Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
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. There were cases identified by Amnesty International and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) where security forces used excessive force against civilians. Other reports were being investigated by international bodies. The federal police had an internal investigative unit that investigated cases of criminal acts perpetrated by police. The internal unit’s decisions regarding penalties against police were kept 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. The 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.
On January 19, a security official reportedly shot a 20-year-old man tending his store near Mugi, in western Oromia. On January 21, unidentified security officials rounded up five young men in a small town outside of Mugi, interrogated them in a private residence, and then shot and killed them, according to a local journalist. It is not clear which security service perpetrated these abuses.
On August 9, regional special forces clashed with protesters in Sodo in the Welayita Zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region. Media reported the forces killed 17 citizens after youth groups blocked roads and burned tires in response to the arrest of 28 members of the zonal leadership, including Zonal Administrator Dagato Kumbe and members of the Welayita National Movement opposition party.
On August 27, the EHRC issued a press release declaring it had evidence that security forces killed protesters in Assasa, Sahshemene, Bale Robe, Ginir, Asebot, Chrio, and Awedaye. The EHRC called on the government to create an independent body to investigate.
On May 29, a member of a local militia in Mekele, capital of the Tigray Region, shot and killed a woman following a labor dispute concerning salary. Afterwards, the militiaman shot himself but survived.
On May 29, fighters of the former Oromo Liberation Army-Shane (OLA-Shane), an armed separatist group, with factions in western, central, and south Oromia, reportedly killed four civil servants and wounded three others in Wagari Buna locality in West Wellega Zone of Oromia Region. The team of civil servants was on route to Nejo town after delivering agricultural supplies to internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the neighboring Benishangul-Gumuz Region.
On November 9, Amnesty International reported an armed group killed a large number of civilians in the town of Mai-Kadra in western Tigray Region. The victims were reportedly largely to be non-Tigrayan seasonal laborers. The Amhara regional media agency reported there were approximately 500 victims. Although the identity of the attackers remained unconfirmed, witnesses stated forces associated with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Regional Security Force committed the killings (See section 1.g., Respect for the Integrity of the Person–Abuses in Internal Conflict.).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution prohibits such practices, there were reports that security officials tortured and otherwise abused detainees.
On May 29, Amnesty International released a report claiming that security forces carried out torture in OLA-Shane areas. The EHRC and the attorney general’s office reviewed these reports and concluded that the report was biased.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there is one open allegation, submitted in 2018, of sexual exploitation and abuse by an Ethiopian peacekeeper deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission in the region, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult. As of October the United Nations had substantiated the allegation and repatriated the perpetrator, but the Ethiopian government had not provided information on accountability measures taken by year’s end.
Impunity remained a problem, although some measures were taken to hold security forces accountable for human rights abuses. Lack of transparency regarding those being charged and tried in courts of law made it difficult to determine if significant improvements were made.
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 poor hygiene.
Physical Conditions: Severe overcrowding was common, especially in prison sleeping quarters. Prison cells were small and cramped. International organizations reported that it was common for cells to have small windows that allow only a little light into estimated 430-square-foot cells, one of which may hold as many as 38 cellmates. Authorities sometimes incarcerated juveniles with adults. Prison officials generally separated male and female prisoners, although mixing occurred at some facilities.
The government budgeted approximately nine birr ($0.23) per prisoner per day for food, water, and health care, although this amount varied across the country. Many prisoners supplemented this 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 of 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 had only limited access to potable water. Water shortages caused unhygienic conditions, and most prisons lacked appropriate sanitary facilities. Many prisoners had serious health problems but received little or no treatment. There were reports prison officials denied some prisoners access to needed medical care.
The law prohibits detention in any facility other than an official detention center; however, local militias and other formal and informal law enforcement entities operated an unknown number of unofficial detention centers.
Approximately 9,500 persons in the Oromo Region were arrested for ethnically related violence and destruction of property after the death of Hundessa (see section 6, Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups). Regional authorities later reported that approximately one-half of those arrested were released. On September 26, the Oromia regional government reported that 5,728 persons were charged in connection with the violence. The excessive crowding in detention facilities raised concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19 in the prison system. The Prison Commission responded by using public facilities such as schools as makeshift prisons to improve prison-inmate distancing.
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 did not allow pretrial detainees to have access to visitors, including family members and legal counsel. Prison regulations stipulate that lawyers representing persons charged with terrorism offenses may visit only one client per day, and only on Wednesdays and Fridays. Authorities 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: During the year the International Committee of the Red Cross visited 51,000 prisoners throughout the country as part of its normal activities.
