News agency reports claims that people are being arrested based on ethnicity, suggesting civil society and local rights groups could be targeted
Ethiopia appears to be detaining people ‘based on ethnicity,’ human rights commission warns
Ethiopia’s government has detained thousands of people in recent weeks because of their ethnicity, a news agency has reported, confirming reports from rights groups.
The government has reacted angrily to “unsubstantiated” allegations by the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on 2 January that hundreds of civilians had been detained in more than two dozen towns across the country over the past two months.
But on Wednesday Addis Ababa’s United Nations ambassador, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said he had contacted the Ethiopian prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, to raise the matter.
“The question that I posed to the prime minister … is, where are they?” Zeid told reporters. “I’m trying to establish where are the detainees, where are they being held, where are they being treated and not treated, and it’s a very serious matter.”
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Shortly after landing in Addis Ababa from the United Nations, Zeid told the Agence France-Presse news agency that his office had received information that “people are being arrested on the basis of ethnicity”. He declined to give further details.
An HRW researcher, Philip Luther, said on Thursday that a team of investigators had seen evidence of arrests based on ethnicity, but added: “We do not have access to all places where the detentions have taken place.”
Adina Rahman, an HRW spokeswoman, said her office had spoken to dozens of victims of forced disappearances and handed them to local human rights groups, “so people know about what’s happening”.
“People are detained, and then access to lawyers is impossible. They’re not allowed to see a lawyer or access any human rights organisations or international monitors,” she said.
There was no immediate comment from the government.
Ethiopia emerged from the shadow of 30 years of communist rule in 1991 but has made no progress on democracy and human rights. A multi-party parliamentary democracy has not been re-established but a coalition of MPs, led by Abiy, is in the process of forming a new government.
Political space has already been restricted. Abiy said earlier this week he would end the state of emergency imposed in October last year following a series of deadly protests.
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Authorities have continued to block independent media in Ethiopia.
Ibrahim Gad, a senior official with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said the allegations of human rights abuses were based on what local human rights activists and civil society groups had been reporting, which had “been authenticated”.
“We don’t have access to these areas and we can’t verify these stories,” Gad said, referring to the prison locations cited by the HRW.