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Ethiopia: Human Rights Alert
Ethiopia: Human Rights Alert
Date distributed (ymd): 010516
Document reposted by APIC
Africa Policy Electronic Distribution List: an information
service provided by AFRICA ACTION (incorporating the Africa
Policy Information Center, The Africa Fund, and the American
Committee on Africa). Find more information for action for
Africa at http://www.africapolicy.org
Region: East Africa
Issue Areas: +political/rights+ +security/peace+
This posting contains three documents concerning the recent arrests
of human rights leaders Prof. Mesfin Wolde Mariam and Dr. Behanu
Nega in Ethiopia and related repression of university students and
other critics of the regime. The first two are statements from the
Ethiopian Human Rights Council and from Human Rights Watch, both
dated May 9. The third a letter from the Association of Concerned
Africa Scholars (ACAS)
More recent reports say that Prof. Mesfin, the founder of the
rights council who is 71 years old, is on a hunger strike, and that
his health is weak. For an on-line petition organized by Ethiopian
Scholars Network, see:
For recent news, see
and The Addis Tribune
Ethiopian Human Rights Council
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Call for the Immediate Release of Prof. Mesfin Wolde Mariam and Dr.
Special Report No. 43/2001 9 May 2001
EHRCO has an observer status in the African Commission on Human and
People's Rights, is a member of World Organization Against Torture
and is also a corresponding member of the International Federation
of Human Rights.
Contact: 2432 Addis Abeba, ETHIOPIA
Tel: (00251 1) 51 44 89, 51 77 04
Telefax: (00251 1) 51 45 39
Since the time of its establishment, the Ethiopian Human Rights
Council (EHRCO) has been striving to the best of its ability for
the establishment of a democratic system, the respect of human
rights, the prevalence of the rule of law and the exercise of due
process in Ethiopia. In addition to the monitoring of human rights
violations, EHRCO has been providing civic education to various
members of the public, using such fora as seminars, workshops and
panel discussions, to enhance awareness about human rights,
democracy and the rule of law. EHRCO has been carrying out these
activities as per its mandate in its constitution, especially as
provided in its sub-article 4.2.4, which clearly states one of its
tasks as being: "to organise seminars, workshops, panel
discussions, and lectures in order to promote democracy, respect
for human rights and the rule of law".
It was on the bases of this mandate and its civic objectives that
EHRCO organized a panel discussion on the topic of "human rights,
the nature of a university, and academic freedom" for Addis Ababa
University students. The topic was chosen by and the panel
discussion was organized at the request of the former University
Students Council, made in their letter of 6 February 2001.
However, due to a number of logistical problems, the discussion was
delayed until 8th April 2001 and held at the hall of the National
Lottery. The two panelists at this day-long panel discussion were
Prof. Mesfin Wolde Mariam, who dealt with the principles of human
rights and the nature of a university, and Dr. Berhanu Nega, who
spoke on the principles of academic freedom within a university. As
EHRCO had repeatedly reported to the public, the discussion was
held peacefully and the issues of democratic rights and academic
freedom were discussed frankly, but responsibly.
None of the speakers had said or done anything that could be
construed as instigating the students to go on strike. That the
panel discussion was held just one day before the university
students met on campus and put forward their demands for the
respect of their democratic rights and the exercise of academic
freedom was a sheer coincidence since EHRCO did not have prior
knowledge that the students would put to the government such
demands, or that the subsequent class boycott would later be
followed by the riot in Addis Ababa.
However, following the riot in some parts of the city, various
government officials have publicly been trying to put the blame for
the riot on the opposition political parties and "some so-called
human rights organizations". Despite the fact that the panelists
dealt with a topic that was within the legitimate mandate of
EHRCO's civic responsibilities, and in spite of the fact that the
speakers, as usual in such cases, did not in any sense deviate from
the panel discussion's objective of educating the students on
fundamental democratic principles and universal human rights, the
Federal Police arrested Prof. Mesfin Wolde Mariam and Dr. Berhanu
Nega in the morning of 8th May 2001, the former from his home and
the latter from his office, claiming that it had evidence "they had
incited the students to riot".
According to the statement of the Head of the Criminal
Investigation Department of the Federal Investigation Coordination
Bureau, the two individuals were put in detention pending further
investigation (Addis Zemen, 9th May 2001). EHRCO has received
information that indicates that the detainees were being held at
the Central Investigation Bureau's prison. Eye witnesses have
verified that the home of Prof. Mesfin and the office of Dr.
Berhanu at the headquarters of the Ethiopian Economics Association
are being guarded by armed policemen.
The head office of EHRCO, too, has been put under police guard
since 11.45 a.m. on the day of the arrest of the two people. The
police are restricting everyone's movement in and out of these
premises. Not only this, in the morning of 8th May, every activity
of EHRCO's staff even within their offices was being closely
checked by the security men, incoming calls monitored and outgoing
calls restricted, the dispatch of documents and/or materials into
and out of the office prohibited; the staff were frisked when they
entered and left the office. From 4.00 p.m. on 8th May up to the
time of issuing this Special Report, the staff were being prevented
from entering their office by the policemen posted at the office,
who have also been guarding it the whole night and thereafter.
