The Case of Disapearance


The EPRDF regime is consistently and flagrantly violating the basic human and democratic rights of the Ethiopian people. 

SOCEPP is just one of the many human rights bodies which have over the years registered and condemned these violations. For quite sometime, there was the tendency to compare the records of the present government with that of the fallen one (the military regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam) and to declare "things have improved" on the rather flimsy and debatable presumption that it is "better" if the massacres are few, the killings reduced and the violations kept out of public sight. That such a comparison is a gross injustice to the victims of the crimes of the present regime is now more or less accepted by many quarters and the regime of Meles Zenawi is being judged on its own merits. And the verdict is harsh. Demagogy and orchestrated motions notwithstanding, the EPRDF regime has a dismal record on human rights. The case of the disappeared is one aspect of the continuing problem, the relentless subjugation of the vast majority of the people, the denial of rights, the, use of force as the legitimizing base of power, the arbitrary and ruthless repression, the prevailing climate of fear, of anxiety, the absence of real peace.

In Ethiopia, the exact number of people who have been detained by the government and who have subsequently disappeared is not known. Some put the figure in the hundreds while others claim it is less than two hundred. Amnesty International has reported that it has received reports of dozens of disappearance cases. However, we can safely say that many political dissidents have indeed disappeared and a pattern can be discerned from the EPRDF practice/position on the matter.

The disappeared were in many instances abducted or kidnapped by EPRDF security forces. In most case, these security men are dressed in civilian clothes and use both official and unofficial cars for their mission. The government denies any knowledge of their actions and attributes it to action by "unidentified armed men". Many Ethlopians attribute the murders and assassination attempts to the government agentsand death squads even when the government publicly accuses "other forces" of being behind such actions.

The disappeared are held incommunicado in the many "ghost houses" and secret prisons in the cities and towns. On Addis Abeba many villas of the former regime’s officials and many houses in Bole and the old airport area are used as secret prisons. Some of the prisoners are kept in the secluded underground prisons of Tigrai where the EPRDF rules supreme and far from prying eyes.

The disappeared are, in most instances, feared dead. The fear emanates from the EPRDF's denial of any knowledge of the whereabouts of the political prisoners. For example, in the cases of EPRP (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party) members such as Abebe Aynekulu, Tsegaye Gebre Medhin, Yishak Debretsion, Sitotaw Hussein, Belete Amha,Yosef Ayele, Teklai G.Sellasie, Berhe, Tulu (this one forcefully repatriated from the Sudan), etc, the EPRDF has denied ever holding them captive though several witnesses testify to the contrary. Many of the relatives of the disappeared fear that their kin are dead either from torture or from an arbitrary decision by the authorities.

None of the disappeared was ever brought before a court of law.

Despite denials, it is now common knowledge that the EPRDF operates very many "ghost houses" (private residences turned into prisons and torture centers) in Aadis Abeba and other towns and has, in the provinces, turned government establishments/houses into secret prisons. Many of the inmates of these prisons and ghost houses have become the disappeared.

A closer look at the EPRDF practice shows a conscious and systematic pattern of hounding, harassing and repressing serious political dissent. Such actions are undertaken by "goons" or secret squads controlled by the top men of the ruling Tigrai People`s :Libration Front (the TPLF is on of the dominating the EPRDF). These are extra legal, death squad type forces that operate in secrecy and with impunity. They terrorize, they abduct, they execute.

In the following pages we present a partial list of the disappeared. We focus on those whose cases seem to be "forgotten" both by the local and international human rights bodies. It is necessary to state that this is indeed a very incomplete list. Note should be made of the fact that many relatives of the disappeared do NOT want any attention to be focused on their kin because such a focus, in their experience, has led to the execution of the captive. So, some relatives may, out of justified fear, want their captive kin to be "forgotten" in prison by the "government" lest it "remembers" and decides to liquidate the prisoner. The fear is not baseless; demanding due process and habeas corpus do lead to more repression in Ethiopia.

The disappeared

1. In the first category, we cite the following who have been detained incommunicado since 1991.

In June 1991, the forces of the EPRDF attacked the areas held by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party (EPRP) in Gondar and Gojjam. In the all out war that ensued, some EPRP leaders and veteran members fell into the hands of the EPRDF. Among those captured at the time in Sankisa (Quara) and other areas were EPRP leaders like:

Tsegaye Gebre Medhin Lucha (a.k.a. Debteraw), a founding member of the EPRP, former leader of the Ethiopian Student Movement, poet and Amharic language expert; Yishak Debretsion, Belete Amha, Sitotaw Hussein, veteran guerrilla leaders like Teklai Gebresellasie, Hagos Bezabih and Desalegn Amsalu. Around the same time, Azanaw Demile (Tulu) was handed over to the EPRDF by the government of the Sudan. Tsegaye and his comrades were at first jailed in Bahr Dar where many people saw and some even talked to them. From Bahr Dar they were taken to Tigrai region, the "home base" of the ruling Tigrean front, and they have disappeared since. The government denies ever holding them while rumors continue to appear that they are being held in inhumane conditions in Quiha or other unofficial prisons. The denial of the government has fuelled the suspicion that Tsegaye and the other EPRP leaders may have been secretly and arbitrarily executed.

2. In 1992, Yosef Ayele Bati, Lamessa Boru,Dereje kana'a,Kassabun Habte, Anano Mite, Bekisa Sina,Sheikh Aliy Ahmed Waday were detained by the EPRDF and have subsequently disappeared. In 1993, the following were detained in Addis Abeba and they have now become part of the long list of the disappeared

Ms. Aberash Berta, Lemma Haile, Tesfaye Kebede (Abohaye), Wondusirak Desta, Getnet Asnake, Mot Baynor, journalist Birhanu Ijigu (all are alleged to be EPRP members.)

Others who have been arrested on the accusation that they belonged to the EPRP and who have subsequently disappeared include Eyob Tekabe and Demisse Tesfaye (arrested in Arba Minch 1995) and Abebe Aynekulu, trade unionist, who was arrested by the EPRDF in Gojjam and then accused in the mass media of a crime that was allegedly committed five months after his arrest. Abebes whereabouts is still unknown.

In 2005 when more than 50,000 were jailed after a rigged election win by the EPRDF, hundreds have since been disappeared though some 35,000 are stiii langusing in prison camps like Dedesa, Shoa Robit, Zwai and Bir Sheleko.

The EPRDF government headed by Meles Zenawi must be called upon to give an adequate explanation on the increasing instances of disappearance. The arrests and disappearances are not random: they are aimed at those political organizations which are opposed to the EPRDF rule. In other words, dissent continues to entail repression of all sorts.

SOCEPP believes it is high time that the EPRDF government gives a clear and unambiguous reply to the demand of the relatives of the disappeared. Let the truth be known. It is high time also for the international community to realize that the violations of the human rights of the Ethiopian people continue unabated. Those who claim that "things have improved" and rush to congratulate the EPRDF government should pause and ponder the rather grim reality for most Ethiopians, the injustice continues, the repression continue. Democracy and rights are still "flourishing" only within the verbal realms of the State controlled mass media.

SOCEPP calls on the government of the EPRDF to account for the fate of all the disappeared" since June 1991.


Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere!