in several incidents during the year (see Section 2.a.).
Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that security forces beat or tortured members of religious groups.
No action was taken against security forces responsible for the January 2003 beating and torture of Nake Abebe; the February 2003 beating of Ayele Liyew and Habtamu Liyew; the March 2003 beating of a teacher in Addis Ababa ; the October 2003 beating of Kassa Zewdu and Sinishaw Tegegn; or the October 2003 beating of Retta Bayih, Awoke Tegegn, Derejaw Ayehou, and Alellign Ayalew.
There were reports during the year that army members raped Anuak women during raids on villages in Gambella region. The Government did not open an investigation into the December 2003 rape of two Anuak women at gunpoint by soldiers in the town of Echeway, Gambella Region, during the outbreak of violence against Anuaks (see Section 5), an attack that was reported by credible witnesses.
On April 15, unidentified persons detonated a hand grenade inside Ambo Secondary School, injuring 30 students. Police claimed to have taken eleven suspects into custody in connection with the blast. All suspects were released on bail at year's end, and the case against them remained pending.
During the year, ethnic clashes resulted in numerous injuries and some deaths (see Section 5).
Prison and pretrial detention center conditions were very poor and overcrowding remained a serious problem. Prisoners often were allocated fewer than 21.5 square feet of sleeping space in a room that could contain up to 200 persons. The daily meal budget was approximately 25 cents per prisoner per day, and many prisoners had family members deliver food every day or used their own funds to purchase food from local vendors. Prison conditions were unsanitary, and access to medical care was not reliable. There was no budget for prison facility maintenance. Prisoners typically were permitted daily access to prison yards, which often included working farms, mechanical shops, and rudimentary libraries. Prison letters must be written in Amharic, which made outside contact difficult for non Amharic speakers; however, this restriction generally was not enforced. In police detention centers police often physically abused detainees. Diplomatic observers reported firsthand accounts of such beatings from AAU student detainees in Oromiya. Visitors generally were permitted; however, they were sometimes denied access to detainees.
There were some deaths in prison during the year due to illness and disease; however, no statistics on the number of deaths in prison were available at year's end. Prison officials were not forthcoming with reports of such deaths. At least one prisoner, a Gambella police officer, died in prison while being held in connection with ethnic-related violence (see Section 5).
In August, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) finished its nationwide training program for prison directors, and heads of security, health, and administration on proper treatment of prisoners, including respect for human dignity, treatment of women and children, and medical treatment of sick detainees. In November the ICRC began a second, more advanced training course nationwide.
Female prisoners were held separately from men; however, juveniles sometimes were incarcerated with adults. There was only 1 juvenile remand home for children under age 15, with the capacity to hold 150 children. Juveniles who could not be accommodated at the juvenile remand home were incarcerated with adults. Pretrial detainees were usually detained separately from convicted prisoners at local police stations or in the limited Central Investigation Division detention facility in Addis Ababa until they were charged. The law requires that prisoners be transferred to federal prisons upon conviction; however, this requirement sometimes was not enforced in practice.
The Government permitted independent monitoring of prisons and police stations by the ICRC. Diplomatic missions were also granted access upon providing advance notification to prison officials. In June, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights paid one of its occasional visits to prisons in various parts of the country. The ICRC generally had access to federal and regional prisons, civilian detention facilities, and police stations throughout the country during the year, and conducted hundreds of visits involving thousands of detainees. The ICRC was allowed to meet regularly with prisoners without third parties being present. The ICRC received government permission to visit military detention facilities where suspected OLF fighters were detained. The ICRC also continued to visit civilian Eritrean nationals and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin detained on national security grounds.
