The Committee against Torture today concluded its consideration of the second periodic report of Ethiopia, with Committee Experts welcoming constitutional protections for persons deprived of liberty and raising questions about authorities’ alleged human rights violations in Tigray and reported abuses of refugees from Eritrea.
Sébastien Touze, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the report of Ethiopia, said protections for persons deprived of liberty were inscribed in the Constitution, and the Committee welcomed this. However, several detainees were reportedly not immediately informed in a language that they understood of the reasons for their detention. There were also reported concerns about detainees’ access to lawyers and interpreters, and about delays in hearing cases. How would the Government ensure that constitutional guarantees were implemented effectively?
Mr. Touze addressed the conflict in Tigray, saying that since November 2020, the Amhara authorities had been engaged in what some civil society organizations described as “ethnic cleansing” in western Tigray, driving Tigrayans from the region with the acquiescence and possible involvement of Ethiopian federal forces. They had allegedly committed unlawful killings, sexual violence, arbitrary detention on a massive scale, looting, forcible transfers, and blocked access to humanitarian assistance. What measures had been taken to prevent and suppress this “ethnic cleansing”, and to protect and assist internally displaced persons?
Todd Buchwald, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the report of Ethiopia, said there had been widespread reports of abuses against refugees from Eritrea. The presence of Tigrayan Special Forces and Ethiopian National Defence Forces in Shimelba refugee camp, which housed Eritrean refugees, had led to the displacement of thousands of refugees, the disappearance of hundreds, and the destruction of the camp. Several Eritrean women and girls were reportedly raped by Tigrayan militias as they escaped from the camps in December 2020. What measures were in place to prevent the recurrence of such violations and provide redress?
Introducing the report, Alemante Agidew Wondimeneh, State Minister, Legal Division, Ministry of Justice of Ethiopia and head of delegation, said the conflict in the northern part of the country had led to an unimaginable scale of violations of fundamental rights. In November 2020, forces of the Tigray People's Liberation Front attacked and killed State personnel, and took control of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces’ Northern Command in the Tigray region. In response, the Government had to use force to repel the threat posed against the sovereignty and integrity of the nation.
Mr. Agidew Wondimeneh said the Government was ensuring the protection and well-being of civilians and guaranteeing criminal accountability when any excess was committed. It had declared a unilateral ceasefire on 28 June 2021 and withdrawn all troops from Tigray, and had declared another unilateral ceasefire in March 2022. These decisions aimed at easing the suffering of people living in the conflict areas. The delegation added that the Joint Investigation Team, which comprised the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, had not found that ethnic cleansing had occurred.
On refugees, the delegation said their safety in four camps in Tigray was the responsibility of regional forces. Two of these forces had chosen to fight with the federal forces, affecting the safety of refugees. The Government had been able to relocate around 19,000 refugees from these camps to the two safe camps in southern Tigray, and provided humanitarian assistance to these refugees. Nearly all the refugees who had been displaced by the conflict had been accounted for, and a new camp had been established to accommodate these persons. More than 15,000 affected persons had been granted advanced refugee status. Eritrean refugees had the right to access social services, open a bank account, and engage in economic activities.
The Government, the delegation said, was promoting the training of law enforcement officials to inform them of their duty to inform of the reason of arrest. Universities and law schools provided free legal aid to vulnerable groups. A draft policy to increase access to free legal aid had been developed. The State was also revising its Criminal Code to limit the amount of time persons could be held in pre-trial detention to four months. Victims of extended detention were compensated.
In closing remarks, Claude Heller, Committee Chair, thanked the delegation for its participation in the dialogue, which was an indication of Ethiopia’s willingness to fulfil its obligations under the Convention. The conflict in the Tigray region presented serious challenges in the implementation of the Convention. The Committee hoped that its concluding observations would be beneficial in improving the human rights situation in Ethiopia.
Mr. Agidew Wondimeneh, in concluding remarks, said the dialogue had shed light on the human rights situation in Ethiopia. The Tigray conflict posed serious challenges for the State party. However, it was working to implement measures to increase protections for internally displaced persons and address human rights violations. Ethiopia remained steadfast in its implementation of the Pretoria Agreement, and would continue to engage in peace talks in the region. The State party would carefully consider and incorporate the Committee’s recommendations as it continued in its fight to promote human rights in the country.
