The Torture Chronicles of Ethiopian Patriot Habtamu Ayalew (in His Own Words) – Al MariamPublished Posted on | By TZTA News
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Author’s Note: Following is my translation of the Amharic interview given by Habtamu Ayalew to the Voice of America (VOA), Amharic Program on March 15, 2017 and broadcast on the same day and on March 18 on “Democracy in Action” program. Translation of speech or text often presents some technical problems. Some of them are lexical-semantic; others are grammatical and syntactic. Even more difficult to translate are rhetorical ones involving metaphors and figures of speech. I have aimed for accuracy and meaning in this translation of Habtamu’s words. I have also confirmed with Habtamu and made necessary clarifications to certain statements he made in the interview to ensure the translation accurately represents his intended sense and meaning. Any errors and inaccuracies in translation are exclusively mine. (Full audio of Amharic interview is available HERE.)
This translation and commentary herein have two purposes. First and foremost, my effort here is aimed at helping Habtamu Ayalew communicate his story and harrowing experiences of torture, humiliation, degradation and all manners of abuse he suffered at the hands of the Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (T-TPLF) to international English-speaking and –reading audience. I hasten to add that Habtamu’s story of personal (and family) suffering is neither unique nor personal. Habtamu speaks, and speaks convincingly and powerfully on behalf of the tens of thousands of political prisoners held by the T-TPLF whose names are known only to their families (if the families are lucky enough not to be told the usual T-TPLF lie, “No such person is held in this prison.”) and God. I discuss the second reason for my effort here in the “Post Script” following the translated text of the interview below.
Among the thousands of torture victims in the hands of the T-TPLF today include: Journalists Eskinder Nega, Temesgen Desalegn, Woubshet Taye, Anania Sorri (recently released) and political leaders Dr. Merra Gudina, Andualem Aragie, Bekele Gerba and so many others. A partial list of T-TPLF political prisoners and torture victims with long prison sentences is available HERE.
Who is Ethiopian Patriot Habtamu Ayalew?
Much can be said of the young, brilliant and dynamic Ethiopia opposition leader Habtamu Ayalew. Suffice it to present his “biography” as stated concisely by Amnesty International:
Habtamu Ayalew, the former spokesman for the opposition Andenet (Unity) party was arrested on July 8, 2014 and charged with terrorism for allegedly collaborating with the opposition Ginbot 7, which the Ethiopian government has designated a terrorist group. He was detained at the notorious Maekelawi and Qilinto Prisons, where he was subjected to torture and other ill-treatment through denial of access to toilet facilities, a situation that led to him to develop excruciatingly painful hemorrhoids.
Habtamu is one of the few T-TPLF prison torture victims to ever leave Ethiopia alive. He barely managed to survive and tell the harrowing accounts of the horrific torture chambers of the T-TPLF’s notorious Maekelawi and Qilinto Prisons. (For a comprehensive report on the infamous torture chambers of Maekelawi Prison, see Human Rights Watch report, “They Want a Confession”]. In August 2016, a massive fire broke out at Qilinto Prison, a few kilometers south of the capital, where hundreds of political prisoners are held, killing dozens of prisoners. According to a report in Addis Standard, an eyewitness stated that he saw “armed prison guards shooting indiscriminately at prisoners [in Qilinto Prison] [as] most of them were running frantically to extinguish the fire”. Similarly, 0n November 3, 2005, during an alleged disturbance in Kality prison, another prison a few kilometers south of the capital, which lasted 15 minutes, prison guards fired more than 1500 bullets into inmate housing units leaving 17 dead, and 53 severely wounded.)
Voice of America, Amharic Program interview of Habtamu Ayalew first (part 1) broadcast on March 15, 2017 and (part 2) and on March 18 on “Democracy in Action” program.
Segment introduction by VOA Amharic Program radio journalist Alula Kebede: As we noted earlier in the introduction of this broadcast [of Democracy in Action Program], our guest today is Mr. Habtamu Ayalew. He is the former spokesperson for Andenet (Unity) Party. We will be discussing his 2 years in prison in Ethiopia awaiting trial accused of terrorism and listen to his story of the inhumane treatment, suffering and extreme abuse he suffered during his imprisonment and the present health impact of his abuse in prison. He also explains how the inhumane treatment in prison and during interrogation has resulted in the deaths of many prisoners and caused extreme health consequences for others who survived.