Government authorities continued to permit diplomats to visit prominent detainees held by the Special Prosecutor's Office (SPO) for alleged involvement in war crimes and terrorist activities.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The Constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, the Government frequently did not observe these provisions in practice. The Federal Police Commission reports to the Ministry of Federal Affairs, which in turn is subordinate to the Federal Parliament. Local government militias operated as local security forces largely independent of the police and the military. Petty corruption remained a problem with the police force, especially among traffic policemen accused of soliciting bribes from motorists. Impunity also remained a serious problem. The results of any police investigations into such reported abuses were rarely disclosed publicly. However, in May, a Federal High Court sentenced Addis Ababa police officer Mesfin Tekeba to 4 years' imprisonment for soliciting a bribe from a taxi bus driver. The Federal Police acknowledged that many members of its police force as well as regional police lack professionalism; a reform process supported in part by major donor governments was underway during the year.
Following the outbreaks of violence early in the year, due in part to improved command and control and better training, police forces, particularly in chronically troubled areas, became more adept at avoiding confrontations and better at calibrating their responses to avoid escalating spirals of violence. Police forces also improved their ability to identify tensions earlier and accelerate their response.
The Government continued its efforts to train police and army recruits in human rights, and sought assistance from the ICRC in improving and professionalizing its human rights training and revamping its human rights training curriculum to include more material on the Constitution and international human rights treaties and conventions. In September, the ICRC conducted a 2-day human rights training for approximately 800 local leaders in the conflict-prone Oromiya region.
Under the Criminal Procedure Code, any person detained must be informed of the charges within 48 hours and, in most cases, be offered release on bail. Bail was not available for some offenses, such as murder, treason, and corruption. In most cases, bail was set between $115 (1,000 Birr) and $1,150 (10,000 Birr), which was beyond the reach of most citizens. Suspects of serious offenses could be detained for 14 days while police conduct an investigation if a panel of judges ordered it, and for additional 14 day periods while the investigation continues. In practice and particularly in the outlying regions, authorities regularly detained persons without warrants, did not charge them within 48 hours, and, if persons were released on bail, never recalled them to court. The law also prohibits detention in anything less than an official detention center; however, there were dozens of crude detention centers at the local level used by local government militia. The Government provided public defenders for detainees who were unable to afford private legal counsel, but only when their cases came before the court. While in detention, such detainees were allowed little or no contact with their legal counsel.
There were many reports from opposition party members that in small towns persons were detained in police stations for long periods without access to a judge and that sometimes these persons' whereabouts were unknown for several months. Opposition parties registered many complaints during the year that government militias beat and detained their supporters without charge for participating in opposition political rallies (see Section 1.c.).
The AEUP reported that on April 27, government militia detained three of its members–-Alem Eniyew, Geta Mitiku, and Gebeyu Mitiku–-in Enessie District, Amhara Region, for refusing to cancel their AEUP membership. On April 28, Enemay District officials ordered the arrest and imprisonment of five members of AEUP's executive committee. On May 3, police arrested Mulugeta Wassie in Metchera town, Fentale District, North Shoa Zone, Amhara Region, for distributing AEUP information leaflets.
Police also reportedly detained Oromiya National Congress (ONC) member Olbana Lelisa on suspicion of his support for the OLF. Police kept him in a crowded room at the police station for nearly 2 months without filing charges before he was released on July 20. According to his reports, police tried to coerce him to denounce the ONC publicly and to link the ONC with the OLF in exchange for an end to police harassment.
No further information was available by year's end about the May 2003 arrest of three Eritrean members of the Eritrean opposition group Movement for Democratic Change for their support of the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission ruling.
On April 20, 200 persons, alleged to be members of the opposition AEUP, were arrested in Northern Shoa, Debre-Sina District and released after being harassed. Party members Mersha Haile, Wessene Gizaw, Girum Tadesse, and Minda Gizaw, residents of Northern Shoa were arrested for periods ranging from 7 to 30 days for unknown reasons.