The delegation of Ethiopia consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Justice; Office of the Prime Minister; Police Commission; Refugees and Returnee Service; Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue concluding observations on the report of Ethiopia at the end of its seventy-sixth session on 12 May. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, and webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 8 May at 4 p.m. to hear reports on follow-up to articles 19 and 22 of the Convention and on reprisals.
The Committee has before it the second periodic report of Ethiopia (CAT/C/ETH/2).
Presentation of Report
ALEMANTE AGIDEW WONDIMENEH, State Minister, Legal Division, Ministry of Justice of Ethiopia and head of delegation, said the draft third national human rights action plan prioritised civil and political rights, with a significant emphasis on the rights and humane treatment of persons deprived of their liberties. To follow up implementation of the action plan, a high-level National Coordination Board had been established. Focused reforms had been implemented to facilitate more efficient deployment of prosecutors across each police station and investigation centre to oversee investigation processes. Additionally, the National Human Rights Action Plan Coordinating Office at the Ministry of Justice conducted frequent monitoring visits to places of detention to investigate the human rights situations of persons deprived of their liberty.
To shorten pre-trial detention, Ethiopia had also implemented the “Real-Time Dispatch” model of criminal justice in 2010. As a result, suspects indicted of non-complicated offenses had been able to appear and be tried before a court of law in an expedited manner and with due regard to the principle of due process of the law.
After years of long public protests and resistance against the previous Government, in 2018 the new leadership came to power. The new Government liberalised the political environment, released opposition political leaders, and pursued legal and institutional overhauls to better guarantee the fulfilment, respect, and protection of human rights across sectors. The new Government acknowledged the gross excesses committed by the security apparatus, took full responsibility, and apologised for the violations. It also investigated and brought charges against top officials and members of the security and law enforcement agencies who had been suspected of overseeing and perpetrating some of the worst forms of human rights violations in Ethiopia’s recent history.
Secret places of detention and physical sites notorious for gross human rights atrocities committed by the security and law enforcement agencies were identified and closed for good. The Government also granted amnesties to thousands of citizens, especially those who were previously charged and convicted under the former Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. Several of the persons who were charged under this legislation were subjected to torture and ill treatment. The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation was now repealed.
The Government had established a Justice Sector Reform Council which oversaw the implementation of reform initiatives that aimed to improve conditions for arrested persons and convicted prisoners. The Federal Police Commission and the Ethiopian National Defence Force had also established robust disciplinary committees to receive complaints from or on behalf of detained persons. A stronger mechanism was also put in place to ensure administrative and criminal accountability in cases where members of the Federal Police or the National Defence Force violated individuals’ rights and human dignity in the course of their active duty. Through this, the Government had initiated investigations and prosecuted excesses committed by members of the National Defence Force for offences committed in the conflict in northern Ethiopia.
Ethiopia had introduced amendments to strengthen the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, which was mandated to visit and monitor without prior notice all places of deprivation of liberty in the country and all public services institutions.
Despite the overwhelming security challenges posed by the conflict, in 2021, the Government proceeded to hold a free and fair national election for the first time in its history. However, a few groups and individuals had continuously laboured to undermine the new Government and national reform agenda through economic sabotage, negative media campaigns, and incitement of violence and ethnic strife. The Government remained steadfastly focused on the reforms and promoted the peaceful settlement of political differences.
The conflict in the northern part of the country had led to an unimaginable scale of violations of fundamental rights. In November 2020, forces of the Tigray People's Liberation Front attacked and killed State personnel, and took control of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces’ Northern Command in the Tigray region. In response, the Government had to use force to repel the threat posed against the sovereignty and integrity of the nation. The Government was ensuring the protection and well-being of civilians and guaranteeing criminal accountability when any excess was committed. The conflict had resulted in extrajudicial killings, grave sexual violence, degrading treatments, mass destruction of properties and means of livelihoods, and displacement of hundreds of thousands of citizens.