Under these restrictions, therefore, EHRCO was effectively being
prevented from conducting its normal business within its head
To date, all of EHRCO's activities have been legal, transparent,
and peaceful. The panelists discussions on 8th April were also
legitimate, constitutional and peaceful. Not only this, the two
panelists were respectable citizens who have been providing
commendable public services. Prof. Mesfin, a prominent founder of
EHRCO, had been serving as the Council's Chairman from the time of
its founding until a couple of years ago. He is still an active
member of the Executive Committee. Dr. Berhanu, who was a former
chairman of the Ethiopian Economics Association, is currently the
Director of the Ethiopian Economic Research Institute. These are
not the type of people who would be engaged in instigation of
riots. The government, therefore, has no legal or moral ground
whatsoever either to detain the two intellectuals or to impose
restrictions on the normal activities at its head office.
Consequently, EHRCO strongly urges the Ethiopian government to:
- respect their right to bail and immediately release Prof. Mesfin
Wolde Mariam and Dr. Berhanu Nega;
- give their families and friends immediate access to the two
detainees while they are in police custody;
- allow representatives of the International Red Cross Committee
and other international humanitarian organizations to have
immediate access to the two detainees and to closely monitor their
- stop the harassment of EHRCO's staff and lift the illegal
restrictions imposed on the normal conduct of its business at its
EHRCO also calls on the Ethiopian public, private individuals,
human rights organizations, international agencies and governments
committed to the establishment of a democratic order in Ethiopia to
use their influence and press the Ethiopian government to:
- release without further delay Prof. Mesfin W/Mariam and Dr.
- ensure the well-being of the two detainees;
- remove all the illegal restrictions on the legal and legitimate
operations of EHRCO.
Copy: H. E. Dr. Negaso Gidada, President of FDRE; H. E. Ato Meles
Zenawi, Prime Minister of FDRE; House of Peoples' Representatives;
House of Federation; H. E. Ato Woredewold Wolde, Minister of
Justice; H.E. Ato Kemal Bedri, President of Federal Supreme Court;
H. E. Ato Kinfe Gebre Medhin, Head, National Security, Immigration
and Refugees Affairs Authority
Government Attacks Universities, Civil Society
Human Rights Watch (New York)
May 9, 2001
For More Information, Please Contact: In New York, Saman
Zia-Zarifi: +1-212- 216-1213 SulimanAli Baldo: +1-212-216-1297 In
London, Bronwen Manby: +44-207- 713-1995
Ethiopian security forces have used excessive force in dealing with
student protests and are using the protests as an excuse for
cracking down on all government critics, Human Rights Watch charged
Attacks by security forces on Addis Ababa University, in Ethiopia's
capital, have led to forty-one deaths, hundreds of injuries, and
the detention of over two thousand students and scores of
government critics since April 17.
"The government's heavy-handed tactics have enflamed what began as
a peaceful local student protest into a violent national crisis,"
said Saman Zia-Zarifi, Human Rights Watch's Academic Freedom
"The attacks on academic freedom have now degenerated into a
wholesale assault on civil society in Ethiopia."
On the morning of May 8, armed security forces arrested Prof.
Mesfin Woldemariam and Berhanu Nega, both prominent academics and
human rights activists. Prof. Mesfin, who was fired from his
teaching position in 1991, was a founder of the Ethiopian Human
Rights Council, a monitoring organization. His detention follows
that of several dozen members of civil and political groups
critical of the Ethiopian government. Authorities claim these
opposition figures instigated the recent student protests.
However, eyewitness testimony and information from local sources
indicate that Ethiopian authorities responded with brutal violence
to students demanding greater academic freedom, and are now using
the ensuing crisis to justify a general crackdown on figures
critical of the government.
Security forces attacked students at Addis Ababa University on
April 11, injuring more than fifty students. A week later, at least
forty people were killed during raids at the university by heavily
armed members of the Special Forces branch of the security forces.
Eyewitnesses claim that the police raid on students escalated into
widespread riots around Addis Ababa as protesters disaffected with
government policies joined the clashes in support of the students.
According to eyewitnesses, security forces fired live ammunition at
protesters. Police reports stated that thirty-one people were
killed in the raids, while hospital sources put the number of dead
as at least forty-one. Some fifty-five people were hospitalized as
a result of injuries sustained during the clashes. Witnesses state
that the riot police beat civilians with batons though they offered
no resistance, and then turned on bystanders, including women and
children. Students were dragged out of local churches and mosques,
where they had sought refuge, and taken into detention.
More than two thousand students were detained during these raids.
Most were released a few days later, but several who were suspected
of being members of the university student council are still held
incommunicado. The security forces have also rounded up nearly 150
political activists and journalists critical of the government,
many of whom are being held without any information as to their
According to the testimony of newly released student detainees,
they were taken to the Sendafa police training college outside
Addis Ababa, where they received only bread and water once a day.