The Government continued its harassment of teachers during the year, particularly in Oromiya and Tigray. The independent Ethiopian Teachers Association (ETA) reported that numerous teachers were detained and accused of being OLF sympathizers, many of who remained in prison at year's end. Some of the teachers have been in detention for several years without charges. Such cases were remanded at least 10 to 15 times, for 2 weeks each time, and the courts allowed police to conduct investigations that continued for months. In addition, judges were shifted among cases, failed to show up for hearings, or new judges were not reassigned in time for hearing dates upon the death or incapacity of assigned judges. While lack of capacity within the judicial system contributed to this problem, several of the prolonged detentions were suspected to be politically motivated. During an outbreak of student unrest in schools across Oromiya, police detained hundreds of Oromo students and teachers for several weeks in detention centers on suspicion of being supporters of the OLF (see Section 1.c.). For example, on April 2, police were said to have detained without a warrant Alemitu Biru, a teacher at Burayu Elementary School in Holleta, Oromiya Region, and held her incommunicado for over 3 weeks.
Police entered private residences and arrested people without court warrants. On April 7, police entered and searched the homes of eleven teachers in Debre Zeit, Oromiya Region, without a court order. Police later detained those eleven teachers for several weeks without charging them. On April 9, in the towns of Guder and Ambo in Oromiya Region police entered the homes of 60 people, mostly teachers, on suspicion that they were supporters of the OLF. The teachers whose houses were searched include Mosisa Futasa, Abebe Chimdi, and Dhinsa Serbessa.
Police officials did not respect court orders to release suspects on bail. For example, on July 22 and 23, the Federal First Instance Court ordered police to grant bail for Executive Committee members of the MTA. MTA Executive Committee members Dirbi Demissie, Gemechu Feyera, Sintayehu Workineh, Dabas Wakjira, and Shiferaw Ansermu had been held in detention for over two months. They were released on US$1,150 (10,000 Birr) bail on August 9; however, police rearrested Gemechu and Sintayehu when they went back to the police station to pick up their personal property. Demissie, Feyera, Workneh and Wakjira were released on bail at year's end. However, Ansermu was rearrested on his way to work at Ethiopian Television.
Police detained journalists during the year (see Section 2.a.).
Police detained persons for holding meetings and demonstrations during the year (see Section 2.b.).
Opposition groups alleged that some of the persons detained by the SPO were held for political reasons, an allegation that the Government denied (see Section 1.e.).
In response to attacks by armed opposition groups operating out of Somalia and Kenya, the military continued to conduct operations around border areas. The vast majority of military interventions took place in the Gambella, Somali, and Oromiya Regions. Occasional detentions were reported during these operations.
Parliamentary immunity protected members of the House from arrest or prosecution except in the act of committing a crime ("flagrante delicto").
Berhanu Nega and Mesfin Woldemariam, two prominent academics and human rights activists charged with inciting AAU students to riot in 2001, were ordered by the Federal High Court to prepare to present their defense for a trial in July 2005.
The following detainees remained in custody at year's end: Alazar Dessie, an American citizen working as a consultant to the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, who was arrested and charged with abuse of power (a nonbailable offense) and has been awaiting trial for over 3 years; 24 businessman and government officials, who were arrested in 2001 under allegations of corruption but were never charged formally; and the official driver of the Eritrean Embassy, who was arrested in 2001 and whose whereabouts remained unknown.
Thousands of criminal suspects reportedly remained in detention--some for years--without charge. Some of the detainees were teachers and students from Oromiya accused of involvement in OLF activities or were arrested after student unrest broke out in Oromiya in February and March.
The Government detained several persons without charge at the Gondar Prison, some for years, while the police investigated their cases. Muche Berihun, who was charged with murder although the person whom he allegedly murdered was killed after he was detained, was held in solitary confinement for 3½ years. His hearing began in 2002; however, the court adjourned and the status of the hearing was unknown at year's end. He remained in detention at year's end. Wondante Mesfin has been in detention in Nefas Mewcha Prison in South Gondar Zone since 1994 and has never appeared in court nor been charged formally. According to AEUP reports, there was no change in his status during the year.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary remained weak and overburdened. Although the federal and regional courts continued to show signs of judicial independence, in practice severe shortages of adequately trained personnel in many regions, as well as serious financial constraints, combined to deny citizens the full protections provided by the Constitution.
