WASHINGTON DC, October 2 – At least 10 victims of the Horn of Africa rendition programme are still languishing in Ethiopian jails, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released Wednesday.,
The 54-page report titled ‘Why Am I Still Here?’ examines the 2007 rendition operation during which at least 90 men, women, and children fleeing the armed conflict in Somalia were unlawfully repatriated from Kenya to Somalia, and then onto Ethiopia.
Several of the detained men were interrogated in Addis Ababa by officials from the United States soon after their secret transfers.
HRW said that they recently spoke by telephone to several of the Kenyans in detention in Ethiopia, many of whom complained of physical ailments and begged for someone to help them get home.
“The previous Kenyan government deported its own citizens and then left them to rot in Ethiopian jails,” Jennifer Daskal, senior counterterrorism counsel at HRW and author of the report said. She noted that it was necessary for new Kenyan government to reverse course and bring the men home, and show that it was not following the same path as the previous regime.
“Although Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga made a campaign pledge to help repatriate these detainees, little progress has been made to date. In mid-August 2008, Kenyan authorities visited these men for the first time. The officials reportedly told the detainees they would be home within a few weeks, but more than a month and a half has now passed.”
The report documents the treatment of several men still in Ethiopian custody, as well as the previously unreported experiences of recently released detainees, several of whom described being brutally tortured.
“The dozens of people caught up in the secret Horn of Africa renditions in 2007 have suffered in silence too long,” said Ms Daskal. “Those governments involved – Ethiopia, Kenya and the US – need to renounce unlawful renditions and account for the missing.”
In late 2006, the Bush administration backed an Ethiopian military offensive that ousted the Islamist authorities from the Somali capital Mogadishu. The fighting caused thousands to flee across the border into Kenya, including some who were suspected of terrorist links.
Kenyan authorities arrested at least 150 men, women, and children from more than 18 countries – including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada – in operations near the Somalia border and held them for weeks without charge in Nairobi.
In January and February 2007, the Kenyan government then rendered dozens of them – with no notice to families, lawyers or the detainees themselves – on flights to Somalia, where they were handed over to the Ethiopian military. Ethiopian forces also arrested an unknown number of people in Somalia.
Those rendered were later transported to detention centres in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and other Ethiopian towns, where they effectively disappeared
A number of prisoners were questioned by US Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in Addis Ababa.
“The United States says that they were investigating past and current threats of terrorism,” Daskal said. “But the repeated interrogation of rendition victims who were being held incommunicado makes Washington complicit in the abuse.”
The Ethiopian government, Ms Daskal highlighted, also used the rendition program for its own purposes; trying to quell domestic Ogadeni and Oromo insurgencies.
The HRW report called on the Ethiopian government to immediately release the rendition victims still in its custody or prosecute them in a court that meets basic standards of fair trial.
It also urged the Kenyan government to take immediate steps to secure the repatriation of Kenyan nationals still in Ethiopian custody, and the US government to withhold counterterrorism assistance from both governments until they provided a full account of all the missing detainees.