The Government had created an enabling environment for the Joint Investigation Team, which comprised the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to investigate the crimes committed in the context of the war. Ethiopia continued to implement the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the Joint Investigation Team. An Inter-Ministerial Task Force was established to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the Joint Investigation Team. The Task Force was currently investigating and prosecuting various human rights violations, rehabilitating victims, and reforming legislation in line with the recommendations of the Joint Investigation Team.
Investigations in Amhara and Afar regions had documented gruesome incidences of gang rape, rape, sexual slavery, and intentional transmission of sexually transmittable diseases, including HIV/AIDS. At least 2,212 women, girls, boys, and men were subjected to these crimes. The next phase in this proceeding was the prosecution of the investigated crimes. Investigations in Tigray and other locations had not been pursued in the past owing to security concerns in the region.
The Government had declared a unilateral ceasefire on 28 June 2021 and withdrawn all troops from Tigray. It had declared another unilateral ceasefire in March 2022. These decisions aimed at easing the suffering of people living in the conflict areas.
The Government had embarked on a new transitional justice initiative which would result in a national transitional justice policy that would provide a clear framework for ensuring criminal accountability for past violations and providing reparations.
There was still so much work to be done. The Government would continue to work with civil society organizations, the human rights community and international partners to strengthen efforts to eradicate torture and ill treatment, along with its root causes.
Questions by Committee Experts
SÉBASTIEN TOUZE, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the report of Ethiopia, said that the implementation of the Convention against Torture could not be halted due to domestic situations. Measures taken in response to the conflict needed to be taken in full respect of the Convention. The Committee was interested in how the Government came to its decisions regarding its response to the conflict, and whether the actions it had taken were in line with the Convention.
Since November 2020, the Amhara authorities had been engaged in what some civil society organizations described as “ethnic cleansing” in western Tigray, driving Tigrayans from the region with the acquiescence and possible involvement of Ethiopian federal forces. They had committed unlawful killings, sexual violence, arbitrary detention on a massive scale, looting, forcible transfers and blocked access to humanitarian assistance. Forces in western Tigray had looted crops, livestock and equipment, depriving the Tigrayan population of their livelihoods.
Tigrayan Special Forces and Ethiopian National Defence Forces had violated the civilian character of refugee camps in Tigray through their presence in Shimelba refugee camp, which housed Eritrean refugees. This had led to the displacement of thousands of refugees, the disappearance of hundreds of refugees, and the destruction of the camp. Several Eritrean women and girls were reportedly raped by Tigrayan militias as they escaped from the camps in December 2020. These acts appeared to be an attempt to terrorise and humiliate the ethnic minority group in Tigray. What measures had been taken to prevent and suppress this “ethnic cleansing”, and to protect and assist internally displaced persons?
In January 2021, the Amhara Special Forces had summarily executed around 60 Tigrayan men near the Tekezé River as a reprisal for a conflict that occurred the previous evening. This caused a mass exodus from the region. In November 2021, tens of thousands of elderly or sick Tigrayan civilians, young mothers, and children were reportedly deported, and at least 1,000 Tigrayans had been detained for suspected affiliation with the Tigray People's Liberation Front. What was the legal basis for these measures, and what procedures had resulted from the arrests?
There were allegations of sexual violence against more than 2,000 women and girls in the Tigray region. The Committee called for more information on the total numbers of rape and gender-based crimes. How were investigations proceeding?
Amnesty International had reported crimes against humanity by the Eritrean Army in Tigray. Could more information about the involvement of Eritrean forces be provided?
Information had been received that drone strikes and attacks in 2021 and 2022 conducted by the Government had killed hundreds of civilians. What investigations into these allegations had been carried out, and what care had been provided to victims?
Reports indicated that there could be up to 600,000 victims of the conflict in total. Entire villages and major infrastructure, including hospitals, had been destroyed. How was humanitarian aid provided in such challenging circumstances? The Commission of Human Rights Experts that was tasked with investigating human rights violations in the region needed to be allowed to operate freely. Why had the Government proposed putting an end to its mandate? This Commission could provide important assistance in investigating the events.
