Tuesday, February 7, 2017

How to Decrease Institutionalized Human Rights Violations in Ethiopia

Picture: Zeway Federal Prison
/under construction/
Sometimes, I think we who criticize government for violating human rights don't know how to protect them ourselves. I think even if the regime changes, the violations may continue. History tells us institutions like Maekelawi continue to function as before regardless of regime changes. Sometimes, I also think, even if the government officials at the top don't want the rights violations, the individuals at the lower level may continue to violet them because there is no institutional way of holding them accountable. (Our cultural beliefs on physical punishment shouldn't be disregarded. Even mothers go to the extreme of steaming their  beloved children with pepper smoke when they think the latter made mistakes.)

When I talk about institutions, I'm not talking about the likes of Ethiopia's Human Rights Commission (EHRC). I know they are important too but they, ignoring the government's interference and manipulation of the institutions as if they don't exist (for only this writing purpose), do not have direct access to the places where rights violations are committed even if they want to monitor violations. Therefore, the aim of this mini-proposal is to point out possible practices to decrease institutionalized rights violations.

1. In Police Detention Centers

Police detention centers are the main places where many of human rights violations are committed. Violations are committed starting just in time of detention and continues during interrogation. 'Miranda' law, which guarantees detainees the right to know what cautions they should take before law, never respected in Ethiopia even though it is enshrined in our constitution (article 19/2). Furthermore, interrogations are usually done by force.
Many police detention centers, including the infamous Maekelawi, are inaccessible to human rights organizations. They have dark, cold rooms to keep detainees isolated. Some detention centers even have facilities to torture. Others use government budget to buy torture accessories.

Interrogations are done by policemen and detainees are never allowed to demand silence without lawyer presence. Centers like Maekelawi even dare to prohibit access to either lawyer nor family visitors for the first few weeks. This is not lawful. Detainees usually complain about these during court appearances. At times, police denies the allegations. At other times, the court orders police to just take corrective measures. However, no court has ever ordered investigation of past human rights violations nor took corrective measures against violators.

In a solution: rights violation compliants of detainees should be followed by consequences to those of the violators.

A) Many of political prisoners in Ethiopia label "guilty" by courts after their own confessions in police detention centers. After they are formally charged and their confessions at police detention centers are presented against them as evidences, courts usually demand detainees/defendants to prove their confessions were not given by willingness but by force. This is hard to do because the violations are committed without the sight of any eye witnesses. And, the confessions are usually false confessions to stop tortures. So, in case of any compliant of such a confessions by the detainees, courts/judges must (as the law orders them so) reject the confession from acceptance as an evidence instead of laying the burden of proof on the defendant.

B) Currently, if a defendant can prove her/his confession was made by force, courts reject the confession as not fit to be evidence. But, I never heard them demand corrective measures to be taken against those who committed the violations. But, to stop the violations for good, courts must also order investigation of the crime and take appropriate measures against any institution or individual who committed the violations in consequence. To this end, there should be a specific proclamation that makes it a must for rights violations reports be investigated by an independent party and hold the violators accountable.

2. In Secret Detention Centers

Many not so famous political prisoners of Ethiopia are usually directly taken to secret detention places during their arrest. These places are unknown. The detainees are taken to and brought back from the secret places blindfolded. After one or two weeks of stay in these detention places, the detainees will be transferred to Maekelawi and Maekelawi staff treat those detainees as if they are just detained. They take them to court in 48 hours and when the detainees complain about human rights violations, Maekelawi policemen respond 's/he was just detained yesterday' and discredit them.
These secret detention places are where the worst human rights violations are committed. But, their presence is not hard to prove. The disappearance of the detainees after they were arrested and before they were transferred to Maekelawi or other detention centers is an evidence by itself which can be proved in many ways.

The solution is to out law such secret detention places and give judges strong authority to order investigation of suspected presence of such secret detention centers upon compliants and also to order dissolution of them. (By the way, most crime bench judges are tired of hearing rights violation compliants. For many of them, it is because they can't do any help. They don't have authority to follow up and take measures against violators. Others are too busy listening to many charge files to care about individuals' human rights compliants. The rest are either afraid of the regime's capacity to target them or are trying to please officials hoping for a promotion.)

3. In Prisons

Most prisons in Ethiopia are divided in to a number of Zones for administration ease. Prisoners at each Zone have direct access to Zone administrators. But, the same administrators are the ones who commit human rights violations against the prisoners they found 'disobedient or committing prohibited things'. However, according to the law and procedures, there are ways to try and punish them without the need to violate rights of the offeneders.
Therefore, the proposal is to stop violations by the administrators, by installing a Human Rights Office (HRO) in each zone where the prisoners have direct access without the knowledge of the Zone administrators. The accountability of these HRO would be not to the Prison commission but to EHRC.

Currently, Federal Prisons Commission is building new sets of 'modern' prisons in different locations. The  new prisons should not be just locking areas of offenders. They should be structured to function in a manner they can be institutes to correct offenders and to protect human rights.

In summary, the solutions that I propose assuming to decrease institutionalized rights violations in Ethiopia are:

1) to lay the burden of proof on defendants' confession gotten during police interrogation on the prosecutor;

2) to give judges the authority to order investigation on reported violations by detainees and also take corrective measures as well as holding violators accountable;

3) to outlaw secret detention centers;

4) to establish HROs that are directly accessible to prisoners in each zone of prisons.

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