The program producer and presenter [interviewer] Solomon Kifle requests parental cooperation in keeping children away from listening to this broadcast because of the extremely shocking revelations in the interview.
PART I OF INTERVIEW AIRED ON MARCH 15, 2017
Solomon Kifle: Begins with Mr. Habtamu’s account of how his abuse in prison began.
Habtamu: So in Ethiopia, it has become a badge of citizenship, a sign of the [civically] aware citizen, the distinctive character of the innocent citizen, to be arbitrarily jailed and killed [by the T-TPLF]. For the longest time, from the beginning of EPRDF [“Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front”] rule [the shell front organization for the T-TPLF], it is well known that being jailed has become a badge of citizenship. For me, since I was held at Maekelawi Prison [July 2014] that notorious and ugly place even to the present day, I was subjected to extremely inhumane treatment and abuse which has wounded not only my body but also my conscience [soul]. (For a comprehensive report on the infamous torture chambers of Maekelawi Prions see Human Rights Watch report, “The Want a Confession].)
Solomon Kifle: Was there a time when you were held alone in solitary confinement? For instance, in total darkness?
Habtamu: Well, at Maekelawi, there are eight holding areas [cell blocks] for prisoners. There are empty basements [under the holding areas] that are extremely cold. And the person the interrogators select to put in there, they first douse him with water and lock him up in the extreme cold. The cold inflicts extreme injury to your body. Among these awful rooms [cells], there are two that are regarded as extremely horrible. They are particularly considered to be extremely horrible compared to the others. One is No. 7 and the second is No. 8. No. 8 has four separate rooms [cells] to hold one person each. It is so small that you can only stand. There is no room to stretch your hands or legs. It is so narrow, except for sleeping on your back, there is no space to turn to one side or the other. [Habtamu told me the cells in no. 8 were “like a coffin”.] These are extremely hard dark rooms. I was held in cell no. 7. It is a cell where there are between 13-15 prisoners held piled up on each other. The two walls of the cell are next to the latrine that smelled awful. I was in that extremely awful cell for all four months at Maekelawi. The basement of cell no. 7 is flooded [a water tanker] with water [as Habtamu told me the water reaches the ceiling of the basement when flooded and wets the floor and the prisoner’s mattresses and mats in cell no. 7.] On the left and on the right of cell no. 7 and 8 are latrines. On one side is a latrine called “Tawla” and on the other side is a latrine called “Siberia”, both of which share the basement that is flooded with water to torture prisoners. (For a description of “Tawla”, “Siberia” and “Sheraton” cell blocks, click on link HERE.) During the whole time I was there, I remember quite a number of prisoners who were placed in the cold basements for up to 15 days. After prisoners are held in the flooded cold basement for a period of time, they were taken away. I and five others were held in cell no. 7 during the 4 months I was held [at Maekalawi].
Solomon Kifle: There are reports that prisoners have problems accessing toilet facilities. Could you explain to me how many times you and the other prisoners were allowed to use the toilet facilities?
