Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Press Release

November 18, 2021

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC/The Commission) is alarmed by the arrest and detention conditions of persons arrested in connection with the state of emergency (SOE) since it was declared on November 2, 2021. The Commission is also concerned that some access and information related challenges are impeding its monitoring work.  

As indicated on its statement on November 7, 2021, EHRC has been monitoring the situation with a special focus on the cities of Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. The Commission has visited police stations and detention centres, speaking to detainees and their families and meeting with members of the police force and their leadership in Addis Ababa Kirkos and Yeka sub-cites.  Information and complaints received by the Commission have also been informing its monitoring work.  

On the other hand, the refusal by some authorities, such as those of Addis Ketema, Ledeta, Gulele, Bole and Arada sub-cities, to provide information and their denying EHRC access to detainees “because they did not receive directions from superiors”, has prevented the Commission from carrying out its duties and responsibilities.

EHRC is not yet able to confirm the exact number of people detained in connection with the State of Emergency. From the information obtained so far, in Kirkos sub-city, for instance, which has provided the Commission with a relatively complete information, as of November 11, 2021, 714 persons were detained in relation to the SoE of whom 128 were women. Taking into consideration that similar arrests and detentions are still ongoing in other sub-cities, it is estimated that thousands may have been detained in Addis Ababa alone. The number of detainees in Dire Dawa is estimated to have reached 300 as of the time of the publication of this statement. 

Some of the detainees were arrested based on information gathered by security authorities but the majority of them are detained based on tips by informants. Most of these detainees are of ethnic Tigrayan origin. 

Responding to allegations of ethnic targeting in these arrests, law enforcement authorities assert that “arrests are not ethnic based but that it may easily appear to be so given that the two organisations designated as terrorist groups by the House of People’s Representatives are ethnic based groups”.

The state of emergency grants law enforcement bodies the authority to detain individuals suspected on reasonable grounds of colluding with terrorist groups, both of which are ethnic-based organizations. However, sufficient effort are not being exerted to investigate whether informant tips are not themselves ethnic based and to investigate and verify that there are indeed reasonable grounds to continue to detain persons arrested based on such tips. In addition, in some of the detention places visited, EHRC monitoring teams have also seen/witnessed when individuals detained in connection with the state of emergency being released upon presentation of proof that they  are not of ethnic Tigrayan origin. 

 The Commission has seen or met with detainees who are above 60 years old, including men and women as old as 80, nursing mothers and individuals, who according to family members and other detainees, suffer from mental health issues or need continuous medical attention.

In most cases, detaineees are first taken to and held in police stations in the vicinity of the place of arrest. As the numbers increased, detainees were then transferred to other places of temporary detentions centers across sub-cities in the capital including facilities such as multipurpose youth centers or some vocational training centers. It was also established that some of the detainees were moved from Addis Ababa to a high-security prison commonly referred to as “Aba Samuel”. The Commission has also received complaints from family members who have still not received information about where their detained relatives are held. 

Some of the places of detention visited are overcrowded and do not have adequate ventilation, light and a sufficient number of sanitary facilities. In Kirkos sub-city, for instance, 241 individuals including older persons and persons who are said to suffer from mental health problems are kept in a single hall estimated to be 20 by 10 meter wide.  There is only one toilet available for all detainees. The Commission has also visited places of detentions where men and women are held together in the same room including with detainees exhibiting visible signs of high psychological distress. 

At the time of the Commission’s visit, the majority of the detention places had not set up medical help services to detainees and some of the detainees could be seen visibly suffering and in pain. None of the detention facilities visited observed the COVID-19 prevention precautionary measures. The Commission also spoke with individuals who were unable to meet with their family members and individuals who were unable to hand over important work documents/equipment to their organization because they were taken from their places of work or from the street.

Most of the detainees told the Commission that they believe their arrest is solely ethnically motivated and that they have still not been informed of the reason for their arrest. Detainees the Commission spoke with confirmed to the Commission that they were not subjected to physical abuse or torture either during their arrest or at the detention centres. Despite the best efforts of the security officers to properly handle detainees and visitors, they are evidently limited in their capacity to manage the situation because of the sheer number of detainees. 

Some sub-cities had taken encouraging steps to release older persons and those in need of medical attention on humane grounds. However, since application of state of emergency measures is still inconsistent and no directions provided as to grounds for release, the Commission has learned that some of those released people have subsequently been rearrested on grounds that “their initial release was not approved by the Command Post.” 

The Commission notes with concern that, overall, the detentions in connection with the state of emergency has not been implemented in compliance with the human rights principles of “necessity, proportionality, and freedom from discrimination”.

The EHRC strongly urges relevant law enforcement authorities to implement the following recommendations:

  • To immediately release persons detained solely based on informant tips and without evidence establishing reasonable grounds for suspicion as prescribed by the state of emergency measures; in particular older persons; nursing mothers and individuals requiring medical attention,
  • To ensure that all detentions are guided by principles of necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination;  in line with the spirit of the State of Emergency Proclamation; that all relevant organs conduct strict monitoring; and, in particular, that law enforcement authorities ensure in a strict manner that all detentions are justified by reasonable grounds and
  • To take immediate steps to improve the conditions of detention; especially with regards to provision of health care, sanitation and other services.
  • EHRC also calls on all relevant authorities to take cognizance of the Commission’s mandate vested in it by its establishment proclamation to monitor human rights including during a state of emergency; and, understanding their respective obligations, to provide the required cooperation to the Commission’s monitoring activities.