The Government continued to decentralize and restructure the judiciary along federal lines with the establishment of courts at the district, zonal, and regional levels. The federal High Court and federal Supreme Court heard and adjudicated original and appeal cases involving federal law, transregional issues, and national security. The regional judiciary was increasingly autonomous, with district, zonal, high, and supreme courts mirroring the structure of the federal judiciary. Two three judge benches at the High Court level handled criminal cases. Prior to 2002, the federal High Court and federal Supreme Court heard regional cases, due to the lack of well-established regional courts. Due to the strengthening of the regional courts since 2002, regional cases were more often heard locally.
Regional offices of the federal Ministry of Justice monitored local judicial developments. Some regional courts had jurisdiction over both local and federal matters, as the federal courts in those jurisdictions had not begun operation; overall, the federal judicial presence in the regions was limited. Anecdotal evidence suggested that some local officials believed they were not accountable to a higher authority. Pending the passage by regional legislatures of laws particular to their region, all judges are guided by the federal procedural and substantive codes.
To remedy the severe lack of experienced staff in the judicial system, the Government continued to identify and train lower court judges and prosecutors, although officials acknowledged that the pay scale offered did not attract the required numbers of competent professionals.
According to the Constitution, accused persons have the right to a public trial by an ordinary court of law within a "reasonable time" after having been charged and the right to be represented by legal counsel of their choice; however, in practice, lengthy pretrial detention was common, closed proceedings occurred, and at times, detainees were allowed little or no contact with their legal counsel (see Section 1.d.). Although the Constitution provides for a presumption of innocence, defendants did not enjoy this protection in practice. The public defender's office provides legal counsel to indigent defendants, although its scope remained severely limited, particularly with respect to SPO trials. Access to prosecutorial evidence before a trial was routinely denied to the defense, even though there is no law forbidding this and the law explicitly stipulates that persons charged with corruption are to be shown the body of evidence against them prior to their trials.
The Constitution provides legal standing to some pre existing religious and customary courts and gives federal and regional legislatures the authority to recognize other courts. By law, all parties to a dispute must agree before a customary or religious court may hear a case. Shari'a (Islamic) courts may hear religious and family cases involving Muslims. In addition, other traditional systems of justice, like councils of elders, continued to function. Although not sanctioned by law, these traditional courts resolved disputes for the majority of citizens who lived in rural areas and who generally had little access to formal judicial systems.
On October 28, the Federal First Instance Court's Seventh Criminal Branch began operation. The court was established to handle cases of sexual abuse against women and children. During hearings, victims were physically separated from the accused, and provided testimony to the court via a closed circuited television system. By year's end, the court had delivered six guilty verdicts in sexual abuse cases, and imposed penalties ranging from 4 to 20 years.
Three federal judges sat on one bench to hear all cases of juvenile offenses. There was a large backlog of juvenile cases and accused children often remained in detention with adults until their cases were heard.
The outbreak of hostilities with Eritrea in 1998 adversely impacted the military justice system. Most foreign assistance to train officers and noncommissioned officers was suspended at the same time that the rapid expansion of the military greatly increased the need for trained military lawyers and judges. This training need remained unmet by year's end.
There was no new information on the activities of the SPO, established in 1992 to create an historical record of the abuses committed during the Mengistu Government (1975 91, also known as the Dergue regime) and to bring to justice those criminally responsible for human rights violations. Approximately 1,000 persons remained in detention for Dergue-era offenses. Court appointed attorneys, sometimes with inadequate skills and experience, represented many of the defendants.