Students were disciplined by being forced to run barefoot on stony
ground, and were denied medical care or access to their families
and lawyers. As a condition of release and readmission to the
university, students said they were forced to sign a form admitting
that they had participated in an illegal action and were
responsible for the violence.
Police again raided the Addis Ababa University campus on April 30,
arresting several students suspected of playing leadership roles in
the protests. Despite the police action, and contrary to the
government's public statements, Addis Ababa University remains
under a student boycott in support of the detained students. The
unrest has spread to at least ten other universities and scores of
high schools around the country, including Alemaya University of
Agriculture and Bahir-Dar Polytechnic Institute.
Academics interviewed by telephone by Human Rights Watch claim that
security forces are blocking students at Addis Ababa from traveling
to their home towns outside of the capital in order to prevent
contact between protesters and sympathetic student groups around
Background At the root of the student protests are demands for
greater academic freedom. Student groups at Addis Ababa University
were engaged in ongoing negotiations with Minister of Education
Genet Zewde over requests for decreased government controls over
the campus. The students' main demands were permission to republish
a banned student magazine, dismissal of two university
administrators closely affiliated with the government, and removal
of security troops stationed inside the campus.
While the government initially conceded the first two demands, it
did not commit to a schedule for removing security forces from the
universities. When students continued to press their demands, the
minister of education issued an ultimatum threatening students who
did not return to classes with police force. The security forces'
efforts to enforce the ultimatum, coming on the heels of continuing
police use of violence to quash student protests, set off the
clashes on April 17 and 18 at Addis Ababa University and the chain
of events leading to the current crisis.
The Human Rights Watch Academic Freedom program works with a
committee prominent academic leaders and scholars, including the
current and past presidents of Harvard University, Columbia
University and more than a dozen other universities in the United
States, as well as internationally prominent academics. Human
Rights Watch urged the Ethiopian government to promptly investigate
the conduct of security forces in causing the deaths during raids
at Addis Ababa University; to release all students, government
critics and human rights monitors still in detention, or promptly
allow them the opportunity to defend themselves against formal
charges in a proper court of law; and to honor academic freedom by
allowing free expression at the universities.
Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (ACAS)
May 11, 2001
Dear ACAS members and friends,
As many of you know, over the course of the last two months attacks
by the Ethiopian government on students, scholars, and civil
society activists have been accelerating. In addition we have been
receving calls for assistance from Ethiopian colleagues.
While we had hoped that the reopening of Addis Ababa university
signalled a change for the better, the arrest this week of
prominent academics and human rights scholars, among other similar
measures, indicates otherwise.
ACAS has thus written an appeal to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles
asking for him to reverse course, and assure once again free speech
and academic freedom. This letter is immediately below.
We would ask you to act as well, writing to:
Prime Minister Meles: Fax: 251-1-55-2020
US Secretary of State Colin Powell: Fax: (202) 261-8577
Print addresses are on our letter below as well.
We thank you for your assistance.
Bill Martin, Merle Bowen Co-Chairs
May 11, 2001
His Excellency Meles Zenawi, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Via Fax: 2511-55-20-20
Dear Prime Minister Meles,
On behalf of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (ACAS),
a national organization of progressive scholars actively engaged
with Africa, we write to urge that you take immediate steps to
release detained students and scholars, and allow university
communities to return to their work unhindered by state repression.
ACAS and its members have a long history of respect and support for
Ethiopian struggles for freedom; indeed Ethiopia has often been a
source of inspiration for Americans. We are thus particularly
disturbed by what can only be seen as a determined campaign to
suppress free speech and academic freedom. Whatever the events and
persons involved in the April disturbances in Addis Ababa, the
subsequent attack on Addis Ababa University and other institutions
of higher education shocked our members and many in the
international academic community. The reports of subsequent summary
arrests and the detention of thousands of students and
scholars--without charges or trial--is of especially grave concern.
The even more recent arrest of Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, the
founding member of Ethiopian Human Rights Council, and Dr. Berhanu
Nega, a prominent economist at Addis Ababa University, signals we
fear an unrelenting campaign to eliminate all dissent, well beyond
even the repression of those who work within the fields of higher
We thus urge you to use your office to ensure the immediate release
of all detained students, scholars, and related persons--or if
evidence exists, their charge in public court. The continuation of
sweeping arrests and detention without charges, the closure of
universities and colleges, and the imposition of loyalty oaths as
a condition of study and scholarship, gravely threatens Ethiopia's
proud intellectual heritage, its continuation, and progressive
relations between Ethiopia and the United States. We hope
continuing repression can be reversed, and return Ethiopia to us as
a signal beacon of the struggle for freedom for both Africa and
Merle Bowen, Co-Chair
William G. Martin, Co-Chair
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Fax: (202) 261-8577
Ambassador Berhane Gebre-Christos
Ethiopian Ambassador to the United States
Embassy of Ethiopia
3506 International Drive, NW
Washington DC 20008
Fax (202) 686-9551
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by
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Center, The Africa Fund, and the American Committee on Africa).
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