Habtamu: Well, when I was at Maekelawi for four months, we were allowed to use the latrines twice a day, once in the morning and evening. It starts at 6 am. It does not matter if there are 5 prisoners or 10 in one cell. They are allowed a total of only 10 minutes for all of them. There are only three latrines at the prison. In 10 minutes, for instance, in a cell where there are 10 prisoners, each person has one minute, and by chance at most 2 minutes each. So by 6 am, whether nature calls or not, whether you want to use the latrine or not, since there is no chance at all to go to the latrine until 6 pm, the only choice we have is to hurriedly try and relieve ourselves regardless. Other than that, from 6 am to 6 pm, the doors of our cells are locked. There are no windows. No natural light comes in. It is very cold as ice. You sit there covered with whatever clothing you have. Unless you are taken out for interrogation, beaten and returned to the cell, you don’t get out of your cell [all day]. And when they take you out, you are taken through an underground access. So there is no chance for you to see sunlight. If you have to urinate during the day, you use a one-liter water bottle that is called “Highland” in Ethiopia and you urinate in it. If it fills up, there is no place to dump it out. So you try to urinate as little as possible each time so the water bottle does not fill up quickly. So you have to hold your urine all day and that puts your bladder and kidneys out of action. A lot of time, we faced such abuse. For me, after a certain period of time — without talking about the beatings I was subjected to — because I was denied the chance to use the latrine, I would collect my excrement in a grocery bag [in my cell]. I would urinate very sparingly in the water bottle. That was all I could use [for toilet services]. That is how I managed during my time at [Maekelawi]. Such was the fate of all prisoners there with me.
Solomon: Let me return to the issue of interrogation, Mr. Habtamu. In your view, could you tell me what you consider to be extremely brutal torture techniques that were used? If you could tell me about 2 or 3 of them?
Habtamu: Quite awful. Among the most extreme forms of torture [practiced at Maekelawi], something that is impossible to believe, is where a human being [prisoners] is crucified like Jesus Christ. They have crosses [with foot pads and loops at cross ends Habtamu told me] where they hang prisoners. When a prisoner returns from interrogation, the first question we asked was, “Were you hanged on the cross?” And the prisoner would answer, “Today I was hanged, or today I was not hanged.” That is what he would tell us.
On the cross, the prisoner is stretched arm to arm tied on the cross. As the prisoner hangs, they tie a 2 liter plastic bottle of water to his penis and let it dangle. That causes extreme pain. Because of this, there are many individuals, whose penis has been destroyed. It is out of respect for human decency and their privacy that I have difficulty giving out their names in public. But because it is vitally important, and because it is valuable evidence, I can give their identities, addresses and names to any investigative agency to contact them at any time. I am ready to do that. If there is anyone who wants to meet these people in person, the individuals who suffered these injuries, I am ready to provide information.
It is shocking to the conscience to punish a man in such a way.
[Another technique they use is] the interrogator sits on his chair. The prisoner’s hands are handcuffed, both his hands and legs are handcuffed, and on his penis they tie [a bottle of water] with cord and pull him to and fro towards the interrogator as they whip him with sticks and electric cables. He is asked, “Tell us, with whom have you been in contact?”
As a result of this, there are many who are no longer able to walk. There were prisoners whose penises were swollen to the extreme and were unable to close their legs. They spent all night crying out in pain.
The interrogators also used a torture technique that makes a prisoner lose all consciousness. They did this to me. They placed a small extremely cold object in the center of my head. They suddenly hit me sharply with the object on my head. At that point, you lose all consciousness and you have no idea what has happened to you. When you regain consciousness after a few minutes or hours, you ask yourself, “What happened to me?” You don’t know what happened. You don’t know if you were unconscious for minutes or hours. You don’t know what they did to you. You don’t know if you talked or did not talk. This is harrowing. You have no understanding what happened to you. If later you get a chance to get medical treatment, if you can recover from your injury, you may be able to understand what happened to you. But there were many prisoners who did not survive and died.
Another technique is they use their fingers to poke you on your kidneys. They force you to urinate on yourself. Especially when they first take you into custody, the faces of those [arresting you] are covered; and they [cover your face] and take you to an unknown secret prison. In the secret prison, the arrested person is tied to a chair and the interrogators relieve themselves [urinate and defecate] on him; they relieve themselves on him. So that they do not smell the urine and excrement, they cover their noses with cloth and mask. Then they conduct torture. They also write whatever they want and force the detainee to agree and sign a confession. After that, they bring him over to Maekelawi.
Among those who were tortured in this way to make a confession, I can mention individuals like Abebe Ourgessa. Among those who suffered such abuse, I can mention Lengisa Alemayheu. Among those who faced such extreme torture, I can mention those from Gonder such as Angaw Tegne, Agbaw Setegn, Engedaw Wegnew, Abay Zewdu and others like them. They all suffered such torture, we can all remember them.