TODD BUCHWALD, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the report of Ethiopia, welcomed Ethiopia’s commitment to meet its reporting obligations. What role did the police, military, regional authorities and civil society play in preparing the State report? Were there any criteria that non-governmental organizations needed to meet to participate? The Committee had recommended that the State party start the process of ratifying a series of core human rights treaties. What progress had been made in this regard? Given the period from which Ethiopia was emerging from, ratifying the Rome Statute would send a strong message that human rights violations would not be tolerated in future. Ethiopia could benefit from the International Criminal Court simply by accepting its jurisdiction. Did it intend to do this? Ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture was greatly needed. What progress had been made towards this?
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had called for the establishment of an ad-hoc investigation mechanism with international elements in the context of the conflict. Was this a possibility that Ethiopia was considering?
The Government had opposed the creation of the Commission of Human Rights Experts, restricted its access to certain regions, and called for it to be disbanded. Was the Government willing to cooperate with the Commission and allow it to fulfil its mandate?
There were reports that the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission had been prevented from carrying out monitoring missions of places of deprivation of liberty in the Tigray region. How was the Government ensuring that monitoring could be carried out in the region? How were persons who reported violations to the Commission protected from reprisals? Could non-governmental organizations conduct visits to detention facilities? What standards were in place to assess requests to conduct visits? As of June 2022, the Commission had referred 26 cases of allegations of torture by authorities to the Government. What investigations had been carried out into the allegations, and what prosecutions had been made?
Ethiopia’s judges often cited a lack of power to protect fundamental human rights due to weaknesses in State legislation. Federal courts had jurisdiction to implement international human rights treaties under a new law. Were there any examples of the implementation of such treaties, including the Convention in relation to cases of torture and ill treatment?
The Pretoria Agreement called for the establishment of a framework to ensure accountability and transitional justice. A policy document on transitional justice had been developed, which discussed the failure of past political reforms aimed at reconciliation. Had the State party structured current consultations on transitional justice to prevent a repetition of these failures? What measures were in place to ensure the meaningful participation of victims and marginalised groups in these consultations? Was a three-month consultation period realistic? Amnesties that covered acts of torture were incompatible with the Convention, but some parts of the policy document seemed to propose the provision of such amnesties. Was this the case?
There had been widespread reports of abuses against refugees from Eritrea. Was Ethiopia willing to pursue the modification of gaps in its legislation that seemed to put refugees’ rights at risk? Could disaggregated data on requests for asylum be provided? Nine persons had been extradited in the reporting period. To which countries were they extradited, and how did the State ensure non-refoulement? Eritrean refugees had reportedly been forced to return to Eritrea and Tigray, and there were reported violations of the rights of Eritrean refugees, including rape. What measures were in place to prevent the recurrence of such violations and provide redress?
The Criminal Code seemed to permit marital rape. A national study group was looking into this issue. What progress had it made in addressing this gap in Ethiopian law? Female genital mutilation was criminalised but persisted in practice. The State party had reported that it was working to bring perpetrators to justice. What resources had been allocated to these efforts and to implement actions at the community level to prevent the practice? What training was provided to judicial officials regarding female genital mutilation and early marriage? There had been concern about a lack of access of victims of sexual violence to support services. What measures were in place to support access?
In 2010, the Committee raised concerns about the definition of torture in State legislation. A team of experts had reportedly identified gaps in the legislation. Did the State plan to introduce torture legislation that was in line with the Convention? Was torture barred from the statute of limitations only when torture qualified as a “crime against humanity”? The Committee had in 2010 expressed strong concerns that torture was used to extract confessions, conducted with impunity by State officials. Legislation seemingly did not specifically address torture to obtain confessions. Was the practice prohibited in legislation? Confessions obtained through torture were routinely rejected by courts. What follow-up to such decisions was made, including punishments for perpetrators?
The state of emergency law was reportedly overly broad, allowing State officials to detain persons indefinitely and strip non-governmental organizations of their licences. What measures were in place to prevent overreach in the implementation of this law?
SÉBASTIEN TOUZE, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the report of Ethiopia, said that the Committee had previously expressed concern about the impartiality of magistrates and judges. Corruption within the justice system could be a major issue. What measures were in place to make progress on this issue?