Regional authorities allowed government and nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives to meet with prisoners without third parties present. The EHRC monitored federal and regional detention centers, and interviewed prison officials and prisoners. The NGO Justice for All-Prison Fellowship Ethiopia had access to multiple prison and detention facilities around the country.
The EHRC and the attorney general’s office checked on the welfare of high-level political prisoners arrested for possible involvement in organizing violence following the killing of the popular singer Hachalu Hundessa. During the week of July 12, the EHRC twice visited high-level prisoners such as Jawar Mohamed, Eskinder Nega, and Bekele Gerba. The independent Ethiopian Human Rights Council reported that the detainees were in good health, were visited by family members, and were in touch with lawyers defending their cases.
Improvements: On February 17, the government published the Federal Prison Proclamation that makes the Federal Prisons Commission an independent body that reports to the attorney general’s office; requires that all prisoners be treated with human dignity and are given education and technical training to assist with rehabilitation; stipulates that prisoners are to be provided clothing and three meals per day; and are given free medical care (including psychiatric care) on premises. The Federal Prison Commission was to be monitored and supervised by the Committee of Community Leaders (comprising religious, cultural, and human rights leaders), the EHRC, and the parliament. The act also stipulates that prisoners “shall have an accommodation that preserves his human rights, dignity, security, and health during his stay in prison.” The proclamation introduced categorization and separation of prisoners according to age, gender, and risk level.
The legislation led to reforms within the prison system. The Prisons Commission had an independent budget and chain of command from other ministries, and the commission reported directly to parliament. The commission launched its own training centers, educational programs, and driving schools to provide inmates with basic skills to reduce recidivism. The commission began building its own hospital system for cost savings and to decrease dependency on local community hospitals.
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 did not always observe these requirements.
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 in order to assess police requests for additional time.
On April 6, the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP) replaced an antiterrorism law that permitted arbitrary arrests. The ATP provides that a suspect or defendant accused under the provisions of the ATP is to be “protected in accordance with [the] constitution, international agreements [ratified by the government] and other laws of the country concerning rights and conditions of suspected or accused persons.” The ATP prohibits warrantless searches and interception of private communications without a warrant or court order. It gives leasing and rental business owners up to 72 hours to provide the identities of foreigners (nonresidents) to police, significantly narrowing the scope of the law by excluding residents, and reduces the penalties for noncompliance. The ATP ends lengthy detention without a court appearance and gives the courts authority to prioritize any terrorism-related arrests.
A functioning bail system was in place. Bail was not available for persons charged with murder, treason, or corruption. In other cases the courts set bail between 500 and 10,000 birr ($13 and $250), amounts that few citizens could afford. 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 (coaccused) in a single case.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports of arbitrary arrest by security forces.
On May 13, an estimated 1,600 persons were arrested in Addis Ababa for “violating the state of emergency” and not wearing face masks. The EHRC urged police to stop arbitrary arrest of individuals for not wearing face masks and declared that the tactics were needless. All the detained were released within 72 hours (see section 1.c.).
Pretrial Detention: The percentage of the inmate population in pretrial detention and average length of time held was not available. Lengthy legal procedures, large numbers of detainees, judicial inefficiency, and staffing shortages contributed to frequent trial delays, in some cases lasting years.
Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: During the year no cases were brought to the courts by individuals claiming unlawful detention. The law does not provide compensation for unlawfully detained persons.
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.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were multiple detentions of political leaders who were released or sentenced based on criminal acts. Following the June 30 violence caused by the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, there were approximately 40 arrests of political leaders and their followers. In July the highest profile leaders were visited in jail by the attorney general’s office and the EHRC at least three times. These opposition leaders were provided the same protections as other detainees. Several opposition leaders who were arrested following the killing of Hachalu Hundessa are still in detention awaiting trial.
g. Abuses in Internal Conflict
The government engaged in offensive operations against the armed separatist group OLA-Shane in western, northern, and southeastern Oromia. The government had military-led command posts in the affected areas that coordinated all security operations. Command posts are led by the ENDF but are supported by regional special forces, regional police, and regional militias.
On November 4, fighting between the ENDF and the Tigray Special Forces resulted in protracted conflict in the northern region of Tigray. The fighting affected the entire region. As of the end of the year, there was very limited access to Tigray, except for the capital Mekele, resulting in a lack of reporting and making it difficult to ascertain the extent of abuses. There were numerous reports of looting and destruction of infrastructure in Tigray, including in refugee camps. There were reports that government security forces, security forces from neighboring regions, the Eritrean military, private militias, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front Regional Security Force all committed human rights violations and abuses, including extrajudicial killings, sexual assaults, forced displacement of civilian populations, and torture. There are reports that government security forces engaged in arbitrary arrests and detentions. International organizations, including the United Nations reported that a humanitarian crisis was unfolding and they prepared to assist with basic services, food, and medical supplies.
