On the African Day for the Protection of Persons in Pre-trial Detention, commemorated on 25 April since 2014, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reiterates its call for the improvement of conditions of pre-trial detention and for a robust nationwide review of the process and facilities of detention. The date marks the adoption of the Guidelines on the Conditions of Arrest, Police Custody, and Pre-Trial Detention in Africa (the Luanda Guidelines) in 2014, which was designed to improve the framework for the protection of persons in pre-trial detention in Africa. The Luanda Guidelines go on to note that “pre-trial detainees often exist in the shadows of the criminal justice system because their detention and treatment are not subject to the same levels of oversight as sentenced prisoners”.
Pre-trial detainees are vulnerable to various human rights violations. Monitoring of the treatment of persons in pre-trial detention and sentenced prisoners and inspection of prison and detention facilities, both at federal and regional level, is an important part of EHRC’s work. A combination of gaps in the legal framework and in the application of the existing regulations account for the vulnerability of pre-trial detainees and convicted prisoners to human rights violations.
Although the remand period cannot exceed 14 days according to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), the absence of a legal limit on a number of legally permissible remands has often meant that pre-trial detainees stay in remand detention for long periods, even months. The protection afforded to children by Article 169 (1) of the CPC is also not applied consistently in regional jurisdictions. In this regard, the Commission welcomes the ongoing process of amendment of the 1961 Criminal Procedure Code, in which EHRC has also participated, and which is expected to address several of the legal gaps in the mechanism and application of pre-trial detention.
Pre-trial detention facilities, including police stations and prisons, have a long way to align with the minimum international standards. The disparity of standards across regional facilities and between federal and regional facilities is also exposing pre-trial detainees and prisoners to various human rights violations. In some regions, detainees are not provided with basic amenities such as sanitary facilities or beds. Regional and some federal detention facilities and prisons do not provide separate sanitary facilities
for women. Many pre-trial detention facilities at federal and regional level do not provide food and water forcing detainees to rely on family support or even work for other detainees in exchange for meals.
EHRC also investigates complaints of police brutality and disproportional use of force on pre-trial detainees and prisoners. Pre-trial detainees are often denied the right to inform families of their whereabouts. Both at federal and regional level, the Commission has found a concerning pattern of prison authorities and police ignoring court orders for release on bail. Mismanagement or falsification of records, denial of fair trial, family visits or medical treatment and harassment of visitors are still rife in several detention and prison facilities.
Children in detention face secondary victimization because there is only one detention facility for children at the federal level, and in all regional states, children in conflict with the law are imprisoned with adults.
Pre-trial detainees, including those in police custody and sentenced prisoners have the right to be treated with respect for their inherent dignity, and be protected from all forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Children detainees and in conflict with the law also have the right to free legal aid and restoration through psychosocial support including education, proper nutrition and counselling.
While it is encouraging that some regions have expressed willingness to address these issues and have requested for support, training and increased budget, the harmonization of standards and review of conditions of detention facilities and prisons across the country requires serious attention and a more comprehensive approach. In addition to EHRC’s recommendations from its regular monitoring of places of detention and its close engagement with relevant authorities on the issue, the Commission calls on regional and federal authorities to address the legal and implementation gaps, including by allocating the required resources and identifying areas for mid-term and long-term reform to meet the minimum international standards in prison conditions.