a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports that the government and its representatives committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the UN International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE), and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) reported numerous cases of unlawful or extrajudicial killings in the context of the conflict in Tigray and the northern part of the country (see section 1.g.). The Federal Police Internal Investigative Bureau investigated cases of criminal acts perpetrated by police. The internal unit’s decisions regarding penalties against police were confidential.
The Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) had a military police division with a military investigative unit that reported to the military attorney general’s office. Military police passed evidence from their investigations to the prosecutors and defense counsels. The ENDF attorney general directed the investigations and heard the cases in military court.
During the year, a government counterinsurgency campaign against the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) in Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz Regions continued with numerous reports of abuse and killings of civilians. In March media reported government security forces burned at least three persons alive in the Guba area of northwestern Benishangul-Gumuz Region. Following the incident, authorities said they would prosecute the individuals responsible but had not announced any accountability measures by year’s end. On July 4, HRW reported abuse had continued in western Oromia since November 2021. In June a video circulated that showed government security officials carrying out at least 30 extrajudicial killings of OLA members in December 2021. The government had not held anyone accountable by year’s end.
In June Sudan accused Ethiopian security forces of capturing and executing seven Sudanese soldiers and a civilian in the contested border region of al-Fashaga. On June 27, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry stated reports had misrepresented the “facts of the incident” and asserted the deaths were a result of a skirmish between Sudanese soldiers, who they said had staged an incursion into Ethiopian territory, and a local militia.
Unidentified groups of militants reportedly carried out attacks and killings of civilians in various parts of Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz throughout the year. Local militia groups in Afar, Oromia, and Somali Regions reportedly carried out attacks and killings of civilians as part of long-running regional boundary disputes. The OLA reportedly killed civilians and government officials in many parts of Oromia, especially in the west.
There were reports of enforced disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
During the year, local media reports alleged an increase in enforced disappearances of prominent figures critical of the government, including political commentators, former military officers, investigative journalists, and social media activists. On July 7, the EHRC called on the government to disclose the whereabouts of arrested individuals and to bring their cases to court with credible evidence after the government increased arrests of journalists and activists (see section 2.a.).
On August 4, the lawyer of detained Tigrayan opposition leader Kibrom Berhe told media neither he nor the family of Kibrom knew Kibrom’s whereabouts after the court decided to release him on bail July 18.
On July 18, media reported vice chairman of the Finfinnee Renaissance Association Henock Dejene was missing after he reportedly was taken from his home and detained by security forces on July 10. He reportedly missed his scheduled appearance in court July 12, and at the time his family reported his whereabouts were unknown. On August 17 he was released, according to a legal advocacy group.
According to several reports, thousands of ethnic Tigrayans remained detained throughout the year in unknown locations in Western Tigray and elsewhere (see section 1.d.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses
Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there were reports that security officials tortured and otherwise abused detainees.
According to HRW, Amnesty International, and numerous media reports, the government engaged in torture in its security operations connected to the armed conflict in the northern part of the country and failed to hold soldiers accused of torture accountable (see section 1.g.).
During an EHRC investigation in prison and detention centers in Oromia, Gambella, and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR), detainees reported police beat them during arrests and in detention. The EHRC’s monitoring teams found evidence of injuries on some detainees who reported police beatings. In addition, EHRC reported government security forces in SNNPR caused physical harm to detainees in Jinka Correction Center, Gazer, and Total police stations and tortured detainees across different regions of the country.
On July 7, the EHRC reported that civilians and detained combatants had been subjected to degrading and inhuman treatment in the context of the northern conflict (see section 1.g.).
Reports of impunity for security forces continued, although some measures were taken to hold them accountable for human rights abuses. Lack of transparency regarding those being charged and tried in courts of law made it difficult to assess the government’s accountability efforts. In May 2021 the federal attorney general’s office released a summary report of its efforts to ensure accountability regarding violations of national and international law in Tigray. Government investigators examined allegations that members of the ENDF engaged in killing of civilians, rape and other forms of gender-based violence, and looting and destruction of property. Military prosecutors charged 28 soldiers for killing civilians without military necessity, and 25 soldiers for committing acts of sexual violence, including rape. As of August, according to a report of the government’s Inter-Ministerial Task Force, the military court had sentenced 25 persons with imprisonment of up to 25 years, including one life sentence, and two acquittals; 33 cases involving rape (16), extrajudicial killings (nine), bodily injury (seven), and assault (one) were still pending trial. At year’s end, the military police were also investigating several other cases of alleged conflict-related crimes. Human rights groups criticized the military’s accountability efforts for lacking transparency.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. Problems included gross overcrowding and inadequate food, water, sanitation, and medical care. Pretrial detention often occurred in police station detention facilities, where conditions varied widely, and reports noted unhygienic conditions.