There were reports the Government detained approximately 100 political prisoners, and the Government permitted ICRC access on a regular basis.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law requires judicial search warrants to search private property; however, in practice, particularly outside of Addis Ababa, police often searched property without obtaining warrants (see Section 1.d.). Opposition party representatives claimed that police sometimes used fraudulent warrants to enter homes and commit criminal acts, including money extortion. There were reports that members of the Federal Police robbed persons during the year, including through the use of false warrants.
There continued to be reports that police forcibly entered the homes of civilians. There also were reports that security forces took persons from their homes in the middle of the night without warrants. For example, Oromo students accused of detonating hand grenades at Ambo Secondary School in April were reportedly rounded up from their residences in the middle of the night.
Opposition party members reported that their homes were burned down and their offices looted (see Section 3).
The Government arbitrarily monitored private communication such as Internet communications and phone conversations. All electronic communications facilities were state owned. The Government also used a system of paid informants to report on the activities of particular individuals.
There were reports during the year of the forced displacement of families in rural areas. The Government said that its resettlement program, which moved families from drought prone areas to more fertile lands, was entirely voluntary, but opposition parties accused local authorities in some rural areas of targeting opposition supporters for resettlement by manipulating resettlement rosters. NGOs such as Doctors Without Borders reported that in several instances, the Government had resettled persons to areas with no existing infrastructure or clean water supply, resulting in unusually high rates of infant mortality.
Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that the Government, in an attempt to "clean up" Addis Ababa, forcibly resettled indigent persons to areas outside of the city
There continued to be credible reports during the year from EHRCO and opposition parties that in certain rural areas in the Southern Region, Oromiya Region, and Amhara Region, local officials used threats of land redistribution and withholding of food aid and fertilizer to garner support for the ruling coalition. There were many reports of ruling party or government harassment intended to prevent individuals from joining opposition parties or from renting property to them. There were numerous reports of more serious forms of harassment and violence directed against members of opposition parties in many areas of the country, including beatings, house burnings, and murder (see Sections 1.c., 1.d., and 3).
There also were credible reports that teachers and other government workers had their employment terminated if they belonged to opposition political parties.
According to the SEPDC, the regional government continued to dismiss its members--particularly teachers--from their jobs. In response, the regional government asserted that employees of the Government should implement government policy. The region accuses employees who were opposition party members of not carrying out government policy.
The family law code imposes a 6 month waiting period on anyone seeking to remarry following a divorce or the death of one's spouse (see Section 5). The Government maintained that this waiting period was necessary to determine whether a woman may still be carrying the child of her former spouse.
Security forces detained family members of persons sought for questioning by the Government, such as suspected members of OLF.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press; however, the Government restricted these rights in practice. The Government continued to prosecute journalists and editors for publishing allegedly fabricated information and for other violations of the press law. The Government controlled all broadcast media. Private and government journalists routinely practiced self censorship. Nonetheless, the private press remained active and often published articles that were extremely critical of the Government.
The independent print media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although their access to the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Government was restricted and they were subject to intimidation and harassment by the Government.
Despite the constant threat of legal action, the private press continued to publish articles critical of the Government and to report on human rights abuses. While much of the private press continued to lack professionalism in its reporting, some print media continued developing into more responsible publications. Several publications were tied to distinct ethnic groups, particularly the Amharas and Oromos, and severely criticized the Government for being ethnocentric.
The Government continued to control all radio and television broadcast media. Although the law allows for private radio stations, a regulatory mechanism was not in place, and there were no independent radio stations. Broadcasting time on state-run Radio Ethiopia was sold to private groups and to individuals who wanted to buy spots for programs and commercials. The Government operated the sole television station and tightly controlled news broadcasts. In September, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Agency invited interested parties to apply for licenses for two new private FM stations, although no applications were filed by year's end. The Broadcasting Law prohibits political and religious organizations from owning broadcast stations. Foreign ownership is also prohibited.
There were no restrictions on access to international news broadcasts. Ownership of private satellite receiving dishes and the importation of facsimile machines and modems were permitted; however, access to this technology was restricted by its high cost and the limited capacity of the sole telecommunications entity, the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation.
