The Ethiopian government announced the closure of Maekelawi prison and detention center in Ethiopia's capital of Addis Ababa on Friday. Back in January, the office of the Ethiopian prime minister also voiced plans to give pardons to many political prisoners or to have their cases dropped.
Closure of Maekelawi Step in the Right Direction
Seif Magango, the deputy regional director of Amnesty International for East Africa, said that the closure of the Maekelawi detention center, which was famous for the mistreatment of prisoners, is a step in the right direction for the promotion of human rights in the country.
"The closure of Maekelawi, which was infamous for torture and other acts of ill-treatment against detainees, is a step in the right direction for human rights in Ethiopia, as has been the release of several prisoners since the new Prime Minister came into office, including prominent opposition figures and journalists," Magango said.
Felix Horne, a senior researcher for the Horn of Africa at Human Rights Watch, said that although the closure of the Maekelawi facility is a positive development, there is more work to be done to tackle torture in the country.
"Human Rights Watch continues to receive regular reports of torture in many of Ethiopia’s places of detentions. It is a serious and widespread problem and the authorities have done virtually nothing to stop it. The closure of Maekelawi is a good step, but when torture is so pervasive country-wide and no action is taken against those that engage in it, it’s hard to see any broader meaning in the closure of Maekelawi," Horne stated.
Human Rights Watch conducted an investigation into human rights abuses at the detention facility between 2010 and 2013, interviewing 35 former detainees of Maekelawi and their family members. The interviews showed that two of the four detention blocks within the facility were known for their harsh treatment of prisoners, including the limitation of detainees to sunlight, to bathroom facilities, and the use of solitary confinement.
Further Human Rights Reforms Needed
Horne stated that despite the closure of the Maekelawi detention center and the recent release of a number of prisoners from another facility, the situation pertaining to human rights in Ethiopia remains dire.
"Almost daily, there are reports of civilians being killed by Ethiopia’s security forces and the country is still under a far-reaching state of emergency. Ethiopia’s human rights situation continues to be dire," Horne noted.
Magango stated that in order to make additional progress on human rights in Ethiopia, the government should repeal the state of emergency that has been in force since February 16, a day after the Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned from his post.
"To entrench respect for human rights, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed must institute concrete legal and institutional reforms, by first and foremost lifting or amending the State of Emergency declaration to ensure it conforms with international human rights standards, and repealing draconian and repressive laws such as the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the Charities and Societies Proclamation," Maegango said.
Horne added that Ahmed should also create a more open political space in Ethiopia, allowing for political protests to take place, and make sure that members of the security and police forces are pursued overstepping their authority.
"The government should allow people to protest peacefully, discipline those security officials who engage in torture or other abusive practices, and urgently open up political space — allowing opposition parties and civil society to operate freely," Horne said.
Magango added that Ethiopian authorities should also allow for investigations into past human rights abuses to take place, as well as carry out other measures to encourage free expression in the country.
"He must also ensure the protection of freedom of expression, free up and broaden civic and political space; institute effective and independent investigations into past human rights violations and ensure accountability for them, besides allowing unfettered access into the country for international human rights monitors," Magango emphasized.
According to statistics provided by Amnesty International, 26,000 people were arbitrarily detained and arrested in Ethiopia under the state of emergency in 2016. In February, 10,000 of them were released.
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