I remember there were also Air Force officers who suffered similar torture.
These are among some of the most extreme and severe torture techniques used [at Maekelawi]. But there are many other torture techniques they used I cannot talk about because they are extremely difficult [vile] for me to talk about them as an Ethiopian. Human decency prevents me from talking about them. I cannot mention the other [utterly degrading] torture techniques because they are so, so inhuman [bestial]. They are beyond all human compassion. They are things that are, as an Ethiopian of religious faith, as a Muslim or Christian, or just as an ordinary Ethiopian, I cannot speak about those shameful and degrading torture techniques that are committed in there [Maekelawi].
Those of us held in the torture chambers [at Maekelaw], those of us who suffered so much, we all agree on one thing. “This regime has inflicted extreme suffering on our bodies and our consciences. And when we consider it, their beatings, their humiliations and insults have crushed our bones. They have been extremely damaging to our consciences.”
The [Ethiopian] society in which we live, to free this Ethiopia they [T-TPLF] rule today, to make her free, all [Ethiopians] from every corner of Ethiopia, from every part of the country, without limitation, must remember what [the great traditions and honor] we got from our forefathers. Today, [the rulers of Ethiopia] call us “their children” [children of those oppressors]. That we suffer [for the greatness of all our forefathers today] is indeed tragic. The grievous abuses [this regime] that have been committed will always be remembered in Ethiopian history, even after this regime is long gone.
Solomon: Our heartfelt thanks for the explanation you gave me.
Habtamu: I thank you also.
END OF PART I OF INTERVIEW
Part II of Interview aired on March 18, 2017
Solomon: We ended the first part of the interview with a discussion of the extreme interrogation techniques used in [Maekelawi] prison and the damage resulting to prisoners’ health. [Solomon recaps highlights from the first interview.] In the next segment, Mr. Habtamu discussed in detail the extreme torture techniques he said were used on prisoners.
Habtamu: Without getting into the details of the torture techniques I said I could not talk about because of human decency, I will tell you about Berhanu Degu. [Berhanu] was a co-defendant with us on the 9th charge. (See April 2016 U.S. Human Rights Report for a list of defendants held with Habatamu.) Berhanu came before the court and clearly explained the situation [the torture that was taking place at Maekelawi]. To those prisoners who came from Gonder, the interrogators would mention the social group [ethnic affiliation] of the prisoners. As they tortured us, they said, “We have done things [torture] to you. We have taken not only your belts but also your pants [taken your manhood].”
I was tortured not as an individual but because I belong to a particular ethnic group. I was told I represented not just myself but my ethnic group. I was told, “You came from this ethnic group. That’s why you are being tortured.” I will not mention their other evil deeds they have done because it is not helpful. Even though I could say a lot about that.
Berhanu was told mockingly, “You, the Gurage engaged in ‘struggle’ [freedom fighter]”, as he was being tortured. As I was being beaten, I was told, “We have forced the Amhara to remove his pants.” When they were torturing prisoners from Gonder and Gojam, they were saying these things to us. They did it to create great hatred in us. The things [they said and did] tested our mental capacity extremely. They bragged to us, “We [Tigreans] are like this.” They named the places of their birth [in Tigray] as [they tortured us]. They were trying to put us all into a bitter collective hatred. I could not believe [my ears] when they said as they tortured us, “This is what it means to be Tigrean.” [When you hear this] you question if there are people who are evil, born to torture others. When they commit such cruel acts on you, there is nothing more you expect to see beyond this.
Berhanu also suffered in this way. When he once urinated on the floor from the extreme beating, they forced him to get down to the floor and lick his urine on the floor like an animal. He appeared in court and told the judges this story.
They pulled out the finger nails of Abebe Kase using pincers, completely pulled out all of his toenails and inflicted such suffering on him. It was something that made me question in what time [century] I am living in. These were extremely shocking abuses.
There are others I mentioned earlier, about which I won’t talk about because of human decency. But the torture which inflicted bodily injuries and injuries to the conscience were all very extreme.