Foreign journalists continued to operate freely and often wrote articles critical of government policies. They or their local affiliates were often granted greater access to government officials than were local independent journalists. Several foreign news organizations staffed offices in Addis Ababa with local journalists who operated free of government restriction.
There were reports that police harassed, beat, and detained journalists during the year. For example, on March 29, armed police beat Atnafu Alemayehu, deputy editor-in-chief of Tobia newspaper and magazine, at Kara Kore in Oromiya State after Atnafu made enquiries into resident's complaints about the demolition of their houses. Atnafu was detained for 1 day and was released after posting bail of $115 (1,000 Birr) at Alemgena police station. Atnafu appealed to the police station about the beating and confiscation of the tape recorder. Wondwosen Gebrekiidan, former Editor in Chief of Itop newspaper was arrested on December 23 and released on December 31. Shiferaw Ansermu was arrested and released three times durign the year, and at year's end, was detained at Addis Ababa Prison.
The Government used statutory provisions on the publication of false information, incitement of ethnic hatred, libel, and publication of articles offensive to public morality to justify the arrest and detention of journalists. Independent journalists accused the Government of selectively applying sections of the penal code to levy charges against them. Journalists were charged, detained, and fined during the year.
For example, in May, Leul Seboka, editor-in-chief of the Amharic weekly newspaper Seife Nebelbal, was charged at the Federal High Court for publishing a poem viewed by the prosecutor as "inciting violence among the public to secede from a region that is established by constitutional order."
Befekadu Moreda, owner and editor-in-chief of the private Amharic weekly newspaper Tomar, was indicted in January by the Federal Prosecutor General for an alleged violation of the Ethiopian Press Freedom Proclamation. The charges stemmed from an article published in 2001 about a 2000 riot in Addis Ababa.
Wossenseged Gebre Kidan, editor-in-chief of the private weekly Amharic-language Ethop, was prosecuted during the year for allegedly publishing a false report in 2002 concerning a terrorist attack on the Tigray Hotel in Addis Ababa.
In June, Tewodros Kassa, the former editor of the private Amharic-language weekly Ethop, was nearing the end of his 2-year prison term, but was newly convicted on 4-year-old criminal defamation charges and sentenced to a further 3 months in prison, and was released after serving the additional sentence.
In April, Debassa Wakjira and Shiferaw Ansermu, two journalists of the state-owned Oromo Service of Ethiopian Television, were arrested for allegedly passing information to the OLF. The two journalists were arrested with officials of the MTA (see Section 1.d.). All except Shiferaw Ansermu were released.
At year's end, one journalist was in prison on press charges, approximately 54 journalists remained in self-imposed exile, and a number of journalists in the country were facing criminal charges.
There were reports during the year that 10 journalists from the government media and the private press fled the country or were missing. There were reports that three Ethiopian Television journalists (Mohammed Ahmed, Keriyat Ismael, and Lemlem Fanta) had fled the country for Kenya. No details were available on why the journalists had fled.
All official media received government subsidies; however, the official media were legally autonomous and responsible for their own management and partial revenue generation. The Ministry of Information was the Government's official spokesperson and managed contacts between the Government, the press, and the public; however, the Government routinely refused to respond to queries from the private press and often limited its cooperation with the press to the government-run Ethiopian News Agency, the EPRDF-controlled Walta news agency, and correspondents of international news organizations. The Prime Minister's office continued to deny all access to the independent press for coverage of official events at the Prime Minister's office, limiting such coverage and access to government media representatives. Reporters admitted that they routinely practiced self-censorship.
The Ministry of Information required that newspapers show a bank balance of $1,150 (10,000 Birr) at the time of their annual registration for a license to publish. This sum effectively precluded some smaller publications from registering. Permanent residency also was required for publishers to establish a newspaper. The Government did not require residency for other business owners, and some independent journalists maintained that the residency requirement was used as a form of intimidation. The press law requires all publishers to provide free copies of their publications to the Ministry of Information on the day of publication.
