Ethiopia rights body says access blocked to emergency detainees

AFP , Wednesday 17 Nov 2021

Ethiopia's human rights watchdog said Wednesday it had been barred from visiting detainees rounded up in mass arrests under a wartime state of emergency.

Ethiopian malnourished baby
File Photo: Birhan Etsana, 27, from Dengelat, uses a nasogastric tube to feed her malnourished baby, Mebrhit, who at 17 months old weighs just 5.2 kilograms (11 pounds and 7 ounces), at the Ayder Referral Hospital in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, on May 10, 2021.

The state-affiliated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) estimated thousands have been caught up in the latest sweeps, which lawyers and rights groups say appear largely to target Tigrayans based on their ethnicity alone.

The government says the operations are a legitimate effort to stamp out the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group -- its adversary in a year-long war in the country's north.

The EHRC "is highly concerned that it can't collect information relating to detainees' conditions since the announcement of a state of emergency on November 2," the body said in a statement.

While EHRC staffers visited detention centres in two of 11 districts in Addis Ababa, officials in other locations said "they won't give information unless there is an order that comes from above," the statement said.

"It's estimated (that) in Addis Ababa alone thousands of people have been arrested with the arrests continuing across districts in the city," it said.

"Up to 300 people" have been arrested in Dire Dawa city in eastern Ethiopia, it added.

"Not enough efforts are being made to ensure that the tipoff-based arrests and the origins of the tipoffs aren't based on ethnicity."

On Tuesday the UN's human rights agency voiced alarm about the surging arrests which have ensnared dozens of UN staff and contracted drivers.

'Very crowded' centres

Detainees also include lactating mothers, the mentally ill, people who need "regular medical care" and people who are older than 80, the EHRC said Wednesday, calling for such groups to be released.

The police stations where many are being held "are very crowded, don't have enough toilets, and don't receive enough air and light," it said.

Some have been transferred outside Addis Ababa, and in other cases detainees' relatives do not know where they are, it said.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray last November to topple the TPLF, a move he said came in response to rebel attacks on army camps.

Though he promised a swift victory, by late June the TPLF had retaken most of the region including its capital Mekele, and it has since advanced into the neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.

The war has killed thousands and pushed hundreds of thousands of people in Tigray into famine-like conditions, according to the UN.

Abiy's government accuses the international community of overlooking human rights abuses perpetrated by the TPLF in recent months.

On Wednesday the government said "millions of people need humanitarian assistance" in Amhara and Afar.

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