Ethiopia rights chief slams violations by security forces, armed groups

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THE conflicts in Ethiopia have resulted in "brutal and cruel" human rights violations by both security forces and armed groups, the head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) lamented Friday.

A statutorily independent public institution, the EHRC has published its first annual report since the reform that brought Daniel Bekele to its head in mid-2019 and restored credibility to a body with a degraded reputation.

"This report details a number of grave human rights violations committed by both state and non-state actors in a context of conflict" in several regions of Ethiopia and "perpetrated with extreme brutality and cruelty," Bekele explained in presenting it in Addis Ababa.

"Death, physical and psychosocial injuries, sexual and gender-based violence, displacement and destruction of property" were inflicted on civilians, including "women, children, the elderly and the disabled."

In addition, "non-state actors are responsible for large-scale violations" such as "ethnic or religious killings and forced displacement" of civilians.

Since November 2020, the Ethiopian federal government has been in armed conflict with rebel authorities in the northern region of Tigray. A rebellion is also active in Oromia, the country's largest and most populous region, and Ethiopia has recently experienced several episodes of ethnically motivated violence.

In conflict zones, "the rights to life, security, justice, and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment have been violated" by all sides, Bekele said.

Outside the conflict zones, the Commission also found that detainees were subjected to "unlawful treatment, prolonged pretrial detention and beatings" in "police stations or unofficial detention centers. And some continued to be detained "in violation of court orders releasing them on bail or dropping the charges.

The period of the state of emergency, imposed between November and February, was marked by a significant number of arbitrary arrests and illegal detentions, according to Bekele.

Asked about the apparent impunity around these events, he welcomed some "encouraging steps in the right direction" by the authorities. "But it's probably not going fast enough and not with the transparency and effectiveness that we need," he acknowledged.

The detention of media workers in violation of the media law is also "a very worrying issue," Commission Vice Chairwoman Rakeb Messele told AFP.

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