Those of us held in the torture chambers, those of us who suffered so much, we agree on one thing. “This regime has inflicted extreme suffering on our bodies and our consciences. And when we consider it, their beatings, their humiliations and insults have crushed our bones. They have been extremely damaging to our consciences.”
Solomon: Mr. Habtamu, You endured a very extreme situation. How did you come to America? Your wife and daughter are with you?
Habtamu: That is correct. I began suffering extreme illness after I got into Maekelawi as I told you earlier. After I was denied the ten-minute morning and evening toilet allowance in such an extreme way, I suffered rupture and swelling of my [hemorrhoids] veins and bled a great deal. Due to the [hemorrhoids] swelling, I could not move at all. One of my legs was injured during torture committed on me. I got to the point where I could not even step on my leg. Even when I was going to court, I was being assisted. While in prison, after all this illness, I was taken to Zewditu Hospital 2 or 3 times.
Whenever I went to the hospital, they took blood samples to do blood tests. When I return for my results in the next appointment with prison escort, they say they have lost my test results. Nobody there takes responsibility. I tried like this 3 or 4 times. After that, I figured out that I was never going to get medical care. I informed the court of my situation. For the last time the court ordered and said I have a critical emergency condition and I should be admitted immediately. I have that court order in hand. But the prison officials were not willing to let me be admitted to hospital for care. As a result, I did not get medical care.
My situation worsened and when I got out of prison, I had developed third level hemorrhoids. My veins in my legs had been extremely damaged. I had stones in both kidneys. I had stones in my bladder too. I was in extreme pain and suffering. After I got out, I tried to get medical care in the country but I was told the stage of my hemorrhoids could not be treated in the country. Tragically, I was given pain killers for four months. I was given extreme doses of a highly addictive drug [pain medication]. The [drug I was taking] most that is allowed to be given to a patient is 2 ampules [single dose prepackaged medication] at a time. I was given 16 ampules overdose [at a time] injection during the four months.
The conclusion of the doctors in the country, those I saw in private and others I consulted, was that they all told me the next stage for my hemorrhoids was that it would turn into cancer. They said my situation is terminal.
In the end, the people of Ethiopia and the Ethiopians living abroad, begging [the T-TPLF] on my behalf, international organizations begging for me, made it possible [for me to leave the country]. The Ethiopian government was not willing to let me get medical care. Finally, when the government was convinced that I was terminal and unlikely to live long, the court case against me was ended. Then I asked the U.S. Embassy for a visa to go to the U.S. for medical care. Ethiopians in America raised money for my medical expenses. The American Embassy gave my wife a visa to come along and help care for me. Since we had no one to take care of our daughter, she also came with us.
Even after we found a way out [of the country], after their immigration office stamped our exit visas, we were sitting in the waiting area [at the airport]. The same security members who never tire of torturing people came to where I was sitting with my wife and daughter and surrounded us. They took me to a separate room. They rummaged through my bags and took whatever documents they wanted. They took video cassettes that were in my luggage from the aircraft cargo hold. In an incredible way, they asked me, “How did you manage to get a visa? Who gave you the visa?” I showed them the visa. It’s signed by the border control authorities. I told them that is how I got it. I told them I did not get it from the sky. I told them I was waiting for my flight to depart. In this way, they abused me extremely to a point where I was forced to question [in my mind] if Ethiopia is mine. They abused me extremely so that I will never turn my face to my country. They did such things to me. That is how I left my country in general.
Solomon: This way or that way, there may be some who say you were allowed to leave the country to get medical care abroad. That itself shows the good will and nature of the government. What do you say to that?
Habtamu: To such people, I give them a short answer. Prof. Asrat Weldeyes [Ethiopia’s foremost surgeon and founder and leader of the All-Amhara People’s Organization] stood up because he believed the [T-TPLF] government had isolated and deemed Amhara people as the “enemy”. They [T-TPLF] declared Amhara as the enemy in their Manifesto. They declared they are going to destroy [commit genocide on] the Amharas. Because Prof. Asrat said Amharas must organize and defend themselves, because of this position, he became a political prisoner and subjected to extreme torture and abuse. When they determined his medical condition was terminal and he was not going to live much longer, they gave him permission to leave the country for medical care. But by that time everything was hopeless for Prof. Asrat. The Professor did not survive and in fact died as a result of his torture.