Protections for persons deprived of liberty were inscribed in the Constitution, and the Committee welcomed this. However, there were difficulties in implementing them. Several detainees were reportedly not immediately informed in a language that they understood of the reasons for their detention. How would the Government ensure that constitutional guarantees were implemented effectively? There were also reported concerns about detainees’ access to lawyers and interpreters, and about delays in hearing cases. There were reportedly not enough lawyers and magistrates. What measures were in place to reduce waiting times for court appearances and to guarantee access to lawyers and interpreters? Were such mechanisms effective?
There had been documented reprisals by police officers against victims of torture who reported the abuse. What measures were in place to respond to and prevent such reprisals? Ethiopia had shown a strong will to improve conditions in prisons, but there had been reports of acts of torture and ill treatment in places of detention, conflicts between prisoners, and abuse of female prisoners. The State had closed certain prisons. What had happened to the prisoners housed in these, and what progress had been made in constructing new prisons that met minimum international standards? Could the State party provide disaggregated information on prison populations? There were reports of major overpopulation.
The Committee took note of measures to improve the water supply to prisons and build the capacity of prison staff. What other measures had been taken to improve prison conditions? The separation of minors from adults in prisons was reportedly not always ensured in practice. The Committee needed more information on incommunicado detention. Prisoners were reportedly subjected to humiliation by prison staff, including by being forced to remain naked. What measures were in place to prevent such abuse by the authorities? In some prisons, there was no separation of male and female prisoners, and female staff were not always assigned to female prisoners. There were reports of sexual violence against female prisons committed by or with the complicity of staff. What had been done to investigate such allegations? What support was provided to pregnant women in prisons?
The Criminal Code prevented corporal punishment against children, but there were several reports of corporal punishment in homes and schools, in response to which the authorities had acted. Three quarters of children aged eight had reportedly seen their teacher carry out corporal punishment. Was there a strong will to address corporal punishment?
There were reports of widespread child prostitution and child labour, including forced domestic work and begging. Children were reportedly recruited by the armed forces to take part in the conflict. This was a completely unacceptable situation.
There had been several demonstrations that had been brutally repressed by the authorities in 2015 and 2016. At one demonstration, authorities had opened fire against demonstrators. Were investigations undertaken into the excessive use of force, and perpetrators brought to justice?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said Ethiopia had a long-standing history of welcoming people fleeing conflicts. Ethiopia was currently hosting more than one million refugees, around 75 per cent of whom were living in the capital. There was a time when 47 per cent of new asylum seekers tested positive for COVID-19. The Government had not prevented them from entering the country, but had instead set up isolation facilities. Eritrean refugees had the right to access social services, open a bank account, and engage in economic activities. More than 100,000 refugee children were attending primary or secondary education. Ethiopia was working with partners to support people fleeing the conflict in Sudan.
The safety of refugees in four camps in Tigray was the responsibility of regional forces. Two of these forces had chosen to fight with the federal forces, affecting the safety of refugees. The Government had been able to relocate around 19,000 refugees from these camps to the two safe camps in southern Tigray, and provided humanitarian assistance to these refugees. Nearly all the refugees who had been displaced by the conflict had been accounted for, and a new camp had been established to accommodate these persons.
More than 15,000 affected persons had been granted advanced refugee status. Several refugees had moved to the capital or left the country. Ethiopian forces had never expelled an Eritrean refugee to Eritrea and such reports were unfounded. The military had extended support to ensure the safety of Eritrean refugees. Refugee camps had been established close to contested borders, making responses difficult. An out-of-camp policy had been implemented to support 75,000 refugees to find housing and work outside of camps. Refugees received long-term urban refugee status if staying in refugee camps was unsafe or if they could support themselves. Many recipients of such status were from Eritrea.
Refugees in camps lived in harmony with host communities. They were granted special permission to move to towns for specified periods on request. There was no discrimination based on nationality in support provided to refugees. Job opportunities had been created for thousands of refugees.
