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Torture by Police, Forced Disappearance

& Other Ill Treatment

In the early years of the 21st Century, 2000 to 2025                            

Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Security forces employed force against predominately peaceful protesters throughout 2016 and 2017, with rights groups estimating that hundreds of people were killed in the crackdown.

A paramilitary force known as the Liyu Police based in the Somali Region has been blamed for extrajudicial killings and carrying out attacks on homes in the neighboring Oromia Region, and the government has taken no apparent action to address the abuses.

Conditions in Ethiopia’s prisons are harsh, and detainees frequently report abuse, including torture.

[Freedom House Country Report, 2018]

Description: Description: Ethiopia

CAUTION:  The following links have been culled from the web to illuminate the situation in Ethiopia.  Some of these links may lead to websites that present allegations that are unsubstantiated or even false.  No attempt has been made to validate their authenticity or to verify their content.



If you are looking for material to use in a term-paper, you are advised to scan the postings on this page and others to see which aspects of Torture by Authorities are of particular interest to you.  You might be interested in exploring the moral justification for inflicting pain or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment in order to obtain critical information that may save countless lives, or to elicit a confession for a criminal act, or to punish someone to teach him a lesson outside of the courtroom.  Perhaps your paper might focus on some of the methods of torture, like fear, extreme temperatures, starvation, thirst, sleep deprivation, suffocation, or immersion in freezing water.  On the other hand, you might choose to write about the people acting in an official capacity who perpetrate such cruelty.  There is a lot to the subject of Torture by Authorities.  Scan other countries as well as this one.  Draw comparisons between activity in adjacent countries and/or regions.  Meanwhile, check out some of the Term-Paper resources that are available on-line.

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Ethiopia: Abiy’s First Year as Prime Minister, Review of Arbitrary Detention, Torture and Detention Conditions

Human Rights Watch, 5 April 2019

[accessed 19 May 2019]


BACKGROUND -- Torture has long been a serious and underreported problem across Ethiopia. For years, Human Rights Watch received frequent reports of torture in places of detention country-wide. These included police stations, prisons, military camps, and various unmarked detention sites. Other nongovernmental organizations and various media outlets have also reported on torture over many years.  Some of the most brutal torture has occurred at the hands of the Ethiopian military and, since 2010, in the Somali Region, at the hands of the Liyu police.

Torture occurred in facilities under federal, regional and local jurisdictions. For example,  in Jijiga Central Prison, commonly known as Jail Ogaden, a regional detention facility in the Somali Region, prisoners were brutally and relentlessly tortured and humiliated individually and in groups. Many of them were accused of belonging to the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), a group banned by the Ethiopian government.

While patterns varied across the country, Ethiopian officials have often relied on torture to extract confessions, typically regarding a prisoner’s connection to one of the groups that the government had designated a terrorist organization, to gain information, or merely as punishment.

Prisoners in some detention centers had little access to medical care, family, lawyers, or even at times to food. Overcrowding has been a problem in some places of detention.

Ethiopia fires prison officials, confronts torture claims

Elias Meseret, Associated Press AP, Addis Ababa, 5 July 2018

[accessed 6 July 2018]

"I was kept in solitary confinement in complete darkness for most of my detention," one former prisoner who was held for three years told Human Rights Watch. "I was only taken out at night for torture. They did many things to me - they electrocuted my testicles, they tied wire around them and they put a plastic bag with chili powder over my head. I often had a gag tied in my mouth so I wouldn't scream too much."

2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Ethiopia

U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 30 March 2021

[accessed 18 July 2021]


Prison and pretrial detention center conditions remained harsh and in some cases life threatening. Problems included gross overcrowding and inadequate food, water, sanitation, and medical care. Pretrial detention often occurred in police station detention facilities, where conditions varied widely and reports noted poor hygiene.

Freedom House Country Report

2018 Edition

[accessed 12 May 2020]


Security forces employed force against predominately peaceful protesters throughout 2016 and 2017, with rights groups estimating that hundreds of people were killed in the crackdown. Persistent conflicts between residents of the Oromia Region and Somali Region (also known as the Ogaden Region), partly over land and grazing rights along the border, resulted in clashes in September 2017 that killed at least 100 people and displaced tens of thousands. A paramilitary force known as the Liyu Police based in the Somali Region has been blamed for extrajudicial killings and carrying out attacks on homes in the neighboring Oromia Region, and the government has taken no apparent action to address the abuses.

Conditions in Ethiopia’s prisons are harsh, and detainees frequently report abuse, including torture. Multiple times since 2016, Bekele Gerba, the deputy chairman of the opposition OFC, and other Oromo political prisoners have gone on hunger strike to protest poor treatment in prison; they reportedly have been denied medical attention and access to legal counsel and their families.

Torture in Ethiopia

International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (irct)

Developed in collaboration with the Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture in Ethiopia (RCVTE), Oct. 2014

[accessed 23 June 2015]

[accessed 30 December 2017]

Torture and ill-treatment of prisoners are widespread in Ethiopia, particularly during interrogation in pre-trial police detention. The fight against torture fails at all stages

Human Rights Watch World Report 2015 - Events of 2014

Human Rights Watch, 29 January 2015 or

[accessed 18 March 2015]


Hopes that Ethiopia’s government would ease its crackdown on dissent ahead of the May 2015 elections were dashed in 2014. Instead the government continued to use arbitrary arrests and prosecutions to silence journalists, bloggers, protesters, and supporters of opposition political parties; police responded to peaceful protests with excessive force; and there was no indication of any government willingness to amend repressive legislation that was increasingly condemned for violating international standards, including at Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Ethiopia ‘ruthlessly targeting’ and torturing Oromo people, says Amnesty

Agence France-Presse AFP, Addis Ababa, 28 October 2014

[accessed 26 November 2014]

Ethiopia has “ruthlessly targeted” and tortured its largest ethnic group owing to a perceived opposition to the government, Amnesty International has said.

Thousands of people from the Oromo ethnic group have been “regularly subjected to arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention without charge, enforced disappearance, repeated torture and unlawful state killings,” according to a damning report based on more than 200 testimonies. “Dozens of actual or suspected dissenters have been killed.”

Former detainees who have fled the country and were interviewed by Amnesty in neighbouring Kenya, Somaliland and Uganda described torture “including beatings, electric shocks, mock execution, burning with heated metal or molten plastic and rape, including gang-rape”, the report added.

One young girl said hot coals had been dropped on her stomach because her father was suspected of supporting the OLF, while a teacher described how he was stabbed in the eye with a bayonet after he refused to teach “propaganda about the ruling party” to students.

The torture and brutal murder of Alsan Hassen by Ethiopian police will shock your conscience

Horn of Africa News, 7 June 2014

[accessed 10 June 2014]

A 21-year old Oromo student, Nuredin Hasen, who was abducted from Haromaya University late last month and held incommunicado at undisclosed location, died earlier this month from a brutal torture he endured while in police custody, family sources said.   Members of the federal and Oromia state police nabbed Hassen (who is also known by Alsan Hassen) and 12 other students on May 27 in a renewed crackdown on Oromo students. Friends were not told the reason for the arrests nor where the detainees were taken.

They found their beloved son badly tortured, his face disfigured and barely recognizable. His throat was slit leaving only the muscles and bones at the back of his neck connecting his head to the rest of the body. There were large cuts along his eyelids, right below the eyebrows as if someone had tried to remove his eyes. There were multiple wounds all over his face and head. Both of his arms were broken between his wrists and his elbows.   It appeared as if the federal forces employed all forms of inhumane torture tactics, leaving parts of his body severely damaged and disjointed.

Torture in the heart of Addis, even as leaders gather in gleaming AU building

Laetitia Bader, The East African, 19 October 2013

[accessed 23 Oct 2013]

In a new report, ‘They Want a Confession’: Torture and Ill-Treatment in Ethiopia’s Maekelawi Police Station, Human Rights Watch documents how the police who run Maekelawi have tortured and ill-treated detainees during investigations. Former detainees held in the facility since 2010 described how investigators slapped, kicked, and beat them with batons and gun butts. Some were held in painful stress positions for hours upon end.

Some are held in solitary confinement for days or months. Getachew said he was held alone and shackled for five months: “When I wanted to stand up it was hard,” he told me. “I had to use my head, legs, and the walls to stand up.”

Those held in Maekelawi’s two worst detention blocks, nicknamed by residents Chalama Bet [dark house] and Tawla Bet [wooden house], described particularly dire conditions.

To make matters worse, investigators use access to basic facilities and needs to punish or reward detainees. Even access to the toilet can depend on the whim of the police, as Getachew explained: “I was only allowed to use the toilet once a day, although after two or three months, I was allowed twice… They want to get something, and either they get some evidence or they don’t.”

Access to daylight is also restricted; one person said that he was taken outside for just a few minutes three times in 42 days in the dark cells.

Ethiopian police torture political detainees: Human Rights Watch

Drazen Jorgic, Reuters, Addis Ababa, 17 October 2013

[accessed 18 March 2014]

Ethiopian police investigators in Addis Ababa's main detention center have tortured political detainees and regularly mistreat people in custody to extract confessions, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Friday.

In a report about conditions inside Addis Ababa's Federal Police Crime Investigation Sector, known as Maekelawi, HRW said many former detainees were slapped, kicked and beaten with sticks and gun butts during investigations.

"Human Rights Watch found that investigators used coercive methods, including beatings and threats of violence, to compel detainees to sign statements and confessions," the group said in a statement, referring to events over the past three years.

Civil Society Crackdown in Ethiopia

Laetitia Bader, New Internationalist, 4 January 2013

[accessed 25 January 2013]

On 1 January 2013, Ethiopia took up its seat on the United Nations Human rights Council. The uncontested election – Africa put forward five countries for five seats – has raised some eyebrows, given the country’s own poor rights record. Elected member countries are obliged to ‘uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’. Yet, in Ethiopia, hundreds of political prisoners languish in jails where torture is common and a crackdown on the media and civil society is in full swing.

The blogger Eskinder Nega exemplifies the fate of those who dare to speak out. Eskinder was arbitrarily arrested and jailed following the controversial 2005 elections. After his release from prison two years later, he was placed under ongoing surveillance and banned from publishing. Then, in 2011, he was rearrested, convicted in an unfair trial under Ethiopia’s broad terrorism law, and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee against Torture

U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment  -- Doc. CAT/C/ETH/CO/1 (2011)

[accessed 27 February 2013]

Widespread use of torture

10. The Committee is deeply concerned about numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations concerning the routine use of torture by the police, prison officers and other members of the security forces, as well as the military, in particular against political dissidents and opposition party members, students, alleged terrorist suspects and alleged supporters of insurgent groups such as the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). It is concerned about credible reports that such acts frequently occur with the participation, at the instigation or with the consent of commanding officers in police stations, detention centres, federal prisons, military bases and in unofficial or secret places of detention. The Committee also takes note of consistent reports that torture is commonly used during interrogation to extract confessions when the suspect is deprived of fundamental legal safeguards, in particular access to legal counsel (art. 1, 2, 4, 11 and 15).

The Committee urges the State party to take immediate and effective measures to investigate, prosecute and punish all acts of torture and to ensure that torture is not used by law enforcement personnel, including by unambiguously reaffirming the absolute prohibition of torture and publicly condemning practices of torture, especially by the police, prison officers and members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), accompanied by a clear warning that anyone committing such acts or otherwise complicit or participating in torture will be held personally responsible before the law for such acts and will be subject to criminal prosecution and appropriate penalties.