Beginning in early November 2021, according to media reports, the government detained thousands of ethnic Tigrayans under its state of emergency, converting warehouses, schools, youth centers, and other makeshift facilities to house the growing detainee population.
The government lifted the state of emergency in February, but reports indicated the use of informal detention centers to keep detainees out of formal legal proceedings for an undefined period continued across many parts of the country. On June 17, Reuters reported it had identified at least a dozen locations where some 9,000 Tigrayans were held without trial. The conditions in such facilities were reportedly life threatening (see sections 1.b. and 1.d.). On June 16, HRW reported that since January, Amhara security forces had held hundreds, possibly thousands, of Tigrayans in overcrowded facilities, where detainees have been killed, tortured, and denied adequate food and medical care. Some reportedly starved to death. On December 4, the Washington Post reported survivors of a mass killing said prison guards killed scores of detained Tigrayan soldiers in late 2021. The EHRC said it was investigating the claims (see sections 1.a. and 1.g.).
Abusive Physical Conditions: Overcrowding reportedly was common, especially in prison sleeping quarters. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) World Prison Brief estimated the country’s prisons held 110,000 persons in March 2020, although they had no estimate of the prison system’s capacity. Prison cells were small and cramped. International organizations reported it was common for cells to have small windows that allowed only a little light into estimated 430-square-foot cells, one of which might hold as many as 38 cellmates. Authorities sometimes reportedly incarcerated juveniles with adults. Prison officials generally separated male and female prisoners, although mixing occurred at some facilities. Authorities did not provide information on deaths in prison.
During the year the EHRC observed prison centers and police stations in Gambella, Addis Ababa, Oromia, Benishangul-Gumuz, and other parts of the country, where it found problems related to hygiene, food supply, access to health and education, and inhuman treatment of prisoners. On August 1, the EHRC released a report based on a review of 126 police stations and 27 correction centers in Oromia that identified increasing trends of security forces holding detainees without charges, beating detainees, and arresting family members in lieu of suspects at large.
Many prisoners reportedly supplemented their food allocation with daily food deliveries from family members or by purchasing food from local vendors. Reports noted officials prevented some prisoners from receiving food from their families, and some families did not know their relatives’ locations. Medical care was unreliable in federal prisons and almost nonexistent in regional ones. Medical attention following physical abuse was insufficient in some cases.
Prisoners reportedly had only limited access to potable water, with water shortages causing unhygienic conditions, and most prisons lacking appropriate sanitary facilities. Some prisoners reportedly had serious health problems but received little or no treatment. There were reports prison officials denied some prisoners access to needed medical care and demanded detainees pay per diem for a police escort to hospitals when they sought medical treatment outside prison centers.
The law prohibits detention in any facility other than an official detention center; however, local militias and other formal and informal law enforcement entities reportedly operated an unknown number of unofficial detention centers. During the year several reports implicated the government in increased use of informal detention centers to keep detainees, including internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Tigray and Tigrayans deported from countries in the Middle East, for an indefinite period in prison-like detention centers.
Most prisons and detention centers lacked adequate handwashing facilities, personal protective equipment, and quarantine areas. As a result, the prison system was vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19.
Administration: There were reports that prisoners were mistreated by prison guards and did not have access to prison administrators or ombudspersons to register their complaints. Legal aid clinics operated in some prisons. At the regional level, these clinics had good working relations with judicial, prison, and other government officials. Prison officials allowed some detainees to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, but courts sometimes declined to hear such complaints.
The law generally provides for visitor access to prisoners. Authorities, however, denied some indicted defendants visits with their lawyers. In some cases, police reportedly did not allow pretrial detainees to have access to visitors, including family members and legal counsel. Prison regulations stipulate lawyers representing persons charged with terrorism offenses may visit only one client per day, and only on Wednesdays and Fridays. Authorities reportedly denied family members’ access to persons charged with terrorist activity.
Officials permitted religious observance by prisoners, but this varied by prison and even by section within a prison. There were allegations authorities denied detainees adequate locations in which to pray.
Independent Monitoring: From January to June, the International Committee of the Red Cross visited 21,407 prisoners in 34 places of detention throughout the country as part of its normal activities. The Red Cross and international human rights monitors were denied access to alleged detention facilities in Western Tigray, however, where many thousands of ethnic Tigrayans reportedly remained detained in life-threatening conditions (see section 1.d.).