ALEMANTE AGIDEW WONDIMENEH, State Minister, Legal Division, Ministry of Justice of Ethiopia and head of delegation, apologised for the lack of response to the Committee’s previous concluding observations. Ethiopia pledged to cooperate proactively in future. Ethiopia faced significant challenges in collecting human rights performance data, and was working to address these challenges. The delegation was ready and willing to submit all missing data that was available. The State was working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to develop a human rights performance database. It would help with human rights data collection related to international and regional treaties to which Ethiopia was a party.
The delegation said the Joint Investigation Team had reported that hundreds of thousands of citizens belonging to the Tigray and Amhara ethnic group had fled their homes because of the conflict in the region. The Joint Investigation Team had not found that ethnic cleansing had occurred, as Amnesty International had reported. The Government had established the Inter-Ministerial Task Force to investigate all human rights abuses committed during the conflict. The Task Force had identified extra-judicial killings, rape, extensive looting of public and private property and other violations. It had collected around 2,000 victim and witness testimonials in its investigations, as well as video and photographic evidence of the commission of crimes. Security situations made conducting future planned investigations difficult. There had been 60 cases submitted to the military court involving extra-judicial killings and rape. Investigators and prosecutors had been provided with training in investigating human rights violations and gender-based violence. Government strikes targeted military infrastructure and personnel. Any oversteps in this regard would be investigated.
The Government was working to provide humanitarian aid despite the challenging circumstances. Large volumes of food items, fuel, clothing and medicines had been provided to affected persons. There were Government projects under way to establish rehabilitation centres and shelters for victims of gender-based violence, one of which had been constructed and was now offering support to victims.
The Human Rights Council’s Commission on the Situation in Ethiopia had reported in September 2022 on human rights violations committed in Tigray. The Government had opposed the establishment of the Commission, as it was based on a flawed understanding of the domestic situation. The Commission had issued findings that were contrary to the situation on the ground. Its report was a manifestly political statement and had a flawed methodology; it should be considered void.
Ethiopia would continue to work with international organizations to properly investigate alleged violations, and to promote transitional justice, reparation for victims, and sustainable peace. The State party intended to develop a comprehensive transitional justice policy based on a working paper that it had developed. The policy was expected to be adopted by September 2023. Consultations had been held with victims of human rights violations, including women and children, and would be held until September 2023. The working paper attempted to compensate for the deficiencies of previous transitional justice policies. The new policy would not allow for impunity for perpetrators of gross human rights violations, including torture.
Ethiopia had declared a state of emergency in the face of the threats posed to national security by opposition forces in Tigray. The Government had taken steps to ensure that the imposition of the state of emergency did not restrict fundamental rights or put people at risk of torture. Abuse of power by law enforcement officials was prohibited, and law enforcement officials who committed such abuses were held accountable.
The Criminal Code specified that all persons who committed a crime on Ethiopian territory and persons who committed crimes against Ethiopians on foreign territory were held accountable. Ethiopian courts had universal jurisdiction to try acts of torture committed inside and outside of the country. Requesting States were required to provide assurances that the rights of the extradited person were protected. Such persons were not permitted to be subjected to torture in the receiving country. The Ministry of Justice was mandated to receive incoming extradition requests, and there were such cases involving torture. Persons convicted of trafficking and acts of torture had been extradited to the Netherlands, Italy, Djibouti and the United States to be tried in those jurisdictions. None of these cases related to asylum seekers. Extraditions followed the principles of international humanitarian law.
Families were entitled to protection by the State from human rights abuses. Marital rape was considered lawful; however, a study into marital rape legislation was currently underway with a view to revising this.
Ethiopia had developed policies to protect children from corporal punishment. Acts committed to discipline children were not considered crimes. However, the Government was implementing measures inside and outside of schools to prevent corporal punishment. It had developed a manual on positive disciplining of children. It was raising awareness inside schools and in the community about preventing violence against children.
The Government was taking measures to eliminate harmful cultural practices, including female genital mutilation. A multi-sector organization had been set up to tackle the practice. A national roadmap and action plan to end female genital mutilation and child marriage by 2025 had been adopted. Measures targeted communities and aimed to empower girls, protect them from harmful practices, and improve their access to law enforcement, as well as to change community attitudes regarding female genital mutilation. The Government provided training on preventing female genital mutilation to religious and community leaders and local medical staff. These measures had led to a significant decrease in the prevalence of female genital mutilation.