Killings: Residents of Qellem Wellega Zone in Oromia told media that government security forces killed seven civilians.
The Oromia Region’s Security Bureau reported that OLA-Shane fighters killed more than 770 individuals, wounded more than 1,300, and abducted 72 persons.
On November 1, suspected OLA-Shane fighters killed at least 54 ethic Amhara residents of Gawa Qanqa in West Wellega Zone, according to Amnesty International. Witnesses reported that men, women, and children were killed, and property was looted and burned.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and the press, and the government generally respected this right. The government generally opened political space (including freedom of speech) which resulted in the proliferation of new media outlets and the return of some diaspora outlets.
On March 23, the government published Proclamation 1185/2020, the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation. Domestic human rights groups criticized the law for using broad legal definitions that could be used to repress freedom of speech. The government applied it in a few cases (See section 2.a., Respect for Civil Liberties–Freedom of Expression–Internet Freedom.).
Freedom of Speech: Upon taking office Prime Minister Abiy stated that freedom of speech was essential to the country’s future. NGOs subsequently reported that practices such as arrests, detention, abuse, and harassment of persons for criticizing the government diminished significantly.
On April 4, Elsabet Kebede was arrested by Addis Ababa police after she had posted the names and ethnicity of persons infected with COVID-19. She was detained for one month and released on bail May 8 without charge.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
The number of news outlets increased under the Abiy administration. Between January 2019 and October the number of published newspapers increased from six to eight; they were produced in Amharic and English. The number of television channels, which once were a handful of state-controlled broadcasters, rose to 31 mostly independent stations. These stations represented national and regional interests. Radio stations increased from approximately 10 radio stations with national, Addis Ababa, and regional coverage to 14 stations with the same coverage. Community radio stations were also widespread.
The developing media landscape resulted in challenges. The vast expansion of the media environment led to media outlets with untrained reporters. A number of new private stations reflected the political views of their owners. The increase in regional news outlets along with social media influencers amplified messages that led to “echo chambers” which often were biased towards ethnic interests.
Violence and Harassment: Between June 30 and July 6, federal police arrested approximately 12 journalists and camera crewmembers after the killing of Oromo singer and activist Hachalu Hundessa. On July 30, police arrested Kenyan journalist Yassin Juma outside the home of a political opposition leader. On August 20, authorities released Juma on bail after multiple court appearances and prosecution delays.
On November 4, police in Addis Ababa arrested journalist Bekalu Alamrew of the privately owned Awlo Media Center and charged him with false reporting, defaming the government, and inciting ethnic tensions. Alarmew had reported on killings of ethnic Amharas in West Wollega. On November 22, police released Alamrew following a court order. On November 7, police arrested editor Medihane Ekubamichael of the news website Addis Standard and later charged him with “attempts to dismantle the constitution through violence.” Ekubamichael led the website’s reporting on the conflict in Tigray. Ekubamichael remains in custody despite being granted bail.
On July 17, federal police arrested Guyo Wariyo, a journalist affiliated with the Oromia Media Network. On September 1, authorities released Wariyo after a court determined prosecutors had not presented sufficient evidence after multiple court appearances. In July, four additional Oromia Media Network journalists were arrested. As of the end of the year, one remained in custody. On August 5, police also detained two journalists and two camera operators working for Asrat Media on charges of incitement. Although a court granted them bail on September 7, police re-arrested them the next day. On September 19, police released the Asrat Media journalists following court orders.
National Security: The government charged some journalists on national security grounds. On March 26, authorities arrested independent journalist Yayesew Shimelison for reporting on mass graves allegedly prepared for COVID-19-related deaths. On April 23, a court released him on bail. Shimelis was initially charged with terrorism crimes, and then authorities changed his charge to violating the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation. He was released on bail with no final judgment on his case.
Nongovernmental Impact: The OLA-Shane controls an area that was considered a nonpermissive environment for journalists. During the year a handful of journalists accessed the area and were detained by regional security forces accountable to regional presidents.
On January 13, police in Benishangul Gumuz Region arrested a journalist and camera operator working with Amharic Department of Tigray TV in Assosa. Journalist Dawit Kebede and cameraman Behailu Wube had travelled to Assosa to cover a forum for political parties upon the invitation of organizers, according to Tigray TV officials. The communications head of Benishangul Region stated the journalists violated procedures by not notifying the region’s Communications Bureau of their travel. Both were released two days later.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The NGO-operated Armed Conflict Location and Event Database reported that the country had weekly demonstrations. The vast majority of these were peaceful except for those that followed the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, which led to mass civil unrest in Oromia.
Between April 8 and September 5, the government’s State of Emergency limited large gatherings to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. This affected individuals’ ability to gather in houses of worship and to attend meetings and training sessions. The enforcement of the State of Emergency also led to the arrest of at least 1,600 citizens for violating State of Emergency rules. These practices led the EHRC to declare that these arrests were illegal, arbitrary, and had to stop immediately. Police released the majority of those detained within 48 hours after their arrest.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2015 the country held national elections for the House of Peoples’ Representatives, the country’s parliamentary body. That year the parliament elected Hailemariam Desalegn to his first full mandate as prime minister. In 2018 Hailemariam announced his resignation as prime minister, and the Ethiopia Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front selected Abiy Ahmed as the new chairperson of the party and candidate for federal prime minster. After an acclamation vote in the parliament, Abiy Ahmed became prime minister.
The COVID-19 pandemic and related State of Emergency delayed elections planned for May. The parliament declared the postponement because measures to control the pandemic restricted the numbers of persons able to congregate, closed public venues, and restricted the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia’s (NEBE) ability to conduct training needed to prepare for the election. On September 22, the parliament approved a resolution to allow NEBE to organize national elections by September 2021.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The government allowed all diaspora-based opposition groups, including those in armed struggle, to return and pursue nonviolent struggle. As of December there were 78 registered parties that were permitted to compete in parliamentary elections.
Registered political parties must receive permission from regional governments to open and occupy local offices. The law requires parties to report “public meetings” and obtain permission for public rallies.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws prevent women or members of minority groups from voting or participating in political life, although patriarchal customs in some regions limited female participation in political life. Although there were increases in women’s representation, women remained significantly underrepresented across both elected and appointed positions. In October 2019 the prime minister announced a new cabinet with 10 female ministers, or approximately one-half of the cabinet. Also in October 2019 Sahle-Work Zewde became the country’s first female president. Zewde’s appointment was in line with the prime minister’s stated goal of empowering women in his administration. In November the parliament swore in the country’s first female Supreme Court president. In the national parliament, women held 38 percent of seats, 211 of 547.
The government’s policy of ethnic federalism led to the creation of individual constituencies to provide representation for all major ethnic groups in the House of the Federation (the upper chamber of parliament). The government recognized more than 80 ethnicities, and the constitution states that at least one member represent each “Nation, Nationality, and People” in the House of the Federation.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of corruption. The government did not implement the law effectively or comprehensively. The government enacted new policies to hold government officials more accountable. There were isolated reports of government corruption. Officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
On August 18, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Ethiopian Financial Intelligence Center signed a Memorandum of Understanding to increase coordination by allowing the two agencies to better identify money laundering, terrorism financing, and other financial crimes that support corruption.
On April 7, the country enacted the 2020 Federal Administrative Procedure Proclamation (APP). This is the country’s first law to allow ordinary citizens to appeal to the federal courts to review the legality of federal agency actions, decisions, and rules. The APP is intended to advance federal agencies’ transparency and accountability by allowing citizens seeking administrative redress to file suits in federal courts against federal agencies if those agencies fail in their core missions. Citizens may seek monetary compensation in addition to asking agencies to comply with the law.
Corruption: In late September federal police arrested Ministry of Education officials Mekonnen Addis, Eshetu Asfaw, Taye Mengistu, and Nigusse Beyene for corrupt procurement resulting in a loss of 280 million birr ($7 million) and the production of books not meeting the requirements of the bidding contract. Police confiscated foreign and local currency from the houses of these four members of the bidding committee. Police also blocked bank accounts of the relatives of the four individuals.
The government also continued to prosecute the former director general of the state-owned Metal and Engineering Corporation, Kinfe Dagnew, who was arrested in 2018. Prosecutors and investigators uncovered suspicious procurement practices involving more than 80 billion birr ($2 billion). In January 2019 Kinfe was charged with four counts of corruption at the Lideta High Court in Addis Ababa. The trial continued at year’s end.
Financial Disclosure: The country’s Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission strengthened their anticorruption policies and enforcement by creating a process for civil servants to report their assets. Before August the commission focused its training on top officials and expanded its training to make staff familiar with the reporting guidelines. By August 24, the majority of legislators registered and declared their assets to the commission. On August 28, the commission sent police a list of 184 federal and Addis Ababa government officials who failed to register their assets and who could face criminal charges.