The majority of private newspapers as well as government newspapers were printed at government owned presses; however, there were no reports that the independent media was unable to print articles. Police had the authority to shut down any printing press without a court order, but did not exercise that power during the year.
The former Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFPJA) and its leadership remained banned throughout the year. A new association, bearing the same name, was established and new executive officers were elected in January at a meeting facilitated by the Ministry of Justice. In February, the Ministry of Justice gave recognition to the newly elected leadership of EFPJA. Representatives of the old EFPJA continued to protest the Government's ban on the original association and its leaders, and filed charges against the Ministry of Justice claiming that the ban was illegal and politically motivated. A court ruled the original EFPJA had to be reinstated, but the Government had yet to do so at year's end.
The Ethiopian Women's Media Association, which included both government and private journalists, remained active during the year. The association organized training and workshops and published a journal.
The Government did not restrict Internet access.
The Government restricted academic freedom during the year. The Government maintained that professors could do research in any field in their discipline but that they could not espouse political sentiments. Teachers at all levels were not permitted to deviate from official lesson plans. AAU students were prohibited from forming associations on the basis of their ethnicity. Political activity was discouraged on university campuses. There were unconfirmed reports that uniformed police officers were visible on campuses and that plainclothes security officers tried to blend in with the student body. While student governments were permitted, many students refrained from involvement in any on-campus activity that could be considered political in nature by the Government. According to a 2002 survey conducted by the ETA of 280 public universities and secondary schools throughout the country, nearly 90 percent of the school directors and vice directors of those schools belonged to the ruling party or its affiliates. Students and teachers were arrested during the year (see Section 1.d.).
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however, the Government restricted this right in practice. Organizers of large public meetings or demonstrations must notify the Government 72 hours in advance and obtain a permit. There were several reports during the year that permits were denied to opposition political parties. Opposition parties also reported long, unexplained delays by the regional authorities in issuing permits and last minute revocations of permits.
Opposition political parties reported that their supporters were the targets of frequent and systematic violence by ruling party supporters during the year, often after leaving meetings (see Sections 1.c., 1.d., and 3).
The AEUP, SEPDC, and ONC charged the district and regional authorities with deliberately obstructing their attempts to hold public meetings. The independent ETA continued to encounter government restrictions while attempting to hold meetings or demonstrations.
After notifying government officials, MTA organized a peaceful demonstration on January 4, where approximately 10,000 Oromo residents of Addis Ababa and its environs gathered at Meskel Square in the city center to urge the federal Government to reverse its decision to transfer the capital of Oromiya from Addis Ababa to Adama (formerly known as Nazret). Police reportedly beat and arrested demonstrators including elders, youth, and women. The Government claimed that the MTA did not have the required permit to conduct the rally. All demonstrators were released and no action was taken against the police.
A January protest by Oromo students at AAU resulted in several hundred arrests and the subsequent expulsion of 330 students. During their 2-day detention, many of these students were forced to kneel on gravel for hours (see Section 1.c.).
In March, the residents of Aby Adi, a town in Tigray region, conducted a peaceful demonstration, protesting the lack of electricity, usable roads, and running water. Three members of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) Central Committee reportedly threatened to arrest the organizers of the demonstration if they did not apologize. According to reports, the Government also sent security agents to prevent any further protests. The Government rejected requests to hold similar protests in the Tigrayan towns of Maichew and Samre.
In March, police broke up an authorized protest march by students at Alemaya Agricultural University, protesting the move of Oromiya's capital to Adama and demanding the release of detained AAU students. Police arrested some protesters before the protest left the campus, according to press reports. There were numerous reports of protest-related arrests of students across the Oromo region early in the year (see Sections 1.c., 1.d., and 5).