Impunity for acts of torture and ill-treatment

11. The Committee is deeply concerned at numerous consistent reports about the State party’s persistent failure to investigate allegations of torture and prosecute perpetrators, including members of ENDF and military or police commanders. In this regard, it notes the absence of information on cases where soldiers and police or prison officers were prosecuted, sentenced or subjected to disciplinary sanctions for having committed acts or torture or ill-treatment. The Committee is also concerned about the reported exercise of police functions by ENDF in the Somali Regional State and by private militia groups (arts. 2, 4, 12, 13 and 16).

The State party should ensure that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly and impartially investigated, and that the perpetrators are prosecuted and convicted in accordance with the gravity of the acts, as required by article 4 of the Convention, without prejudice to appropriate disciplinary actions and sanctions.

The State party should ensure that law enforcement functions are exercised by the police rather than ENDF, including in areas of armed conflict where no state of emergency has been declared. The State party should prevent the circumvention by private militia groups of legal safeguards and remedies against torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment..


From an old article -- URL not available

Article was published sometime prior to 2015


Torture and other ill-treatment of prisoners were widespread, particularly during interrogation in pre-trial police detention. Typically, prisoners might be punched, slapped, beaten with sticks and other objects, handcuffed and suspended from the wall or ceiling, denied sleep and left in solitary confinement for long periods. Electrocution, mock-drowning and hanging weights from genitalia were reported in some cases. Many prisoners were forced to sign confessions. Prisoners were used to mete out physical punishment against other prisoners.

Allegations of torture made by detainees, including in court, were not investigated.

Prison conditions were harsh. Food and water were scarce and sanitation was very poor. Medical treatment was inadequate, and was sometimes withheld from prisoners. Deaths in detention were reported.


The authorities arrested members of political opposition parties, and other perceived or actual political opponents. Arbitrary detention was widespread.

According to relatives, some people disappeared after arrest. The authorities targeted families of suspects, detaining and interrogating them. The use of unofficial places of detention was reported.


For current articles:: Search Amnesty International Website

[accessed 31 December 2018]

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Human Rights Reports » 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

U.S. Dept of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 8, 2006

[accessed 25 January 2013]

[accessed 3 July 2019]

TORTURE AND OTHER CRUEL, INHUMAN, OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT – Although the law prohibits the use of torture and mistreatment, there were numerous credible reports that security officials often beat or mistreated detainees. Opposition political parties reported frequent and systematic abuse of their supporters by police and regional militias.

EHRCO reported that on May 14, Abdeta Dita Entele, a member of the opposition coalition Oromo National Congress/United Ethiopian Democratic Forces of Siraro District in the Oromo Region, committed suicide following the severe beatings he received from kebele officials.

On October 16, two men armed with pistols attacked Daniel Bekele, a policy advocate for the NGO ActionAid Ethiopia and a member of the executive committee of the Network of Ethiopian Nongovernmental Organizations and Civil Society Organizations, which monitored the May 15 elections. According to ActionAid, the armed men beat him in the eye. At year’s end, Bekele was in police detention on charges of treason and genocide.

Authorities took no action against police responsible for the February and March 2004 police beatings of students, teachers, and parents at Oromiya Region high schools and universities; or against militia responsible for May 2004 attacks on its members reported by the opposition All-Ethiopia Unity Party.

In October 2004 an undisclosed number of the approximately 330 students expelled from Addis Ababa University following the January 2004 Oromo student protests, who had been ordered by police to kneel and run barefoot on sharp gravel for several hours, were readmitted to the university (see section 2.b.).

There were no significant developments in cases of beatings and torture committed by security forces in 2003.

On August 11, local and international media reported that the federal high court sentenced to death two former senior government officials accused of torturing political opponents during the former Mengistu regime -- former National and Public Security Minister Tesfaye Woldeselase and Leggesse Belayneh, former head of criminal investigations.

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Cite this webpage as: Patt, Prof. Martin, "Torture by Police, Forced Disappearance & Other Ill Treatment in the early years of the 21st Century- Ethiopia",, [accessed <date>]