Therefore, my release has nothing to do with the “goodness” of the government. They let me go because they were convinced I was terminal and was going to die from my illness. But it was not the evil they designed for me that prevailed but the good things designed for me by the Creator. God was with me, the God of Ethiopia was with me. God, having heard the tearful prayers of the Ethiopian people, the tearful prayers of everyone in their own faiths, God willing, for the sake of this little girl who has never seen a happy day in her life from the time she was a baby to be consoled, it is God who willed that my life be spared. So the one I thank are the Ethiopian people who cried out to God, and the One I believe in wholeheartedly, the Son of the Blessed Virgin Mary, [Egziabher] Jesus Christ, for saving me. I have no reasons to thank the Ethiopian government.
Solomon: How is your health now? We have heard that you underwent surgery and it was successful. We offer you our congratulations at this opportunity.
Habtamu: Thank you very much. I had third stage hemorrhoids. I was treated at Georgetown University Hospital colorectal center in Washington, D.C. It went very well. The university doctors said I was their first experience ever to see what extensively damaged hemorrhoids could do. It is registered as a first experience of such kind ]for their medical records]. Many of my veins are damaged. The surgeon in the presence of many Ethiopians said what I just told you. At the University hospital, this is the first time such extreme hemorrhoid condition has ever been treated. This was the first time they saw what such extensive damage to veins and the body. This shows how extreme my situation was. Like the Georgetown doctors, the Ethiopian doctors who helped me also told me how extreme my situation was. It was extreme. The [Georgetown] doctors used the best technique in the world and were able to successfully treat me. I am now recovering from the surgery. For the damage that was done to my leg, Georgetown Hospital referred me to George Washington hospital. My leg treatment will continue there. My kidney treatment will also continue at George Washington Hospital. I am waiting for an appointment. My health situation now, may God be praised, is very good. To all those people everywhere who contributed to help me regain my health, I would like to thank them at this opportunity.
Solomon: Lastly, I would like to raise one question. After you went through this situation, in the future do you have any desire to return to your country and continue the struggle?
Habtamu: For me, I take [pride] in Ethiopia as a country and a people for their honor and greatness. I believe I will make the ultimate sacrifice. To help in the Ethiopian struggle, I will do whatever additional sacrifice is required of me. I am ready to pay the price. The Ethiopian situation, the party politics in which I struggled, is all getting worse and getting into a more dangerous situation. Regardless, I will make whatever contributions I can. When I say contributions, exactly what kind of contributions will be determined by my health situation. I can decide that after I get well. If there is a possibility for me to participate in the struggle, I am ready to participate. But going back to my country like Dr. Merara [Gudina, chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress opposition party], to fall into their [T-TPLF] hands and be imprisoned and allow them to commit other torture on me is not an appropriate political decision. Regardless, it is not a good reason for me to stay out of my country just because they will do this [jail and torture]. [I am not sure] what kind of service must I give for my country, but I am sure I will do everything I can. The political situation I observe now does not allow for that. I realize the peaceful struggle is in extreme danger. The “negotiations” that are said to be going on now [with opposition parties] is what that shows [the extreme danger posed to peaceful change].
Solomon: Mr. Habtamu, thank you for the extensive explanation you gave me.
Habtamu: I also thank you.
T-TPLF torture victim chronicles, to be continued….
For other documented stories of torture at Meakelwi, see Addis Standard’s, “Tales from Chambers of Torture” and “My Experience of the Ethiopian Investigation Centre: Maekelawi” by Caalaa Hayiluu Abaataa. For an anonymous torture and abuse report (in Amharic) by Maekelawi police officials who had moral objections to torture, click HERE.