The Government had adopted a policy and action plan to prevent exploitation through child labour and trafficking. New legislation had been introduced to increase the minimum age of employment to 15. In 2015, Ethiopia had adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children. The Government had prohibited children’s participation in underground work and other hazardous types of work.
Work was under way to accede to the Convention on Enforced Disappearance and the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. Ethiopia had acceded to the African Union Convention on Displaced Persons in 2020. The death penalty had not been carried out for several years, so there was a de facto moratorium on the death penalty. However, there was not enough public support to justify removing the death penalty.
The definition of torture used in legislation was in line with the Convention, and could be considered broader. Torture was not barred by a statute of limitations and was not subjected to amnesty. Acts of torture committed by a public servant in the process of arrest and interrogation was subject to prosecution. A task force was in place to assess gaps in jurisprudence and revise it, including regarding torture. Evidence obtained through torture was not permissible under recent legislation reform. As a result of this, several prisoners had been released and their cases dropped. Courts were permitted to apply international human rights treaties directly.
The Constitution provided principles ensuring that all individuals had the right to be informed of the reason for detention in a language that they understood. However, in reality, suspected persons were rarely informed of the reason of arrest. The Government was promoting the training of law enforcement officers to inform them of their duty to inform of the reason of arrest. Refusal by lawyers to provide legal aid could result in the revoking of the lawyer’s licence. Universities and law schools provided free legal aid to vulnerable groups. A draft policy to increase access to free legal aid had been developed. The State was also revising its Criminal Code to limit the amount of time persons could be held in pre-trial detention to four months. Currently, there was no limit on the time that could be spent in pre-trial detention. Measures had also been introduced to expedite the time taken to hear cases and give a verdict. The Government was taking measures to discourage unlawful detention. It had remanded police officers who had held persons in detention for longer than was legally allowed. Victims of extended detention were compensated.
The Government had closed detention facilities where authorities were suspected of torture and ill treatment. There was video surveillance of investigations to respect the rights of suspects in interrogation. Ten new pre-trial detention facilities had been built in Addis Ababa. Conditions in pre-trial detention facilities had also been significantly improved with the support of civil society organizations. There were new prison facilities being constructed that had larger capacities than existing facilities. The daily budget for food and drinks in prisons had been increased by 60 per cent. Young offenders were held in zones separated from adult facilities, and a women’s prison had also been established. Allegations of serious crimes against women in prisons were concerning. Investigation was underway of an alleged rape case by an authority figure against a female prisoner in 2022. The Government was pursuing accountability for all such abuses. It had closed detention facilities where incommunicado detention was carried out. The Police Commission had adopted measures guaranteeing the right to visitation for prisoners, including training for prison staff.
The Government had revised the media law to open the civil space. This had led to the re-establishment of several media organizations. The Government was permitted to shut down media organizations and journalists that engaged in hate speech or threats against national security. All persons were protected under the Criminal Code against arbitrary arrests. Two arrests of bloggers and journalists had occurred, but the practice was not systematic.
The Government had assembled a task force to enhance the independence of the judiciary. The task force had issued recommendations to improve the administration of justice and the recruitment of judges, and these had been translated into new legislation. An independent council had been established to recruit members of the judiciary and develop judicial codes of procedure. The legislation also prevented interference from the Government in the operations of the judiciary. Directives preventing impunity for judges were also in place. The number of women judges had increased to around 30 per cent. Two federal high court judges had been prosecuted for engaging in corrupt practices. The Government investigated all allegations of corruption within the judiciary. Victims of torture were able to lodge requests for compensation with the judiciary.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission’s independence had been strengthened, and it was allowed to appoint its own members and conduct unannounced visits to detention centres and all public facilities. The Commission had full financial autonomy to manage its budget. Its budget had increased over the past few years. The Commission had initiated investigations into 30 allegations of human rights abuses by police officers, and three arrests had been made because of these.