The Government has still not released the results of its investigation into the 2002 demonstration in Awassa, the capital of the Southern Region, in which police killed and injured dozens of peaceful protesters. No further information was available on the status of the individuals arrested in cases related to the Awassa demonstration and the killing of the head of the Southern Region's education bureau, some of whom were held incommunicado.
No further action was taken against security forces who forcibly dispersed demonstrations in 2003 or 2002. It was unknown at year's end if persons detained in previous years for holding illegal meetings remained in detention.
The Constitution provides for freedom of association and the right to engage in unrestricted peaceful political activity; however, the Government limited this right in practice. A number of policy issues regarding NGOs remained unresolved, including the ability of NGOs to enter into formal network arrangements that would enable them to pool funds. However, there was some improvement in transparency of the NGO registration process. The Ministry of Justice administers primary registration. The Government continued to deny an operating license to the Human Rights League (see Section 4).
As provided by law, the Government required political parties to register with the National Election Board (NEB). Parties that did not participate in two consecutive national elections were subject to deregistration. There were approximately 69 organized political parties; 13 were national parties, and the remainder operated in limited areas. There were no reports during the year that any political party had its registration revoked.
During the year, the Government repeatedly arrested persons allegedly involved with the MTA, including the president, vice president, members of the executive committee and staff, and two gate guards. Some arrests appear to have been made without warrants, and some detentions continued despite court orders to release suspects (see Section 1.d.). The organization complained of illegal searches of its premises. In July, the Government suspended the MTA's permit to operate, effectively banning the organization, on the basis of its alleged involvement in organizing several acts of violence, including a grenade attack in AAU that killed a student.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice; however, on occasion local authorities infringed on this right. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) and Islam are the dominant religions, accounting for nearly 90 percent of the population.
The Government required that religious groups be registered. Religious institutions register with the Ministry of Justice and must renew their registration every year. However, the EOC has yet to register and has never suffered ramifications for not registering. Similarly, the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC), after registering in 1995, reportedly has never reregistered after it protested this requirement to the Prime Minister. Protests from other religious groups over these exceptions have not resulted in equal treatment from the Government.
Under the law, a religious organization that undertakes development activities must register its development wing separately as an NGO. Religious groups were given free government land for houses of worship, schools, hospitals, and cemeteries; however, the title to the land remained with the Government, and the land, other than that allocated for prayer houses or cemeteries, could be taken back at any time.
Minority religious groups reported discrimination in the allocation of government land for religious sites. A traditional animist Oromo religious group was banned after being found to be involved in unspecified illegal activities. The group's leaders were suspected of having close links to the OLF and MTA. Protestant groups occasionally reported that local officials discriminated against them when seeking land for churches and cemeteries. Evangelical leaders reported that because they were perceived as "newcomers" they remained at a disadvantage compared with the EOC and the EIASC in the allocation of land. The EIASC reported that it had more difficulty obtaining land from the government bureaucracy than the EOC while others believed the EIASC was favored for mosque locations. Many mosques were built by squatters without city government approval and since have been targeted for demolition.
The Government did not issue work visas to foreign religious workers unless they were attached to the development wing of a religious organization.
While some Muslim leaders complained in the past that public school authorities sometimes interfered with their free practice of Islam because they prohibited the wearing of headscarves in schools, the leaders reported that the Ministry of Education has accepted the practice of headscarves in schools not only in Addis Ababa but also in regional areas.
Some religious property confiscated under the Mengistu regime has not yet been returned.
Unlike in previous years, there were no violent interfaith clashes during the year.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2004 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for these rights; however, the Government restricted some of these rights in practice.
In the Gambella region throughout the year, the Government monitored and sometimes controlled the passage of relief supplies and access by humanitarian organizations, explaining that it was doing so as a matter of safety and security for those planning to travel in the region. For a period following the December 13, 2003 incident, travel was restricted.
The law requiring citizens and residents to obtain an exit visa before departing the country was eliminated in July. Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean or