ARTICLE 19: comment of anti-terrorism legislation in Ethiopia

ARTICLE 19 Law Programme published a comment of anti-terrorism legislation in Ethiopia (Proclamation No. 652/2009, A Proclamation on Anti-Terrorism, published in the Federal Negarit Gazeta of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia on 28 August 2009).

ARTICLE 19 has reviewed the 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and found that a number of the sections of the Proclamation undermine international protections on freedom of expression.

Of particular concern is the broad definition of terrorism, which would appear to apply to many legitimate acts of expression; the undermining of protection of journalists sources including by surveillance and an excessive duty to cooperate and provide information; and vaguely defined provisions on “encouraging” terrorism that would criminalise the legitimate exercise of freedom of expression and have a real chilling effect on debate on matters of public interest.

In this respect, the key recommendations of ARTICLE 19 are the following:

  • The definition of “terrorism” in the Proclamation should be narrowed to include only acts of serious crime that pose a serious threat to life, safety or property and that are intended to advance an ideological, religious or political cause and influence the government by inflicting terror on the public.
  • Specific provisions should be included to ensure the right of journalists and media organisations to protect their sources of information. This includes limiting obligations to provide information, restrictions on searching and seizing of information, and limits on surveillance to identify sources and information.
  • The terms “encourage” “indirectly encourage” and “other inducement” in the Proclamation should be abandoned in favour of internationally accepted terminology, such as “incite”.

UN experts conclude major study into use of secret detention in the fight against terrorism

Despite the fact that international law clearly prohibits secret detention, the practice is widespread and “reinvigorated” by the so-called global war on terror, several independent United Nations experts stated, outlining a series of steps aimed at curbing this human rights violation. In a 222-page study which will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March, the experts conclude that: “If resorted to in a widespread or systematic manner, secret detention might reach the threshold of a crime against humanity.” Read the unedited advance version here.

The study, which took almost a year to complete, involves responses from 44 States to a detailed questionnaire, as well as interviews with 30 individuals – or their family members or their legal counsel – who were victims of secret detention, and in many cases may also have been subjected to torture.

It provides an historical overview of the use of secret detention, noting that it is not a new phenomenon in the context of counter-terrorism. From the Nazi regime to the former USSR with its Gulag system of forced labour camps, States have often resorted to secret detention to silence opposition, according to the report.

The study goes on to address the use of secret detention in the context of the ‘global war on terror’ following the events of 11 September 2001, describing “the progressive and determined elaboration of a comprehensive and coordinated system of secret detention” of persons suspected of terrorism, involving not only United States authorities, but also other States in almost all regions of the world. The study says, inter alia,

143.Given the prevailing secrecy regarding the CIA’s rendition programme, exact figures regarding the numbers of prisoners transferred to the custody of other governments by the CIA without spending any time in CIA facilities are difficult to ascertain. Equally, little is known about the amount of detainees who have been held at the request of other States such as the United Kingdom and Canada.While several of these allegations cannot be backed up by other sources, the Experts wish to underscore that the consistency of many of the detailed allegations provided separately by the detainees adds weight to the inclusion of Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, the Syrian Arab Republic, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Djibouti as proxy detention facilities where detainees have been held on behalf of the CIA. Serious concerns also exist about the role of Uzbekistan as a proxy detention site.

It also highlights that secret detention in connection with counter-terrorism policies remains a serious problem on a global scale, either through the use of secret detention facilities; through declarations of a state of emergency, which allow prolonged secret detention; or through forms of “administrative detention,” which also allow prolonged secret detention.

The study was issued by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, Martin Scheinin; Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (represented by its Vice-Chairperson, Shaheen Sardar Ali); and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (represented by its Chairperson, Jeremy Sarkin).

ACLU Lawsuit Charges in Amir Meshal v. Higgenbotham et al that an American Citizen Illegally Detained and Mistreated by U.S. Officials in Kenya and Ethiopia

The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit on behalf of a New Jersey man who was illegally detained and mistreated by U.S. officials in Kenya and Ethiopia. After fleeing hostilities in Somalia in 2006, Amir Meshal was arrested, secretly imprisoned in inhumane conditions and subjected to harsh interrogations by U.S. officials over 30 times in three different countries before ultimately being released four months later without charge. More info here.

UK-Ethiopia Agreement on Deportations Puts Suspects at Risk of Torture

The UK government should not rely on unreliable “diplomatic assurances” against torture to deport national security suspects to Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the UK government. In December 2008, the United Kingdom and Ethiopia signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU), similar to those the UK has signed with Jordan, Lebanon and Libya. Under these MoUs, the receiving governments provide “diplomatic assurances” that they will not mistreat persons whom the other country transfers to their territory. Under the agreement, Ethiopia will obtain custody of its citizens now in detention in the UK, while the UK will be able to deport to their home country Ethiopians it considers security threats.

Ethiopian Official Says Somali Militias Use Ethiopia to Attack Rebels

Ethiopia has confirmed that pro-government militias from neighboring Somalia are using Ethiopian territory as a base to launch attacks on rebel forces. An Ethiopian spokesman lashed out at Horn of Africa rival Eritrea for its role in the Somalia conflict.

Spokesman Bereket Simon says Ethiopia has not and will not stop its military support to Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, or TFG, in its fight against a foreign-backed insurgency.

John Brennan on the US counterterrorism policy

Remarks by John O. Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, As Prepared for Delivery “A New Approach to Safeguarding Americans, 6 August 2009. Read the speech here.

Interview with Brennan here. Comments in the LA Times and the WSJ.

Canadian sentenced to life in Ethiopia for terrorism

An Ethiopia-born Canadian was sentenced Monday to life in prison for terrorism-related charges by the high court in the capital Addis Ababa.Bashir Makhtal was last week convicted on three charges mainly of inciting rebellion by aiding and abetting armed opposition groups in Ethiopia and being a senior member of a rebel group.

“After finding the defendant Bashir Makhtal guilty on all counts last week, the court sentences the defendant to life in prison,” said Adem Ibrahim who chaired a three-man panel of judges. Makhtal was also accused of supporting a hardline Islamist movement in neighbouring Somalia who Ethiopian forces ousted in 2007 when they intervened to prop up the country’s embattled government. He denied all the charges for which prosecutors had demanded the death penalty. The defence had pleaded for a lighter sentence, arguing that the accused had already spent time in jail since being arrested.

The 40-year-old was among some 150 people detained by Kenyan forces on the border with Somalia as they fled the Ethiopian onslaught on the Islamists.

Ethiopia suspends 42 NGO’s

Ethiopian authorities have suspended the operations of 42 non-governmental organisations allegedly involved in activities that are “out of their mandate” in the Southern region of the country.The Ethiopian government moved to revoke the licence of the NGOs following accusation of their alleged involvement in reporting human right abuses in the rural areas. Ethiopian government publicly accused some NGOs of supplying “inaccurate” information to the United States’ State Department, which published its annual human rights report in March 2009.

Ethiopian parliament passes terrorism bill

The Ethiopian Parliament (House of Peoples representatives)  passed the bill for the prevention and control of terrorism on the 7th of July.

According to the recommendations presented by the Legal and Administrative Affairs and Foreign, Defense, and Security Affairs Standing Committees of the parliament, the anti terrorism bill was prepared in line with the binding principles of the constitution.  After holding thorough deliberations, the HPR endorsed the bill with  286 votes for and 92 votes against it while one abstention.  Human Rights Watch said last week the law as drafted could be used to define criticism of the government as a “terrorist act”.The government said the New York-based group had misinterpreted the law and that it fully recognized the right of Ethiopians to engage in peaceful political activity.

Counter Terrorism law to be enacted in Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s draft counterterrorism law could punish political speech and peaceful protest as terrorist acts and encourage unfair trials if enacted, Human Rights Watch said today. The government and members of parliament should amend the draft law, which may otherwise be imminently passed as-is by parliament, to meet international human rights standards, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch’s detailed analysis of the draft Anti-Terrorism Proclamation concludes that the bill violates fundamental freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly, and strips defendants of important due-process protections. As drafted, the law could provide a new and potent tool for suppressing political opposition and independent criticism of government policy, Human Rights Watch said.

Earlier the government had stated that the new anti-terrorism bill would “create legal backup in support of efforts geared toward fighting the social evil.”

Earlier HRW analyis here.