Regional authorities allowed government and NGO representatives to meet with prisoners without third parties present. The EHRC monitored federal and regional detention centers, interviewed prison officials and prisoners, and held consultative meetings with authorities on the findings.
During the period from March 4 to 13, the EHRC deployed monitoring teams at 26 police stations in Addis Ababa and six federal prison centers on April 6. In most police stations the EHRC observed, detainees were held in unhygienic and overcrowded rooms. On June 13, the EHRC held a consultative meeting with authorities on the findings, which included reports of police detaining suspects and searching their premises without a court warrant and failing to provide sufficient food and health services in detention centers.
On August 1, EHRC reported it had reviewed 126 police stations and 27 correction centers in Oromia Region and held a follow-up consultation with regional authorities. The review found an increasing trend of police holding detainees without charges, beating detainees, and arresting family members in lieu of suspects at large.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and federal law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government often did not observe these requirements, especially regarding the mass detentions made under the state of emergency (see section 1.b.).
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The constitution and law require detainees to appear in court and face charges within 48 hours of arrest or as soon thereafter as local circumstances and communications permit. Travel time to the court is not included in this 48-hour period. With a warrant, authorities may detain persons suspected of serious offenses for 14 days without charge. The courts increasingly pushed authorities to present evidence or provide clear justifications within 14 days or release the detainee. Courts also demanded to see police investigative files to assess police requests for additional time.
A functioning bail system was in place. Bail was not available, however, for persons charged with murder, treason, or corruption. In other cases, the courts set bail between 500 birr ($11.60) and 100,000 birr ($1,900), amounts that few citizens could afford. Often police failed to release detainees after a court decided to release them on bail; sometimes, police would file another charge immediately after the court’s decision. The government provided public defenders for detainees unable to afford private legal counsel, but defendants received these services only when their cases went to trial and not during the pretrial phases. In some cases, a single defense counsel represented multiple defendants in a single case. Some suspects were held incommunicado.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest by security forces.
HRW reported that security forces ethnically profiled and arbitrarily arrested Tigrayans throughout the year. According to a Reuters report, approximately 9,000 Tigrayans were still in detention as of June 17. In addition, on June 16, HRW reported that since January, Amhara security forces had held “hundreds, possibly thousands” of Tigrayans in life-threatening conditions. Following the resumption of hostilities in August, police reportedly engaged in widespread, ethnically based detentions of Tigrayans. The Addis Ababa police commissioner maintained that arrested Tigrayans were under investigation for alleged support for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
In investigations in Oromia, Gambella, Benishangul-Gumuz, and Addis Ababa, the EHRC found many detainees had been arrested without court orders or formal investigations, and many had not been brought before court within the time the law prescribed. In addition, the EHRC reported many police stations held suspects whose charges were dropped or who should have been released in accordance with court orders. In some cases, children reportedly were held in detention on suspicion of involvement in criminal activity, contrary to the law requiring their release on unconditional bail.
In November 2021 the government reportedly commenced mass detentions of Tigrayans in Addis Ababa and throughout the country (see section 6) because of their ethnic origin. In some cases, detainees reportedly were kept in camps for an undefined period. In July the EHRC and other human rights groups raised concerns about the condition of more than 9,000 Tigrayan IDPs held for months in Semera and Agatina camps in Agatina following the November 2021 state of emergency. On August 17, the government started returning detainees to their villages in Afar Region. As of October, Afar regional authorities had released IDPs from the Semera camp and closed the camp and released nearly all IDPs from the Agatina camp. Meanwhile, as of October, security officials reportedly were holding 2,800 Tigrayan IDPs in a police training center in Awash Sebat in Afar Region.
Pretrial Detention: The proportion of the inmate population in pretrial detention and average length of time held were not available. Lengthy legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, and staffing shortages contributed to frequent trial delays, in some cases lasting years.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary. Although the civil courts operated with a large degree of independence, criminal courts remained weak and overburdened.
Under the constitution, accused persons have the right to a fair, public trial without undue delay, a presumption of innocence, legal counsel of their choice, appeal, the right not to self-incriminate, the right to present witnesses and evidence in their defense, and the right to cross-examine prosecution witnesses. The law requires officials to inform detainees of the nature of their arrest within a specific period, according to the severity of the allegation. The law requires that, if necessary, translation services be provided in a language defendants understand. The federal courts are required to hire interpreters for defendants that speak other languages and had staff working as interpreters for major local languages.
