Yonas Mebrahtu / Germany
A thorough analysis of the Ethiopian criminal justice system succinctly reveals that torture- an internationally outlawed crime- appears to be a countenanced and patronized act in almost every criminal investigation process. From Meakelawi in Addis Ababa – commonly referred as a torture Chamber –to ordinary detention centers in various regions, torture is a principal investigation and interrogation tools. The ruling regime in Addis Ababa has successfully maintained Derg’s Legacy of Torture but with the most furtive and sophisticated techniques and tools. In many occasions, inflicting serious physical and mental pain on suspects regarded as a sole means of securing confession or means of extracting information for the barbarian -trial by ordeal’ system of the country.
As of 1994, Ethiopia is a party to the convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or punishment (CAT) though still remains an abyssal decision why the country failed to ratify the optional protocol to CAT which is considered to be the most important platform in the prevention of Torture. Torture, a grave and an absolutely prohibited crime under the international law, is the most underrated and tolerated crime in Ethiopian criminal system. The Constitution of the 1995 -the supreme law of the land, for instance, contrary to Ethiopia’s commitment under international law, deliberately made no mention of Torture under Article 18 – though prohibited other forms of ill-treatments that have less threshold of gravity than torture. Ditto to the 2005 revised criminal code of Ethiopia. Ironically, the criminal law has provided fine or simple imprisonment as a standard punishment for torture except rigorous imprisonment not exceeding ten years for very serious cases.( Article 424 of the criminal code ).
A research by Association for the Prevention of Torture(APT) in 2015, whom the writer of this piece had involved( https://liverpooluniversitypress.co.uk/products/80890),depicted that the rate of prosecution of Torturers in Ethiopia is close to zero despite the fact that at its UN Universal Periodic Review in 2014, Ethiopia accepted a recommendation to “adopt measures which guarantee the non-occurrence of cases of torture and ill-treatment in places of detention,”. What is so surprising is that Torture in Ethiopia is committed in a subterranean and systematic way even hidden to the ‘loyal’ public prosecutors. In one of my discussion with a former public prosecutor at the ‘Federal anti-terrorism force ‘ -that dealt with all terrorism cases’ in 2014, he informed me that there is an underground secret torturing center inside Meakelawi where avowed similarly by many complaints. Yet the veterans of the TPLF, whom in charge of administering the center, have beguiled him repeatedly.
Alas, an effort to lodge a complaint at the Ethiopian human rights commission or Ombudsman by the survivors of torture and ill-treatment is nothing but a caricature – a travesty of justice. A self-ridiculed human rights commission has frequently made an insolence claim that Ethiopia is a ‘torture free country’. To this end, the Commission has rejected many allegations of torture and ill-treatment including the allegation by the dauntless journalist Reeyot Alemu when she was denied an access to medical treatment during her illness.
As an infamous attacking technique against the political prisoners and prisoners of consciousness, the Ethiopian Government has repeatedly and with impunity denied detainees an access to medical treatment- which amounts to gross violation of the right to life and of the right to health by virtue of Human rights instruments. Including the untimely death of the gallant politician and most distinguished surgeon, Professor Asrat Woldeyes in 1999 and other numerous former Derg officials in prison are mainly attributed to lack of adequate and timely medical treatment. Politicians such Habtamu Ayalew, journalist Reeyot Alemu and other thousands of detainees have once suffered from the lack of better medical treatment and poor standard of accommodation.
Recently I have learned that a revered and humble journalist Elias Gebru Godena is suffering from smelling disorder inside the detention center. It has been more than four months since he has been illegally detained and purportedly the poor accommodation of the detention center and the excessive congestion has exacerbated his illness. Not surprisingly that like other thousands of victims of the unlawfully declared state of emergency, he is behind the bar through extrajudicial means without any formal accusation or charge.
What is worsening is that against the principles of international human rights instruments such as international Covenant on civil and political rights(ICCPR), international Covenant on social, economic and cultural rights (ICESCR), and CAT, which Ethiopia is a party and entails an obligation to respect thereof, he is blatantly denied an access to better medical treatment . Medical reports claimed that he is suffering from a serious problem of a sinus which would lead him to an anosmia-a health problem that makes him lose his sense of smell permanently. This act of dereliction on the side of the government is also a violation of the constitutional right of the detainee as provided under Article 41 of the 1995 Ethiopian Constitution.
Hence I appeal to the Ethiopian Government that all detainees including political prisoners such as Elias Gebru and others shall be provided with adequate and standard medical treatment including an overseas treatment and an unrestricted access to medicine.