Questions by Committee Experts
TODD BUCHWALD, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the report of Ethiopia, expressed appreciation for the delegation’s commitment to following up on the Committee’s concluding observations, and to enhancing the State’s capability for data collection. Data was needed to evaluate the situation on the ground. Answers provided by the delegation seemed to solely represent the position of the Federal Government. What work was underway to support regional administrations to implement the Convention and inform them of the topics discussed in this dialogue? What was the Ethiopian Government’s view two years on from the Joint Investigation Team’s report on the extent of human rights violations in Tigray?
SÉBASTIEN TOUZE, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for the report of Ethiopia, said that there were troubling campaigns asking for violence to be used against the Tigray people. The Government had not allowed the Human Rights Council’s Commission to investigate the situation on the ground in Tigray. This may account for weaknesses in the report. Humanitarian assistance could not reach some areas of Tigray. What was being done to increase its reach?
Could updated information on deaths in prisons be provided, as well as more information on new prison facilities and rapes in prisons? Where did the country stand on marital rape? Could detailed figures be provided on female genital mutilation and forced marriage? In 2018, there were 13 arrests for female genital mutilation. How efficient was the strategy to combat female genital mutilation?
Another Committee Expert said that the right to life was not absolute in Ethiopia due to the death penalty. The Criminal Code obliged judges to hand down death sentences for certain offences. There were apparently 148 people currently on death row. How long had they been on death row?
One Committee Expert said that the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Ethiopia was nine years old. The Committee called for this to be raised in line with international standards. Did the State party intend to do this? Were children from 15 to 18 treated as adults by the judicial system, and were they separated from adults in detention? Did the State party make efforts to not criminalise victims of sexual exploitation? What measures were in place to improve birth registration of children?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that the international treaties to which Ethiopia was a party did not prohibit the State from imposing the death penalty. The death penalty was handed down only for the most serious offences. Sentences were passed only to criminals over 18.
There was no internationally agreed age of criminal responsibility. Ethiopia believed that a child who had attained the age of 10 could live up to the moral and psychological components of criminal responsibility.
The Government was committed to ensuring accountability for violations of human rights in Tigray. It was investigating the involvement of Eritrean Defence Forces in such violations. The Government of Ethiopia had objected to the establishment of the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Experts, which was politically motivated. Its report had deficiencies related to the denial of access, but also related to the politicised Commission itself. The Government had not yet finalised its conclusions regarding whether crimes against humanity had occurred in Tigray. Initial investigations indicated that such crimes had occurred. However, further investigations were needed.
Victims of human trafficking and whistle blowers were not criminalised, and funds had been established to provide compensation to victims. The Government took allegations of reprisals seriously, but there had been no confirmed incidences of reprisals against persons who provided information to the Joint Investigation Team or to international organizations on the situation in Tigray.
Federal and regional governments came together in platforms to evaluate the performance of national plans and the implementation of human rights treaties. There were focal persons for the implementation of the national human rights plan who held consultations with local bodies and disseminated information on the recommendations of treaty bodies to relevant stakeholders.
Police were responsible for ensuring the rights of all citizens. The police force had no tolerance for torture. A memorial for victims of past police abuses had been created. Police officers routinely received training on protecting human rights. Improved monitoring of detention facilities would play an important role in preventing torture by the police.
CLAUDE HELLER, Committee Chair, thanked the delegation for its participation in the dialogue, which was an indication of Ethiopia’s willingness to fulfil its obligations under the Convention. The conflict in the Tigray region presented serious challenges in the implementation of the Convention. The Committee hoped that its concluding observations would be beneficial in improving the human rights situation in Ethiopia.
ALEMANTE AGIDEW WONDIMENEH, State Minister, Legal Division, Ministry of Justice of Ethiopia and head of delegation, expressed gratitude for the informative and meaningful discussion, which had shed light on the human rights situation in Ethiopia. The delegation had presented the measures it was taking to prevent torture and ill treatment and acknowledged its shortcomings. The Tigray conflict posed serious challenges for the State party. However, it was working to implement measures to increase protections for internally displaced persons and address human rights violations. Ethiopia remained steadfast in its implementation of the Pretoria Agreement, and would continue to engage in peace talks in the region. The State party would carefully consider and incorporate the Committee’s recommendations as it continued in its fight to promote human rights in the country.