The second reason for my effort here is to make good on my promise to provide “civic education” to my readers who may not be familiar with the applicable laws and legal principles on human rights matters in general. I believe Ethiopians suffer from two tyrannies: 1) the tyranny of ignorant tyrants and 2) the tyranny of ignorance. In T-TPLF’s 2017 “State of Emergency Ethiopia”, “War is peace. Ignorance is strength. Slavery is freedom.” It has been said that, “Ignorance has always been the weapon of tyrants; enlightenment the salvation of the free.” Nowhere is “ignoro-tyranny” practiced with wanton impunity and reckless abandon than in Ethiopia. The tyranny of ignorance strikes a double whammy on Ethiopians.
In order to meaningfully defend human rights and the victims of torture, one must have basic familiarity and understanding of applicable international laws and conventions. This is imperative particularly on the issue of torture. With my commentaries, I hope to empower my readers so that they can participate and help in the struggle for Ethiopian – bust also African and global — human rights, not just to be academically informed and lulled into passivity. The struggle for human rights is a relentless ideological struggle between the forces of freedom and the gangsters of tyranny fought in the hearts and minds of each and every citizen. It is a struggle waged with the weapons of law and morality. It is fundamentally different from an armed struggle. As human rights warriors, we fight our battles armed to the teeth with the law, national and international law. We fight the villainous and wicked abusers of human rights in every legal and political forum, including the kangaroo and monkey courts of the T-TPLF.
Torture is a crime under customary international law (international customary practice accepted as law) and treaties and conventions. The universal prohibition against torture is what is generally referred to as “jus cogens” (“compelling law”) in international law from which no derogation (violation) is permitted under any circumstances.
The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (commonly known as the U.N. Convention against Torture) is a treaty specifically designed to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world. The Convention requires states to take effective measures to prevent torture in any territory under their jurisdiction, and forbids states to transport people to any country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured.
Ethiopia adopted the Convention Against Torture by accession on March 14, 1994.
Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) prohibits “All forms of exploitation and degradation of man, particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment.”
Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) commands, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (2002) classifies “torture” as one of the seven recognized crimes against humanity.
A special notice to those who have committed torture in Ethiopia or anywhere in the world and plan to come to the U.S. and retire comfortably enjoying their stolen loot. 18 U.S.C. sec. 2340 (a) provides: “Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life. There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if— (2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.” T-TPLF torturers should also learn from the case of Kefelgn Alemu Worku, the torturer from Ethiopia who was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison in 2014.
For my readers in the United States, I ask them to finger every single torturer from Ethiopia, who is currently living in the United States. It is as easy as contacting any field office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or any U.S. Attorney’s office.
On the application of the Convention Against Torture in the U.S., a report by the Congressional Research Service is quite useful.
I tell my readers throughout the world that the only way we can help victims of torture and human rights abuses like Habtamu Ayalew is by preparing ourselves to wage the struggle in the town halls and in the International Criminal Court and everywhere in between.
They say knowledge is power; I say actionable knowledge – truth-based, evidence-based, fact-based– is power. Knowledge of the truth sets the individual and society free!
Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino. His teaching areas include American constitutional law, civil rights law, judicial process, American and California state governments, and African politics. He has published two volumes on American constitutional law, including American Constitutional Law: Structures and Process (1994) and American Constitutional Law: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights (1998). He is the Senior Editor of the International Journal of Ethiopian Studies, a leading scholarly journal on Ethiopia. For the last several years, Prof. Mariam has written weekly web commentaries on Ethiopian human rights and African issues that are widely read online. He blogged on the Huffington post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alemayehu-g-mariam/ and later on open.salon until that blogsite shut down in March 2015.
Prof. Mariam played a central advocacy role in the passage of H.R. 2003 (Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007) in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007. Prof. Mariam also practices in the areas of criminal defense and civil litigation. In 1998, he argued a major case in the California Supreme Court involving the right against self-incrimination in People v. Peevy, 17 Cal. 4th 1184, cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1042 (1998) which helped clarify longstanding Miranda rights issues in California criminal procedure. For several years, Prof. Mariam had a weekly public channel public affairs television show in Southern California called “In the Public Interest”. Prof. Mariam received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1984, and his J.D. from the University of Maryland in 1988.