The federal Public Defender’s Office provided legal counsel to indigent defendants, but the scope and quality of service reportedly were inadequate due to attorney shortages. A public defender often handled more than 100 cases and might represent multiple defendants in the same criminal case. Numerous free legal-aid clinics, primarily based at universities, also provided legal services. In certain areas of the country, the law allows volunteers such as law students and professors to represent clients in court on a pro bono basis. There reportedly was a lack of a strong and inclusive local bar association or other standardized criminal defense representation.
On August 2, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association opposed the composition of the Ethiopian Bar Association board members appointed by Prime Minister Abiy, arguing the appointment of all men to the board “violates the principles of gender balance, inclusiveness, and equality” and calling on the decision to be reversed. The constitution recognizes both religious and traditional courts. Many rural citizens had little access to formal judicial systems and relied on traditional mechanisms for resolving conflict. By law, all parties to a dispute must agree to use a traditional or religious court before such a court may hear a case, and either party may appeal to a regular court at any time. Sharia (Islamic law) courts may hear religious and family cases involving Muslims if both parties agree before the start of the formal legal process to use the sharia court. Sharia courts received some funding from the government. Sharia courts adjudicated most cases in Somali and Afar Regions, which are predominantly Muslim. Other traditional systems of justice, such as councils of elders, functioned predominantly in rural areas. Women often believed they lacked access to fair hearings in the traditional court system because local custom excluded them from participation in councils of elders and due to persistent gender discrimination.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
On January 7, the government released several prominent political prisoners, including Sebhat Nega, a member of the TPLF. The release included Jawar Mohammed and Eskinder Nega, prominent critics of Prime Minister Abiy, who were arrested with their colleagues following instability in 2020.
In March media reported authorities had detained several senior officials from Tigray and imprisoned them in Afar. On March 18, the EHRC confirmed to international media the arrest of eight former government officials.
There were also several reports of detentions of prominent Oromo figures. For example, on September 29, Oromia regional state security forces reportedly detained prominent Oromo scholar Alemayehu Diro and released him in late October. On September 23, security forces in Addis Ababa detained Oromo anthropologist and researcher Gemechu Megersa for a day before releasing him with a notice to report back to the police when needed.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The law provides citizens the right to file cases in civil court, including in cases with human rights abuses. For human rights abuses where a government agency is the accused perpetrator, the victim initiates the process by filing a complaint at the EHRC. The EHRC investigates and makes recommendations to the concerned government agency.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law generally requires authorities to obtain court-issued search warrants prior to searching private property, although the government did not always enforce this. The law also recognizes exceptions for “hot pursuit” cases in which a suspect enters premises or disposes of items that are the subject of an offense committed on the premises. This legal exception also applies when police have reasonable suspicion that evidence of a crime punishable if convicted by more than three years’ imprisonment is concealed on or in the property and a delay in obtaining a search warrant could allow for the evidence to be removed. Freedom House reported the government used location tracking and other technical means to surveil online and telephone communications. In addition, the government reportedly blocked or filtered websites for political reasons, and there was reportedly no mechanism to appeal website blocking.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
Beginning in November 2020, fighting between the ENDF and TPLF resulted in protracted conflict throughout the northern part of the country, mainly in Afar, Amhara, and Tigray Regions. During the year, conflict continued to affect civilians in those regions, where serious abuses were also reported. By year’s end, there was increasing humanitarian access to Tigray. There were numerous reports of looting and destruction of infrastructure in Afar, Amhara, and Tigray, including in refugee camps. There were reports that government security forces, regional security forces, the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF), private militias, and the TPLF all committed human rights abuses.
Killings: There were widespread reports that government security forces unlawfully killed civilians in the context of the continuing conflict in the northern part of the country. Reports of regional militias, EDF, and rebel groups killing civilians in the context of the conflict were likewise widespread.
On July 8, the EHRC reported the TPLF and other parties to the conflict had killed 403 civilians in Afar and Amhara Regions through excessive use of force and indiscriminate attacks.
According to the ICHREE, on January 7, the air force conducted a drone strike that struck the Dedebit IDP camp, killing and injuring approximately 60 civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure. The ICHREE reported there were no soldiers or military equipment in or near the camp on the day of the attack. The renewal of fighting in the north on August 24 was followed by reports of airstrikes killing civilians. On August 26, the United Nations reported a strike in Mekele hit a kindergarten in a residential area, killing at least four children; media showed graphic remains of a demolished playground. The federal government denied the allegations, saying the air force only targeted military sites and accused TPLF forces of staging civilian deaths.
In an October report, Amnesty International stated multiple air strikes in August and September in Mekele and Adi Daero killed hundreds of civilians, including children. On September 6 to 12, the EDF, which was aligned with the ENDF, extrajudicially executed at least 40 persons, including Eritrean refugees, in Sheraro town, according to the report.
On September 14, hospital officials in Tigray’s capital Mekele told media two consecutive drone strikes in a single day killed 10 civilians.
According to an April 6 joint report released by HRW and Amnesty International, authorities in the Western Tigray Zone and Amhara regional security forces, with the acquiescence and possible participation of federal forces, committed grave abuses against Tigrayans, including killings, torture, forcible transfer, rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearances, widespread pillage, imprisonment, possible extermination, and other inhuman acts as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Tigrayan civilian population. The HRW-Amnesty report also documented how Amhara authorities and forces, at times with the acquiescence and possible participation of federal forces, carried out unlawful killings, including the summary execution by Amhara special forces of approximately 60 Tigrayan men near the Tekeze River Bridge in January 2021.
In their September report to the UN Human Rights Council, the ICHREE documented killings of civilians by TPLF forces, including in Kobo and Chenna in late August and early September 2021.
On December 4, the Washington Post reported prison guards had massacred scores of Tigrayan detainees in late 2021.
Abductions: The government continued to abduct Tigrayans and others who criticized the government’s fight with TPLF forces and the humanitarian situation resulting from the conflict. Thousands of Tigrayans reportedly remained detained in Western Tigray at unknown locations (see section 1.d.). With the renewal of fighting August 24, the TPLF and groups allied to them reportedly unjustly detained and abducted non-Tigrayan civilians, some of whom were killed or disappeared.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: According to the EHRC, all parties to the conflict engaged in torture and ill-treatment of civilians and captured combatants. Victims were reportedly beaten with electric cables and metal pipes, detained incommunicado, threatened with guns to their heads, and deprived of food and water. Civilians in Western Tigray were reportedly tortured and ill-treated mainly because of their ethnic identities. Elsewhere, captured soldiers and fighters, as well as civilians suspected of providing support to them, were reportedly tortured.
The ICHREE found reasonable grounds to believe that the ENDF, EDF, and the Fano militia had committed acts of rape and sexual violence against Tigrayan women and girls. In some instances, the attackers expressed an intent to render the survivors infertile and used dehumanizing language that suggested an intent to destroy the Tigrayan ethnicity. According to the ICHREE, TPLF forces also committed acts of rape and sexual violence, albeit on a smaller scale.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there were two open allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission: one submitted in 2018 allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult in the UN Mission in Liberia and one submitted in late 2020 allegedly involving transactional sex in the UN Interim Security Force in Abyei. As of October 2021, the United Nations had substantiated the 2018 allegation and repatriated the perpetrator, but the government had not yet reported regarding accountability measures taken. Concerning the 2020 allegation, the United Nations had taken an interim action (suspension of payments), but results of the investigation remained pending, as was any final action.
Child Soldiers: There were some reports of unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers by government forces and armed groups. The government and the TPLF alleged the other had unlawfully recruited and used child soldiers, denying the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers within their own forces.
According to an October media report, the government forcibly recruited child soldiers from southern Oromia to fight against the TPLF. The government repeatedly denied the allegations of forced recruitment, maintaining youth of legal age joined security forces voluntarily.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: In the context of the conflict in the northern part of the country, international organizations, including the United Nations, reported that a humanitarian crisis, including man-made widespread famine, was unfolding and sought to assist with basic services, food, and medical supplies. The government, however, reportedly impeded or blocked access to areas in need of humanitarian assistance in Tigray, except during the humanitarian truce from March 24 to August 24 and following the November Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA). In their September report, the ICHREE found grounds to believe that the federal government and allied regional state governments have implemented a widespread range of measures designed to systematically deprive the population of Tigray of material and services indispensable for its survival, including health care, shelter, water, sanitation, education, and food.
In April HRW reported that interim authorities in control of Western Tigray, as well as Amhara authorities and forces, clarified – via oral and at times written threats – they intended to push Tigrayans out of “this land” and east across the Tekeze river (a natural boundary with the Northwestern Zone of Tigray). According to HRW, these forces, at times with the acquiescence and possible participation of federal forces, engaged in the forcible transfer of hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans from the territory (see section 2.d.). In November the TPLF reported that 3,000 additional Tigrayan men had been rounded up and moved to unknown destinations in Western Tigray.